Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Frilvolous Exclamations

Polaroid by David Pohl

Over the weekend I attended a picnic in support of The Africa Project in Schenley Park, a very familiar park to people who've attended The University of Pittsburgh or Carnegie Mellon University. It rained which probably affected turn-out, still it was great to meet lots of people there. I'm not very good at networking, but I got an email address and promised to send a few links to a fellow I met there. I did that and got some feedback about this blog in the process. As you might gather from the title of this post the feedback wasn't favorable. The great thing about blogs of this sort is they don't really matter much; that is, there are so many blogs out there it's really just a matter of attending to the ones which catch your fancy.

Really, the difficulty I've had recently in posting hasn't been worrying about you, my dear readers, but rather feeling less certain about anything I might say, in particular anything having to do with African issues.

I always enjoy reading Ethan Zuckerman's blog posts, and Is Israel a problem for the Democratic Republic of Congo? addressed the problem of media attention about Africa in an original way. Zuckerman thinks it's important for world citizens to be informed. He suggest that when we read about the Israel/Lebanon conflict and other stories with well-worn preexisting narratives, that we endeavor to seek out a story about Africa in the news. He wrote:
You’ll likely find the news confusing, complicated, incomplete and unhelpful in forming your opinions about how Central Africa can move towards a peaceful future. And that, oddly enough, is a useful first step.
"Confusing," "complicated," "incomplete" and "unhelpful" indeed, I've found all of that. And the big stumbling block for my writing posts is not wanting to add, even in such a small way, to the confusion. But I found Zuckerman's observation that coming to grips with the complexity of issues affecting Central Africa is a useful step towards a peaceful future.

My new acquaintance finds this blog off-putting; the reason for sending him links was our discussion about how little use he has for the Internet in general. That's not changed, but among the links I sent him was Ish Con and that forum caught his attention. The beautiful thing about first steps is they encourage other steps. There was a note of excitement in his email about finding an online forum of people who are exchanging views about ideas he finds important. It's a first step.

My morning paper had an editorial regarding the Sunday elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I'm sure like most regional newspapers, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette dosen't expend much ink on African issues, but I'm pleased they don't completely ignore them either. As Zuckerman points out, if Americans want to read news stories about African issues, they'll have to look for them. But that's not so hard to do.

A few Sunday's ago Post-Gazette reporter Ervin Dyer wrote a beautiful piece, What I Learned to Give about his efforts with the children of Lincoln Elementary Technology Academy to raise money for and elementary school in rural Somany, Ghana. Lincoln-Lemmington is a hard part of town. I searched for a link for the neighborhood and an awful lot of the entries on the page results included the word "incidents." It's a safe bet none at the students at Lincoln Elementary are growing up with a silver spoons in their mouths. Dyer wrote about the kids five-week long effort to collect pennies for the school in Ghana:
Every day we should teach society's forgotten children to imagine that they can care, and that through their caring and through their gifts they can change the world. One person at a time.
Kenyan Analyst linked to a story in a women's magazine published in Ghana, Seeds of Hope: Kenyan Children Helping Children. The children of Kemeliet Primary School in Meibeki Valley, Kenya collected maize, eventually 200 bags (each bag weighing 100kg) for children in drought-affected areas of Kenya. Dyer speaks about "teaching the children" but I for one have much to learn from the students of Lincoln Elementary and Kemeliet Primary School.

One word that Zuckerman didn't use regarding reactions to reading African news was overwhelming, but I feel overwhelmed sometimes. For example here's an article I read today at the BBC, Bleak future for Congo's child soldiers. Might I say how much I object to "bleak futures?"

At the Africa Project picnic I met a man from Northern Uganda who is here in the States for a short while. He actually works in Southern Sudan for Catholic Relief Services. He thanked me for all the help I offer. I protested that I don't do nothing, but he insisted that my attention and the attention of so many Americans is important and appreciated.

All of us can play a positive role towards a peaceful world, even when we are unsettled and confused by the news. The children of Lincoln Elementary worked hard to help their fellow primary students in Ghana, and were happy to do it. All it took was someone to ask for their help, and Ervin Dyer was happy to oblige. Ethan Zuckerman is right about the importance of taking that useful first step. A line from Zap Mama's beautiful Nostalgie Amoureuse comes to mind:
We are the winners
If we unclothe our eyes
The scene is not what it seems
The healing waits in our sky.

Hey there! Before you walk away
Show me the smile that says
I’m not alone
You see what you want in me
This crazy life is my home.


phil jones said...

Huh? What was his problem with the blog?

Was he looking for something more like a formal newsletter? Or more information in BBs themselves?

Kaunda said...

No, nothing more formal, or more information about BBs. What he found was just too long; he wants to get on the Internet and off as quickly as possible. Different views about information and the Internet was one of the things we talked about at the picnic which led to my email to him. I even quoted you (without attribution)at the picnic that finding really useful information is "a matter of hanging out at approximately the right place on the Internet." I thought that the notion that conversation; that the Internet is a many to many medium, was something that just people my age had a hard time making sense of. But this fellow is a young university student and thinks the Internet should be a repository of information rather like a library. He gets that it's not like that and it annoys him.

I gave him some links to discussions at Ish Con because I learned he was interested in Daniel Quinn. I'm not too hip to the whole neo-tribalism thing. But I've got some misgivings, especially about how some of the neo-tribalism ideas about tribes in relation to history and the current situation of African people. And I've got some real problems with this fellow's views of deconstructing civilization. But I was delighted to hear that Ish Con was new to him and that he was excited to find others in conversation about ideas he finds important. Maybe the notion that conversation is an important feature of the Internet will emerge from his participation there.

Sometimes the most useful information I've found on the Internet I would never have known beforehand to look for. It's not uncommon to read blog posts or comments, scratch my head and move on. Only later bits and pieces will fall into place and go back to what I breezed over before to find something essential there.

He doesn't want to write on the Internet until he's quite sure he has something down pat. "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." I tell him, and my Internet-reluctant freinds: "Come on in, the water's fine." They look at me like I'm crazy.

kenyananalyst said...

Interesting post.