A Green Lantern In Africa: A Story of Mixed Reality Activism
KallfuNahuel Matador guarding the Darfur site in Second Life... Kall's real life owner, helping with humanitarian relief in Africa
If you found your consciousness raised in a virtual world, how far would you go, to do something about it? As a possible point of reference, here is the story of a virtual superhero, who brought his ideals with him when he logged off from his computer, and applied them on the other side of the world. Back in 2006, I wrote about KallfuNahuel Matador, a leading member of the Green Lantern Core, a guild of roleplaying superheroes who once found themselves protecting Better World, a genocide awareness site in Second Life, against the griefers who would destroy it.
Back then, I essentially asked Mr. Matador how it felt to devote so much effort protecting a virtual information site to an African tragedy, when so much real pain was still happening in the real continent.
"I can only do so much in real life," he told me then, "and I suppose only so much in SL as well. But I think every little bit counts."
As it turns out, he had more than a little bit to offer, because awhile ago, the man behind KallfuNahuel Matador shared with me the photo above right -- in it, he is lifting heavy relief supplies from a truck in Africa, outside a community center in Swaziland. (He's obscured his facial features because he'd like to keep his real world identity secret, for reasons that are interesting, though that's all I can say.) He was there as a direct result of the people he met in Second Life, through his Green Lantern avatar.
"The friends I made in the Virtual Camp Darfur are heavily involved in humanitarian activities in their first lives. Better World and Camp Darfur were extensions of their work and attempts to spread the word of the causes they stood for," Mr. Matador tells me now. Inspired by their work, last year he joined them on a relief mission to Africa, a time of backbreaking but rewarding labor.
He remembers the time he served 500 school kids what would be their only meal of the day, a thought that staggered him. "Looking out at their faces," he remembers now, "feeling overwhelmed and helpless. Then seeing the kids, playing and smiling and shoving each other, one group even had a soccer ball. . . it hit me, they're just kids! There's nothing different here but their circumstances. They still want to play and run around and they didn't need me feeling sorry for them. So I got back to work."
He remembers the community center book keeper, a man the Western volunteers came to calling "Mr. T" for somewhat inexplicable reasons. ("The guy with the really bad haircut?" Mr. T wondered, perplexed, when they told him his nickname.) Mr. Matador and his fellow volunteer, known in Second Life as Zeke Poutine, wondered how they'd explain to their African hosts the role Second Life played, in bringing them there. "We discussed telling them we'd met in SL, but the idea of a virtual world where we interact but not in our own bodies? Difficult to convey. I may have discussed it one night with Mr. T and a friend, but I don't remember how that went down. A lot of laughing at the funny Canadian, I imagine."
Despite the strange circumstances that brought him there, Mr. Matador remembers feeling that it was the right thing to do, especially on the road from Swaziland to Lesotho, when another volunteer known in SL as Riversong Garden caught sight of a convenience store. "'Kall! Wait, stop, look!'" He recalls her saying. (As is often the case with SLers who meet in person, she did sometimes address him by his avatar name.) "We all got out and this is what we saw. They said, 'See? You were meant to be here!'"
I ask KallfuNahuel what advice he would give other SLers who wanted to transfer their Second Life activism into the real world as ambitiously as he did.
"I guess I would say, really get to know the people you're working with in SL, research their RL projects," he tells me. "Get to know them, talk to them, see if there's a 'fit' for you in their cause... Or, And if you aren't lucky enough to be able to travel far and wide, then find a way to help the cause locally."
All photos courtesy KallfuNahuel Matador