In the Time of COVID. Day 49
May 6, 2020
A Kaleidoscope of Misperception
I sometimes think it started with the Jerry Springer Show. He struck on an attention catching notion of bringing conflict into the public eye. It was a talk show TV format patterned after The World Wrestling Federation. Prepared guests lost patience with one another and started slugging, hitting each other, pulling hair, screaming back and forth, slamming each other with chairs and drawing blood. The show first aired in 1991 and ran for 28 seasons. All unsavory topics were advanced, race, sexual proclivities, religious differences, infidelity, criminality and social taboos. It was a wild success. It polarized America.
Springer loved to play on the stereotypes of white southern, “mullet wearing hillbillies” and black “baby-mammas”and “ghetto queens” and “Pimps”. He stirred the pot of division and the viewing public ate it up. 28 seasons is an eternity in television programming. He spawned a kaleidoscope of misperception.
Once while walking a country lane in Southwest England we happened on a couple of truant teenagers out smoking and feeling free. When they discovered we were Americans, they had only one question. “Do you own guns?”
Today, a neighbor whose restaurant is shuttered, told me that all the COVID news are lies. He didn’t know anyone in California or Mexico who was ever infected. The News is lying, he said. The Deep state plans to imbed micro-chips in all of us, he said. This brought to mind a discussion with Amos, our Kenyan Tour guide on our cross Africa Safari in 2006.
Amos was a delightful guy, he was full of local stories that helped us interpret what we were experiencing. It was Amos who explained to us the spiritual dilemma of going against the wishes of dead people. How their spirits reside in the bush and surround us at night. That they communicated through our dreams and that they could manipulate physical objects from beyond the grave. He explained how a dead woman could destroy a van motor and why the owners of the van feared her wrath and arranged to take her back to where she didn’t want to leave. Well, tall tale and all, that is a commonly held belief in interior Africa.
Amos and I were talking around a camp fire one night and the topic of East African Hindus come up. I had read that during the British colonization of Africa, the British imported East Indian Hindus to operate stores in the towns and cities that emerged. The resident Africans resented the relative prosperity of this new group. Once Independence was realized a great reckoning took place. Hindu land was ceased, stores raided, Hindus were deported, riots and mayhem ensued. Hindus were often murdered. I asked why.
Amos had a simple answer that he believed in the core of his being. “Because The Hindus abduct black babies and eat them”. A fine example of the kaleidoscope of misperception.
Before traveling to Africa I read “Dark Star Safari” by Paul Theroux. In the very early 60’s Theroux was a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi and had loved it’s vibrancy. 35 years later he traversed Africa from Cairo to Cape Town and as he traveled through Malawi he was astonished by the destruction of the Hindu stores. The fronts were torn off, the interiors gutted and the Malawians lived in those abandoned buildings like caves. That’s why I had broached the subject. When we went through Malawi, Theroux’s descriptions were spot on.
Regardless of reason, Amos, an otherwise lovely man, was a rabid hater of Hindus. Amos was a Christian but also had traditional African spiritual underpinnings. He walked in two worlds, that way.
It has always bothered me how people are so easily led toward misunderstanding. Take for instance the sense that all Muslims are terrorists that permeated the American psyche post 9-11. As we approached coastal Tanzania the demographics swung away from the Christian interior to Muslim communities skirting the coastal Indian Ocean. When we had interactions with Muslims there, we heard many times “Please tell your people that we are peace loving”. They were kind to us. I must admit that I saw one Tuk Tuk in Dar es Salaam that had an image of Osama bin Laden painted on the back. It disturbed me.
How do Tanzanian’s form their opinions and perceptions of Americans? Besides, the missionary handouts that cause people to stick their hands out for the “gift” every time they see one of us, or the ubiquitous White SUV’s that every NGO and Religious Mission drive everywhere. There is the matter of film. Bootleg DVD’s imported from China.
We were aboard a large Hydrofoil that was racing above the water from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to Stone Town on the Island Zanzibar, 92 kilometers out into the Indian Ocean. The young pups in our tour were hanging on the railings outside the passenger cabin. Feeling the speed , the pounding of waves and the ocean spray, being extreme. We older folk, joined the locals in the cabin. There were 150 seats. We found ours, and sat among Muslim women with cloth bundles of market goods. They were dressed in colorful wax print wraps and the sight was pleasant and their kids well behaved.
The Televisions first aired tourist information in English and French and Italian and then a feature film came on. It was dubbed in Swahili. It starred Arnold Schwarzenegger . It was called Commando. It just happened to be filmed in 1985 at San Simeon Cove, just north of our village of Cambria, by Hearst Castle. Within minutes the film devolved into exploding buildings, shirtless American soldiers with hyper-exaggerated muscle mass, with shaved chests all greased up with olive oil, packing huge monster machine guns. The bad guys looked middle-eastern, the good guys all fair-haired lads. The bad guys were ripped apart by endless volleys of automatic rifle fire. We have lived in Cambria for 35 years. I have not once heard a gun shot.
How do people in the rest of the world form their opinions of us? You tell me! It’s just a kaleidoscope of misperception