When things there affect us here

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Downtown Bulawayo 2010 — this image from Wyatt Smith shows a city little changed from 1980

Some three decades ago, my editor at the Bulawayo Chronicle called me into his office.  “Are you well?” he asked, “well” referring to my mental state.  A few days earlier, I had committed a career-ending offense — getting so drunk at a remote village/police camp on  Good Friday, 1980, that I created a scene which resulted in  four black guys ending up in jail for stealing my camera.  “You were acting in the name of the Chronicle,” my boss said.  “You were there without permission, and you were drinking.”

I tried to fight back, arguing that I had been the victim, not the cause of the crime, and in any case, no real harm had occurred.  The boss held out an olive branch.  “Do you have a home where you can return?” he said.  “If so, you should go.  If not, we will see what we can do.”

This remark cut to the core of the matter.  I had travelled half-way around the world (from Vancouver, B.C.) to experience war and peace, good and evil, and that evening had discovered (in a flash of insight), my faith, values and vision for my life ahead.  Sure, I could go home.  My mission had been accomplished, anyways.  So I accepted his offer to resign rather than be fired.

However, I had a few more experiences ahead as I prepared to leave Zimbabwe.  The news service of my former Canadian employer invited me to follow Prince Charles as he arrived in Bulawayo for the Zimbabwe Independence Day celebrations.  With official international press accreditation, I travelled around the city with the world press corps, who then returned to the airport for the flight to Salisbury (now Harare) for the independence celebrations.  I asked the press officials if I could hitch a ride.  With the official press pass in hand, they said, “sure” and I became part of the gathering of reporters and cameramen on the British air force jet.

In Salisbury, I attended the official reception for foreign media and discovered another insight.  The individuals who travelled from country to country, war zone to war zone, well, were not “well”, at least by my newly-refreshed value systems.  How could you even contemplate raising a loving family with a secure home for your children when you are heading from one international trouble spot to another?  I realized then that my dream of becoming a globe-trotting foreign correspondent would not mesh with the rest of the life I wanted to live.  My days as an international adventurer were, indeed, nearing their end.

So, today, I watch the events in Libya, Japan, elsewhere and sense the challenges and adventures of covering these sorts of events.  The media has a major role because these distant happenings of course affect our lives here.  What happens to nuclear project development projects?  Will there be a pressure to find other “natural” options to oil?  Where should you stake your economic future in planning your business and life?  And of course, we have the defining element of newsworthiness — a degree of unpredictability of potential outcomes of events that seem utterly unrelated.

I realize some gurus tell us to ignore the news and focus on positive things and our business at hand.  And I can see their point.  Perhaps the single most irritating person in my life is the guy in the gym locker room who spouts off every day with his ill-informed opinions about the events he has read about in the paper or watched on television.  “What authority does he have on the topic?” I ask — “Does he add any value to the equation?”

Then I think back to my past, and the discovery that while the world is a complex, challenging and evolving place, some things don’t change that much.  Adventure and risk are good things but when they become routine, I realize, they fail to provide the stability and security most of us need for a healthy life.

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