Monday, November 01, 2004

Not Seeing the Pain

A number of events in my life recently have made me ponder this point at some length. Last night I drove with a friend of mine to visit an American vet who has been traveling back and forth between Egypt and the US for some 25 years or so. He has a small flat in the area of the stables near the Giza pyramids. If ever there was a neighbourhood that needed a vet, this is it. Here is a neighbourhood of small houses, many of which have tiny horseboxes built attached, where the men who follow tourists around offering camel and horse rides around the pyramids live. The area is old, really. Once a village of antiquities miners, it now primarily caters to tourism and has done so for the past few hundred years.

When tourism is at a low, like during the first Gulf War when for some bizarre reason everyone assumed that Iraq and Egypt were next door neighbours while they are actually nowhere near each other, Nazlit Semman was ghastly. The camel and horsemen couldn't make enough money to feed their children, much less their horses, many of which were walking skeletons. It was horrible. When tourism is hit here, it hits everyone right down to the farmers who don't get as good prices for their produce. Tourism is good here now, despite things like Taba, and most of the horses look okay. Not great but okay. But the men themselves are usually doing pretty well to look okay as well. As a horseowner, it still makes me very uncomfortable going there because there are so many horse, donkeys, and frankly humans, who need help and I am only one person with limited resources.

Many new residents in Egypt have difficulty coming to terms with the needs of the country. We have feral dogs and cats in the cities and countryside (and to be honest, we need them to keep down some of the other wildlife) and people get crazy seeing kittens and puppies being produced just to get hit by cars or to live very difficult stressful lives. Animal rights organisations try to adopt out these dogs and cats, but there are limits to what can be accomplished. If we got rid of them, we'd be overrun by rats, mice, weasels and so on. And animals are not the only problem. There are children working at the ages of 7 or 8 years in the shops and workshops of the country, but the schooling is not really sufficient and adequate for many of these children, so in some cases, they are in fact better off working if they have someone who will also teach them to read and write at the same time. In addition, their families need the income.So many problems, so little time.

I'm interested in endurance riding, an absurd sport that involves traveling on a horse for 50 to 100 miles in a day, and I subscribe to an email list that includes some of the best riders in the world. Some of the American riders and their horses have been invited to travel to Dubai in January at the expense of the United Arab Emirates to participate in the World Endurance Championships. Much of the costs of the trip will be paid by the ruling families of the UAE. Recently HBO has aired a program called Real Sports that I've heard about but not seen. I don't own a television and we don't get HBO anyway here. But this particular program documented the sport of camel racing in the UAE where these same ruling families have been using small children as jockeys for years. These children are often essentially bought or kidnapped from Pakistan and Bangladesh for this purpose. They live in much less than optimal conditions and are often injured or killed in the course of training or competition.

The Americans on the endurance list have been horrified by this program. The charges documented can be checked with a simple Google search on the subject of camel jockeys, and there is plenty of evidence that NGO's, governmental bodies, and other groups have been very concerned about the practice for many years. I pointed this out to the list, trying to let them see that the information about the world is out there. These things aren't state secrets. Life in North American can be so easy and comfortable in many respects that it's easy to forget that life everywhere isn't the same. So many of the resources available to the world for solutions are in places that maybe don't need so many solutions.

But what is the answer? I don't know. The riders invited by the same people who have the children riding camels in the UAE are having to ask themselves whether they can be comfortable going. Can they help more by going and drawing attention to the situation or by staying home in protest? I don't know. Is it better to take the pups and kittens off the streets to try to adopt them out (but often condemning them to a life in cages in a shelter) or to let the ecosystem work its way through, however brutal it may be. Is it useful to get into an altercation with someone abusing a donkey, one of millions working hard throughout Egypt, or can something else be done?

The only thing that I do know is that it is the worst possible choice to simply not see the pain and the problems. The world has ugliness, pain, suffering, and abuse in it. We have to keep our eyes open to the beauty, but we also have to accept the existence of the evil in the world so that our hearts can be strong enough to fight it. To allow the pain to debilitate us such that we can't be active enough to build new things that might improve situations does none of us any good. I try to keep my eyes open to it all and to remember that emotion never built a bridge.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Have you heard about the book "The Pentagon's New Map"? Boy, it really jives with your take on this topic of "how do we get people to see things our way". By including, at some (at any!) level instead of excluding, we can hear the others and they can hear us - imagine that, we can influence one another! The book was written by a military analyst, but I think he has many useful insights. This link will take you to an excerpt of the book:

I have worked in "animal rescue" in the US, and wonder why "human rescue" seems to take a back seat. I like reading your blog, painful as it can be at times.
Rosalie (from that endurance email list)