issue 207 - May 1990
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Your issue on Global warming (NI 206) was subtitled How to turn down the heat. But you offered only vague generalities like 'Save the trees' or bland nostrums like 'Love your neighbour'. I found your approach singularly unhelpful. Of course we would all like to change the world. But I need practical advice about how my family and I can help fight the greenhouse effect in our daily lives. Surely living a 'green' lifestyle is the key. For goodness sake tell us as individuals how we can help, otherwise what's the point?
I was appalled by the views of two readers whose letters on the subject of homosexuality appeared in the letters section of NI 204. I had read your issue on the subject (NI 201) and found it lively, interesting and very informative. No doubt Bill Peters did too, but then he shot himself in the foot by quoting the Bible. 'Effeminate by perversion!' Indeed! St Paul sounds like a nice bloke, Bill. As for Genesis, does anybody really believe that stuff anymore?
In response to Jenny Mason's letter (Letters NI 205) God does not inflict illness on humankind, nor war, nor famine. Humankind spreads diseases, fights wars and lets others of the species starve. AIDS first ran riot among the 'bath-house' community in San Francisco not because of God's wrath at homosexual men, but because of the frequent changing of partners. Like other sexually-transmitted diseases, AIDS is not a homosexual or a heterosexual illness, but a disease of promiscuity.
Kings Lynn, UK
Jesus healed leprosy which was the scourge of his society and AIDS is probably the modern-day equivalent. Christians need to be foremost in caring for the needy - and that includes people with AIDS. Christianity is a call to give life to other people; to heal the brokenness in ourselves, other people and society.
I enjoyed your article Dateline 2000 (NI 203), but as a scientist myself, I must protest at the comments under the heading 'AIDS unconquered'. You imply that pharmaceutical companies have avoided finding a cure for AIDS for reasons of financial gain. While it is true, and sad, that profit often prevents new drugs from being freely available in the Third World, I am not aware of any example of a cure being avoided in the treatment of any disease. Also, it is scientists not economists who are doing drug research and they are constantly screening for a drug that will have any effect at all against AIDS. While difficult financial restrictions are imposed, it is not to prevent a cure being found. And if AIDS control is the best that can be done, we should not be disparaging.
University of Glasgow, UK
I'm amazed at Marion Laring's letter (Letters NI 203) claiming that Goddess-worship is mainly suitable for extreme feminists, and associating Goddess-worship with human sacrifice, prostitution, castration and sexual orgies. Most religions of our remote ancestors used those things, whether they worshipped gods or goddesses. But it's absurd to suggest that Goddess-worshippers practise them now. On the other hand most God-worshipping religions sanction - and indeed encourage - the mass human sacrifice of war. And some demand the castration of women - euphemistically called 'female circumcision'. Moreover by continuing to preach that women are subservient to men, they often encourage prostitution and rape. Goddess-worshippers are gentle people and their religion has more care for the earth than God-dominated religions, which tend to regard the world as a place to be conquered and subdued.
As one who is using your interesting 1990 diary, I am constantly affronted by the setting out of weeks commencing with Monday instead of Sunday, which has long since been the first day of the week; in fact it was so called in an incident nearly 2,000 years ago.
I appreciate that information about ethical products is difficult to obtain (Green Consumer NI 203) but the Lux flakes you recommend are based on animal tallow. A visit to any Australian Woolworths store would have revealed Caring laundry liquid, which claims to be organic, 100 per cent biodegradable, not tested on animals, free from animal products and allergy-free. Australian readers might also find useful The Green Consumer Guide, by John Elkington and Julia Hailes, Penguin 1989.
North Perth, Ausiralia
It is not the planet that needs saving as your issue implies (Green consumer NI 203), but merely our own species. The planet is capable of looking after itself. It is highly unlikely that we could ever make the biosphere unacceptable to all organisms. We would have extinguished ourselves long before it got to that stage. And if the planet does want to protect itself, the best thing it could do would be to get rid of the one organism - humankind - that is working so hard to destroy the present balance. 'Save your children' would seem a more appropriate title for the magazine, or even 'Save yourself'. Let's drop the arrogant presumption that the planet is ours to save or destroy. What we must do is to preserve it in its present state.
Freetown, Sierra Leone
Jeremiah Creedon's article on The towers of the new gods in NI 202 left out one extremely important point. The tallest buildings of a given society are erected by its dominant powers or institutions, and succeeding powers endeavour to surpass the heights reached by their predecessors in a ratio roughly equivalent to their relative strength. Thus in Paris, development can be seen to run rapidly along the following lines: Christian dominance: Notre Dame (the church); Scientific dominance: Eiffel tower (the industrial landmark) and Capitalist dominance: La Défense (the high-rise suburb).
I was surprised and disappointed to see that your edition on Modern architecture (NI 202) had almost no mention of disability. The inaccessibility of buildings and transport systems massively discriminates against the disabled and is one of the main causes of their second-class status. Access - in the broadest sense, not just for wheelchairs - is one of the major campaigning points of disability-rights organizations.
Your issue on Homosexuality (NI 201) will make history for sure. But I would have liked to see more that was purely about sex. It is a shame that there could not be a little more explicit material dealing with sex among gays and lesbians in poor countries. The subjugation that gays and lesbians have to confront in the under-developed world is one of the most miserable attitudes of the modern world.
Your issue on the Palestine/Israel conflict (NI 199) omitted a few key facts. First, all Arab States except Egypt are in a state of war against Israel and have been since they declared war in 1948. Second, without the West Bank, Israel is extremely vulnerable being only nine miles wide at its narrowest point. Third, Sarah Faith's article claims that Arabs have no connections with the Nazis except in the Israeli imagination. She conveniently ignores the employment of former Nazis by Arab governments, the use of Nazi propaganda print materials by Arab governments and the Nazi content of propaganda broadcasts from Arab radio stations. Fourth, compare Israel's response to the Intifada with that of Saudi Arabia to demonstrations by Iranians - 390 deaths in one day.
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
Calling the spirit
Balancing body and soul is a juggling act involving cow-dung, a
slaughter house and occasionally a hat. Susanna Rance explains.
MY ten-month-old daughter lay soundly sleeping, tightly swaddIed on the bed. An orange and an apple were bound against her, inside the striped woven blanket. On her head, still damp from fever, was the woollen bonnet which minutes before had been used to summon back her spirit. Come Nina, come,' Mami had called, waving the baby's knitted hat from the back door until the child's ajavu or spirit had returned, restoring wholeness and health to her body.
Although I was relieved to see Nina so tranquil after days of fretful illness, the hairs on my arms stood on end as I listened to her grandparents whispering and moving downstairs. A pungent smell of burning herbs and incense wafted up from the yard. No-one was allowed outside now, until the offering to the Pachamama - the Andean Earth Mother - had been consumed.
Had I been an anthropologist I might have been eager to witness the ceremony and record the muttered Aymara prayers. As it was, I felt panicked, completely foreign to this world of magic where sickness is believed to come from supernatural causes, and healing is an intimate affair, closer to religion than to medicine as I know it. I kept out of the way, partly out of fear and partly hoping that the rituals would have a better chance of taking effect without the interference of my modern-day scepticism.
Like most 'educated' city-dwellers in Bolivia I turn to herbal or ritual healing only when 'modern' tests and remedies have failed. For Aymaras of Mami's generation, traditional cures are the first resource, and doctors, laboratories and pharmacies the last. Talk of analyses, bacteria and viruses make little sense to someone who is convinced that the air, wind, fright or the evil eye are really to blame for sickness.
When my children got ill, Mami would always give me a few days to try out my version of healing, nodding silently as I showed her the latest prescription. Then she would summon relatives and scan market stalls for herbs, waiting for the night that I would seek refuge in my room and allow 'Ia familia' to take over responsibility for my children's health.
Their father was caught between two worlds and so kept a foot in each, altemately chasing laboratory results and making a fire in the yard for the Pachamama's offering. According to Mami, he was living proof that traditional remedies succeed. At three years old he had been cured of a severe wasting illness by being buried up to the neck in fresh cow dung at the slaughterhouse. 'Larpha, we call the illness,' said Mami. Modern paediatricians call it malnutrition.
On my parents-in-law's farm in the Yungas valleys I experienced natural healing for myself after a troop of red ants marched into my gumboots and started biting my legs. I screamed with shock and pain. As I ripped off my trousers, el Papa grabbed my straw hat and started calling my frightened spirit back, a much more urgent matter than dealing with a few carnivorous ants. Later I was washed in a hot bath of quinine bark and made to drink the bitter liquid.
Every year after that, Mami came to treat my winter cough which reappeared with the first gusts of dry, cold, mountain air. Putting on a large kettle of water, she put me to bed and rubbed my chest and back with a sticky ointment. Then she ironed brown paper, stuck holes in it and pressed it warm against my skin. As I itched and crinkled under the blankets, she would wrap a woollen shawl around the hot kettle and refasten it tightly around me. Finally, having watched me sip her sharp herb tea, she firmly turned off the light and ordered me not so move until morning.
More than anything, I felt soothed by her confidence, her caring, the warmth and rest. To me, Mami's remedies embodied an equal dose of herbs and Tender Loving Care. But she confided one day that she had special healing powers because as a young girl, she was almost struck by lightning. Having been brushed so closely by death, she kept in her hands the power to call back the spirit and mend she imbalance between body and soul.
Susanna Rance has lived and worked in Bolivia for several years.