Thursday, August 26, 2010

Stand still and die.

In 1991 I was a young press photographer working for Associated Press. I was sent into South Sudan to cover the war in the south. At the time conditions were thought to be hard, though no one really knew what was going on in the remote and poorly understood country.

After a tiny aid plane left me in Nasir, a remote town in the south east I walked toward Ethiopia - there being no cars, no gas, no money and most of all no food anywhere. I had a hunch that the instability in Ethiopia would have reprocussions in the border area. I walked with two Nuer tribesmen along the Sobat, a branch of the White Nile. The hauntingly empty landscape was remote but beautiful. We would sleep on the ground, under a shade tree and start our walking with the rising sun.

As we slowly moved east we woke one day to a sound that was a little like that of a football crowd. That day, instead of the empty flat land with scrub bushes and ant hills the only landmark, we were greeted with the sight of a slow mass of humanity snaking across the land towards us.
This was the movement of 120, 000 people, mostly women and children, walking out of Ethiopia (where President Mengistu had been deposed days before) and returning to the land they had left years before. Starved and dying they walked, and faltered and died on that mass exodus back into Sudan - a country ravaged by a viscous war of its own.

This was what the press later described as an exodus of biblical proportions. Each morning we would hear the sound of the Sudanses Air Force Antonov bombers, and run for cover as they bombed this sprawling mass of humanity, claiming that they were a rebel army. The bombs fell from about 10,000 feet. We could see them fall toward us, and there was literally nowhere to hide. You never forget the sound of the engines.

The death toll was enormous. And yet most people found their way to Nasir, where Unicef set up initially a tiny relief station, but what later became an enormous emergency response effort.
During that time I learned a bit about worry, and coping with disaster. I can remember seeing tribesmen walking naked, carrying only their AK47s. Clothing, the shame of their nakedness, embarrassment was all left behind. It became irrelevant. Pride is an expensive commodity.

These people had nothing. Literally, nothing. A mother would carry a child as best she could and move ever westward toward help, not knowing if there was food or when relief might arrive. The people became so hungry they would eat this coarse grass that grew in the hope it would give some nutrition.

Eventually, we learn what the important stuff is. Life is too short to worry about the other stuff.

In working on yourself you will start to reassess what’s important in your own life. Some of these things will be obvious. In other cases there will be a slowly dawning realisation that some value or idea that has always been ingrained in you is actually entirely irrelevant. Be prepared to change your mind - literally. There’s nothing wrong with changing your view - it’s how we adapt and change. It is in many ways our greatest strength. If we remain the same, we do the same things - we’ll experience the same results and often the same disappointments. All that changes is that it’s no longer a surprise.

We need to adapt. It’s what kept this species we belong to on top. And as my son so aptly puts it when he plays a Halo, “Stand still and die...”

Ironically twenty years later I was filling my car with gas at a gas station and a young man was doing the same at the next pump. I looked at him, he must have been about 20. He had the Nilotic features of the Nuer. I wondered, could it be possible? I walked over to him and asked where he was from. He replied in perfect English, ‘Burnaby... but my mother was from Sudan.”

I asked where abouts.

He replied, “Some tiny village in the south. A place called Nasir. I saw it on Google maps once.”

I love living in Canada.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Laughing Disorder?

Do you laugh in the face of danger? Do you tweak the nose of disorder?

This recent question came up - an my response is below.

Question: Is there such thing as a laughing disorder?

Okay this started when I was just a boy. My father and I would have serious conversations and all of a sudden out of nowhere, I started laughing. He thought it was funny at first but when it increased, he got so annoyed. Same with my mother. Years later, as a mature adult (age 21), we went to an event and all of a sudden I started laughing again. Now it's been happening like crazy. In class, romantic times with my girlfriend who I piss off a lot when it happens (and she thinks it's her fault). And also during public presentations, funerals, movies that are sad and everything. I am thinking of going to a hypnotist or something. I looked this up and it might be Pseudobulbar disorder which causes that. I need HELP!! I want to stop looking like a laughing freak!



It's not actually a disorder, though it's only a matter of time before someone starts calling it that. What you are experiencing is an anxiety response that triggers a laughter reflex. It's not that you find something actually 'funny', but that laughter becomes a mechanism triggered by anxiety.

Oddly enough you can see something similar in the ex president Jimmy Carter. He used to smile at inappropriate times quite often. During the Iran hostage crisis he was on TV in a press conference grinning like an idiot. Unfortunately this was because he had a propensity to smile as an anxiety response. You may be able to find some of those interviews on Youtube to see for yourself.

You can get over it quite easily by using any self hypnosis MP3 designed to address anxiety issues or panic attacks. They will help you dial down anxiety and as a result reduce the effects. You can find some good ones at (yes, UHD is owned by my company...)