Peace is the objective A Family Affair
London-born Amy Eldon, 24, grew up in Kenya with her older brother, Dan. In July 1993, Dan was stoned to death by an angry mob while covering the conflict in Somalia for Reuters. Amy recently made her first visit to the place where Dan was killed, accompanied by her mother Kathy, 52, also a journalist, and a TV documentary crew
Monday 16 November 1998
Dan and I grew up together in Africa. He was the most positive life force that I have ever come across. To think that all that energy could be crushed by hatred was difficult, as I always thought that positivity would redeem everything. It took me a long time to come to terms with that.
I was at college in the US studying international relations when Dan died. After his death, I dropped out of school to get a clearer perspective on what really mattered. I became aware that I was the only one in control of my own destiny. He was only 22, but he was my older brother. He'd looked out for me. I was 18. Suddenly I thought: "My god, it really is up to me."
Soon afterwards I switched to studying broadcasting at Boston University but found little peace. I was still grappling with why Dan would have gone into this crazy profession. I wanted to understand what drew him to such a violent place - I'd heard so many dreadful stories. I wanted to find out who he would have become, had he lived.
I wrote a treatment in class for a documentary about photojournalists. It got a B+, which was fine. But there was more to it than that. My mother and I worked on it some more, together. We took it to Turner Broadcasting, and they said: "Go ahead."
Initially I was wary when they suggested I should be in it and that it should feature Dan. I really had to trust them not to film me crying throughout the whole thing. The English side of me is very private, but my mother is American, and that side of me said: "Get it out there." Besides, I felt a responsibility to pick up where he left off, in a way. Not to become a photojournalist in Somalia, but to try to make people aware that whatever happens - Rwanda, Bosnia, wherever - effects us all.
We were taken to the compound where Dan was killed by a Somali woman whose brother had also been killed there. That was really important to me - to see that these Somalis had lost so much as well. My mother, I and our entire family understand what they have been through. We don't blame them for what happened. We understand the rage, but not the actual killing.
People ask me: "Did you find closure in Somalia?" You never do - it's a continuing process. I'll never say: "There you go, that's done." But I did find peace for myself - and hope.
What helped more than anything was talking to people - hearing stories of compassion within all the horror. What really hurt was when I spoke to one foreign correspondent who told me she had no hope left. I felt betrayed because no matter what Dan saw, he remained optimistic. You have to use the horror to do something constructive.
Otherwise it would rot, fester and eat you up.
Our parents always told us never to leave the house angry, to sort out whatever you have to sort out today. The beauty with Dan is that I don't have anything left to resolve - we are at peace. He knows that I love him, that I wasn't angry with him, and he wasn't angry with me. I see people who aren't getting on well with their families and I want to shake them, and tell them: "Wake up."
That's why I am now working closely with my mother on a range of ideas, including a children's communication project and a book on bereavement. We are very compatible as a team. We bring together the perspective of two different generations. In meetings I can tell her if she's got something stuck in her teeth. She says I tend to be rather conservative. I think sometimes I cramp her style. But it's not an incestuous thing - we have very different lives and a clear respect for each other's privacy. We've been each other's strength.
There was a bombing of a house in Mogadishu and over 100 people were killed or maimed. So when the journalists came people were really angry about what had happened and lashed out. It wasn't a racist thing - because there were two Africans who were also killed at the same time as Dan. It was an enraged response to a totally unjust act.
I didn't think anything would happen to him because I was a journalist, and you operate under this naive belief that everything will be fine. We lived in Kenya at the time. He was so streetwise and so Africa-wise. He kept saying, "Mum, I won't die", and I kept saying, "Great Dan, fine - be careful". "I won't die" - it's a standard approach. I used to say it myself when I was a journalist in Kenya after the coup in 1982.
The last month before his death I was uncomfortable, because it was very dangerous in Somalia. The night he was killed, I had nightmares. Some time before, as I boarded an aeroplane, I wondered what it is like if you have lost someone and have to take a plane ride to a funeral. I had never had such thoughts or feelings in my life.
I was at peace with his death before Amy and I went to Somalia. This is because I was at peace with my relationship with him before he was killed. Ever since the kids were little, we respected them as individuals and treated them as if they had something important to say.
We listened to them and tried hard to encourage their creativity. We were lucky. We were close. We didn't leave things unsaid.
His death had a drastic effect on the direction of our lives. I'd spent a lifetime as a journalist - a communicator - yet, although many of my articles were sensibly important, I came to think what I was doing didn't really matter.
Dan's death focused my attention on issues, ideas, people, humanity, our role and responsibilities as individuals effecting change in the world. I now feel my whole life in a way has been a training ground for what I am now doing with TV, books and plans for a film.
We went to Somalia to tell Dan's story. It was dangerous and a tough experience - especially on Amy. In a curious sort of way during the trip I was more concerned about Amy and whether she would survive it intact emotionally. She was his little sister. But, when we came back we felt quite exhilarated about the life he had led. We had talked to people who had known and worked with him. Many were surprised that we didn't leave feeling sadder, but our trip wasn't so much about the death he had experienced, but the life he had enjoyed.
I now realise I have another 40 or 50 years ahead to focus on issues I'm really passionate about. Dan gave me that gift. I didn't want it, but it was a gift - of clarity and of vision.
Interviews by Meg Carter
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