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Addiction Among Us

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I’m learning a lot about addiction now that I’m working on a project for the Betty Ford Center Children’s Program.  I’m learning about the impact alcohol and drug abuse have on kids when there is addiction in the home.  I’m also learning that there is hope that a family can escape the clutches of addiction.  Healing is possible with the right kind of help.  According to the Surgeon General one in seven people in the U.S. will develop a substance disorder at some point but only one in ten will get help.  That’s a lot of people suffering and a lot of children affected by the chaos.

“It’s time to change how we view addiction,” said Dr. Vivek H. Murthy in his report. “Not as a moral failing but as a chronic illness that must be treated with skill, urgency and compassion. The way we address this crisis is a test for America.”  The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation has viewed addiction through this lens since it’s inception.  The Betty Ford Center Children’s Program helps kids ages 7 to 12 separate the disease from those that they love and understand it is not their fault when their grown ups are trapped by addiction.  Children who are the first hurt do not have to be the last helped.  Kate Snow with NBC Nightly News did a story recently to show the good the program does.

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10 Things I’ve Learned Being Friends With Elderly Women

When I was in my 20’s I had an elderly friend down the street in West Hartford, Connecticut named Eleanor. She loved me and adored my dog, Buddy. She also enjoyed drinking and when I got home from work around 11:30 p.m. she was always waiting up for me. We would have a nightcap and talk. She also watched Buddy for me when I went out of town. She was a neighbor and a special friend. When I moved away I eventually lost touch with El and then I learned she passed. That first friendship led to others. They started as mitzvahs (a meritorious or charitable act) then developed into so much more. I got to know Esther by delivering Meals on Wheels for Jewish Family Services. I got to know Ursula by volunteering at the nearby assisted living facility. Over the years I have learned many things from these women friends. These are my top 10.

1) They don’t want to be referred to as little old lady friends. They don’t want to be reminded that they are growing old. They just want to be called friends. This really is the deepest compliment.

2) Their pictures tell stories and they are eager to share them. The days before they grew old were full of family and accomplishments. They were not always infirm. They enjoy sharing their histories with you. They’ve had lives, sometimes hard lives. They are wise and engaging and I love our conversations.

3) They still want to look attractive. Every day Ursula puts on her makeup. She enjoys showing off her new outfits and bragging about how inexpensive they are. Even though she can move only one arm she is always dressed up. Esther was a shut in but she always looked nice. Every older woman I know takes pride in her appearance and wants to age gracefully.

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4) Even as their world becomes smaller they yearn to learn and socialize. Ursula threw a small party in her room at the assisted living facility on New Year’s Day. She bought food, beer and wine for whoever dropped by. Visits light up her life. She likes to shop and go to movies and during warm weather months we go to the nearby bar and have a beer. She still wants to eat good food. Her body is broken but her mind is clear. My elderly friends enjoy people bringing the world into their lives. They want to know what you do and meet your family. They want you to meet theirs too. They may be older, but they don’t want to be boring.

5) Sometimes they get cranky and they don’t want people to tell them to cheer up. Spending days as a shut in or in a nursing home is difficult. Like most of us they have hard days. But like most of us, it passes and they get positive again.

6) They want to have some things they can control. They are often at the mercy of institutions and their children. Having a say in their lives is important.

7) They want their children to be honest with them. They want their children to visit and be patient with them. They want to be able to reach them on the phone. They tell me about the ways their family doesn’t make them feel important.

8) They like to sit in the sun. Being inside all day can be dark and lonely. Going outside, even for a short time, is an automatic mood enhancer.

9) Even in their 80’s, elderly women still have things they want to accomplish. Supporting them in these dreams makes them feel things are possible.

10) The greatest gift you can give is to help someone die with dignity. When Esther was moved from her home she lost her will to live. Once in assisted living she stopped eating and drinking. No one could talk her out of it and she willed herself to die. In three weeks she was gone. My Nana had an accident and no longer could speak or feed herself. She did the same thing. Being there for them without judgment during their exit is a tremendous blessing to them.

Having close friendships with elderly women has helped me get a good look at what it’s like to age. It has taught me to be more vigilant about my health. I have also learned how limited the options are for the infirm and how frightfully expensive it is to be in assisted living. I have deepened my compassion for them and for my friends who are coping with elderly parents, especially those with dementia. Finally, it has taught me the blessings of wellness and the importance of accepting what comes your way with grace. And I have been extremely grateful to be considered extended family to those with so much love yet to give.

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Guns and Love and Fear

I grew up in Hawaii and sang in a choir.  We were a very tight group of teenagers from various schools.  We were laid back and went to the beach together and sang our hearts out.  Then we all grew up and followed our paths until we met up again on Facebook a number of years ago.  And we were different.  Last night one of my friends, who moved to the Midwest,  posted something supportive of Wayne LaPierre of the NRA and I went ballistic.  I reached out to him and asked how he could possibly hold this view in light of what has been happening lately.  Massacre after massacre after massacre and he still thinks the laws on the books are enough?  He told me about being assaulted once and having a friend who was raped and about his opinion that if good guys were armed then we could fight back against the bad guys.  He wrote “the slippery slope to me is that once a law starts to be framed, it morphs into something very different from its original intent. A well intended law can become a monster with irreversible consequences.”

I told him about my experiences covering massacres like Columbine and the Aurora Theatre shooting for NBC News and meeting victim families and feeling the pain and suffering of survivors as I’ve asked them to share their stories.  I told him about the funeral for Officer Garrett Swasey that I just attended and how a gun didn’t help the good guy on the day he died outside the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood office.  I told him about the very moving End of Watch video that was shown at his service.  I fired back that “apparently people are morphing the second amendment and the constitution into something the founding fathers never intended.”  He and I will never agree on this topic, we are on complete opposite sides of the argument and shake our heads at the other’s point of view, but we had a respectful on line discussion and wished each other a happy holiday season.

Today I mentioned our exchange to my instructor at yoga and he suggested that I come from a place of love and my friend comes from a place of fear.  Last night it seemed that way to me too, but the more I think of it, the more I realize we both come from the same place.  He loves his friends and family and community and I feel the same way about mine.  He thinks the way to protect his people is with guns and I think the way for my people to be safe is to get rid of them.  We are both fearful of where our country is going after Sandy Hook and San Bernardino.  How we differ is in the way to get there.  He holds tight to his rights and his AR-15, and I hold tight to my rights to live in a land free of gun violence and semi-automatic weapons.  I may be naive, but I hope by having the discussion we are a step closer to compromise and something we both can live with.

The dialogue over gun control has devolved into something akin to the fiery rhetoric over abortion.  It is so black and white that it seems there is no middle ground.  The person who shot his gun through the front page editorial about gun control on Saturday’s New York Times is an indication of how counterproductive this argument has become.  People have dug their heels so deeply in the sand they cannot be budged.  But on the issue of gun violence we need to budge.  Hopefully my conversation with my friend is a move towards understanding and maybe others will talk to their friends and neighbors and we will have a larger national conversation that will lead once and for all to our leaders having the courage to craft some common sense solutions that create a safer nation for my friend’s children and mine.  And no, even though my friend worried I would unfriend him, we both have agreed to leave the door open for future conversations.

 


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Listening to Victims: Closing thoughts on four months covering the Aurora Theatre shooting trial

When Kathleen Larimer, who lost her son, John, in the Aurora Theatre shooting, made her victim impact statement in the final days of the trial, she began by telling the judge “I am so tired of crying.” She and her husband, Scott, had been in the courtroom every day for four months, looking for answers that might help make sense of the murder of their youngest child. Over 100 people like Mrs. Larimer stood before Judge Carlos Samour in an Arapahoe County Courthouse and poured out their hearts in victim impact statements about the loss and devastation they experienced because of James Holmes.

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On July 20, 2012, I also took my teenage son to see “The Dark Knight Rises” at the midnight showing in Aurora, Colorado. Our theatre, however, was a few miles away from the Century 16. When the show was over I realized I had missed calls. Many calls. I rushed to the Century 16 Theatre to join my colleagues at NBC News in covering one of the most horrific mass shootings ever. It was so staggering in its carnage and complexity that it was difficult to get my head around it, even after covering the massacre at Columbine High School. The day of the attack was the first time victims began to tell their stories. The sentencing was the end of the three-year odyssey for those touched by the crime.

Over the months, sitting in the courtroom every day, we finally got some answers about the crime and why it happened. But even with light shed on the attack, it could not fill the dark hole in the hearts of the families who lost loved ones. Their anguish was palpable over the months.  The large family of victims held each other up, especially during the last days of the trial, when they finally told the judge, in their own powerful voices, what they experienced, and asked for a maximum sentence for the defendant who dodged the bullet of a death penalty.

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When District Attorney George Brauchler made his final argument in the case, asking the judge to show no mercy to “this guy” and give the “maximum sentence for the maximum evil,” I heard Mrs. Larimer sobbing quietly behind me. For months she and the other family members would sit across the aisle on the other side of the courtroom. I could swivel my head and observe them at key moments, document when they cried, when they glared at the defendant, when they couldn’t take it any more and left the courtroom. Listening to Mrs. Larimer cry right behind me captured my complete attention. I did not turn around to see her, but her sorrow could not be ignored and I listened.

On Wednesday, August 26, Judge Samour made his pre-sentencing comments to the court. He addressed the concerns of victims who said the trial had been a waste of time and money, as the defendant had been willing to plead guilty two years earlier to avoid the death penalty. Samour suggested they should focus on what came out of the trial rather than on regretting the decisions that were made. Then, for each of the twelve who were slain, he referred back to victim impact testimonies and specific points made about those loved and lost. Was it a waste of time when Chantal Blunk spoke about her husband, Jonathan? Was it a waste of time when Sierra Cowden talked about her dad, Gordon? Was it a waste of time when Teresa Hoover spoke about her son, AJ? What struck me as he recalled their names and remarkable lives was that the judge heard the victims. He really heard them.

Judge Samour gave the defendant one of the harshest sentences ever imposed. Twelve life sentences without the possibility of parole and an additional 3,318 years for the people he injured plus an explosives charge. Then dripping with contempt he said “Sheriff, get the defendant out of my courtroom, please.” Breaking with four months of decorum the victims cheered and applauded as James Holmes was taken from the court one last time. 1,132 days after the attack these families can now contemplate moving forward. Some have been galvanized into activism. They are fighting for common sense gun controls and working hard so that the faces of killers are not remembered long after the faces of their victims.  Many, like Kathleen Larimer, are not certain what the future holds but through her tears, she found her voice. “Now that this is over, I have to go home and live with all that emptiness, and yet somehow be happy with life going on,” she said. And when she came up to the microphone that last time, everybody listened.


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Guns In My Backyard

The other night while having dinner on our deck on a warm summer evening we heard automatic weapons fire.  We live in the suburbs of Denver, about a mile as the crow flies from the Family Shooting Center in Cherry Creek State Park.  We often hear the peppering of gunfire as people shoot and train with handguns and rifles.  It is background noise for us, just like the planes flying over our house as they line up to land at nearby Centennial Airport.  But this night was different.  It sounded like we were on the front lines in Syria or Afghanistan.  The shooting went on forever.  Non-stop uninterrupted automatic weapons fire.  I called the Sheriff’s office and they said they were getting numerous complaints.  Then I called and left a message at the range, saying they were being insensitive and not being good neighbors, especially in light of the recent Aurora shooting which left so many people dead, injured and on edge.

Much to my surprise, the next evening, the proprietor of Family Shooting Center, Doug Hamilton, called me.  He was very earnest and apologetic that we were disturbed.  He was certain it was an unusual confluence of atmospheric conditions that carried the sound all the way to us.  He told me they were having a special demonstration event for the staff that they do once a year.  He said he was calling back everyone who left a number and wanted to assure me that they were good neighbors.  He even told me about sound buffers they were installing.  We had a good dialogue, but when I suggested to him that perhaps they do not need to fire off automatic weapons at the range, or if it was essential to have this event annually, perhaps his staff could take a field trip to the country, he went silent.  He listened politely to my feelings but when we hung up I wasn’t sure he really heard them.

And therein lies the disconnect.  I will be candid.  I am not a gun person but in recent years my stance has softened dramatically.  My car dealer has his concealed carry permit.  My son’s best friend hunts.  I visited the Tanner Gun Show and understood why some women felt they needed to have a handgun.  I get that people want guns for recreation and protection.  I have learned to respect their rights.  I believe I am being very reasonable.  But I cannot understand why we need to have automatic weapons in my neighborhood or in any neighborhood for that matter.  When I posted my story on Facebook the jaws of my friends in Canada and Australia dropped.  They couldn’t get their heads around an evening in the suburbs listening to automatic weapons fire or even the irony of a place called Family Shooting Center.  They have such a different world view from ours.

Not long ago in another direction a mile away from my house a new business opened.  It is a gun store, with a built in range, and the owners intend to turn the empty lot across the way into a gun club.  Right across the street from my Starbucks and Einstein’s in an upscale suburb of Denver there is now a gun store.  I must confess when I first saw it I had a visceral reaction.  Not in my back yard.  But I’ve accepted it.  The only thing I wish is that since we are sharing common ground, perhaps we can reach some common ground.  Can’t we all at least agree that there is no reason to have automatic weapons around here?  What good comes from them except to kill people?  Can’t we just leave them to those who fight wars?  It seems like such an easy compromise to make and one that many reasonable people are calling for.  It seems like our country and our communities would be so much safer.  It would certainly keep me from losing my appetite during warm summer evening barbeques on my deck in Colorado.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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On Father’s Day: A Gift from the Grave

My father, Ed Collins, died when my son, Kyle, was just one year old.  Perhaps he knew his time was short because on April 28, 1994, less than three months after Kyle was born, he wrote him this letter.  On the envelope it said “To Kyle on his 18th birthday.”  We gave it to Kyle this past February.  We had waited for years to see this treasure and hear my father’s voice again.  I’ve transcribed the letter here in my father’s words, as he wrote it down.

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A LETTER TO MY ONLY GRANDSON

Before you read and understand this letter, I may no longer be here.  I just want you to know, it was the best day of my life when you were born.  The 4th of February will always be a holiday.  I will celebrate it as long as I live.  I remember February 2nd, when my brother was born, and February 15 when my father was born in 1878.

I doubt if you will ever comprehend what time it was.  No electricity, radio, T.V. or computers.  Those things are taken now so much for granted, yet 125 years ago people went to bed when it got dark, the rooster was the alarm clock and at 5 o’clock in the morning people got up to eat breakfast made from oats, Oatmeal.  They took a horse drawn street car, or in winter a sleigh to go to work.

I was born in 1922.  Things were already much better by then.  In some homes there was electricity.  Mother made breakfast on a stove burning coal.  In winter 25 below 0 was a normal winter day in far away Poland where I lived.

Maybe someday you will look at a map of the world to discover to your amazement that you have some kinship in cities like Tarnow and Krakow, and maybe when you travel through Europe, you will stop in those cities.  They meant a lot to me.  I was a very sentimental Polack.  I also made a good American.

You will travel a different road in your life.  Your father and mother will show you the modern way of life that befits the end of the 20th-21st century.  I envy you.  It will be a time full of exciting inventions to make life easier for people to live.  It will be a life full of temptations to take the most comfortable road to success.

Take a little advice from a man that passed this way.  You will never know, nor will you understand life and compassion if you take the easiest road in life.  To understand life a man has to take some bumps and climb some fences.  Stop, smell the flowers, live each day, as if it was your last.  Don’t wait for thanks and appreciation from others, just do things the best and most humane way, you will never go wrong.

Just ask yourself, is it the truth, is it fair?  Will it build goodwill and better friendship, will it be beneficial to all concerned.  If you take this road, you might not always win, but you will never lose, while climbing the road, the steep mountain that blocks your way, on the way to becoming a man.  Love, Ed Collins, Your Grandfather.

For more on Vicky Collins visit her website at Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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I Support Kony2012

Joseph Kony is infamous for his atrocities and crimes against humanity in Uganda and neighboring countries and now the group Invisible Children is trying to make him famous.  Kony is one of the most sought after war criminals and the hope is by bringing attention to him the whole world will engage and finally hunt him down and let justice be served.  His Kony’s Lords Resistance Army brutalized the people of Northern Uganda for 25 years, abducting children and turning them into child soldiers and sex slaves.  An entire region and generation were brutalized and broken.  Now Kony has fled from Uganda and has escaped into the Congo.  He continues his senseless killing and the U.S. has even sent troops to help Uganda’s military track him down.  A couple of years ago we met some of the child soldiers who had escaped and were being prepared to return home at Worldvision’s Children of War Rehabilitation Center in Gulu, Uganda.  Their stories are painful but they are also hopeful. Here is the video we produced for HDNet World Report:

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Start a Holiday Tradition: Christmas Tamales

Every year on Christmas eve I make tamales for my family and neighbors. It has become a holiday tradition and labor of love and my girlfriends join me with their own recipes in my kitchen. We cook our tamales and socialize and drink and it’s all very festive. In the event you’d like to start a tamale tradition of your own, here’s a great recipe. My family loves it and insist I make them every year.  Happy holidays to everyone.

Chicken Tamales Recipe from Maseca Collection – Jesus Bojorquez

Mexican Recipe Ingredients:

6 cups Maseca Corn Masa Mix for Tamales
6 cups Chicken broth
1 cup corn oil
2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 large rotisserie chicken
2 cans salsa verde or tomatillo sauce
1 bag corn husks

Mexican Recipe Instructions:

Soak the corn husks in warm water until soft.
Blend with an electric mixer Maseca corn masa mix for tamales, corn oil, salt, baking powder and the chicken broth to obtain a consistent mixture.
Shred the chicken and marinate in the green salsa or tomatillo sauce.
Spread masa evenly over corn husks, and spread a spoonful of marinated chicken on top of the masa.
Fold the sides of the corn husk to center over the masa so that they overlap to make along package.
Fold the empty part of the husk under so that it rest against the side of the tamale with a seam.
Place the tamales in a steamer and cook tamales for 35-40 minutes. Check every 20 minutes.The tamales are cooked when they separate easily from the corn husk.

Enjoy this delicious chicken tamales Mexican food recipe! I also add shredded Colby/Jack cheese to each tamale.

Preparation Time (min): 60
Cook Time (min): 60
Prep Tool: Tamale Steamer

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What’s Wrong With Standardized Tests

When an adult took standardized tests forced on kids
By Valerie Strauss
This was written by Marion Brady, veteran teacher, administrator, curriculum designer and author.

By Marion Brady

A longtime friend on the school board of one of the largest school systems in America did something that few public servants are willing to do. He took versions of his state’s high-stakes standardized math and reading tests for 10th graders, and said he’d make his scores public.

By any reasonable measure, my friend is a success. His now-grown kids are well-educated. He has a big house in a good part of town. Paid-for condo in the Caribbean. Influential friends. Lots of frequent flyer miles. Enough time of his own to give serious attention to his school board responsibilities. The margins of his electoral wins and his good relationships with administrators and teachers testify to his openness to dialogue and willingness to listen.

He called me the morning he took the test to say he was sure he hadn’t done well, but had to wait for the results. A couple of days ago, realizing that local school board members don’t seem to be playing much of a role in the current “reform” brouhaha, I asked him what he now thought about the tests he’d taken.

“I won’t beat around the bush,” he wrote in an email. “The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62% . In our system, that’s a “D”, and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.

He continued, “It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate.

“I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities.

“I have a wide circle of friends in various professions. Since taking the test, I’ve detailed its contents as best I can to many of them, particularly the math section, which does more than its share of shoving students in our system out of school and on to the street. Not a single one of them said that the math I described was necessary in their profession.

“It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.”

Here’s the clincher in what he wrote:

“If I’d been required to take those two tests when I was a 10th grader, my life would almost certainly have been very different. I’d have been told I wasn’t ‘college material,’ would probably have believed it, and looked for work appropriate for the level of ability that the test said I had.

“It makes no sense to me that a test with the potential for shaping a student’s entire future has so little apparent relevance to adult, real-world functioning. Who decided the kind of questions and their level of difficulty? Using what criteria? To whom did they have to defend their decisions? As subject-matter specialists, how qualified were they to make general judgments about the needs of this state’s children in a future they can’t possibly predict? Who set the pass-fail “cut score”? How?”

“I can’t escape the conclusion that decisions about the [state test] in particular and standardized tests in general are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren’t really accountable.”

There you have it. A concise summary of what’s wrong with present corporately driven education change: Decisions are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren’t really accountable.

Those decisions are shaped not by knowledge or understanding of educating, but by ideology, politics, hubris, greed, ignorance, the conventional wisdom, and various combinations thereof. And then they’re sold to the public by the rich and powerful.

All that without so much as a pilot program to see if their simplistic, worn-out ideas work, and without a single procedure in place that imposes on them what they demand of teachers: accountability.

But maybe there’s hope. As I write, a New York Times story by Michael Winerip makes my day. The stupidity of the current test-based thrust of reform has triggered the first revolt of school principals.

Winerip writes: “As of last night, 658 principals around the state (New York) had signed a letter — 488 of them from Long Island, where the insurrection began — protesting the use of students’ test scores to evaluate teachers’ and principals’ performance.”

One of those school principals, Winerip says, is Bernard Kaplan. Kaplan runs one of the highest-achieving schools in the state, but is required to attend 10 training sessions.

“It’s education by humiliation,” Kaplan said. “I’ve never seen teachers and principals so degraded.”

Carol Burris, named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State, has to attend those 10 training sessions.

Katie Zahedi, another principal, said the session she attended was “two days of total nonsense. I have a Ph.D., I’m in a school every day, and some consultant is supposed to be teaching me to do evaluations.”

A fourth principal, Mario Fernandez, called the evaluation process a product of “ludicrous, shallow thinking. They’re expecting a tornado to go through a junkyard and have a brand new Mercedes pop up.”

My school board member-friend concluded his email with this: “I can’t escape the conclusion that those of us who are expected to follow through on decisions that have been made for us are doing something ethically questionable.”

He’s wrong. What they’re being made to do isn’t ethically questionable. It’s ethically unacceptable. Ethically reprehensible. Ethically indefensible.

How many of the approximately 100,000 school principals in the U.S. would join the revolt if their ethical principles trumped their fears of retribution? Why haven’t they been asked?


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A Son Returns to the Agony of Somalia By K’NAAN

K’NAAN is one of my favorite musicians.  He inspired people around the globe with his rousing “Wavin’ Flag” during the World Cup in South Africa and now he has written a powerful op-ed piece for the New York Times about a journey he took home to his native Somalia.  It’s an urgent call to action in case we are forgetting the famine already.

A Son Returns to the Agony of Somalia

By K’NAAN
K’Naan is a musician and poet.

MOGADISHU, Somalia

ONE has to be careful about stories. Especially true ones. When a story is told the first time, it can find a place in the listener’s heart. If the same story is told over and over, it becomes less like a presence in that chest and more like an X-ray of it.

The beating heart of my story is this: I was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. I had a brief but beautiful childhood filled with poetry from renowned relatives. Then came a bloody end to it, a lesson in life as a Somali: death approaching from the distance, walking into our lives in an experienced stroll.

At 12 years old, I lost three of the boys I grew up with in one burst of machine-gun fire — one pull from the misinformed finger of a boy probably not much older than we were.

But I was also unusually lucky. The bullets hit everyone but me.

Luck follows me through this story; so does my luckless homeland. A few harrowing months later, I found myself on the last commercial flight to leave Somalia before war closed in on the airport. And over the years, fortune turned me into Somalia’s loudest musical voice in the Western Hemisphere.

Meanwhile, my country festered, declining more and more. When I went on a tour of 86 countries last year, I could not perform in the one that mattered most to me. And when my song “Wavin’ Flag” became the theme song for the World Cup that year, the kids back home were not allowed to listen to it on the airwaves. Whatever melodious beauty I found, living in the spotlight, my country produced an opposing harmony in shadows, and the world hardly noticed. But I could still hear it.

And now this terrible year: The worst famine in decades pillages the flesh of the already wounded in Somalia. And the world’s collective humanitarian response has been a defeated shrug. If ever there was a best and worst time to return home, it was now.

So, 20 summers after I left as a child, I found myself on my way back to Somalia with some concerned friends and colleagues. I hoped that my presence would let me shine a light into this darkness. Maybe spare even one life, a life equal to mine, from indifferently wasting away. But I am no statesman, nor a soldier. Just a man made fortunate by the power of the spotlight. And to save someone’s life I am willing to spend some of that capricious currency called celebrity.

We had been told that Mogadishu was still among the most dangerous cities on the planet. So it was quiet on the 15-seat plane from Nairobi. We told nervous jokes at first, then looked to defuse the tension. The one book I had brought was Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast.” I reached a chapter titled “Hunger Was Good Discipline” and stopped. That idea needed some contemplation. The very thing driving so many from their homes in Somalia was drawing me back there. I read on. Hemingway felt that paintings were more beautiful when he was “belly-empty, hollow-hungry.” But he was not speaking of the brutal and criminally organized hunger of East Africa. His hunger was beautiful. It made something of you. The one I was heading into only made ashes of you.

By now, the ride was bumpy. We were flying low, so I could see Baraawe and Merca, beauties of coastal towns that I had always dreamed of visiting. The pilot joked that he would try to fly low enough for my sightseeing, but high enough to avoid the rocket-propelled grenades.

FOR miles along that coast, all you see are paint-like blue water, beautiful sand dunes eroding, and an abandoned effort to cap them with concrete. Everything about Somalia feels like abandonment. The buildings, the peace initiatives, the hopes and dreams of greatness for a nation.

With the ocean to our backs, our wheels touch down in Mogadishu, at the airport I left 20 years before to the surround-sound of heavy artillery pounding the devil’s rhythm. Now there is an eerie calm. We clear immigration, passing citizens with AK-47’s slung over their shoulders.

It’s not a small task to be safe in Mogadishu. So we keep our arrival a secret until after we ride from the airport to the city, a ride on which they say life expectancy is about 17 minutes if you don’t have the kind of security that has been arranged for me.

Over breakfast at a “safe house,” I update my sense of taste with kidney and anjera (a bread), and a perfectly cooled grapefruit drink. Then we journey onto the city streets. It’s the most aesthetically contradictory place on earth — a paradise of paradox. The old Italian and locally inspired architecture is colored by American and Russian artillery paint. Everything stands proudly lopsided.

And then come the makeshift camps set up for the many hungering displaced Somalis. They are the reason I am here. If my voice was an instrument, then I needed it to be an amplifier this time. If my light was true, then I needed it to show its face here, where it counts. Nothing I have ever sung will matter much if I can’t be the mouth of the silenced. But will the world have ears for them, too?

I find the homeless Somalis’ arms open, waiting for the outside world and hoping for a second chance into its fenced heart. I meet a young woman watching over her dying mother, who has been struck by the bullet of famine. The daughter tells me about the journey to Mogadishu — a 200-mile trek across arid, parched land, with adults huddling around children to protect them first. This mother refused to eat her own food in order to feed abandoned children they had picked up along the way. And now she was dying because of that.

The final and most devastating stop for me was Banadir Hospital, where I was born. The doctors are like hostages of hopelessness, surrounded and outnumbered. Mothers hum lullabies holding the skeletal heads of their children. It seems eyes are the only ornament left of their beautiful faces; eyes like lanterns holding out a glimmer of faint hope. Volunteers are doing jobs they aren’t qualified for. The wards are over-crowded, mixing gun wound, malnutrition and cholera patients.

Death is in every corner of this place. It’s lying on the mattresses holding the tiny wrists of half-sleeping children. It’s near the exposed breasts of girls turned mothers too soon. It folds in the cots, all-knowing and silent; its mournful wind swells the black sheets. Here, each life ends sadly, too suddenly and casually to be memorialized.

In this somber and embittered forgotten place, at least they were happy to see I had come.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

To see Vicky’s photographs from Africa visit Vicky Collins Photography.