El Niagara en Bicicleta (The Niagara on Bicycle)

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Gust and Charlie

2 weeks ago or so, I watched Charlie Wilson’s War, and I must say, this movie had my attention the whole movie. I was enthralled with the idea of a covert war, mainly because things of this nature happen so frequently but are kept from us by the national media. In any case, what really made me contemplate the world’s ills a little was the bit by Gust Avrakotos (wonderfully played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman) in which he says:

A boy is given a horse on his 14th birthday. Everyone in the village says, ‘Oh how wonderful.’ But a Zen master who lives in the village says, ‘We shall see.’ The boy falls off the horse and breaks his foot. Everyone in the village says, ‘Oh how awful.’ The Zen master says, ‘We shall see.’ The village is thrown into war and all the young men have to go to war. But, because of the broken foot, the boy stays behind. Everyone says, ‘Oh, how wonderful.’ The Zen master says, ‘We shall see.’

Powerful. It’s amazing how even when a few people fancy themselves as benefactors to a certain situation can they end up being their executioners. For instance, I take a glance over at Dominican Republic, a country wrought with so much promise yet so much poverty. In the song “El Niagara en Bicicleta” by Juan Luis Guerra, he discusses a trip he took to the medical office, and the trouble with just getting medicine in that country. I thought, for someone as rich and popular as he is, if he can’t get good health care in his own country, what does that mean for the other inhabitants of this country?
With so many American-titled streets and statues (there’s even a Vietnam there, fittingly enough), one would think the country was a property of the United States (kind of like putting the Monroe Doctrine on its head). Yet, this property still has problems keeping the electricity on, still can’t have fair elections, can’t get a real sewer system running, still have drastic medical needs, and have had a series of dangerous robberies even in communities that never had issues with theft on such a massive scale before.

Yet, people in these Americas get mad because so many of us whose families immigrated from other countries would rather concentrate on the countries from whence we came instead of places like Darfur, the African country du jour for anyone who considers themselves “liberal” in this country. Rather than acknowledging that it’s really easy for some of the inhabitants in this country to drop everything and go save this “Third World” country, (don’t we live on one planet?) they get mad and post secrets like this:

 

blackdarfurwhite.jpg

Please. If they really wanted to do some good, they don’t have to look any further than across the bridge, or on the other side of the highway, or a few stops on the train or bus, or on the south or east side of things. Or even better, look in the mirror and acknowledge their own roles in the continued conflicts we have amongst ourselves. Lower East Side, Harlem, South Side of Chicago, East St. Louis, South Central, and Watts all have flashes of the impoverished countries some of these “liberals” think they’re saving. And the easiest way to deal with these neighborhoods is not by ensuring that every citizen of this country has the same rights as the next, but to supplant them and gentrify the neighborhoods they live in so it fits their ideal. Similar to what’s happening to Iraq, but on a smaller scale and unfortunately much more legal.

This isn’t to say that I think anyone who lines up in support of Darfur is a faker. I think they have issues that we can help resolve. However, we’ve gone through a laundry list of countries that need America’s help; it’s like a biannual tradition of twirling the globe in our rooms and picking a country to shift the agenda to. And that’s insincere.

Which brings me back to Charlie Wilson’s War. Charlie finds himself doing the right thing for the people of Afghanistan because, honestly, he wants to. Yet, when it comes to them building their own means of survival by building a school, it’s no longer in the interest of his government. And people who want to save Afghanistan like Joanne live in these mansions as if to relieve their souls from dealing with the obvious contrast between her and the impoverished people of the country.

Thus, it’s Gust, the most dangerous, craziest, and anti-social character in the movie who observes the inevitable most eloquently. Or maybe he’d just been through so much that he’s deprogrammed from the wresting conformity that all these distractions have let us to. Because that too is like riding a bike up the Niagara

jose, who’s been wielding Excalibur’s sword doing some serious work in class, and will report on that next week for sure …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Jose VilsonEl Niagara en Bicicleta (The Niagara on Bicycle)

Comments 7

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  2. Mes deux Cents

    Hi Jose,

    This is complicated; I think that there are plenty of African Americans who are concerned with situations in Africa. I think the media tends though to focus on those who look like them so it seems that only White Americans are concerned.

    Also I agree that there are situations in the U.S. that mirror ones in places like Darfur.

    After all isn’t gang violence in L.A. and Baltimore a slow, well maybe not so slow, genocide?

    I think we, people who care become overwhelmed. I know I do. I get very angry about the lip service to Darfur and no action.

    I get angry that the U.S. is preparing to go to the Olympics in China and buys so much from China, a nation that directly supports the Sudanese government.

    Anyway there are so many issues, so many atrocities. As I said it becomes overwhelming.

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    Jose

    @ BK: dude, Oprah’s cool.

    @ MDC: It is complicated. No one person can do it all alone, but it’s important that we stick to a cause, be informed about it, and not oscillate according to the world’s trends. I feel like there’s a difference between those who actually care about those countries and those who care because everyone else does, similar to the Bush dissent. People don’t like him because of dumb reasons rather than his policies. I’ll write more on this later.

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