At the moment I (Johanna) am reading the book ”Shadows of War: Violence, Power and International Profiteering in the Twenty-First Century” by Carolyn Nordstrom for one of my courses in Cultural Anthropology. It’s quite remarkable that this book is used in the academic context because of its autobiography vibe. It tells stories about war that are untold and seldom refers to the real names of people featured in the book. Nordstrom has her own reasons for this but especially argues safety for those people as a big matter.
Nonetheless, this book is worth reading for several reasons. Firstly, Nordstrom writes in a way that sucks you in the story and makes you visualize the situation. This makes it very accessible for a broad audience and differs from many academic books. Secondly, the topics she writes about are extremely interesting and offer you different views. Thirdly, it makes you think about how things are outlined and shown to the world. It makes you criticize yourself for thinking in a straightforward line. Although this book is recommended by me, don’t forget to criticize and think for yourself. You don’t need to agree with everything, just try to read with an open mind.
The reason for this post is Chapter 13 called Peace. Nordstrom starts this chapter with stories of children and her strongest memory of their descriptions of how they looked after each other. She starts in Mozambique in 1990 where this memory formed its roots. Orphaned children had developed sophisticated community structures and looked after each other like a family. Then she moves on to Luanda, Angola in 1998. She tells how this community rebuilding in Mozambique rekindled in another country, a different time and in a different situation. (Nordstrom, p. 175).
People in Luanda, mostly adults, talked about children living in the storm drains under the city streets. Everyone knew about this phenomenon, but nobody knew anything about these kids. They were instantly labeled: ”These kids could be dangerous” ” They could be violent”. One night she meets a group of children cooking glue on the streets. One of them asked her if she wanted to see his home. Nordstrom agreed and a moment later she was in a storm drain:
For street children, a drain is its own natural security system, since a full-size man would not fit into it. Without taking the time to think, I squeezed down the drain after the child. In my mind’s eye, when I had heard about children living in the drains under te streets, I had visualized decaying, dirt encrusted tunnels with children hurled in dismal conditions amid stagnant water and rats. Everyone I knew held the same idea. But when I entered the drain, I felt the world stop, existentially, for a moment – and my view of the human condition, in its most profound sense, expanded. (Nordstrom, 2004, p. 176).
She continues to tell that these drains have become a home where a community has been created. It was clean, there was no smell and children creatively decorated the place and even managed to have a working radio.
This is a community in the fullest sense. The children have instituted a strong code of conduct. They share everything they have with each other equally. Stealing isn’t allowed, and if someone does steal, the children have a governing council where everyone sits down and finds a solution. They assign chores… (). (Nordstrom, 2004, p. 176).
These children helped each other out when in trouble. They would earn money to get their friend out of jail and they even had puppies. Puppies, you wonder? Yes, puppies. It’s remarkable enough already that children constructed such a community and caring system, but they extended it to animals and shared their food with them while having almost nothing. They provided these puppies with unconditional love. As Nordstrom puts it, a tenderness they themselves might never have known.
The ”civilized” kick these children when on the streets and look down at them, if seeing them at all, without knowing these children might be more civilized than their civilized selves..
The reason for this all was this quote from a youth that struck me most:
I carry a little bit of peace in my heart wherever I go, and I take it out at night and look at it. (Nordstrom, 2004, p. 177).
Think about it.