Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Mark of Cain

In 2013 box office blockbuster World War Z, virus expert Brad Pitt, after visiting ground zero of contagion to seek some cure, reconsiders next place to touch down to evade zombies, who are attracted by slightest of noises, as are sharks from afar to frolicking seals. He and team pick bicycles to quietly sneak back onto plane. Felt similar terror on December roads among frenzied holiday shoppers. WWZ's undead move as fast as highway traffic, unlike television's slow walking dead. Original Voodoo versions, upon which they based these necrophobic nightmares, were nearly paralyzed by poisons.

Screen treatments gained popularity with John Caradine's Revenge of the Zombies (1943), when they embodied an actual diaspora of needy WWII refugees roaming menacingly across 5 continents. In 1968 George Romero revived fetish with The Night of the Living Dead. IMDB lists 263 films and show episodes devoted to this creepy premise where strange biological entities are wantonly exterminated as if insects in nuclear fear films. Hate? Really? Genre has come to symbolize any mindless horde perpetrating evil, whereas worn out westerns, which number in the thousands, are mostly about equals with guns killing each other. God fearing folk were once expected to repress their savagery, but ever more often meek minion unwittingly engage in heinous acts and rights debacles for the sake of nationalism, racism or xenophobia. You're equally guilty by commission or omission; ignoring duty to society is no option facing next atrocity. You don't satisfy requirement by begrudgingly remitting taxes and pretentiously expecting government to take care of it. They don't do enough to help developing countries feed hungry bellies.

Icugutu: Rwanda's handmade wooden bicycles
dangerously devoid of brakes.

Tim Lewis' balanced book Land of Second Chances (Velopress, 2013) examines the horror you've come to expect from the heart of darkness and the improbable rise of Rwanda's Olympic cyclists. Rolls in behind T. C. Johnstone's documentary on same topic Rising from Ashes narrated by Forest Whitaker. Lewis starts with a riveting account of “the rubber terror” over Dunlop’s raw materials and slave plantations in neighboring Congo. Pneumatic tires did make bicycling practical but at a terrible unseen cost. These days, tantalum mining for computers and cell phones commandeers unpaid labor and rationalizes deals in mass death. Often painful to read, book's facts implicate creed and greed, as usual.

Central Africa should be a place of potential, particularly Rwanda where millions share same economic status. Nine out of ten are subsistence farmers who push once banned icugutu ladened with produce. Hope Cycles now increasingly bring coffee to market on time and represent hope, as incongruent an idea as honesty if you live with uncertainty and make no plans. Yet foreigners fear grim reminders of the sudden massacre of nearly a million souls maliciously meted out with machetes by senseless mobs. Survivors bear fearsome scars, mental and physical, neither forgetting nor permitting themselves to be defined by genocide. Unification has become a national obsession. Cyclists there braved far more than their hilly terrain, which is bound to strengthen. Every racer knows the winner will be whoever climbs fastest.

One day with nurture loss-averse Rwandans may ride their amagare (modern bikes) past pelaton to European victories. One never knows. Took until 1986 for an American to win Tour de France. Glory in sports is fleeting at best and should never be sole opportunity among the poor. Only fair trade in agribusiness, manufacturing and mining raise a nation's standard of living. Rwanda may rate among the poorest countries in World, but they hold Umuganda on the last Saturday of every month when everyone participates in community projects and professionals provide services for free. Brush gets cleared but holiday gifts aren't swapped; rather, whoever has anything is asked to share.

Continually dealing with ignorance and impatience can be depressing. Everyday androids attack entrances and exits of expressways, human mimicking golem, modern zombies leaving behind common sense, compassion, and controlled pulse for speed's trivial thrill. Unlike motoring, cycling appeases your intense, Kerouac-esque appetite to experience everything on the road. Sure, if you go, got to open your gourd and orbs. Goodwill goads you to know you don't live in a vacuum, rather a supportive network that enables feeling whatever way you want, including apathetic, depressed, oblivious or vindictive. Malcontents can be blue and still stomach complaints. Comforts alienate. Being but obliquely aware of issues, you have only a dim impression of what abominations ignorance and want are capable. You blink at what's happening right now in Africa.

Cyclists bond in a brotherhood of pain. Conversation lifts one's spirits, even when it's only grousing or grumbling. People commiserate, what they do best, (literally) wretched together. But Cain asked, and those who bear his brand repeat, "Am I my brother's keeper?" A caring, cooperative world that doesn't tolerate iniquity has an uphill climb with church and state setting contradictory examples. Wholesale slaughter should never amuse, neither alien insects or nearby zombies. One rides amidst memories of the dead, but tries to merit redemption through charity, kindness, and patience.

"You must remember always to give... foolishly even... to all who come into your life. Then nothing and no one shall have power to cheat you... if you give to a thief, he cannot steal from you, and he himself is then no longer a thief.... Nothing good ever ends. If it did, there would be... no life at all, anywhere." - William Saroyan, The Human Comedy