Family talk

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Twenty-five billion dollars for new fighter jets. A couple of billion to float a few used submarines. Another twenty-five billion in new army boats. And don’t forget the war on weed — plus two billion for new prison cells to house the POW’s. Either somebody erased the forty-ninth parallel while I was tunnelling under my bunk, or Canadians have caught themselves a nasty case of penis envy. Regardless of which it is, the latest headlines make me think that this could be a good time for a bird and bees discussion on the dangers of a big swingin’ member — and why there’s no such thing as a little bit pregnant.

When it comes to first-hand knowledge of how bad things can go on home soil, Canada has about as much experience as a pre-pubic teen. After all, it wasn’t the farm fields of Saskatchewan that binge-drank the blood of two world wars. Nor was it in Ontario and Quebec where a half million brothers slaughtered each other in a North-South civil war. You think Canucks know something about drug-related violence? There were more drug-related murders in Detroit, Michigan, twenty years ago than there were total homicides in Canada in 2011. And if you think that a dead Hell’s Angel or two is a sure sign of criminal anarchy, try Googling Pablo Escobar — or Mexican drug gangs. Warning: Scenes of decapitated, disembowelled drug runners hanging from elementary school flagpoles may be disturbing to some baby-boom viewers. Parental medication is advised.

Yet when it comes to grasping just how bad it can get when a society embraces the phallic worship of armed conflict-resolution, nothing tops a short visit to Earth’s oldest continent — and the families who call it home. Families like the Hutu, and Tutsi of Rwanda, the Teke, and Sandha of the Congo, or the Mendes — from Sierra Leone.

I wish I could say that Sierra Leone is the country made famous by the movie Blood Diamond. But the queasy truth of the matter is that Sierra Leone is responsible for its own fame — mostly via the evening news. In a ten-year “internal conflict” that gave us new synonyms for the word horrific, Sierra Leoneans gang-raped, mutilated, amputated, immolated, decapitated, and cannibalized their fellow citizens with a zeal unmatched in even the killing fields of Cambodia. Much of this terror was inflicted by child soldiers who, under threat of death (by government soldiers), raped and murdered their own parents while extended family members were forced to watch. Not even Dante could have dreamed up that kind of hell.

Finally, in 2002, a UN-brokered peace saw the killing end. But like most of the “peace” that the Unable Nations has scripted in the past sixty-five years, this one left behind a lot of festering wounds — the largest of which was a blanket amnesty for almost all those who had engaged in crimes against humanity. Sure, there were truth & reconciliation commissions, just as there had been in South Africa and Chile. The aim of these western-style venues was to foster national healing, just like the Indian residential school one that Canada tried to do. The problem is, in Sierra Leone, many of the 70,000 perpetrators returned to their same small towns and villages — where they took up residence right across the sidewalk from families whose members they had murdered or mutilated only months earlier. And when these ex-combatants walked through the village, machete in hand (to work their plot in the community garden), it wasn’t with their heads bowed in shame. It was with a glint in their eye and a smile. You think Florida has a tough Neighbourhood Watch.

I learned about this sad West African conflict just recently, in a documentary from a remarkable organization called Fambul Tok. The words are Krio (the main dialect of Sierra Leone) for “family talk.” And the work that this unassuming organization does must be seen to be believed.

For me, one of the film’s more breathless moments came when a young mother talked about a man named Timba Joe — a neighbour from her own village — who beheaded every member of their village right in front of her. The dead included her own three children. One was just an infant. Then Timba Joe and his commanding officer made her drag a sack containing all the heads to the village water source, and throw them in — emotionally poisoning it forever. And while her story stole my breath, what she said afterwards stopped my heart.

“I want to forgive Timba Joe. I want him to return to our village.”

Why? Because after fifty thousand murders, ten thousand rapes, and thousands of forced mutilations, a four-thousand-year-old community has had enough. Enough of violence, enough of hate, enough of revenge — and absolutely enough of war. Which makes you wonder what message they would have for a nation barely two-hundred years old, that in the past decade has whipped out a war on drugs, a war on terrorism, a war on crime, a war on illegal immigrants, a war on pipeline protestors, a war on tax-evaders, and a war on anyone who isn’t democratic enough. They’d probably tell us to put it back in our pants.


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