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A neighbourhood called earth!
by Thanos Kalamidas
2008-05-27 07:30:44
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How would you have reacted reading that in Australia riots had started against immigrants and they were already counting dead? I bet you would be shocked, you would have read the news again and again trying to understand how that could have happened and then check all the agencies for more information. But when it happens in Africa you just shake your head disappointedly and move to the next story.

I never understood why Africa, this beautiful and big continent, always seems so far away to all of us, sometimes I have the feeling that Africa is a different planet. I'll give you another example, I’m one of these lucky people who have travelled a lot, either for professional reason or for pleasure, and I have a good collection of stories and anecdotes from my travels. Every time I say a story from Indonesia, Japan, China, Peru or Chile half of the people who are listening are ready to book their next holidays to one of the places I’m talking about. Despite the fact that I have beautiful stories from Africa and I really love some of the African countries, loved the nature, the people and the traditions when I finish a story from Africa the reaction is …right! Nice story and never, I mean have never heard anybody saying, well I would like to travel there.

Africa looks so far away and I feel so upset because it is …so close! All south Europe has borders with African countries and yes Sudan is a dangerous place for holidays but what about Tanzania or South Africa? Has anybody thought of holidays to South Africa? I lived there for over six months and I was amazed by the nature and the people. There were times that a hundred kilometres were almost a time travel or moving into a natural paradise, the contradiction of the landmarks are unbelievable, high mountains and jungle all in the same country, just kilometres away from each other.

Yes we are guilty and responsible for a lot of suffering in this continent but the people there understand that we are not personally responsible for what our government did. It is the same with India or Indonesia, for example, but we never think of that; India thrives on European tourists and it is the dream trip for a lot of westerners. Think of it, Singapore and Malaysia – and please don’t tell me that we are talking about the example democracies, on the contrary – get more tourists in a year than the whole of the African continent, excluding Egypt! So it has not only to do with politics.

I can see that you try to understand if I’m advertising the beauty of the African countries and I have to admit that if I had the chance I would have done it, but I’m trying to emphasize how far the African continent looks even when we are talking about the simplest things like fifteen days holidays. Suddenly Maputo in Mozambique sounds dangerous, while Bangkok in Thailand sounds …mysterious - ignoring the fact that Bangkok is an international crime centre! So why all that?

Reading the other day from one side what happens in South Africa with the immigrants and the latest actions of Zimbabwe’s dictator Mugabe, I felt speechless and hurt. Speechless of the audacity of Mugabe to keep blaming everybody in Europe and US for the horror and his crimes he has put upon Zimbabwe’s people, yet many Europeans and Americans shed tears the day we saw Nelson Mandela walking out of prison.

I felt hurt because it is not so long we felt the dramatic effect a dictatorship had in our destinies and the lives of thousands of people in Europe, and the memories are still alive and by that I’m not going as far as Hitler and Mussolini, I’m talking about the dictators my generation lived with, I’m talking about Spain, Portugal and Greece; I’m talking about the sixties and seventies, yes seventies just thirty years ago. Yes we had our Mugabe and we felt on our skin what a dictatorship means, actually a lot died during those dictatorships and Franco in Spain led a nation into one of the worst civil wars in European history. But Mugabe suddenly seems so far far away!!!

South Africa seems so far away as well. Remember how upset we were all when a gang of neo-Nazi in Germany cut a swastika on the forehead of a young girl? Remember the horror we felt and how big issue it became in the media all around the world? CNN, ABC and BBC had special reports about it and we were all talking about it. People are already dead in South Africa, immigrants, in a country that has suffered racism and prejudice!

Please, the next time you read the news stop a bit more in Africa, check what people in Zimbabwe are doing, when we had dictatorship in Greece we didn’t expect any nation to come and help us but we were looking for a nod that they knew what we are going through and they supported our fight against the dictatorship. We were expecting nations to say out loud that there is a dictatorship in this country that people are raped, tortured and die for freedom, we weren’t feeling alone when we heard that somebody wrote something about is in a newspaper, in a magazine or said something on the radio.

The people of Zimbabwe will find gradually their way to freedom, what they need is not to feel alone. And the people of south Africa need us to remind them what happened when they where on the other side of the hill and we can do that, we have the voice especially nowadays with the way information goes around, the power of internet.

But most of all, please don’t forget that Africa is not a planet far far away, but our neighbour in this neighbourhood called earth!

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Emanuel Paparella2008-05-27 09:38:54
Perhaps the reason why Africa feels so far away and exotic to most Westerners is that Africa besides being a geographical location is also, and most importantly, an idea and a state of mind. That is to say, Africa, besides being in our neighborhood, is the original place of the human species, in effect our original mother from which we all spring. Ultimately we are all Africans since we all come from there originally. It may well be the fear of imaginatively returning to those origins (what Vico and Heidegger dub “originative thinking”) which explains the fact that Africa seems so far away. It would feel far away even if it was located where Finland is. It is indeed a far away and exotic place to the Western imagination. Only geniuses like Picasso or Joseph Conrad, not afraid to confront those far away origins, are able to return to that place not only physically but imaginatively and thus find there a liberation for their creative energies. Look at “Mademoiselles d’Avignon” or read The Heart of Darkness. I am afraid that until we must the courage to entertain the idea of originative thinking we shall think of Africa as far away even if we have visited it many times. And here is what Heidegger wrote about originative thinking: “To ask ‘how does it stand with being’ means nothing less than to recapture, to repeat, the beginning of our historical-spiritual existence in order to transform it onto a new beginning. This is possible. It is indeed the crucial form of history, because it begins in the fundamental event. But we do not repeat a beginning by reducing it to something past and now known, which need merely be imitated; no, the beginning must be begun again, more radically, with all the strangeness, darkness, insecurity that attend a true beginning.” Food for thought.

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