I’ve been occupied the last while with a few extra responsibilities during the recent two weeks of school holidays. On the first Tuesday of the holidays we offered what we call Stories in the Dark to young children and their parents (mostly mothers). We played a few games and read stories by torch-light. It was an enjoyable experience for all. Then on the last Friday we had a sleepover in the library for self-sufficient children aged 8-12. We had a great time, even running a relay and an obstacle course between the shelves. I can’t say it was a great night’s sleep for me but it was worth it.

Without any conscious choice on my part I’ve been reading three books in the last two weeks that have more than clearly highlighted some of the serious issues of the Congo and its inhabitants. The first book is John Le Carre’s Mission Song which explores some of the problems in a third world country with mineral riches coveted by the West. The second book is Unfair Trade by Conor Woodman. The subtitle says it all: How Big Business Exploits the World’s Poorand Why It Doesn’t Have To. Woodman travelled the world following a range of products back to their source to find out precisely who is benefitting and who is missing out. His recollections of joining South Kiva miners as they crawled into extremely risky and claustrophobic mines in search of coltan and cassiterite, two rare minerals indispensible to the production of cell phones, computers and other electronic goods, are poignant, to say the least. Eastern Congo has suffered more than its share of atrocities in the last hundred years and it doesn’t seem to stop.

At the beginning of the twentieth century the ironically named Congo Free State—a vast Central African country—was ruled as a personal fiefdom by King Leopold II of Belgium. During his rule an estimated ten million Congolese died from starvation, genocide, or as a result of slavery. The fallout from those times was felt in the 1960s when Dian Fossey first entered the misty wooded slopes of the Virunga range  to study the plight of the endangered mountain gorillas. Her story is told beautifully in words and photos in No One Loved Gorillas More by Camilla De La Bedoyere with photographs by Bob Campbell. The mountain gorillas are pinned into a shrinking area composed of eight volcanoes spanning three countries—Rwanda, Zaire and Uganda. The area is shrinking as peasant villagers are forced onto the slopes to illegally graze their animals and plant their crops. In Dian’s eighteen years studying these beautiful and peaceful vegetarian relatives of man, poachers regularly claimed the lives of gorillas. The cover of the January 1970 edition of National Geographic showed the now famous photo of Dian with two gorilla babies destined for a zoo in Cologne. She tried desperately and unsuccessfully to have these animals repatriated to the wild. They were destined to only live nine years in the German zoo, far less than the thirty-plus years life expectancy of a free living animal.

There were people who  chose to belong to a group called Compact in 2006 that vowed to drop out of the retail rat race and purchase nothing new for a year. They were criticized by some for being traitors to the cause because they refused to bow to the altar of the consumer culture they claimed is destroying the world. Is this altar of globalism as it exists today inviolable? I wonder as we observe the potential financial meltdown of the world’s largest economy if these people wern’t, in fact, prophetic. The global economy is dependent on the creation of money and debt and on consumers divorced from the effects of the products they purchase. But, as our present financial predicament indicates, no one is truly divorced from anything.

I wonder as I type this on our laptop if my fingers are not stained by the blood of the mountain gorilla and the Congolese miner. I wonder if we must learn to bow before a different throne than that of the global economy that seems to feed on the blood of the earth (her water and oil) and the underprivileged, like some bloated leach unable to satiate its appetite.

I ask you this: How can we find a new path of compassion that recognizes our interconnectedness with all of creation? How can we step confidently into a future in which the natural world is allowed to regenerate and the human heart to forgive?

May all beings live in peace and oneness. John

Possibly related posts:

How Many Gorillas is a Cell Phone Worth

The Real Roots of Our Financial Crisis

United We Sing

Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and the recently released Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See http://www.JohnHainesBooks.com

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