The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: Sudan

Books

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Sometimes falling ill has its own rewards.  My medical complications a year ago meant that I mostly missed out on a relaxing summer and I was determined to make up for it this year.  I have been working hard to finish off a number of books I’ve been writing over the course of the last couple of years and I’m glad to say that they are all completed.  You’ll find a list of them below.  I’m occasionally asked where people can get copies of the books and the links below will help point in the right direction.

 

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 6.23.21 PMFrom Canada to Brazil, California to China, Catherine O’Hara takes on an odyssey that will change how she views the world of politics. As Minister for the Environment for the Canadian government she has to learn to balance the responsibilities of power with the reality of sustainability and human rights. Essential to it all is David Kronberg – a mystical champion of the natural order who inevitably draws Catherine into a deeper world that will change her position at the centre of power.  You can get the hardback version here and the paperback version here.

 

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 6.45.34 PMCitizens might well accept reform of government if they actually had a say in the process, or even some kind of direct access to politicians themselves. It’s not to be, sadly, and instead we have information without humanity, communication without meaning, and disenchantment without end. In such days where the customer is always right, this is hardly going to end well. Community engagement is on the only hope for the recovery of democracy.  You can get the paperback version here or download the iTunes podcasts here.

 

LULU cover_smallerTwo great continents intertwined on the world’s stage. And two larger than life characters determined in their separate ways to tell their stories. Chen Chang-Jin – the wildly successful Chinese billionaire working to utilize Africa’s vast natural resources in ways that would be benefit his homeland and raise his profile in the process. Achol Madut Yek – one of the poorest of the poor, trekking from south Sudan, through Darfur, and into Chad, in a journey that will captivate the eyes of the world and cause it to see the strength and potential of Africa and its people in a new light. Dualities is ultimately a story about humanity – its scope, its inequities, its potential – and how the welfare of its most vulnerable members is often more vital than commonly acknowledged.  You can order the hardback version here, the paperback here, or the ebook here.

Coming up – Just finished a new book titled Fired Into Life – thoughts on Jesus and the human personality.  I’m also enjoying being in the middle of some new writing on The Seven Deadly Sins – Gandhi’s list of special challenges facing citizens in our modern life:

Wealth without work

Pleasure without conscience

Knowledge without character

Commerce without morality

Science without humanity

Worship without sacrifice

Politics without principles

 

We Have Overcome

This past weekend was the date of our annual Sudan concert, where numerous school choirs come together with some pretty special soloists and musicians to help raise funds for our ongoing projects in Sudan. It was the 10th year for the concert and, upon reflection, I learned some wonderful lessons while listening to the music.

A decade ago, the first concert was about slavery – its habitual practice in Sudan and the brutal realities of people owning other people, often to their denigration and tragedy. We had been to Sudan on so many occasions during that time that the realities of modern-day slavery had begun to affect our joint disposition. In so many ways our visits to the region during the costly civil war had given us a new resolve that we would never let local issues or our domestic lives cloud from the realities of greater human injustices and the need for citizens to weigh in with their best efforts. The barbarism of what we witnessed had slowly convinced us that we would never see the end of slavery there in our lifetimes – hatred and enmity of the two sides of the war ran that deep. But we were wrong, happily mistaken, as within a few years peace was signed despite impossible conditions. We were there, saw it with our own eyes, and marvelled at the outcomes. Slavery had been overcome – not just within our lifetimes, but actually with the help of so many great Canadians like those in attendance at the concert.

And then there was the awful condition of the women of south Sudan. We had travelled extensively to war zones in times previous but nothing had prepared us for what we witnessed. Yet despite the depravity and the sheer indignities those women faced, they kept their resolve and their communities together. Jane and I made a pact that we would work with them, regardless of the costs to ourselves. It all seemed so hopeless at the time – the rapes, the loneliness, the butchery, the poverty and the conflict. But now the same women are leaders within the government of south Sudan. They have become the primary change and development agents of their respective communities because they had remained in such places during the war when others had abandoned them. To the great credit of all of them, they had prevailed – no, not prevailed, they had overcome decades of male domination and rank prejudice and racism to reconstruct their land more in the image of peace. They will forever remain in my mind and memory as the strongest human beings I have ever met.

And then there has been the change in Jane and me. We looked at the world a little differently a decade ago. Through the lens of Sudan things appeared dark, foreboding, limiting, and, at times, beyond despair. Our meagre efforts at rescuing slaves and building schools during a particularly costly civil war were simply overpowered by the sheer determination of the Sudanese themselves that they would not go quietly into the history books as a suppressed people or a vanquished one. In those years when we believed we were assisting them, it was their resolve, their remarkable grace in the face of manic oppression, that in fact rescued us from our gloom. Today we look out over our troubled world through the ideals of our youth that have endured despite all we have seen, experienced, and lived through. We are young again in the belief that wars and slavery can end, women can rebuild their countries in much more equitable ways than any time previous, and that Canadians, for all their complaining, can still influence the world in the ways of peace. So, yes, in a word, Jane and I have overcome. By being involved in the big issues, our hearts grew in equal measure, as has our optimism.

You’ll see a video below of the last song of the concert. And you’ll notice I’m singing in it. It has been decades since I used to sing in various venues, but on this particular night I performed just one more time because I wanted people to know that I have grown and to a certain degree have made a difference. The song I sing is Bob Dylan’s Blowin In the Wind – the old protest song that reminded a generation that change was in the air. I sang it because I believe it – though I’ve grown impatient in the waiting for it. It was time to bring out the old rusty vocal chords once more and join with some remarkable Canadians in singing the song of freedom. It’s time we picked up the refrain once more, fighting for it overseas and within or own borders. Change is comin’.

Humanity In An Image

You can see why I was so affected immediately upon focusing your eyes on the picture. It’s from south Sudan in 1993. The little girl, along with hundreds of others just like her, was crawling her way along in an attempt to get to a feeding centre. Collapsing in exhaustion on the ground, a vulture that had been swooping overhead landed nearby in a gruesome vigil. No one knows what ever happened to the little girl.

I had just purchased a computer and this was perhaps one of the first images I ever saw on the Internet. It rocked me back on my heels. I had to sit down on a chair as I put my head in my hands, trying to shake the image from my mind. There was no point – it has become a permanent part of my mental landscape.

It would be another five years before Jane and I journeyed to south Sudan, but it was partly motivated by this picture of the child and the vulture. It propelled me to a kind of lifelong commitment to alleviate such suffering. This image of the child wasn’t just worth a thousand words; it was worth changing the course of my life – something for which I will be forever grateful.

This is what our humanity does to us. Sure, we refine it, educate it, expand it where we can, and protect it when we are vulnerable. We actually get so proficient at this in the West that we can often submerge it. People who die here fade away in hospitals. We don’t see vultures propped on electrical wires. Starvation? Well we have food banks for that, right? We journey to vacation spots in the sun, remaining cloistered away from the harder realities of what the indigenous populations face. Often we become a people successful at dressing up our humanity by attending posh fundraisers and networking around charity.

And then something like this image pops up on our screen and all that refinement just can’t hold our emotion. This is the kind of life over two billion people live – destitute poverty. Thanks to modern technology, it occasionally confronts us and we are left to figure out a proper response. It is our deeper, primal humanity reminding us that civilizing influences can never take away our ability to care at some submerged level.

Sometimes when I’m in Sudan, I wonder if I ever passed that child along the way. Was she one of the children we freed from slavery, helped in a refugee camp, or built a school for? Perhaps she knew one of our kids. Maybe she perished moments after the photo was taken.

This much we do know: the photographer himself died only a few months after taking the picture that was to win him the Pulitzer Prize. His name was Kevin Carter, a young South African, and according to a friend, for days after he took the photo, he “sat under a tree and cried and chain-smoked and couldn’t distance himself from the horror of what he saw.” There it is again – humanity – reaching in, pulling at the deepest parts of us, prompting insecurity and remarkable compassion at the same time.

A few months later Carter committed suicide – a young man in his awarded prime whose humanity had been tested to the limit. Controversy still swirls around his photograph. Apparently he waved the vulture away after the photo was taken, but didn’t tarry to see if the child lived. He was there on assignment and lots of kids were dying around him, attempting to reach the centre.

Following the publication of this photo in the New York Times, the paper was flooded with calls – thousands of them – asking if the child lived or not. People wanted to help – where could they send money to assist that young life?

This is what we do so well – give. But why does it ultimately take such graphic tragedy to get us involved? We have become so used to hearing of Africa’s struggles, and our personal lives are so hectic, and we are busy helping domestic charities close by, and surely we can’t help everybody, and … well, you understand. Children like this one die in similar circumstances every day, and we won’t change that by just responding to one life. It will take commitment and understanding – an ability to really get outside of our own circumstances and see the world as it really is and not just the way we created it in our own image. If people like me had acted a lot sooner, perhaps the Sudanese mother of our children wouldn’t have had to bolt for freedom from slavery with her children, only to be killed in a raid with them watching. The real solutions to such stories don’t come with adopting kids from Sudan, but from dedicated efforts to ensure that slavery doesn’t happen and that the mother has a fighting chance to bring up her own children in her own world.

It is time we stretched ourselves. My posts on humanitarianism don’t get nearly the readership as those discussing politics or community in Canada. Sometimes our confining world views limit our potential. It is time we permitted our deeper humanity to embrace the broader realities and make our world, and not just where we live, a better and more human place.

While the Sun Is Above Us

Over the years, a lot has been made of the work Jane and I have undertaken in Sudan. Repeatedly the stories return to the difference one or two people can make in even the most impossible of situations. I believe that fully, and not just because of the good fortune we’ve been able to find in our overseas work. There are so many individual  Canadians who have played their own important roles in south Sudan ultimate climb to independence.

People like Melanie Schnell. She phoned us one day from Saskatchewan in 2002, saying she was interested in the happenings in Sudan and wondering what she could do to assist as a means of getting some background for a book she wished to write. We informed her that we were only volunteers, but that if she was willing to head over there on her own dime we could easily find some vital things for her to do.

Little did we know he dedicated she would become to the Dinka people of south Sudan. She volunteered for our organization – Canadian Aid For Southern Sudan – helping with logistics, building schools, and maintaining our contacts there. In the end she spent a year in the region and, just like many of us, found that the southern people had a unique way of building deep respect in the hearts of those working with them. Melanie was never to forget it.

She returned to Canada and began working in the field of journalism, while she worked on her fiction novel, largely propelled by her experiences. It’s about two women – one Sudanese, the other Canadian – whose paths cross in a way that would alter both their lives for the duration. In a world plagued by slavery, violation, war and destitution, both women discover personal redemption and profound hope, in a twist of circumstances that only Sudan itself could produce.

Melanie’s book has been published by Freehand Books and is titled While The Sun Is Above Us. It’s her first published work and in the words of one reviewer it is “ultimately alive with hope.” She visits London today on her book tour, reading from her work at the Aeolian Hall, starting at 7 p.m. Claire Danaher will be providing the special music and the media will be present.

In a wonderful happenstance, today is the first anniversary of south Sudan’s emergence as the world’s newest nation. Despite a turbulent year of ups and downs, it is nevertheless a season of hope and opportunity for the women of Sudan – a wonderful backdrop for the lessons unveiled in Melanie’s moving book. She is a new author who is writing from a deeply personal place the lies someplace outside of her, in a world far away. She’s a remarkable woman, someone well worth meeting. For those of you in the London area, please come out tonight and hear the wonders and challenges of Sudan as only she can tell them – all with the backdrop of Claire’s haunting vocals. If you have any questions, just call 519-679-1429.

Where – Aeloian Hall – 795 Dundas St. E.

When – 7 p.m.

No Mere Flights of Fancy

Jane reminded me today of one more rather distant connection with had with Queen Elizabeth II, whose 60th Jubilee is being celebrated today.

Most readers will know of the rather hazardous journey Jane and I took into Sudan in 2001 to find who would eventually become our adopted daughter Abuk. The civil war was in full swing and any travel was precarious.

We managed to find an air company willing to fly us to the area close to where we heard Abuk was situated. We arrived at Wilson Airport in Nairobi early in the morning and were led onto a larger than normal two-engined aircraft. Though it had been modified a number of times, it had clearly seen better days. That is the plane you see at the top of this post. As we flew into the war-torn region of south Sudan, the pilot informed us that the plane we were on was the one Queen Elizabeth flew on when she found out that her father, the King, had died. She flew on it to Entebbe in Uganda before journeying home to be officially crowned.

For those who don’t know the story, she had bid her father farewell in England, knowing he was ill. But her duties as a princess were to take her to Kenya, Australia and New Zealand.

Elizabeth and Philip were staying at the Sagana Lodge in rural Kenya, and she was photographing some wildlife as Philip took an afternoon nap. He was awoken and told of King George’s death. He said he would tell his wife, whereupon he took her for a long walk to break the news. Everything was turned upside down as she prepared to journey back to England and replace her father. She is pictured here leaving the lodge after hearing the news and on her way to the airplane that Jane and I eventually flew in.  She was taken to nearby Nanyuki, and then on to Entebbe where her official plane waited to take her back to England.

By the time we got on that plane decades later it was on its last legs. We held Abuk in our arms as we sat among goats, sheep and a few harried passengers attempting to escape the war. Thinking back on it today, I was reminded that it had carried at least two remarkably important passengers in its lifetime – a new Queen, and an escaped slave child that was about to find her new home in Canada – a remarkable connection that makes today even more special.

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