Monday, 23 May 2016

Mind, soul and body

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose – the more it changes, the more it is the same.



While most people would consider this a ridiculous claim to make about modern medicine, the fact is, when you look closely at the approach most people take to their health and the response of conventional, Allopathic, the most commonly used medical modality, the more it resonates with elements of truth – things have not changed as much as we might wish or hope.

I will preface this by saying that no-one disputes modern skills in trauma and reconstructive surgery, nor indeed the greater although not complete capacity, to alleviate physical pain. Having said that, modern painkillers are often ineffective and frequently do more harm than good and there are other ways to alleviate pain, they are just not able to be patented and provide less financial profit.

But as a healing mechanism or a medical modality which encourages and maintains robust health, modern or Allopathic medicine falls far short of the mark and frequently drifts into modern versions of ‘snake-oil’ and ‘smoke and mirror’ medicine. In this latter category falls ‘maybe medicine’ where people are treated for diseases they do not have and may never get and where assessing the efficacy of such treatment is impossible.

The catch-cry of ‘get it early’ cannot ever be proven since often that which is found ‘early’ may never have become serious anyway, and there is simply no way of assessing that. To be fair, there is a growing body of research saying exactly that and warning of the increasingly recognised dangers of ‘too many tests’ and too many ‘treatments.’

But of course, systems drive behaviour and the Allopathic medical system is now so dependent upon and entrenched in tests and treatments and maybes that it is reluctant to change, because, after all, what else would it have? And the money invested in the approach itself is so enormous that it would be a ‘waste’ not to use all these tests and treatments and machines and procedures, even if they are doing ‘more harm than good.’

And so it goes, the system is dependent upon what it is and only something dramatic and powerful can change it. Beyond of course patient pressure and demand but the chances of that are greatly reduced by the fact that most people live with deep fear about becoming ill and particularly in regard to death and most believe the mantra that modern, Allopathic medicine is as good as it gets and is going to be the only thing which can save you.  Even when demonstrably it is not.

Modern medicine rides like a ‘god’ on the back of society with hospitals, like temples of old, rising higher, growing bigger, standing grander and becoming more costly all the time.

Never before, have so many human beings had so much access to medical treatments and so many medical interventions, not to mention medications, vaccines, procedures, tests, checks and advice.

None of this would matter if people were generally healthier and disease less common, but they are not healthier and disease is in fact more common with serious and chronic diseases at levels never seen before, particularly in children.

You would think, nay, you would expect that it meant better and more robust health and a diminishing of disease in general, but it does not.

So, whatever Allopathic or modern medicine is doing, it is not contributing to robust general health.

Not only that, as the third biggest killer after heart disease and cancer, and rising, it has become effectively a ‘disease’ in itself where one of the most dangerous lifestyle choices one can make, particularly if healthy, is to consult a doctor.

And this is because modern medicine, imprisoned in the mechanical and materialist reductionist mindset of modern science, is a business, an industry, and a system where profit, prestige and power hold sway and dictate that testing, cutting and drugging are the only approach which should be allowed or can be allowed.

Tests, surgery, medications are big business and in fact, science-medicine is probably the most profitable and powerful business after the military industrial complex. It is certainly the most pervasive of any industry and it is largely controlled by the pharmaceutical industry where the evidence has long been that profits come before people, despite claims to the contrary.

It is little wonder that research is beginning to show that the science-medical industry is itself, very sick indeed, with corruption, incompetence, malpractice, bias, distortions, so commonplace that researchers have said most research is just plain wrong. No wonder modern medicine has become so dangerous.

The third biggest killer, as iatrogenic – Allopathic doctor or medical induced – is mainly sourced in prescribed medication. In other words, drugs given to treat real, imagined or possible diseases, have a very good chance of injuring or killing you, as they do millions, worldwide every year.

How can that be good medicine? What other medical modality would be allowed to maintain such a high kill and injure rate? None.


Modern science/medicine is quick to mock and often ridicule the medicos of old for what was deemed to be their ignorance and their barbaric methods. However, any close study of Allopathic medicine in this day and age, quickly reveals that many treatments are used, with minimal healing effect, which are both barbaric and ignorant, and failure indicates their theory and practice are sourced in no real and useful knowledge.

Many treatments and procedures used by doctors today cause great suffering, even intense pain, without a healing or cure outcome. It was ever thus, it is just that failure in the present is accepted and failure in the past is ridiculed.

One can only wonder how research is stifled and largely unsuccessful treatments, chemotherapy comes to mind, are retained because the pharmaceutical industry which profits from their use, dominates and controls Allopathic medicine. Would we have advanced further if this were not the case and if science-medicine was free to research where, when and how it wished?

The power of the pharmaceutical industry over science-medicine corrupts the core principles of science as an objective, rigorous system of enquiry and research. And in the doing, not only manipulates modern medicine but the health of everyone who uses it.

The male domination of science and medicine has made both systems, mechanistic and militaristic at core. The scalpel is the new sword and the drugs take the place of cannon balls and bombs with the body as battlefield and enemy.

It is oxymoronic to use military terminology, as happens all the time, for a medical system which claims to do no harm, even though it does, too often, and which seeks to heal. Smiting, smoting, striking, destroying against the human body is counter-intuitive if we are to have optimal health. And yet that is the approach and people are encouraged not just to mistrust their body and expect it to betray them, as some enemy would, but to fear it.

The words make the mindset. We see things not as they are but as we are is a maxim which resonates. Science-medicine sees the body as a machine or ‘bag of chemicals’ as one erstwhile doctor put it and that is the maxim which underpins modern, conventional, or Allopathic medicine and which flavours and limits it.

No-one disputes that in some areas, surgery, preferably absolutely necessary and often it is not, or crisis/trauma, the mechanistic, materialist reductionist approach is of benefit although more healing and less harm would be the case if non-Allopathic medical modalities were also used to limit the wielding of the knife and the toxic dose of drugs.


The practice of medicine, Allopathic or conventional medicine, today, embraces, encompasses and treats virtually all people at levels never seen before in human history. You no longer have to be rich to see a doctor or to have access to all that modern medicine has to offer. All that there is, certainly in the First World and even to far greater levels in the Third World, is available to you from the time you are born until the day you die.


Logic suggests that we would expect people in general to be healthier, i.e. to have robust health and to fall sick infrequently and when they do, to recover quickly. We would expect vastly lower levels of serious and chronic disease because of the advances in medicine and its availability.


But that is not the case. There are in fact higher and rising levels of chronic and serious disease in general and more so in children. Cancer rates have risen from more than one in ten in 1900 to one in two today.


Children today have poorer health than their parents did and suffer, often at epidemic levels, rates of Autism, Diabetes, Auto-Immune Disease, Allergies, Behavioural and Learning Difficulties, Coeliac Disease and as some data shows, earlier rates of strokes and heart disease in young people.


Of course there are many other factors at work in our society which no doubt play a part, but the fact remains that conventional, modern, Allopathic medicine is unable to deal with the results, and when you look at the increased rates of vaccination, often experimental, given earlier, more often, in multiple form, and increased medication rates and the overuse, if not abuse of antibiotics, the problem, as it often was in centuries past, may well be medicine itself.


Whatever modern Allopathic medicine is doing, it is not making or keeping people healthier.


With all the advances in technology and knowledge and skills, people in general should have generally vastly better health. And they do not.


The argument from conventional science/medicine is that people live longer. Note they do not claim that people are healthier, they say that people live longer, completely ignoring the fact that such claims are sourced in distorted data and that many people who live longer, experience often miserable lives of poor health, pain and great suffering.


The fact is human beings do not live longer now than they did thousands of years or even centuries ago, as research into Egyptian and South American mummies, and a little research into history and ancestry, also reveals, where they have good nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, people lived to similar ages that we see today.


Life evolves slowly and the human organism is essentially no different and recorded history is so very brief, that common sense dictates that a relatively healthy human being, from in utero and beyond, with good nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, is going to live to a certain age. And they did. And they do.


The biggest factor in longevity was improvements in nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, as the records show. And as still occurs in developing countries where such improvements are put in place.


The shockingly high infant, maternal, child mortality rates up until the early 20th century, were  largely because of poor nutrition, sanitation and hygiene. Rickets meant deformed pelvic structures and babies and mothers at risk in childbirth and it meant less robust babies born to poorly nourished mothers.


Poor sanitation and hygiene meant higher rates of disease in general and epidemics and infectious diseases in particular, and when combined with less robust health, because of inadequate nutrition, disease and mortality rates were often at astronomical levels. Fix the nutrition, sanitation and hygiene and you start to see disease, epidemic and mortality rates plummet.


Syphilis was the other huge factor in infant and child mortality rates, a disease often unrecognised in the parents, but deadly all the same. It could and did kill anytime from conception and through the first five years of life, and often without parents and doctors knowing what had caused the death. One would have thought the vastly higher rates of blindness and deafness, Syphilis also brought, would have been indicators, except for the fact that it was a slumbering sickness which could appear, disappear and reappear again, many years apart.


This is why parents, in times of large families could have four or five healthy children, four or five dead or diseased and then another four or five healthy children, or a variation on the theme.


Conventional medicine did come up with effective treatment in the early decades of the twentieth century for Syphilis and brought this scourge largely to an end. Having said that, other medical modalities like Homeopathy, Herbal and various forms of Traditional Medicine were also effective in treating disease in general and Syphilis in particular, but never took precedence as medical treatments and so the effect was scattered, occasional, and because of the emphasis on mechanistic materialist reductionist science/medicine, largely ignored.


All of these factors played a part in reducing child and infant mortality rates and that boosted longevity.  None of it increased one whit the capacity of a human being, in optimal circumstances, to live a given amount of time, but removing those early kill factors, gave the impression that people lived longer even though they did not. And they do not.


Number-crunching can be useful but it is also a tool or weapon to distort and distract. As an example, you can be told that in this African country the average age at death is forty-two. Many assume that most people die at forty-two but of course they do not. The same ‘rules’ apply as they did in centuries past in that if someone survives the vulnerable first few years of life, when immune function is beginning to be established and nutrition, sanitation and hygiene are most crucial, then the chances that you will live to a reasonable age, increase.


In countries where the average age of death is forty-two, many people live into their eighties, nineties and beyond. In other words, if they avoid accidents, HIV/Aids, and have reasonable nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, their longevity is not so different to those in the First World.


And it was ever thus. It is simply not true that people live longer with modern medicine. What is true is that improved sanitation, hygiene and nutrition means more people survive the first few vulnerable years and have better health in utero, but they do not per se: live longer.


Although a qualifier is needed here because mechanistic modern medicine can keep people alive for longer but in a state of suffering and often misery that we would not allow a pet to endure. If a few years of such ‘extra life’ nudge up the longevity factor provided by conventional Allopathic medicine, or rather the mindset in which it operates, then perhaps we need to question both the mindset and the application.


Longevity, like health, is about quality not quantity. The best medicine maintains and helps to restore, if needed, robust health where one has optimal quality of life. And the best medicine can only do that when it works with the body, which is the only healer in any true sense, all treatments being mere support, allowing the body to maintain and restore, optimal function.

What is health, is a question which would be answered pretty much the same today as it would have been hundreds or thousands of years in the past.


Health is not necessarily complete absence from occasional sickness, and in times past, minor diseases, particularly in children, were considered to be an important part of the process of gaining robust health as an adult, and they still are by those who practice non-Allopathic medicine in the main, but it is generally a robust, energetic, vigorous constitution, which recovers readily from periods of sickness and does not suffer from serious or chronic disease.


In other words, your constitution is strong, you don’t get sick much and if you do you recover relatively quickly, and suffer no lingering after-effects. Whatever you do to support your body’s health is in essence the best medicine you can ever have.

Few probably realise that medications and vaccinations are designed to deceive the body and trick it into acting unnaturally. How can that not be confusing to such a complex organism? How can that not create dysfunction? One wonders if the massive rise in Cancer, those rogue cells which have forgotten how to suicide, apoptosis, for the good of the whole, might be sourced in such confusion and designed unnatural responses.

Less is more is probably a good approach and the old saying that erring on the side of moderation is wise, is particularly sensible when applied to medical treatments.

Doctors and scientists may well know more at a material and mechanical level than they knew a century or even fifty years ago, but they still remain largely ignorant about the How, What and particularly the Why, of bodily function.

They design treatments based on the erroneous belief that the body can be treated mechanically and materially and that no other factors are at play in disease. As of course they must given the belief system which underpins modern science at this point in history and which has done so for a few centuries now.

But each of us has responsibility to and for our own body and the more we take charge and do our own research, our own thinking, our own intuiting, the better health we are likely to have. Your body is your best friend and the two of you are in it for life. Working with the natural function of the human body, something modern science/medicine does not generally do, is going to optimise your capacity for health.

Having said that, if conventional medicine and regular trips to the doctor has you in robust health then keep doing what you are doing. We are all different and what matters is that what you are doing is working for you.

Every symptom is your body’s attempt to speak to you and every disease is your body’s attempt to heal. Listen and respect all of it.

Living a spiritual life means connectedness and your body is as important as your mind and your soul, at least while you are living in this material world.


Monday, 28 September 2015

Feel the feelings to know thyself

Do we choose our feelings or do they choose us?

I have been having an interesting conversation regarding feelings. I believe that feelings are innate and instinctive and not chosen, while others believe that we choose what we feel.

We can certainly create an environment where we are likely to feel a certain way but that is different to a reaction to a given situation where, for instance, we feel hurt.

I believe that feelings just are, and require only to be felt, or honoured. We can then, if we are self-aware, choose what we do with those feelings and how we respond to the situation or the person who has triggered those feelings of hurt. We do not choose how we feel about what happens in the moment, but we do choose, or we can choose, where it takes us.

Human beings are hardwired to connect and connection is really just the technical term for love in its various forms. Research shows that the more connected we feel the more optimal is our immune function and health, so, that feeling connected, or feeling loved is an innate part of the human condition. 

It is natural that in situations which indicate a 'disconnect' or 'lack of love' that we would have an instinctive and natural response as part of our 'warning system.' It is also natural that in such situations we should experience feelings which make us aware because that is part of our evolutionary survival 'kit.'


Feeling 'hurt' is a message which we need to hear for a variety of reasons, otherwise we would not experience such feelings. As an organism our body knows that 'disconnection' is 'dangerous' and never more so than when the 'disconnection' is with someone we love, i.e. with whom we have an important, supportive, loving and connected relationship.


Human beings have been created to feel and if it required thought to feel then babies and small children, before the age of true 'consciousness' would just not feel and we know that is not the case. They feel and they feel deeply. In fact, up until about seven, children are all feelings and little thought - well, little focussed thought.


So, if babies and children feel without the capacity to 'think' a feeling into existence, that says feelings are innate and instinctive, and I relate that to our hard-wired need for connection. Studies of babies and children in orphanages with poor care, has shown that those who are not touched or 'connected' with carers, have poor health and often die. We cannot survive without physical, emotional and psychological connection with others and so it is logical that the 'loss' of such connections, or the threat of loss, would trigger feelings which both warn and allow process.

Feeling hurt, if we study it closely, involves all sorts of emotions - fear, grief, sadness, anger - sourced in a sense of 'loss' or disconnection. Some people are so easily hurt that the actions of a stranger can cause them pain, but, most of us are only hurt by the actions of those we love, and I would add, trust.

There is a sliding scale of relationship based on knowledge, history, commitment and emotional connection where the same actions by a stranger in a queue would not have the equal impact on you, as those actions would from someone with whom you have a strong, committed and loving relationship.

And that is because there is no real connection with the stranger and so, any cruelty, rejection or unkindness does not create a sense of 'loss' or betrayal and so there is no capacity, in a healthy psyche, to feel 'hurt.'

I know it is a common approach in psychology to take a behavioural approach and to believe that we choose what we feel in any situation but human beings are far too complex to be reduced to mechanics and behaviour and there is not anyway, 'one size which fits all.'

Just as we do not choose to laugh or cry, but we can stop ourselves from laughing or crying, so too we do not choose to feel, although we can 'stop' ourselves from feeling. Although in truth, we do not stop the tears, laughter or feelings but merely suppress them where they will express themselves in some other way because, particularly with feelings, the physical experience must and will, be somehow felt. I am sure dreams play a part in releasing, expressing, honouring, feelings which are not allowed to be known consciously.

Quite some years ago when I saw a therapist for a short time she asked me: What comes first, the thought or the feeling?

I was not sure. I think I said 'thought' because I am more in touch with thoughts than feelings, or, I was then, but I continued to reflect on many occasions in the years that followed, as to her question.

The question raised my sense of self-awareness and I came to see that for me anyway, what came first was the feeling. Then I would apply thoughts to rationalise the feeling. It may well be different for others.

And while there is no doubt that what we 'think' can encourage, maintain and influence how we feel, the reality is that our responses to certain situations are feelings first, which come of their own accord and which are not chosen, and then we rummage through, unconsciously and consciously, the 'chest' of thoughts which might explain the feelings.

At least that is how it is for me. Others no doubt are different. Having said that, this is how I see it:

1. Feeling hurt because of the actions of others is not about allocation of blame. It is purely a reaction to a situation.

2. Feeling hurt because of the actions of others is a reaction in the moment and while grieving may take some time, the feelings of hurt should be short-lived and when processed in a healthy way, enable insight and assist grieving.

3. Feeling hurt because of the actions of others will last longer for some than others, and will depend on circumstances, but such feelings should not be enduring.

4. Feeling hurt because of the actions of others is something for personal processing and while, if any apologies are forthcoming, and are to be welcomed, is not something which requires the involvement of the person responsible for the actions.

5. Feeling hurt because of the actions of others is a reaction over which we have no control - they are just feelings. But, any responses we might make due to feelings of hurt, are within our control and are our responsibility and are not the responsibility of the person whose actions triggered the original hurt.

And I feel and think this is also good advice:

We can’t choose how we feel, but we can choose how we act in response to our feelings.

We can choose to sit with discomfort.

To feel our feelings.

To feel the loneliness and anger, the sadness and disappointment.

Unpleasant feelings don’t last forever.

They’re like waves.

The come in strong, until they peak and then ripple away.

Choose to ride the wave.

This too will pass.

Instead of disregarding the feeling or numbing out, develop an awareness.

There is always a reason behind our feelings.

Feelings are not the enemy.

They are messengers.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

What should we think about death? Any damn thing we like.

Apart from the fact I disagree with the sentiments expressed as Stephen Fry tells people what they should think about death, the whole thing comes across as pompous and patronising.

What is the 'should' about Tonto? And who are you to tell anyone else what they should think about anything, let alone death? There is an arrogance to atheists that I can only believe is sourced in deep and abiding fear and a belief that anyone who disagrees with them is less intelligent.

The overwhelming evidence throughout the centuries that mind and personality can function beyond the material is, applying Occam's Razor, more likely to be because mind functions through the material body but can do so without the material body, as opposed to it being some enormously complicated, convoluted, meaningless 'function' of the brain.

Research into NDE's, increasing in recent years, demonstrates that people can be conscious when their material body is clinically dead and the simplest answer to the Why is because we are not our material bodies and they are merely vehicles necessary for this material world.

And while human beings may be many things, they tend to be, in the main reasonably practical and sensible and the fact that stories and beliefs regarding this life being merely part of a life beyond the material exist in all cultures, societies, belief systems and have done so since the beginning of recorded history, suggests that it endures for a reason - it has substance.

Another factor is that Nature may be prolific but Nature is not wasteful and everything which happens does so for a reason. The simple reality is that consciousness as we know it as humans serves no evolutionary purpose - ants get by just fine without much at all as we define it and many people live long and productive lives with little time spent in conscious self-awareness. So, why do we have it? The simplest answer is that we have it because it allows us to be part of a co-creative process in this material world with some sort of organising, intelligent entity which manifests this world, and it is the one thing we can take with us beyond the material body, as NDE's so clearly demonstrate.

Logic and common sense also suggest that beliefs of any kind need serve only one purpose, i.e. that they create for the individual a greater capacity for a fulfilling life. If it works for you to believe there is nothing but seven score years and ten and then you disappear in a mouldering heap without point or purpose, great.

If it works for you to believe that this material existence is just one part of a long and interesting life as a spiritual being, great.

If it works for you to believe neither and to remain unsure, also great.

Because the simple reality is this, that if there is nothing then you will know nothing about it and so it is irrelevant. If there is something it will also be irrelevant because most religious teachings on God and the afterlife are just so infantile and silly that they will not be true. So it won't matter a toss what you believe.

If you step out of your material body and say:'Shit, I was wrong. I am still here and there is a life beyond material death,' you will be greeted with laughter and compassion and it won't matter a toss if you have lived your life in a fulfilling way believing that it was material meaningless.

The only thing which does matter is that whatever position you choose that works for you is no more than your opinion and you have no possible way of knowing that you are right and no right to tell others they are wrong.

What should we think about Death? Any damn thing we like!

Monday, 27 October 2014

Time to bring back orphanages?

Removing children from abuse and neglect may well create other problems, but perhaps those problems are being created because we need to rethink how we care for such children.
I suspect the problem, once again well-intentioned, is the attempt to 'create' a substitute home for children who need to be removed from their parents, with foster 'parents.' The simple reality is that nothing can replace your parents and foster care is hit and miss. No doubt there are some excellent people who opt to become carers but there are also those who are doing it for the wrong reasons and who are less than adequate as substitute parents.
What is worse is that a child can be shunted from pillar to post with moves from one set of carers to another, creating even more trauma and dysfunction perhaps than the original circumstances from which they were removed.
In this less than perfect world with less than perfect human beings, I suspect many kids get far less than perfect foster parents. Instead of trying to replace something which can never be replaced, perhaps reworking an old approach might be the way to go.
Perhaps it is time to rework the old idea of orphanages. What children need when they are at risk is to be removed from risk and placed somewhere they feel safe. Preferably it is somewhere they can stay for however long they want or is needed. Somewhere that they can find stability.
The next thing children need after safety and security is to be fed and educated. With stability of their living environment this is easier to provide.
In addition, in this day and age, creating enlightened, optimal, happy, healthy, constructive orphanage environments is more than possible. The best of orphanages will never be a substitute for the best of foster parents but I would be prepared to bet that it is easier to create and maintain the best of orphanages than it is to create a situation where the majority of foster parents are of optimal quality and function.
The other thing about an orphanage is that there is no pretence. It is not a substitute for your parents and so children do not have to feel conflicted if they prefer to be there or even come to love those who are caring for them, as, no doubt, many might with foster parents.
The other advantage is that a child could be given a number of opportunities to return to their parents without sacrificing a happy foster home, i.e. they can always return to the orphanage. They have stability and they have certainty in a world which is uncertain and unstable on so many other counts.
Children are also sensitive about being different and never more so than when coming from dysfunctional homes. In an orphanage they are all the same. There is no 'foster sibling' who they might see as 'better' or 'luckier,' the children with whom they live are facing the same issues and problems and this offers opportunities for bonding more readily than being in so-called 'normal' homes. There is nothing 'normal' about a foster home no matter how good it might be.
It would be interesting to balance costs of orphanages compared to foster parenting and I would be surprised if the latter was more expensive. Even if it were, the crucial thing in trying to help children in need is providing them with what they do not have - safety, stability, certainty and the familiar.
Most people reasonably assume there is evidence of good long-term outcomes for children who come into contact with child protection systems. Why else would we...

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Wet brings wealth and woes...

We left after lunch for the drive north to Mzuzu and wondered if the recent early break to the Wet for Lilongwe would remain as we headed for Kayelekera. It did.

There is a sigh of relief, almost palpable in Malawi when the Wet Season arrives because without it there is no maize crop and no money made and people go hungry unless the Government buys grain from elsewhere and just at present, the Government does not have much money. Well, it does for trips around the world for those in power but they are seen as needs-based, as in more necessary than repairing roads and feeding people, and so money follows power.

You do shake your head when you hear the President is spending a week or more in the US with an entourage of sixty and they are all staying at the Ritz, or was it the Waldorf Astoria,  in New York, where the Presidential Suite is $17,000 a night for the leader of the poorest country in the world.

But the President becomes a supreme being on election, the chief of all chiefs and the chief system is entrenched in this society like aristocrats and monarchies of old. No doubt the ordinary people do not mind if traditions are being honoured. One just wishes that those with power minded for them.

Having said that, with the new Government in place there are some signs of money being spent on ordinary people with some repair work to roads and new drains being built to carry away safely the huge amounts of water nature dumps on the country in the wet.

It was raining as we drove out of town but eased an hour or so on the road, only to break through in determined fashion as we drove up higher into the mountains outside Mzuzu,  some four and a half hours north of Lilongwe.  It is a logging area, the pines planted decades ago, and not well managed, but remaining still.

There was low cloud and mist along with rain as we made our way along largely empty roads. The price of diesel has risen dramatically in recent times and is close to what is paid in Australia, which, when compared to the amount people earn here, is an absolute, impossible, fortune.


So there were less private cars, less mini-buses, lots of bicycles and a few trucks and semi-trailers. Sadly, of the latter, more than six in recent days had not completed their journeys and lay overturned, some consumed by fire, on the side of the road. How many dead it was hard to say but it would be a few in that most semis would have a driver, his girlfriend and a mate and perhaps a hitchhiker, and a few crushed cabins made it clear that no-one got out alive and may well have been still entombed as we passed.

They drive too fast and the roads are not too bad, but far from good with the edges eaten away by rains in every Wet. You never know what is around the corner but, the local warning is to place tree branches from some distance on either side so you know the road will be blocked. There were a few stalled semis and trucks as we climbed through the mountains, no doubt because of poor servicing and all of the other problems which breed in Third World countries like Malawi.

The rains meant also less people on the side of the roads which makes the drive easier. Avoiding cyclists and pedestrian being perhaps more of a challenge than careering cars or trucks. There is nothing more off-putting than a woman on a bicycle in front, a baby strapped to her back, as she gets the wobbles, as they often do, and starts to weave around trying to remain upright.

The locals must have known the Wet would be early this year because the fields had been prepared for planting maize. In that 'needs must' way of Africa, the fields often run willy nilly, with trees and stumps left where they stand and the furrows dug around them. Why put all that effort into moving something when you can go around it? On the bright side, although it remains to be seen how effective it can be on the corruption continent, Malawi has brought in a ban on plastic bags.

What I do not understand though is why the plastic bags are not removed as they work! Surely that peep of blue plastic might, could, will interfere with the growth of precious maize. But the plastic weed of Africa is endemic and perhaps the corn has learned to grow around it or through it in that way of things in this part of the world.

It's can't be much fun for the locals in the wet. Some houses have iron rooves but most have grass and it must leak. The dry, red earth turns to mud because the rains are torrential. Even more, the talc-like consistency of the soil means much of it is just washed away into drains, onto roads, and where it should not be.

People sit around a lot in Malawi. It seems common in Africa. The men more than the women for needs must as a philosophy means people need to eat, clothes need to be washed, water needs to be fetched and children and men need to be looked after. But beyond what must be done, there is a lot of sitting around and talking. No doubt in such places people could, in ways they could not, in more severe climates where sitting around and talking all the time would have you dead in winter.

And so there is a lack of industry in the culture, a lack of effort expended without necessary gain. You see it even in the offices where people go to work, but not as they go to work in Western cultures - they go to work to do the minimum which is required, sadly not much and not enough, and then they sit around drinking tea or coffee, talking. They seem surprised at the industry of Westerners. Why would they not be? It is alien to their culture.

It also explains why so many African countries are basket cases. It explains why so many homes are barely maintained, why fields roam around trees and obstacles because the effort required to clear areas properly, would be considered exceptional to that which was needed. It would be considered unnecessary and a waste of time and effort.

And the ubiquitous donor aid industry has turned it into a mendicant culture where now if there is sit-down time, it happens with a hand held out for the international community to provide funds.

Another factor in Africa is that as the local saying goes, if one lobster tries to climb out of the pot, he or she will be pulled back down. You are not meant to be different. So planting more trees around your home or putting in a garden or establishing ordered fields would make you different and you would be pulled into line. A chief can be different. A chief can paint his house, order his fields, establish a garden .... but not ordinary people. And so nothing changes, not even for the better.

For the lack of industry is not because Africans cannot work hard. They can and they do, particularly the women who walk miles with huge containers of water, bundles of wood, sacks of maize or whatever else is needed, on their heads. Often with a baby on their back. And the men cycle up hills with passengers on the back, goats strapped to a frame, huge piles of timber, metal pipes, bags of coal and teetering piles of wood.  But all those things are required and they work hard for what they need to do and then they sit around.

But they can sit around because nature allows them to do it, generally.  The soil here is so rich that food is easily grown. Most of the farming is subsistence because there are now too many people, some 15million, in the small sliver of land which is Malawi. And the chiefs are still gods and hold sway. There is no way of organising farming because there is little spare land and the chiefs don't want things to change and the ordinary people cannot bring about change and so, nothing changes.

It is probably more depressing for outsiders looking on than it is for people living such lives who have never known anything different. HIV/Aids is rife here and cutting down Malawians of all ages, all of the time. A 25 year old Australian is likely to have never been to a funeral while a Malawian of the same age, will have been to many. One 25 year old Malawian I know has been to five in the past twelve months. I won't say it was all, or even any HIV/Aids but it might be. From the ages of eight to about fifty or so, and all relatively close family.

But the people look healthy. They can haul huge loads on their heads and backs and bikes for kilometres and they look robust and fit. Although perhaps there would be more on the roadsides if there were not so many lying ill at home. It is a life of sleep, food, sitting,  some working and sex. There is a lot of sex. Men and women alike seem to be promiscuous .... it is just the way things happen here.

Perhaps with so much death, illness, poverty and corrupt government, people are more inclined to have fun as and when they can. It is perhaps more of a pity that such fun is, for so many, so often deadly if not life-destroying even at higher levels as jobs are lost, careers founder - with Western employers who pay the highest wages - and those who have achieved something, come crashing down.

But then success is considered to be a sign of evil in this part of Africa and good fortune means, not that you are clever or work hard, but that you are in league with witches or the devil, or both. And so perhaps there is an unconscious self-destruct button, a hidden saboteur who will demonstrate that evil forces are not at work, by creating a situation where failure is guaranteed and success impossible.

And people shake their heads, shrug their shoulders and sigh - because it is never ever their fault.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Places between worlds


I don't often wake in the night and when I do, I wonder if it is something I am picking up from my grown-up children, both so very far away and in different time-zones.

In that place between worlds which broods in the depths of darkness, and that way of walking between worlds as we have in sleep, I have no doubt we connect with those we love more often and more easily. And they with us.

I remember many years ago living in Bombay, India, dreaming that my son, then about eighteen, was dying and somehow I was willing him to live and 'holding' him in life. Some hours later I phoned him and learned that at the time of my dream, he was surfing off the Australian coast and was dumped by a wave and was drowning until he managed to push himself to the surface.

Or do we float within the parts of ourselves in that dark cocoon of possibility and silence where fear and joy can appear, disappear and drift through shadows? Then again it might have been a dream.

The days are growing warmer in Malawi as the first damp breaths of humidity begin to creep around, sighing that the crawl toward the Wet Season has begun. Cicadas sing in echoed click and the birds seem more joyful than ever. They know the rains are coming. The time of washing clean the dust and grime of the dry days and more so after the burning season has been, when dry grass is burned black because they say, it brings fresh green shoots for stock to eat. But they do it in Africa, even in cities and where there is no animal grazing. Habits are hard to break.

This time of waiting for the rains is also one of those places between worlds where expectation sighs alongside and the heat increases until one begins to crave in desperation for the salvation of the healing rains. It is the way of the tropics and the sub-tropics and while I have never come to love such climates, I do know them intimately and appreciate them for what they are. I am at heart a dry climate person and perhaps that is because, as a Virgo, I need my boundaries defined in seasons as well as in other ways.

We are all different and in a way we live in worlds of our own making and worlds which have made us and we connect in the places in between, if we can. Living in different cultures allow practice for this but how much we master this living in the spaces between worlds depends, I believe, on our inherent natures.

The more fixed our boundaries the less we move and are moved by our environments. But then living in a different culture ensures that however fixed our boundaries may be as part of our nature, they must learn to bend and move and flex if we are to not just survive, but to thrive.

I have noticed here in Malawi that people often seem to enjoy the misfortune of others, particularly where the person has done some 'wrong' or possibly done some 'wrong.' It is as if there is great satisfaction in seeing them 'brought low' and perhaps there is, because in much of Africa, including here, there is a belief that good fortune means one is in league with the devil or evil forces, which suggests that ill fortune must be seen as positive.

Or perhaps when things go wrong for others they feel safe because there is only so much evil doing which can be done at any one time. Witchcraft has a deep hold on Africa and where it is combined, as it so often is, with the fanatical evangelical form of Christianity, there must indeed be much to fear.

Africa holds more places between worlds than perhaps anywhere else.