I came home last week to see Colin, tucked in to bed his head in the newsp... his phone. He looked up at me gravely and said enigmatically "Did you hear? There are 14 dead."
Shit. Really? 14? I thought it was only 3. I suppose this ups the ante. Ups the panic. Ups the response. Ups the tragedy.
"Colin, I thought there were only 3 dead at the Boston marathon, and a bunch more injured."
"No Kim. The 14 dead are in Bungoma. They died violent deaths at the hands of thieves. Apparently there is a gang in the area."
Bungoma is a town about 90 minutes from here. IPA has an office there. We have friends there.
I can't totally describe the shift in my emotions when I learned that the innocent dead were here in Kenya and not back in our old city of Boston. I certainly wasn't relieved. Probably differently horrified. The tragedy was closer but also farther away. It happened in a town where we know people, and the deaths were no less random and terror-inducing than those in Boston. But the Boston deaths took place in America. And we're Americans. The fallout would affect us - if only in the Zeitgeist.
But the media affects the Zeitgiest, and the reaction of our politicians (I'm looking at you: decade-long trillion- dollar fiasco in Iraq) affects us all. So, the Boston deaths all felt bigger somehow than the many more deaths much closer to our current home. And that felt wrong.
The media's reaction to the Boston marathon attack was immediate and pervasive. Support and condolences blanketed my facebook page and details of the event and then the pursuit of the bombers clogged the newsmedia. They crowded out other deaths from other corners of the earth. There was no room for the mounting death toll in Syria, little for the hundreds dead in a Chinese earthquake, barely mention of the near 100 killed in Northern Nigeria, and not a whisper for the 14 killed in Bungoma.
This is not a revelation. The disproportionate coverage of American tragedy is well covered ground. It is explained: America is a superpower, the largest player on the global scene in terms of military might and largest exporter of economic ideas and pop cultural. And Americans don't expect tragedy. Anyway, American media with American audiences should focus more on American deaths.
Fine, fine fine. Still, all this does is reinforce our feeling of exceptionalism and that we should be somehow insulated from the rare tragedy. All this does is make those other deaths somehow more distant, more "other," less relateable,... I'll say it.. less important.
But the 14 dead in Bungoma did not expect this tragedy. They left shocked and grieving family members. It was just as random. Just as terrorizing, maybe more so. And there were MORE souls lost.
I don't want to minimize the terror people felt in Boston. And I know we don't collectively have a well of compassion large enough for all the tragedy around the world. There's too much of it, so we have to selectively pay attention.
Still, I want to leave some space for mourning the people who don't have a powerful nation and a media juggernaut collectively at their funeral. Maybe if we could all leave some space for that, we'd feel more apart of and act more a part of a global community. Maybe, if we could truly mourn the deaths of people who live far away from us, look different than us, speak different languages than us, worship different gods, then just maybe there'd be less death to mourn.