28 May, 2005

Picking mangoes that are still green

Picking mangoes that are still green

We sat as adults
At tiny deep gouged desks
A rough unfinished classroom
Discussing development
And gender issues
Hussein waving and pointing
His pen
Trying to get the hang of it

In the sunshine I could hear
Stones landing on the iron roof
And laughter of spirited children
In the branches of the mango tree
The school ground a grove of mangoes

Hussein has photos in the hundreds
Burnt out vehicles slain bodies
Brutally burnt machete hacked Acholi
Torched huts ambushed trucks

In the sunshine
The children are running
Laughing skipping
As they pick green mangoes
Bite and spit the skin
Suck on the fruit

Hussein travels the
Danger zone the camps
The people in despair
Arranging schooling
For scattered children
In shock from dislocated villages
And this one

And the little school
In Pajule
That I remember
For its swarm
Of ragged barefoot children
The large smiles
When everyone wanted
To get on camera
Fallen silent now
As dead mangoes drop
Unwanted to the grass
And Hussein arranges exams
That may keep some of them
At school of some sort somewhere
For a little longer

Willy Bach © 2002

17 May, 2005

Romper Room Grenade Launchers

Today is 17 May 2005. Once again I am reminded of how offended I feel when I hear that two academics in Melbourne, Professor Mirko Bagaric and Julie Clarke, of Deakin University's Law School, have written an article that advocates that we should accept the need for 'regulated' torture.

Of course, they just love it in George W Bush's USA, and, no doubt, in the Australian Athorney General, Phillip Ruddock's office. It also sits well with the apointment of ASIO, Director General, Dennis Richardson's appointment to the position of Ambassador to the USA. Dennis approves of torture too. Let's hope he can remember which country he is working for.

Refer to the poem 'Safe and Warm'.

Of course, 'the world's most lawless policeman' also uses children to help it 'keep the peace' or allows proxies to do so. This is a poem dedicated to the 3.5 million people killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the past few years. Six of every ten fighters is a child like yours:

Romper Room Grenade Launchers

Kids with attitude
Strutting their truculence
Beside the technical
Brandishing weapons
Taller than themselves
He at nine she at twelve

I can be your hero, baby
I can kiss away the pain
I will stand by you forever
You can take my breath away
Someone placed an order
For camouflage uniforms this small
Knowing that these little people
Would be there to wear them

Women with sewing machines
Probably mothers knew
The seams they deftly stitched
May one day soon
Be spattered with blood
This arm hole a gash with
An untidily torn off limb

I can be your hero, baby
I can kiss away the pain
I will stand by you forever
You can take my breath away

Someone ordered these uniforms
Smart and neat perfectly tailored
Who knowingly employed
These once innocent ones
Into malleable hands

You only need to know
That you are meant to
Keep all the working parts clean
To point these things at people
And fire them when ordered
Tools of their destructive trade
Specially designed to be light enough
For the tender aged and inexperienced

I can be your hero, baby
I can kiss away the pain
I will stand by you forever
You can take my breath away

Those who removed these children
From families too poor to be aware
Took them away to train
Across the border
And brought them back to proxy
For professionals
Knew exactly what they did
For governments with silent nods
And averted gaze

Willy Bach © 2003

Written in response to photos of child soldiers that were taken by Monitor journalist Frank Nyakairu in Bunia. At least 1,200 children abducted from their families in Ituri Province, Democratic Republic of Congo, have proven to be trained in military skills at a UPDF camp near Kampala, Uganda.

Brazen denials followed as these child soldiers were reinserted into the ethnic tinderbox created by UPDF officers for whom this conflict was a business. The suffering of civilians in the ensuing Hema – Lendu carnage was regarded with indifference.

A technical is generally a four-wheel drive utility with a machine gun mounted on the back. This is a favoured vehicle for rebel armies, readily commandeered and converted for military use.

The song ‘Hero’ is by Enrique Iglesias frequently played on commercial FM stations in Uganda.

Romper Room Securities was a derisive name given to a firm of New York stock brokers that was started by a teenage early school leaver in the heady bull market of the early 90s.

15 May, 2005

This is not My Village

Today I was surfing and found that something important to me will be happening in November:
Leong Nok Tha 40th Anniversary Reunion. I have to make a very emotive decision whether to go there.

C.R.E. CROWN (Thailand) 40th anniversary of official opening of Airfield
The market square, Leong Nok Tha, Thailand. (E-mail me for a leaflet.)

This is Not My Village

As I come
To tread your dust
Walking as though fixated
Returning as though a hero
On my pilgrimage of peace
Memories and anguish
I tell them in my mind
This is yours
Left hardly better than before
I have no sense of place
This is not my village

Just because it all looks familiar
Just because the children
All run into the street

Group themselves for photographs
Give me their address
Let it be yours
Let me give it back
With my shattered conscience
This is not my village

These are not my people
Lost in dust
Just because this old man
Can talk my language
A little ......and yes
He remembers Kevin
From Sydney not known to me
And next month
Those who came after
Will return - perhaps to gloat
Slap one another
On the back
This is not my village

For up this dusty track
Young women came
To feed on wasted semen
And be forgotten
Now all the beer bottles
Mamasans and bars
Are gone
This place is where it was
Before- long ago I came
This could never be my village

This is not my village
This is not where my
Placenta is buried
Not where the spirits
Of my ancestors dwell
The right to own this land
Was never granted me
I should neither bring
Nor take
Soldiers are tourists with guns
Tourists are invaders with cameras
This is not my village

This could never be mine
These are not my people
Though I am their brother
Nothing could give me the right
To remove them
To another place
To extinguish their houses
From the face of the earth
To set them wandering

In search of roots that cannot be
A new village cannot be their village
New land has no ancestors
This is not my village

Dedicated to the villagers of Ban Kok Tha Lat where the airstrip was built, ten kilometres from Leong Nok Tha, revisited in January, 1993. This poem has been published in several literary journals.