Geneva and the Red Cross Museum.
June 12, 2010 § 1 Comment
Okay, in case anyone who reads my blog hasn’t noticed my grief on Twitter, Facebook and MSN, it is true. The MacBook Pro died. I don’t know which part of it died or if my hard disk is salvageable because 1) my AppleCare has expired and if I bring it to an Apple service centre here they’re going to charge me by the hour 2) the nearest AppleCare center is in Zurich which is 3hours away by train 3) forget it.
The good news is that I save all my photos on my external 1TB HDD. The bad news is that I didn’t back up my portfolio and it’s all still in the mac, including all my working files and hi-res copies of anything I’ve been working on in the past one year. And also I think Chandu and the stills from Chandu are in there as well. Sighs. Will only be able to send macmac to see a doctor when I get back to Singapore. In the meantime, life for me has come to an almost complete standstill. Can’t do work, and squinting at this tiny 10 inch screen (my asus eee pc, also known as The Not Mac) is driving me crazy. I can’t even stream videos or open too many tabs without this little guy whirring his fan off.
Well. Moving on with the entry…
I flew back from Amsterdam to Geneva. Normally we leave from Milan Malpensa but it was a little bit cheaper to come back in through Geneva and I’d never been there anyway. I didn’t get to do the visitor tour of the United Nations because of my train schedule. But I did spend a good few hours at the Red Cross museum.
Here’s a picture of the main entrance to the UN anyway…
And a giant broken chair structure outside the UN that I’m sure has some symbolic significance or another…
Red Cross Museum. It was a really nice chronological journey of the Red Cross’ history. Honestly I never knew that the Red Cross originated from Switzerland and that the emblem was precisely intended to be the inversion of the Swiss flag. While the main exhibit was good and full of videos of the Red Cross’ work through the past decades, what impacted me the most wasn’t the main exhibit, but the temporary exhibit on Humanity in War – Frontline Photography since 1860.
There are some occasions where I am reminded why I am here, who we are as human beings and what our priorities should be, and this was one of them. There were many such ‘moments’ on this trip, having been to the Anne Frank House, Dutch Resistance Museum and Jewish Theatre in Amsterdam. And looking at the work of the Red Cross just really confirmed to me how fragile and silly humanity is. If not for the wars we ourselves rage, the Red Cross would not even have been born in the first place. And looking at the codes of honor in war before modern warfare, those codes were so much more honorable than even the current Geneva convention. Going past rows of photos, watching the videos of photographers who are unable to even put words to their work, you would have to be truly heartless or amazingly self-centred to not be able to give a damn.
Most of us are the second. Much of what I’ve learned lately is seared in my mind. I find it hard to articulate these days, perhaps from not having used English much over the past half a year. Writing during examinations and struggling to express myself as I blog is testament to that. But also maybe because I don’t feel like my words can make anyone who reads them understand precisely what my eyes have seen and my heart has felt. An experience is an experience, it is my own and it is personal. I cannot make you see through my eyes what the world looks like to me right now. And even if you were there with me physically, what it means to you may be completely different from what it means to me.
Eyes see only so much, and we choose our own interpretations of the world even when given the same field of sight. Perhaps in personal dialogue I will perform better, so feel free to converse with me if you’re up for a little reflection. But for now, I will remain reminded of my place in this world. If I can’t make it a little better, the least I can do is not make it any worse.
I ended up buying the book (54CHF) of the exhibition, and a short DVD (10CHF).
This is my favourite quote from the book (which is primarily pictures):
“The ICRC is not neutral, the ICRC is not impartial. We are partial, absolutely partial, we are always taking the same side, we are taking the side of the victims and we will always do so, because they are in need.”
Jean Hoefliger, ICRC head of delegation in Lebanon, 1977.
As a Singaporean, I have always taken the concept of the ‘Red Cross’ for granted. After all it was just a CCA in secondary school. We’d never gone to war in our time or had any disasters or crises on our shores. Even the plight of our neighbouring countries were just distant pictures on the front page of newspapers that sat in two-dimension on our tables as we sipped our coffee in the morning and muttered about the failing state of our planet.
Yet as I slowly took in the exhibits, it really began to dawn on me how silently important the Red Cross is, and how important the Red Cross is to individuals, not just people or hoards or masses or crowds, but to individuals.
We all know that you must have been busy doing more important things, and that was the only reason why you did not come to see us. We are not selfish, even though you and your team are our only window, let us say. You alone make it possible for us to breathe.
I would like to apologize for having misjudged you. It is only now that I have learnt what your position in the ICRC really is. Let me, by way of apology, tell you a little story:
A and B are standing together at the seaside. A says the sea is huge. Then he looks up at the sky and says that it is enormous. B thinks that A is mad or, perhaps, that he has never before seen either the sea or the sky. Something like that has happened to me. When I was a free man, perhaps I was as unseeing as B. But now that I am no longer at liberty, perhaps I have drawn a little closer to A’s way of thinking.
You may be certain that we will always wish to see you. Windows are so very important. And for those who have only one window, they are much more than that even.
Letter to ICRC delegate from an internee held in the US facility at Guantanamo, 2008.
There is so much work that the Red Cross does that I never even began to know about. When the newspaper reports have faded and the world has forgotten, who is it that stays, who are the ones left behind to try and salvage the broken lives left behind in the wake of disaster? Yes, in many ways the UN and the Red Cross are powerless to do big things. We smear them with our accusations, a convenient scapegoat when we see inaction. But we never even get to hear the stories of the little things. Of the prison visits to those whose sanity and hope hinge on the infrequent visits of the ICRC delegates. Those who live on the forgotten fringes of society that we ourselves have never considered. We batter them with words, the same way those that they visit often do the same in their own frustration.
It is a thankless job, but they are not there for the praise. What they do is worth more than just our admiration. What they do requires more strength and courage than most of us could ever muster in our comfortable lives. They are not out to change the world, but to make the suffering of individuals just a little more tolerable. To share the burden of humanity, no matter how little, just a little easier to bear.
And so. Maybe I did manage to articulate a little bit of my own thoughts on the experience. Just a little.
I will end this with another quote from James Nachtwey, who wrote the introduction to the book. Another reminder on the role of the photographer. When I feel that photography has lost it’s value, this reminds me why the role of the photojournalist continues to be important for a very human reason.
“Photographs are not cold documents that merely prove something happened. They put a human face on events that might otherwise appear to be abstract or ideological, a matter of statistics or monumental in their global impact. No matter how overwhelming an event, what happens to people at ground level happens to them individually, and photography has a unique ability to portray events from their point of view. Photography gives a voice to the voiceless. It’s a call to action.”