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Tuareg people spread across five nations in the central Sahara have long sought independence. But last January rebels in Northen Mali began a movement for succession. (Photo via <a href="http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/homepage/"> magharebia.com</a>)
Tuareg people spread across five nations in the central Sahara have long sought independence. But last January rebels in Northen Mali began a movement for succession. (Photo via magharebia.com)

Until a couple weeks ago, you probably didn’t think much about Mali, the large, former French colony that spans North and West Africa.

I know I didn’t.

But then we started hearing about French troops invading northern Mali, and militants kidnapping foreign workers in Algeria and that this all somehow connected to the fall of Gaddafi in Libya.

So, what’s going on in North Africa, and why does it matter to us way over here in Seattle?

Public transportation in South Waziristan, in the lawless Tribal Areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan. (Photo by Gohar Masud)
Public transportation in South Waziristan, in the lawless Tribal Areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan. (Photo by Gohar Masud)

My friend and I squeeze in the front seat of the pickup.

We’re lucky–others are stuck in the back without seats in the freezing winter, getting tossed in the air when the driver crests the hills.

It was another one of those days when I would travel between my home in Dera Ismail Khan and South Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s lawless Tribal Areas, to sell medical supplies for Abbott Labs, an American healthcare company.

Vitamins, antibiotics, Ensure, Similac, Sensimil, Formance, Isomil; basic products you’d find in any hospital or pharmacy in Seattle were a godsend to families in Waziristan. Nobody seemed to care that they were produced by an American company.

By the time I finished my sales at 4pm it was pretty late to start the six-hour trip back home through the so-called no-man’s-land along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But I had a bad feeling. I just wanted to get out of there, despite the urging of locals who told us it wasn’t wise to travel during the night.

A late night game of street ball in Hong Kong (Photo by Marcus Hansson)
A late night game of street ball in Hong Kong (Photo by Marcus Hansson)

Once people discover that I speak some basic Chinese, the typical conversation I have here in Juijiang goes something like this:

A few standard queries regarding my nationality, occupation, marital status, salary, and maybe my opinions on Chinese food.

And then it happens.

“Which city are you from?”

“I am from Seattle.” I say, bracing myself for the nearly inevitable response.

“Ah, Seattle. The Chaoyinsu” (literally “Exceed Sound Speed” – the Supersonics).

Our hapless Seattleite protagonist now must explain how the Sonics have moved to another city, they are no longer called the Supersonics, and how Seattle sports fans constantly suffer from the trauma of having defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

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Vancouver band Bad Fate (Photo by Steve Louie)
Bad Fate (Photo by Steve Louie)

The first few times my Seattle-based band went to Vancouver, Canada to play D.I.Y. gigs, the city felt perfect.

Apparently, our B.C. buds enjoyed non-stop kick-ass shows with cross-genre bills and supportive crowds free of haters and assholes.

That’s all true, but it’s a bit more complicated.

While Vancouver is beautiful, its rents are high, its daily provisions overpriced. When not enabling puritanical liquor policies and corporate nightlife, local government re-writes bylaws to keep underground music out of sight.

The labor board’s latest ad campaign patronizes: “Hipster is not a real job.” An older one lectures: “Chance your music will get you signed: 0.00563%.” Many of those I’ve met live in creaky communal houses.

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(Photo from Flickr by NYC Marines)
(Photo from Flickr by NYC Marines)

Imagine a thirteen year old boy trying to stay awake after walking more than three days in the desert. He’s so desperate for water that he drinks from a puddle where a dead body has fallen. 

Now imagine that seven years later that boy can’t get a legal job, go to college or visit his family, all because he’s an undocumented immigrant. 

That’s the story of Andres Rocete, and hundreds of thousands of children that are brought to the United States in hopes of a better future.

But finally, these youth see a light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offers them a chance to come out of the shadows to study and work legally in the US.

I talked to three friends who have applied for the program to find out how it’s working for undocumented youth and get tips for other young immigrants thinking of applying: