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new internationalist
issue 255 - May 1994

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 : [email protected]

From Timor to Kashmir
Cover of the NI Issue 253 I commend you for addressing the plight of the victims in East Timor (NI 253); hopefully this problem may receive more attention from governments and international organizations.

However, I must remind you that a similar atrocity is being committed by the Indian Army in the occupied valley of Kashmir. Numerous women have been raped, and innocent civilians tortured.

The Indian Government has defied all attempts by humanitarian agencies to visit the area and foreign journalists are barred.

I think you should address this problem very soon.

Najam Mahmud
Kent, UK

Going with the trend
I was very pleased to see your issue on East Timor (NI 253), edited by John Pilger. I am concerned, however, that people appear to be in need of 'father figures' such as Pilger to be told where the campaigning trend goes. When in 1990 I approached you and asked why you failed to report more extensively on East Timor and West Papua, and why you distributed (and still do!) maps of the world showing East Timor (as well as West Papua) 'integrated' - to use the term coined by the Indonesian aggressors - with Indonesia, you wrote back saying that you could not do differently. You did not publish my criticism.

I am glad that the plight of the East Timorese has now become your concern. The question that worries me is: what will happen to the East Timorese when another issue is trendy?

Hubert Gieschen
London, UK

Editor: while this is the first time that we have devoted a whole issue on East Timor, we have covered the subject fairly regularly over the years.

Correct addresses
Your issue on Prostitution (NI 252) is marvellous. I particularly loved the editorial, Nickie Roberts's piece, and Maggie Black's piece; the first rational writing on adolescent prostitution I've read.

Unfortunately, some of the addresses are out-of-date. Could you please print the correct addresses in your next issue?

The Australian Prostitutes' Collective is now the Scarlet Alliance, Ground Floor, 247-251 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, Victoria 3000, Australia. EMPOWER is now at 57/60 Tivanont Road, Nonthburi 11000, Thailand. The ICPR can be contacted do De Rode Draad, Posthus 16422, 1001 RM Amsterdam, The Netherlands. COYOTE is now at 2269 Chestnut Street, #452, San Francisco, CA 941123.

Priscilla Alexander
New York, US

Matriarchy rules?
I have some reservations about Nickie Roberts's view in her article in the issue on Prostitution (NI 252). I would question the implication of her article that, because matriarchy preceded patriarchy, it is there fore inherently superior. The main objection to patriarchy lies in the abuse of power by men against women. But abuse of power occurs wherever power is distributed unequally, as any minority group can testify. A matriarchy will thus be distinguished only by the forms which abuse of power takes within it.

Surely the prime objective for both men and women today is to promote relationships of equal power - not to replace one form of domination by another?

Nick Eades
Macclesfield, UK

Green problem
Teeare Scarrott's article in praise of a frugal lifestyle (NI 251) reminded me of a problem that has perplexed me for some time. Consider the following:

I insulate my house and thereby save on heating costs. How can I best spend that money so as to cause the least damage to the environment and use the minimum of non-renewable resources?

Obviously I should not spend it on a holiday. The air flight alone would probably use as much fuel as had been saved by insulating the house. I could burn it. I could donate it to a 'green cause'. I could buy something else - but whatever it was would also use up the earth's resources in one way or another.

It would be helpful to have some method of assessing just what impact in terms of resource depletion and environmental degradation any course of action would have. Is there any academic discipline concerned with environmental accounting? If so, where are the results of its research published?

Peter Waterson
Glasgow, Scotland, UK

photo by VIV QUILLIN

The good, the bad and the prostitute
Your issue on Prostitution (NI 252) was thought-provoking. I was disappointed that there was no article on considering the moral teaching of Christianity and comparative religions. It is my perception that promiscuity and prostitution lead to an increase in the fragmentation of individuals as they give up something of themselves at each sexual liaison, as well as an increase in egocentric behaviour as the primary purpose of sexual activity becomes self-gratification rather than generating pleasure for the other person.

Keith Wooligar
Hoddesdon, UK

Appreciating differences
I am an avid reader of the NI because of the often non-Western viewpoints expressed in your articles, so I was disappointed with two recent examples of Western ethnocentric writing. In your issue on Mexico (NI 251), there is a photograph of Mexico City where the caption refers to its pollution. On closer inspection it is apparent that it was raining at the time the photo was taken, thus making it grey and gloomy. There is no mention of rain in the caption. It is widely known that Mexico City has a severe pollution problem, but let's not falsify reality to express that view.

The second example is the ethnocentricity in 'Letter from Lagos' (NI 252). We may think that the tradition of mourning in village life in Nigeria is different or even a bit extreme, but I am sure that there are many village women who do not. To say that Josie was 'luckier' than most Nigerian widows is going a bit too far in expressing a Western viewpoint; perhaps there are many Nigerian widows who find comfort in expressing the loss of their husbands through traditional methods.

Surely in this beautifully-varied world we should learn to appreciate the differences among our cultures rather than ridicule them and try to bring them in line with our own?

James A St John
Malvem, Victoria, Australia

No cheating
I must take exception to a comment in Sue Branford's otherwise excellent article 'Sex, lies and a certain virus' (NI 250). She states that Brazilian people participating in sexual relationships outside marriage must 'abstain from unsafe sex.. .or take precautions'. This statement implies that, providing correct self-protection measures are employed, cheating on one's marriage partner is condoned - in the name of 'freedom of choice', I suppose.

Precautions or no precautions, any form of sexual relation outside a loving, committed relationship is nothing short of a cheap orgasm. The hurt and breach of trust it inflicts on the faithful partner are deplorable enough even without the frightening threat of AIDS.

Murray Shearer
Aotearoa/New Zealand

Is anyone out ...?
I applaud your wonderful world-embracing magazine. But none of my friends/colleagues subscribe, and the few attempts that I have made to share its insights have not flowered. Perhaps other readers, who think this also, would consider communicating with me with a view to maybe meeting, phoning or writing once in a while? Is there anyone out...?

Sid Hindmarsh
9 Croft Close. Wolvey, Nr Hinckley, Leiceatershire LElO 3LE, UK

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

Letter from Lagos

Blood money
However Serious your wound or illness, the road to recovery in Lagos is long and expensive,
as Elizabeth Obadina found to her cost when the nightwatchman was attacked in her compound.

ILLUSTRATION BY MIRIAM McCURDY It was three in the morning when the doorbell rang and rang with frantic urgency. There was the sound of a commotion in the compound and my husband and I woke up, scared stiff. 'Armed robbers.' The thought passed silently between us and fear rose from our stomachs to gag in our throats.

Whoever was ringing the doorbell couldn't be seen from the window. 'Come to the back door', we shouted, and breathed a sigh of relief to see Amina, the young and very pregnant wife of the night-watchman. She was wielding a bloody cutlass.

'Thieves murdered my husband,' she wailed. Still feeling sick at heart, we unbolted the back door to face whatever was there, armed only with another cut lass and a golfing umbrella. We tried phoning the police but the line rang and was cut off with each attempt. In any case we had found out once before that the police only come when you go and fetch them and pay them some thing for their trouble.

Our relief upon seeing the 'murdered' man stagger around the corner drenched in blood was profound. He thrust his head under the garden tap to wash away the blood but this was no scratch on the head. I had no idea how high blood could spurt until I tried to staunch the wound on Zachariah's skull. Towel after towel was pressed down on the wound. But the bleeding wouldn't stop and it became obvious that he would bleed to death if we waited for morning.

Collecting all the money we could lay hands on, my husband and I set off with Zachariab and Amina to seek help. We made one last nervous patrol of the compound to check that the thieves had gone and found trails of blood over plants and paths. Amina had certainly left her mark with the cutlass. Slightly reassured I bolted myself into the house and waited. Not once did my three children stir from their sleep.

As dawn broke Tunde, my husband, returned. It had been a long night. The night watches of the private hospitals had refused to open their gates to a 'police case'. The doctors in the public hospital were sympathetic but had no tools to work with.

Leaving Amina with money to register Zachariah as a casualty patient, Tunde had embarked on a search for all-night pharmacies. He had to buy cotton wool, surgical tape, bandages, suture thread, surgical sewing needles, synnges, paracetamol, disinfectant, surgical spirit, iodine, blood plasma, intravenous drip solutions, needles and tubes. Only the anti-tetanus vaccines and antibiotics could be bought from the hospital pharmacy but first he had to find the cashier to issue an official receipt to exchange for the drugs. The cashier was asleep somewhere. The pharmacist wouldn't issue the drugs without the receipt and in casualty Zachariali was lying on a bench bleeding to death.

But he didn't die. Tunde got what he could from pharmacies open at that ungodly hour of the morning. What he couldn't find the doctor fetched from his personal supplies at home, kept for 'real emergencies'. Zachariah was sewn up without a local anaesthetic and Tunde was sent back to the slumbering cashier to pay for a week's admission to hospital. He then went next door to the police headquarters to report the incident.

In the morning I took my turn on the hospital shift. Linen had to be taken in to cover the filthy plastic mattresses upon which patients lay. X-rays had to be purchased from the radiography department. Blood tests had to be bought from the private labs clustered around the hospital gates. Zachariah needed blood. I set off to buy some from the AIDS-infested blood banks which feed from the people passing through the neighbourhood bus and car-parks. I was told to come back later. Was the blood really necessary? I pleaded with the doctor - still the same man who had been on duty throughout the day and the night before. Well maybe Zachariah could manage, just. He was young and strong and yes, the blood might leave him with more problems than he had now.

As I left casualty a formidable Sister and hospital security staff were in hot dispute with a taxi-driver who had brought in an unconscious and bleeding road-traffic victim. The boy was left on the hospital trolley to roast in the car park under a blazing mid-morning sun. His penniless friend pleaded with staff to release the taxi-driver, who had only acted as a good Samaritan. They were implacable. The taxi wasn't moving until the driver paid for the boy's treatment.

I left, amazed that the world monetary authorities could still be demanding cuts in public service spending from a government which has all-but-abandoned any pretence of providing public services.

Elizabeth Obadina is a freelance journalist living and working in Lagos.

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New Internationalist issue 255 magazine cover This article is from the May 1994 issue of New Internationalist.
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