New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 203

new internationalist
issue 203 - January 1990

Letters

The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity.
Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : ni@newint.org

Back to the imperial era
Cover of the NI issue 202. I read your issue on architecture (NI 202) with dismay. To prescribe beauty and decide what people should and should not like about where they live smacks of arrogance and elitism. You do not consider the possibility that some people may actually enjoy the view from atop a highrise.

It is simple-minded to assert that everyone can or should be involved in the complexities of designing universities or opera houses. Your tendency to romanticize the vernacular belongs to the imperial era of glorifying 'the noble savage' while stealing his/her land. How many shantytowns of the Third World would not cherish one of those suburban bungalows you so despise?

Seymour Jackson
Ontario, Canada

Shocked response
I was horrified to read that Bishop John Shelby Spong has received death threats because he supports committed monogamous relationships between gay and lesbian people (Homosexuality NI 201). I am a Christian and cannot agree with what John wrote in his article Sodom Revisited. But it saddens me that people could send death threats because they don't agree with something. Where is the Christian love that Jesus talked about? People who write things like that make themselves as bad as the thing they attack.

Peter Hughes
Merseyside, UK

Elitist posture
Dexter Tiranti's meeting with the New Zealand customs officer (NI 200) should have taught him not to make assumptions about people. He might then have thought twice about his ridiculous and insulting implication that readers of the 'gutter press' and 'popular newspapers' are not concerned about the state of the world.

You may like to consider the fact that readers of the popular press contributed millions to BandAid, SportAid, Comic Relief etc; have taken solidarity action in support of trade unionists in South Africa and Namibia; are informed about workers' conditions in the equivalent industries to their own in the Far East and so on.

Come on NI, stop your elitist posturing and question the quality of your coverage. Just because the Guardian hasn't got tits and bums on every page doesn't mean it isn't sexist.

Jane Foxworthy
Leicester, UK

Happy birthday
May I extend my heartiest congratulations to Dexter Tiranti, Lesley and Peter Adamson. Troth Wells and the whole NI team on reaching the 200th issue. Please do not be concerned about measuring how much NI has done over the years; it is not easy to quantify the awareness, understanding and other benefits your publication has brought to the children of the Third World. Magazines like NI do change public opinion, though it may take a long, long time.

Dr S Hameed
Kent, UK

Painful cuts
I read your article Two Decades in the Life of the World (NI 200) with both pleasure because it is well written - and despair, because development has been thrown into reverse. It is very hard convincing powers like the World Bank to adopt policies that truly help the poorest. And the recent World Bank and IMF meetings did not sound encouraging for the most indebted nations who are constantly forced to make cuts where it hurts most: health, education and food subsidies. If these institutions genuinely want to help the poor, they should give priority to helping voluntary organizations. It is also time to insist on a borrower having a good track record in ending hunger in their own country, before they get money.

Jessica von Boeventer
Wiltshire, UK

Silly joke
Re the 'Enaye Islands' (NI 200) - who are you kidding? These islands do not exist! I searched loads of encyclopedias, gazetteers etc. No mention of the 'Enaye Islands'. I even searched the Cambridge Encyclopaedias of Languages for a mention of the 'Enaye' language. Zilch! And then it struck me. 'Enaye' - pronounced NI. The signature at the bottom, clinched it: Jane Doe - which is a synonym for The-Woman-in-the-Street.

How could you do this to me? I look to NI for factual, thought-provoking journalism, not April Fool's Day articles. And while you are about it, please drop that stupid name Aotearoa for New Zealand. The whole world apart from a handful of Maoris know it as New Zealand ... are you trying to con a few subscriptions from them?

Frank Halls
Dandenong, Australia

Editor: The UN has been advised by the New Zealand Government that 'Aotearoa' may now be used interchangeably with 'New Zealand'.

Fortress right
In The Palestine / Israel conflict (NI 199), Ms Shaw refers to 'Israel's fortress mentality'. She should understand that every country in the world has an incontrovertible right to a 'fortress mentality' and every country has been historically allowed the right to keep its borders intact and protect its people from invasion by hostile forces. She should recall that Arabs were very aggressive towards Israel, refusing to admit the possibility of a Jewish State in the Middle East. And she should also remember Israel's small size.

B Davenport
London, UK

Cartoon by VIV QUILLIN

Delinquent goddess
Goddess worship (History of the World NI 196) is primarily suitable for extreme feminists who want to dominate men. The stories about these goddesses show that they are not beneficent; they are mostly older females who choose young men - sometimes even their own sons - as lovers to be kept in subjugation. Goddess worship is associated with human sacrifice, prostitution, castration and sexual orgies - it should not be recommended.

Marion Laring
Isle of Wight, UK

Noble struggle
Richard Swift's comments in your Cancer issue (NI 198) are insightful and empowering. Shortly before reading the magazine, I watched a TV commentary criticizing terms like 'AIDS patient' or 'AIDS victim'. Expressions like 'people living with AIDS' are preferable. The word 'patient' does not describe a person; it describes a relationship with a doctor. My mother developed Hodgkin's Disease in 1968 and was told she had three months to live. She's alive to this day and has been in full remission for years. People living with cancer, people living with AIDS, people living in today's world all face struggles. And some aspect of struggle is always ennobling.

Barrie Zwieker
Toronto, Canada

Insensitive treatment
Your article Ten ways to get cancer (Cancer NI 198) was insensitive and implied that the responsibility for getting the illness lies solely with the individual. To suggest that individuals 'deserve' or choose to get cancer through their actions is absurd and wrong. As someone bereaved through the disease, I felt angry and upset by the flippancy with which you dealt with this subject.

Louise Kilbride
Birmingham, UK

Religious challenge
We have noticed certain errors concerning Islam in the History of the World (NI 196). It was stated that Islam was based on the worship of a 'Father God'. This is totally unfounded. The God that Muslims worship is free from any 'creaturely' attributes and in fact the Arabic term 'Allah' possesses neither gender nor plural. Moreover, the presence of an image of the 'Great Goddess' on the Black Stone in the Kaaba is certainly a myth. It is difficult to believe that a religion so strongly anti-idolatry would allow such an image to exist in the holiest of shrines.

R Ali Bhai,
General Secretary Islamic Information Bureau
London, UK

Chris Brazier writes: Many Muslim readers have written in to protest at the idea that the Black Stone carries a pagan image. My source material seems to have been wrong and I apologize for any offence caused.

Workers unite
The concluding discussion on historical inevitability in The History of the World (NI 196) wants much stronger resolve. It should have stressed - as Marx does - the importance of workers everywhere gaining complete control of production as the way out of their historical tyrannies. When this happens - as one day it must - the 'industrial railroad track' will be altered. Workers will realize that they share a common interest. They will no longer be divided. A 'new direction' will be achieved as Marx predicted when he wrote that workers of the world must unite.

Don Abbott
Newfoundland, Canada

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The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

Letter from La Paz

Trashing lives
At night on the city rubbish tip in La Paz, strange
things start to happen. Susanna Rance reports.

Little Amaru looked down at the street and kicked a can with his red gumboots. 'We're near home, aren't we?' he concluded. 'Yes, love, how do you know?' his dad replied. 'Because there's rubbish. That's life isn't it, Papi?'

The rubbish tip has been part of the scene since we moved to our market street seven years ago. By day it is invisible: only a layer of dust remains on the stretch of pavement where vendors sit selling fruit, vegetables and spicy food. Passers-by pause here to admire the spectacular view over shanty-town rooftops, across the crater-like basin of the city to the Andean ranges on the other side. Above them towers the snow-capped Mount Illimani, symbol and guardian of La Paz.

As night falls, the scene changes. The encroaching dark is a signal for people to emerge from nearby houses with boxes and bins to dump their trash. At first a discreet pile, the mound grows steadily until it covers the pavement almost knee-deep for 20 yards.

Then the scavengers move in. Flames flicker as they set light to the rubbish - not to reduce it to ashes but to see what is worth collecting. Poking around with sticks, they hold up promising finds to examine them, while eerie shadows move between the fires on the black tip.

Among the regulars at our dump are a pack of stray dogs, rooting around for bones and scraps. They compete with neighbours gleaning left-overs for their rabbits, sheep and pigs. Another group combs the refuse for tins, bottles and plastic containers to be sold on junk stalls.

Then come the children for whom the nightly forage produces not only improvised toys but anything which can conceivably be sold to raise a bit of cash. Some are street kids who rely on their ingenuity to keep alive. They take their night's work seriously and do the rounds of local houses, carting bundles of trash to the tip for a few pennies, and getting first pick of each load.

David, aged nine, empties our bin in the yard to pick out the salvageable items before he crams the rest into a sack to take to the dump. 'I can sell these in the Sunday market for 50 pence,' he says, carefully setting aside a bundle of Time magazines. A bottomless dustbin, a plastic oil container and a private selection of empty bottles have already been added to his private junk heap, waiting to be collected one day when he has time.

To some the rubbish tip is an eyesore. To others it means a chance to recycle whatever may still have a shred of use. Nothing is wasted and only the dregs are left, charred and thoroughly sifted, by the time the municipal refuse truck comes through at dawn the next day.

In La Paz, social status is marked by altitude, with the well-to-do preferring the balmier climate at the bottom of the city basin. Down there, trash is discreetly disposed of by aproned maids who run out with bins when the municipal truck comes by. The best-class rubbish is found at the gates of high-walled mansions, their privacy protected by barking German Shepherd dogs and uniformed guards.

Up at the top of the city, the refuse trucks are nowhere in sight. Dumps form haphazardly, filling crevices in the eroded landscape, littering wasteland and clogging streams. Kids play on the tips amidst swarms of flies.

One organisation of shanty-town women, concerned about the risk to their children's health, did a survey to find out where dumps were located and what they consisted of. The results were disconcerting: many tips were only yards from schools and markets. And one of their main components was human excrement, since few houses have toilets in the poorer zones.

The women set up a project to make cheap, home-built latrines with local materials. While that took shape, they organised a massive dump-clearing campaign, with voluntary teams working in each zone. Pregnant women and grandmothers kept the children entertained with puppet shows at a safe distance from the tips, while others worked together to pile up, bum and bury the rubbish.

The Town Hall, afraid of bad publicity, sent a convoy of refuse trucks around the shanty towns the day before the campaign. But the task of clearing hundreds of tips was too much for them to take on at the last minute.

'We're living on top of a load of trash,' said community leader Nelida, shovel in hand, a handkerchief tied bandit-style over her face against the dirt, smoke and dust. 'We're getting contaminated and our kids are getting sick. We have to deal with the problem ourselves, until the authorities remember we exist.'

Susanna Rance is a writer and researcher who has lived in Bolivia for several years.

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