Saturday, December 13, 2008

Waterfalls and Blood in the Streets

Final Somalia Video-
The story of Somalia is complex, disheartening and violent. It can be hard to imagine the atrocities that are occurring there daily. Because it’s not right in front of us, the brutality can seem unreal. Citizens and the American media tend to think of things in black and white when it comes to foreign conflicts, and the subsequent news stories and conversations about Somalia reflect this way of thinking according to some native Somali’s. But to a certain Somali refugee living and studying to be a journalist in this country, the almost 20-year long civil war is never far from her heart and her mind.

“I don’t feel complete. I’m here but part of me is not,” Somali refugee and University of Massachusetts student Yasmine Farh said in a recent interview about her life in Somalia and as a refugee now living in America; a land she believes is not doing enough to help and is negatively contributing to the conflict. While describing her life and journey from a worn-torn country, Farh casts new, insiders light on some of these negative instances, including the Western Media’s reporting on the piracy of shipping vessels occurring in the seas just off the coast of Somalia and the perceived lack of help from the United Nations.

Somalia had been without an effective government for a little over 17 years until 2002 when a new government was elected. “Things have not improved there, actually things have [become] worse,” said Farh. “Because now there is piracy which is basically a group of men who are upset about other nations coming into the seas to dump waste or steal fish,” she added. In 1991, warlords overthrew a dictatorship and then turned on one another creating the dangerous crossroads the country now is steeped in.

Because the new Somalia government isn’t able or willing to tell these nations to stop, the breach of the waters, the young men who wield violence to stop them and the ensuing media’s reporting on the subject will continue to complete the vicious circle. “Initially the piracy started when Somali’s became fed up with the people coming to dump and steal, it’s now turned out to be a business for them,” Farh said. Journalists also have not asked the pertinent questions and have forgotten the initial cause of the piracy Farh believes. “I’m very much disappointed with the media because I feel they have not been objective and forward with Somali. No one asks the question ‘why does this country not have a [legitimate] government?’” said Farh.

The fact that the media concentrates on the most violent cities in Somalia instead of the peaceful ones is also evidence, Farh believes, of bias and propaganda. “Journalists always cover areas that are bad, like Mogadishu, never cities like Carmooyin,” she said. Carmooyin is rapidly growing and it is the third largest city of the Bari region. It is also the only planned city in Somalia.

Yasmine and her mother have returned to visit her homeland, dispelling the notion of a destroyed country. “Somalia is not as bad as the media puts it; there are people there who are living good lives and my mother and I have gone back,” said Farh. Although Yasmine currently resides in the U.S. and only visits Somalia, her story and her heart live back home.

“The journey of my life is English, but I still feel like a refugee,” she said. Farh’s story traces from Somalia to the “disease invested” Kenya refugee camp called Otango to America. “When my family left Somalia, everything was still intact; the houses were fine and no chaos,” she said. Her whole life until that point was then left behind. “We left all our belongings thinking we’d be going back,” she added. Soon after, the president fled and then chaos erupted. “The capital fell and then all the other little cities,” said Farh. This is when her family made their way to Kenya.

“My experiences in Kenya were not very good because I felt like the U.N. failed us,” she said. The conditions in the camp were bad, rife with disease and little food and shelter. “The houses we lived in were from trees the refugees made,” she said. To sum up her time in Otango and to illustrate the United Nations’ way of helping, Farh recited a common adage. “If you teach a boy how to fish he’ll eat for life, but if you give him a fish he’ll be begging for life.” The officials expected them to live off some rice but never taught them how to get it. “It was basically that,” she said. “They divided us instead of saying ‘what do you need?’”

Before leaving Somalia, the war personally affected her family, more so her mother and younger brothers. “War was a thrill for me because during it we traveled all over Somali to places I didn’t know existed – to beautiful waterfalls for example,” she said. But it was not all good. “I have seen blood in the streets, and the not knowing what is going to happen is the worst part,” she added.

One positive thing that has come out of the war for Yasmine Farh is a new and pure motivation. “I became inspired after reading U.S. articles about people who where just like me. I would say, ‘oh my goodness, they got it wrong,'" she said. “I know how it feels to have everything you love being taken away from you.”

Friday, December 5, 2008

Heated Passions Erupt, Accusations Fly

On Wednesday evening the UMass political group "Save Darfur" and "Amnesty International," sponsored "Raise Hope for the Congo," an event to be held in Bartlet 65 featuring journalist and former member of the Clinton administration, John Prendergast. Prendergast is co-chair of the "ENOUGH Project," which is an initiative to end genocide and crimes against humanity.

Prendergast was also joined by physician Dr. Mukwege (After another guest cancelled - UN Goodwill Ambassador Jimmie Briggs,) who works helping rape victims in the only all-women hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo - The Panzi Hospital. The event was to concentrate on the current crisis in the Congo, which has played host to "The world's deadliest conflict since World War II," and to especially shine a harsh light on the fact that the militias in eastern Congo are using sexual violence against women and girls as a weapon and tool to advance their play to destroy communities and exert tight control over natural resources.

Prendergast was the first to speak, and he gave a fairly succinct, history and summary of the crisis that has spanned 12 long years and has resulted in the deaths of 45,000 each month. That specific number comes from Prendergast and the "RAISE Hope for Congo" campaign, which is a specific project push of ENOUGH. This number of supposed dead seemed to spark the small flame of contention that had been simmering quietly in the 10th row from the front of the stage.

Once Mr. Prendergast, the good doctor and Candice Knezevic, the manager of the Enough campaign finished their presentation, the event was opened up to questions from the small audience and answers from the guests. After a fairly uncontroversial question posed to Prendergast - (How do we go about punishing the rebel militia leaders when the 'RAISE Hope..' movement in itself preaches peace & understanding,) a white, medium statured, bald man with a white, tucked-in T shirt, large vein bulging in his neck and black artisan glasses shot up from his seat like a Jack 'n' the Box that was wound too tightly by some snotty-nosed kid.

"WHY DON'T YOU TELL THE TRUTH JOHN," he yelled as the audiences' blood pressure rocketed. "WHY DON'T YOU TELL US WHAT YOUR REALLY ABOUT?" he screamed as he turned to face the people seated behind him. From what I could understand, once I regained my composure, was that this man believed Prendergast and others in the U.S. government were somehow involved in keeping the violent fighting going and ultimately profiting from it. "JOHN KNOWS WHO I AM! TELL THE REAL TRUTH. THE NUMBER OF DEAD IS MORE LIKE TEN MILLION!" Not the 5.5 million the journalist, author and activist proposed during his talk.

A number of male students in the audience began to yell at the man to "shut the **** up, and leave." A teacher approached him and asked him politely to go, but the passionate man refused until "PEOPLE START ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS. WHY IS IT SO HARD TO TELL THE TRUTH JOHN!" At about this point two African American women in the 3rd row began to loudly proclaim that although he might be going about it in the wrong way, he was right. This validation seemed to calm the bald, non- UMass student. A visibly shaken John Prendergast began to answer another question posed from a soft-spoken audience member. - "Who do the Congolese want as a leader in their government, and how can the U.S. administration help? - As he started to respond - "THE ADMINISTRATION...! OH MAN. THE TRUTH JOHN," the 10th row shook.
"Man, we have some really disruptive people here today. Well we tried," the activist said as he abruptly grabbed his notes and T-Mobile cell, got up and left the stage as the rest of the audience clapped loudly, apparently attempting to provide their own validation to themselves and the ruined night.