Saturday, November 13, 2004

SUDAN: Coffee with The Chai Lady of Khartoum

Khartoum _ Chai Lady Preparing Coffee
Photo by Tom Gething, Sudan 2004

I have been just dying to get back to posting to my blog about Sudan. O.K. so dying is not a good choice of words if you have been following news and reports on Sudan and Darfur lately. The more I read the angrier I get, and not only at the regime in Khartoum but perhaps most of all at myself for not being in a position to go in and help these people right now, and I am not only talking about being a humanitarian or an aid worker. Something bigger.

I would love someday to be able to extend the hand of friendship personally to the Sudanese people in the photos from Tom Gething on this weblog. It would be a great honor for me albeit they may think I’m crazy for thinking that it was so special to be able to meet them. Anyway, before I return to Sudan next week via this blog I thought that I would share another one of Tom’s beautiful photos with you today. Here is another B&W image of The Chai Lady (see my A Survival Study in B&W posting) as she prepares a coffee (or tea?) for us.

If I were there in Khartoum with her I would be excitedly trying to tell her (via a translator) that she is probably one of the most famous “Chai Ladies” on the planet and certainly in all of Khartoum, that perhaps 100,000+ people around the world will have seen photos of her on the World Wide Web, and that many of us just love her only by seeing images of her, and that it has helped some of us to learn more about her country, Sudan, and her people. I’d tell her all of this while she was busy preparing my coffee (she nervously thinking to herself, “Who is this crazy guy? Do all Americans act this way asking all of these questions?”).

And when my coffee was ready I would pay her for it, I would pay at least 100 times what she normally charges for the glass of coffee (which is $00.01 or 1 cent a glass), I would pay her about $1.00 U.S. Dollars. At this point she would be totally convinced that I AM DEFINITELY CRAZY, but also that I am a rich American and too loose with my money. I would be spending 300-400% less for a cup of her coffee than what I would pay at Starbucks, and the service and company is undoubtedly better with The Chai Lady by far.

Then I would try to strike up a conversation with The Chai Lady, to learn a little more about her life and her people and try to tell her things about my country and my people and about other people I’ve met around the world, while enjoying my wonderful cup of coffee with her. Can you see it? I sure can, clear as day, what a wonderful experience that would be.

And after we had finished our coffees and our conversation I would bid The Chai Lady farewell and tell her what an honor it has been to be in her presence after having only a photo image of her in my mind for so long. Perhaps she would be happy also to share such an experience and be anxious to see me again soon so that we may swap stories and so that she could sell her coffee at premium prices.

Then I would bow my head to kiss her hands and then walk away, and as she watched me go my eyes would swell with tears to the point that my vision would blur, tears of happiness and sadness at once, and my heart would be full of joy at having the chance to finally have met her, The Chai Lady from Khartoum made famous by a photograph and a blog and a very long war.

Can blogs and bloggers and their readers help change the World?? I believe the answer to that question is an emphatic YES, and we are already well underway down that road. This is the greatest social dialogue and collaboration experiment I’ve seen in many a year, and I’ve been around for awhile. Thanks to a posting from Ethan Zuckerman over at Harvard here is an article about the affects bloggers are having on the international media scene and global politics already____ and we bloggers are not even out of the race starting blocks yet!

While reviewing the ONA site (ONA= Online News Association) today regarding the prestigious award to BBC News Online for Best Online News Website 2004 I also ran across an excellent piece on blogs and bloggers vs. mainstream international media. Here is an excerpt about a speech by Alan Nelson from The Command Post - Newsblog Collective delivered to the Associated Press Managing Editors on the subject of blogs (weblogs):

"Alan Nelson of gave a great speech to the APME a couple of weeks ago. He talked about the Law of the Flow, the Law of the Fast, Law of the Few, and the Law of the Many. It's fascinating reading. Here's one quote: There’s a very important lesson here: bloggers should not be underestimated. They are not just average people … they are people who, long before blogs came along … had the ability to surface information and present it to others in a persuasive and compelling way. They are opinion leaders, and weblogs have only served to exponentially increase their reach and their power." I encourage you to read the full text, and the comments attached at the end."

This is a "must read article" for my fellow blog authors and avid blog readers by the way, as we all try to get a grasp on what this is really all about and why we do it. The folks over at The Command Post have a real hot blog by the way, and you can find their permalink in my blogroll "Hot Blogs and Sites To Go" along with some very fine new blog additions to Jewels in the Jungle i.e. Crooked Timber and Ambiguous Adventure.

Now, I wonder how I could explain all this stuff about blogs and bloggers to The Chai Lady of Khartoum?

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