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NI 343 (Rush to Nowhere) gave my senses a real workout. The cover picture seemed to say it all. The greedy are destroying the only home we know.

I relish the sound of the Slow Food Movement, the Slow Cities Movement, the Shorter Work Week and the Society for the Deceleration of Time. Wonderfully refreshing titles, full of hope in a world rapidly spinning out of control.

Click here to read NI 343 The picture of the cowboy resting and playing his flute while his cattle peacefully graze (Southern Exposure), was truly breathtaking. To me this picture encapsulated the need to truly live and SEE the world. Not to exist in a science-tyrannized world, where gawping at television or computer images, spellbound by the clock or jumping to the inane noises of ghastly mobile phones, is imagined to be real life.

David Harvey
Chippenham, England

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Call me retentive, but...
I have never liked it when one woman presumes to speak for all the women in the world (‘Boo to Captain Clock’, NI 343), particularly when:

(a) I find much of her writing meaningless/unintelligible;
(b) she perpetuates (arguably) negative stereotypes concerning women (ie that we are unreliable, untrustworthy, irrational and governed by our uteruses) and appears to believe in gender essentialism;
(c) she is (again arguably) culturally bigoted: according to the work of, for example, Margaret Mead some cultures stereotype men as governed by whim and women as reliable, in contrast to the superstitions of industrialized countries;
(d) she is palpably wrong. I seldom act on impulse myself and am actually a bit of an anal retentive.

Susy Braidwood
Leeds, England

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The vision thing
Another World is Possible (NI 342) was a balm to the soul. We all need dreams in order to imagine a new and different world before we can start to transform them into action.

Gina Behrens
Wingello, Australia

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The truth will out
Anyone who read ‘Scars of Safety’ (Currents, NI 343) will understand why now is not a good time to be an Australian with any sense of compassion. It’s a terrible feeling, knowing that while I live a very comfortable life, asylum seekers are being detained in inhumane circumstances in the same country.

In my town concerned people, including myself, recently started a group (which has grown to several hundred) to try to raise awareness about the plight of the refugees. Such grassroots groups have sprung up all over the country. Early this year some Sydney University students visited by bus all the detention centres. The many obstacles they encountered would lead one to believe that this government has plenty to hide. Their stories can be found at www.rac-vic.org/oztour/maintour.html

Every day more voices are raised in dissent. As word gets out I think it will become impossible for the government to persist with its current policies.

Cathryn Ollif
Armidale, Australia

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Consider Chibaro
I quite agree with Ike Oguine’s concern over Robert Mugabe’s tactics (View from the South, NI 343), but his plea that ‘Africans must reject the temptation to engage in reverse racism’ I have heard rather too many times before – from the mouths of selfish whites in southern Africa.

Africans must reject the temptation to engage in reverse racism

In all the press coverage of (ex) Rhodesia, I have never seen the word ‘Chibaro’, which may go a little way to understanding Mugabe’s extremism. Alerted by friends in Rhodesia in the 1970s, I later found its meaning in the book Chibaro (Pluto Press, London, 1976) by white South African MP Charles van Onselen, who recorded that between 1900 and 1933, no less than 30,000 blacks died in Rhodesia’s mines from unnatural causes.

Such one-sided views, however innocent, are yet another burden for black Zimbabweans to bear, in a conflict in which only too often the British media are pro-white.

John Clarke
Uxbridge, England

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The long wait
It is unfair of Mr Oguine to suggest ‘revenge racism’ is behind the Zimbabwean people objecting to the Commercial Farmers Union members still controlling the most fertile land in Zimbabwe. In 1944-45 did the French allow people who had collaborated with the Nazis to retain their ill-gotten gains? Zimbabweans have waited over 20 years for land, yet while undoubtedly pro-business organizations like the Rotary Club attained over 50-per-cent non-European membership by the mid-1980s the CFU has remained overwhelmingly a white organization.

Keith Hallam
London, England

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Grow up
Your music reviews seemed more than usually out of place in NI 343, especially as they fetched up next door to a piece on acoustic ecology.

Popular music is really one of the saddest casualties of overdeveloped commerce

If there must be a space for pop music even in NI, why not submit that aspect of Western and Westernizing life to the same radical examination that you apply to the rest? Popular music is really one of the saddest casualties of overdeveloped commerce.

In particular, why quote the mostly sentimental and sententious lyrics with such solemn respect? That’s style, not thought – part of the rebel kit which has been selling excellently since Elvis Presley first marketed the pose (though his lyrics at least were unpretentious). Let’s have some real insights into the pop world from your music reviews – or preferably, use the space for more grown-up things.

Matthew Simpson
Wantage, England

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Happily ever after
Your review of Monsoon Wedding (NI 343) is very critical of the film being ‘feel good’. What’s wrong with ‘feel good’? I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It was colourful and entertaining. I was introduced to music I had not heard before. The acting was superb and the pace of the direction excellent. I don’t think we should be oversensitive to a story where the bride decides to marry, as arranged by the parents. Surely raising the issue of paedophilia in an Indian household is to be applauded.

Since humans first communicated we have told stories where problems are resolved and there are good endings. Stories help us to resolve problems even where we don’t agree with the issues. This film is worth seeing.

Julie Schneider
Bristol, England

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Unholy trinity
I would like to thank Jordi Pigem for an excellent article (‘The Altered Landscape’, NI 342) putting recent events into something of a cosmic perspective, a welcome change from the avalanche of analysis coming from the ‘left’ that all sounds so much the same. However, part of the ‘new vision’ we need must be clearly stated as embracing the demise of white supremacy and patriarchy. We have to recognize the unholy trinity of global capitalism-white supremacy-patriarchy for what it really is: a social and institutional expression of evil which must be wholly transformed. Somewhere in our souls we know that this is all part of a great ongoing struggle between a dualism that cannot be escaped – right and wrong, truth and lie, and that in each act we make, one side of the equation is fortified.

Samantha Smart
Minneapolis, US

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Vox poverty
Jeremy Seabrook (‘Unchaining Captive Hearts’, NI 342) is right to point out that the voice of the poorest people often goes unheard. However, perhaps he could have given some space to the organizations around the world which are trying to redress the balance?

I volunteer for ATD Fourth World ( www.atd-uk.org ), an NGO which has frequently brought people from the poorest areas of the world to talk to so-called experts at the United Nations and elsewhere. In the UK it runs the Policy Forum project which is getting Cabinet Ministers, civil servants and other professionals to sit down with and listen to people on the receiving end of social policies.

Kate Evans
Hayes, England

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Not saved yet
In your Chronicle 2001 (NI 342), you state on page 37 that the Government of British Columbia endorsed a proposal to save 20 critical areas in the Great Bear Rainforest. While this is true, as Chris Genovali of the Raincoast Conservation Society recently stated ‘The 20 “protected” areas have not, as of yet, been legislated and there is evidence that the Liberal Government and coastal logging companies are attempting to erode the central coast agreement.’

We now have a right-wing government which is determined to undo anything progressive that has been done by the outgoing government. It is not a sure thing that these areas will be protected, and so it may be premature to celebrate victory!

Dan Lewis & Bonny Glambeck
Tofino, Canada

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Letter from Lebanon

The ring of security
Reem Haddad observes how faith in each other has
worked miracles for cash-pressed refugees.

At every bank they were refused. Even loan sharks turned them away. But they were desperate. Without money or insurance, Lebanese hospitals don’t admit poor Palestinian refugees. And without some kind of dowry, couples were unable to get married.

Frustrated, the inhabitants of a Palestinian camp in Beirut decided to take matters into their own hands.

‘It was the best thing we ever did,’ said Jihad Halimeh as she welcomed me into her house where several women were holding a meeting. There were about 10 women altogether and each was handing over the hard-earned sum of $100 – scrimped and saved from monthly incomes averaging around $250 to $300 – to their designated accountant.

‘You see,’ said Halimeh. ‘We don’t need anyone any more. We don’t have to be scoffed at or humiliated as banks and others tell us to go away. Now, we depend on each other.’

The idea is simple: a group of residents meet once a month and deposit a certain amount of money. And every month, one of the group members collects the entire sum. The sum goes around until everyone has had a turn.

‘Let me explain it better,’ said Halimeh. ‘Right now, I have a group going made up of 10 people. Every month and for 10 months, each person of the group has to give me $100. This brings a monthly sum of $1,000 and every month one person of the group gets this $1,000 to do what he or she pleases with it.’

Illustration: Sarah John Two years ago, Halimeh used that money to pay for her son’s appendicitis operation.

‘How else could I have paid for it?’ she said. ‘I don’t even know if the hospital would have admitted my son if I hadn’t had the money ready.’

It was Halimeh who created the first group in 1995. Her cousin was visiting from a refugee camp in Damascus and told her about these groups, popular in Syrian camps, which create quick lump sums of money. And as life in the poverty-stricken camps in Beirut was getting even harder with high unemployment and debts piling up, Halimeh decided to try out the idea at her own camp. She recruited a group. Among them was Mariam Hariri, who was eager to begin her daughter’s dowry.

‘We were only about five or six people then and each person put in $50,’ recalled Hariri. ‘But it was enough to buy some gold for my daughter.’

The idea quickly caught on and many flocked to Halimeh and Hariri wanting to create their own groups. In the seven years that Hariri has joined groups, she’s been able to throw a wedding reception for one of her sons, build an extension to her home and ‘best of all, I presented my son on the eve of his marriage with $4,000,’ she said proudly.

One woman bought a taxi licence for her unemployed husband and ensured a steady income for her family while another group member was finally able to purchase a wheelchair for her physically disabled brother.

Whoever launches the group is responsible for its book-keeping and for any shortcomings.

‘We’ve never had anyone not pay up their dues,’ said Halimeh. ‘It could happen that one month I may have to cover for somebody but that person immediately pays me back the following month.’

Those needing the collected sum for medical reasons always take priority in receiving the money. ‘Other than that we take turns,’ said Halimeh.

For one woman, Majida, groups have become her life security.

‘I’m always in one group or another,’ she said. ‘You don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. If somebody in my family gets sick, I immediately ask for my money. And if the year passes and no emergencies occur, then I use it to buy things for the house. This year, for example, we’ll use it to go on holiday in Syria.’

A group of children was quietly watching the proceedings in the room. They, too, have started their own banking system. Their banker is their grandmother.

‘The last time I had 45 children from the camp in a group and each had to give me $3 every week,’ explained the grandmother proudly. ‘Every three weeks, one child would receive around $60.’

Suddenly all eyes turned to me. ‘Why don’t you create your own group in your neighbourhood?’ said Halimeh.

I promised to try. But I have yet to. Somehow I doubted that I would find the same loyalty, determination and commitment as the refugees did in each other. Halimeh offered me the chance to join her group when I need money. I may just do that.

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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