BY JEANETTE LENOIR
Recently, I stopped by a local pub to meet friends for drinks and conversation. The evening went as usual; a lot of laughs and sharing of all kinds of stories. One particular story stood out to me and touched my heart deeply. I was profoundly saddened by a Reuters News report by Goran Tomasevic titled: Inside the Congo camp haunted by an unknown war. The conflict details the ethnic strife between Hema herders and Lendu farmers that’s partly blamed on the breakdown of the government there.
The report highlighted the story of two sisters. Their images are seared in my mind. The youngest bore a large scar across her face and her older sister is missing part of her arm. Their family and village were attacked by men wielding machetes. It’s a tragic story but one that must be told in my view as we work toward understanding the causes and impact of Man’s brutality toward Man. It seems like the world is on fire. As soon as we hear about a bombing in the Middle East, we’re faced with our own domestic terrorism. If some disturbed individual isn’t shooting up a school or mall, they’re shooting up a Waffle House or anywhere they can find soft targets; innocent people. It’s a lot to take. And sometimes it helps to talk to friends or family about these conflicts, which is what I was doing on this particular day at one of my favorite pubs. Earlier, I shared the images of the sisters on my Instagram account to help bring attention to the pain and suffering being felt by the most innocent among us all over the world; children. Mind you, this story comes on the heels of yet another chemical attack in Syria with children and babies among the victims. I feel helpless…
For me, talking about these tragic stories helps me deal with feeling powerless or simply to vent about it. And, that’s what I was doing sitting at the bar talking to the person next to me. We were sharing a conversation about the conflicts around the world when I brought up this particular story I read on Reuters. I took out my phone and showed him the images of the sisters. Although the conversation was between the two of us, the bartender overheard me talking about the conflict in DR Congo and walked over. I still had my phone in my hand with the image of the older sister on it. The image was a close up of her beautiful face with tears streaming down her cheeks. The bartender looked down across the bar and told me to put it away. He said he didn’t want me to show people the picture or continue to talk about what’s happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With a look of shock on my face, I asked why. He replied, “I want to keep the conversation light here.” I responded by saying, “Why do you think you can tell people what they can or can’t talk about?” He said, “Because I’m the owner and I say what is or isn’t allowed in here.”
His response to a private conversation at a bar made me think about this issue deeper. Can a barkeep dictate what you can and can’t talk about? What discretion does a bartender use? Are people only supposed to talk about “lighthearted” topics at their local watering hole? I posed this question to another friend. And her perspective was similar to mine but she added the issue of a hate group attempting to recruit people sitting at a bar, or someone blatantly being racist. If a bartender hears this, is it their responsibility to stop it? What type of conversation is permitted at a bar? Are tragic news stories taboo topics when sipping an IPA? Are we not allowed to share images with our friends at a bar that are readily available on most major news sights that show all kinds of tragedies that tear at our heart strings? Who sets the tone of bar conversation if there is such a thing? And most importantly, who controls the conversation at the pub?