*staggers towards you*

I’m still alive! I’m turning in presentations and papers! I only have one week left of school and two weeks of terms!

Augh!

I turned in a presentation today about Body Image around the world– would anyone be interested in my posting a copy of that presentation here, for public edification?

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Poem of the Day #ALL

The Thing Is
by Ellen Bass

To love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

Race Against Time: Women and Children Last, UN Where?

[This blog post covers the chapters “Education: An Avalanche of Studies, Little Studying”, “Women: Half the World, Barely Represented” and “Solutions: A Gallery of Alternatives in Good Faith” in¬†Race Against Time.]

The first two chapters of this book covered the AIDS crisis, and its magnitude. The rest of the book begins to talk more and more about possible proposed solutions. And that is when the role of the UN comes in a lot.

I really had not thought a great deal about the UN before reading this book. They appeared in the news expressing opinions a lot, but many of the people reporting the news didn’t seem to think that the opinions of the UN were terribly binding. I mostly wrote off the influence of the UN as being useful. However, since reading this book I am reconsidering. Whether or not they actually respect the influence of the UN, governments around the world pay lip service to it. They agree with the objectives (I’m thinking here specifically of the Millenium Development Goals), they promise to help, and then things don’t change.

In the book, Stephen Lewis lays the blame for things not changing on the “Developing World” and the UN. He uses the example of the the second Millennium Development Goal, Universal Primary Education. Governments, NGOs, and the UN are all in agreement that universal primary education is something with no downsides and many upsides. An educated population is less susceptible to civil war, they are healthier, they produce a faster-growing economy, and– in the case of AIDS– an educated population has an infection rate half of that of an uneducated population. And yet, it is projected that 88 countries will not have universal access to primary education by 2015.

The problem is school fees. With hundreds of millions of people living on under a dollar a day, those families can’t afford to pay fees to send children to school. (This is especially true in child-headed households. There is just no extra money to spend on education.) A family might manage to pull together the money to send one child to school, or even two, but not all of them. (This would also be why, of the millions of children not in school, 60% are female.) There are, of course, other issues which will stop children from getting an education. However, if schooling is without “user fees”– this has been demonstrated again and again– the number of children in school doubles. Especially importantly, many of the children who enroll when school is free are orphans without support. These are children with education as one of their very few avenues of escape from destitution.

What gets Lewis so angry is the fact that everyone has acknowledged that school fees serve as a significant impediment to education, and getting rid of them would be a fabulous idea. In 2000 UNICEF announced that their primary goal was the abolition of school fees. They then did not mention it again for five years. In that five years, millions of children continued to not have access to literally life-saving education.

At this point in the book Lewis, as a longtime employee of the UN, delves into the inner workings and machinations of that institution, and he does not like what he finds. In this particular instance (the issue of the strangely silent UNICEF head) it turns out that as soon as she returned from this announcement she was pounced on by people who felt that this movement wouldn’t be supported the nations who currently charged school fees. They didn’t have the infrastructure, they didn’t have the teachers– just cancelling fees like that would result in over-crowding and a poor education for the children. It would be better to wait until the infrastructure could support the inevitable influx of children wanting to be taught. So they said no more about it, waiting.

Lewis points out that many nations with school fees lost the school system under conditional loans in the 80s, and had not been free from debt long enough since then to build it back up. They still have the debt, therefore in the five years where nothing was said, nothing happened.

The issue of infrastructure is one of the things that he feels very strongly about. Even part of an education in an over-full school, he feels, is better than no education. (If it’s worth doing something, it’s worth doing it poorly.) However, he feels that either people in government are committed to only doing things if they can do them perfectly, or they’re just paying lip service to it.

The issue comes up again with the third Millenium Development Goal, Gender Equality. It is not happening in any sector, and Lewis again says the UN is responsible. As everyone has agreed that Gender equality enriches a culture, helps half of the population live longer and out of vulnerable employment, and is just the right thing to do, the UN should be there to remind them of what they said before and nudge them towards making political decisions that reflect that stance towards equality. And at the very least, the UN should be setting a good example of equality!

Within the UN power structure, only 5.5 percent of ambassadors are women. So that’s not working out so much.

As someone self-identified as a feminist and deeply involved with the AIDS crisis, the gender inequality issue just drives Stephen Lewis around the bend. Women are most often infected with AIDS by their husbands, who have been visiting prostitutes or simply cheating on them. And yet, even if they are sure that their husbands are being unfaithful, (before they are infected,) they have little or no means of protection from AIDS if they were to stay, legal support if they were to file for divorce, or financial support if they were to leave. So these women just have to play Russian Roulette. World wide, 50% more of children who are uneducated are women, and as previously mentioned, infection rates are twice as high in people without education. They simply don’t know how what the risks are.

*Cue Stephen Lewis tearing his hair out*

The issue of gender equality, while everyone can see that something is not working right now to achieve it, is very difficult to fix. People just don’t seem to care. Even people within the UN, those who claim to be fully committed to gender equality, don’t seem to care that much.

My opinion on the role of the UN is not fully formed yet. I feel like I don’t have quite enough information. He makes some very compelling points, but I’m not sure if we can lay ALL the blame squarely on one person or entity. I’m not sure if I believe in the power of the UN to influence that much, anyways.

Though, after reading the book one thing I am sure on is that there is an issue. The last part of the book is devoted to possible solutions. And interestingly, none of them are “If we just do this everything will be fixed!” They are small solutions, aimed at helping part of the problem. AIDS is not a Gordian Knot, to be cut with one stroke, it’s a whale, to be eaten one small spoonful at a time.

Race Against Time: Living Under Pandemic

[This blog post covers the chapter “Pandemic: My Country Is On Its Knees” in Race Against Time. I’ve got a bunch of those posts– I think the book has important things to say.]

The process of dying is not an easy one. Unlike what we see in movies, death is not tragically pretty, and it does not happen quickly. And this goes double for wasting diseases.  If you thought watching someone die for five minutes in a movie was hard, try watching them die over five days. Over five weeks. Over five years. With the prevalence rate of AIDS/HIV in Africa at this time, one would have to be very very lucky to not have to live through the long, slow death of a friend or a family member. In this book, Steven Lewis mentions that a growth industry in Central Africa is the manufacture of coffins; regular and child-sized.

So that’s one massive impact AIDS has had on the culture, the sheer¬†prevalence¬†of death. Another has been the manner of that death.¬†Once someone has been diagnosed with a fatal disease, it takes money and medical attention to make the time till their heart stops as easy as possible. Morphine isn’t expensive, as drugs go, but it still takes about 8 dollars for a week’s supply for someone with severe pain. In Africa, there are between 400 and 500 Million people who survive on LESS than a dollar a day. So no pain medication.

And checking into the Hospital is a good option, in many places. In Lilongwe Central Hospital, in Malawi’s Hospital, there is one night nurse to deal with a ward holding sixty or seventy people. All of these people, by the time they go to the hospital, are in such a state they would be in intensive care if they were in Canada. Instead, they are packed in two to a bed, often with another person on the floor under the bed, all¬†dying.¬†They regularly wheel in carts to take out the bodies.

Malawi is a country with a 20% infection rate, as I’ve mentioned. Of your five best friends, one of them would be dying.

I feel like words do not adequately express the horror of the situation. Language is completely insufficient.

People lose friends, parents lose children, and children lose parents. So many children lose parents. It’s suggested that the last epidemic that left orphans in such numbers was the Black Death, and we have little data about how cultures dealt with the loss of parents in such numbers. Children are¬†intensely¬†indebted to their parents for support structure both physical and emotion, and reliant on their parents for teaching about everything from “how do deal with puberty” to “how to be a good person.” Instead, children of parents with AIDS have to be caregivers and wage earners, and then they have to¬†bury their parents. They have to bury their parents when they are 14, or 12, or 8.

Again, words fail me.

And then after the children are left alone, what do they do? In some situations they are able to rely on their grandparents for support, but other times they are left alone. This happens frequently enough not to be a community-rocking tragedy, after all. So you have situations in which grandparents in their 70s and 80s are raising the children of their children. Sometimes they raise the children of several of their children. You also have situations in which children are the heads of their own households, again at age 14, or 12, or 8.

The emotional toll this takes on a country is bad enough, (horrifying enough), but there is also an economic toll. AIDS has been ravaging Africa long enough that two generations of wage-earners are decimated. Industry fails– and importantly– farming suffers. When your food is still chiefly grown in your back yard, not having people who can go out and deal with it means you starve.

So this is the magnitude of the issue Africa is dealing with.

Race Against Time: Context for a Crisis

[This blog post covers the chapter “Context: It Shames and Diminishes Us All” in Race Against Time. I have a series of these posts lined up.]

Stephen Lewis has had a 30-year career with the UN. Over that time he has been witness to absolutely horrible things. Before his role as the special envoy for HIV/AIDS, he was participating in a study on the Rwanda Genocide. None of that, he says, compares to the soul-destroying magnitude of the AIDS crisis. And the agony of the situation is all the maddening because the Western World, in the guise of helping, is making the situation worse.

So when I heard about aid being sent to developing countries, before this book, I had this naive idea that it was just given. Like a grant, you know? We see that people are in horrible situations, and so we GIVE money to help. But no. In this lecture I was introduced to the concepts of conditional aid loans.

Under this idea, the World Bank or the IMF will take money (which will be reported to us as “aid”), and loan it to struggling countries on the condition that they do some things to their economy. Usually these things involve¬†privatization. For example, they would privatize their healthcare system, or put user-fees on their schools. There are “macroeconomic¬†limits” on the amount of doctors and nurses that can be hired, and¬†limits¬†on the amount of GDP that can be spent by the government on the “social sectors.” Many of these loans were negotiated before the AIDS crisis impacted, (conditionality was very popular in the 1980s), but not all.¬†And the World Bank refuses to relax those conditions.

So in the face of a 20% infection rate, the government of Malawi is not allowed to hire more nurses or doctors.

I think everyone, whether they think social services should be run by governments or the private sector in times of peace, can see that something is very wrong with that situation. You have a slow-wasting fatal disease, something that renders a formerly healthy person unable to work and removes at least that one person from the work force to be a caregiver, and those people are supposed to be able to just pay for medicines?

The amazing thing is that, even with economies crumbling under the weight of dead and dying bodies, the money¬†was¬†paid back.¬†Between 1970 and 2002, African countries¬†acquired¬†two hundred and¬†ninety¬†four billion dollars in debt. This debt was mostly taken on by military dictators. (Because lending money to dictators to buy guns and palaces is the definition of the concept of “aid.) Over that same time, the amount of those loans paid back was two hundred and sixty billion. And of that, one hundred and¬†ninety¬†six billion went to interest, sixty four billion went against the principle and two hundred and¬†thirty¬†billion is still owed.

So we have: $294,000,000,000.00 loaned (for aid.)

Paid back: $260,000,000,000.00

And that breaks out to;

Paid on the principle: $64,000,000,000.00

Paid in interest: $196,000,000,000.00

Still owing: $230,000,000,000.00

Again, that just seems wrong, somehow. Something is not right with this picture. It’s hard to fight a massive medical battle with this as your standing point.

(This isn’t even counting the effects of agricultural subsidies. In the EU and US, in 2005, three hundred and fifty billion dollars ($350,000,000,000.00 USD) were ploughed into agricultural¬†subsidies. That’s five times more than goes to¬†foreign¬†aid. Hard to attain a “global partnership for¬†development” with an “open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system”¬†on that footing. I guess we’re giving up on that Millennium Development Goal.)

David and Jonathan

[Warning: The Following Contains Christianity. Interesting stuff though, I think. I hope.]

So over the last week our school had a week-of-prayer, with a little prayer room set up. There were art supplies and a lot of paper, (and some Bibles), and some prayer books. The idea was that you would spend an hour at a time reading, or writing, or painting, and just talking to God. A bit more¬†mediative¬†than the desperate OH-GOD-SAVE-ME prayer I’m used to, and I found the difference really intersting. So I painted a bunch, and wrote little notes to tell people that they were awesome, and I read a bunch of a Celtic Prayer book.

If anyone wants to get me this for Christmas, I would love you forever.

It had daily readings and devotionals that were more useful or less useful as the case may be, but I was extremely caught by the reading for November 10th. In it, they were talking about David and¬†Jonathan, and what it meant that they’d sworn a blood oath, a covenant, regarding each other. They were more than just good friends, they had become the local¬†equivalent¬†of blood brothers. The oath, (as reconstructed through SCIENCE (or maybe tradition)), is this;
This bread is my body, all my strength is yours, and this wine my blood which I will shed willingly on your behalf. Your enemies become my enemies, too. All I have is yours by right.

So you know. Legit. And why would Saul have then gone crazy and done his best to kill David when he heard they’d done this? Because they’d both become each other’s heirs. If for any reason Jonathan died (perhaps in battle, he was a crazy military leader after all), the crown would go to David. And because Saul was all about personal power MY FAMILY MINE I AM THE GREATEST THE CROWN WILL EVER BE MINE BECAUSE I AM SO AWESOME LOOK AT ME GO, he found the idea that the crown would go to someone else to be a trifle offensive.

Anyways, we know how that ended. Jonathan died in battle, and David was crowned king by the whole nation, who said “We can follow the son of the crazy guy or we can follow the military¬†strategist¬†who the prophet tells us to follow. Looks like the Prophet is SPEAKING TRUTH.”

But when I heard saw that passage for the first time, those phrases sounded familiar. If you’ve been in a church setting a lot, you’ve probably heard communion taken. And then if you look at Matthew 26, it goes;

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‚ÄúTake and eat; this is my body.‚ÄĚ

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‚ÄúDrink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
— Matt 26:26-29

So this is like– SIMILAR. And I know it’s not an exact match, but it makes sudden SENSE to me that when Jesus was saying those things, he’d be referencing some cultural context everybody knew. “Look, we’re blood brothers, my job is on you and I can totally die in your place. Which I’m gonna do. CAUSE WE”RE BLOOD BROTHERS now drink up.”

I am so heretical.

Bros

But like– *points from passage to passage* doesn’t it look like it matches a bit? Cultural references? Because I was always baffled as to why Jesus would say something like that. Why are you talking about blood and bread like that?

It’s because Jesus is talking to his BEST FRIENDS. And he’s saying that they’re family now, and when he says for everyone else to keep sharing the bread and the wine, they’re becoming blood brothers with Jesus too. (And each other? Yes? Yes?)

And I suppose that also means we have Jesus’s imperative to help the poor and be friends with the people who society treats as worthless or “sinners” and stand up to the establishment and tell them to stick their heads in buckets of water and boil them, etc.

Historical context makes thinks make sense, I am SO MUCH A FAN.

And so there’s that.

“Life has never been normal.”

Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right. But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never comes. Periclean Athens leaves us not only the Parthenon, but, significantly, the Funeral Oration. The insects have chosen a different line: they have sought first the material welfare and security of the hive, and presumably they have their reward. Men are different. They propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache: it is our nature.

— C. S. Lewis: Learning In War-Time