Leslee and I had been emailing every day. We met in Krakow, Poland in the Fall of 2010 where we were both taking an intensive course to get a CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching for Adults.) For a month we lived in the same apartment complex, walked to class together, partied in Krakow’s never-ending café/bars and pondered what exactly we’d do next. We shared the same carefree attitude about travel and life, both determined to find our own way.
She’d just come from a year teaching in Korea. I’d been in Europe already a few months, and was awaiting information about an internship. After the course ended we split ways, I went to Italy and she went to the US. Then she went to Mexico, to teach English and hang out on the beach, and I went to Kenya, then back to Poland. We kept up sporadically throughout the time. But since I returned to the US, we started up an email correspondence that turned into a nearly everyday occurrence. I looked forward to those emails, wanting to hear what sort of adventures my friend was having in a foreign land.
A few weeks ago Leslee moved from Mexico back to Korea. Her last email came to me on February 28, and she told me she’d accidentally washed her passport. I didn’t hear from her after that, and wondered if it was because of a faulty internet connection, or that she was too busy. Certainly I’d gone weeks without internet when I was abroad. It is not uncommon. So, I wrote again, telling her about my weekend escapades, and still didn’t hear back.
I began to have that thought. The thought that always goes through your head when you don’t hear from a friend for a long time. You wonder if something could have happened.
But you never really think that’s the case. And it doesn’t dull the shock when you discover your fears were founded. Last week I went to Leslee’s facebook page and breathless, saw this: Leslee McCoy Recovery Fund
Struck by a car. Critical condition.
The nightmare travel situation—it happened to Leslee.
I don’t know how she’s doing, except for some posts by friends on her facebook wall, saying she’s had surgery and is doing a little better.
I can’t imagine how her family is feeling right now, although I read that they were with her in Korea. What a way to visit your child abroad.
Whenever I hear things like this it makes me feel very lucky—and a little bit foolish for all of the crazy things I’ve gotten away with when I’m abroad. The closest I ever came to a real health problem was when I was worried the stitches in my knee had become infected in Kenya.
Terrible accidents can of course occur anywhere. The fear of being struck by a car, catching a disease or being shot shouldn’t scare you away from traveling. But when you’re abroad and it happens, it IS that much worse. It’s that much scarier, that much more stressful.
The anxiety must be unbelievable. But there is always hope. Email buddy, fearless traveling pal—Please recover, and continue to be your strong, witty self.
Last Spring I took the night bus several times from Krakow, Poland to L’viv, Ukraine, to “refresh” my tourist visa in the EU. The rides could take anywhere from 7 to 10 hours, depending on the border. Ukraine was one of the few countries that no matter how many times I went, I always got nervous beforehand. The open-border Schengen agreement in much of the EU made travel very easy, but leaving the EU and entering the “Wild East” required dealing with a lot of surly border-guards, crazy Ukranian men offering me their beer on the bus, and sometimes a 5-hour wait at the border.
I loved these bus rides. All that time alone, with just my music and my journal and conversations all around me in various Slavic languages.
I thought of those rides today as I was looking up music I didn’t have by The New Pornographers. I found the song Adventures in Solitude and immediately loved it. Then I remembered listening to them while sitting at the border one night, around 2am. I’d turned on the radio on my ipod and found a Ukranian station. To my surprise, they were playing The New Pornographers. I couldn’t believe it! It was so comforting. Sitting on a muggy bus at the border between Poland and Ukraine by myself, listening to this band I listened to all through college in the US.
The other day a friend was asking me what I look for most in people. I said optimism.
Someone who can find beauty in a cramped, unpredictable bus ride across the border. Someone who will go places.
Kony 2012 has literally kept me up at night this week, thinking about all the articles I’ve read, pondering why it has become such a sensation, and how this will all play out.
Why? Because it scares me. Kony 2012 is an extremely persuasive piece of propaganda—one that I—who have been to East Africa and frequently read both news on the area and literature challenging and analyzing humanitarian action in the region—also was very briefly, uncomfortably, sucked in to.
In all the news articles and blogs I’ve read recently, only one has covered what in my opinion is the most disturbing aspect of the campaign:
“Kony 2012 is so seductive for precisely the same reasons that make it so dangerous. The half-hour video, now viewed 40 million times, sets viewers up for a message so gratifying and fulfilling that it is almost impossible to resist: there is a terrible problem in the world, you are the solution, and all you have to do is pass along this video. Unless you’re already well-enough informed on Central Africa to see the video’s many flaws — and the vast majority of people, very understandably, are not — only the most guarded skeptic is going to be able to resist.”
Also, this is a simplistic blog created to point out some glaring problems with Invisible Children. The blog isn’t really convincing, but the photo tells a lot about the creators: Visible Children
Are those guys REALLY posing with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) holding bazookas? And asking you to give them money?
The following are some thoughts I haven’t seen as heavily on the ‘net, which I believe are important to consider:
Empowering vs. following
One of the central tenants of the Kony 2012 campaign is to empower people to make a difference. Certainly this is a noble idea. But to truly empower someone you have to have independent, well-informed beliefs brought by in-depth personal knowledge of a situation and a broad world-view. Being a follower is not the same as being empowered. Being guilted into sharing a video with everyone in your social sphere isn’t the same as being a humanitarian worker.
American actors have more power to arrest Joseph Kony than African governments and military.
This is a big big problem. “White Man’s Burden” anyone? (This is a good blog about it Stop Kony Yes, But Don’t Stop Asking Questions) And really, do you think that Western actors have a better chance at making policy changes than native Africans do in the lands where they and their ancestors have always lived? (See Kony 2012 website) Here’s a thought: Just because they are pretty, doesn’t mean we should listen to them.
The worst example of this is Rush Limbaugh (not pretty but still shouldn’t listen to him)—one of the 20 culture-makers that Invisible Children are calling on to spread the word. Back in October, when Limbaugh heard that Obama was sending 100 troops to advise Africans to fight the LRA was so misinformed he called it a WAR ON CHRISTIANS, (See Limbaugh Defends Lords Resistance Army) Really Invisible Children? Could you have chosen a less-qualified human being to support this? Oh wait, Justin Bieber is on the list too. (And Stephen Colbert-wtf??!!)
Invisible Children got the US government to send troops to Africa out of the goodness of their hearts?
Really? Since when do super-powers send troops to regions where they have no self-interest? It is no secret that the US is involved in South Sudan, hoping to make it a pro-Western nation. And South Sudan was being attacked by the Muslim North, remember? (please feel the relative sarcasm—that’s another painfully complicated conflict.) And they have oil. Why wouldn’t the US be interested in maintaining a supportive role in the region?
This reeks of the celebrity involvement in Darfur:
One last note on the propaganda feel of Kony 2012:
I’m sorry to say it but I got a similar rush of adrenaline while watching Kony 2012 as I did while watching this bizarre cult-ish movement “The Wayseers” a few months ago: Wayseer Manifesto
I started thinking of this article I’d read about the tactics behind that video and movement: Wayseer Manifesto Selling Freedom or Selling Psychopathy. I wasn’t intending to extend very many comparisons between these two videos, but frankly they do both stimulate that same part of your brain that makes you excited and want to belong to something. I’m no psychologist, but there must be some studies on this (Psychology-enthusiasts—please add information to the comments, if you have any.)
Other NGOs’ credibility is tarnished
This is one of the saddest aspects of the Kony 2012 campaign. There are a lot of extremely good small charities out there whose funding has been cut due to economic recessions and lack of general support. As someone who worked in communications in one, I can say that my main job was NOT to raise money. It was to tell you a little bit about the people we served, so you could better understand the situations so ugly and complicated, and what gentle people on the ground are doing to serve those less-fortunate.
If you would like to donate to a charity, or simply become more informed, I’ll go ahead and send a plug for the NGO I was working for. Jesuit Refugee Services, and many many other smaller NGOs do fantastic and interpersonal work on the ground level: Jesuit Refugee Services Eastern Africa
Update: Since publishing this, I came across this blog, which is beautifully written and an extremely important point that I did not cover at all–the importance of non-violence when addressing all situations, even those that include terrible warlords. This article makes me think of the chapter “Rebellion” in Dostoevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov”… “How can you atone the death of children?”
A travelin’ buddy of mine sent me this song this weekend, which made me so excited and nostalgic I have to share it: “Rio” by Hey Marseilles (click to play.) The following are the lyrics:
Silhouette seasons and far-away reasons are all I have now Borders can keep me if Rio will have me to dance and to drown Take to the harbor like sails to set Sleep for the evening in failed regret Hold on to skylines of pale and coal Clouds on horizons and love to grow old
On the way I will go Where the days left to breathe Are not gone, are still long
I am traveling on
Love is a hazard in lower Manhattan You cannot escape, and musn’t be saddened By men who abandon your eyes for another’s There are always Brazilian boys to discover
Set your sights straight now Don’t forget pain Drink ’til tomorrow becomes yesterday Think of the shorelines you have yet to see Men who will hold you with eyes you believe
On the way I will go Where the days left to breathe Are not gone, are still long I am traveling on
On the way I will go Where the days left to breathe Are not gone, are still long I am traveling on
Well I’m not going to Brazil (for now?) But I’ll definitely take the South American references and over-all wanderlusty travel theme. That’s the type of song perfect for lift-off of a plane, walking down a pretty foreign street, or, as I am experiencing now, listening to and thinking of fun, crazy memories abroad–like sneaking a pretty-eyed Brazilian out of my window of the summer camp in Poland one year.
I would like to note that I am still living a colorful life in Lincoln. For example, this weekend Maria and I went dancing at Fandango, a dance club on 9th street which was completely hispanic except for Maria and I. I mean literally we were the only Americans there, except for the 3 cops and one bartender. It was a blast, I felt like I had stepped into another world, of Mexican cowboys and polka. We rolled home after 1 and I stayed over at her apartment. In the late morning we went for Mexican food at El Chaparo, which was an excellent long hangover-breakfast.
I love long crazy weekends. They are a healthy diversion. My days left to breath are not lost.