28 years old, that’s how old I am turning today. Gees I am really getting old and I must admit, this time I feel old-really old. This is the time when I should be spending my nights cuddled up to someone- and of course not just anyone but that one person who makes me feel like I am the axis on which his world revolves. Many a people tell me that sort of euphoria doesn’t exist but in my foolishness- which I would rather think of as indestructible optimism- I do believe somehow, somewhat, that sort of euphoria is possibly achievable for me.
But that was a digression. The point of my blog today is that on my 28th birthday, I find myself in the middle of a rather interesting situation that I could not be more privileged to be part of. I am a participant at the Fletcher Summer Institute for the Study of Non Violent Conflict. Oh well, it could be jut another Summer Course- but not this one. This one is unique!
I, a Zimbabwean and a fanatic human rights defender, am among energetic community organisers, nerdy techs, daring journalists, enthusiastic human rights defenders, and renowned scholars from the US, Bahrain, UK, Mexico, Poland, Serbia, Russia, Ukraine, Maldives, The Bahamas, Pakistan, Palestine, Syria, India, Afghanistan, Peru, Nepal, Jordan, Hong Kong, Sudan, Spain, Ethiopia, Togo, Dominican Republic, Austria, Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Iran, Canada, Columbia, Chile and Kyrgyzstan.
I find myself conversing with Reverend James (Jim) Lawson, recognized as the architect and one of the godfathers of the civil rights movement in America. Meeting this man, talking to him and sharing meals with him-this man who was advisor and confidante to Dr Martin Luther King overwhelms me and no words can express how I feel.
I find myself sharing jokes with Mary Elizabeth King, one of the bravest female actors in the civil rights movement in America-also a renowned scholar and a well spoken woman of amazing stature-intellectually.
I read about these icons in books, I studied the implications of the civil resistance movement in American history and now I come face to face with the faces of the movement themselves. What more can I ask for? In meeting them I also feel like I just met Martin Luther King. Together they shared the vision for black emancipation and equal rights for all in America.
I sip tea with Ivan Marovic, one of the leaders of Otpor- the students’ movement that was responsible for the mobilisation of communities and the whole nation in Serbia- leading to the downfall of Slobodan Milosevic. He calls himself a ‘Retired Revolutionary’ but Wow! This guy brought down a dictator! Maybe I can learn a thing or two for Zimbabwe!
I sit across the table from Czeslaw Bielecki, the Polish war veteran with an amazingly ‘obtuse’ sense of humor -and obtuse here coined to mean “outrageously funny” and the kind that keeps everyone in stitches as every 5 seconds of his speech is punctuated by one joke or the other. He says he is not a politician but a political animal. Who knows the difference?
Who says things like this besides Czeslaw;
“Forgiving someone who has not accepted that they are guilty is an over-spilling of humanism and super-morality”-talking of the reconciliation process in Poland.
“People love talking about ethics- I prefer aesthetics”
“Be careful; Hitler was a vegetarian-he loved animals more than he loved people”
“All dictatorships are extremely ugly and extremely boring. Non violent movements should not be all doom and gloom, about risk and difficulty. They must be fun as well.”
I find myself drawn to Czeslaw’s publication: Freedom, A Do It Yourself Manual in which he begins with a preface which he calls the Operating Instructions. Among the variety of instructions he says, “This manual will tell you how to fight for freedom effectively and then how to construct it…But this little book which you are presently holding in your hand, if used incorrectly, may bring a different kind of danger” The books ends with a question, “So you want to remain silent according to these instructions for spies?” Great sense of humor and I am witnessing it first hand.
So in my overzealousness, I volunteered to make a presentation on civil resistance in Zimbabwe to this gathering of intellectuals, academics, creative minds and thinkers. That feeling of one wanting to pee in their pants out of acute nervousness wants to overwhelm me. I ask myself, what I am going to say to them. Then again I think none of them are from Zimbabwe so what would they know about my context that I do not already know and that sort of calms my nerves.
It’s going to be a sweaty, swelter birthday filled with swagger!