Table talk

by Berry Friesen

We gathered around a table laden with curries, vegetables and rice.  Our host, only two days back from a trip to Pakistan to celebrate the Feast of Abraham’s Sacrifice, asked me to offer a blessing on the food.  Then we began eating, relishing the subtle flavors of her curries and the opportunity to get acquainted for the first time.

One properly hesitates before raising political issues in such a context.  Yet matters of life and death should not be ignored and so I carefully ventured forth:  “During your visit, what were people saying about the U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan?”

There was a short pause.  “People oppose them, of course, but it isn’t something we often spoke of,” our host replied.

Her brother chimed in.  “Life is hard there.  Unemployment in many areas is 30 percent.  People are focused on surviving day-to-day; that’s what holds their attention.”

“The people I visited are middle class,” our host continued.  “For them it’s a bit easier.  But they have little confidence in government leaders to stop the drones; they’re too incompetent to accomplish things of such magnitude.  Besides, they aren’t willing to risk losing the financial aid provided by the West.  That would take money out of their pockets and make the economy even worse.”

Silently, I recalled Pakistan is a big place with a large population.  Apparently, our host did not know anyone living in the areas being attacked by drones.

“It’s not so different in the U.S.,” my wife said.  “We start speaking about the need to make changes but then end up talking about jobs.”  Our host’s brother nodded in agreement.  “Military production is a big part of your economy,” he said.

There was another pause.  None of us had mentioned the families terrorized 24/7 by drone surveillance: children afraid to play out-of-doors, men afraid to work in groups, women afraid to attend the funerals of loved ones.

Our host broke the silence.  “I have a good friend, a Syrian woman who is going through difficult times.  Her family lives in Homs amid the fighting there.  Her brother-in-law was executed for using his cab to drive a wounded man to medical care.” There it was:  only two degrees of separation between someone at our table and a life extinguished in one of the wars my government has set in motion.

No one followed up and conversation returned to the curries, bits of family history and our daily activities, all part of getting acquainted.

We left so much unsaid and yet, it was a start.

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