It should have been a normal walk to work. It should have been peaceful like the morning mist that covered the streets. It shouldn´t have rocked my world, but it did.
And suddenly, not even ten feet away, it happened.
The man rammed his bike into the woman. The three females and young child at her side slid away. In shock, the woman stood her ground, but seconds later she sent tumbling to on the ground, sent there by a rage-filled young man who had delivered a devastating right cross to her left cheek.
As the air was penetrated by screams and tears of anger, bewilderment, frustration, and helplessness, I was paralyzed. In split seconds, the options flashed through my mind. Intervene or walk away.
Physically, I towered over the attacker, and for sure had weight on him. One-on-one was in my favor, but the environment was a problem. Here, I was a foreigner, witness to this beating in a country known not only for the incredible amounts of domestic violence but also for its voracious nature. All the graphic pictures and stories of those killed and beaten flooded my mind,
and the words of a recent article admonishing passive bystanders of violence rung in my ears. Filled with doubt, I called my host sister. She told me the best thing to do was to keep walking and find police to intervene, but in reality, police sightings are rare. So reticently, I slunk past them, glancing back, feeling betrayed by an oxymoronic sense of obligation and non-interference, ability and inability.
And just as soon as it started it ended. Silence only interrupted by quiet whimperings and gasps for air. The man picked the child up, put him in the front basket, and rode away.
The sun shined, the birds chirped, trucks roared in the background. I glanced at the women, and followed the shrinking figure of the man on the horizon. It was a return to normality, or was it?
That day it was all I could think about. The event had lasted four minutes, tops. I ran the scenario over and over again, questioning whether I had done the right thing, wondering what would have been the best course of action. At the day´s end, there was no black or white answer, only more questions at the end of that rainbow of gray.
As a student of foreign policy, the similarity of the dilemma which I faced and the US dilemma of engaging in humanitarian intervention was uncanny. What happens when there is no higher authority immediately available? When time is of the essence? Where lines of sovereignty need to be crossed and the safety of those involved will be affected? Who will step forward and why?
These are the questions that we have faced in the Guatemala´s of the 80´s, the Rwanda and Somalia´s of the 90´s, the Darfur´s of the 21st century, and will continue to face in the future.
With no end in sight to humanitarian crises around the globe, it would behoove us (the US) to sit down with not just the best and brightest political minds, but also with concerned citizens and those who have lived out the affects of intervention first hand to sit down and have a serious discussion about how to define the US´s role. Sure, there are no easy answers, but without a chart to guide our actions, we too could be left out in the street, wondering, pondering, hoping for a return to normality.
Posted By Charles Wright (Guatemala)
Posted Jun 29th, 2006