So long “Dispatches from Africa ,” Hello “Dispatches from the Land of the Free”

Ten months ago, we started walking on a journey that took us places we could never have imagined on a continent that we know little about:  Africa

By no means would any of us suggest that getting to know Ethiopia , Nigeria and Ghana means that we know the continent.  Still, we have come to understand and respect the people through the weekly telling of stories through this column.

I can say that because you have told me so, through emails, comments to my family, kind words expressed to me when I returned.  It can be a heady thing to think that my words have influenced positive change in your minds and hearts with regards to Africa .  But it is not, really.  A heady thing, that is.  More often that not, when I sit down to write every week something feels as if it comes into me, but lately I have recognized that it is, instead, something coming out of me.  The words are not really mine; they are everyone’s, the expression of our interconnectedness, the ties that bind us all, our commonality…

When I was a boy growing up and riding a bike on the streets of McSherrystown and playing on the ball fields back by the “courts”, I never envisioned myself doing anything but playing football for Joe Paterno or being the next Cal Ripken.  Now that’s heady!  The biking is still there; I get “away” by hitting the trails of Michaux.

It is under this retrospective lens that I choose to redirect this column.  So often we hear that people like us, those that live and value the small town, rural life, do not have much sight beyond the local gossip at the diner, the price of corn this year, whether it will snow again before April…

We prove them wrong.  “Dispatches from Africa” speaks loudly to the reality that people in small town America do care and do want to learn about how other people live, about how their government’s policies affect the lives of people living outside the U.S. of A., about how other people feel, love, work, play, etc. 

Many of you took an interest in the stories of refugees living in Ethiopia .  As a result, you may know more about refugee situations than the politician sitting in Washington voting on whether to give more funding to UNHCR. 

Others were fascinated with the columns about the great Christian Kingdom of Africa that is now the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.  Yet, many standing at the pulpits think Christianity in Africa is evangelists and missionaries. 

You felt the deep disturbance in your souls when reading about the slave castles of Ghana , getting at the truth of American history in a way that schools in this country get it wrong. 

Seeing the little girls gathering water in the dry Ogaden Desert forced you to look at the water coming out of the spigot with greater appreciation, and then you took $800 out of your wallets in hopes that the girls will have a spigot of their own someday.

Learning of the cries for justice calling out from the Niger Delta, going to fill the gas tank puts you in a reflective mood, wondering if the world is ever going to experience equality. 

For me, when I hear how my neighbors and fellow townsfolk have embraced what we have experienced in our African journey, it pleases me.  And, it makes me angry.  What? Why?  Our leaders in Washington are out of touch with the American people.  If given the opportunity to learn about our common humanity, we would not sit aside and let ourselves starve to death, die of treatable disease, die of dehydration, be enslaved in prostitution, buy clothes made by 10 year-old hands, pump gas while others sit in the dark…

… and drop bombs in the defense of our perceived freedom.

Thank you, readers, for proving that everyday, ordinary, simple Americans (my favorite kind) are interested in what happens outside this country’s borders.  But that’s just it, isn’t it?  They don’t want us to understand and identify with our common humanity.  Instill fear of the foreign and unknown, and they follow behind like scared puppy dogs.

Starting next week, this column will focus on our country, and how what we do impacts our common humanity.  Let’s get to know ourselves a little first, and then we’ll see where that takes us.

So long “Dispatches from Africa .”  We will not forget you.

Hello “Dispatches from the Land of the Free.”

(written 26 March 2006)

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