Sunday, 24 March 2013

Which is worse?

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.  


Elizabeth said...

Dear Weaver,
That is the problem with having a lively mind..... you start pondering the plight of an unfair universe. So difficult to know if it is right to try to right the wrongs out there.
As for foreign countries, America's meddling has done nothing but cause worse misery.
Probably safer to send a check to something like Doctors without Borders who do immediate good.
One of Claudia's friends has an extraordinary life as an aid worker in every awful place you can imagine.
Syria, Darfur, Yemen...a really lovely young woman who has had to have kidnapping training etc etc. I admire her courage.
Looking forward to better weather.

Tom Stephenson said...

That's the trouble with the super-fast distribution of (usually bad) news these days - all it does is make you feel impotent about situations which have been going on for hundreds of years before you ever heard about them. Trying to impose a Western regime of 'freedom and democracy' on other people whose tribal traditions we have not bothered to educate ourselves about usually back-fires though. Look at Iraq and Afghanistan.

Heather said...

It is hard to imagine such dire lack of facilities from our comfortable western viewpoint. I agree with you that it might be wrong to interfere, but helping each community to have a supply of fresh water and access to a clinic of some kind would help improve their lives without too much interference.

MorningAJ said...

It always amazes me that man goes to war in the name of religion but cruelties such as female circumcision are ignored. Some things we SHOULD fight about.

Rachel Phillips said...

Well Weaver, what do you think? I note that you are troubled by the question.

Pondside said...

No answers here. When I look at what's been done in the name of freedom in the Middle East I know that governments don't have the answer.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks to those who answered. It seems we all agree that we are more or less impotent in the whole thing. Maybe we should be the ones in power - or would we change once we were there?

Mary said...

I have seen similar situations in African countries. I have stood in a village where one cranky old pump supplies dripping water for the animal herds, the crops, several hundred people........they were smiling, they appeared happy..........we really have no right to change their lives do we?

Your commenter pinpoints America's meddling but quite honesty there are many other countries who are doing the same. We, the average American on the street, agree that we should stay out of other countries' business - there are so many people and causes here needing that money and manpower. Not all Americans have comfortable lives! As Pondside says, "governments don't have the answers" - and men, being what they are, sadly will always go to war!

OK, off the soapbox - wishing you a lovely Spring/Easter week ahead in your beautiful corner of the world.

Hugs - Mary

Dominic Rivron said...

I remember thinking, after watching Herzog's Herdsmen of the Sun (about a tribe in Africa) that the film was made when I was a young man, and that most of the young men in the film would probably be dead now, given their life expectancy. I'm still healthy and still feel young. They surely have a right to some of that.
On a brighter note, for all the forces pushing the other way I suspect we live in a world more equipped -and prepared- to make it happen than it was 300 years ago.

We need to take the long view. China is doing a hell of a lot to support African countries right now. It knows that investment now means political influence in the future.

A country that wants such influence is wise to offer aid.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Some interesting replies here - all merit careful reading and a lot of thought - thanks for joining in the discussion.