Anne de Graaf's blog: International-Intrigue-Injustice

30 May 2015

Peter van Krieken–the passing of an extraordinary man

Filed under: Thin and Thick Places,Words by Others — annedegraaf @ 12:06 pm

image003(The following is the talk I gave at Peter’s funeral on Thursday 28 May 2015).

I’m going to do this in English for all the international students of PvK who are here.

Jet, Number One: Diederik, Number Two: Katrien, Number Three: Sebas, friends of Peter, family–Some of you might not know this, but Diederik and Sebas are both wearing suits that belong to Peter, tailored for them. And his bow ties. Katrien, a secret he did not want to tell you, was that he felt you were the one raising him, rather than the other way around.

As we know, Peter was an extraordinary man, and an extraordinary diplomat.

But I think I am here to talk about him as an extraordinary Instructor. I met Peter when I went back to school. I am what they call, a mature student. He taught my master’s class in International Law—and I was terrified of him and his infamous exams. What he didn’t know, was that I secretly took notes on his teaching style. We disagreed. A lot. About the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the protection of child soldiers. Among other things. And it took me a while to figure out that he did this to pull me out of romantic notions of injustice into the complex world of weighing different perspectives.

Then we became colleagues, and now I teach Human rights and human security, and Violence and conflict. Which means that we’re still arguing—well discussing, as he taught Comparative law and International law, and as we all know, there is often a disconnect between the rhetoric and reality.

He and I work at Amsterdam University College, the honors college for the University of Amsterdam and the Free University, the UvA and VU. He said these last years teaching at AUC were among his happiest. His students gave him this gift. His students, past and present, from AUC and Webster, are here today, and I thank you for making my friend so fulfilled.

Last semester our classrooms were next to each other, and we played a joke on our students. We hijacked each other’s classes. We walked into the wrong classrooms and pretended it was the most normal thing in the world. I tried to teach Comparative Law. He took my Human rights class, and later the students told me he basically turned upside down everything I had teen teaching them that semester. Among other things, he argued, as he often did, that the measures in place within the human rights world do not go far enough.

He taught all of us to be critical. He urged us to fight, fight for greater recognition of human rights violations in a world that often ignores what it does not want to see. He believed in the rule of law, and in his lifetime, he cultivated the tender rose that is international law, thorns and all.

As you may have noted on the funeral card, he founded the Toekomstig Fries Bevrijdingsfront, or Future Friesan liberation army, and that was so he could challenge us with the question of whether one man’s freedom fighter really is another man’s terrorist.

We met often, and talked over lunch every few weeks. When the pain in his shoulder got worse, I told him to go to a second doctor. Go to the fysio. Our last lunch, a few days before he found out he had cancer, he admitted he had lived a blessed life, never any physical ailments, except for the pain which had now laid claim to him. At this lunch we also talked about forgiveness. What does it mean to forgive everyone, past and present? He leaned forward and said, “It’s the best any of us can do, forgive others, and forgive ourselves.”

A week later I visited him at home, in bed, on morphine because of the pain. He told me he had no bucket list, no regrets. He was at peace. I said, “Well, I’m not.” We talked about the UvA and Magdenhuis occupation, the emphasis on grant money and research. “They don’t get it,” I told him. “The joy is in the classroom.” And we laughed together.

Among my colleagues, he is known for his positive attitude, his smiles and his bow ties.

Among his students, he is known for caring: about the issues, and about the people. I have been privileged to receive a deluge of words from his students. Stories of his dry humor. “He called me a dumb blonde and said I would never make it in the world of international law. Now I have been accepted into a master’s programme at a top university, all because he gave me the kick in the backside that I needed.”

Stories about his teaching style. “I learned more from him than any other teacher I ever had, even though I wanted to drop his class at first because I felt so challenged.”

Stories about confusion: “He wanted us to leave the class more confused than when we entered it. I hate being confused. But I grew to embrace it!”

Stories about his lies. “He told us he would tell one lie per lecture. We stay up late at night arguing about what the lie was.”

Stories about how he did not want to be called Dr. van Krieken, but Mr. van Krieken. In return, he called his students by their last names: Mr. de Vries. Or sometimes Ms. Latin, or Mr. Finland, depending on where they came from. One student wrote, “To this day I don’t know if this was because you couldn’t remember my first name, but one thing’s for sure, you showed us respect, something I always felt I needed to live up to.

Stories about grades: “He tried to convince us that grades were of no importance, that we should aim to attain knowledge, to think, to discuss.”

I think that he taught us that actually, we’re here to learn.

But, our Peter is not just an inspiration, he is a Fighter. He battles in the fight for asylum seekers- clear policy so they do not suffer in uncertainty. Fight for migration. A few days ago, I found out, he taught my daughter about fighting. When she was nine months pregnant he gave her a card that I hadn’t known about, when he was over for dinner with our family, and he told her, “Now you learn what it means to fight for a child, the greatest fight there is.” Something he did for you, Diederik, Katrien, Sebas.

Last Wednesday I sat with him a few hours before he lost consciousness. He had a box of the books he’d written and wanted me to give them to his students. “I should have written more books,” he said. I said, “It’s a little late for that, Peter.” He said, “You think?” We laughed.

I asked, “Are you ready for this?” He said, “I’m at peace. But my children—I can’t do this to them.” I said, “Het is goed zo, Peter. They are like you—strong and smart. And they have us. We will watch over them. And we will always be with you. And you will always be with us. Laat het maar los—het is goed zo. Let go.”

And so, this is now a PVKless world. One student wrote, “He inspired us to tackle the challenges of the world of international law, but I always thought we would do this, WITH him. And now it’s just up to us, without him. But what is even sadder is that he’s not here anymore to make the world a better place.”

He told me, he had to cancel several trips to Kabul, Laos, Islamabad, Kiev. He continues to make a difference through his students who have gone and will go on to work as diplomats and peacebuilders, lawyers, and teachers. He inspires us to carry on where he left off. When we doubt, remember how he believes in us. He is an incredible man and through his work and teaching he managed to touch and enrich so many lives.

I remember a few Januarys ago, when he joined me and my husband in South Africa. We were there for the birthday celebration of a close friend, the same one who taught us both that the joy is in the classroom. We sat outside in dappled light, and laughed and drank wine near Stellenbosch–he reminded us to embrace life.

It is my privilege to call him friend. You are his beloved family. You are all his beloved family. I wish us all strength and courage.

If we could still hear his voice, I think we would hear him say: I am with you always. In your hearts. Fight the good fight.

PvK, you are my brother, my friend, my Teacher til the end: you once told me I have more balls than most men, but you are the one who taught me courage, even til the end, as you taught me–you showed me–how to die with grace and dignity, and caring up until the very end, for the people who love you. Ach Peter.


(What follows is the letter sent to Amsterdam University College students and staff, from Acting Dean, Ramon Puras.)

It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you of the death of our colleague, Dr. Peter van Krieken. Peter taught Comparative Law and International Law at AUC. He brought with him a rich background in diplomacy and international law, and his unique ability to combine theory with practice enriched his outstanding and enlightened teaching.

He was recently named Lao DDR’s Honorary Consul to The Netherlands. As an international civil servant with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for more than 16 years, he served in Geneva, Stockholm, Peshawar, Juba (South Sudan), Beirut, Sana’a, Addis Ababa and Zirndorf (FRG). In between these various assignments he headed Stichting Vluchteling 999, a leading Dutch refugee organization, and he was chair of the Röling Foundation, as well as the treasurer of the Netherlands Branch of the International Law Association (ILA) and inter alia also of Voorschoten Sinfonietta.

He has a long list of publications (150+) to his credit on subjects such as asylum, migration, torture, hijacking, statelessness, family reunification, migration, health, terrorism and repatriation. In particular his books Terrorism and the International Legal Order (2002) and The Hague, Legal Capital of the World (2005) have been widely acclaimed.

Peter recently retired from his position as special advisor with the Netherlands Government  and was actively involved in various EU projects in Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Malawi.

He often commented that despite his busy diplomatic shuttling back and forth between countries, his teaching at AUC was his top priority. He said, to have a lasting impact on young people gave him deep joy.

Peter’s death is a shock to us all, as he was only diagnosed with pancreatic cancer less than a month before his death. He will be remembered for so many things, including his smiles and bow ties, and positive outlook on life. He is survived by his wife and three children. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him.

11 May 2015

My TEDx AUCollege talk is online!

Filed under: Aids survival,PhD!,The Children's Voices,Words by Others — annedegraaf @ 12:30 pm

me at tedx in audienceWhat a great privilege it was to speak at TEDx AUCollege on 6 March 2015. To get an idea of what makes me tick, watch what I say about The Children’s Voices. Click here!

A big thank you to everyone who made this magic evening come together, and especially to my family who were there as support. (You can see them in the front row!)

6 August 2014


Filed under: PhD!,Thin and Thick Places,Write on — annedegraaf @ 4:29 pm

time clocksWhen my big, fat, beautiful new 40-hour-a-week job at Amsterdam University College (AUC) became 60 hours a week this last year, time took on a different dimension. As I listened to my students, as I graded papers and exams, as I lectured on international relations, human rights, global identity, violence, and conflict, the best days were the ones when I was very present. I saw smiles. I watched eyes. I listened to the rain against the skylight above my desk. I tasted cool water. I heard questions and sought answers. I laughed. I have had the privilege of watching as students from all over the world expanded their borders, and with courage, learned to ask the questions that cannot be answered.

During the summer break I’m finishing my PhD. This last year trained me well: do the next thing and trust. All is well. Soon, soon, soon I submit.

It’s not that time is infinite, you see, but when the fear and anxiety of thinking about the past and future pass, all that is left is timeless present.

I see. I hear. I understand.

I live. I laugh. I love.

22 September 2013

Change of direction

_69699014_arrows_thinkstockSo is this up, or have I turned left? More than a year since my last post. Why is that? Look at the title of that entry, take away the first, second and fourth words, and you’ll have your answer.

And now…now I have a new job at the Free University and University of Amsterdam’s honours college: Amsterdam University College (AUC). Am in joy working with new colleagues from all over the world, and teaching my new students: so smart and engaged and multilingual and caring. They come from South America, all over Europe, Vietnam, and Pakistan.

We’re slogging our way through the theory now, but soon, soon they’ll be flying–choosing their own directions as we learn together how to better understand the world around us. Such a privilege to be part of that process. I threaten them with midnight phone calls, when I’ll ask them random questions about International Relations (IR):

  • 1648? (Westphalian Treaty)
  • The one sure rule in IR? (Don’t invade Russia in the winter.)
  • What is IR about? (Perspectives).

I’m a fulltime Lecturer at AUC–all IR classes, from the current IR Theory and Practice to next semester’s Human Rights and Human Security to Violence and Conflict, as well as Global Identity. Dream classes all–and with only 25 students per class. Started 1 August and feel very at home. So that’s good.

Direction is relative, right? One person’s up is another’s down. And left in the mirror looks like right. Yet, while all the gurus tell us change is good, it remains hugely threatening. BECAUSE WE’RE NOT IN CONTROL.

So my advice: Let go to lay hold.

And don’t look back.

2 August 2012

Peace and conflict studies

Filed under: Thin and Thick Places,Write on — annedegraaf @ 2:09 pm

Have been writing a slew of recommendation letters this week for students looking for jobs and internships, as well as ones moving on to graduate school. Thought to myself, does this deserve a blog entry? I’m always wanting to write about my students because they’re so extraordinary, but privacy issues keep me from saying too much. Still, I think I might manage to give you a few glimpses without giving too much away.

Two–count them–two former students have been accepted by the London School of Economics to do their graduate work. Another one is going to the University of Leiden to study Clinical Psychology. She may be followed by a second former student who comes from a country that everyone is afraid of these days. Both these women have degrees in psychology, yet they took my Human Rights classes last year because they wanted to understand. I’ve got one student who’s hoping to get into Stanford, and another who might land an internship at the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia.

The absolute best part of teaching is watching young people find their way in this world. It’s such a minefield sometimes, that when one of them makes it to the next step, and if I can help in any way by putting words together so others see them as I do, then . . . well, it doesn’t get much better than that. I listen to young people and can create a space for them to realize the next step in fulfilling all they are meant to become, to really see themselves. And when they do, we’re all doing the happy dance!

Just a few weeks ago I sat in the pub with a group of friends, when one of the LSE-destined students (who hadn’t yet heard he was accepted) mumbled about how he couldn’t find a job, doors closing all around him. Now, he’s writing me of the magnificent opportunity awaiting him in London.

Peace and conflict studies is sort-of my thing these days. I write about it, research, and teach it. We read a lot about peace and conflict among nations, and among communities, but I see it in these young people’s very lives. The minefields they dance through often involve hardships: divorced parents, financial troubles, medication, disability. A few have confessed they went through rehab and now are picking up the pieces of their lives. Their stories resonate as I watch them engage and grow and redefine themselves in terms of their heart’s desires, rather than their parents’ or culture’s idea of what they should become. They find peace on the path, as conflict rages on behind them.

So what do I write in these magic letters that help them find favor? About their honesty, integrity, and courage. About their ability to use theory and analyze. About their hearts. How hardworking they are. And smart.

And then yesterday, I wrote a letter for a former student who probably has scored a job at Victoria Secrets. I just had too much fun avoiding every shape of double meaning. Of course, I mean shade. See, that’s what I mean! Peace and conflict studies can sometimes mean something very surprising.

21 July 2012

Pedagogical geek

Filed under: Thin and Thick Places,Words by Others — annedegraaf @ 12:52 pm

I’ve recently discovered a new facet to my personality. Although I draw the line at wearing four different colored pens in my shirt pocket, I do seem to have certain characteristics that place me into a geek category. I’ve found I actually enjoy the whole educational world of assessment, syllabi, curriculum design, and learning outcomes. I seem to be able to entertain myself for hours with talk of rubrics as a tool for grading.

In May I flew to the mother ship of our university, in St. Louis, Missouri (or misery as my husband likes to pronounce it), and spent several days happily discussing general education objectives. I totally lost myself bouncing around ideas about such things as best practices with a roomful of instructors from all over the world.

But it was in Scotland a year ago, when I took some education modules at St Andrews, that I learned about the (what I think is very) exciting concept called threshold learning. And this is (so far) the most intriguing educational idea I’ve stumbled upon along this latest path in an unknown garden. Threshold learning is when we bring students to the edge of what they know, or what they think they know, or what they think they should know, and inspire them, or give them the courage to explore further, learn something new, seek out the unknown, to jump off the edge and trust.

I liken it to the phrase supposedly written on the Old World maps that the explorers used: Beyond this place, there be dragons! I checked into this and it turns out dragons were out of fashion by the time the 17th century rolled around and mapmakers added text to their charts. So actually, the warning wasn’t printed on ancient maps. I did find one consolation though, the Ottoman Admiral Piri Re’is (1513) refers to the Atlantic depths on his map with the words: “Here are monsters – all harmless souls.”

Learning how to learn: welcome to the New World.

10 July 2012

With you

Filed under: PhD: South Africa!,Thin and Thick Places,Words by Others — annedegraaf @ 4:00 pm

March. April. May. June. Last week I sent 7 packages to friends in South Africa. I wrote letters. I remembered the warmth and sunshine in our own summer, and I was able to pick up the journals with notes from over 100 interviews. My field work has waited for me four months as I taught and did what needed to be done at the university where I work. But now, this summer, I’m back in PhD mode and that means reading articles and books, typing up interview notes, and watching the themes in the research emerge like images in a darkroom tray.

This painting is called “Women in Motion,” and it is by Lesley Charnock of Cape Town. I brought it home with me and after months of waiting, it is framed and ready to be hung in our home. A woman in motion, that’s me. I’ve already booked my next plane ticket to South Africa. Must go back. Must breathe.

Have had the student BBQ, when my home world and school world merged. Quote of the evening: “Vodka, Miss–kudos!” That after my sweet husband made blinis and served caviar and vodka for my Russian students.

If summer is overdosing in the U.S., it seems to have forgotten northern Europe. Still gray and raining here.

Feel in a holding pattern. Writing. Reading. Remembering. What’s a PhD? It’s just a PhD, my supervisor told me the last time I saw her. What you have here is a book. Write just the PhD first. Filters: youth, narrative, agency.

Taught human rights theories last term, all about agency. Searching. Listening. Listening still.

End of August I start teaching again: Critical thinking–so happy to have the privilege to stretch young minds. Why? How do you know that? What is not being said?

I hear the wind and smell lavender. Rondebosch. I taste honey. Free State. Do you remember my questions? Stellenbosch. The neighbor’s child cries. Fish Hoek. My fingers tapping on the keys. Cape Flats. Young eyes hoping.

because of you
this country no longer lies
between us but within

it breathes becalmed
after being wounded
in its wondrous throat

in the cradle of my skull
it sings, it ignites
my tongue, my inner ear, the cavity of heart
shudders towards the outline
new in soft intimate clicks and gutturals

of my soul the retina learns to expand
daily because by a thousand stories
I was scorched

a new skin.

I am changed for ever.  I want to say:
forgive me
forgive me
forgive me

You whom I have wronged, please
take me

with you.
-Antjie Krog, Country of my Skull

16 March 2012


I’m home. I feel all mixed-up inside. I brought Cape Town back with me, it warms my heart as I stare at gray North European skies and put on yet another layer of clothes. No one knows my secret: I’m tan!! Well, my husband knows.

I hit the ground running, going into work for a week starting the day after I arrived, and working straight through the weekend. Then yesterday I heard myself telling our daughter that my emotions are all mixed up and bubbling. “My heart feels like a water balloon, rolling around and around, about to burst. I don’t know what to do.” She wisely asked (where does she get it from?), “What does your heart say?” And I suddenly knew what I had to do: geef het een plek (give it a place) and write down how I feel.

This blog came into being when I returned from another trip to Africa, much more battered than I am now. Putting down the truth and telling how I felt healed me then. The slow showing up to write every day for a half hour helped me breathe new life into a blocked writing habit. I don’t have that problem now. In fact, I’m all excited to be home and can’t wait to start teaching on Tuesday. I’m happy to see my colleagues and I love sleeping in my bed. The best part has been hanging out with my family and watching their eyes and memorizing their voices, now no longer skype distorted. No, I’m okay. But as a wise friend said to me on Wednesday, “You need to let it all settle.”

But it won’t. Memories lift me at the most surprising moments, like birds taking flight. Smiles on the street. The eyes of a 12-year-old I interviewed who said her dream is to get pregnant because then she will receive R200 (€20) per month. The smell of wood smoke and sewage inside a community. Air warm against my cheek while cool water caresses my ankles. Mountains rising across False Bay with a thousand shades of teal between the other side and me. The faces and voices of all those many interviews; their words still swirl though my heart.

It needs to be said that I have met children who have no hope. Struck down by poverty, orphaned, sexually abused–still they dared to tell me things like, “When I grow up I want to be a chartered accountant.” Where does that courage come from?

Oh, you want to know about my Thank-you Lunch! It was perfect. Three people didn’t show and one woman brought her two sons from the community, so we had just the right amount. We ate and laughed and at some point I moved my chair from one end of the table to the other. Then I asked the kids if they wanted milkshakes. Chocolate? Right. We ate some more. Beneath ancient trees sun dappled our long table full of roses and glasses. Who was there? Friends and family: a reverend, psychologist, student, anthropologist and her two little girls, a favorite little girl of mine who has the heart of a peacemaker, mentor and colleague, husbands, wives, think-tank program director, filmmaker, teacher-to-be and me. We did the usual de Graaf thing: ate and talked and laughed and told jokes and listened to stories. There was also a fair amount of exchanging phone numbers, so that was cool. I miss them, these friends and family.

I feel . . . mixed up. Sad and relieved. Sad that so many children seem left behind. “You can’t save them all.” No, but I can save one. And I’ll teach and write and use all the gifts I’ve received: listening and seeing, trying still to understand.

28 February 2012

Rainbow nation

I returned to Cape Town from the Free State a few weeks ago. Back to the mountain, the sea, the breathtaking beauty that is this city perched at the bottom of a continent where the next stop across the water is Antarctica. A poet friend told me that living in Cape Town gives you a whole new appreciation for gravity. Here we are dangling at the bottom of the world.

My days are full of words. I hear the most amazing things. Part of my research is about how to create listening spaces for young people. And this is one thing I have learned again and again…how to listen. How to listen to what is not being said: To hear the pain behind the small sigh, the despair when eyes don’t meet mine, the hope behind a blush. I meet with all sorts: teachers, youth politicians, wise old ANC lions, children, high school students, university students, poets, writers, artists, an imam, NGOs, and think tanks.

My first impression was that we are in mourning for the Mandela dream. People feel denial and anger about the betrayal of what they fought and hoped and voted for during the miracle in 1994, when the first free elections were held. So there is grief.

There is also terrible violence here: A rage like a volcano that erupts given the slightest provocation–murders, rapes, robberies, gangs, drugs.

What is terribly hard of course, are the disparities between rich and poor. The rich are fabulously wealthy, and the poor are truly hopeless. Sometimes only a highway separates communities (what used to be called townships) and a leafy gated suburb protected behind barbed wire. I have visited several communities and smelled the smells. No toilets, no running water, no electricity. Shacks. Some places are fairly clean; others had rats scuttling between the garbage on the streets in front of the shacks. People answer my questions in these places, trying not to stare at my hair, my shoes, my clothes, my camera, my tape recorder, my leather notebook, my pen, my sunglasses. All my possessions. My materials in this world where the losers have lost so very much.

“True wealth” is a term I heard during one of yesterday’s interviews. It is self-confidence, a sense of who you are, where you come from, where you are headed, and where you are. Being present. Interconnected with others and nature and the ancestors. A sense of community. This is what Africa can teach the rest of the world: An inherent dignity.

I am back where I was when I interviewed aids orphans in Kwa-Zulu Natal. I hear children talk of 11 people sleeping in 3 rooms. One student told me both her parents are seriously ill, so she must do the shopping and cooking for her siblings and nurse her parents and study for her exams. But even worse, there is an undercurrent of sexual abuse. One counsellor told me of a girl who is being raped by her father. These most vulnerable of the population know no protection.

Today I asked four 12-year olds what they liked most about school: “I feel safe here, Miss.” “At home the gangsters have guns and knives.” “I saw a man beaten in the head with a golf stick.” “We children can get in the way.”

So I am torn between heaven and hell. Words of courage and faith and trust swirl amongst the pain and fear. Walking along a pristine beach last week I realized I am standing in the gap between them all. In this deeply divided society where everyone has more thems than us, how to find the space in between, the place where an unexpected gift may be given at an unexpected time?

One answer is to do what you can do. Which is why I am throwing a party. Fourteen people are coming to a thank-you lunch on Saturday, my way of showing gratitude to new friends for the doors they have opened to me and my research. This could be the most diverse guest list this country has ever seen: all races and socio-economic backgrounds and ages. We will eat and drink and tell stories and laugh under the trees in the sunshine. And maybe a space for listening will open up and surprise us all with joy.

3 February 2012

Die Bittereinder

Filed under: PhD: South Africa!,The Children's Voices,Words by Others — annedegraaf @ 8:37 pm

I met an African-American today who told me for the first time in his life, in this place, he is no longer an African-American; he’s American.

I saw a sign along the Cape-Namibia highway that said: “No hooting! Ostriches being laid.” Of course my bent brain thought the words hooter and laid and it took another 10k before I understood what the sign meant.

I got on a plane and flew 90 minutes north to Bloemfontein, Free State, central South Africa. Came here for 10 days to listen to students and faculty at UFS, University of the Free State. It’s Afrikanerville here, Boer base. I speak Dutch and they tell me I’m talking funny. Baie dankie (thanks a lot). I feel like I’m walking around in a Dutch movie from the sixties. Men wear very short shorts. The shopping mall has two Christian bookstores, an embroidery shop and a fabric store.

UFS has done something unusual; they’ve created a space to wrestle with the messy issues of race and reconciliation. Incidents have happened, racial incidents, and the Vice-Chancellor and Rector, Jonathan Jansen, grabbed the opportunity and flipped it on its back to transform the university community into one that dares to ask the hard questions. Hostels (dormitories) are integrated and there’s an International Institute for Studies in Race, Reconciliation, and Social Justice. That’s why I’m here. And to listen.

What else do you want to know about Bloem? It’s hot—5 degrees hotter than Cape Town, which means 37 degrees. This is the birthplace of J.R.R. Tolkien and they’ve redone his home to look like the “Lord of the Rings” (sort of).

Ah yes, and the world’s first concentration camp originates here. My Intro to IR students know this one; it was on their final. During the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), the English could not defeat the Boers (farmers from Dutch ancestry), so introduced the “Scorched Earth” policy. They burned the homesteads and captured the farmers’ wives and children under 15 (boys aged 13 and 14 fought alongside their fathers and grandfathers=white African child soldiers—a new-old category) and put them into 39 concentration camps, where 29,000 women and children died. In addition, they put the black servants and farm workers into 65 concentration camps, where 24,000 people died.

“The English didn’t know how to battle the guerrilla warfare the Boers fought. The last time the English fought that kind of war was in Scotland.” Now I’m thinking “Braveheart,” and the old-new Scottish referendum for independence.

In the museum, my mind spinning, I asked out loud, “So, during the Boer war men shared the same race and religion as the women and children they incarcerated and starved and fed tins of food with chips of glass inside? But then this war was about. . . .” And the guide and I said the word at the same time: “Gold.”

In history we see it often; a society that is victimized, when it comes to power, then victimizes in turn. My class came up with the following examples: Israel, Liberia, America, South Africa. But we were thinking ANC. Now I wonder about the effect of losing all in a bitter, dirty war, then a generation later, coming into power. Were the seeds of apartheid sown by nations’ lust for gold and empire at any cost? Extrapolate that. Nations on this continent have learned that when oil or diamonds or gold are discovered, it almost certainly means war and famine.

Ignoring the Bosnian war has unleashed the Serb mafia (with many steps in between). Congo enjoys the involvement of seven nations in our generation’s own world war. Maybe there no longer is a “them” and “us.” We ignore others’ suffering at our own peril. We perpetrate human rights violations upon ourselves.

My new American friend shared a quote by Voltaire: “Because I am human, nothing human escapes me.” Maybe all the children really are our children.

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