New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 296

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

Horrific image
Cover of Issue 294 As much as I see the need to gather and report as much as possible about this awful topic (Landmines NI 294) I do not wish to see terrible photos like the one published in your issue. As I turned to that page my stomach twisted and made me feel sick – I know I will not open it again and will never read the article there, just to protect myself from the horrible picture.

I can see the point that you wanted to make but I believe NI readers have enough imagination to know what such weapons do to people. I personally am not yet numbed from photos of terror which seem to have become the done thing nowadays.

Ilse Debler-Grant
Hamburg, Germany

Princess Diana
Judging by your very studied and deliberate denial of her existence in your issue on Landmines (NI 294) it appears that your magazine could not come to terms with the likes of Princess Diana. Perhaps she didn’t fit into your preconceived idea of how a campaigner should act/look/think. For goodness sake, loosen up: is it really so abhorrent to have a glitsy, glamorous role model once in a while?

The tone of NI can sometimes suggest that we, subscribers and writers, are of course the only people who really care in an otherwise evil, selfish and materialistic world. It would be easy (and convenient) for us to forget that an in-house magazine for the already converted in-crowd can never hope to reach the many millions that she did. Sour grapes? Jealousy? Scorn for a populist approach? I hope not.

Tom Bower
Oxford, England

Ed: The issue on landmines was conceived and published before Princess Diana’s death. We did have discussions about whether to include her but felt that the most useful job that we could do was to present the full horrible facts about landmines and to focus on some of the stories and people not covered in the mainstream press. We saw our special issue as a contribution to the worldwide campaign of which the Princess was such an important part. Our fervent hope is that the world will be chastened by her death into making the ban on landmines complete and sustainable.

Too poor
In deeming child domestic service ‘slavery’, Maggie Black (‘Caged birds, silent song’ Child Labour NI 292) is looking at a developing country’s social reality through Northern eyes. As a native of India, I read the dynamics of the situation rather differently.

Employers of children as domestic help are not stoney-hearted villains; usually they are middle-class people, themselves struggling to make a living. The author finds hypocritical the employers’ claims that the children are a part of their households. To me, their words ring true. Many do look after the children’s health and well-being (the only form of medical insurance they are likely to get). The reality often is that they have no decent, clean homes with regular meals and clean water and their parents see the free food and housing as a benefit.

Child domestic employment is not harshly exploitative in the same way as child bonded labour in quarries and carpet looms. But I am not suggesting that it is good. The work the children do is demeaning. Educational opportunities can help them break the bitter cycle of poverty. However, talking about improving projects for child domestics is starting at the wrong end. Children are in domestic service in the first place because their families are too poor to raise them. If we are recommending change, improving their parents’ household security is the key.

Lily Philipose
Chevy Chase, US

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Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Public understanding
In your keynote article (Gene Dream NI 293) it would appear that you have mixed up the genetic bases and the genes. You state that the Human Genome Project ‘will have identified the three billion genes that make up a human being’. The current understanding is that there are a hundred thousand gene pairs allocated on the forty-six chromosomes which comprise an estimated three billion bases (AGCT).

I realize that the issue is geared to the implications of genetic engineering and its impact on the North-South divide rather than biological accuracy. I do feel that attention to biological detail for the enhancement of public understanding is important. Too many people already feel confused by this whole new field of research and need to be encouraged to re-enter the arguments that will affect them in the near future.

E M Haynes
Chadwell Heath, England

Opt-in organs
The genetic engineering of animals for, among other things, xenotransplantation was discussed by Danny Penman in Gene Dream (NI 293). Since this practice is potentially dangerous to humanity and very probably cruel to animals, it should only be considered when no other option is available.

There is a much safer and more ethical alternative; to switch the decision about donating one’s organs from an ‘opt in’ to an ‘opt out’. The British system of donor cards and relatives’ consent constrains the supply and so creates a market for organs – and the abuses that follow.

Julian Jones
Portsmouth, England

Women Ink
Sustainable Development or Malignant Growth? Perspectives of Pacific Island Women (Action NI 291) is indeed an excellent informational and thought-provoking book. It can be obtained worldwide through Women Ink – an organization which should be a standard source for readers of the NI as it supplies a wide variety of books in development, gender, appropriate technology etc. Women Ink, 777 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017. Tel: (212) 687 8683. Fax: (212) 661 2704. email: wink@igc.apc.org

Barbara Pirie
Lautoka, Fiji and Honolulu, HI, US

NI writer faces execution
Brandon Astor Jones, author of the Endpiece in NI 294 and other articles, has been re-sentenced to death and scheduled for execution between November 3-20, 1997. Brandon’s attorney, Tony Axam, says he intends to lodge all possible appeals in pursuit of justice. Eighteen years ago, after a slipshod trial in which he was allowed only half-an-hour consultation with his court-appointed attorney, Brandon was convicted of ‘felony’ murder (i.e. Brandon did not kill anyone). The original prosecutor was able to obtain a sentence of death by labelling Brandon a ‘career criminal’ based on his prior arrests during civil-rights unrest in the 1960s. During his eighteen years on Death-Row, Brandon Astor Jones has come to be a well-read columnist, defending issues of human rights from a tiny cell to which he is confined alone 23 hours a day. His writing has helped bring the plight of more than 3,300 prisoners on US Death-Rows into the public eye. Those wishing to offer support should contact Australians Against Executions, PO Box 640, Milsons Pt., NSW 2061, Australia, Tel/Fax 61 2 9427 9489. Donations are urgently needed to assist in his appeals and can be made out to Brandon Astor Jones Defence Fund.

Robbie Casey
Milsons Pt., Australia

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

Errata: NI 295, TRASH article, should read:
“Citizens in the US... waste a million pounds (450,000 kilos) in weight per person per year”.

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Monkey business
An unplanned adoption brings Jenny James more than she bargained for.

Illustration by SARAH JOHN The first time we saw Cirilo, he was chained to a crate of Coca-Cola in a dark shop in the little market centre of Guayabal being fed on biscuits and chocolate.

The children gave me no peace from that moment until I gave them the exorbitant 50 dollars to rescue him.

When we returned to the farm, Cirilo took one look at me and leapt onto me, hanging desperately round my neck. Absolutely no persuasion, kind or rough, would loosen him. His instincts told him I was the Mama of the tribe and that was that. He would attack fiercely with tooth and nail and hideous screams anyone who tried to rescue me by unravelling him from my neck.

My life took a hellish swoop for the worse; can you imagine what it is like to dress, undress, go to the toilet, have a shower, go to bed and wake up with a baby maicero (maize-eating) monkey wrapped round your head, clinging painfully to your hair if an attempt were made to remove him? I had done nothing to gain his affections and did a lot to earn his rejection. In vain. My anger and distress would reach fever-pitch at times, especially on long journeys when he would shit and pee down my back. At night he would clamp himself over my face in bed with his funny little non-retractable penis uncomfortably near my mouth or nostrils. I guess his real mother wouldn’t have slept horizontally.

Most bizarre was the fact that I could never see him: everyone would make the most appropriate oohs and ahs but if I tried to pull him far enough off me to have a look, I lost another handful of hair. And if I dared look in a mirror, he would deafen me with hysterical screaming at the imagined intruder.

The weeks and months passed and slowly, painfully, Cirilo learnt to accept our nasty ways: like putting him in his own little compartment at night with a blanket with which he could cover himself when the howls of protest subsided. He also had to learn to sit at the table and not on it and to eat from his plate and not from ours.

He loved gardening. He would watch me carefully as I weeded and then copy me, scrabbling up every plant in sight. And he loved birds’ nests, but got into bad trouble for it: the parent birds dive-bombed him while he sat screeching on the roof, wrapping his arms around himself and staring pitifully at all his horrid, unsympathetic tribe who did nothing but kill themselves laughing.

As he grew older, Cirilo became increasingly accustomed to our rules: he knew that during the busiest working hours of morning he simply had to be tied up on a tree, not to keep him from running away but to prevent our ointments, medicines, ornaments and kitchen knives from theft.

Sometimes he escaped. Entering my room one day I did a double-take, not sure what I was looking at. It was very colourful. Every inch of my cabin had been turned into an elaborate spider’s web of knitting wools, with Cirilo pouncing around joyfully in the middle of it like a maniacal kitten.

In the afternoon, he knew it was official playtime. The moment I sat on my huge fallen tree-trunk in the sun, he would come bounding over, knowing that at last he could get all the affection he longed for. He would lie on his back in my lap while I tickled him and curl up, laughing. Yes, monkeys laugh, not with noise like we do, but with the same helplessness. At such times I forgot all the tension of having a delinquent child who had to be constantly watched. I loved Cirilo.

One day, the children decided they wanted to go to our other settlement, two days’ journey away. ‘Not without Cirilo,’ I said firmly. I wasn’t going to be left holding the baby.

Cirilo went. Forever. Shortly after reaching our farm, he disappeared. I have a gnawing feeling he was trying to get home. He would have died very quickly at the hands of larger monkeys or other forest carnivores. There is a painful Cirilo-sized hole in all of us.

And I nurse a secret. I know that the only way a baby monkey becomes available is when the mother is shot for food or crop protection. But if ever someone handed me one again, would I have the strength to say no?

Jenny James has lived and worked in the rainforest in Colombia since 1987.

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