A couple of weeks ago there was a programme on TV in which a British farmer from somewhere like Gloucestershire went to work for a week with a tribal chief in Kenya - a tribe which existed, it seemed, solely to breed cattle and goats and whose whole livelihood depended upon this.
He found it a humbling experience as their life style was so different and so limited by so many different things - their remoteness, their lack of grazing land, their lack of proper water, the threat from wild animals (mainly lions and hyenas), I could go on. Yet it was the life they had always known and in those parts this particular family were 'rich' - they had large herds of cattle and goats, they were all healthy. Their diet consisted of blood gained by bleeding a cow, milk and maize meal. The young men of the tribe had to walk miles every day to find enough food for the cattle and during the non-rainy season they lived with their cattle, sleeping on the ground where the cattle ended up at the end of each day. This was necessary to protect the beast against wild animals and also neighbouring tribes who would try to steal them - and would be prepared to kill in order to do so, so that all the young men carried weapons.
They practised circumcision on the young men (don't shudder you lot out there) and presumably on the women too I would guess.
Now I am re-reading Colin Thubron's 'To a Mountain in Tibet' - one of the most amazing books. Early on, while climbing up the track towards the sacred Mount Kailas (holy to one fifth of the world's population - i.e. Hindu and Buddhist -) he meets an almost destitute man from a remote village. The man says that his old horse is dying, that he has no money to replace it, that his house is falling down and that there is no money to be had in the place. He has never been out of the valley and doesn't see himself every getting anywhere, or the situation any better.
And I ask myself - appalling as these situations seem to us- reading or watching from the comfort of our armchairs, a coffee and perhaps a box of chocs or a whisky by our sides, do we have any right to do anything about this? (the farmer when he returned intended to raise money for a bore hole for the family) and is this poverty as bad as/any worse than that of some of our inner city families who are poor or even sometimes homeless in the most dismal conditions? Do we have any right to interfere in the affairs of another country - i.e. a pressing issue like female mutilation, which happens in so many African countries and which is an appalling injustice to womens'rights apart from anything else. And if so, where does it all end?
These problems bother me every time I read of them or see a programme about them. The Kenyan tribal family felt they were very privileged and rich - there were many families living in very much worse conditions. And as for the man in Tibet - if he had never been to Khatmandu what would he make of life here? At the end of his week in Kenya, the farmer showed the men of the tribe a video of his own farm in the UK. They were enthralled by so much grass, the virtual freedom of the herd (who guards them against lions and hyenas they asked), no guard of the herd (what if another tribe tries to steal them) and the milking machines (what happens to the calves if you steal all the cows' milk).
As I get older these issues cause me a lot of food for thought, but as the weather is still pretty awful (although the sun is shining) I suppose it gives me something to think about as I sit here in the warm.