“We just ask the world not to forget us.”
Who said that? A mother in Syria? A firefighter in California? A teacher in Mexico?
None of the above. The person who said that is a man in the Central African Republic.
The Central African Republic is a country in Africa. It is not DR Congo (the Congo). It is not Sudan (Save Darfur). It is not Uganda (Invisible Children). It is not Ethiopia (finish your lima beans) nor is it Ethiopia (I love Ethiopian food). It is not South Africa (Mandela!).
The Central African Republic (CAR) is its own country right in the middle of the continent of Africa.
No, I’m not mocking the condescending piece in the Washington Post about Syria. Nor am I paying homage to Teju Cole’s brilliant sequence of tweets that appeared last night.
1 Q. What is Britain? A. Britain is a country in Europe. Its people are called the Britons. Elizabeth II is the Queen of the Britons.
— Teju Cole (@tejucole) September 3, 2013
It’s just that I don’t want to forget the man who asked us not to forget him.
Let me back up.
One of my favorite things about Andy has always been that he reads international news fervently and gives me the highlights. And by highlights, I mean the things that will keep you awake at night. I’m not being sarcastic when I say that I love this about him. Some men eat chips and watch games. Andy listens to podcasts and memorizes names of rebel factions terrorizing villages. Ten years ago, he taught me the name Janjaweed. Last week it was Seleka.
We stood around the kitchen-dining room island-bar after work on an ordinary night having a Sierra Nevada (him) and a glass of wine (me). The cats had eaten; our food was on the way, when Andy said something like (I’m super bad at paraphrasing, it turns out) This man asks that the world not forget them, but what he doesn’t know is that the world has never heard of them.
He was reading this Washington Post (Aug.23) article. He wouldn’t read it to me; he said it was too disturbing. Here is the way it opens:
The rebels invaded on stolen motorcycles at 5 a.m., shooting into the air to announce their arrival in the secluded village in Central African Republic. They went house to house, breaking down doors and separating the men from the women and children.
After taking the men to a nearby base, the fighters slaughtered them with machetes, witnesses said. Fifteen are confirmed dead in the attack at the end of July on the northwest village of Ouham Bac, though all the bodies that were dumped in a nearby river will never be counted.
One 30-year-old survivor told The Associated Press he had to walk on foot for more than 20 miles (35 kilometers) with a machete wound to the head after the rebels stole his motorcycle as he lay bleeding on the floor of his thatched hut. It was nearly a week before he and his wife were reunited with their 9-year-old son.
“We just ask the world not to forget us,” he says, too terrified to give his name for fear the rebels will find him and his family.
The situation is worsening daily. A truck drivers’ strike in Cameroon is preventing food from making it into the country.
What do we do?
I think about it while I pour powder detergent into the dishwasher and press the button. The machine starts making its noises and the reality is that I don’t know what’s going on in there. I might have paid the electric bill and pressed the button, but I’m not washing the dishes any more than I’m preventing humanitarian aid from making it over the Cameroon-CAR border.
What do we do? (Open another Sierra Nevada, feel guilty for feeding the cats farm-raised salmon and using too many paper towels, worry about the dying bees, complain to Time Warner about the audio drop-outs in their On Demand offering of Breaking Bad. We do these things. We do. But what else can we do?)
We start with the one thing the man has asked. We don’t forget him.