Archive for March, 2009

Albinos in Tanzania – refugees on the run!

In the UK, it’s the Euromillions jackpot. In Australia, Oz Lotto. In Hong Kong, it’s the Mark Six Lottery. The unceasing lure of instant and unimaginable wealth can be mistakenly thought to be the scourge of  western industrialised nations. Not so.

Do you know that albino body parts can fetch thousands of dollars in Tanzania? Do you know that last year, more than forty albinos were slaughtered in that country, so their limbs and organs could be sold to witchdoctors, and turned into medicines and potions for attracting material wealth and success?

Albinism is a congenital lack of melanin pigment in the skin, hair and eyes. As a result, people born with this condition are much more vulnerable to the sun’s ultraviolet rays and the resulting medical complications.

In Tanzania, though, an albino’s enemies are no longer stigma and sun cancer.

Albinos are, because of superstition and the culture of witchcraft and occultism, regarded as a commercial commodity and are being literally hunted to death. Fishermen are promised increased catches if they weave albino hair into their nets. Small scale miners are being told by witchdoctors that if they bury an albino body part on their site they will hit a gold reef.

As I read the article that was left on my desk several weeks ago, describing the ongoing murders of albinos for the harvesting of their limbs and organs, I thought, not for the first time, How come I’ve never heard about this? Why isn’t this in the international, front page news? How is it that daily I am reminded of the multiple effects of the economic crisis in Hong Kong and globally, but have had not the slightest clue about a group of people who are being targeted and killed because of a genetic malfunction, and because of the lure of acquiring wealth and status?

Is this simply another TIA – This Is Africa – scenario? Should we somehow be used to hearing about horrendous desecration of human rights and lack of accountability and justice because it is Africa, or India or Afghanistan?

The increasing number of albino murders in Tanzania, and now also Burundi and Kenya, has moved the President of Tanzania to declare what amounts to a national emergency. Albinos are seeking protection in safe houses, and parents are keeping their albino children behind locked doors at home. Locks and bars, however, are not guaranteeing safety.

In February of this year, gang members broke into the home of a six- year- old albino boy in Burundi, tied up his parents, and then chopped off his arms and legs before escaping. In the words of a local man, Pierre Chanel Ntarabaganyi, “The child was dismembered alive and his screaming woke up the entire neighbourhood.”

I had to read the above statement several times, and still my mind can’t wrap itself around such horror and amorality.

One journalist has commented that the removal of albino body parts from corpses, to sell to witchdoctors for the making of potions and lucky charms, is gruesome enough. Recent murders, however, are evidence that the albino hunters are not waiting for albinos to die before removing their body parts.
He writes, ‘This concept is an evil of its own, precisely because the attainment of materialistic possessions and positions of power in our society, appears to override even the sanctity of life. Rising food prices are also making people desperate, according to one police source in Mwanza region, Tanzania.

One father of an albino boy in Ruyigi province said, “My son is in a constant state of terror. When he walks in the street, some people say things like, ‘Our fortune goes by.’

Are you shocked as you read this? Can this really be happening to people in our ‘enlightened’ 2009?

But wait a minute. The methods may be abhorrent and alien to us, but if we are honest, can we perhaps identify, just a little, with the motives behind such cruel and merciless killings?

The promise of quick riches, and the resulting better status and lifestyle, is also a lure and a motivator for all of us who do not happen to live in Tanzania or Kenya or Burundi. And whether we gamble, or do drugs, or pursue the latest and best investment strategies,  or simply expend our days, weeks, years and life in making more money, so we can get more stuff and pad our existence with more security – aren’t we all actually, to one degree or another, living out the same ideals of materialism and social status as those that the witchdoctors in East Africa espouse?

None of us would kill someone for a body part or organ, but I think we have become very adept at destroying or compromising other things like our integrity, our time, our relationships  our soul?

And one question I believe we all need to ask ourselves is – today it’s albinos who are being hunted in parts of Africa. What will it be next week or next year?

And what are we hunting in the places where we live?

Zimbabwe – Still limousines and beggars, pointed guns and cries of peace!

My year in Zimbabwe, when it was the ‘jewel of Africa’ and the ‘breadbasket’ of that vast continent, was one that to this moment continues to speak to my heart and profoundly influence my thoughts and ideals. From almost my first rendezvous with this vibrant, majestic land, my soul embraced it as home, and I knew very early in my ‘settling in’, that I could live here, not as a visitor, but as a friend who has found a place where it is comfortable, and very easy to be content.

I remember vividly one particular Saturday morning, and what took place as my friend and I were driving on the highway from Kadoma to Harare – a drive of just over an hour depending on traffic or road works. One moment, we were cruising steadily on the open road, chatting, anticipating another wonderful weekend spent with dear friends, the next, we heard loud sirens and car horns descending in our direction and I felt the car swerve suddenly to the left and off the road. It happened in seconds, and as we waited in the dust, a convoy sped past us, headed up by police on motorbikes and followed by several army trucks with soldiers perched on the top pointing machine guns in our direction.

My first thought was that a terrible accident had happened somewhere along the road. Then I saw the black limousine rushing past, another army truck with more soldiers and guns and lastly, another motorbike with a policeman and accompanying siren blaring. Through all this, my friend calmly sat at the wheel, saying nothing, and when the drama had passed, he started the car and slowly pulled out onto the road and we continued our journey.
“What was that?”, I asked, not waiting for the explanation that would have come. ” The President most likely-he travels like that,” he replied softly. “But why did we have to pull off the road, there was plenty of room?” I questioned. “That’s the way it is. All vehicles have to get out of the way or they shoot – security you know.” “You mean they’ll shoot your tyres?” “No”, he said, “If you look like you’re posing a threat his soldiers will shoot you, and then ask questions.”

That was 1991! The image of that black limousine has never left me – in fact I wrote a song based around it. That black limousine also became a symbol of the ‘other’ Zimbabwe’ that I did not know, but that would increasingly manifest itself in the years to come.

Two weeks ago I received an email telling me that our friend John and two neighbours had been arrested in early January, and had been incarcerated in Chikurubi maximum security prison. The charge was treason, the penalty for which was death by hanging. The three men had been accused of training bandits in league with the MDC, for the purpose of overthrowing the present regime. In actual fact, John has been running adventure camps on his property for some years now and is one of a handful of white farmers and businessmen, who has chosen to stay and see change come. The email we received was from his wife Jenny. If you have read my post, ‘Would you go outside the camp?’, John is the one who, whiskey glass in hand, invited me on that evening walk on the banks of the Zambezi River.

The night of John’s arrest, it was not a black limousine and a convoy of army trucks that arrived in the middle of the night at his property on the outskirts of Harare. According to reports, over 300 militia and state police burst onto his home with no warning, with helicopter gun ships hovering overhead and machine guns and grenades poised in the hands of the invaders. I have since tried to imagine what that would actually be like, and how I, as a wife and mother, would feel should that have happened to me in Wauchope Australia.

Having spent almost every weekend with John and Jenny and their kids in the year I lived in Zimbabwe, I have lain awake at night seeing their home, every room, in my mind and the beautiful gardens and mountains surrounding, and have wondered what it must have been like on that night in early January, when the ‘black limousine’ in all its terror and intimidation and violence descended on that quiet sleeping home.

John and his friends were released last week on a Supreme Court directive, after an unimaginable experience in a Zimbabwe prison. John and Jenny are now in hiding and John, as described to me by his daughter, is just skin hanging onto bone – and he fears rearrest.

Last week Susan Tsvangirai, described as The ideal First Lady we never had, and the ‘Mother of Zimbabwe’s struggle,’ died in a car accident. Her husband, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, survived and has openly declared that there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding this tragedy.
No black limousine, no pointed guns – simply a terrible accident. Around 40,000 Zimbabweans mourned at her funeral, and after 31 years of marriage, Mr Tsvangirai is left to not only grieve, but to continue the long walk to freedom for his country without his life partner and ally.

Susan, humble and servant – hearted, was admired and respected across the political divide, both at home and in the Diaspora. As one journalist has written, ‘May Susan Tsvangirai’s painful and shocking death be the alpha of national healing. Let her innocent blood lubricate Zimbabwe’s wheels of justice.’

I believe deeply that change is coming, and that we are witnessing that phenomenon of ‘the hour darkest before the dawn’.
I pray for the day when black limousines, in all their horrible forms, will cease to intimidate and terrify, and when cries of peace become the anthem of a new and free Zimbabwe.

Does what you believe affect the way you live each day?

We all believe something. Even if we say we believe in nothing, and that life is a random meaningless experience, we proclaim, in fact, that this is our belief system and it is this philosophy that canopies our days on this earth. One of the most promoted and successful religions of our day is – the religion of Self. It’s always been popular and potently influential, but today an entire generation is continually barraged by its propaganda and saturated by its tenets.Self discovery is the journey we are being encouraged to take and many times it is to the profound cost of others. We all hear the cliched phrase,’I have to find myself ‘ – and it may sound trite because it has become this generation’s catch cry, but actually it begs a deeply significant question – how lost am I? And how do I find this self that is lost? And if, and when, I find it, what do I do then?

Every minute of every day, we all witness the outworking of this religion of self. Through rabid consumerism and the pursuit of material satisfaction through things and objects, and through our own and other people’s attitudes. Perhaps the attitude which most highlights this self preoccupation, is ‘It’s not my problem’. And this attitude is not merely confined to the ‘western stereotype’ we naturally and understandably gravitate to. The self sufficient who live on the outskirts of slums in Bangladesh may utter these words; the safe and affluent in one part of a country divided, may say about their northern neighbours, ‘It’s not my problem’; those who have somehow escaped harassment and persecution in their strife torn countries may say about those imprisoned, ‘It’s not my problem’.

When does it become my problem? As an Australian who has never suffered the lack of anything materially, and who has never known the restrictions of personal freedom, none of the above mentioned issues have ever been, or are, ‘my problem’. But I recall some years ago, when I was newly married and living in one of the choicer suburbs in Sydney- walking distance to a beautiful beach, inviting cafes and exotic restaurants, a comfortable apartment which provided every need, and wonderful extras like an ocean breeze in the afternoons and beautiful friends next door.

One day, without any particular warning, there was a water contamination scare in Sydney. Suddenly the most valuable commodity in the supermarket was bottled water. Within hours, there were no bottles left on the shelves and a slow panic seemed to be engulfing the cosmopolitan and all – sufficient city of Sydney. And yes, water – and the lack of it – suddenly became everyone’s problem. I remember a relative worriedly stating that he couldn’t buy as much bottled water as he wanted to because it had all gone – in this case one could be a millionaire and it did one no good.

During this water ‘crisis’, Jim and I reflected on the realization that civilised society is a veneer totally reliant on everything being ok. And during this crisis, it was again evident that the religion of self swung into full operation when one’s perceived security is threatened. The problem of clean water which faces most human beings on our planet every day, became ‘our problem’, and how did we as a society react? Well, most of us undoubtedly bought up as much water as we could, and perhaps some may even have allowed the thought – ‘well, if you miss out, too bad, you should have been watching the news that day!!’

Does what you believe affect the way you live each day? Yes it does. And no matter now nice most of us can be when our fridge is full and the water’s good, just underneath our skin (irrespective of the degree of melanin) is the all prevailing worldview – it really is all about me.’

I believe charity begins at home! And home for me is planet earth. It is not just the suburb, the community, the country I happen to live in at a given time in my life. I WANT to know about what is going on in my home and I WANT to play a viable part in contributing to how my home looks and is. I want to continue to be shocked and grieved by injustice, famine, ethnic cleansing, child soldiers, human trafficking….and I want my children to be.

I totally believe one person can begin to make an eternal difference in the life and destiny of someone else. More than that, I know it to be absolutely true, because I witness this on an almost daily basis living where I do, involved with the work I am.

The worship of self is a tragically one – dimensional way to live.  As one of my favourite authors has commented, we have been sold a package that seems to promise everything and leaves us, in the end, empty handed. In moments of personal or national crisis, the self instinctively rushes into intense preservation gear, but when it’s over and things get ‘back to normal’, the intensity simply reverts to the daily taking care of all our needs and wants – and we can again say,’It’s not my problem’.

What do you believe? And how is it affecting – and determining- your life?