issue 195 - May 1989
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Child to child
Your issue on How to Help Children (NI 194) neglected to mention that children with special needs require specific kinds of help. This may mean finding ways of empowering them outside their families or communities: for example if they have been sexually or physically abused. There are some highly imaginative projects doing this like Ben Posta's children's village in Colombia where abused children run the whole community - from electing their own mayor to deciding their day-to-day routine.
Children can frequently help each other more than adults ever could. They learn from each other and older children often take care of younger ones as a matter of course - especially in Third World countries. This caring interaction is something which should be capitalized on by agencies that want to help children. Some already do so like the Child-to-Child programmes which teach children about primary health care and encourage them to pass on the information. It is a cheap and effective way of giving children control over their own lives - and enabling them to help each other.
I know we are supposed to forgive seventy times seven, but in the face of displays of such woeful ignorance I can no longer remain tolerantly quiet. Patrick Rivers' article in the fascinating wrap-around edition (Globe at a Glance NI 193) almost had me giving up in the first paragraph when I read: 'It would run contrary to prevailing religious belief to suppose that the Earth itself helped to create the conditions that made life possible.'
Mr Rivers and others of his ilk, seem to think that most religious believers take the simplistically fundamentalist view that God created the world rather like a mud pie; he hit it with His (sic) almighty magic wand and Then There Was Life - all in one go. Even many fundamentalist believers would agree that God had to set up some pretty complex ecosystems before He could make human life sustainable.
Please permit a cartographically illiterate person to say that he would have found your 'Wallchart' edition (Globe at a Glance NI 193) more helpful if it had been on the Mercator projection. I suppose I'm rather dim in other ways too, but I also found it impossible to read the half dozen maps which sought to get a world of detail into such a small space.
And some of the information must be wrong. Has the person who claims that the Republic of Ireland is 'overnourished' ever visited Donegal, Mayo, Galway and Clare? It is 40 years since I lived in rural China - where eight out of ten Chinese people live - and then it would have been ludicrous to suggest that each woman did as little as between 60 and 70 per cent of the housework. She did it all - making the children's clothes and the family's cloth-soled shoes and working in the fields too.
Mr Jago's mother-worship is touching but leads him to muddled reasoning (Letters NI 191). Not all women want to be home-makers or even mothers, and some men are not interested in having a career.
A certain bunkum
Barbara Christie (Letters NI 192) is correct to say that Christians should not be asked to believe that 'the truth is created from what people need'. No-one should be asked to believe this: it is bunkum. But her assertion that the Bible is the only reliable source book about Christ is pretty close to a contradiction in terms because the main way to verify the worth of a source of information is to find independent corroboration also judged to be reliable. Very little exists to confirm the 'gospel truth'. Her belief in Christ's words 'I am the Way. . .' is likewise derived from her need for inner certainty - something which many of us have come not to need.
A strong feeling of certainty is not enough. Hitler no doubt felt an inner certainty that the Third Reich would last for 1000 years (wrong by 988 as it happened.)
I have just read an article called 'War' in your 1989 calendar. It talks about the way the two superpowers use Third World countries to fight each other.
I have been in the Nicaraguan war. I know what it means to sleep in the mud with a bit of plastic over your head. I have seen the horrors of war. I know what it means to go several days without eating. And I can assure you that neither I nor any of the other thousands of brave young men and women who are in that war are being 'manipulated' by the 'Soviet Superpower' .We fight for justice, for peace and against exploitation. The fact that we have Soviet guns does not mean that we have been brainwashed. We are a nation that fight for the same ideals as the Soviets and soon other countries will also.
The International Society for Human Rights is not 'shadowy', nor was it founded by 'ex-Nazi' collaborators (What is Renamo NI 192). It was set up as the Society for Human Rights within the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries in 1972. It became the International Society for Human Rights on founding sections in other countries during 1982.
Our report of atrocities in Mozambique perpetrated by both the Government and violent opposition forces is based solely on sworn eye-witness testimony and has been widely cited as accurate. We do not support the Mozambique National Resistance nor any other violent opposition group and we are committed to the principles of non-violence. We have however supported the call of the Mozambique Catholic Bishops Conference for negotiations to end the war in Mozambique. We stand by that position.
Secretary General of the ISHR,
Eva Fleg Lambert's Endpiece (NI 192) on tourism neatly illustrated the growing imbalance - whatever the country - between the needs of the tourist and those of the host community. With more and more governments seeing tourism as the key to prosperity, it is important that 'Development for whom?' is asked loudly above the talk of foreign exchange, infrastructure and employment.
So far, tourism's impact on the poor and powerless has received little attention in world development circles. Yet aid and development agencies have as crucial a role to play here as in other forms of development. It is time we started challenging not only our personal attitudes to holiday-making, but to the practices and philosophy of the tourism industry itself.
Tyne and Wear, UK
While I have been agreeably surprised by the quality of some of the groups and artists that were previously unknown to me, I wonder if a large section of music is being missed by your reviewers.
It has always surprised me that I have heard of so few of the reviewed groups; apart from a few ethnic groups such as Rumillajta or Tanzania Yetu there seems to be little in the way of contemporary folk music. Could a clue to this perhaps be seen in the comment on Tracy Chapman (NIs 186 and 190) that she had just emerged from the 'folk-club' wilderness? Does this possibly show a general disregard for any singers who have not stepped up (?) to an electronic sound - or at least high publicity?
It may well be that I am a chauvinistic rural ignoramus, but have performers, the likes of Christy Moore, Tommy Sands, Judy Small or Stan Rogers, been considered for review? I feel the quality and sincerity of their treatments of social and international problems would open a few eyes and that they are well worth recommending to a 'listening' audience.
It is a pity that your Language issue (NI 191) did not devote a single article to the speech and language problems of the handicapped. You might have considered the effects that inadequate funding are having on the health service and the struggle for recognition by speech therapists; these might have been less tedious than yet another article on the 'language as she is spoke' red herring.
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
A style of death
In the first of a new series of letters from Bolivia,
Susanna Rance writes about the death of her Aymaran
mother-in-law - and the Andean way of coming
to terms with bereavement.
Looking up from the computer my boss shook his head: 'It must be strange for you - joining in those death rites so different from our own culture.'
He was right. My mother-in-law's death had brought convulsion to the whole family and not just because she was our much loved Mami, the hub of the household, a true matriarch. Her passing set in motion a sequence of events which left me dizzy, as others around me prescribed how grief was to be expressed and exorcised.
At first I felt outside it all, as though my personal sorrow had little to do with the rituals I had been drawn into. But by the end of the week I too felt their cathartic effects and realized that the Aymara customs of dressing, wailing, embracing, eating, drinking, washing and burning had cleansed a part of my pain and brought a new bond with the family.
La Mama died peacefully at dawn. Her frail body seemed a shadow of the vigorous woman who had given birth to nine children, and lost six of them; who had spun and woven her hands raw to support the family; who had worked tirelessly on the land, and run ahead of me down the tiny mountain paths, her hearty laugh and guttural Aymara phrases ringing in the air.
An early morning visit from my sister-in-law Julia brought home the most urgent concerns provoked by death: money, clothing, food. On hearing the news, our neighbour was aghast. 'Then why are you going round like this?' she reproached us, plucking the sleeve of Julia's blue cardigan. We fled to the market and combed the stalls for black garments to cover us from head to toe.
As we ran through the streets in the rain Julia stopped, sobbing to tell relatives, friends, unknown market traders, of her mother's death. The news started to fly, climbing up through the shanty towns, delivered by bus drivers to distant provinces so that long lost relations managed to reach the city in time for the funeral the next day.
That night, the biggest room in the house was prepared for the wake. The guests sat talking quietly sipping hot tea with grape liquor and chewing coca leaves. In contrast to their calm, El Papa would suddenly shout out in grief. 'I'm not going to die! You'll see I'll live for a hundred years!' was his protest against the violence of death.
Julia sobbed uncontrollably, rocking back and forth, dropping hot tears onto the glass window of the coffin. Her pain was not just allowed but approved, her wails cushioned on the shoulders of fellow mourners.
Before the funeral, Mami's coffin was gently placed in the courtyard, in the place where she liked to sit. Then we proceeded to the town cemetery. The latter is like a miniature city of high-rise cement blocks each one containing dozens of coffin-sized pigeon-holes. Death is loyal to social status: the better-off can afford to buy eternal rest at eye level, the poor rent temporary coffin space accessible only by ladder.
After the burial, we stood at the cemetery gate while 80 people stopped to embrace each of us in turn. Drained and exhausted, I was dismayed to hear that an uncle had invited the funeral party to drink beer in a nearby hall.
On trying to escape, I was firmly grabbed by the arm 'You mustn't go! It's unlucky!' Three hours and several crates of beer later, alcohol had mellowed our spirits. Julia was laughing and El Papa was proudly showing crumpled photos of his war years. Libations were poured to the earth mother, the Pachamama, and as the beer splashed to the ground, someone would say: 'Las penas!' Our woes were being poured away, along with the offering.
Returning home that night, I was shocked to see Mami's bed, mattress and belongings piled up in the yard. The next day her closest relatives would take her clothes to the river to be washed. Then most of them would be burned. La Mama was really gone.
'Does the spirit live after you die?' asked my five year-old daughter. All around us Mami's spirit permeated the walls she had built, the yard where she had sat in the sun, the family she had raised and nourished with her frail strong body.