appears that we the human race are brave enough to kill other people, but
lack the courage as Chagall puts it, to “make a revolution in our own
inner lives, and to live with simplicity and purity.””
Ira Mathur, in London
the troubles of our world I have kept the inner life in which I have been
raised, and man’s hope in love. In our life there is a single colour, as
on an artist’s palette which provides the meaning of life and art. It is
the colour of love. Basically we are all alike. And we’re probably
nostalgic, not for what we would like to know of things outside ourselves,
but for our own dreams, our own impulse toward a revolution in our inner
life, which is the discovery of purity, of simplicity, of naturalness,
such as the faces of children and the voice of the one whom we have the
habit of calling Divinity.” - Marc Chagall
are the words I stood copying furiously in my diary from the wall at the
Royal Academy of Art on a sunny Sunday morning. I was embarrassed, feeling
like a naive schoolgirl writing the introduction to a collection of work
rather than viewing it, which I had paid to do.
the corner of my eye I then became aware of a young woman scrambling in
her backpack for paper and pen. She too began copying.
We were then joined by a middle-aged, gaunt man who read the
introduction, looked at us, whipped a pen out of his shirt pocket and
began writing on the programme
thought of how amused this famous artist must be that we preferred his
words to his palette. Here in London, I am surprised at how I gush about
Trinidad and Tobago. I am
profuse as I spout about the drive to Maracas, the dense foliage, the many
birds, burnt orange sunsets, the inky sea at night reflecting the lights
on the land and the moon. But as my sentences peter out I sometimes get a
niggle of doubt, feel like a bit of a fraud.
is tiring being part of a people who, although dynamic and creative, still
haven’t been able to figure out who we are, or where our allegiances
lie, or what it means to be West Indian. It seems that we haven’t
considered all the options open to us. I don’t think, initially, it was
our fault. Still, with many persons living below the poverty line, our
focus on economic goals is understandable.
this focus has blinded us to other measures of success. There is very
little discussion in Trinidad and Tobago about any quality-of-life
measures and in their absence many of us, from every religious and
socio-economic background, have fallen for the idea that money equals
am not a purist and don’t knock the freedom, possibility and happiness
money can bring. But the niggle appears when there is little else but
that. Most of us, at some quiet time, have faced the fact that there is
only so much food you can eat, cars you can drive, clothes you can wear,
and stopped for a second and looked around. But, in the absence of role
models and opportunities for change, have returned to our lives, just a
little emptier inside.
seems to be the biggest difference between London and Trinidad. I write
this at the Freedom Forum, a building in Marble Arch where journalists can
use free e-mail, computer and phone facilities. To my right sits a Turkish
woman, modestly dressed in a headscarf, to my left a Parisian woman.
Behind me, eagerly switching channels for news on Clinton’s trial by
television, is a Greek journalist. I live in a house with two Canadian
women. They are in their
early 30s. And they fascinate me because they have not bought into the
money equals happiness equation.
most remarkable among them is Jane, a Canadian who comes
from a traditional Catholic Croatian family which immigrated to Canada in
the ‘60s. At 27, Jane was
engaged to be married and working as a financial reporter in Canada.
Some impulse in her made her call off the wedding and become a war
reporter. I was fascinated by the way she had completely side-stepped the
stuff most women fall for - convention, material comfort, security,
children. “I have never been materialistically driven. Only ideas
driven. Since I was a teenager I asked the questions: Why are people
starving in Africa? Why is there a cold war, why do people kill? Why are
certain countries doomed to have long wars? “The kind of guy I was going
to marry didn’t want his wife going to famine and poverty stricken
Sudan. I knew that I wouldn’t be happy with the path of my girlfriends,
getting married, having children, a mortgage and a BMW.”
took her video camera and a backpack and went off to witness the collapse
of the Balkans. First stop Albania; second Cosova to record ethnic
cleansing. By 1990 she was in the Soviet Union where she covered the
Soviet coup. As a young female war reporter, Jane had to work three times
as hard as men to get her stories sold, and get past editors who didn’t
believe a woman could have footage they wanted. She did. She was in Bosnia
between ‘92-’95 and brought back footage of mass graves. She began to
differentiate between fresh and old graves. She saw people’s legs
sticking out of the ground, visible torture marks and slit throats. She
saw dead babies with their comforters still in their mouths, and
pensioners still clutching their sticks.
went shopping for fruit and vegetables in markets in the morning that, by
afternoon, would be covered with corpses. She was there in Sarajevo and
filmed Bosnian General Ratko Madic order killings. She visited Prijedor,
where 40,000 Muslim families used to live, but lay butchered in graves.
Jane didn’t just do bang, bang stories. She looked at the human side,
visiting hospitals, talking to wounded children. She took calculated
risks, got military accreditation and went in with her camera with a
militia and a battle plan, lived rough with soldiers, didn’t have a bath
for a week, and withstood shelling, keeping the camera steady all along.
am fascinated at her account, unable to stop her talking now. But
desperately wanting to ask her why she chose this path. She continues,
“I filed the Serbs, Croats and Muslims. Objectivity means giving all
sides a hearing. I got in s*** at times because I speak Serbo-Croat, and
was accused of being a spy and detained.
covered the wars in Sudan, Afghanistan, Algeria and Yugoslavia. In
Ethiopia where I was covering human rights violations and the AIDS
epidemic I was viewed as a threat to state security. I was deported.
the airport, eight members of the security forces confiscated my tapes,
kicked me around, smashed my camera, and made me take my clothes off. I
thought ‘game over’. With eight guns pointed to my head I thought I
would be gang raped and killed. I got cold and firm, and asked them for
their ID. What saved me was that I am a Canadian citizen.
I get back to London and there are Christmas parties going on. But I
didn’t cry then. I cried later in my flat in London.
have terrifying dreams and having seen massacres in Algeria, woke up
grasping my throat. I am terrified of landmines. There are about five
million landmines in Yugoslavia. I was in an aid convoy in Jablanica and a
friend of mine died, and many people were injured. As a journalist I need
my legs. I keep having this recurring dream where I am trying to pick up
interject. Questions tumble over one another. Isn’t she afraid of death?
Why is she putting her life on the line?
was brought up in a strict Roman Catholic family where I was told nothing
about real life. At 14 I thought I was bleeding to death. I was part of
the society that was brainwashed into believing that if you buy this car,
or live in this part of town you would be happy. But I refuse to be
brainwashed. As we speak there are 30 wars on in this world. In the entire
history of civilisation, there have been only 27 years of peace.
am not Mother Theresa but I have to give something back. I have to. I hate
shoving my camera into the faces of starving children with flies on their
face, but it brings in aid. I always knew there was a whole world out
there in which I had to do my bit.”
it was not enough. I wondered how life could be so vast and yet simple and
pure for this woman. I asked her again. There was obviously something in
her that made her risk her life, torment her nights, often leave her
lonely, and without a companion. I got the answer.
is the biggest killer. I have one fear. That of being ordinary,
predictable. I’ve seen so many people waste their lives because they are
afraid. An elderly female war correspondent who died last year once told
me she leapt before she thought. I also jump before I think. It makes me
I write I listen to the Clinton testimony. It is the agonising
humiliation, a witch-hunt from a blood-thirsty society. There are many
ways to skin a man. Jane believes after all the massacres she has
witnessed that all men have a war gene, that human kind is genocidal.
appears that we the human race are brave enough to kill other people, but
lack the courage, as Chagall puts it, to “make a revolution in our own
inner lives, and to live with simplicity and purity.”