New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 313

new internationalist
issue 313 - June 1999

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

The final stretch
NI magazine 310 - Poverty The final stretch ‘The final stretch – Creating Peace and Reconciliation,’ says your front cover which flags Nancy Scheper-Hughes’ piece on South Africa (NI 311). Final? Nowhere did I see the essential word ‘reparations’. There have been some – but drops in the ocean compared with the 500 billion Rands or more that the whites owe the blacks for apartheid’s huge rip-offs (quite apart from compensation for the suffering).

Take the huge historical fraud alone. The whites conquered the blacks and took most of their land. Not content with that, they then faked history itself. Apartheid’s propaganda told the world that the whites got there before the blacks and settled seven-eighths of the land (in fact the blacks settled more than 50 per cent before the whites arrived). Then the whites passed racist laws stopping blacks from owning property in the whites’ (false) historical seven-eighths and so took most of the rest, (30 times more land and mineral wealth for a white than for a black, still).

In simple human terms: someone invades your home and takes half of it from you. Then they produce forged title deeds and steal most of the rest. Then you later all get together, have a good cry and say ‘isn’t reconciliation wonderful?’ But the invaders keep nearly all they took.

The final stretch? Perhaps it is.

John Clarke
Uxbridge, England

Best of both worlds
Anouk Ride’s article on the appalling war in Bougainville (NI 311) oversimplifies the issues. It cannot be written off as another example of exploitation and pollution similar to the Ogoni and Shell in Nigeria. The mine provided better working conditions than would be found in most places in the world and the standard of living for the workers was infinitely superior to conditions on the mainland, as those who fled to Port Moresby discovered. Independent reports indicate that the copper found in the rivers was leeching naturally from the copper-rich earth, the flora and fauna being adapted to this natural pollution.

Francis Ona opposes change of any kind but other groups fighting the company were motivated by a desire to improve their circumstances. A modern industrial development such as the Bougainville mine would be welcomed in many communities despite its drawbacks and could finance a good health and education service.

Might this not have been an opportunity to control development and get the best of both worlds for the people of Papua New Guinea and Bougainville?

Hilary M Taylor
Leeds, England

Food, not lawns
There is much speculation, much worrying and much analysis regarding human population numbers and the earth’s ability to sustain us all. I read all these letters in the NI with one glaring paradox staring me in the face.

Almost wherever one goes, very few people make use of their own gardens and their ‘own’ rainfall to grow even a little of their own food. If we all contributed just a little, think how much less pesticide would be used commercially. It astonishes me that we all (in developed countries) sit by and water lawns, not food, whilst admonishing others for their various practices.

Does it take really so much effort to plant a bean or a zucchini together with a tree? Responsibility begins at home, and our children should grow up with the knowledge of how food is grown and enjoy the magical process of growing it. They should feel the confidence in being a part of nature – rather than being so dependent on an artificial environment.

Carolyn Allen
Stanthorpe, Australia

[image, unknown]
Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

War is no solution
The escalation of violence in Yugoslavia has strengthened extremist forces on all sides and has degraded the space for political opposition and democratic development in the whole region. The NATO bombing has created the space for a brutal operation by the Yugoslav security forces, which will probably result in an Albanian-free Kosovo. Yugoslavia will be destroyed, many human lives will be lost, many refugees created, and Milosevic's regime will be stronger than it ever was.

The NATO bombings aimed at forcing Milosevic to sign a peace ‘agreement’ and prevent a humanitarian catastrophe have completely failed. It seems that the only reason for continuing the attacks is NATO’s lack of alternative strategy. NATO’s aim is now being defined as ‘reducing Yugoslav military resources’. This can be interpreted as meaning they do not know what else to do, and that they do not know how to finish this terrible action without admitting that they have made a mistake.

We are convinced that war can be no solution and that a ceasefire agreement or final peace agreement is better than continuing the present war. Of course large-scale armed conflicts cannot be resolved solely through political agreements. But this does not mean that military action is the logical, or only, alternative.

From a political agreement we expect a framework which would make peace building possible. Building peace is a long-term process; violence is a short-term response. Peace can not be imposed. One day of war means years of rebuilding trust and reconciliation in a society.

Let us remember all the human beings involved in this tragedy.

Center for Nonviolent Action,
Sarajevo, Bosnia

Community values
I am unsure how helpful it is to bemoan how truly poor the poor are and how excessively rich the rich are. There seems in an attempt to demythologize poverty a risk of trading one lie (it is their own fault) for another (they are victims of the rich). In your issue on poverty (NI 310) Zygmunt Bauman makes a valid though limited point. Fear of poverty has become a belief which helps drive the engines of consumer society; it also invites despair on the part of the impoverished. That fear is a corollary of the myth that money/material wealth buys happiness.

If poverty requires a solution, it may lie in education, but of a moral rather than a technical variety. Such education (for rich and poor alike) would emphasize the infinite worth of every human, our responsibility to our neighbours and our neighbours’ children, and the sad consequences of following a life of self-indulgence.

Legislative imposition of such values usually achieves the wrong effect. Yet teaching such values in societies today seems to many archaic. Ideologies of individual rights increasingly become married to the ethics of individualism. Most believe they have to get the very most out of the one life they have to live, all else is secondary. If we believed in the values of community, issues of material inequity would more naturally take care of themselves. But how are we to find the faith to believe in such things?

Gordon Jackson,
Perth, Canada

Disturbing photo
The photo of hugging on page 12 of your issue on poverty (NI 310) has disturbed me. It tries to show how North and South have overcome barriers and come very close. But even though it shows the closeness of North and South, it reveals, perhaps symbolically, how dependent the South is on the North.

The adivasi Indians were happy to go to Germany and did not react as expected. But the photo suggests the blissful fawning of a poor man so glad to be able to hold a white man almost in a servile and grovelling manner, perhaps with the expectation of continued patronage. And Andreas seems to be trying to refrain from touching him.

I know photos can sometimes convey a deceptive message, and perhaps Andreas did reciprocate the moment the photo was taken, but I think the NI should be more careful about its choice of photos.

Aida Ahmed
Oxford, England

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

[image, unknown]

A month in the country
Louisa Waugh visits nomadic friends – and their animals – in Mongolia’s remotest mountains.

That goat, the black one over there,’ called Hulan. ‘That’s the one we need.’ She gestured vaguely towards a cluster of black goats who all eyed me suspiciously. It was eight in the morning and we were in the throes of milking 50 goats who all had to be tethered first. I was already exhausted. Goats are faster than you think – and they all looked the same to me.

Hulan, one of my teaching colleagues in Tsengel, had invited me to spend the summer horse-riding and herding with her nomadic family. I was delighted. I pictured myself lolling next to a cool river, collecting stories for my book, swimming, horse-riding and learning to milk the odd goat or yak. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Mongolian herders are busiest in summer – milking their goats, sheep, cows and yaks, shearing the sheep (with scissors) herding on steep mountain slopes, collecting dry dung for fuel, and water for cooking and washing. The work is endless.

Hulan’s mother Dere-Huu, a statuesque 56-year-old with cheeks burnt to the colour of oak, always rose at 5 am. The rest of us got up at 6.30 every morning. When I could finally bear to open my eyes, the early-morning light was gorgeous. We were camped 90 kilometres west of Mongolia’s furthest-west village. The mountains were snow-capped, the hills coated in dense pine-forest concealing ripening berries, and the rivers clear as glass. But I’ve never worked so hard in my life.

Goats aren’t difficult animals to milk, but it takes a bit of practice. That first morning Dere-Huu was on her eighth goat while I still grimly tugged at my second. To add insult to its reluctant dribble of milk, the third goat kicked my pail over. I was mortified.

[image, unknown]
painting by SARAH JOHN

We lived on goat- and yak-milk – boiling and separating it to make thick crusted cream, curdling it into soft cheese and yoghurt, fermenting gallons to produce Mongolia’s famous airag drink and even distilling the airag for shimin arkhi, the purest vodka you’ll find anywhere.

While the men-folk went off hunting, Hulan and Dere-Huu patiently taught me to wash sheep wool, stretch and dry it on the rocky riverside, beat the wool with sticks until it was fluffy and finally roll it into layers of new felt for the walls of the ger. I learned to churn butter, to dry cheese into rock-hard but edible curds (arrul) and to cook marmot, a large steppe rodent Mongolians are partial to.

But we did relax – at dusk every evening we sat around the cracked tin stove drinking hot, frothing yak’s milk. The wooden ger door was open, animals silhouetted in the long shadows. Friends and relatives visited on horseback almost daily. We were invited en masse to a nearby wedding party, where we toasted the bride and groom with shimin arkhi, ate platters of fresh mutton and horse meat with our fingers, and the Mongolians sang their hearts out. Toddlers laughed and cried while older people, their faces creased from lives in the sun, recited poetry. I just sat and beamed.

The day after the wedding, I swam at lunch-time. But by early evening the mountains directly behind us were dusted with fresh snow. Now the cold rain battered our ger every two or three days. The roof leaked twice and we had to bail out, crouched by the stove, drenched and shivering.

‘How do you survive here in winter?’ I asked Dere-Huu, who had spent her life in these mountains.

‘Oh Louisa,’ she replied, grinning broadly, ‘the snow can come up to here’. She slapped one of her broad thighs. ‘But the men gather hay for the livestock in autumn and we move to our wooden cabin 60 kilometres from here.’

Dere-Huu and her family move five times a year. The people go on horseback. Their large ger and all their possessions – the ancient chests and wall-hangings, the stove and the two narrow beds are all carried by their three camels.

Our final morning with Dere-Huu and her family dawned sunny and cool. A truck was heading back to Tsengel and so, unfortunately, were Hulan and I. Laden with arrul and cheese, I hugged Dere-Huu. We clambered up on to the open truck and waved as it clumsily wove its way eastwards.

Louisa Waugh has been living and working in Mongolia and is writing a book about Mongolian life.

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