(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Monday, January 31, 2011

I Must Be Missing Something

I generally don't rant in this blog even though I thought I would years ago when I set it up. So, maybe today I'll rant.

Boom in the Night
Last Friday at 1:30 in the morning we were awoken to what sounded like someone pounding on the door. Given that we live in a walled compound, you don't get anyone knocking at your door except guards. Assuming that was the case this time, I got up, wondering what the heck was going on, and made my way sleepily yet nervously to find out.

As I got to the door I found no one there. I looked around and didn't see anyone for a few minutes. Finally I saw one of the guards and, though he was awake and walking around, he didn't give me any indication that he'd been to the door. In fact it turned out to be gunfire. It was apparently close enough to make it sound like a loud pounding on a door on the other side of the house from our bedroom (i.e. close by).

Unfortunately it's not unusual to hear gunfire in Bujumbura or even an occasional hand grenade explosion (though this seemed particularly close). The next night (Friday) we heard an explosion of some kind and I found out on Monday that it was in fact a hand grenade. Such is life in our new town.

Guns and Roses
I occasionally peruse the website of the local paper where I grew up. I'm not sure why I feel compelled to do this but I do feel a strong attachment to my roots and I do love the simplicity of small town America.

An article I spotted on the weekend coming from the nearby state of Utah caught me a bit off guard. It said that the state's lawmakers were devoting time to the discussion of the designation of a state gun. Huh?! I suppose that for some this does not appear to be absurd. Honoring weaponry through the legislative process? Granted, I'm particularly sensitive about this since I live in a country where people don't have the luxury of spending time getting pedicures for poodles and butt implants. The citizens of this country are often in a battle to put food on the table and avoid getting their few possessions robbed of them at gunpoint.

Now I understand the need to recognize symbols regarding history, geography and culture. In fact most people that know me well understand that I'm fascinated by history and feel like peoples' lack of understanding of the past contributes to some of the stupid decisions people make today. I've even been known to hunt back in the day and it generally doesn't bother me if people own guns (except of course the crazy people in rich countries and desperate people in poor countries). But to tap into the state legislative system and use the supposed valuable time of legislators to review in committee, debate in the House, pose for photos, vote, etc. regarding the state's legal honor of a handgun is without a doubt ludicrous. Apparently previous time wastage by the state has resulted in, among other things, the legal establishment of a state cooking pot and a state folk dance. I'm sorry I missed out on the floor debate of the Utah House of Representatives when the merits of the cooking pot were under heated discussion.

In a time when a Congresswoman from another state is recovering from a head wound inflicted by a handgun and several others killed, the timing of such an honoring is at best bad taste. It's not about defending America's values and traditions and opposition is not about demonizing firearms. It's about the misuse of government time/resources and an obvious lack of respect. The state clearly has far more acute issues to deal with and if it doesn't, everyone should move there immediately.

My guess is that people's priorities get warped over time. It's helpful to step outside of your world sometimes to help you see things more clearly. The US often allows itself to become culturally isolated and sometimes very odd things start to seem normal because you don't have enough to compare it to. Security is a big issue in most countries around the world. Obviously here in Burundi it's a big deal. It's always the first agenda item in my coordination meetings with staff here and in my meeting with representatives from other organizations. I receive a handful of security reports every single day – most of which contain gruesome killings. And then there are those things that go boom in the night.

Weapons are everywhere in this country. Some are still here from the war and others are coming into the country every day. Many people live in fear. To imagine a place where government officials are all giggly about honoring a weapon escapes the imagination. If people really believe that guns don't kill, that it's the people that kill, then honoring a gun doesn't make sense. The state of Utah should spend its time honoring its police force or its veterans. Guns don't protect; people do.

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