The Monkey Boy of Lahore

Image

Dirty, ragged and hungry

hopeless, he stands there

in the street.

His monkey, more hopeless, more desolate

than he,

cowers in the corner by the store.

He waits for passers-by to see him,

will they who have plenty

think of him,

or is he in the way

troubling them as they go,

He is out of their consciousness

as they turn the corner.

He doesn´t beg,

stands there erect,

proud,

and beautiful under the dirt.

The monkey boy,

his soul crying to eternity.

The importance of language

I have always been interested in languages. Our language is the most important part of our being. I think it is important to learn other languages besides our own because it helps us to learn about other people’s and cultures but the most important one that we can learn is our own mother tongue as this is one of the most basic parts of our identity. If we lose our own language, for example, when we grow up in a country which is not our own, in my opinion, we are losing a part of our self.

I lived in Germany for 15 years and during that time re-learned and improved on the German that I had begun to learn at school; I also met people from many different countries. Many people are afraid of those from other countries and I realised that the main reason is that they did not know the other person’s language and so they could not communicate. I believe it is this lack of knowledge of the other’s language that causes them to feel threatened by someone from another land and culture but when they start to talk to each other and learn a little of their language then the fear goes. I used to think that Germans were different to me but then I discovered that there is not really much difference between nationalities when we look beyond the outward appearance and start to speak to each other.

When I was first in Germany and could not read the advertising hoardings or couldn’t understand what people were saying I felt like an outsider. I felt cut off and unwelcome. On beginning to learn the language and talk to people I found that all these feelings were in my head and not real. Language is a big barrier that cuts us off from others. That is one reason why L.L. Zamenhof devised the language of Esperanto at the end of the 19th century. It was supposed to be a universal language so that all nations could speak to one another. It has had interest from time to time but most people have not heard of it, it was a fad which has really died a natural death. I think we should learn the languages that are already in the world without making up new ones. Language is something which develops and grows with time. It reflects history and grows as our knowledge of the world grows.

All languages are important to me but I must confess that I cannot imagine learning Chinese or Japanese. They look much too difficult.  This is the reason that we all give for not learning someone else’s language. It is too difficult. Too much work. Why do we need to? All excuses. Maybe sometime in the future there will be a universal language that all nations of the world speak. It is a long time away but it may not be the stuff of science fiction. It could come about.

It is the ability to communicate (or lack of it) that is the cause of so many misunderstandings in the world. Then there is the arrogance of some who think that if they go to a foreign country they do not need to learn anything of the language but expect the indigenous population to learn theirs; but expect visitors to their own country to learn their language.

Why different languages grew up is something that scholars have been pondering for centuries and the study of linguistics is something that will continue to puzzle them for centuries to come.

There is something which I found very interesting when I was researching the differences is that in mythology there is a story from various races, religions or cultures which is actually almost the same.

Here are a few examples, the Hebrew Bible tells a story of a common language spoken by all humans. The people decided to build a Tower which they called Babel which they intended would reach Heaven. God was angry at this and confused their languages so they could no longer understand each other and work together. They formed groups and moved away.

Hindu mythology has a “Knowledge Tree” which grew up to the heavens. Brahma cut off its branches and threw them to earth where they grew into separate trees and created different languages and cultures.

Native Americans talk of a deluge which swept people all over the Earth separating them from each other and developing other languages.

As you can see from this the thoughts and ideas from different nationalities are not very different at all. In fact, when you study other languages you will find that there are many similarities. Often the main differences are the alphabets and the pronunciation, the syntax is the same.

What I am trying to say is that the importance of language is how we use it to communicate. We should use it to show our understanding of the cultures and lives of our fellow-men in other lands. We should go behind the outer shell and see the speaker beneath.

I know that being able to communicate with anyone in the world will not get rid of all the problems that exist, but it could be a step in the right direction.

Everyone deserves clean water

Living in the UK I have never needed to consider if water is clean enough to drink.  I can always go and turn on the tap and fill my glass with water. This, sadly, is not the case with a very large proportion of people around the world. Many have to walk for miles each day to get water and that water is not always very good but without it they cannot live.

I have visited Pakistan a couple of time and knowing that the water is not safe to drink I have looked into the subject.  I always bought bottled water but not everyone can afford it.

If we think of a poison like arsenic, for example, we think of it as something used to commit murder, it is also used in agriculture and medicine.  It is also believed that the arsenic which used to be used in wallpaper paste helped to contribute to the death of Napoleon.

It is a fact, that arsenic is in the drinking water of many hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world.  Arsenic is a chemical which occurs naturally in the earth and is widely distributed over the globe.  There are 2 types of arsenic, organic and inorganic.  The organic arsenic has extremely low toxicity but the arsenic in water is inorganic and more dangerous.

In Asia the Ganges delta has high concentrations of arsenic particularly in Bangladesh and West Bengal, also areas in the Punjab, among them Sahiwal, Kasur, Multan and Lahore.  Drinking water used to be drawn from rivers and ponds and the arsenic was almost non-existent but the water was contaminated with diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid, cholera and hepatitis.  Programmes set up to provide safe drinking water through tube wells have helped to control these sicknesses but an unexpected side effect has been arsenic.

It is not clear how the arsenic is released into the water but recent studies suggest that certain bacteria may be the cause. Recent research has found that the geochemical conditions which give rise to the problem in the Ganges delta are not anomalies and may occur in recent alluvial deposits such as river deltas.

The effects of drinking arsenic affected water are skin disorders such as hyper-pigmentation, de-pigmentation and keratosis and vascular disorders such as Blackfoot disease or gangrene which is caused by disease of the blood vessels.  This is endemic in south-west Taiwan.  In time skin cancer may develop and internal cancers such as bladder, liver, kidney and lung cancers.  Cancer takes about 10 years to develop  Cardiovascular and neurological diseases have also been found to be linked to arsenic ingestion.

In Lahore the arsenic in the water is causing bone deformities, mainly to the legs and spine, particularly in children, who suffer crippling deformities causing acute pain and in some cases inability to walk.  Many children suffer from yellow, pitted teeth and skin ailments.  It used to be attributed to too much fluoride in the water but even though this has improved, the problem persists in some areas where there are large arsenic levels.

Another problem is that where there is a supply of running water it is not as clean as it should be.  Due to lack of proper care and maintenance by the water authorities, pipes leak and water is lost into the ground, sewage pipes break and sewage leaks onto roads and footpaths outside houses.

I don’t really believe that it is lack of funds which causes this neglect.  It is apathy and not caring about the common man by those in power.  Wherever the wealthy and powerful live there are not likely to be any of these problems.  Anything which might affect them is taken care of immediately.  It is the older and poorer areas which are neglected.  If you are rich you have no reason to travel to those areas so the filth is invisible.

Without water we die but it can kill us, too.

Clean, potable water is a basic human right.  When is something going to be done so that everyone, even if they cannot afford enough food to eat, at least has clean water to drink?

Child Labour

I have thought a great deal about child labour. I have seen images of children in many countries of the world who must work at jobs that are beyond their strength and it is a very bad thing.

Child labour is a topic that is not easy to discuss. Many in the richer countries of the world where there is provision for education and laws forbidding children to work until they reach 16 years of age, also forbidding heavy work, do not understand how it is for people living in extreme poverty. In the UK, for example, poverty might mean no new clothes or shoes or none of the latest gadgets. For many around the world it means no food, no shoes or clothes. Maybe a shack with plastic sheeting to keep out the wet, if they are lucky. To get one meal a day is a luxury for some. Poverty is once again starting to hit citizens of the richer countries but even so, there is usually food. So far.

Every so often there are protests calling for the banning of child labour. We are told we should check where the products come from that we buy and boycott the firms if we discover children work in the manufacture of them. I do agree that something should be done to stop child labour but stop for a minute and think.

Children who work at a young age do so because there is no money to buy anything. When we throw these children out of work what do they do? How do they get food?

To take the work away is not the answer, They still need an income but where is it to come from? These countries have no welfare state and if there are free schools the children cannot attend because they must work in the school time or they do not eat. It is a vicious circle.

The protesters who want child labour stopped have the right idea and are sometimes successful in getting factories closed where children are employed and then they may celebrate a victory often with a meal at their favourite restaurant. They do not see the children in their usual restaurant. Searching through garbage by markets and shops or the municipal dump is where they might find something to eat. Or they have to resort to begging.

In an ideal world all children have an education and a safe, happy home and then go on to study or learn a trade or profession, so that they get a good job to provide for their future. This is what I would like for all the children in the world. But………..

We come back to the problem of child labour. It is still there. As someone who grew up in a country where I had a good education and a happy childhood, I do not like the idea of children working. I also do realise that it is something that cannot be eradicated overnight. It costs a lot of money to set up a welfare system in a country that would enable poor people to receive money to allow their children to go to school and not work. This must be financed from the people themselves, from the taxes. If they are so poor that their children must also work how can this be achieved. It is true that a lot of the rich in some of these countries do not pay any tax because they have the power to decide not to.

One solution is, if children are employed, they are treated as children and given work that is not beyond their capacity and that they are able to get an education. Sometimes if children are employed as servants in a private house they are treated well and given some education but not often. It is quite usual for them to be beaten for any small mistake or starved.

They must feel that they are born to misery and that is all they will ever know.

I do not believe that the child labour issue will disappear for a long time, if ever. This means that there needs to be a way to make it easier for these children. Compulsory free education is a must, so that the employer must ensure that the children go to school at least for part of the day. With an education it can be possible that a way out of the miserable existence can be found.

I think that countries should “put their money where their mouth is” as the saying goes. If “so called civilised” countries want to stop child labour they must be prepared to finance the children they are taking the jobs away from. Not just sit back happy that they have achieved it and forget them.

There are many reasons that children work:

There is such abject poverty at home, maybe parents are sick and cannot work themselves.They have no parents or family.

Some parents think education is unimportant and even if they don’t need the money they send the children to work.

Some families are professional beggars and a new baby in the family is another “partner in the family business.”

Besides this there are families who are very poor but would die of shame rather than let their children work. To eradicate child labour is something all people in the world should want and I pray that someday it is achieved.