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The Real Hunger Games

22 Oct

For anyone who has access to cinema, internet and books probably recognises what this is about:

Peeta and Catnip. The last survivors of the hunger games, a book which is essentially about kids in a ring running and killing for their lives. They need food. They need to survive, whatever it takes. Some might think it mindless, but I don’t think this subject should be censored, in fact I think the opposite. I love books that cause an outrage when they have effectively managed to poke at the sore spot in our society, to point out something that needs discussing and improvement.

Except these books don’t do that. So it is indeed pretty mindless. They became a massive hit, as did the film, and yet it barely ponders over the questions the plot should raise, such as killing to survive, the value of your life against someone else’s or dealing out death. No, it became a massive hit because the two main characters fall in love. And then there is the jealous third wheel. Wait, why does this have a familiar ring in the history of love stories?

Indeed, the focus of the book seemed to be the gorgeous eyelashes of Peeta, the heart-breaker, and the dazzling outfits of the kids. But if you wanted to read about love drama and clothes you could just buy The Sun, magasine with a reading age of seven, costing you only a quid and the loss of few brain cells. I actually thought the book might ponder over and criticise living in a society where killing has turned into entertainment.

Then there’s the added bonus of the name. The Hunger Games. But the polished faces above are not what should be associated with the word ‘hunger’. The real hunger games are fought elsewhere. In India. In Africa. In Asia. In many sad parts of the world. This is what real hunger games look like:

https://i2.wp.com/flairpix.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/bathing_poverty.jpg

https://i1.wp.com/flairpix.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/poor_girl_lost.png

https://i0.wp.com/flairpix.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/poverty_starving_kids.jpg

They need food. They need to survive. And there are millions of them. It is not fiction, not some romaticised love story carelessly spiced up with death. It is real, real death and suffering. Looking at the above photos might have hurt your eyes, made you gulp down sadness, it did me. It’s hard to face. But think about what it does to the people experiencing starvation, how it hurts them, how they have to face the possibility of life leaving their body, slowly.

I will try to help, more than I have done so far. If I don’t know how, I will find out. I will appreciate what I have. I will hope and pray and beg that these hunger games end, for forever.

What about you? Or the question should actually be,

what about them?

870 million people do not have enough to eat  and 98 percent of them live in developing countries.     (Source: http://www.fao.org/docrep/016/i3027e/i3027e02.pdf 2012

Undernutrition contributes to five million deaths of children under five each year in developing countries. ( Source: UNICEF 2012)

The photos from: http://flairpix.com/41-heartbreakingly-beautiful-poverty-pictures/

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On gratitude

19 Oct

Beggar (Fisher Girl) by Ilya Efimovich Repin

I’m sharing you this artwork for a reason, and it is not the beautiful sentiment of the piece, although that is a reason enough in itself. But today, I’m sharing you this piece because I met a very inspirational man who reminded me of the above portrait.

I work in a supermarket and though I try to treat all my customers with equal respect and cheerfulness, sometimes you meet people who are just something different, in all the good ways. This man was one of them.

He was buying leather shoes. I soon found out his character was as soft as the beautiful, slender texture of the shoes. Because suddenly, he asked me if I knew what ‘crow boots’ were. I was bemused and said that I wasn’t sure if they were part of our range, they didn’t sound familiar.

At my remark, the man bursted out laughing and said they hadn’t been part of anyone’s range for the past 50 years, at least not in Finland or countries of equal social security.

‘ Crow boots were the crust that dried on your feet when you had been plodding through wet mud and dirt all day. Crow boots were the only shoes I had as a kid. 55 years ago… when things were a bit different.”

Then the man seemed to contemplate something for a moment, so I said in wonderment:

“It must be really weird to see the difference so clearly now, how things have changed for kids and teenagers.”

“Yes… but they were good times too, you know. In their own way, simpler and good.”

The man’s smile and content left me in awe. There was a boy behind him queueing to buy an iPad 4. He was sulking. I wished the man a lovely weekend. I wished the boy would be grateful and see the difference.

It is hard to understand the ways in which things have changed in such a short time. To think that I have 10 pairs of shoes and have taken them for granted all my life. It is indeed a blissful world where you can complain about missing a bus, runny make-up, long queues in shops and spiders in your house.

I’ll risk sounding terribly serious and morbid, and say: I don’t like the way how ‘First world problems’ has become a jokily phrase over the internet. It is not a joke, although we should laugh everyday, because we indeed are terrible lucky and blessed.

I learnt a lot from that man today. I learnt how to be happy and grateful. I learnt to love my shoes a little bit more too, if that is possible for a girl.

What do you love and are grateful for?

The ugly side of charity

13 Oct

When did charity become a selling point?

Buy this and we’ll give two cents out of our million profit to this charity organisation. Buy this product, go ahead, buy yourself some conscience!

I know I have done it, buying a four quid pink pen to support breast cancer charity. Only then to read the small print and figure out that they didn’t even give two percent of that four quid to the promised charity. And the saddest part, I really thought I was helping. Like many others who fall for it.

And the moneymaking machines, the corporations know this. They use it, not to help others, but boost their own profit.

Last month there was a campaign by a big sweets brand here in Finland, Fazer. The idea, the promise, was that when we eat chocolate, African children eat too. Buy this chocolate bar and you’ll help the kids in need. Oh, the charity, the good deed!

So very ironic then, that it is these kids who actually make the chocolate.

None of the products carries a fair trade stamp. The cocobeans are hauled over from Western Africa from plantations that live out of child labour. There is human trafficking too.

So, this is charity. This is what their charity stands for.

Charity has become the equivalent of a face lift for many companies. They photoshop few smiling faces of the poor into their ads, polish their image and then, purring with content, watch the profit flooding in.

It’s so easy. It is a neat little trap for the consumers, bound to attract. Because we want to help. And the best part is, the seller now knows that when we read the ingedients list, we don’t pay attentions for additives. We look at our beloved purchase and see that it’s made of charity. Might not be fat-free but it’s guilt-free!

But what if you didn’t buy that pink pen next time or that chocolate bar, and used the money to buy a sandwich for a homeless guy instead? Or gave him a little bit extra for that Big Issue?

Or what if you put away your wallet all together and gave few kind words to your lonely neighbour? Or carried the shopping of an old woman instead of rushing past her in the shop?

You would see the help. You would see their smile and know they’re smiling for you, to thank you. Not because their profit turnover just tipped over  two million.

Tomorrow’s world: What is our place in it?

9 Oct

What do you see when you look out of the window?

If you’re lucky enough it’s not only big bulky buildings and smoky pollution but some nature too, if not a forest then it’s city-cousing, a park. The trees are shaking their leaves off now, the memories of the gone summer, and tucking all their greenness safely away. So that it can all be reborn next spring. That is the way I like to think of nature’s dying, in cycles, forever persisting.

But what if there is no next spring to come? I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Mayas did actually know that somewhere in the future there is a point where 2012 doesn’t become 2013. No, they probably just run out of ink. But I want to ask, since it seems there is tomorrow, what is our place in it?

Falling (1956) by Okano Ue Toshiko

Are we going to fall to the trap we have created ourselves, the wheel of progression? There is going to be new things for certain, because human will to improve, the will to believe in great, bright future, seems to be something innate in all of us. In my Nothing to Envy post I admired human desire to live, our resilience to persist against any odds.

But have we taken things too far? Have we stopped creating things we need, and started creating things we want? Is it greed ruling our countries now? Thinking we are superior, that the human race is the conductor of this whole orchestra of life, have we started dealing out death too eagerly? And I’m not only talking about the sad, pointless killing of other people but of all our fellow beings, from the badger culls to stepping on the nature’s toes.

Ophelia (1955) by Okano Ue Toshiko

Have we forgotten there is things bigger than us in this world, things that were before us, forces to be respected? The sea, the very ground we walk on, the solidity of it and the platform it offers us to build our houses and dreams on, do we respect that?

Apple, New York Times by Carter Mull

Juxtaposing the ‘global warming-crisis!’ headlines with the articles about the cellulitis of various celebrities in the tabloids, what kind of picture of global warming does that create? Only in our privilidged, comfortable bubble of life can we afford tabloids and advertisement industry to make suffering into entertainment.

But what is our relationship with the nature? Is it symbiotic?

What is the future world going to look like when we truly see the consequences of our actions?

The Waste Land, Pictures of Carbage by Vik Muniz

Like this?

Is our future a wasteland, our heritage a pit of rubber and decay? Or are we even granted a future or is our weight too big a burden for the nature and for this overcrowded globe to bear?

(The photos of the artwork are from a book called Utopia, Dystopia – Construction and Destruction in Photography and Collage, I own no rights. I’m only fortunate enough to own a copy of said book, it’s really interesting, check it out if you come across it!)

Aside

Why is one death a tragedy and thousand a statistic?

5 Oct

” LONG LIVE KIM IL-SUNG. KIM JONG-IL, SUN OF THE 21ST CENTURY. LET’S LIVE OUR OWN WAY. WE WILL DO AS THE PARTY TELLS US. WE HAVE NOTHING TO ENVY IN THE WORLD.”

“North Koreans learned to swallow their pride and hold their noses. They picked kernels of undigested corn out of the excrement of farm animals. Shipyard workers developed a technique by which they scraped the bottoms of the cargo holds where food had been stored, then spread the foul-smelling gunk on rooftops to dry so that they could collect from it tiny grains of uncooked rice and other edibles.

On the beaches, people dug out shellfish from the sand and filled buckets with seaweed.When the authorities in 1995 erected fences along the beach (ostensibly to keep out spies, but more likely to prevent people from catching fish the state companies wanted to control), people went out to the unguarded cliffs over the sea and with long rakes tied together hoisted up seaweed. ”

Do I dare to say it? Yes, the book above helped me to restore my faith in humanity when I felt like I might bend double and snap from the weight of all the ‘catastrophe-crisis-death’ headlines we see in the papers everyday. Why, you might ask?

Why would a country where spying is encouraged, where your leader is your religion, where propaganda is the only accepted art form, do that? Why would a country that is synonym for famine, help me to believe in something good?

Yes, I was shocked by the book. I stopped reading it for five months because I had to digest what I was reading. Because frankly, the realisation  and factual evidence that complete oppression is not some Orwellian imagined dystopia but a living thing affecting millions was a shock to me.

But then I realised that the shock was exactly what I needed. I needed to feel the weight of all the headlines and had to be reminded of the suffering. Because there is something more dangerous than violence and cruelty and oppression. It’s violence and cruelty and oppression becoming normal. Because when all we feel is numbness facing something horrible, we lose the will to do anything about it. Abnormal becoming normal is paralysing.

“She often felt sick over what she did and didn’t do to help her young students. How could she have eaten so well herself when they were starving? It is axiomatic that one death is a tragedy, a thousand a statistic. So it was for Mi-ran. What she didn’t realise is that her indifference was an acquired survival skill. In order to get through the 1990s alive, one had to suppress any impulse to share food. To avoid going insane, one had to learn to stop caring. In time, Mi-ran would learn to walk around a dead body on the street withouth paying much attention.”

I hope the day comes when that is a survival skill no-one has to learn.

And yet, every time people question my belief in altruistic actions and unconditional, unselfish love as naiive and dead, I recommend them this book. Why? Because it assured me that love does exist even in the darkest places. Oppression can kill many things, but it cannot kill love.

Quoted extracts from Barbara Demick’s Nothing To Envy, Real lives in North Korea.

Photo: Wikipedia