Tag Archives: poverty

Counting My Blessings

Fumbling for my keys, my fingers so numb I can hardly feel anything. The icey blast encourages me in my efforts. Found them thank god! I open the communal door to the block of flats, mount the stairs and let myself into my cosey flat.

Turning on Smooth FM, the sound of Phil Collins “Another Day In Paradise” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Another_Day_in_Paradise) greets me. Collin’s sings about a woman calling out to a man on the street. She is homeless and in a bad way. He walks on pretending not to have seen her.

Thinking back to a few minutes past it hits me just how fortunate I am. I own a warm, comfortable apartment to come home to when the cold wind causes even the most hardy among us to shiver. Others are not so fortunate. They shiver in doorways, wrapped in blankets or, sometimes with only the warmth of a fellow street dweller to help them retain some animal heat.

If I had, by some mischance forgotten my keys it would have been an uncomfortable experience. However I could have buzzed a neighbour who holds a spare set to let me in or, failing that contacted a friend. I would not have spent the night on the streets of London. It makes me count my blessings.

 

Kevin

I had an adventure nun-the-less.

I had an adventure nun-the-less

Many thanks to Cupitonians for the following excellent post about her experiences in Tanzania. Like Cupitonians, I also attended a religious school, but that is, as they say, another story.

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So I landed in Tanzania, not knowing a soul. I was in touch with a contact of a contact. They had never met each other before but you know what they say about leaps of faith and trust. The only thing I did know was that I was meant to meet a nun from the Ursuline congregation. My dad, being the resourceful guy that he is, googled the habit(uniform) of the nun so that I wouldn’t be confused by the hordes of religious people that would haunt the airport. He had a point, any third world country is jam packed with missionaries (read priests and nuns) who are there to alleviate poverty and other religious phrases I’m too lazy to google.

I landed in a bathroom sized airport, grinned from ear to ear because I was finally in a country I had dreamed of being in since I was 7. I was apprehensive. What if my contact wouldn’t be there? I knew no one, knew nothing, had heard horror stories of tourists being taken for a ride and left for near dead. Dread started to fill me but I put my brave face on as I walked out the airport doors, backpack in tow. My fear quickly faded as I spotted the habit of the contact and I quickly walked to her. She hugged me and I was relieved to hear her speak English to me. Contrary to popular belief, English is NOT the first or official language of Tanzania. It’s Swahili.

Stella, that was her name, had lived in Canada for a while and so knew English and was confident and full of stories and questions that kept my mind off the fact that a few minutes after my arrival, I was shoved into a bus with too small seats and a goat under me that kept nipping at my feet. 4 hours later, we reached a beautiful area with a mountain right outside the window of the room they gave me. I watched the palm and banana trees and the sun set brilliantly behind that mountain and I smiled. I didn’t realize Africa could be so green. I already knew it would blow me away.

My dinner was a plate of spaghetti, another thing that took me by surprise. I had no idea that Tanzanians were into pasta. Later on in my trip though, I found out that the Ursuline congregation is an Italian one and no matter the poverty around, the nuns and priests of any congregation always ate well. This was further proved by my breakfast feast of fresh bread and butter and the most amazing cup of black coffee that was ever brewed.

The next day, Stella and her sister bought me a pair of Tanzanian styled clothes that were commonly worn in that area and we set off on another bus journey, this time a 12 hour one through all sorts of sceneries. We finally reached a deserted place that finally looked like the Africa you would see in documentaries. The land was parched and dry, little malnourished kids roamed the streets, caked in mud but in the middle of this, the nuns had created an oasis. Flowers were blooming and well watered, there were beautiful buildings with stained glass dotting the perimeter. The stained glass shadows on the dry earth made it look like we were walking on rainbow streets.

The nuns were all at the road and welcomed me with a song and dance number. This is one of the most shocking things I found in Tanzania. I studied in a convent school and so my idea of nuns was that they were poker faced and strict and that the idea of “fun” was indoctrinated out of them and yet in front of me, their voices came out together in harmony and they moved like their body was moulded to dance.

I spent a 4 -5 months with different religious communities across Tanzania and learnt a lot of things about the religious life.

  1. There are so many youngsters who join the church because the alternative is rape, hunger and poverty. The church provides you shelter, healthy meals, a job and respect.
  2. On account of them joining such closed communities, the maturity levels of most of the nuns remain the same as when they joined. Because they are sheltered and they grow up with just girls their age, I found that the nuns, no matter their age, acted more like shy preteen girls than anything else.
  3. The priests, on the other hand, get more opportunities to travel, see the world, interact with more people and enjoy more power in the society. Therefore, they have cars, big houses, even better food and a chance to be treated as royalty by the community. They enjoy rich and generous gifts.
  4. On account of this, priests believe they are God’s gift to women kind and so think it their duty to hit on any nun or any foreigner they see. I have been approached by more priests than I can count.
  5. Sex is such a natural instinct among Tanzanians that people struggle to come to terms with the restrictions religion has placed on them. I remember one nun saying in a matter of fact way that the church allows you to have one wife but you can also have one mistress. I’ve also heard many stories of women having hysterectomies so they don’t have to deal with pregnancies.
  6. The nuns are truly charitable. I have seen development and schools where you could never imagine there would be one. They have done more for the nation than the government has.
  7. That being said, they are still very orthodox in their ways of thinking. I was once part of a very interesting debate between a very well educated priest and nun when the nun said that she was the wife of Christ
  8. They are essentially good people,
  9. They care so much about the way they look. I have been on shopping trips across mountains where the nuns buy stockings and black stylish shoes. They are so stylish and well-kept that I often felt out of place during pass and other public events
  10. They pray 5 times a day and since I was lived for free with them, I was obliged to attend all five. Suffice to say, I haven’t seen the inside of a church since 2012.

By Command Of The Lord Chancellor

“By command of the Lord Chancellor, help the homeless”. The man stands there, in the train compartment bellowing out his command. Noone responds. “Help the homeless”, again the Scottish voice booms out on this London commuter train. Once more there is no response from the passengers on the way home to their warm apartments or, like me going to meet friends for a slap up meal, with a nice bottle of red wine in my favourite Indian restaurant.

The same journey, an earlier time.

“Ladies and gentlemen. I am sorry to disturb you but me and my friends need money to buy “The Big Issue” to sell. I wouldn’t usually ask but can anyone spare some change”. The same man, with the Scottish accent asking for money. On this (earlier) occasion there is the jingling of change as one or two commuters give money.

I am not the only person who has observed this gentleman on numerous occasions as he begs for money on the train as it wends it’s way from Victoria towards Crystal Palace. Noone believes his story about needing money for “The Big Issue”, we have seen and heard him before. However a sense of compassion has, hitherto moved some of us to give but, on this latest occasion the gentleman’s threatening manner illicits no charitable outpouring.

I wonder what this man’s story is? There but for the grace of god, chance or however one cares to frame it go you or I.

Book Review: Eugenics And Other Evils By G K Chesterton

I recently read Eugenics And Other Evils by G K Chesterton, http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0082XCCNK?ie=UTF8&ref_=oce_digital_UK. Chesterton wrote at a time when eugenics was gaining ground. Politicians ranging from Will Crooks on the left (Crooks was a member of the British Labour Party) and Winston Churchill (at one time a Liberal but later a Conservative) advocated eugenic measures while intellectuals such as the Webbs joined in championing such ideas.

In essence Chesterton argues that old-style capitalists/individualists such as Cobden and Bright had believed that the capitalist system would in time uplift the condition of the poor through increased prosperity. As time went on it became apparent that the condition of the mass of the population was not improving. The wealthy members of society became alarmed by what they saw as the deteriation in the quality of the population and the stubborn problem of pauperism so became receptive to the arguments of the advocates of eugenics. Likewise many on the left embraced eugenic measures out of a belief that social planning of which eugenics should form an integral part could improve the condition of the working classes.

While Chesterton rejected capitalism as it existed at the time of writing he was no fan of socialism either. He saw both systems as seeking to control people. In his view capitalism denyed the poor property by paying them insufficient wages thereby preventing the accumulation of property. Socialism on the other hand saw property as the cause of social evils and actively saught to limit or prevent it’s accumulation. Chesterton advocates a middle course in which property is widely distributed thereby enhancing the independence of the population and uplifting the condition of the poor. Widely distributed property rather than eugenic measures are, in Chesterton’s view the answer to the widespread pauperism which he condemns in Eugenics and other Evils.

So what where the eugenic measures which Chesterton attacks?

In 1912 the British Parliament passed a bill allowing for the separation of “the feeble minded” from the rest of the population. The term feeble minded was not well defined and led to the confinement in institutions of everyone from the genuinely mentally ill to those with minor learning difficulties and unmarried mothers. Pauperism was seen by many eugenicists as a disease the cure for which was to prevent so far as was possible the breeding of those afflicted by it.

In the UK there was no mass sterilisation programme despite it’s advocacy by many eugenicists. However in the United States organisations such as the Eugenics Records Office under the leadership of Charles Davenport and Harry Laughlin played a leading role in persuading American states to introduce sterilisation programmes under which those with various forms of disabilities and unmarried mothers (among others) where sterilised. Nazi eugenicists modelled the German eugenics law on the law drawn up by Laughlin although in Germany, unlike America sterilisation lead on to mass killing of disabled people under the Action T4 Programme.

After World War II eugenics fell out of fashion as a consequence of the atrocities committed under the Nazis but also due to advances in science which showed flaws in eugenics (E.G. few now believe that the poor are poor due to genetic defects).

Chesterton wrote Eugenics and other Evils in 1922. Given the abuses committed in the name of eugenics his book was remarkably prescient.

Victims of Circumstance

The causes of human action are a source of endless fascination to me. There is a tendency inherent in much discourse to ascribe simple explanations to why humans act as they do. Marxists argue that it is the economic base (the wealth of individuals and their status in society) which largely determines why persons behave in specific ways, for example people living in poverty are more likely to turn to criminality while the rich are likely to vote for parties which will sustain the capitalist status-quo. Others argue that it is genetics which explains human motivation and that of other animals. Thus the individual possessing “good” genetic material is likely to do well academically, attain a well paying job and be less likely to turn to criminality than the individual who has “inferior” genetic material.

Both positions are reductionist in that they attempt to ascribe simple explanations to the behaviour of highly complex living organisms. While it is undoubtedly the case that many people filling our jails are from deprived backgrounds most of those from “the wrong side of the tracks” do not become criminals. Again individuals from apparently loving and well-to-do backgrounds do, on occasions turn to crime for reasons which are difficult to fathom.

All of the above brings me to the point of this post, why do educated middle class girls turn to the world’s oldest profession? The prostitute is often portrayed as a victim of circumstance by the media and in literature, a poor down trodden drug addicted person possessing little (if any) autonomy). There are of course women and men who fit into this stereotype, however many sex workers are not drug addicts and by no means all of them are ill educated. I will explore in a future story why a lady from an affluent background turns to sex work of her own volition. While I have ideas for my story they are far from being set in concrete. The longer I live the more I come to realise that reductionist approaches contain at best only partial explanations to complex issues. Yes social and economic forces do help to shape the lives of humanity but humans are not mere feathers blown hither and thither by them. The ideas emanating from human brains and the actions flowing from them also shape our lives and those of others for better or worse.

This Online Novel Is Worth Checking Out

This story about a young girl with a mother who is addicted to drugs and alcohol is worth checking out. I’ve just read chapter one and I’m looking forward to reading the remainder http://medusamoon13.webs.com/

The Rise In Student Prostitution

I am in the process of publishing my second book of short stories, “The First Time” which will be available to purchase from late December. The primary story in my collection is entitled “The First Time” and looks at why Becky, a young graduate with a first-class degree in English literature enters the world of prostitution as a professional escort. In the story Becky sees no way of clearing her credit card debt other than selling her body. She fears losing her flat and becoming homeless and, in desperation requests her friend, Julie to introduce her to Mike one of Julie’s customers.

 

In an article entitled “The motivation behind the rise in student prostitution” “The Angle”, a student newspaper, suggests that the increasing numbers of students entering the sex industry can not simply be laid at the door of financial hardship. The author argues that people taking out mortgages rarely turn to prostitution as an easy way of paying off the loan, so why therefore do significant numbers of students perceive escorting/prostitution as a way of making easy money? The author largely discounts financial hardship as a factor in the rise of student prostitution, rather he sees the growth in student prostitutes as stemming from the naievity of the students themselves. By the time they realise what they have let themselves in for (the provision of sexual services rather than merely providing company for lonely professionals) it is to late for them to back out of the contract.

In contrast to the above Becky understands at an intellectual level at least what escorting entails. Her friend, Julie is an escort and Becky knows that men who use the services of escort girls want a full “personal service”. However at an emotional level Becky is wholly unprepared for what awaits her when she enters her first customer’s flat.

For the article please visit http://www.theanglenews.co.uk/comment/article-c5139118fa1/the-motivation-behind-student-prostitution.html. For an extract from my forthcoming book, “The first Time” please see https://newauthoronline.wordpress.com/2012/12/02/extract-from-my-forthcoming-book-the-first-time/.