Saturday, May 28, 2011

Help Park University assist Joplin tornado victims

Park Univ. is going to "fill up the dome" next week to help Joplin residents. In the dome, where we play basketball/volleyball, Park will be collecting household items from 8am-6pm next Tues through Thurs. They need Flashlights, Batteries, Buckets and plastic totes , Hand sanitizing wipes and baby wipes, Toiletries (of all kinds) Laundry detergent, Cleaning supplies, Baby supplies (diapers and formula), Bottled water,Canned and dry goods, Blankets, and Work gloves.

If you're from out of town and would like to donate, email me-- --and we can make arrangements.

Celebrating life, and beer, with tornado survivors

As my brother, uncle, a Moldovan friend and I chatted about cars at a Kansas City-area watering hole last night, we were politely interrupted by a 30-something woman who asked us if we wanted to see a picture of her car. We said sure, not knowing what she had in mind. Her white Camry was speared through the back window by a long 2X4. It took a minute to figure out, but we quickly realized she was a Joplin, Missouri tornado victim.

She and her husband lived in a second story apartment block that didn't have a basement, so as they heard the tornado approach, they hunkered down in the bathtub and covered themselves with a mattress. They emerged to see that they apartment, and most of their things, had been destroyed.

The woman is a nurse at St. John's Regional Medical Center, which was at ground zero when the tornado hit. She said it looked like a nuclear bomb hit it. Her husband, who sat nearby, teaches at Missouri Southern University. They were in Kansas City staying with the husband's family, but plan to return to Joplin in a week or so. (Photo-St. John's Hospital, from )

My brother Bill asked the woman if she knew the fate of a Joplin sporting goods store run by a friend of his. The woman couldn't tell Bill much, only that the store was close to the path of destruction. Bill said his emails, phone calls, and text messages haven't gotten through. I could tell he was worried, and could get a small taste of the horror, the impotency, of not knowing the fate of friends and family.

Before we broke off the conversation, the woman, whose name I never did get, showed us pictures of her devastated neighborhood on her Blackberry. It's incredible that she and her husband walked away without a scratch. I was struck about how matter-of-fact and unemotional she was about the whole thing, and wondered if I could be that composed under the circumstances.

As we parted, we all simultaneously said how badly we felt for the victims, and how happy we were that she and her husband were physically unharmed. I regret being unable to come up with something more uplifting or inspirational.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Peace Journalism and the apocalypse

Should a peace journalist—or any responsible journalism organization—publish the rantings of a lunatic?

Peace journalism is imbedded in the fundamentals of good journalism, beginning with double checking and verifying what is published. I believe that since we can’t verify the hallucinations of an 89-year old attention seeker, we shouldn’t give them credibility by broadcasting and publishing them.

In my recent PJ courses and lectures in Uganda and South Africa, we talked at length with professional journalists about not giving credence to rumors. (There are many examples I cite of out-of-control rumors that have led to violence and mayhem). It seems to me that talk about the end of the world is the biggest (and silliest) rumor of all.

I have stressed that reporters and editors should always consider the consequences of their reporting. By hyping this apocalyptic gossip, journalists have frightened thousands, elevated an obscure pastor into an undeserved place in the limelight, discredited millions of more reasoned religious Americans, and given more ammunition to media critics.

One can’t deny that the story is compelling. The question that journalists should be asking themselves is: was spreading this absurd story worth the price?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A letter from Cape Town to South African actress Charlize Theron

Dear Charlize:

How’s the family? Any good Hollywood meltdowns lately, or other celebrity dirt? (Pix: I didn't take it, but it is Charlize).

As I promised at our last meeting over cocktails in Malibu, I’m writing to fill you in on my visit to your homeland, South Africa.

Here in Cape Town, I’ve been received like a long lost brother by my colleagues at the University of Cape Town (pictured), where I’ve delivered a few lectures and met with communications professors about peace journalism. I also attended a seminar on internationalization of university curricula, where I was fascinated to learn that bringing international elements into college curricula is often seen here as a contributing to standardization/Westernization of teaching and thought. We had a lively discussion about how to expose students here to international concepts without marginalizing the vibrant indigenous cultures here. At this seminar, I was constantly showered with heart-felt hugs and sincere smiles in a way that would seem forced or artificial at an American or European university.

I detected the same positivity and warmth from the 120 students I taught in one advanced communications course at UCT. (Note to Park University students: Yes, 120 students in one communications class. Not to be preachy, but you should count your blessings the next time you step into a class in Parkville with 20 peers and one professor.) The students were a bit quiet at first, but soon warmed up. They impressed me with their thoughtful questions, and with their desire to get the most out of my peace journalism lecture. This is very un-professorial, but I got a really good vibe from them. Maybe this eager intellectual curiosity comes from the fact that decent schools are often scarce or prohibitively expensive here, and that even where there are good schools, many Africans struggle to pay primary and secondary school fees. This gives them a deeper appreciation of one of life’s precious gifts—the opportunity to learn.

Not only are the people beautiful, Charlize, but so is the scenery. Trip Advisor ( users recently rated Cape Town the number one tourist destination in the world, and it’s easy to see why given the area’s natural beauty (mountains and beaches), cultural and historical landmarks (museums, galleries, and Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years), and outstanding food (seafood) and wine.

However, as you are well aware, there are two Cape Towns—the glittering one tourists see, and the poverty-stricken one hidden in the former townships, where a sizable portion of Cape Town’s black and mixed-race residents reside. The living conditions are often terrible, and feature tiny shanties without electricity (or with a dangerous illegal connections), running water, or sanitation. It’s hard to pin down how many live in these former townships in the Cape Flats, though statistics do show that a whopping 15.6% of the area’s residents live in shacks. ( Given the city’s 3.5-million population, this means over 500,000 live in squalor. Unemployment and disease are rampant in these former townships located just a few kilometers from one of the world’s most stunning, vibrant city centers.

I know that you’re aware of all this because of your laudable charity work here. I’m encouraging my friends to go to to find out how they can help.

Give my best to your family. Drop by the next time you’re in KC, and we can cook up a braai (South African style barbeque).

Hugs (the sideways embrace a married man has to give a beautiful woman or else it’s the frying pan upside the head for you mister),


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Reasonably Coherent on Voice of Cape FM

I recently did a talk show on a radio station here in Cape Town, South Africa. We talked about how peace journalism and community development go hand in hand, among other things. To hear a mediocre copy of this broadcast, click here.

For photo album of the beautiful University of Cape Town campus, and the less-than beautiful professor who recently lectured there, click here.

Farewell to Uganda, Part 2
Wonderful People Make Uganda the Pearl of Africa

Note: This is the last of two parts which conclude my farewell to Uganda. See entry for April 28 for Part 1.

ENTEBBE, UGANDA—Winston Churchill famously dubbed Uganda “the pearl of Africa”. For the casual observer or tourist, this moniker is easy to dismiss, given Uganda’s many warts—bad roads, rampant corruption, political unrest and violence, etc.

After trying to figure out these last 10 months what Churchill was talking about, it’s finally dawned on me: Uganda is a pearl, a gem, because of its people.

With one exception, the Ugandans I’ve met during my stay here have been warm, welcoming, and wonderful. The exception is the man who sold me my car, a Mitsubishi Lemon which was the worst vehicle ever manufactured in the northern hemisphere. My dream for you, Mr. McRipoff, is an eternity of nighttimes plagued by angry, biting forest ants, the kind that instinctively attack a victim’s nether regions.

Mr. McRipoff aside, I’ve come to love many of the non-car selling Ugandans who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

A list of my favorite Ugandans begins with Tabu, our effusive personal driver. Poor Tabu was the one who had to deal with the Mitsubishi Lemon, and thus he became a regular visitor to the incompetent mechanic’s shop. Anyone else would’ve cussed profusely at the repeated breakdowns, but not Tabu, whose upbeat spirit infected us all. My favorite moments with Tabu were spend waiting at stoplights or in traffic jams. In Kampala, vendors selling maps, sunglasses, toys, and various gadgets descend on idling cars. Tabu loves tormenting these vendors. He acts like a potential customer for a few minutes, only to pull the rug out from under the sellers by asking a deliberately confusing or obtuse question about the product, or quoting an absurdly low price. Behind his playfulness, Tabu has a heart of gold. He worked alongside my wife and son at a Kampala area orphanage, and is even housing some orphans at his humble home.

Our other driver, Caesar, handled most of the 9,222 miles that we traveled around Uganda teaching peace journalism. The roads were often awful, and the hours long, and the rides sometimes tedious, but Caesar never complained, and indeed never even showed any signs of irritation. (The same can not be said of me.) Caesar loves to laugh and joke, but he’s also eager to engage in an intellectual discussion about any topic, especially politics. I was impressed by his keen insights into the byzantine world of Ugandan politics, and told him he’d make a great member of parliament some day. Mostly, Caesar is just a nice guy—quick with a supportive comment, quick to utter a kind word, quick to offer any assistance of any kind. Caesar helped me sell my Mitsubishi Lemon. I just hope the buyer doesn’t come after him with biting forest ants. (Photo--With Caesar at Sipi Falls in eastern Uganda)

On our trips around Uganda, Caesar and I were accompanied by Gloria, the peace journalism project assistant and one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met. Gloria is overflowing with energy, dedication, humor, and insightfulness. There’s something about Gloria that makes it impossible for me to resist teasing her. We first met in 2009, when she was eight months pregnant and eating more than I’ve ever seen another human being consume. I pointed this out, repeatedly, whilst asking if she needed help carrying her heaping plate. This offer was not facetious, so heavy were her loads of food.

This year, Caesar and I have teased her about a story she told us wherein Gloria punched out a boda boda man (motorbike taxi driver) when he ran into her. She was uninjured, of course, because Gloria’s one of the toughest people I know. Her toughness and determination rubbed off on the journalists she helped teach. The journalists both respected her and feared her wrath should they stray. I must confess that I was a bit afraid of her myself, though that fear was overshadowed by my immense respect for her as a journalist, as a trainer, and as a peace journalist. I have never worked with anyone so dedicated or so hard working. I got daily emails from Gloria sent at 5:00 am when I was either fast asleep or in laying bed grumbling about the damned bratty toddler across the way who screams 23.5 hours a day.

However, don’t get the wrong impression about Gloria. She is as sweet and compassionate as she is tough. The journalists loved her warmth and generosity, and were touched by how she mothered them. She mothered me as well, thanks to a not-so-secret pact Gloria and my wife had to make sure I ate and took care of myself.

As I leave Uganda, and as the memory of the last 10 months fades into the rear-view mirror (cracked, if it’s on the Mitsubishi Lemon), I’ll think less about the potholes, bad hotel rooms, and political unrest, and instead remember the real pearls of Uganda—Tabu, Caesar, Gloria, and the dozens of other Ugandans who I proudly call friend.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Ugandan Journalist Survives Riots

From the Parkville Luminary

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA—On the same day that I arrived in South Africa to teach and tour, my Ugandan “sister”, Gloria, almost died.

When I read her tale below, I was flooded me with emotions—anger, fear, and relief among them. This is the story, in her own words (edited for length and style), of how she got caught up in rioting in Kampala and narrowly missed being seriously injured or even killed.

“It all started with an early morning trip to do everything (errands) on Friday…As we entered town from Entebbe road, …we saw people running for their lives. Police patrol cars started moving in different directions and all of a sudden our taxi came to stop and we came out of the car. I told Peggy it would be safer to walk into a bank. We did this smartly (quickly) as I could not run very far, I lost all the energy, We entered a bank thinking it was the safest place and after about 30 minutes the situation got very tense and the bank manger came and chased us out. This is downtown Kampala where all the hooligans reside.

At this point, (the protesters) were in front of the bank where we took refuge. They were burning tires, hurling stones at police men and robbing people walking along the road side. Soon we were forced out of the bank with two other women, and as soon as we came out, we were tear gassed in the face, Peggy began crying and joined the women in washing their faces. I was not yet feeling the pain, but just five minutes later, I felt the tear gas enter my throat and I began coughing badly and could hardly breathe.

We begged the bank to let us in and we took refuge in vain as the street was covered with teargas and instead the security man pushed Peggy away by force. At this point, another kind security guard directed us to move back towards town which we did. The other women disappeared too. We moved towards town hold our nose and hands with pain crying for help and we could not move any further. Here, more tear gas was hurled at us. (Photo--Gloria on the left, with myself and our friend Venis Omona).

…We entered in a trench but could not stay for long, dirty smelly and risky, we moved along the valley and stated to climb up just the two of us when somebody open a small door and come in. We entered this small metal shop and sat. (Outside), rowdy youth were burning tires in front of the shop. The smoke was unbearable, all roads at this time were closed. It was already 12pm. We then heard more tear gas and gunshots just in front of the metal shop and we all lay down on the floor.

…Shortly police began patrolling the streets (so) e jumped on a boda-boda (motorbike taxi). We just rode only 200 meters and met people running for safety. The boda man insisted on riding fast with us but we refused and we came out and started a long walk home. We used short cuts ended near American embassy. On our way we met youth robbing people several times and the trick I did was to walk like a very sick and weak person while bending on Peggy’s shoulder. I was so scared because inside my bag (purse) I had Peggy’s school fees (since I had planned to pay) her fees today.

…We found our way to the valley and climbed up to find the road was all blocked. We had to walk through a longer distance and we then could use the direct route to my house, because here one person had been shot dead in front of the road to my house, so it became very risky. Along the way we met policemen being chest by rioters and some watch helplessly as the youth burn tires on the road …(Finally), I met a man who knew (my husband) and led us through a safer shortcut to my house. At home, my young kids (ages 9 and 1 ½) were all sleeping down on the floor watching the wedding of Prince William and Kate. My daughter Cindy told me by lying down because they were trying to reduce the chance of stray bullets getting them…We also joined them on the floor.

…I will never forget this day when police tear gassed me and my nice. As a journalist, I think tear gas should not be used on innocent people. I thank God for protecting me, and keeping kids school fees safely. Finally, I pray for a peaceful ending of this conflict.”

After reading her story, it’s hard not to get preachy about how lucky we are to live in peaceful Parkville. From here on out, as I go about my daily life, I’ll think about Gloria whenever I start getting whiny about my petty, comparatively insignificant problems.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Honoring Uganda's Journalists on World Press Freedom Day

To my Ugandan journalism colleagues: You have the hardest job anywhere, and I respect you and admire how you overcome Uganda's many obstacles--political ownership of media, paranoid RDC's (local officials), not to mention threats and intimidation. Now with the political/economic unrest, add into that mix very real concerns about the personal safety of journalists, and you have an environment for reporters that must be among the most difficult in the world. Thank you, Ugandan journalists, and stay safe.