April 27, 2011 Los Angeles, California.
I had a very intense yet eye opening day today. I was headed for an appointment in Beverly Hills (of all places just to add to the wild dichotomy of my life). As I exited Coldwater Canyon off of the 101, I saw a very very young handsome homeless man asking for money. I handed him a dollar. As he walked away I screamed "Hey, what are you doing on the streets? you are so young." He said that he got kicked out of school in New York. He is a musician and can't find a job. His parents aren't around to help him, so he's in a tough situation. As the light turned green I called out "get a job and get yourself off the streets, you are way too young to be here". I dialed my friend Rachel Fleischer's phone number. Rachel is one of my best friends. She has been documenting homelessness in Los Angeles for the last decade. It's truly her cause, so I called to share this experience I had just had. "Rach," I said, "He was so young and handsome. He looked like one of our friends. How is he homeless? i feel so bad driving away." Rachel said, "Well, if you give him my number I can help him. I can put him in touch with PATH and help him find shelter and a job". So I swung my car around, made an illegal U turn across the double yellow lines, drove up alongside the kid, and honked at him a bunch of times. He ran over to my window and I handed him a yellow stickie note with Rachel's number on it "Here," I said "Call Rachel she can help you!" and I sped away.
I felt a little better, but still felt shocked. Cause this kid literally looked like one of my friends. He wasn't on drugs, he was handsome, clean, could've been anyone I knew.
I continued my drive over Coldwater Canyon into Beverly Hills. I got to my appointment and as I was leaving I noticed a sign in the window of the Paley Center for Media on Bevery Dr. There was an exhibit on Rwanda. I made a sharp turn into the parking lot and decided to check it out. The show was called "Intended Consequences: Rwandan Children Born of Rape". I read the description on the wall by the Photographer Jonathan Torgovnik, and was already in tears before I even saw a single one of his images. "The Rwandan genocide occurred in June 1994. It resulted in the brutal massacre of over 800,000 Tutsies and moderate Hutus as well as brutal rapes leading to the birth of an estimated 20,000 children." All of this occurred over the course of 100 days. How human beings can be so cruel and cause such massive destruction in merely 100 days is mind blowing. I proceeded to the first image.
The photos were each of a different Rwandan mother and her child- all children born of rape. Next to the photos were interviews with the women. Each women had a slightly different version of the same story. Most were virgins who begged their rapists to marry them. "Please please, let me finish school. I am a virgin I will marry you." All were gang raped by several men. So many men that they could barely count. Most of the women contemplated aborting their babies. Some contemplated suicide. Many of the women were infected with HIV. The single devastating difference was in their relationships with their children. Some of the women fell in love with their babies immediately and recognized their innocence in the matter. Others took a while to not feel hatred toward their children, but got past this and learned to love them. A few still cannot love their children. They look at them and see their rapist and everything that was taken from their lives. All of the women were at once courageous, resilient, and devastated. The faces of the children were innocent yet full of guilt. Imagine the legacy they were born into? I kept thinking "how do we heal these mothers and children? how do we restore some part of their innocence? how do we prevent this from ever happening again?" I thought about the recent events in the Congo- the rape of I believe over 200 women AND children that just occurred there. And I thought about child soldiers. In Africa, Afghanistan, and everywhere in our world. It frightens me to think of the rage these children will bring into our world. How do we reach these young people before they become so set in their anger that they repeat cycles of hatred and abuse? I purchased a bracelet made by the Rwanda mothers and left the Paley Center with these thoughts circling my mind, heart, and wrist.
I was exhausted when I got home this evening. I laid down with my laptop on my lap reading about the opium and heroin addiction problem that is currently intensifying in Afghanistan. I was reading a report given by an Afghan man who has started a rehabilitation center there. My eyes drifted closed as I read about how quickly AIDS is starting to spread in the country, and how the government is not acknowledging the problem. I slept for maybe about an hour.
I woke up and wrote a song about it. About the opium and heroin problem, and I headed over to my uncle's house so that he could help me translate the song into Dari and Pashto. After we worked on the verses, he started telling me about these young Afghan boys who escape Afghanistan and travel to different countries in Europe looking for a better life. I had remembered reading about this several months ago. A story in the BBC I believe, about young Afghan boys arriving in Greece. I remembered seeing the photo and thinking that the little boys looked like my nephew. I remember thinking they were so very young and so beautiful, and feeling so protective like I wanted to travel to Europe and find them and help them somehow. It was a similar feeling to what I felt this morning off the 101 freeway in the valley- seeing that young American musician. My uncle went on to tell me more about these young Afghan boys. They are like 13 years old. Many of them escaped because they didn't want to join the Taliban and wanted a better life. It takes some of them up to 6 months to finally arrive at their destination. They face grave danger and horrible conditions on the journey. Many have mental illnesses or trauma from their sad lives. Some are drug addicts. Many contract scabies out in the forests along the way. Most of them are sad, desperate, and even suicidal. When they arrive in these European countries illegally, many face extreme Islamophobia and are targeted as suspected "terrorists."
I just got home. I was thinking on my drive home "Is it unhealthy for me to have a day like this? To fill my mind with all of this tragedy on a beautiful 80 degree LA Spring day ?" But at the end of it all, I come home and get into my safe bed. That 19 year old kid on the 101 freeway may not have a bed tonight. The women in Rwanda barely have anywhere to sleep and exist with the reality of outliving their entire tribe while bearing the children of their rapists. And those little Afghan boys are alone in Europe, without their families, trying to survive through their sadness, while many of the people around them see them as terrorists. Here is what I think: the very LEAST we can do is educate ourselves about all of it, even the bad parts. And the very BEST we can do is create value from it, in whatever way feels right in our hearts. We can use our lives to make this world a more peaceful, safe, and beautiful place.
p.s. Oh yeah, and the librarian at the Paley Center said "it's a crazy world we live in, but you can't change it. I've tried. I've tried to change just one person and I can't. You've gotta lift this burden from your shoulders" I thought "maybe she's right. i can't change it, I need to relax". But you know something, I really think she is wrong. We can change it. I know we can.