Last week I was participating in a medical training program and research project in Khartoum, Sudan. It was an amazing and intense experience…one which I hope to share in blogs and in a new research trajectory. I had an incredible week in Khartoum meeting with doctors, Sister-Nurses, Village Midwives/Health visitors, medical students and recent graduates. On our last day we visiting the SOUQ or market in Omdurman, Khartoum. Saturday afternoon, the market is bustling with people looking for everything from traditional Sudanese gifts (like us), flip flops, clothes, jewelery, and spices.
As we made our way through the aisles towards the “traditional section,” I collided with a man who was rearranging the table at his booth. It was a happenstance accident. I stepped forward, he stepped back. No one was injured and apologies were made. As I walked away, I heard the man at the next stall call out something in Arabic and laugh. When we were out of earshot, I asked my friend what he had said that was so funny. She looked back, paused and said:
“He said be careful there because tomorrow she might send her army’s planes looking for you.”
He meant Predator Drones. There was no doubt that I was an American. In a country where it is very difficult to get a visa (and not recommended by the state department), I stood out on the street. I can count on one hand the amount of Caucasians not in our group I saw in the 7 days.
A shopkeeper bumped into me and the joke his colleague made was – watch out, she might send her countries army planes after you.
We need to have a serious conversation about Drones and the many ethical concerns in the status quo. But it is also important, I think, that we stop and think about who we are as a people and how we are viewed by the rest of the world. It is time we consider what that drone policy says not just about our government and military, but what it says about us. In a democracy, we are implicated by the actions of our government. And – any good joke is revealing of truth. Be careful, or her army planes to come target you – it says something about the perception of the United States and of drones in North Africa.
Perhaps I’m being overly cynical but do you think it possible that the attitude/perception you described is one of the U.S. government’s decision to deploy drones in the way that it does or have I been reading too much Chomsky? 😉
Holy God! Meghan, what an experience. It strikes me as deeply tragic that the sight of an American (on a good will mission, no less) would elicit such remarks. I understand why they were made, and am in absolute agreement about how we deal with drones as a nation. There are almost no conversations about the ethics of this kind of war and it is horrifying to me.
Fran – its important to remember that this was said in Arabic – the 1 shopkeeper was teasing the other – they knew I couldn’t understand them (as i apologized in english)
Katie – i don’t understand the question – are you asking if I think the US government is deploying drones precisely to create this fear of Americans?
If that is the question, I actually don’t. I think the current government is focusing almost entirely on ending man-staffed ground wars and stopping the raising body count of American soldiers (which isn’t a bad concern) but it is dangerous when our only concern is safety/protection of US life vs. life in general.
I understand that he was speaking in Arabic, I am just bemoaning that American can mean a “bringer of death.” Dark humor on his part, but still makes me sad.