New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 302

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

[image, unknown] Male bodies
Thank you for a thoughtful issue about the body (NI 300), including creative and important comments about the female body and the gender-ambiguous body. As a man I looked for similar thoughtfulness about the male body, but nothing.

Is there nothing of any sig-nficance that could be said about the bodily experience of being a man today? Western society projects the male-strong-aggressive body versus the female-vulnerable-sexy one. These stereotypes damage and oppress both men and women and need to be questioned together. Men are dogged by being the invisible gender, but I hoped for better from the NI.

David Muir
Long Eaton, England.

Voices heard
Your recent Mining issue (NI 299) illustrated how many communities around the world are suffering from the dire consequences of opencast mining. This is not just restricted to the Majority World; in Scotland too opencast mining is beginning to cause untold problems.

Thirty years ago, it represented only five per cent of mining in Scotland. By 1994 it had risen to 75 per cent and last year the tonnage approval rate was 87 per cent (compared to 11 per cent in England).

Added to this is the fear that exhausted sites will be used for waste disposal. In Perth and Kinross and in Fife communities are battling with the authorities to stop the dumping of abattoir remains, raw human effluent and industrial waste in disused opencast mines. In East Ayrshire communities are suffering from the sheer number of sites surrounding their villages and fears are growing throughout the Lothians and Lanarkshire as new proposals continue to appear.

The human-rights abuses suffered may not be as extreme as those suffered by people in Sierra Leone. But abuses are taking place and people are desperate to get their voices heard by an apparently unsympathetic Government.

Mandy Meikle
West Calder, Scotland

No evidence
Suzanne Methot, the reviewer of Arthur J Ray’s book on Canada’s native people (Reviews NI 300) is wrong to dismiss the theory that the first colonization of the New World by humans was across the Bering Strait land bridge.

Humans evolved in Africa and spread out across the Earth from there. Genetically, all native Americans are of similar stock to the peoples of the Far East.

There is no evidence of the independent evolution of humans in Canada. Aboriginal people may believe they have always been there, but holding such a belief does not make it true.

Nor is it necessary to hold such a belief in order to respect native Americans’ prior claim to the land. That arises from their having been the first humans to enter what really was, 15,000 - 30,000 years ago, a terra nullius.

Alisdair Sinclair
Canberra, Australia

Cartoon by VIV QUILLIN
Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Responsible company
I am writing in connection with the issue on Mining (NI 299). Many of the thrusts of the articles challenge the need and desirability of mineral and metal production. They do not provide the reader with an unbiased assessment of the pertinent issues which might enable him or her to reach a balanced view.

A number of points occur to me. The first is that the growing world population needs minerals and metals for sustainable development. There is no realistic alternative to using more metals and minerals to support the aspirations for a better quality of life. Secondly, the mining industry is constantly looking to replace resources through new discoveries. Metals are abundant and there is no more indication now than there was then that the world will run out of minerals. The mining industry recognizes the importance of recycling. Most recent statistics show that more than 35 per cent of the world’s copper, 27 per cent of aluminium and 50 per cent of lead is supplied by recycling materials. However there is not enough recyclable material to meet growing demand.

Contrary to the picture painted by the articles, Rio Tinto is a responsible company, committed to the highest safety, environmental, community relations and human-rights standards, as well as good employment practices and access to land issues. We recently adopted a new Statement of Business Practice The way we work.

We welcome public scrutiny of our business practices ; however, your issue neither enlightened your readership about the principal issues associated with mineral production nor provided constructive comment or suggestion.

Shaun Stewart
Rio Tinto plc, London, England

Speaking out
I must disagree with the statement on page 37 of your issue on human rights (NI 298) that ‘Afghanistan’s women have disappeared...There are no voices any more.’ This is very demoralizing for the considerable number who most certainly have not been silenced. These women take considerable risks to speak out and decry their loss of education and employment. They also continue activities outside the home.

One only has to go to Herat’s bazaar to see several hundred women every day, busily selling second-hand articles, many wearing the Iranian-style chadors (veils) which leave their faces bare. Full veiling is not common for the majority of women who live in rural areas. In Herat, it has ebbed and flowed for hundreds of years; recently it was re-introduced by the mujahadeen, and the Taliban have tried to enforce – and have slightly increased – the wearing of the full-veiling burqa. It is an issue for some urban women, but it is almost never THE issue, coming way down the priority list behind chronic poverty, lack of access to basic resources, lack of education, crippling work burdens etc.

Kate Straub
Christian Aid, Herat, Afghanistan

Disappointing position
Your Facts page in the issue on human rights (NI 298) states that the New Zealand Government has a ‘cool’ position on the issue of indigenous peoples. This is disappointing. That New Zealand’s position is below that of Australia, Nicaragua and South Africa is astounding. Governments over time have worked very hard to address the wrong committed against Maori during colonization. This has culminated in the establishment of the Waitangi Tribunal and other organizations promoting the rights and welfare of the Maori. Many tribes have taken advantage of the Government’s willingness to redress these wrongs and have sought and accepted compensation.

With a little more probing you would have found that New Zealand has many policies to promote favourable race relations.

Lara Hearn
Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Coffee catalyst
We were not familiar with the NI or the plight of most coffee campesinos when I first visited Guatemala last April. We were visiting in order to help build homes in partnership with several farmers. We also learned a lot about the coffee ‘value chain’ (as industry insiders describe it) but it was not until we went back to Canada that we read your issue on Coffee (NI 271). It served as a catalyst in our lives and further motivated us towards starting a new fair trade import company – Café Campesino. Our first container of fair trade coffee has just arrived in New Orleans and should be ready to sell next week. We are excited to report that we have located quite a few roasters who are interested in the social and environmental issues surrounding their green coffees – and they seem willing to demonstrate this through their purchases. Our new webpage www.cafecampesino.com

Bill Harris and Aileen Pistone
Americus, US

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

[image, unknown]

Tuya's tale
Louisa Waugh discovers a different world at an orphanage in Ulaanbaatar.

Illustration by SARAH JOHN Erdentuya lives in Yarmag ger district. Like just over half of Ulaanbaatar’s 600,000 residents she has electricity, but no running water, and an outside toilet in a fenced yard. The view from her house looks out over the meandering Tuul river, which divides Ulaanbaatar, and monstrous power station Number Four, which belches out fumes day and night. Erdentuya lives with 41 other homeless children in a shelter run by an Australian woman and a team of Mongolians. She’s ten years old.

I met Tuya, as she’s known, in the spring, when I visited the shelter to talk about starting an English class for the older girls. This short, plump child with cropped hair and a habit of staring at the ground to disguise her shyness, could have been a boy or a girl. But her passion for red nail-polish and her gentle manner charmed me and she almost immediately became my blatant favourite.

She was picked up by Ulaanbaatar’s children’s police two years ago, living on the streets at the age of eight. After being held by a state-run orphanage for several weeks she was handed over to the shelter along with five others.

It took some time before she would tell her story. Her family of ten, who live together in one room just streets away in this unpaved, decaying district, survive on less than seven dollars a month. Tuya’s father worried about money, drank cheap, toxic vodka to forget and died young, leaving his wife to fend for the kids any way she could. The family house was rented out to pay for food and clothing and, living literally on top of each other, tempers frayed. Tuya says she ran away because her mother beat her, and has no contact with her immediate family. When Dee Dee, who runs the shelter, asked her gently what she’ll do when she gets older, Tuya murmured that she’s going to gather and sell fallen coal from the wagons that rumble in and out of Ulaanbaatar’s only train station. This after all is how her mother fed the nine children.

Yarmag is the only future Tuya has. Without the shelter she’d be on the streets, forced to beg or scrounge for food and clothing. She could even be reduced to living under the streets, in the sewers, an airless network of hot water and raw waste pipes, which are home to several hundred street children. As it is, years of chronic malnutrition have led to her being physically stunted and developing learning difficulties. She reads and writes a little, but struggles even with basic maths and science. Tuya’s unlikely to marry and so will always need some kind of support. She is bullied here and does catch the occasional dose of scabies from one of the new arrivals. But she is safe, well-fed – and cared about.

During one of my recent classes – which she attends but says little – she fell asleep leaning against my shoulder. She snoozed for half an hour before an older girl poked her and ordered her to fetch water. Blinking sleepily, Tuya tottered to her feet and searched for her boots.

This water-carrying is eternal labour. As I walk through Yarmag every Friday afternoon on my way to the shelter I see children, adults and pensioners hauling enormous metal cauldrons, and queues of people waiting patiently to fill their bottles. Cows lumber through the area, grazing on garbage and weeds, and on every corner there’s a small kiosk selling a mixture of cigarettes, noodles, washing powder and sweets. This doesn’t feel like central Ulaanbaatar, where I live with my running water and nearby supermarket – it doesn’t even feel like the same city. It’s just seven kilometres, but a world away from Ulaanbaatar’s new neon lights, Western-style bars, foreign cars and fast-food cafes.

After my teaching, habitual cup of tea and gossip with the workers, one or two of the children walk me back to the bus stop. Tuya has never come – the older girls who dominate my time and energy, desperate for attention and affection, elect themselves as escorts. But Dee Dee, who knows of my love for this beautiful, shy child, tells me Tuya is standing up for herself a little more these days. ‘The attention,’ she says, smiling quietly, ‘is obviously doing her good.’

Louisa Waugh is a freelance writer who lives and works in Mongolia.

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