Admittedly the past six months has been exhausting, not just for me but for countless others. The political crisis in Burundi drags on with no end in sight. Tension remains high and no one can predict what will happen next. We’ve passed so many milestones that were supposed to provide some sort of relief to the tension but no relief has come. Dead bodies continue to be found on a daily basis. The sounds of gunfire, grenade blasts and occasional mortars can be heard almost daily. It is getting old. For those living in the more troubled neighborhoods, I simply can’t imagine what they’re going through.
We trudge on. We carry on our work in support of the Burundian population and Congolese refugees the best we can. In the interior of the country things are calmer and we’re operating normally. However staff there have stress too, not only that things in Bujumbura escalate elsewhere but most of them have family and friends in Bujumbura.
I’m in New York. I just arrived for a week of meetings. It’s always strange coming here, particularly in the first 24 hours. I live in the poorest country on earth (GDP per capita) and to be in the middle of Manhattan from one day to the next can make your brain explode. Yesterday, while walking with my friend Liya we strode past rubbish consisting of a few dozen containers of salad. Unopened. At a glance they looked perfectly fine but the restaurant that tossed the salad (sorry) probably did so because of an arbitrary “sell by” date. Regardless, there it was, good food, clean, spilling out of a garbage bag. Did I mention that Burundi ranks number one on the Global Hunger Index – and the ranking was done based on date BEFORE the current crisis.
|gotta love NY in autumn|
Being in NY can make your head spin even if you’re not coming from the middle of Africa. But I can’t help thinking about the disparity. I’m reading a book called the Citizens of London, recommended to me by Priya’s mom. Great read, particularly if you’re into history. At one point in the book, Edward R. Murrow, an American war correspondent who was based in London during WWII and the attacks on the city, took some leave and went to the US. He had a hard time adjusting. London was hammered by bombs for fifty seven days straight. Much of the city was ruined. Goods were in short supply. People lived of meager rations. It was prolonged devastation. A friend of his said of his visit to NY, “He walked along Fifth Avenue and Madison and saw the stores stocked with beautiful things, and it positively made him angry. He’d see all the food in the restaurants and say ‘I don’t think I can eat when I think of what’s going on back there.” In a letter to a friend, the English socialist Harold Laski, Murrow said he was “spending most of my time trying to keep my temper in check,” seeing “so many well-dressed, well-fed, complacent-looking people” and hearing “wealthy friends moaning about the ruinous taxation.” He added, “Words mean something entirely different here…Maybe it was a mistake to come.”
(Coincidentally, it was just off Madison Avenue where I saw the salad, though it could have been almost anywhere in this country.)
|for the record, not a crumb was thrown away|
I’m not the man Murrow was and I fully intend to eat while I’m here, but this passage, as I read it on the airplane, certainly gave me pause. It’s something I feel to some degree each time I go to Europe or the US. But it’s not the kind of thing with which you can beat people over the head while you’re there. People don’t want to hear it. It feels like an accusation, which for the most part it’s not. It’s an observation of a situation. Yes, it’s a situation that should change, particularly because the wealth disparity gets worse each year. I can’t remember what the statistic is but it’s something crazy like 90% of the planet’s wealth is in the hands of 1% of the people. Or something like that . Whatever the numbers are, it’s shocking and in my opinion unacceptable.
We can do more. We should. But we probably won’t.
|my wonderful friend Liya|