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Anders and Kristine – creating hope out of reality

February 16, 2010

We met Anders and Kristine in Kochi, India.  After spending an hour together in a shared taxi from another town, we learned that they were both political science students from Denmark, and Anders was working at the graduate level looking at issues surrounding migration through the European Union.  Given their educational background, we were thrilled when they agreed to spend some time with us chatting about hope and about the future.  We found ourselves a lovely spot in a tropical garden, and chatted away amongst the chatter of surrounding birds.

They both felt that hope was something that needed to be cultivated – something that was necessary to cultivate.  While they have both felt moments where they lack belief that the world can improve, they both struggle to maintain some sense that individuals can make a difference in this world.  “If we give up hope…it will end up in apathy” says Anders.  I nod my head in understanding – I have gone down this road, and am trying to find my way back – so I listen carefully to what they have to say.

Despite their educational paths, neither Kristine nor Anders feel political processes are going to be our panacea – however they do point out some very important political shifts that have occurred recently that give cause for optimism.  Anders speaks of the EU, and how it’s existence makes war between European countries a near impossibility.  He points to this and other levels of international political cooperation as being modern phenomenon which demonstrate progress and political will toward peace and stability.  Kristine also points out how environmental concerns have become immensely more prominent on the political stage over the past few years – a result, she believes, of efforts made by a few concerned and passionate individuals.

Overall however, neither feels that the solutions to humanity’s problems lie in the political realm.  Kristine finds that most of her hope comes from believing that individuals can evolve into giving and compassionate beings.  She believes that if each individual is able to find a way to be happy with one’s own self, that will provide the energy for them to give to others.  “If everyone did that, and approached the world with optimism…and asked ‘what can I do for the world?’ instead of ‘what can the world do for me?’…it would be a revolution!” says Kristine.

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Dr. Rahmani – losing hope in Afghanistan

February 11, 2010

 I’ve been picking out footage at random from my collection – kind of mixing the geography up a bit to keep things interesting as I go through and summarize/log the shots.  It seems however, that over the past couple of weeks I’ve coincidentally landed upon several interviews with some rather hopeless people.  I assure you that this is by chance rather than by design, and that I am not seeking to destroy the souls and optimism of my readers!  Though I must reiterate what I said in my last post – that I often find these cynical interviews more reassuring than those seen through rose-coloured lenses.  The fact that many people seem to see how bad a situation we’re really in, strikes me a good sign – because seeing reality for what it is, is the first step to making positive change.

Today I’ve been reviewing a tape of Dr. Rahmani – a medical doctor in Kabul, Afghanistan.  The Afghanistan interviews were conducted by my friend Fahreen Dossa, who graciously offered to conduct some interviews while she was working (also as a physician) in Kabul.  Dr. Rahmani is the medical director of the Roshan medical clinic in Kabul.  Given the immediacy of strife in his local region and context, the discussion focussed less on hope for humanity as a whole, and more upon hope for the future of Afghanistan.

Dr. Rahmani shared his thoughts with us in a reflective and candid manner.  While he thinks that we all need to strive for the betterment of our future (particularly for our children), he himself feels quite hopeless about the future of Afghanistan.  He speaks about the worsening situation in Afghanistan, and the lack of basic needs like food, employment, and electricity.  In previous years, other countries attacked Afghanistan, but never has there been such scarcity of basic resources.  Now, even with several different nations’ troops present trying to support the rebuilding effort, much of what ordinary Afghans need remains far from reach.  He attributes this to the lack of cultural understanding on the parts of the occupying countries, and the mismatch between the priorities set by foreign interests versus the priorities of everyday Afghans.  He acknowledges that the economic and infrastructural situation in his country is such that rebuilding may require outside support, however he laments the fact that this support is often misdirected such that local populations remain hungry and disempowered.

While he did not speak in a broader sense of the world and humanity as a whole, Dr. Rahmani’s insights on Afghanistan can be reflected upon a larger context.  The history of human conflict has always involved conquering and rebuilding – with the rebuilding usually striving to achieve cultural diffusion.  Whether we look at the Roman conquests, Alexander the Great’s expansion, the British colonization of India and Africa, or the current American colonization of Iraq and Afghanistan – the exportation of culture along with the importation of valuable resources seem to go hand-in-hand.  What Dr. Rahmani’s observations show us is that our patterns of global interaction seem to be continuing in a cyclical manner, however in the case of Afghanistan the costs and struggles associated with today’s occupation seem vastly greater than could have been imagined with previous oppressors.

Alice Suggashie – still fighting despite her lack of hope

February 9, 2010

One of the reasons I embarked on this journey of “hope-hunting” was to see if I could find some way to re-ignite the passion and activism I once felt in my younger and more idealistic days.  Days when I truly believed that the world could change if only enough people were educated on how to fix our problems.  Throughout my  journey I’ve met more people who have oodles hope than those who lack it – and you would imagine that this would have buoyed my soul and  helped me believe that our lot is worth the fight.  It certainly has accomplished that to a certain extent, however  ironically it has also made me wonder if we’re truly more doomed that I had originally thought.  This may sound bizarre, but if I’m on a sinking ship, I’d rather be with a bunch of people who are as scared of drowning as I am and who are frantically trying to find a way to stop the ship from sinking, rather than being with a bunch of people who continue to dance on the deck because they have faith that everything is going to be okay.  I guess ironically I feel that somehow hope lies with those of us who really  have none – provided we’re able to motivate ourselves to act despite our hopelessness and our paralyzing fear of failure.

Alice Suggashie is exactly this type of person – one who sees the bleak realities of our current situation and who has little hope for our survival, but one who also seems to face each day as an opportunity to try to make things a little bit better.  Alice is a remarkable person, who has overcome some incredibly difficult circumstances that life has dealt her, and who has emerged to be a helper and an immense resource person for the people of her community.   Alice lives in the remote First Nations community of Poplar Hill, Ontario.  She is a trained Community Health Representative (CHR), and regularly goes far above and beyond her call of duty to help those in need in her community.  Throughout her life she has seen immense changes to her land, her environment, and her people.

Alice recalls fondly the days when her people hunted, fished, and trapped off the land.  The days when diabetes was a word that no one had ever heard of.  The days when the water was clean, and the fish were healthy.  The days when Elders healed people through traditional medicines, and the current dependence on “white-man’s medicine” was unfathomable.

Today, Alice laments these changes she sees locally, and sees them mirrored globally on a larger scale.  She believes that people will always take the easier path even when it is less healthy or less sustainable.  In Poplar Hill that might mean skidooing to the trapline instead of the healthier option of walking,  and in the outside world it might mean continuing to consume and pollute unsustainably to facilitate our ever faster-paced lives.  All in all, she sees the end result being the same – continued global warming, continued deforestation, continued obesity and health problems, and continued armed conflicts.   “It’s too late to change now, because people are already used to their lifestyles”, says Alice.

In fact, Alice has noticed such dramatic changes in her environment and in her community over the past 2 generations, that she feels we are a mere 30-40 years away from self-destruction.  “There are already icebergs floating around and melting.  Who knows, North America could be underwater soon”.

I am intrigued to know how Alice is able to continue to get up in the morning and continue to give of herself so generously, given her belief that we are doomed to self-destruct in this generation.  To this she explains that though she doesn’t believe there is hope overall for humankind, she still feels she must have some hope for her grandchildren.  She must try to teach them the balance between the past and the future, and show them how to make the world even a little bit better.  “Tomorrow’s a fresh new day. You’ve gotta think positive”

A young man’s proposal: military goverment

February 5, 2010

Today we hear from Irfan – an interesting young fellow from South India.  Irfan was our driver as we toured around Karnataka – a job he used to save up money for school.  We interviewed him in Hampi, a historic ruins site covered in mysterious giant boulders, and home to the ancient Vijayanagara Empire of  the 1300’s.

An articulate young man, Irfan had some very interesting comments to share with us.  When asked how the world can be made better, Irfan replied that the only way that peace and equity could be established is through instituting a military government. When met with my look of shock at his proposition, Irfan explained his thinking further…watch the videoclip to see if he is able to convince you!

In addition to his political thoughts, Irfan felt that the key to a better future for humankind was for each individual to cultivate love and compassion in their minds.  “People have to understand that compared to love and compassion, money is nothing….money comes and money goes, but love and compassion remains.”

Along the same lines, Irfan believes that we ought to change the means by which we redistribute money after someone’s death.  He does not believe in family inheritance, for he feels this only leads to the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer. Rather he would prefer to see a deceased individual’s wealth be passed onto the government for use in social programming for the poor.  In this manner the general population benefits from the  wealth left behind, and the wealth becomes redistributed, opening up opportunities for all.

I suppose one could say that this young idealist did hold hope for the future of humankind.  However he certainly had the most unique and unconventional thoughts of how we ought to get there – particularly in his reverance of military governments.  To date we have interviewed approximately 80 people on this subject, and I have yet to hear Irfan’s ideas echoed by any others.  Perhaps this could be because his ideas are a bit crazy and poorly thought out.  Or perhaps he is just young enough and idealistic enough to re-imagine a world that the rest of us can dare not envision.

Losing Hope in Kuala Lumpur

February 3, 2010

Wandering through the Central Market in Kuala Lumpur we found ourselves suddenly trapped indoors – a violent thunderstorm had erupted outside, flooding the roads in mere seconds and causing all to take shelter.  Deciding to stay awhile and take cover, we wandered into a small crafts shop where we met  Masidah Masidi, an 18 year old Malay student, who worked at the shop.  As luck would have it, we had our camera and tripod with us, and so we settled in to pick Masidah’s brain about her thoughts for the future of the Earth, humanity, and Malaysia.

Masidah spoke in Malay, but we are fortunate enough to have two Malay-speaking friends – Euming Chong, and Casey Hilliard – who agreed to later transcribe her interview for us into English.  Masidah spoke with a smile on her face, and a gentle sing-song tone in her voice – so naturally we were quite surprised upon hearing the translation later on, to learn that in fact she was speaking about her lack of hope for the future of humankind.  Masidah feels that things will continue to get worse in the future with respect to wars and human conflict.  She feels that despite our efforts, our conflict situations and environmental crises will escalate until we are no longer able to cope with the consequences.

She sees our only hope as lying in the hands of individuals who are willing to change their personal lifestyles for the betterment of our future – however she concedes that few are willing to make these sacrifices and make the mind-shift required.  “…in reality, no one will make that change…” she says.  She does however posit a possible solution for the way forward:  children.  She suggests we focus our efforts on educating our children on issues of war, peace, and environmental sustainability in order that they can grow up with this embedded within their consciousness.   This, she says will allow them to have a greater understanding of our problems and their consequences, and hopefully enable them to find some solutions.

Our visit with Masidah was short – given that we didn’t understand what she was saying, we were unable to question her more deeply, or engage in any deeper discussion about her thoughts.  I suspect she’d have a great deal more to share, if given the opportunity.

Maria and Ingo from Germany

January 7, 2010

We met Maria and Ingo in Thekkady, India – deep in the Periyar forest.  They were our trekking-mates on a guided trek within this beautiful game park.  Over our lunch break, we decided to pull out our cameras and microphones, and see if we could get them talking about life, the future, and the fact that the sky was falling and nobody seemed to care.

Turns out they knew. And they cared.  And like us, Maria had little optimism.  “I do sort of believe in the futuristic beliefs about the shortage of water…if we come to a point of crisis, then the darker side of humanity will come out”.   Maria points to our post-industrial culture as creating unsustainable lifestyles, and creating environmental destruction.  She feels it is not pessimistic, but rather just realistic to state that some of these negative impacts are irreversible, and that it will take some major changes on all of our parts to turn things around.  She acknowledges that change is occuring – people are waking up, but laments that it is all occurring too slowly.  We all must play a part and do our share she says.  She speaks of the political and policy changes in Germany, and of the grassroots movements in the US as small glimmers of hope.  For her own part, she is trying to decrease the amount of plane travel she does – resisting the temptation to cash in on the European discount airline tickets that have recently sprung up.

Ingo provides some balance.  He too has a rather realistic impression of the current state of our world.  He sees industrialization as a two-sided coin – it enables us with the power to destroy, but it also enables us with the power to develop new more sustainable ways.  He feels that we have the knowledge and skill to create new ways to tackle our energy and transportation problems, and to take our world in a new direction – but he sees the major barrier to this development being none other than capitalism.  “[Capitalism] is the biggest enemy of humanity right now…of the future of humanity” he says.  When the bottom-line is money, our priorities shift away from sustainability and toward consumption.  Changing the way that we organize trade and business could enable significant sustainable changes in the world, he believes.

If we are going to survive, Ingo believes that it will require everyone to think of themselves as global citizens.  To begin to think of the influences of their actions upon those living on the other side of the globe.  Maria states that those who do not even have enough food to eat or clean water to drink, cannot begin to think of these bigger issues, however Ingo disagrees.  “Here (in India)… even with low salaries, people are still thinking about environmentally-friendly business”.  This he finds very impressive, and very hopeful.

India to the rescue?

January 4, 2010

Throughout our travels, we found ourselves on many-a-train, often with the good fortune of sharing our sleeping berth with engaging and insightful people.  One particularly animated conversation occurred while riding an overnight train from Delhi to Varanasi in India.  In our berth was  R.P. Singh from Varanasi, Sunil Sharma from Delhi, and Severine Landrieu – a young woman from Paris who was in India studying yoga and meditation.

Amidst the din of the Indian rail system, and the constant cries of the “chai-wallah” walking up and down the aisles selling hot tea, we settled into a long and in-depth discussion about religion, politics, global power dynamics, and of course…hope. All three of our new friends believed that there was hope for the future of humankind – but only cautiously.

Mr. Singh laments the current state of the world with the US being a sole superpower amidst a world of less-developed and hence less powerful nations.  He sees this as a major cause of the current unjust wars being waged.   However, he does see the potential for this to change in the forseeable future – with India and China rising rapidly in their economic and political power.  He believes that once India, China, and other nations develop their own capacities, the threat of having exploitative wars such as we have today will be dramatically decreased, for other nations will be able to assist in resisting these colonizing nations.  He points out that things are already changing.  He cites the fact that WW1 and WW2 have not been followed  by a WW3 as a sign that we as a global society are headed in the right direction.  His ultimate hope lies in the rise in power of countries such as China and India, as a means of providing some global power balance.

Mr. Sharma also believes that the solutions to humanity’s survival lies in India.  In a somewhat more romantic depiction, Sunil speaks of India as a bastion of peace and tolerance.  He cites Hinduism’s longstanding peaceful and introspective traditions, along with its tolerance to other faiths, as a model which the world can strive to emulate.  He sees danger in the current obsession of the developed world to help “develop” developing nations.  Wisely, he likens this preoccupation to pseudo-colonization, and notes that developed nations appear to be engaged in a race amongst themselves to export their own cultures and policies upon developing nations.   Rather than changing cultural values and promoting the rise of materialism, Sunil believes that we should first embrace tradition, spirutuality, and religion and through this lens gain deeper understanding into the oneness of humankind.  He believes that India’s ability to have all the worlds major religions co-existing for hundreds of years with relative peace could be a lesson for other nations everywhere.

At the start of our conversation, Severine was a bit doubtful that the world could really change – and when I first posed my question, I saw her shaking her head sadly.  She remained quiet and thoughtful throughout most of our discussions, but when the camera finally turned to her, I was surprised to find her outlook to be quite transformed.  Perhaps Mr. Sharma and Mr. Singh’s passionate belief of India being the saviour of the future of our globe had a contagious nature to it, for I too was beginning to feel small sparks of hope in my heart as well (these of course were quickly extinguished when a religiously motivated bombing occured the following day in Varanasi).

Severine also seems to feel that religion and spirituality have an important role to play in our lives, for it provides a structure and a base for people.  She feels that the rise of materialism is extinguishing our need for religious belief – since we have all the material comforts we need, the concept of God becomes somewhat redundant – and she sees this as a dangerous phenomenon.  However she sees some hope in our increasing global communications in that it breeds an opportunity to become more open to other cultures and this understanding can help bring about tolerance and acceptance.  Though she feels that the majority of people are currently not living in ways that make the world a better place, she retains hope that perhaps this will change – she adds that she hopes philosophy of India spreads around the world for she believes it could facilitate this change.