Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Two months after the deployment of the first unarmed civilian peacekeepers to Mundri, Western Equatoria State, the NP Sudan team successfully facilitated a discussion in the village of Kediba, in Eastern Mundri County, between agriculturalists and pastoralists regarding the raiding of cattle. Prior to NPSD’s engagement tensions were running extremely high, and both communities were preparing to engage in violent conflict. NP’s team of local and international peacekeepers facilitated a meeting between the Paramount Chiefs and elders of the two communities at which it was agreed that the raided cattle would be returned. As a result the two communities have returned to living in a state of peaceful coexistence. The success of NP’s first intervention in South Sudan demonstrates the wish for peace amongst the citizens of South Sudan, and willingness to engage in non-violent methods of conflict resolution.
Western Equatoria is a state in the southwest corner of Southern Sudan. It was devastated by the 21 year long civil war which was fought between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and the Government of Sudan, based in Khartoum. The war was ended in 2005 by the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Under the terms of the CPA a referendum on independence for South Sudan is scheduled for January 2011. Tensions are building in the run up to the referendum, not least because the traumatised communities of South Sudan remain divided along ethnic and tribal lines. NP is living and working within these communities to resolve conflict and reduce tension in order to facilitate development in this beautiful but war-torn part of East Africa.
In mid-July the NPSD team was informed that tension was building between the Moru and Mundari communities of the Kediba region. The Moro people are predominantly settled agriculturalists who keep small numbers of cows. Their Mundari neighbours are semi-nomadic pastoralists who keep large herds of cattle. Both communities are closely linked, and share the market in Kediba village. This market is an important source of food for the Mundari, who do not cultivate, and of income for the Moro. In recent weeks Mundari youths have raided up to 378 head of Moro cattle, and tensions came to a head in late July when 150 were taken at one time. In the process several people were injured and two children were taken along with the cattle. The government agents in the area informed the community that if they entered into conflict, the army would be deployed to settle the situation using force.
In response to the raid the Moro people armed themselves with bows and poison-tipped arrows and were preparing to cross over into Mundari land to retrieve their cattle. Several local-government figures contacted NP’s Mundri-based team and asked them to intervene in a last-minute attempt to address the situation non-violently before the army was deployed. As a result of the years of war waged in Western Equatoria the transport infrastructure is extremely bad, particularly during the rainy season. Nevertheless, five of NP’s unarmed civilian peacekeepers travelled for hours through the driving rain along unmade roads. Eventually conditions forced them to abandon their vehicle and proceed on motorbike. A video of part of their journey can be seen here.
In an agreement mediated by NP’s peacekeepers, the Paramount Chiefs and elders of both communities agreed to meet to discuss a peaceful resolution to the conflict. A church half way between the two communities was designated as the meeting point, and representatives from both sides gathered there.
Following a long and difficult discussion requiring sustained input and support from NP’s team, a resolution was reached. The Mundari Paramount Chief and elders agreed to oversee the return of the raided cattle, and with the guidance of the NP team, both sides undertook to form a joint Peace Committee to continue the dialogue process.
Both communities were extremely relieved to have avoided a conflict which could have led to widespread loss of life and the deployment of the army in a region which is clinging to a finely balanced peace. The Moro Paramount Chief thanked NP for its rapid and effective intervention and said, “if the NP team from Mundri had not come we would have killed each other, but God brought them in time and we were able to settle things with the Mundari peacefully. We think now that God is truly watching over us, and we encourage strong relations between NP and our society. Please don’t leave us alone again. In fact, it would be better if your office was moved from Mundri to Kediba!” Following the successful demonstration of NP’s community-based conflict resolution process the SPLM Secretary for Kediba Payam (region) said, “NP will be of great help because a peace building and reconciliation committee will be formed and people will be trained to find peace themselves.”
From the Nonviolent Peaceforce enews, July 2010
Friday, July 23, 2010
One of my favorite places is the public library. The last time I was there, a couple I know were sitting there reading the newspapers. They were there when I came and left a minute or two before me. She had two books in her hands when they left. They are two of the best educated elders I know. They are also regulars at our weekly Stand for Peace.
As I sat there, I was gradually surrounded by children. They came as families and in larger groups of five and ten. Within minutes the floor was filled with fifty or sixty sitting children. Since I was surrounded, I began to fear I was the unknowing storyteller. But my fears were relieved when I heard the name of a well known children's musician, who was playing for them that afternoon. Soon they all headed upstairs and the music and laughter began.
A recent addition at our library is a coffee bar. It's upstairs, a quiet and comfortable alcove where children play checkers and chess, drink mango smoothies and pass the summer afternoons. It's where I meet friends for a cup of soup at noon and a cup of Indian chai (tea) any time of the day. (This is the real thing, with the ingredients prepared from scratch.)
Back downstairs, the computers are all taken. There's a short line at the check out counter as the librarians are out in the aisles helping patrons find films and books they are seeking. I'm surprised to find a copy of "Long Nights Journey Into Day," a film about the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa. Who would have thought such an item would turn up in the Brookings, South Dakota public library.
But then, there's an organization called the "Friends of the Library." They invest in films and books and infrastructure that might otherwise go begging. They raise a lot of their money through book sales. They invite folks in the community to bring in their used books and discard many from the library stacks. I always drop a hundred dollars or more when they have their biannual sale. It's one time I feel generous. Many of the books (after I read them) end up in my annual book giveaway.
For me, the library is the best example of providing for the common good. We all contribute to make it possible. It is open and accessible to all. You can use the resources as much or as little as you wish, but it's there to serve the whole community. It informs and educates us. It's mission is the common good, whether you are rich or poor, liberal or conservative, religious or not.
If only all of our institutions could be more like the public library, or the fire department, or the public lands and parks. As the pressure builds from those who believe one can and should possess anything and everything, and more of everything becomes privatized, the library is an institution we can celebrate. It can provide an example to those who question the potential of serving the common good. Why can't we have health clinics like the public library? Why must our schools be privatized? Why can't we have a public utility? "Look at the library," we can say!
Saturday, July 17, 2010
I've seen it happen twice. Once it was in India. We were sleeping on the ground, on thin bamboo mats. I was awakened in the early morning hours by my friend. He was beside himself. He wasn't able to walk in a balanced fashion but he couldn't stay still. He was in constant motion as if he had been wound up tight and was spiraling out of control. He kept sticking his finger in his ear and banging on the side of his head. An ant had crawled in, and apparently, couldn't or wouldn't get out. My friend had a bug in his ear!
On a second occasion, it happened around the campfire. An insect of some kind flew into the ear of another. I recognized the movements as he did a dance similar to my Indian friend. Fortunately, I had learned from the first experience a potential remedy. In the first instance we had drowned the ant with water. It worked. It worked the second time as well.
Ever since, I refuse to use the phrase, "I want to put a bug in your ear." I know what the experience does to someone. It makes them crazy.
With each passing day, more and more people seem interested in putting bugs in our ears. In the U.S., they call it "spin". You take any subject and give it a "spin" that puts you and your interests in the best possible light. It makes absolutely no difference what the truth is. It may be a bald-faced lie. You simply want to get the bug in people's ears. It happens in politics, in business, in all our institutions.
So British Petroleum can say their letters stand for "Beyond Petroleum." And the White House Press Secretary can get in serious trouble for failing to "spin" the fall elections, admitting the Democrats may be in trouble. The bugs are driving people crazy. There are those who recognize "spin" and are being driven crazy by the manipulation and falsification of the facts. And there are those that are getting crazy with the lies, believing them to be true. When Truth loses its value, and "spin" abounds, nothing and no-one is ultimately believable; not the politician, the President, the Pope, the parent, the physician.
Gandhi said, "Hundreds of tons of earth and stone have to be excavated by means of hard labour before even one diamond is discovered. Do we give even a fraction of this labour to the removal of the rubble of untruth and the search for the diamond of Truth?"
For me, I have to try and be disciplined. When the "spin" coincides with my point of view, do I repeat it without verification? Do I add or subtract a bit here and there, perhaps exaggerate a bit? Do I have my own "spin," planting my own bugs in the ears of others? I know bugs don't play well in human ears. So I'll do my best to limit the craziness I cause.
Monday, July 12, 2010
I stood at the entrance of the hotel waiting for their arrival. Two families visiting our fair island for an afternoon of biking. One family, fair-haired, sunburned – mom, dad and three sons. The second family, dark-haired, olive skinned – dad and two young daughters. Shock and grief glazed their eyes. The two young girls were just minutes from having witnessed their mom’s death in a violent bicycle accident. As a member of a team of hospice bereavement counselors, I had been called to be present during the nightmare.
For more than two hours a network of local police, state police, EMTs, hospice counselors, social workers, inn keepers and ferry captains worked together (in a kind of harmony that is occasionally elusive in our island community) to help get the families stabilized and to facilitate their return to the mainland. As the common wisdom has it, when someone is in trouble, the island community pulls together.
I finally allowed myself to cry as the small boat that normally carries only the daily newspapers to the island at 4 AM pulled away from the dock, headed for the mainland with its cargo of unspeakable grief. Twenty-four hours later I am pondering the open and broken- hearted love that islanders shared with these strangers we will never see again. Hard to get my mind around what happened in those tragic few hours.
As the universe would have it, there was a passage of commentary from the writings of Rav Kook waiting in my mailbox this morning –“Rebuilding The World With Love.” In it he spoke about sinat chinam - baseless hatred and ahavat chinam – baseless love: “If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love”. Rav Kook was writing in reflection on the reasons for the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, acknowledging that internal strife and conflict played a role in the Temple’s destruction.
He asked “why do we hate others?” and he also explored why we love others – and the latter question is what was on my mind this morning. How can a diverse, quirky, creative and often cantankerous and ill-tempered community love so unreservedly when the chips are down? I felt as though I had walked into another dimension where all things were softened and slow-moving, where nothing else mattered but the immediacy of the suffering set in motion by the accident. That dimension was filled with compassion, with the desire to offer comfort and support in the midst of suffering, with efficient problem solving in behalf of a traumatized family – a group of strangers about whom virtually nothing was known – except that they were suffering. There was no history between islanders and the devastated families and there would be no future relationship once they left the island to begin the work of grieving and piecing their lives back together in the midst of the appalling absence of their loved one. It was an experience of baseless love. Unfathomable to the logic of the mind in a world where an encounter with the strangeness of the other is often accompanied by resistance and fear and often hatred and violence, baseless hatred in response to something just because it is different.
Rav Kook’s wisdom flowed through my wondering - - made ultimate and comforting sense to me this morning as I continued both to grieve for yesterday’s strangers and to feel my own soul energy following them homeward: “Listen to me, my people! I speak to you from my soul, from within my innermost soul. I call out to you from the living connection by which I am bound to all of you, and by which you are bound to me….Each one of you, each individual soul from the aggregation of all of you, is a great spark from the torch of infinite light which enlightens my existence.” (Shemonah Kevatzim, vol.1 sec.163) Rav Kook was writing about the connection he feels with the Jewish people, but his words seemed to me to be a rather universal way into rebuilding the world with love - - baseless love - - instead of destroying it with baseless hatred.
I sit a little more easily this afternoon with the river of love flowing out from me for total strangers - -for the other - - for the much commented upon summer tourists who invade our personal space every summer with their aggression and lack of sensitivity for our lives here. More lessons in cultivating a nonviolent way of life. And I can’t help but wonder if I could see every human being, every human interaction with Rav Kook’s eyes, would that not be a step in rebuilding the world with a baseless love – a love that rises up simply because it is in each human being to so love without defense or logic or fear - - simply because we are part of a great, interconnected aggregation of souls?
Somewhere in the Boston area, a family grieves today. They feel the waves of the shock of their loss in disbelief that their beloved mommy and wife is gone. But I feel as though, in that brief moment between our worlds, they felt loved by strangers. They entrusted their souls to our community, however unwittingly, in their shock, and they were lovingly cared for without reservation. We human beings can do this. We can rebuild the world. We have the capacity for a baseless love.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
There's a word you hear a lot around here in Indian country. It's mitakuye oyasin. An English translation is "all my relatives." There's an emphasis on the word "all". We're not talking here about a nuclear family or even the larger band of blood relatives. We aren't even being exclusive to human beings. We're talking about a relationship to all that is, including the birds and beasts, the forests and the rivers, the stars and the earth. I've been educated about relationships by the Lakota/Dakota (at least, to some extent; whatever failing being my own, not theirs).
Several experiences come to mind as I write this. The first experience took place at a retreat with a non-profit engaged in inter-cultural education. A Lakota friend started speaking about the "Water People". He personified the creeks and rivers of the Northern Plains. He spoke about how the water people had rights, just as humans had rights. The rights of water people included the right to flow where they will, without obstruction. The water people had the right to be treated with respect, not to be polluted or exploited. Human people and water people were in relationship. To say mitakuye oyasin was to honor that relationship.
The second experience took place in sweat lodge ceremony, where the four elements of earth, air, fire and water, came together in a wholistic and relational way. Fire never seemed so penetrating, yet healing, as body toxins pored out. Water never seemed so sweet to drink and so cleansing to inhale. And the earth never seemed so safe and present as one huddled in her womb. Entering the sweat lodge one repeated, mitakuye oyasin. To say all my relatives honored one's relationship to the rocks in the fire pit, the earth one sat on, the water slowly placed on the hot rocks.
The third experience was with a Dakota friend who spoke with me about being in relationship with animals, talking to them and trying to understand their language. There is wisdom here! It opened a whole new spiritual world for me. My priority is trying to understand my relationship with the winged ones. And understand it or not, I've become related. Birds are my most important messengers now. They speak about life and death, good and evil, danger and safety. They bring news of loved ones. I understand them as spirit carriers.
There are other experiences. Here are three. As we witness the continuing plunder of the planet, the forces of greed and arrogance blinding humans from their larger relationships, we can honor indigenous wisdom and share it with others. Perhaps we can wake, smile, and greet the day with mitakuye oyasin. Or as my friend in India does, greet the day by thanking mother earth for her stable body and apologize for walking on her.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Perhaps you've heard of Andy Goldsworthy (pictured above).
These past weeks, as I've watched the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding habitats and their diverse life forms being despoiled by oil, I've thought often of the soft-spoken Scotsman, a sculptor whose medium is nature itself. His relationship to nature is not exploitative; he doesn't seek to dominate, to force it to do his bidding. Rather, the relationship is collaborative, based on a bond that is both beautiful and tremendously fragile.
"I don't think the earth needs me at all," Goldsworthy says, "but I do need it."
Through Goldsworthy's vision and the skill of his hands, bits of snow and ice, loose rocks, multi-colored leaves, twigs and pieces of wood become unforgettable works of art. Works of art not meant to last. Even as he creates them, Goldsworthy knows his sculptures will soon melt, or be destroyed by wind, or swallowed by a tide, or overgrown by weeds, or knocked over by animals.
No problem, ultimately. The end is just part of the process. And maybe, after all, the end isn't the end at all, but another beginning.
Below is a seven-minute clip from "Rivers and Tides," a 2001 documentary by filmmaker Thomas Reidelsheimer about Goldsworthy and his work. You'll see him finishing a lovely shoreline sculpture just in time for the tide to carry it gently into the sea.
I offer you this clip in gratitude for the waters of this earth, in grief over their defilement, and in hope of their restoration.
Note: If for some reason you can't see the viewer below, please click here to watch the video.