A Boy Named Anonymous
Before she left, Bridget told me one thing she misses the most about home is being anonymous. Our white skin makes it impossible for us to walk outside without people staring, shouting and harassing us for money. You never really get used to the attention; you just learn to live with it. I try to pretend I’m a rock star and everyone wants my autograph, until I see that homeless and parentless boy who would eat my signature if he could, but would rather my loose change. My discomfort is his dream - people might not know my name, but they always have one for me.
In Africa, anonymity is a plague that infests the streets and preys on the young, weak and disadvantaged. The self-defence mechanism of just walking by isn’t only adopted by whites, but everyone who holds a job and wants to keep their sanity. The price you pay is that you begin to question your humanity. We walk the exact same streets, but we live in completely different worlds. I’m afforded a celebrity-like status from the colour of my skin and passport, while their birth-right was to a continent of nearly 600 million people, over a thousand languages and not one clue how it all came to be so difficult. I don’t have any new answers to give, but I can’t help but pose the same question. I feel incredibly fortunate to have come back to Africa but am already preparing my departure. Canada will be my return to anonymity, which most people outside entertainers probably consider a blessing rather than a curse. Films usually measure their success in the same terms, so by that account we may have finally earned some of our recognition out here.
The travelling festival is officially over and was by all accounts a success. We were able to show our films to thousands of people and if all goes according to plan, we will continue to do the same on an ever larger scale in the future. I don’t have any false sense of purpose to what we’ve done – at best we’ve fed their minds and imaginations, while at the worst we probably entertained them for an hour. What I’m really hoping we’ve accomplished is given a new voice to a population otherwise lost under the weight of troubles called Africa. Burundi, like most places I’ve never been or heard of, was just a place on a map with all the same problems as everyone else before I arrived. Now I recognize some of those faces that used to blur together in collective misery. I pass them every day and know that to them, their problems aren’t generic. Neither are their stories, but many of them are universal, so hopefully we’ve enhanced their ability to share those stories with others. The students at the Burundi Film Center are in most cases only the messengers. Their stories of love and pain, hurt and joy, are both distinctive and wide spread. We shouldn’t have to apologize for our differences, but we should celebrate our similarities. We all have a name and a story to tell, so I hope my good fortune is afforded to everyone.