Tuesday, January 21, 2014


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C. Samba-Panza,
the new CAR's President

     Things in Central African Republic are not improving. Sure, they have a new interim-president, Catherine Samba-Panza, who urged the violence between the Muslim and Christian militias to stop. But there is no guarantee that she will be more effective or conscientious than the last president. How could this happen? I was there, in the CAR, in 1990. I understand, of course, that I knew about half a percent of what people were really thinking there (if that), but there seemed to be peaceful co-existence between the Muslims and the Christians. Five times a day everything in the country stopped, including buses, and the Muslim faithful could all pray in peace. Everyone else waited patiently for the life's rhythm to resume. Actually, the prayer times were a part of the life's rhythm there.
     We lived in a large house in the middle of a small community. I didn't know, who was Muslim or Christian: everyone had a smile 
and a kind word for us. Kids followed us every time that we stepped outside the house or off the bus to get to the house. "Mundeli!" - they shouted. I thought at first that it meant "White people", but later found out that, the only non-Black person they've ever seen was a Chinese doctor, so they called us the same name that they called him! I brought with me to Africa some small items to give as presents, like pencils or cheap pens. At one point, I got to the village street and told children (through an interpreter, of course) that I wanted to give them some gifts. In a moment I was surrounded by a crowd of shouting, pushing, smiling little monsters, who took my offerings with glee. I began to notice the same faces in front of me and suspect that they took things twice. It was true! They grabbed one pencil, for example,stuck it into their shirts and proffered their hands to me again! Wise up, Dina!
jpeg (125×90)     We were missionaries for the Unification Church. I am not sure, why we were sent to Africa: I think, it was for the purpose of personal growth through survival in a radically different environment. It was hard, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I and my fellow missionary, Andrew, from the United States, had a whole bunch of adventures and misadventures of which I wrote in my series The Cities. We traveled with African people, ate with them, slept in the same conditions as them, ate the same food. It seemed like everyone was happy to see us.
     One day we went to a small cafe in Bangui, the Capital city of the CAR. While sitting in the cafe, I heard a lot of noise and singing. Outside, I saw a procession of people, all dressed to the nines, walking down the road, dancing and singing. "Great" - I thought - "Finally, here's a neat photo op!" I whipped out my small camera and pointed it at the first dancers in the passing crowd. The girls preened and smiled, I smiled too behind the camera... The next thing I knew, the crowd was rushing toward me, hands outstretched, fists flying. They managed to land a few blows, when my friends pulled me inside the cafe.
     I was stupid. I was told that, Africans many times don't like White people to take their pictures. There are various reasons for it. Not wanting the world to see their misery, if pictures were of some tragic situation, is one of them. There can be cultural taboos for photographing. It was that reason in my case: the procession that looked so happy to my ignorant eyes was, in fact, a funeral!
     How little did I understand of the life around me! I could not speak the language, didn't know the current political climate. Many times, I saw someone with whom we were talking nod their head as if in agreement, but the translator said that, they said "NO', or they would be shaking their heads, like in denial, and the translation was: "YES". I was the recipient of countless kindnesses during my stay there, but in my heart I knew that I was not seeing what was really in the Africans' minds.

images (318×159)     I despair, if we will ever get to the point when we can understand and respect each other's cultures and religions like our own. Places where I and my friends traveled in Africa became the scenes of unspeakable cruelty and tragic circumstances for millions of people, and they are creating this horror for their own countrymen! What would they do to me or my friend Andrew, if we were there now? 
images (273×184)     All this can be written and said about many other places on Earth. Are we ever going to act as the best tenets of our faiths' suggest? What about our hearts? Are they always going to be closed to the suffering of those around us? 

Muslims protecting Chtistians in Pakistan
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Cristians protecting Muslims in Egypt
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Raul Wallenberg,
 a Swedish diplomat
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Oscar Schindler,
 a Chech businessman
     With tears in my eyes I hear the wonderful news of the Muslims protecting Christians in Pakistan or the Christians forming a chain around the praying Muslims in Egypt. It seems that, the humanity learned something from out dark past and the heroes, like Oscar Schindler, Raul Wallenberg and Chiune Sugihara, among others, who saved thousands of Jews in WWII. To survive, though, most of us need to accept the fact that we are here, on this planet, together and depend on each other for our very lives. 
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Chiune Sugihara,
 a Japanese counsul
     Do you agree? 

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