personal reflections on human rights...and other stuff

Nowhere Man


Friday morning, about 9 AM, Heathrow Airport
My friend Daniel has wryly pointed out on more than one occasion that bad stuff happens in places I visit for my job. Not so much during a trip as much as before or after. A bomb went off in Casablanca after I was in Morocco, another bomb blasted Istanbul a couple of weeks after I left that city. Let's not forget the civil war in Nepal – the sheer effrontery of the King who dissolved the government a month before I arrived. The 2004 tsunami hit a couple of weeks after I left Indonesia. Oh right, and let's not forget the hotel I stayed at in Jordan that was bombed on somebody's wedding night a couple of years before I set foot in the place. I try not to remind my family of these things as prepare for another trip. I typically focus on the gifts I bring back.


This time I'm going to Jakarta for 5 days to give a curriculum design workshop for people involved in the AHRTP, the Indonesian version of Equitas' IHRTP. The program, run by alumni of Equitas and AHRTPs, will be in its third outing next February. About a dozen participants are attending the workshop on how to develop their curriculum skills by working and reworking the existing AHRTP curriculum. It should be fun, if I can manage to stay awake.


A few hours after that workshop ends, I fly out of Jakarta and head for Iraq. It does feel strange writing that. Prior to leaving, neighbours were asking me where I was headed off this time, and I kept my answer to Indonesia and left out the Iraq part. I had mentioned to a couple of people that I was going to Iraq and their eyes bugged out, so I figured it was better not to talk about it.


Let me talk about morons. There were two electricians at my house today – no, make that yesterday – installing some lights in the kitchen. As they were leaving, they asked me what I did for a living and I told them I was ready to go on a trip to Indonesia. One of the electricians, attemping to make conversation, asked me whether or not they let people fly with H1N1. I said they did, as far as I knew. He asked me if I was concerned about getting the flu, and I told him not really, I'm very careful. Then I told him that if I wanted people to stay away from me, all I had to do was fake a cough. He laughed and then he said, “If you really want to keep people away from you, wear a TURBAN!” He pretended to wrap a turban around his head. He laughed his head off at his attempt at a joke.


When things aren't funny, I can't force myself to laugh. That's expecially true when someone utters such a mindless comment like the one I'd just heard. The most I could muster was a mild Harumph and gave him the smile I reserve for poor souls too stupid to realize how ignorant and assinine they are. But then again, I have to realize that a lot of the kids I hung out with when I was a kid said similar things and laughed their heads off at the expense of others. I can't consider myself entirely innocent either.
Guys like the electrician worry me because I think that no amount of education on different cultures would do much good for him. The guy was about my age, and I doubt he'll change his attitude anytime soon. I have to wonder how much his “turban” comment reflects beliefs of average everyday people who have a limited understanding, appreciation and exposure to multicultural and pluralistic environments, at least in Canada. Perhaps he expresses what a lot of people think but keep to themselves.


It's time to stretch my legs for a bit. My friend went to Toronto earlier this week and lamented the fact he had a 2 hour stopover. My stop in jolly old England is 7 hours, and I still have still have over a day to go. I feel like I'm in a weird timeless zone when I hop from continent to continent like this. I'm reminded of when I left Africa for the first time back in 1995 after living in Malawi for two years. As we were waiting on the tarmac to take off, the song playing through the airplane speakers was “Nowhere Man” by the Beatles. The song resonates today just as much as it did all those years ago.


He's a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans, for nobody.


It's now over a day since the last line and I'm in my room in Jakarta, the familiar smells of clove-flavoured cigarettes assaulting my nostrils as I walked off the plane. Belly full and having greeted most of the participants over dinner, I'm out of nowhere land and the whackily unreal duty free shops of the UK, Qatar, and Singapore, and we can get down to the human rights stuff. Tomrrow's agenda: needs assessment, learner profile and environmental scan.


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