Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Student Protest--George's Post

Wednesday, November 19 Our recent year in Paris acclimatized us to public demonstrations and riots. The Parisians love to protest and apparently have lots to protest about: pro-family rallies; pro-gay demonstrations; marches to support farmers; protests about inadequate teacher salaries and pensions; to name just a few. Our apartment on Avenue Carnot was just a block off the Grande Armee, one of the major arterials running into the Arc de Triumphe, and one of the roads the French dedicate for peaceful demonstrations. So out our large apartment windows we witnessed protests, marches, police in riot gear, police barricades and several violent confrontations between police and protestors. It never dawned on us that we might see, much less be caught up in, a similar demonstration in Blantyre. Late this morning, Carole and I were driving from our apartment to one of the large local grocery stores located midway between Blantyre and Limbe. After turning onto Mahatma Gandhi Avenue, we saw in the distance hundreds of young students, some carrying banners, approaching us. The two or three cars immediately in front of us turned around abruptly in the road—I assumed for the purpose of avoiding the likely traffic delays that would be caused by the march. Not having much room to make a similar turn, and not having any forewarning about the nature of the protest, we pulled off to the side of road, and turned off the engine, to let the students pass. The first wave of students passed by without incidence, but our presence (the only occupied car on the street)began to draw increased attention. Soon students were streaming pass the car on both sides and were increasingly hostile and agitated. About this time, we spotted several brick-carrying students. Suddenly, one young man (we assume a teacher) positioned himself between our car and the students passing by on the street. By watching him, we could tell he was urging the students to leave us alone. Within a minute or so, two other adults joined him. They cleared a path for us to pull our car across the path of the oncoming protestors, off into the private driveway of a large home surrounded by a high security fence. They convinced the home’s guard to open the security gate, allowing us to slip out of view and to get behind the protection of the fence. We sat in the car for about ten minutes until the protestors had passed and traffic on the road resumed. We found the road ahead to be littered with large rocks and broken glass. Certainly we had found ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. I doubt the students would have assaulted us but they might have done some damage to our Toyota truck. Crowd behavior is unpredictable. We were not the target group—after all, the protest was directed against the government, and not whites or westerners. Still the action of the adults warding off the students, and moving us out of harm’s way, suggests that they thought we might be in some danger. Their unsolicited help on our behalf was a blessing. I had my camera in the truck, but it was certainly not the time to be taking pictures. So there are no photos here to memoralize our day’s adventure. The experience does not undermine our belief in the underlying good nature of the Malawians.