The other day I came upon this picture of an emaciated Somali child. Unfortunately, we can multiply his number into the hundreds of thousands across the East Horn of Africa (Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti). A drought like this hasn’t been seen in 60 years. In Somalia, conflict waged by al Shabab, an extremist Islamist group, has added to the tragedy, killing aid workers and kidnapping would-be refugees desperately fleeing for help. We can’t do much about the gratuitous evil nature sometimes wreaks, but worse than the horrors of earthquake, tsunami, and drought is Man’s savagery across his recorded history. Voltaire once suggested we kill more in our wars than all the natural disasters, and he missed the two World Wars of the previous century. Ironically, throughout history much of this bloodshed has born the imprint of religion that frequently breeds intolerance. Reading history and following current events, I am distrustful of all euphorias, claiming to have found the the person or way. As Robert Brault puts it, “I am far surer of what is kind than I am of what is true.”
In Kenya, there is now a huge refugee camp that’s arisen, a tent city sheltering perhaps 500,000 refugees who cross into Kenya at about 1000 a day. Some have walked for 15-days, only to reach the final 50-mile stretch frequented by bandits, often fellow Somalis, who rob and rape. The UN says that up to 750,000 may die in this drought. That’s sufficient horror in itself.
In the West, I think the vast majority of us don’t think about places like Africa and its teeming poverty, pickpocket governments, roving militants and, now, famine. Africa seems far away and the people very different from ourselves. It’s convenient to think this way, a way of walking across the street rather than encountering people who, shed of the cultural baggage, mirror ourselves with names, families and the same desire for love, security, and happiness. Geography is often accidental. By chance, we drew the lucky cards, born in the West, where even our have-nots are rich by comparison.
I went to India years ago, and not with a tour. It changed my life. Again, these were people like ourselves. Compassion doesn’t hide behind a fence. Drawn from empathy, the putting on another’s shoes, it overflows geography. Everyone should visit a third world country. Better, go as a helper. Nothing comparable helps us catch the vision: to see ourselves as one.