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That same old wind just keeps on blowin'
The truth is, the visuals between the floods in Mozambique and Katrina's disaster are relatively the same



Tala Dowlatshahi
September 3, 2005

Like many of you, my eyes have been glued to the television to catch an update on the horrifying situation in New Orleans and Mississippi. As an Iranian journalist, I have been to the world's most devastated regions like Afghanistan and Ethiopia. During my time in both countries, I watched as hundreds of devastated communities moved from one area to another, refugees stuck between a clichéd rock and a hard place. War and years of corruption have ignited civil war, but Mother Nature has also taken her toll with desertification, drought and unreliable weather patterns--sparking much frustration and anger from inhabitants.

I'll never forget that day I visited a UNHCR refugee camp in Sefira, a town on the border between feuding Ethiopia and Eritrea. The hungry children, their noble faces, smiling lips and eager eyes followed me around as I took photos of the destruction surrounding the campsite.

I interviewed their parents, if they were still alive, and heard the usual stories of war and the disaster that ensues. One mother told me that before the war, she had a farm that made honey and she sold it so well at the local marketplace that there was enough money to support her whole family -- husband included. She had three children and they sat quietly beside her, melancholy in their voices, smiles on their faces as they took candy from my hand as if I were giving them gold.

Their mother went on to tell me how her husband had been killed a year ago in the war. Her eldest son who was now eight, found him face down in a dug up muddy trench just above the family garden. He had been shot twice as he came away from the front line. He was Eritrean and grew up in Addis Ababa, but when the war started in 1998, he and his family fled the city to the border town. He defended his land with pride, his widow would tell me, until his very last moments when he collapsed in the garden on his way home.

We shot a documentary while I was in Africa and it screened on American, British and African television programmes. The video montage included the devastation felt by so many Africans during the floods in Mozambique in 2000, as the world watched African mothers and babies drowning, heads bobbing, land diffused by the great strength of water.

We saw people desperately grabbing on to trees and climbing on rooftops to save themselves from the enormous wind and torrential rain. Many watched their neighbors drown right in front of them, their stiff corpses carried away by the water to an unsolicited grave in the middle of the ocean. A grave of lost souls, with no one to help them until the very last few days when helicopters fished mothers and children from rooftops nearly floating in the cold and deep waters. 

For many of us watching from America, the visuals were of a distant land already plagued with decades of government corruption, civil war and disease. The problem of Africa seemed too complex and too far away.

This week, we were once again faced with these same images, pictures of Africans, this time American, dangling from rooftops, begging for food and water, corpses floating stiffly in a mix of slushy brown water, the rampant stench of disease following the corpses along the bayou.

As an American citizen, I am truly disgusted by what I have seen these last few days. One man had spent three days on his rooftop, his wife carried away by the water, his son the only remaining child of four, his three daughters missing. He wept in his hands as he pleaded with the world: "Please, please I am hungry, I need water, I am past my limit."

It is a tragic time in America today, in this age of globalization, when the visuals we see are of poor Black people who continue to suffer from an unfair and hypocritical system within our borders. Too poor to escape the wrath of Katrina, they had to fight it out. Some of those lucky ones were able to make it to the soggy dome that housed thousands of people, their tired and cold bodies, bottoms in pain from sitting on concrete box seats for hundreds of hours waiting out the storm. Many lost family members, their homes, livelihoods and farms.

The visuals we see now reflect the lawlessness and anger that come with being treated as animals in a society that prides itself as the "Great Savior." It took President Bush nearly five days to go and meet with families. He did, to his credit, do a "fly-by" on day two of the disaster. Nevertheless, as this tragedy unfolded, the American people began to take note of his lack of contact with "Real Americans" as his campaign team had so often pledged. Real Americans, Mr. Bush, are the African-Americans who broke their backs building this country during slave years, and now they are stuck in an institutionalized slave system that has no regard for their well-being and survival. 

Ironic how it is poor Black and Latino men and women sent off to kill poor Middle Eastern people. And now nearly a week after Katrina hit, Bush will send over twenty thousand troops to New Orleans and Mississippi to control the looting and lawlessness. A mini-war it seems when all that was really needed was a kind heart, open hands and a proper escort out of New Orleans before the hurricane blew in. 

The truth is, the visuals between the floods in Mozambique and Katrina's disaster are relatively the same. But I guess one would expect more from a country that prides itself as the one true democracy that cares for all its citizens. Same old story, same old wind.

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