Chapter 47: Heroes exists and you could be friends with them

I wake up on Boxing Day with my back hurting. I wish this bed’s mattress was sterner and not budging like a limp loaf. I cannot wait to rest in my own snugly, cosy bed again. Although I am feeling less than adequately recovered, I get up and hurriedly change from my night gown into my day clothes before the arctic iciness in the room congeals me. Without aligning the blanket neatly with the footboard of the bed, as I would usually do, I escape the glacial air.

As I enter the much warmer kitchen, a picturesque morning panorama infuses me. Ava, the friend who is generously hosting me over the festive holidays, reads at the kitchen table as if she was in a blissful meditation. A purple scarf keeps her fleecy, almost as toasty as the coffee she is sipping on. We exchange a gentle good morning which cradles our happiness to be spending the Christmas season together and Ava puts the book to the side. I curiously glimpse at the book’s cover: “Dictatorland: the men who stole Africa” by Paul Kenyon.

I ask Ava what the book is about. She tells me it documents the political landscape of various African countries during and after decolonisation from around 1960 to the 2000’s. The book particularly zooms into how corrupt, brutal, and greedy African leadership gushed out of meddling Western forces. There are the radical, ruthless, nationalist leaders who succeeded colonial regimes. Their names – Gaddafi, Mobutu, Mugabe, and others – were hailed in the street as they led their countries to independence and broke the shackles of oppressive, discriminating white powers. But later on, these heroes of independence turned into tyrants themselves who rigorously exploited the land, sucking the economy dry and impoverishing their people. At the same time, there are the Western superpowers whose own greedy and rogue interests blighted the young, independent Africa. First-world nations like the USA or UK grassed in their former colonial territory for natural resources all the while these territories were raided by humanitarian crimes. So in a nutshell, the book unveils the complex political and economic interdependence between Europe and Africa, including all their tampering in the grey zone. “Because the problem of African dictatorship isn’t just black and white”, Ava says.

I admire Ava for devoting her free time to educating herself about a topic that our European education as well as media notoriously neglect. In general, I look up to Ava’s stern morals alongside her laudable ethical code. She does not only advocate equality and human rights, she furnishes her words with substantial action. Among others, she volunteers for the national victim support; before the pandemic, she used to volunteer in a refugee shelter too. I observe Ava’s altruism with a pupil’s eye. In a related fashion, I take notes while watching her adopt a zero-waste lifestyle, guided by her astonishing environmental consciousness.

We have been befriended for at least two winters now and I feel as I am still thawing out so many formidable facets, which I had no idea about, from her modest composure. With every one of her impressive deeds that I learn about, my respect for her intensifies. I certainly view her as my role model in regard to standing up for humanitarian and environmental causes. Although I care about both matters, I do not engage with them as gustily as I would like to. But Ava does.

Doused with embarrassment, I confess to Ava that I have never really crackled with much enthusiasm for reading up on humanitarian crises or political injustice around the world. I often slide this kind of news aside because of the burdening Weltschmerz that lurks in it. Since none of the world’s political and racial wars, robberies, or violence have ever affected me directly, I always had the choice to concern myself with them or push them out of my hearing range. On most occasions, I have chosen to bypass the world’s misery on quieter, more peaceful roads through idyllic first-world fairyland.

“But don’t you feel compelled and responsible for educating yourself beyond your privilege – a privilege to care only for your immediate surroundings from an unendangered, comfortable position?”

She is right. I agree that I am padded by the privilege of personal security, financial stability, blithe health, and free opportunities. I have not even floundered much to secure these privileges. I was just incredible lucky in the birth lottery. If I wanted, I could deliberately shut my eyes in oblivion of the world’s unfair cruelties. I could slurp on my happy-go-lucky life with a narrow understanding of the world and pampered by my white, Western wealth. However, I want to think critically and to do so I can neither shut my eyes nor drink from the fountain of my country’s paradise without questioning where its streams of riches came from.

For the rest of the day, I cannot stop thinking about Ava’s words. Her plea for greater attention to global affairs, especially human rights, leaves my mind stirred up. The contrast between my whitewashed ignorance and to her compassionate sense of justice bites my conscience. A day after our discussion, Ava’s words continue to pinch my mind. Five days later, her appeal has still not soften its grip on me.

Eventually, I muster the resolution to read the book that she was reading about African dictators, or more specifically, I start listening to its audiobook. Muffled in the duvet of my bed, I press the play button and emerge into Africa’s blustery past.

Listening to the audiobook of Dictatorland awakened my sense for political justice and equality from its prior hibernation. Ava had triggered a change in me – a brisker political and humanitarian involvement which I had wanted to see in myself for a while, but had blocked with my own shortcomings. Ava melted these shortcomings with her fire for a fairer, sustainable world. I look up to her because she is in parts the person I aspire to be. Real heroes exist and befriending them will help you work on yourself.

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