Saturday, November 25, 2006

Thanksgiving is a celebration where families unite to commemorate the pilgrims, show their gratitude for whatever they have and enjoy delicious turkey

I am not particularly tall. While I do prefer to sit on the aisle when travelling on a plane, I still manage to be comfortable and smiling even in a middle seat. So long as the people next to me do not gossip in front of me. I hate gossip.

But gossip was not an issue in today's flight. Far from that.

Running as I was to catch my flight, I had not paid attention to my assigned seat which was a "B" seat, that is a middle seat. I enter the plane, I march down the aisle trying to squeeze between passengers that chat or try to store their belongings, finally i reach the row where my seat is located. I excuse myself, I sit down, I put my backpack underneath the front seat, I lift my head. Once settled, I try to explore the territory that will be hosting me for the next four hours. A man sitting on my right, a woman sitting on my left. Both in their forties. All nice and ordinary you would say. And so it seemed. Silence, silence, silence.

I was parusing a novel that was sitting patiently in my backpack waiting to be read for quite some time. The gentleman next to me was delving into some business reviews. The lady was reading about chinese cuisine. Suddenly it becomes clear that the woman is the mother of three teenagers that occupy the front row, as two of them interrupt momentarily their activities and turn back to ask something.. Another hour goes by. Nothing really special. Then the flight attendant comes and whishes to offer us drinks. To her general question "What would you like to drink?" the woman and the man answer simultaneously "coke". Nothing more, nothing less.

Another hour goes by. The woman takes a nap. The man takes a nap. The rest of the plane is taken by some movie showing on the aiplane screen. Man wakes up, peaks up another business review. Woman wakes up reads about another duck recipe. The captain of the plane announces our upcoming arrival to the destination. Woman closes the recipe book. Man shuts his eyes. We land. Illuminated signs are off, bealts unfastened, people up and stretching. The youngest of the three kids in front of me turns on the back: "Dad, did you enjoy the trip?"

Thanksgiving lasts only one day.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Where hope is mostly needed: the case of Congo

You cannot expect anyone to look at Congo and see 'the future' unless that person has large reserves of hope. Period.

I choose to talk about Congo, or as it is formally known, the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C. - former Zaire), because tragedy has been alive and well in this central African State. I choose to talk about Congo because we hear a lot about Darfur and Iraq and not so much about a country that has lost 4 millions to a deadly civil war on the top of poverty and disease. The country where diamonds and misery abound alike is like a child seeking for assistance, how can we ignore it?

Congo's attempt to 'move forward' was demonstrated in the recent presidential and parliamentary elections, the first in four decades. The son of the former dictator and incumbent president by the name Joseph Kabila ran against former fight leader Jean-PIerre Bemba just a few days ago: in this gloom-looking race Kabila seems to have won. But one only asks how promising such a victory is, particulalry from the moment that the contestant, Bemba, questions the results and recourse to violence seems quite a possibility. Elections are not enough.

What, you thought that just because we had elections, everything is fine? Well, consider again. This is not the consolidated democracy you are used to: post-election is not a media-fiesta, and 'the day after' is not necessarily 'a new day' or 'a fresh start' for which ever party wins.

But remember, we hope. We hope that Congo will not fall back to warfare.

From the very beginning I said that you need hope to look at Congo. I do not think I was wrong. Not because the editorial of leading Spanish newpspaper EL PAIS bares the title Sombrío Congo ("Sombre Congo"). But, rather, because there has been too much evidence of pain, suffering, destruction and fatalism. The future does not seem to deviate very far. Hence, it is only through hope you can see 'a future' for this central African state. Ironically so, this hope comes from Congo itself. It comes from the heroic segments of the populations that survived the Greek, American and Russian bullets during war, that make a living out of the horrendous gold and diamond mines, that fight every possible disease that plagues humans with little or no drugs. Hope stems from these heroes that every morning wake up, and they smile too. These people make us somehow believe that this country will stand on its feet again.

If only war does not start on Monday...

References ans Links

in english:
Ballots burned after historic Congolese vote

Editorial en español:
Sombrío Congo

en français:
Joseph Kabila remporte l'élection présidentielle

For more information on how Greek bullets killed Congolese look at the Amnesty International Report here:
Media Briefing: Bullets from Greece, China, Russia and United States found in rebel hands in Democratic Republic of Congo

(What, you thought globalization is only McDonalds?)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Today I learned that... (2)

the percentage of people that "hope for water" (to link with my previous post) is a sad figure, greater than I would have ever estimated or imagined: 17%


I usually write, at times a lot, I don't think there is much more to add here...

A link to the french daily Le Monde, perhaps:
17 % de l'humanité en manque d'eau potable

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I hope, therefore I am.

Taking off from the last post, I will embark on what may -or may not- be a futile attempt to understand what is I believe a very important component of the human psyche: Hope. I claim no scientific expertise and in fact I do ask for scientific feedback; however I do believe that even a mere empirical survey of facets of hope is relevelatory in itself, and this is for no other reason than the relevance that 'hope' has to our lives.

Many of the voters that participated in the US elections yesterday cast 'a vote of hope' for change, regardless of their political identity. Many defiant souls in the realm of civil and political affairs decide to go against 'big' theories, dim statistical predictions or influential individuals projecting a doubt, else put, hoping that some alternative is possible. And yet while Americans and Westerners have the privilige of 'mentally creating alternatives' for realities they deem unfulfiling, for the poverty-stricken woman and her baby the hope of finding food is a necessity, not a choice.

Regardless of the source that kindles hope, the need to aspire to a positive change is quintessential for the human psyche, for such purposes as to console oneself, to legitimize or criticize, even to defend a purpose. What also matters though is to observe the 'fate' of hope, that is whether it materializes or not. Sentiments of joy and celebration were evident throughout the US to mark the electoral victory of Democrats in the House of Representatives. Going beyond this one example, a-hope-turning-true is a very powerful event indeed.

But how does one cope with the degeneration of hope? There is nothing sadder, really, than the powerlessness that ensues the dismantling of hope, the realization of inevitability. How painful must it to face such a calamity! Only one thing comes to mind as worse and this is the realization (of hopelessness) being a slow, self-induced process.

And yet it is all too common to see people betraying dreams and hopes with their own choices. Partly because the pursuit is too risky, partly because the commitment proves too shallow, partly for-whatever-other-reason it is true that many prove inadequate. And they may be anything from modestly ashamed to seriously depressed. But this is all part of human nature, right?

A true virtue of hope is that it is malleable: much like clay, you can play with it, you can shape it as you see fit, adjust it if you don't like it. And if you are not happy still, you can do it all over again! No strings attached. Except of course when you have no food and you may not have tomorrow either. Except when the weather devastated your house and your crop yield and will continue to do so for the rest of the season. Except when you are left with nothing and are alone too. Hope for some people just seems beyond control, not to say beyond reach. And despite that, I am told that few still hope, until...

I so admire the few people.


Note: The collective demonstration of hope, personified by Emiliano Zapata, is still alive and well among many Mexicans. I was in a taxi, in motion and this explains the quality of the photo; yet the message "Zapata vive" (Zapata is alive) still comes accross I believe. Photo taken in November 2005 in a square in Mexico City.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

'Punto y Raya'

Separated and united by the Morón river, their membership to their country's national army, their uniform, their human nature: such is the destiny of Cheito and Pedro, two soldiers, the first from Venezuela the other from Colombia. For distinct reasons they find themselves fighting a nationalistic informal war in the frontier that separates their two countries, the Morón river - a place where threat is part of the natural setting and the dangerous species attacking your life can be anything from a river animal to a soldier of the 'other' country, to a paramilitary group member to a drug dealer, to a local yound girl threatening to stab you.

The poor neighborhoods of urban Venezuela, the equally poor villages of the Colombian Andes, the inhospitable jungle along the river - home but also place of death to drug dealers, paramilitaries and soldiers alike- provide the setting for this drama. But 'Punto y Raya' goes well beyond a mere mapping of this unstable, yet unknown to many, region of the world, to try and comprehend the complex human nature. Who is the true enemy, really?

No definite answer to be found in a movie where the expendability of human life takes all possible forms and where friendship becomes supreme virtue in the form of the bond that Cheito and Pedro will ultimately establish. Yet the blank look at the eyes of the protagonists before the End seems to suggest that their real enemy is not the one in uniform. The most powerful weapon is not a gun. And the most fatal biting is not as poisonous as the innate desire for conquest which transforms human beings to savage animals - instantly.

Relax. 'Punto y Raya' is not the unbearable, blood-soaked movie you may imagine it is. Director Schneider balances this dramatic account with a good dose of humor and comedy elements. If only there was a similar easy way out for life's most perennial dilemmas! Maybe then fewer societies would be torn apart. And perhaps less suffering would result from wars. But that would not be our world. It would be a magical one, right? Or maybe not?

Note: As I was watching the movie I was constantly reminded of a short story by Greek writer Antonis Samarakis titled "The river" ("To Ποτάμι") in "Hope Wanted" ("Ζητείται Ελπίς"), a story about soldiers, a river, and the quest for hope.

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