By Mawuse Ziegbe
This week’s column was supposed to be all about art. I was having a very New York Friday which included a mouth-watering pastrami sandwich at the tourist-infested but very hype-worthy Carnegie Deli in Midtown. Then I popped by MoMa to take in the convergence of imagination and technology with “Design and the Elastic Mind” and the ambitious use of hues in “Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today.” But my blithe metropolitan day was interrupted by a vigil in Union Square.
If you’re a socially conscious citizen of the world, you’re aware of the Tibet’s irascible relationship with China, which has controlled the nation for decades. If you’re like me, you have a cursory knowledge of the turmoil that is mostly relegated to ratty Free Tibet t-shirts and college demonstrations. I am aware of the recent clashes with the Chinese government in Tibet that have helped anti-Beijing protests gain traction with riled up demonstrators snuffing out the Olympic flame and swinging from bridge cables. But for all the activist theatrics, stumbling onto this vigil in downtown New York made the crisis in Tibet much more immediate.
There were hundreds of supporters in the misty evening weather surrounding an array of candles that spelled out “FREE TIBET.” In one corner, a group of dedicated supporters huddled together all waiting to get their heads shaved. Head-shaving is a Hindu way of mourning the death of a loved one and protesters around the world have been shaving their heads as a gesture of solidarity. There were mostly men of all ages; a teen snapped a picture of his friend getting sheared at the request of his parents while older gentlemen placidly prayed and draped themselves in the Tibetan flag. Ponytails and power mullets melted away as more people crowded around in unity.
One woman was overcome with grief, weeping and wailing, in what I assume is Tibetan, throughout the night. I couldn’t understand her words but I could feel the emotion. When it was time for her to get shaved, the crowd edged in and a wall of camera phones set off flashes and snapped videos. Clearly, showing her support was so important that she seemed oblivious to the insta-paparazzi that cropped up. And I think seeing that emotion up close, took the conflict out of the abstract and literally put it at my feet. I have never been so happy to see someone get a haircut.
I am guilty of apathy. I stay educated through the media; my TV is constantly stuck on CNN and I get BBC news emails. But rarely do I take my interest in news past my inbox or my idiot box. And I’ve been to demonstrations but I’ve been to far more parties. However, I think lip-service isn’t always benign and perhaps just chatting about my experience in this here column will bring the conflict to someone else’s fingertips.