Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Plastic Evergreen Trees

I remember watching a CNN report years ago – I don’t know how long – the end of high school, maybe college – about the epidemic of rape in eastern DR Congo. I remember being horrified, hearing about fistula and a war being carried out against my gender, and I very clearly remember thinking, “Well, God, what a nightmare spot. I will never go there.” Ha.

I’m very sheltered in my life here. There is a lot of horror outside of this city. I’ve heard about it. But at the same time, this is a place where people live lives. I’m the same person here as I was in Kitgum, in DC, in Brattleboro, in Basse Santu Su. My neighbors, who have always lived here-just-here, are people. With families. Who are excited about Christmas coming. There are lots of plastic evergreen trees for sale in little shops in town.

New reports often seem to skim over the humanity (the normality) that exists here as they chase the war monster. Maybe it’s not the fault of the news reports – maybe it’s the fault of us, and our interpretations and our prejudices.

Yes, it’s important to talk about the war and it’s crucial to lend assistance to the people who live here – to give back, or, really, to take less. But I think that sometimes we pile all of our fear on one spot in the world, asking it to carry our terrors for us. This allows us to go about our lives thinking “At least I don’t live there,” like children who personify their fears into monsters in closets, beneath beds; like teenagers who enter darkened movie theaters for two hours to scream themselves silly at horror movies. We watch news reports, we thrill at the fear we feel, and then we think good thoughts about ourselves for being so affected by others’ miseries.

Going home for eight days for Christmas – at holiday parties – I’m going to have to have conversations about misperceptions a lot. Or I’m going to have to lie about where I live. I won’t lie often, but I may lie sometimes. I’m not an ambassador, after all. Nobody has chosen me to be their representative. Many of the people I talk to will just hear what they want to hear, anyway, and forget the rest.

I’ll try not to lie. I will really truly try. I’m privileged enough to live here; I know that I should share the wealth by giving stories to people back home.

But I can’t make any promises.