To be free…

I’ve been mulling over what freedom means this morning–since reading a CNN article about slavery in Mauritania. It’s a chilling article, partially because it is a form of slavery different from what I am aware of from our own history in the United States.

Not different in its effect on people–slavery painfully dehumanizes both slave-owner and slave…and the effects are long-lasting.

But different in its development.

In our country, while there were forms of slavery before the creation of “institution” of slavery that resulted in the importation of thousands of people to serve no other purpose than to be workers without pay, many of those early slaves had ways of becoming free–had hope before them.

When the institution of slavery developed in the United States, it was something new…something different. Slaves were kept in place by physical chains, physical bonds. In many ways slavery was a new layer–and there were people who knew life before it and fought it because of those memories.

But in Mauritania, there isn’t that hope…or that memory. Slavery there has become so much a part of the fabric of life that those who are born into it can’t imagine life any other way. And even those who are able to be freed don’t understand freedom. They are not bound by physical chains, but by something much deeper.

I think part of the story that struck me the most was this:

Abdel, the SOS co-founder, said he freed Yebawa decades ago. He is in his early 40s now works as a servant for Abdel’s family, and others, for pay. But when we asked Yebawa about the moment he was freed, he was confused by the idea. It seemed as though he’d never considered it before.

“No one ever told me I was free. I don’t know what that would be like,” he said through our local translator, who, after the interview, expressed shock to have heard those words come out of the mouth of a person today, even in Mauritania.

So what does freedom mean? How and when does one know they are free?

Another statement from the story: “Freedom is something that must be claimed.”

Something inside each individual must somehow be watered enough to burst into life–the seed of hope…the possibility that there can be a better life. The story does talk about a mother and daughter who are claiming their freedom, and that does give hope.

But there are still so many who are slaves–in Mauritania, slaves to a culture that tells them this is just the way life is. And in our country? Slaves to our wants and our disregard of others’ needs…

When will we all be free? When we can see the D

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