Yes! I made it through the tight security controls at the airport, and here I am, on my first flight to the US, ever!
However, the trip began on a sad note: While waiting to get on board, I phoned my good friend and colleague Sylvanus Murray from Sierra Leone. Sylvanus is the founder and coordinator of the Earth Charter Youth Group Sierra Leone, who achieved incredible successes in reintegrating former child soldiers into their communities. Sylvanus has also been invited to come to New York, and participate in the Young Leaders Peacebuilding Retreat at the Retreat Center in Pine Bush, upstate New York, that is run by the Chan Buddhist community Dharma Drum Mountain. Sylvanus told me he had spent eight days in Conakry to apply for his visa and was rejected. Eight days! While I can enter into the US without any visa at all, and even felt my hands shaking just when I couldn’t find my hotel’s address when I was asked to fill out one single paper form for my visa-free entrance into the US, poor Sylvanus spent several weeks to get all his files ready, and still was rejected.
Again, I am struck by this strong sense of inequality. So here I sit, white Western European, who grew up in a secure neighbourhood and a loving modestly wealthy middle-class family, and everywhere I go, I just need to wave with my Bordeaux-red EU-passport, and I will be accepted. On the other side, there is Sylvanus, who for some reasons was not born in wealthy Germany, but in Sierra Leone, Western Africa. Sierra Leone is one of the poorest and least developed countries of the world, and has suffered from one of the most severe civil wars the world has ever seen, a decade long civil war that just ended in 2001, and that left thousands dead, victimized and traumatized. Two months ago, when we met in Taiwan – it also was a tough struggle to bring Sylvanus and his friend Solomon over to this East Asian Island – Sylvanus revealed in a moving speech that he was abducted by rebel soldiers once who threatened to chop off both of his hands. Luckily, he could escape unharmed, but thousands of his peers were not blessed with the same fortune.
He should be the one to be sitting on this plane. He would deserve it. Well, there is no other way than to be his voice in the States, and letting the other conference participants know about his tremendous efforts to join us and share his experience of first hand peace and reconciliation work in his country.
– Michael Slaby