A few weeks back I went to a committee hearing on the status of Sudan and Southern Sudan, and the problems still plaguing the region. It was my first hearing and I didn’t know what to expect. I arrived to a room already overcrowded and people lining the walls. Video cameras were set up in all corners to film the hearing, and members of the press were taking photos of people, who I had no idea as to who they were. There were no open seats left, but I spotted a deep windowsill against the far wall. I awkwardly shuffled my way through rows of people sitting down, bumping the backs of my legs into everyone’s knees. Every time I am forced to walk through a row of seats I never know if its polite to put my butt in their face as I squeeze through, or if I should face them, bumping knees with theirs and probably hitting the people in the row in front with my butt. I’m not even that big of a person. I can’t even imagine how uncomfortable the situation could be.
I eventually made it to the other side of the room after many times of “excuses me” and “ sorry.” I took a seat in the windowsill, with a perfect view of the committee and witnesses. They opened an overfill room and began to ask everyone who didn’t have a seat to leave, and watch the hearing from the TVs provided in the extra room. Technically sitting on a ledge in the wall wasn’t a seat, so I tried to act invisible, hoping that no one would see me, as they simultaneously kicked out every intern who was taking up room. This was my first hearing and it was on a topic I was really interested in, and watching the events take place via TV wasn’t going to be the same. After about ten minutes of anxiously waiting I had made it through and they closed the heavy wooden doors to the room. A committee of about ten members of Congress sat at the front, and then about eight people testified over the next 2 ½ hours. There were ambassadors who spoke, members from the UN, John Prendergast from the Enough Project (undeniably the best speaker I have ever listened to), a journalist and host of a political radio show, and finally a testimony given by an 18 year old boy, who had recently been freed from slavery in Northern Sudan.
I went into this meeting with absolutely no idea of what was to come and what expectations to have. I hadn’t expected to cry. I hadn’t expected it to change my life. I hadn’t expected to feel utterly crushed afterwards. The hearing addressed the issues Southern Sudan is facing as the newest nation on earth, and the problem of famine, conflict and slavery. Maybe I’m incredibly naive, but I wasn’t even aware that slavery still existed, let alone the torturous conditions that slaves survive under. Ker Deng had won his freedom from slavery after an American nonprofit group which functions in Sudan bought him from the man who had acted as his master for over ten years. Deng sat before the members of Congress and through a translator, a survivor of the Lost Girls, asked for help for the people of his country, for the thousands who are still enslaved, for his mother and younger siblings who were not as fortunate as himself. He wore sunglasses to shield his eyes as he described the horrific treatment he received, the conditions he lived under since being a child, and the day that his master rubbed so much chili in his eyes he became blind.
Pictures from where I was sitting after a seat opened up.
From his testimony…
“He said that when he was a toddler, Arab raiders from the north came and invaded his village, burning their huts, killing the men and tieing the women and children to camels and dragging them to a life of slavery in the north.
Ker said he was treated worse than the animals he tended. He was beaten every single day, and was fed grain just like the horses. But he said the worst thing that his slave master did was, in a fit of rage, he tied Ker upside down to a tree and rubbed hot chili peppers in his eyes, blinding him. “
An uncomfortable lump rises in my throat and tears begin to fill the brims of my eyes just remembering. Memory is so incredibly powerful. I’d never heard such pain come from one person. No matter who I know in America and what they have experienced, it just— doesn’t even begin to compare. I will never come close to experiencing anything like what Deng spoke of. And he is just one. JUST ONE. It was so, shocking, for lack of a better word. I just couldn’t believe that I didn’t know about this. That no class I had ever taken had addressed this issue, that I hadn’t heard about it in the news. I wouldn’t call myself an uninformed person or someone who is blind to the problems of the world, but I had no idea.
I left the meeting feeling crushed under the weight of reality. How fucked the world is for so many. I felt the complete and total frustration of all those who spoke that day at the hearing, expressing their anger at the lack of progress in the area. The lack of participation by the American government. Sudan is the largest country in Africa and we are hardly involved. Humanitarian aid is not sufficient for the needs and demands of this area. So So So many people are dying. In America we continue to bitch about the injustices of the past, the horrors of our own country’s slavery. Well if we’re so upset by it why are we not stopping the slavery that current exists???!!! Why isn’t this talked about? How do we continue to turn a blind eye to this??
I left Mad. Upset. Guilty. Broken. Devastated. Frustrated. Defeated.
But a part of me left inspired. I felt moved. I felt passionate. I felt like I had found something that I could care about so incredibly that I could spend my life working on this issue.
Since that original meeting I have been to two more on foreign policy and Southern Sudan, and the Lord’s Resistant Army, who are just as awful as the government of Sudan. If you don’t know about the LRA please take 10 minutes out of your incredibly comfortable lives to inform yourself.
These issues may be taking place in Africa, but we are a global community, and therefore their problems are ours. Africa is incapable of solving its issues that have stemmed from colonialism and tribal warfare. This much is clear. They do not have the resources or coordination to combat terrorist groups that commit crimes against humanity, whether that be abduction of children and forcing them to act as soldiers against their own families and people, mutilation, torture and murder of other Africans, or preventing food aid from being delivered, so as to starve people into submission. Many of their governments are corrupt beyond repair and only a total revolution and overthrow could fix these. But a revolution has no energy when those who must act are being starved.
And we call Occupy Wall Street our own revolution. First World problems are hardly problems when placed on the global scale. We are spoiled and we demand when all our needs are not met. This is not our revolution. We need to refocus our efforts elsewhere.
Over the past two weeks I have done more research on Sudan and the issues that came up in the meeting. I have talked with many people who are familiar with these issues. There are so many problems it’s hard to know where to start. It’s overwhelming to even try to focusing on one point without realizing that something else is just as important and the two are tied so closely together.
I can’t choose what anyone does with their life, and I can’t tell everyone to go into aid work for Africa, nor can anyone one person or group attempt to save a continent plagued by decades upon decades of the world’s worst problems.
Just, be informed.
(I made it that much easier for you.)
I want to work for him, he is incredible- http://www.enoughproject.org/staff/john-prendergast-co-founder
For something lighter after all this…Thank you Cobert