Dec 6, 2006

an attempt to unanswer a letter from africa

a first part of the story to my trip to central africa, almost one year late, and still not finished. to be honest, the story so far only deals with the first two or three days.
it is thus written for the sateless readers amongst you, my divine auditory.

good luck!

Mzungu ina Africa

You may view this as a travelogue.

It´s the prologue to a life, and to all life. My life in all life.

First of all, I want to apologize for not having sent mail in any form from Africa. On the various destinations of our way there were hardly any post offices which were to make out as just serving that purpose. As stupid as it may sound, it is as easy as that. Even in the bigger cities it was hard to find so-declared post offices. I guess, that´s the price we had to pay for the kind of individual tourism we did, a kind of price I am very willing to pay, in exchange for a treasure of non-forgettable moments of all kind and colour. There was a second price to pay, much harder to bear; the sheer impossibility of taking the exact photographs you wanted to take. In places like these you feel caught red-handed with every small look on your camera, culpable for that little bit of wealth you are carrying around on yourself; and it may be a small little bit for us, but we won´t ever dare to share even that little bit, and we feel ashamed for knowing about that. What is a camera to us? Of what worth is it, placed next to all those shiny little things that make our presence worthwile, our agony more endurable, our life comforting in all its jailed boredom?

There is one mere way out: keeping those pictures inside your heart, and wish for having them stay, or maybe change your life. You will never be able to show them, as you won´t be able to show all the wealth inside, unless people look for it themselves. Well, even the pictures you are actually able to show will eventually be run over in a short look, a second for each, and forget. Our preferences are (in)different, and you need the space left on your internal hard disk for "more urgent targets". You know, the things that really matter for a living are calling. The next day always on your mind. No place to hide. I won´t blame anyone for that. I just didn´t figure a way to get to people´s hearts yet.

In March this soon-to-pass year I went on a three weeks trip to East Africa to visit my brother. He was finishing his civil service then, preparing a voluntary service to follow up. My brother simply didn´t want to leave the place. It´s some kind of falling in love with a place, I reckon. And you always are to leave far too early. I can understand him on that. I had the same crush on Sweden before. Some religions may tell you not to attach, but I´d rather attach, to feel myself living. That´s no difference, in the end. There are no opposites at all, I feel. I just didn´t find a way to put it, yet. Opposites are just the way we perceive things on earth. They make living more comfortable for us. Thinking in patterns. But what Buddhism meant in the end is not total detachment, but attachment through detaching, through a distance. Detachment to a degree you can attach to all things to the same extent. That is nothing else than what Jesus was all about. It´s the fullfillment of ethics, I suppose. Weren´t the buddhists feeling complete and neutral love for every being, because of not seizing beings as being objects to call their love upon, but as simply seeing them as all of the same? Thinking in the circle of reincarnations, you finally have to come to a point of origin where everything has been one, and born out of one. Or maybe, every soul were exchanged with every other one.

Lucas loved the place, and fit in there, because of its slow rhythm. There is simply more time available in places outside of Europe. I´m aware of that time is basically what you make out of it - the better way to put it would be "make in it", make while it is lasting -, but I´m not old enough to be able say so and appear serious when I do. I am far too young and scrupulous for being serious on that kind of philosophies, and my youth saves me from being taking into account for what I say about a life that I actually didn´t live yet. Moreover, it gives me the freedom of naively announcing a truth about life that I have spent two minutes thinking about. To my credit, I didn´t think about it too much, though, for it is not about thinking, but living. So far I am pretty satisfied with that. I hope that I am on a good way.

I am a blessed being. I´ve had the chance to see places that not everyone has had the chance to see so far. I think I have a good taste in music, in art, in ideas, I have a mission, and I have the will and enthusiasm to tell. I want to make a difference wherever it is possible.

Many tried on that before, and many will try on when I am long gone and no one will remember my face. That is what my hope is about, though. There is nothing to fear. And if there are countless people who felt they failed on that, on making this world a better place, they did as much a change as they were able to, and thus didn´t fail in either way. There is this movie, which is about that, to some extent at least. I saw it yesterday, and it moved me to tears, and if you are receptable to a tragedy as huge as there are only few - or too many, unfortunately -, you will feel the same. The movie is called "Shooting Dogs", and it is a movie about the 1994 catastrophe in Rwanda. It is no less about the trouble in making a difference. It is about the question whether or not you were able to make a difference in the face of a calamity as happened in Rwanda. You should ask yourself every day. You should be able to look into that big mirror in your clean bath room, and question yourself. And you should be able to smile then. "How much pain can a human being bear, before it gets numb to all pain?" Before you die?

It is a hard movie to see. It is one of the best, though, and everyone should see it. Actually, it is the kind of movie that is potentially able to make a difference, even to us, for the main characters are white, and that makes it easier to give our overwhelmed feelings a familiar face.

The road made up for us lead to Rwanda, too, as I wanted to see the place that I read so much about, and I wanted my desperate feelings for it to become real in that way that I would actually see the places where all the atrocities my mind had painted took place. They were painted and coloured in bloodshed then. I expected to see people bending hard under their burden of unbearable guilt, with their eyes all tied to the ground, and their tongues grown speechless. I didn´t find them, though. All I found were children, children all over the place. Happy children, beautiful children. Not bearing any liabilities. However, there was something about the grown people. If they took position on what happened, and that was rare, it was a very one-sided position. The gap in between a people consisting of two peoples, a gap created by European bureaucracy and colonial administration, is not easy to overcome. It must have been so hard for these people to find a stand in life again, with their neighbours being the murderers of their children, or themselves having sliced their work mates to death with machetes. How do people cope with so much hatred? The new-established (Tutsi) government has been critisised much about its judicial dealing in the aftermath of the war against Hutu militia, and especially the question of treating the guilty of both sides in an equal way, but I am impressed by them dealing with the situation. They did not let revenge guide the process. People forget to ask for what would have been the alternative to the regime as it is working now. For now, most African countries need strong leaders, in order not to fall apart. The peace in Rwanda is standing on precariously feet. Violence can easily take over again. When we were in Gisenyi, there were gun shots from the other side of the border, somewhere deep in Eastern Congo.

It seems like the actual place of the concrete fight for ethnicity, food and ressources just changes place. It does so all the time, the only consistency about it is its staying in Africa. Poor Congo is one of the most desperate places on earth. And who does care about that piece of jungle? How can our compassion be attracted when there are no news reporters, no shocking pictures of thousandary murder on CNN or BBC, not even a body count? How will we be able to inform ourselves on ongoing war and murder, when it is the media carefully weighing gaining interest - interest in enthusiastically selling a scandalous story versus the companies interest in keeping up a war that will constantly distribute them with extreme rare ressources (such as Coltan or diamonds) in exchange for selling weapons - which is quite a nice-price business - when it is the same companies owning those same news channels supporting the blessed part of mankind that matters with information they are allowed to see, ghosts to us, linked by invisible threads that overlevel nation states by far.

There are scandalous things happening on the surface of our once beautiful planet. And though we don´t know by pretending not to see or hear, it is all laid open and clear to see and hear. It is not that hard to understand the connection between bying a new mobile phone, eating at a McMurder instead of a local, the liberation of laws concerning research on genetic food, or the usage of weapons, drawing the lines from the neoconservative effort of employing the Holy Bible to reestablish a divine mission for a chosen people, to us buying nile berch from Lake Victoria, to legions of formerly unknown epidemies befalling our food, or our health. It is machetes made in China that were used in the Rwandan slaughter, it is "Western" companies such as Nike and McD making people sweat and live and die for work, making endless profit in selling fashion, and slowly growing Asian economies, letting jobs depart from Europe or America, triggering our fear for whatever is black or yellow, or foreign in any other way, paving a way for scolars to produce mere fear pamphlets in the like of "The Clash of Cultures" and giving nationalism a minor comeback in liberated countries in the middle of European wealth. Liberated and wealthy up to the point of boredom, and simple fear for losing a constantly rising economy supplying us with a same rise of our luxury. We are already in the state of self-defense. The gates to Fortress Europe are closing in.

Where fear and power meet, it is of extreme importance for us to raise our voice. We ought to gather us much information as possible, as it is information that makes us powerful to make a difference. We got the right ideals, we should not let them get numbed by a number of catastrophies not bearable to anyone to keep track with. There are so many gifted and thinking people around, we are blessed to be able to contemplate other people´s miseries. Although, our humanist mind won´t let us rest in peace doing nothing about what we know is wrong.

I have always been of that opinion. Africa didn´t change any of my options, however, it didn´t affect them much at all. There are a lot of "Gutmenschen" out there trying to help Africa out. That doesn´t work in the way they are employing, though. Most people don´t care much about Africa. What they care about is their own ideals, and their way of realizing them. The Africans still don´t matter much to us. To most people they are unable to take care of themselves, anyway. My brother has seen the kind of development help, which is always a kind of teaching the indigen people our point of view on the matter, and our solutions to employ with the problem. Renaissance in Europe led to freedom and individualism, and circumstances in Africa make European individualsm flourish. Still, we own most of the continent, in the style of a new colonialism. Thus, Africa is being colonized by development organisations, which become an industrial branch of their own, developing some kind of self-dynamics. It is becoming more and more essential in the economies in many countries, and even to not a small number of people making a living on that in our countries. Did you know that some charitable organizations are selling their names on old-cloth containers to companies selling those very clothes in Africa? In case you didn´t, you should know. Luckily, we can´t completely keep Black people from studying and making up their own mind on things. So, more and more African intellectuals are complaining about that new dependence (well, actually, it´s not that new at all).

My brother and I spent some time discussing about the point and importance of development aid for Africa, and you don´t come to any definite conclusion, you just get desillusioned on the matter. In fact, Africa serves our economy very well, if you only think of weapons and food and UN-troups... But who - in the end - is gaining from that? It is not our nation states, they rather have to pay for the costs. However, who is making money on that, is who won´t have to take responsibility. In fact, as long as there is stock exchange and money interests, that "one" is not existing for real. It is superhuman in the worst way you can imagine, and it is alienating man from himself. Our manners grow rude, until there is no one else around we will care about. Where are we hiding our old and disabled? It appears to me that there is a long line from the disintegration of the extended family through the discovery and conquest of the individual down to nowadays single´s life. We replaced our love and warmth towards our heart´s closest with the cold odor of paper money. A perfect job is surely waiting out there for you, if you only devote all your life to a life in a social shadow. But what ghosts are haunting us, in giving up so much life for so much deceiving and cold rushing? A band called "Jets to Brazil" entitled one of their records "Perfecting Loneliness", and that´s exactly what it is all about. We grow fears that become mental illnesses, fully rewarded a biological term making it a serious disease and part of the list of worries for the day, clothing it in a sense of ever-had-been and will-ever-be, somehow unnegatable.

I have a feeling that it is all related. There is too much happening at a time, and it is speeding up. The majority of people is in danger of losing control over their belongings, their homes, their identities, their minds. It is not that our society would be coloured in black and white, there is no evident gap between a large group of poor versus a small elite. We are connected with each other, from ground to top, through many hands. It is a lot of small hands that help keeping up the system, whether uncontiously or not is not the question. The picture might resemble a pyramid, but a pyramid has polished edges, whilst societies don´t. Every day in our life is connected to what is happening to the planet, and every small one of us has the presuppositions to make a difference. Since it is us deciding about our own lives, and it is our lives that matter only in here, we ought to make a choice every day. Our choice is where the difference lies. And, believe me, it will spread.

The real menace to our prosperity and wealth is originating from our own societies. It is our trust in money and happiness supplied by the brand. However, as long as there´s enough money to spend on adidas shoes and Levi´s Jeans, we are not endangered yet. You should question thus our concerns, as well. How much do we need for a living? Isn´t life about feeling comfortable and happy in the first place?

There is much truth in the religions on that matter. It is your perspective that makes the difference. Can you view yourself from some distance? Shouldn´t we treat anyone else as if it were ourselves we treated?

That is true detachment. It is detaching from perceiving things from the sole perspective of our limited eye range. Call it seeing with your heart, if you want to. How much clichée it may sound, for me there is ultimate truth in it. You see with both your eyes, and your heart and mind. In Chinese there is a word that means heart and mind simultaneously, as it is your heart where the mind is placed. Typical for us, we consider our brain the most important part on our body. No wonder, we´d like to improve it by all means, including leaving the paths provided by nature.

I didn´t come to thinking like that in Africa, and it has nothing to do with the trip, if that was what I was intending to write about. Once I started, I just couldn´t stop, as I had to bring it down on paper for my own confused mind, as well.

Well, Africa is different, in much a respect. You won´t forget about it, once you are open enough to let it enter your heart. Pretty much of the time you are pretty much at the end of your tether, then again astonished, and at the end of the day you are seriously overwhelmed.

The greatest shock was arriving at the airport in Dar es Salaam. The even greater one was arriving back home in Frankfurt. People in party masks, the same old cranky air, the same old stair. Ready for the next complaint that could soothe an otherwise caged temper.

Sunbrowned "Ethnos", the ones wearing their blond hair down to their anus, as if they were challenging for a Siegfried and Roy look-a-like, and the porn glasses tight. Never aging, resembling trees in the way you can tell their age by the number of crinkles on their face (in case it is not lifted) and the slowly bleaching blond of their hair. Alternative clothes bought on the streets of their estates in Thailand. One rasta haired girl carrying a souvenir in her hand, the colour of chocolate, wearing its hair in rastas, too. (One remark: Please don´t use the word dreadlocks, as it is derogatory in its original meaning, but say rasta, instead, Ras being the nobility name, and Tafari being the name of the king and later emperor of Ethiopia who became known as Haile Selassie I.)

On the airport in Frankfurt, waiting for the plane to Dubai, the guy in the seat next to mine explained me that this time they actually wanted to go see some part of the "country", and not just stay in the hotel, although it must be a pretty rough place out there, especially if you have money. It is hard to accept a position like this, but I didn´t bother him with my opinion about anything. Even not, when there was a child crying for a long time, and he despisingly remarked that this was not much of a wonder, for in his opinion having a darker skinned father was necessarily refusing the child the possibility of a proper growing up. I don´t know for what reason people like these are actually leaving their country, since it is the only one worth living in (though the people in the hotel in Dubai actually are "nice"). I didn´t argue with him on that. As you know well, I can bring forth some anger and commitment on topics that really matter to me, but I was calm by that time. I knew I wouldn´t be able to change his mind. Not yet. I have to work on experience, life, arguments, authority, all that will come in time. It takes time changing the world, and first you have to observe effectively, learn and employ what you know. Laying the fundament is the most important thing here, if you don´t come to that, you cannot expect to go to the details without getting lost.

In Africa, I wrote extensively, close to the dimensions of a real book. However, much of it would be unpublishable, and I won´t trouble you with "publishing" it by any other means. Nonetheless, I hope for this getting to be a nice story, and awakening at least some interest in that continent that means much to me.

Did you ever have some kind of vision? - I would not claim to exactly have had one, but, ok, I did, one day on the road between Biharamulo and Bukoba in the north of Tanzania, sitting in the driver´s cab of an old truck converted to some kind of public transportation, carrying some 30 people on its loading area, plus their baggage. I was fevering in the cab, still on the repercussions of using Malaria prophylactics, or seriously cold, and envisioning a plot for the book that I was planning on to write, without knowing what it should be about. Myself? The world according to me, such as my former German teacher urged me? Well, we´ll see, the time is not ripe yet, and it has simply nothing to do with what I am writing about now (well, that was actually a lie).

White Man´s Burden, Black Man´s Grave

A tombstone for 11,400 people. A slaughter in the refuge of the children of our Lord and Father. Children grabbing your hands, and accompany you down the street. Skulls browned by the seasons and the suns, the blood on the walls dried and darkened. Mass on sunday, Day of the Lord. Dusty roads, waiting on the bus. Catholic estates that resemble the Mediterranean. Was there blood on these walls? Small children selling cookies from Indonesia, and water in unsealed bottles, trying to make some extra money on the Mzungu. Your almost lost French slowly on its way back to the short term memory. Volcanoes out of the dust, their heads in clouds, smoking. Few trees giving shelter from a sun in its zenith. The clapping of hands on windows, selling a tiny bit of poverty, numbered in cooked bananas. Was there blood washed off of these hands? The music from the night-watchman awakening your dream at four in the morning. No lights in an empty night. Where did all the machetes go? A beautiful girl watching you, her face in stone. People talking to clouds.

Concerning survival, it turned out to be just right to have let the (almoust famous) German perception of time stay where it belongs - in Germany, of course. Because, and that is what every good travel advisor will tell you, it is crucial to clear up your head, empty it in some way to be receptive to all the sure-to-come experiences. That wise anticipation of situation would be tested earlier than expected. Actually, while still being in Germany. My flight was two hours late, exactly those two hours that it would have taken to switch flights in Dubai.

Dubai is a desert, fertilized with oil. A desert of sand and cars. The sky is the colour of sand. There is not much to go. Air is getting thin, thin with heat. I had half a day and half a night in Dubai, accomodated in the Millenium Airport Hotel, Emirates own nice hotel. The warm buffet was a burner, and, knowing it might be the best food for quite a while, I took as much of the Curry dishes as I could take, at the same time trying to avoid eating too much, as that can be horrible in a plane passing every air hole there is. However, there is no way I would stay in a hotel like this without someone forcing me by crucial means to do. It is exactly the place for people to go who plan on their vacation in terms of hotels, wasting no thought about having to leave that comfortable place. I cannot stand the freezing air condition in there. Man, it took me quite a while to figure how to change the settings!

I was not the only one to deal with changing flight tickets. When they gave me a call and woke me up at one in the morning, there were a couple of Germans heading the same way. We would be placed in an aircraft of Ethiopian Airlines, and that was much more Africa than Emirates would ever have been. There would be a short stop and plane change in Addis Abeba, capitol of Ethiopia. The plane was full of Africans. There was life. Naked feet touching you from behind, searching for a comfortable place to stay somewhere in between the seats. One guy in the row next to mine who couldn´t sat still except for take off, and thus walked the distance from head to back about 274 times. Big African mamas in their happily coloured dresses. (Luckily there was none of them sitting next to me.) Businessmen, obviously the elite in their country, at least they made it seem like they were. Wearing more gold than Snoop Dogg.

The first encounter with Africa. Laughter and talk. No discipline, as the German would remark. You have to fight for your space on the seats. Why should a plane be different from any other public transportation?

I wanted to go to Ethiopia anyway. Now that I had two hours there to get nothing more but a brief glimpse, I even more want to come back. Ethiopian Airlines was great! If Emirates are known for being quite choosey with their stewardesses, their beauty from all over the world can still not top the natural beauty of the Ethiopian stewardesses. It´s a matter of taste, I reckon, but to me this was paradise! You can find beauty everywhere, and it this sense I had never seen such beauty before.

A feeling like having left something that urges you to come back to pick it up. Africa made me feel like there was much more to see then I could ever do, even thereafter. But Ethiopia is definitely a point on the to-go list. The indigen language, Amhaeric, is a very nice one and has beautiful letters. Ethiopia is worth a visit not just because of its beautiful people, of course, but of its rich history, being one of the earliest Christian countries, and never a colony, except for the crazy Italian war on it in the 1920s.

I changed planes once more, in Arusha Int. Airport, so close to my brother, but I didn´t know that before, of course. The second machine was a small one full of Chinese businessmen. The Chinese are getting into East Africa really big. Those guys would stay in Dar for half a year or more. My brother told me that the Chinese are currently taking over. They are building everything of importance, infrastructure and raising joint ventures. The world is linked, but we´ve had that topic before and will have it later. Driving a plane full of foreigners, our pilote would pass by the top of Africa, the Mount Kilimanjaro, twice. And we would see a small white peak poke out of a softly modeled, plain white langscape of clouds.

The Airport of Dar es Salaam

was as much a shock as there can be - assuming my growing up in a safe environment. People rushing forth down an unknown, but somehow predestined hall way. Coming to the end of the way, filled with people. What to do? Everyone else seemed to know. Where did they get those papers from? The ones that looked like they could be used for visa application? - I think, it took me two hours, 50 dollars for a visa, and a lot of sweat to pass this first obstacle. The guys seemingly did not like the picture in my passport, so they took a new one - the web cam felt out of place, somehow.

My luggage was the last that was there to be taken. Coming from a melting European winter, it felt incredible warm outside the building. My brother was waiting there for me, about three hours, I suppose. We snatched in the fixed cab for the other two German guys, thus saving money - we would use that pattern quite often in the time to come. Saving money where possible. Often that included waiving a meal during the day.

We would first stay one day in Dar es Salaam, then try to catch the train East-West right through the country to Kigoma at the shores of Lake Tanganjika. That train would come every Thursday and Saturday, or maybe not. Usually, people are waiting the last two days for the train in the train station, so to make sure they won´t miss it. We had to buy enough food and water supplies for a three day trip, for finding any kind of store on the way would be highly unprobable. Lucas bought a First Class ticket, granting us a cabin with two "beds". We even had a little runlet of water coming from a tiny water tap. Everything else than First Class would be suicide, my brother assured me. First of all, in Africa you have to get rid of all kind of false meekness. It may save your life.

Dar, by the way, is a huge city, combining dust and people and selling and buying on the street - everyone is either selling or buying. And if there are two kinds of people, those selling and those buying, you know on which side you stand. The smell of money precedes every and all of your steps. Those selling will always and with an undeceivable instinct go for you, because that is where the money is. The two of us went to Kariakoo, the truly "African" market in Dar, and that one is notorious with white visitors. However, on that occasion I could grasp a glimpse of about how deep my brother had already gotten into his environment.

He did all the talking in a fluent Kiswahili.

You can´t compare Kariakoo to any type of market known to you. It was huge. Full of stands, selling shoes with often only one exemplar available, most of them already worn. Shirts with "typical" African design, made in Bangladesh. Snacks served next to the horribly smelling garbage all over the streets.

African big cities tend to have a similar style. Besides all the dust and smog from countless cars and merciless dry winds, you find several story buildings next to ramshackle huts.

"Endow us with television and a car, but deliver us from our freedom"

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