Monday, June 9, 2008


Photo from IGN War/Dance site, which describes the documentary "War/Dance" (2007):
"set in Northern Uganda, a country ravaged by more than two decades of civil war, 'War/Dance' tells the story of ...three children whose [lives] have been torn apart... and who currently reside in a displaced persons camp in Patongo. When they are invited to compete in an annual music and dance festival, their journey to their nation’s capital is also an opportunity to regain a part of their childhood and to taste victory for the first time in their lives.

I've been vetting a couple manuscripts for teens about a couple African countries, and they remind me of the tremendous torque it took to get my mind out of my Western frame of reference when I first started to write these introductory geography books myself, in 2003.

I kept finding I had written about my first African country, Zimbabwe, in terms I could relate to, which is to say, I focused on colonial history, or I focused on atrocities or disease, and so forth.
I would catch myself over and over.

To counteract it, I was always looking for people's stories (in music, literature, movies, food) from inside the country and for stuff from outside that wasn't only about how awful everything is or about how a Peace Corps worker was transformed by living in the country (not to sneer at that, but it doesn't help to understand what it is to be, say, Ugandan).

It's hard to read stuff written from a truly different point of view. I just didn't get a lot of it, and I had to live with that uncomfortable feeling.

I wish this movie War/Dance had come out when I was editing the Uganda book; it would have been perfect for a sidebar. It's all too easy to wallow in the swamps with Idi Amin's crocodiles or to get sucked into the attractive horror of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), who steal children and force them into soldier- or sex-slavery.

This movie lets the kids who've been traumatized by the LRA tell their stories. They're sickening tales, but one boy sums up a larger view: though they are children of war,he says, they can still do good things.

The movie documents the kids' primary school's preparation for the national dance and song competition, which they are able to enter for the first time ever--a bizarre relative of the von Trapp kids competing in the Salzburg Folk Festival in The Sound of Music (also about children of war, though very, very prettified).

The directors chose a fairly stagey documentary style, (not my favorite), but that's OK.
Their movie lets the kids tells an amazing thing about us all:
We are not just our horror.

"It is difficult for people to believe our story," one of the kids says. "But if we don't tell you, you won't know."
There's one of the pay-offs of being willing to listen to unfamiliar stories--sooner or later, there's something familiar.
What that kid said is the same thing the Vietnam vet expressed when he told about committing atrocities in the 1970 documentary I wrote about earlier, Winter Soldier:
"I just wanted you to know about it."

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