Saturday, 22 March 2008

No answers, more questions.

Easter is in full swing here on the Rio. Swing being the operative word! The number of motorboats going up and down past the marina is fast approaching the numbers to be seen on the Hamble. Well I guess that is a slight exaggeration but it certainly feels like it...

As our current visit here draws to a close, the bizarre disparity on view this weekend has certainly made me think about this country of Guatemala.

Yesterday afternoon there was a guy on a cayuco throwing a fishing net at the back of the boat whilst overhead zoomed a black helicopter and just across the water any number of big sports fishing boat dash up and down the river. Winding between all that, were smaller watercraft of every shape and size loaded down with families out enjoying their holiday time.

One tank-load of the fuel used by some of those boats would cost more than the guy fishing from his canoe can hope to see in a year, I wonder what he thinks as he clings to the sides of his traditional boat as the wake of motorboats threatens to sink his hollowed out tree trunk?

He, and his kind, seem to be invisible to the richer Guatemalans, they really don't even see that they are there. Talk about the 'disappeared'...

A medical mission has been using the Marina as its base this week for a group of doctors and nurses from the Mid-West area of the USA. They seemed to be a genuinely committed bunch but nevertheless their very presence here makes me ponder on the ethical and moral issues that intervention in other Nations highlights.

On the one hand, as a mother, were my child to be in danger I am certain I would be desperate for any assistance I could get my hands on... and yet...

The consequences of treating merely the symptoms of a culture's problems rather than the systematic causes are appreciable and hard to anticipate. I can go into the jungle with my 'magic' potions and save lives, mitigate birth defects and leave. But what have I really achieved for those people? Have I provided the wherewithal to feed that extra mouth that in the natural order would have died? Have I provided the knowledge and means of birth control to counter-balance the increased life expectancy that my magic has given? Have I provided a glimpse in to another world that can never be attained? And who am I really doing this for?

I wonder how deeply these, no doubt, well-intended medical practitioners reflect on what they are doing. And do they return to their places of origin untouched by these experiences or are they, somehow, more thoughtful and less arrogant as professionals?

Cultural Imperialism has been with us for many, many generations. It is sad that we have learned so little from history as we, and I speak generally here, continue to press our own beliefs and standards on to Nations that really have very little in common with the countries that we come from. To attempt to alter the lifestyle, beliefs and cultures because, we believe, our way is better is a terrible thing.

Three questionable assumptions underpin the rise of science and technology and of the industrial movement that has shaped the history of the West since the Reformation. First, that empirical science is not just a form of knowledge but the ONLY source of positive knowledge in the world. Second, that it is appropriate to purge people's minds of mysticism, superstition and other forms of pseudo-knowledge. Finally, that extending scientific and technical control of society is not just politically sound but morally right.

Do these encounters encourage us to challenge such assumptions? Or do we return home untouched by the experience, smug and certain in our superior view of the world?

What my time here has taught me is that there are no easy answers, just many, many, more questions.

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