A Story from Somalia

The following is an excerpt from James Orbinski’s An Imperfect Offering.  I’ve just begun the book, and I’m intrigued to read more of what he has to say: both of the extremely despairing and beautiful, his work as a humanitarian doctor, and his views on politics.

Here, Orbinski describes his first act as a humanitarian doctor.  In October 1992, after arriving in Baidoa, Somalia (known at the time as the City of Death), assigned as MSF’s (Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders) medical coordinator, he noticed some movement within one of the morgue tents.  After first turning away and not wanting to know what this could mean, he looked and saw that the wind was strong enough to move a tent flap.  But then the man’s eyes fluttered.  He was laying among the dead.

He weighed less than 70 pounds, and I thought him light as I tried to catch his arm from falling.  I did this without thinking.  I acted not as I thought I should but as I had no choice but to do.

All the beds inside the medical tent were taken, so I laid him on the ground.  A helper put a blanket over him.  She was irritated and told me impatiently that he had been moved to the morgue because there was not enough time or people to look after all of the patients, and in any case, he was going to die anyway.  At that moment, I felt rage at the efficiency of placing the living among the dead.  And I felt despair – for him, for myself.  I could be him, dependent on the actions of a stranger for the hope of at least dignity in death.

His eyes opened and closed.  He shivered under the blanket, and soon he was dead.  This was the last violated remnant of a fuller life.  I didn’t even know his name, but I knew he had been someone’s son, someone’s friend and possibly someone’s husband, someone’s father.  What choices led to civil war and famine, leaving hundreds of thousands of people like this man to suffer in this way, at this time, in the last decade of the twentieth century.

These kinds of stories are atrocious.  But they also must be told.  For our world is filled with choices, Orbinski sees humanitarianism “as a challenge to political choices that too often kill or allow others to be killed”.  If we do not know the effects of such choices – the real life stories of people and their communities – we have little motivation to change political choices, to raise our voice, to speak out against injustice, violence, dehumanization, or genocide.

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The Rich DO have more rights!

They have more of a right to help those who are in need, suffering, and without resources.

They have more of a right to help the poor, homeless, and hungry.

They have more of a right to help stop violence, war, and genocide.

They have more of a right to help stop pollution and protect the environment.

 

They, we, do have more rights, don’t you think?

 


Message or comment to add what rights you think the wealthy are entitled to, and what you’re doing to help make our world a better place.  – I’ll add it to the list.

Gaia: A New Look at life on the Earth. A long summary.

James Lovelock, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, New York: Oxford University PRess, 1979, pp. vvi-12.

We all know of “Mother Earth” – even the Greeks called her Gaia.  She, as a concept, has been the basis of a belief that lasts the length of recorded history.  Recently, as a result of the accumulation of evidence about the natual environment and the growth of the science of ecology, there have been speculations that the biosphere may be more that just the complete range of all living things within their natal habitat of soil, sea, and air.

Continue reading

Want some ethical shoes?

I suppose that shoes aren’t something we buy as often as groceries or coffee or tea, but they are something we invest a reasonable amount of money into.

nice… right?

The last pair of shoes I recall buying were my Adidas sneakers.  If I recall more correctly, my mom bought them for me and they probably cost around $60.

They’re nice: black suede, and orange rubber sole, and the classic 3-stripes in bright green-yellow — I like them.

But I don’t like things like this:

Indonesian factory workers producing clothes for the German sportswear giant Adidas are subject to forced overtime, physical abuse and poverty-line wages, the European parliament heard yesterday.

– The Guardian, Thursday 23 November 2000

Continue reading

“Walking”: A somewhat poetic summary

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking,” from the Thoreau Reader.  A somewhat poetic summary.



Walking.

Words for Nature, absolute Freedom, and Wilderness.

Man as an inhabitant, part and parcel of nature.

Come sauntering: à la sainte terre.  Not idly or as a vagabond.

All the earth is our home; sitting idly in a house makes you a vagrant.

Come sauntering, as a crusade, reconquer this holy land from the infidels.

A faint-hearted crusade… but only if you are ready to leave all behind,

free.

Then you will be ready for a walk. Continue reading

Part 2, David Orr’s “What is Education For?”

Part 1 is here.


Rethinking Education

Orr then gives six principles for rethinking education

Rethinking Education #1: All education is environmental education.

Curriculum determines whether students view themselves as part of or apart from the natural world.  Economics without ecology or thermodynamics assumes that ecology and physics have nothing to do with economics.

One could say that economics is completely independent of those things, but without an ecology, there is no real economy – plain and simple. Continue reading

Part 1, David Orr’s “What is Education For?”

David Orr’s, “What is Education For?”, from Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect.  (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2004, pp. 7-15).

Orr begins with a plethora of rather down-to-‘earth’ statistics, letting us know that everyday we lose: 116 square miles of rainforest (an acre a second), 72 miles of land to desert every day, 40-250 species (whether it’s 40 or 250 no one knows).  The human population will increase by 250 000, and we’ll add 2700 tons of chlorofluorocarbons and 15 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.  He notes that in the year 2000, “perhaps as much as 20% of the life forms extant on the planet in the year 1900 will be extinct.”  Orr lets us know that the loss of land is due to human mismanagement and overpopulation.

The effects of all this are much more important than the statistics:

The truth is that many things on which our future health and prosperity depend on are in dire jeopardy: climate stability, the resilience and productivity of natural systems, the beauty of the natural world, and biological diversity.

I wonder if these things are truly what our future health and prosperity depend on.

Orr changes gears.  He describes that this – our overpopulation and mismanagement – is not the work of ignorant people, but by very educated people.  He compares this to what Elie Wiesel points out: that the designers and perpetrators of Auschwitz, Dachau, and Buchenwald – the Holocaust – were the heirs of Kant and Goethe, widely thought to be the best educated people on earth. But their education did not serve as an adequate barrier to barbarity.  “What was wrong with their education?” Asks Orr.  He uses Wiesel’s words:

It emphasized theories instead of values, concepts rather than human beings, abstraction rather than consciousness, answers instead of questions, ideology and efficiency rather than conscience.

Continue reading

Upcoming things

There has been a lot on my mind:

  • the environment
  • some recent lecture material (including Dr. James Orbinski)
  • humanity (some good things, lots of bad things)
  • the military (it’s not good)
  • conversations with strangers (who become less strange and become a person)
  • Christmas and the church

There should be a number of posts coming soon.  Including a 10-part series on my Environmental Studies readings.  I have exams until the 20th and I hope that my studying will be well interspersed with piano practicing and blog writing.