Monday, May 24, 2010

I learned something new today.

Most people will never be able to travel to foreign countries during their lifetime, it's just not feasible for many of us for a variety of reasons. While I will likely never travel to Africa, one of the continents I would love to visit, Africa comes to me. I was having a conversation with a really nice young man who is a graduate student in another department. He is from Malawi and his friend wants to join our graduate program so I was giving him some information to pass on. Malawi is an interesting country, it's a democratic nation, been that way for some 15 years. The people are free to express their opinions, they are free to start and run their own businesses, spend their money where they like, and live the kind of life they want to live without too much government interference. This student was telling me about how long it took Malawi to get that way. It's been a long road.

Our conversation led me to question him about the situations in Rwanda and the Congo. Rwanda is beginning to turn around but the genocide has torn the country apart. It will take generations to get back to something close to normal. But Rwandans seem to be resilient and they persevere. In our discussion we talked of centuries old tribal warfare. Since the time of man, there has been conquest. People went to war over land, religion and customs. Even a difference in skin color (say black to brown) in some African countries can mean a death sentence. The western nations really don't have a clue as to how to stop it. I'm the first to admit I'm clueless as to why so many millions of people in Africa have died over the last century. The tribal warfare is beyond anything we can comprehend because it's not our heritage. It's not my fault I don't understand, it's just the way it is.

This warfare and conquest in Africa has been going on thousands of years. The geography of the planet is what it is due directly to conquest. The United States was able to expand from thirteen colonies westward because they cleared the land of the native peoples. The Middle East looks as it does today due to wars and conquests. Africa is the same as is Europe. Think about the sheer size of the once dominant Holy Roman Empire. Then it all changed. On nearly every continent, the cultures, religions, and peoples who exist there today do so because one group of people defeated another. I suppose it's the nature of the beast.

In the meantime, I may never get to Africa in the traditional sense but I feel Africa has come to me. Thanks to an abundance of truly wonderful people from that continent who I have met over the last decade during the course of their education, I have become a better person. I truly am thankful for those relationships. Each of those people has taught me something. I have learned how ignorant we can be of other cultures (I don't mean in a derogatory sense, just that without having been exposed to people of other cultures, it's just impossible to understand them). I have also learned to be thankful for the nation in which I live and the most important lesson of all is the rekindling of the human spirit. Each of the individuals I've met not just from Africa but from all other nations has renewed my faith in mankind.

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