Saturday Morning Coffee

International Affairs Specialist by day, Blogger Enthusiast by night. This is a sneak peek into my world that should be enjoyed with ample time and a good and very strong cup of java.

Importance of Relativity

Success! I’ve finally found employment!!! Wooooo0! I’m very excited and as a result, have rewarded myself with doing absolutely nothing! Well,  that’s not exactly true though either, because here I am blogging away – perhaps I’ll slow down later….anyways, what a great time to stop and let the heat of the sunshine drain out all your energy! Thankfully for me, 8 months in the tropics have adjusted my internal temperature so that this is wonderful 🙂 Don’t get me wrong, I still feel how heavy the air is and yes, it’s hot, but I think I’m coping much better than others. I’ve always  loved the heat though. Remember a few years ago when Europe was suffering from heat waves and people died because of it? That was when I escaped the chill of Ireland to backpack around Spain – most Spaniards, however, had chosen the cool coasts of Barcelona, and there I was – the dumb tourist wandering around the deserted streets of  Madrid at 40 C degree heat at 7pm. Live and learn, or in my case, sweat! And at the end of my trip, back to my studies in Montreal, with arguably the coldest winters in Canada.

Point of the story? People adapt, everything is relative. The other day, we saw South Asians in full out cricket gear playing the under the afternoon sun. This heat must be nothing for South Asians, but for a place that is known for its snow fall, it is out of the ordinary. And so, hot topic of the day is, ironically the heat! And not just in Canada, but in the US as well.

The other day, the national news broadcasted a piece on the suffering of farmers who, with shortages of fresh water, were facing an ailing crop and having to sell cattle before their prime. While droughts are indeed awful, I reminded myself that 1) This is the US and 2) Farmers are not just farmers, but businessmen who control farms the size of small towns and who control the price of corn, much like the way that OPEC controls the price of oil. Silos are stocked to the brim full of supplies in order to control the price, instead of its former use to be dipped in to when supplies were low.  Knowing this, I was disgusted with the news piece to have neglected that point.

I’d like to think that people are good  people and  care about others when a crop dies or business is bad, especially in this economy. I suspect that’s why this news piece aired in the first place – to pull on the heart strings of the average Joe and to highlight the out of the ordinary heat waves.  But believing that Joe is inevitably good, he is not always educated to know that farming has joined the ranks with the rest of corporate America and so will pull up his socks, stop complaining and get back to work. What I find even more disheartening is that this made national news, but the droughts that the rest of the world experiences rarely makes the headlines.

I typed in ‘Somalia Droughts Heat’ in to the google search bar and the first news source, behind research studies, weather reports and alarms was a piece posted by ABC 5 days ago title, “Somalia Drought ‘One of the Largest Humanitarian Crises in Decades.’  Further on down the page, I found the CBC had declared, ‘Somalia drought aid hindered by armed groups.’ This to me, was more a more news worthy subject than farmers in the US.

Admittedly, my knowledge of Somalia and its history is little and I’m very humbled by an Eritrean friend who attempted the topic in her PhD thesis because it’s incredibly complicated and starts dozens of years ago. What I do know is that Somalia hasn’t really had a formal government for 20-30 years and are divided by half that wants independence. More North Americans are more likely to recognize the ‘We are the World’ song in the 80’s that brought Bono, Boy George and many other artists together to raise money for the droughts Somalia was suffering from then. Oddly enough, a remake is in the works!

Mobilizing international food aid is not as easy as it looks – think the forms, red tape and bureaucracy that you have to suffer through when renewing your license and then multiply it by 1000 and throw in a few more countries and disgruntled farmers’ unions that don’t like to part with their stocks. Furthermore, with no formal government, getting food and supplies to people that need them becomes very dangerous and difficult. How to reach the most vulnerable? is likely what is on the minds of most international relief agencies.

As a result, people leave and leave en masse; traveling by (mostly) on foot to neighbouring Ethiopia or Kenya where refugee camps provide an alternative to the already cramped streets of Nairobi or Addis Ababa. Knowing how precarious living standards and conditions can be in a refugee camp, my sympathies are with them. During my grad studies, I was fascinated by environmental changes and what it meant for societies and had written a paper on Environmental Refugees, much like the ones escaping Somalia, only to discover that International Law had yet to include them; to be a refugee, according to the Refugee Convention, doesn’t include the escape of environmental degradation and therefore claimants cannot obtain asylum status or rights in their new country. As a Canadian, I’ll never have to experience this and few Canadians even think of it, but really, what do you do when there is no food or water in your homeland (and therefore no jobs) and  have to migrate to a land that won’t allow you to stay or give you any rights?

Knowing the reality of many Somalis and East Africans, makes me think how stupid we are to complain about the heat, when water is in abundance and air conditioners blazing. Agreed, the plight of farmers is an obstacle, but really it’s a small obstacle that will likely vanish in a couple weeks or when stocks are let out and the weather changes. Is it something that we really need to focus our energy on, complain about or generate sympathy? It’s all relative, I suppose.



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July 2011
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