Thursday, June 26, 2008

O Africa!

A number of years ago, a friend of mine who's life had been touched by the continent of Africa wrote a song and entitled it "O Africa." It's been so long, I don't even remember any of the lyrics except the title, which continues to resonate in me. It's amazing what is contained in the single letter interjection: "O!" How much passion, emotion, hope, despair.

If you've been to Africa, you know what I mean.

My wife and I spent two amazing, enlightening months in Zimbabwe in 1985, just five years after the British colony of Southern Rhodesia had achieved independence and renamed itself. Robert Mugabe was still the Man of the Hour, having led the nation not only into independence, but ongoing relative prosperity as well. Not by any means that Zimbabwe was a model society -- inter-tribal conflict and racial inequality were very present; but it was a period of peace, and most of all, hope. Twenty-three years later, Mugabe is regarded by most as a power-addicted despot, desperately clutching what authority remains in his 84-year-old hands. For the rest of the world, his moral authority has long since dissipated.

We freedom-touting Westerners are inclined to immediately take sides with whichever side appeals most to our idea of liberty. I'll admit that I'm more than ready to see Mugabe hand over the reins of that nation in demise, the nation that was once called the Bread Basket of Africa. And Morgan Tsvangirai seemed like the man for the job. Now we'll just have to wait and see what unfolds.

I hear the word "O" with the word "Africa" because she has so much to offer. Like a slave who has just been offered freedom, she struggles to find her footing, her role on the international stage. South Africa, which many consider the bellwether nation of the continent, finds itself facing a whole new set of challenges as foreigners flock to its already swollen cities.

More later -- in the meantime, share your "O Africa" experiences and thoughts by posting a comment.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Lars and the Real World

You may have seen the poignant film by Craig Gillespie, Lars and the Real Girl, where Ryan Gosling masterfully portrays a young man whose loneliness is so acute that he actually buys a life-size mail-order sex doll, names it Bianca and expects all his acquaintances to welcome her into the small-town community. Sex is not what he is after, however – he is simply starving for a relationship of substance.

So why would I cite this film in the world history class I taught last semester? Gosling’s character’s behavior was symptomatic of some serious adolescent scarring – a profound sense of abandonment, in particular. It is no secret that dysfunctional behavior can almost always be traced to some kind of past trauma or extreme deficit. As I write this I’m also reminded of the Barbra Streisand film, Nuts, in which it is revealed that, during her teenage years, the father of this now high class, sex-addicted call girl regularly used money to coerce her into having sex with him. Not all consequences are so dramatic, but they are there nonetheless.

If this is true of human beings, is it not possible that the same is true of nations? I am sincerely asking the question, rather than making a dogmatic statement.

There are many problem spots in the world we would label as dysfunctional, whether it be ethnic conflict, corruption, religious friction…and in my simple, naïve, American mind, I wonder why everyone can’t just get along….Knowing that over half of the foreign aid that arrives in Africa falls into corrupt hands and never reaches its destination makes me crazy; Sunni vs. Shiite makes absolutely no sense to me; the refusal of the Myanmar junta to allow relief agencies to help its people in the wake of such a disaster blows my fuses.

I am certain that I never see the whole picture, that no one really sees and understands the full story; but I am convinced that if we look into the past to learn for the sake of the future, we will have more than one “aha” experience. Take Rwanda, which I believe is emblematic of much of Africa: We would better understand the Tutsi/Hutu conflict that engendered the genocide of the 90’s if we knew that the Belgian imperial presence (preceded by the Germans) showed a blatant preference for the Tutsis, thereby setting one tribe against the other. We would have more insight into the Kurdish conflict – and why Turkey is so threatened by them -- if we knew that this is the largest ethnic group in history to have never had its own independent political state. I don’t cite these examples to take sides; just to say that there is always a back story.

This blog is intended not as a monologue, but a diablog! Do other examples come to mind? We welcome your comments.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A global conversation

Welcome to World to the Wise -- a place for international dialogue in an age of globalization.

It's a new the world shrinks, there are ever-emerging dynamics that create hope, discovery, excitement -- but also enormous challenges and questions. This is a place to exchange ideas and opinions on all aspects of the global experience: travel, culture, business, etc., with a view of promoting cultural understanding and awareness in the 21st century.

I am an American. I have spent 17 years outside the United States, during which time I developed a fascination with the beauty and diversity of the nations of the world. I personally believe that each culture is endowed with God-given uniqueness and strengths, which, when brought to the international table, provide a sumptuous banquet we have only begun to experience.

Rules of Engagement:

Our purpose is not to bash any one country, ethnic group or religion. We welcome your comments -- and you are encouraged to be honest and forthright -- but remember that our end goal is increased awareness as we learn from each other -- both from our mistakes and our successes.
For non-Americans: What is the biggest thing you wish Americans knew or understood in the global arena?
For Americans: What is the single richest lesson you have learned from the international community?
Let the conversation begin!