Monday, July 2, 2007

My two-bits worth for Monday

As my husband and I watched TV last night, a young survivor of the genocide in Rwanda more than a dozen years ago was featured in a story about rare cases of Tutsis surviving with the help of Hutus. She and several Tutsi women holed-up in a tiny, unused bathroom of a Hutu pastor's house for several months. From one day to another their chances of surviving became slimmer, but, miraculously, they lived to tell the tale. Their story triggered painful memories. Working for the local Red Cross chapter, I helping refugees find and communicate with dislocated family members. Among many memorable clients, I can't forget a well-dressed young man who came to see me. He'd been in the Rwandan capital city of Kigali the day the killing began. He had recently married and left his pregnant wife with his parents in the countryside while he went looking for work in the city. He was Hutu and his wife was Tutsi, not at all an uncommon match at the time. Somehow, he managed to get on a plane out of Rwanda and ended up sitting across from me, holding back tears, hoping the Red Cross could help him locate his wife and family. There were no phones in his village, but even if there had been, the country was in chaos and phone service was sketchy at best. His only option was to submit a Red Cross Message (RCM). He thought carefully before he wrote on the small, flimsy form in his own language and entrusted it to me. As with hundreds of thousands of other RCMs sent to and from displaced family members in every corner of the Earth, his would go through channels established long ago by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Because of the organization's neutrality, Messages could contain only inquiries about health and well-being and personal information. I dutifully completed required paperwork and sent his RCM on its way. I never found out if his wife and family survived and I never saw the young man again. Not all Red Cross Messages were so unsettling. I had the pleasure of handing many RCMs to refugees from Bosnia, Serbia, Afghanistan and other conflict-riddled countries. Often a child would trace around his or her hand and an adult would write the message. The joy of finding a loved one alive was electrifying for everyone involved. It's almost unbearable to watch news of Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur and Burma. Being so involved with the civilian victims of armed conflicts, I can't help thinking about the dreadful suffering they must endure every day and for so many years. It will take several generations before civilians will be able to view these conflicts in historical terms rather than daily personal ordeals. Wars foment huge wastes of human life and intellect, natural resources, historic treasures, and so much more. A badly waged war multiplies the damage and results in continued despair or an uneasy stand-off that never ends. At what point will people say "enough is enough!" and learn to live with and maybe even appreciate cultural differences. There is also a desperate need to accept that one size does not fit all when it comes to governance. One nation has absolutely no right to inflict its notions of good government on another. Knowledge of our own revolution against colonialism should guide any further meddling in other nation's affairs. Simple observation proves that it doesn't work. I don't claim to have all the answers but, as a woman and a human, it pains me to see so much suffering and loss. Tolerance of differences, at the very least, needs to be practiced by all sides.

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