Tuesday, June 16, 2009

We Can Do Better

I 'stumbled upon' these photos back in the survival days of March, when the Michigan winter had already been cruelly endless. I decided I would hold off and post what I considered to be important, historical photos on April 26th, the 23rd anniversary of the worst and most expensive toxic disaster in our short history as humans creating toxic disasters - the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. Well, come April and spring flowers, and finally relief, these photos and the subject seemed too 'dark side of humanity' at a time when I and many others in Michigan, were simply trying to not be washed down the drain before the days lengthened with sunlight. So I waited. First the mass depression needed to lift.

Then, North Korea began making some noise testing newly-found toys of war and destruction - of the nuclear type. It seemed timely to raise these photos as reminders, but I still couldn't bring myself to it. It made me recall Sunday mornings back in 1982, our baby boy strapped to my back, riding high in the baby backpack. We would go to Williams International, a company not far from here that made engine parts for nuclear cruise missiles. The cruise missiles were relatively new back then; refined nuclear warmaking destruction that some of us weren't keen about being manufactured in our own backyards. People cared about such things back then. It wasn't unusual to be worried about nuclear destruction. It was a time before the term itself became an artful joke with that wild and crazy, tongue-twisting caricature we called a president.

"Hmmm... How are we ever going to get the people to lighten up around the idea of nuclear proliferation?"

"I know! Let's have him say it in some whacky way - over and over again - like nook-yu-loor! And let's make it so he never can say it right! It'll be a riot!"

And so we stopped thinking about it much, the cruise missiles, the earthquake fault lines, the old equipment, the highly disturbed world leaders with their finger on the button, the toxic waste piling up with no proper storage. It was a bit overwhelming to consider I suppose, and anyway, the way he said "nook-yu-loor"! That shit was too funny!

I'm not sure what was so different in 1982 that people would gather on their Sunday mornings in sun, rain or snow to protest at the front gate of a tools of war facility. It was better than any Sunday morning church I'd ever attended in my life. We felt like we were putting 'faith in action' or some such ideology filtered down from the likes of the outlaw priests - the Berrigan Brothers. I remember a bright, crisp, Sunday in January, my baby bundled in his snowsuit, just a bit of pudgy face peeking out from under his hood, hat and scarf. He was having fun, smiling and laughing, looking down at the people. (He always loved to ride high above the crowd, peering over his Papa's head and shoulders.) We were out there for him; we were out there because of our complicit guilt: we had so recklessly and selfishly brought him into this world of ours - maybe, just maybe, somehow, we could make a difference for his life, for his future.

Who knows? All we can do is to try our best; do what we can do for the next generations coming up. Hopefully they'll get a chance to have a crack at it, and maybe do it a tiny bit better. I place a lot of hope in evolution.

But not if we forget. Or never even look in the first place.

Here's a look. Time froze in Chernobyl on April 26, 1986. Twenty-three years later, it still stands there, exactly the same as the day they left the schools, hospitals and homes abandoned. These pictures are very eerie. They need to be seen. They need to not be forgotten. Just as Williams International was in my backyard in 1982, so is Chernobyl in 2009. In the end, there is no good time to share pictures such as these. They've haunted me long enough, nagging at me to put them out there. Flor y canto is about inheritance. Unfortunately, this too is a part of the inheritance we leave behind.

I have to believe, we can do better.

Deserted secondary school near Chernobyl, Illinsty, Ukraine
(Image credits:misterbisson via:villageofjoy.com)

Chernobyl Today: A Creepy Story told in Pictures
By Village Mayor

In the 'Zone of Alienation' in northern Ukraine, Kiev Oblast, near the border with Belarus. Its population had been around 50,000 prior to the accident. Today, the only residents are deer and wolves along with a solitary guard.

Prypiat used to be proud for being home to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant workers. But something happened on 26 April 1986…

It took three days before all permanent residents of Chernobyl and the 'Zone of Alienation' were evacuated due to unsafe levels of radioactivity. People from around the Soviet Union were forced to come and work here in order to liquidate the danger and evacuate the residents. Many of the workers died or had serious illness from radiation. My father was also recruited for this operation, but he bribed corrupt local officers with some good sausages which were rare and a valuable item at those times, so he’s fine and alive today.

Let the story be told by these magical pictures taken ~20 years later after the accident.

“The sign on the road to Pripyat, the town where the workers of the nuclear plant lived.”
(Image credits:Pedro Moura Pinheiro via:villageofjoy.com)

The bridge of death (Image credits:Vivo (Ben) via:villageofjoy.com)

“After the explosion at Reactor 4 the people of Pripyat flocked on the railway bridge just outside the city to get a good view of the reactor and see what had happened. Initially, everyone was told that radiation level was minimal and that they were safe. Little did they know that much of the radiation had been blown onto this bridge in a huge spike.” They saw beautiful rainbow coloured flames of the burning graphite nuclear core, whose flames were higher than the smoke stack itself. All of them are dead now - they were exposed to levels of over 500 roentgens, which is a fatal dose.

“Pripyat Funfair was due to be opened on May 1st. The Chernobyl disaster happened April 26th. No one ever managed to ride the ferris wheel. It remains one of the most irradiated parts of Pripyat since the disaster, making it still dangerous today, 23 years on.” (Image credits:Vivo (Ben) via:villageofjoy.com)

“Nursery in the creche/kindergarten”. (Image credits:hanszinsli via:villageofjoy.com)


I took these photos from a link I couldn't link directly to here, but if you'd like to see the complete portfolio of photos go to this webpage (which includes many other fine artists): http://www.stumbleupon.com/s/#6sJQYe/villageofjoy.com/amazing-graffiti-art-by-bansky//
and scroll down a very short way - under '10 Most Commented' on the right hand side you will find the link to more of the Chernobyl photos.


Sandi said...

This piece and the photos are indeed haunting, both profoundly disturbing and profoundly beautiful. The image in my head of you and your son is both hopeful and sad. My brain says, "Have we learned nothing?" My heart cries, "Yes, but we are so slow that way!" Change must be one of the mountains that we keep hitting with that little shovel.

Dedalus1947 said...

Ah, synchronicity! Today my assistant principal mentioned that one of our teachers, an immigrant from Russia, taught in a school near Chernobyl. She was still trying to live down the fact that the principal had made her distribute letters to the children telling their parents that they were safe and that everything was fine. We accepted this bit of information without judgment, but we were all unsettled at the role educators play in lying for the government. She's a competent teacher and is happy to live and work in the United States. I wonder now if she feels that she has escaped that kind of heavy-handed pressure, only to be faced with another, more subtle one. I hope not.

el poquito said...

"Change must be one of the mountains that we keep hitting with that little shovel."

Sandi, thank you for the reminder. Perhaps the shovel is the mustard seed referred to a couple thousand years ago.

Dedalus, Welcome. Wow. Thank you for sharing about the teacher from Russia and bringing this home.

re: "we were all unsettled at the role educators play in lying for the government" That says volumes also!

We are all asked to look away, aren't we? And it can be so overwhelming it's easily complied with.

I certainly offer no solutions other than attempting to keep our eyes open at all times. Alert, awake, aware!

With what she experienced first hand,he can walks away from that experience all the more a Teacher. Your sharing of her story teaches me, a stranger in Michigan, something about the hidden price paid with compliance or quiet acquiescence. I wish her well, and healing through the touching of other new, young lives. I'm sure they're fortunate to have her.

tarzan said...

My God my friend..... I cry for ourselves, for our choice to be ignorant and .......

Uncaring? When will we learn that Ignorance is NOT bliss

Uncaring, or just our refusal to look at reality and do nothing about it.

To turn away, even from saving our own lives as we allow the destruction of human kind.

How can some choose not to pick up the shovel or at least acknowledge the mountain......

Our attempts at a fantasy of paradise can and will lead us into oblivion....

literally and completely and for certain.

el poquito said...


Earth. It ain't for sissies.

Hard work. No escaping it. And the love, the beauty inherent to this place, also make it all worth it. You only have to look as far as your grandchild's face to be reminded.

It's all good. And it begins with remembering and then making today a good day,

Why is it a good day? Because we determine to make it so. We choose to remember. We choose to do better, over and over again.

el po

el poquito said...

In looking at statistics on this blog I see that this piece is traveling around the world recently. I'd be curious to hear comments from folks outside the United States.

You can easily leave a comment anonymously. Just write in the "Leave Your Comment" box; check the dot for 'Anonymous' and you'll be asked to type a word verification - Simple. That's it.

I appreciate your thoughts, words and time in advance.

el poquito