Wednesday, December 29, 2004

blog entry

Seoul Airport -

Uneventful thus far - already 18 hours traveling. I got into a nice,
long conversation with a United Airlines steward about the tsunami.
Luckily for me, Aliyah was along for quasi-scientific questions. Through
pure serendipity, she had taken a class at Smith in the geology
department on "Natural Disasters" last term, which put her about 98%
ahead of us mere mortals. We discussed how for the last hour in the
airport, I watched CNN News as they played and replayed the destruction
of the tourist resorts in Phuket, Thailand, the "amazing story" of the
reunification of a little one-year old BLONDE boy (Swedish!) with his
BLONDE grandparent. It makes for good press. The wave against the marble
swimming pool made for good visuals.

But I explained how the press hasn't even touched my mother's area of
India, which is not in the least bit remote, and has millions of people,
but no BLONDE people (and definitely no Swedes, and no tourist resorts.
Apologies to all blonde people reading this - it has nothing to do with
you, and everything to do with the way the media has decided to portray
the rest of the world.

Actually, there has been even less coverage of Bangladesh. As I wrote in
a series of articles almost 20 years ago, deforestation in the Himalayas
resulted in tens of thousands of tons of soil being washed down to the
mouth of the Ganges River 3,000 miles away, where it empties into the
Bay of Bengal. I even have pictures of the rivers in the mountainous
regions being choked with debris from mudslides and landslides (which
was also the beginning of the basis for my children's story "Gaura Devi
Saves the Trees" - which is in "The Healing Heart~Communities"
storytelling book. But meanwhile, huge new islands formed in Bangladesh
at the mouth of the river, underwater four months a year, and tens of
thousands of people have built houses on stilts - there is just no other
place to go. I imagine many of them have been washed away, but I have
yet to hear a single news report from Bangladesh, and it makes me -
sorry - angry!

I got to thinking - sometime last summer, out of the blue, and I really
don't know why, which I've learned probably means it is really important
- I started exploring some old Talmudic lore about a man called Og. Og
doesn't actually appear in Genesis (or at least in the Noah story), but
in Talmudic lore, Noah took only his family aboard the ark, but at the
last moment, with the waters rising, a man named Og found a ledge -
really just a chink of wood - on which he sat and hung and refused to
leave, despite Noah's insistance. For an entire year, with the waters
swirling, he hung on, and he was fed (what, I don't know) through a
little opening in the ark's side. In some versions, he is an evil ogre,
who is supposed to serve Noah when they leave the ark, or he will turn
wild ("feral"?) again.

What if the story were different, though? In Jewish tradition, there is
"midrash", where you can take a tale and turn it upside down and inside
out and empty out its pockets, and see what comes out. What if Og was a
warning to Noah that one should not, one CANNOT abandon one's neighbors,
whatever the situation? Maybe Noah didn't hear God entirely clearly
(after all, remember, even in the traditional version, he is a
drunkard.) What if Og sits on the ledge the entire year, banging on the
outside to be let in, and he was the point of the whole story - God put
Og up to it, and Noah is just the agent that allows God, through Og, to
make a point! What if Noah, having deforested the area for the past 100
years, was just willing to pick up his family (and his favorite furry
and feathered friends) and sail away to mess up the next earthly
installment, but Og is a reminder that you just can't do it?

Appa - my Og. He is 91 and frail now, though apparently
they've nursed him back to reasonable health (though he can't hear much,
and can't see.) He has been arrested so many time for protesting against
the predations of the illegal prawn farms, salinating the soil, ruining
the watertable, cutting down the mangrove forests, etc. - all for profit
and prawns on our salad bars - that the government is now afraid to
arrest him, for fear that he'll die in jail. (The first time Aliyah met
him was in the Madras City Jail when she was 3.) He is Og, and he won't
let the corporations come in and make a quick killing (figuratively and
literally) with "hanging on" to them.

So now he's a prophet. Too many dead to rejoice in prophecy, but of
course that is the way prophecy usually works, isn't it? The irony is
that he vowed not to die until all the multinational shrimping companies
were out of India, and we all assumed it would take 40 years. I wouldn't
be surprised to arrive in two days to discover that they are all gone,
carried off on the big wave. It is unlikely they could rebuild - the
soil will now be so saline, that the shrimp won't survive. The death of
"slash and flood" aquaculture. But so many dead with it.

I have no idea what we'll be doing when we get there. It's not a bad
space to be - we'll just do what we are called upon to do, and,
hopefully, get to write about it. I'm not much at digging wells, I can't
give a vaccination, and I can haul some bags of rice, but I'm not all
that strong either. But I can play with kids at the orphanage (kids seem
to like me for some strange reason), console those I can, and write! It
will be enough.

Both Aliyah feel incredibly blessed by all the people who saw us off
with heartfelt messages and prayers. And contributions! We are going to
need them - once the media circus wears off, the reality wil set it, and
then is when folks are going to need all the help they can get.

Thanks all for your continuing generosity.



Blogger Unschooler said...

Go, David and Aliyah!! I wish I could join but since I can't, you as well as the people you are helping are in our prayers.

Holly Furgason

9:34 AM, December 31, 2004  
Blogger Chelee said...

I just heard of your trip through a homeschooling friend and wish you many blessings.
Our family will be keeping up with your posts. We wish you a safe journey.

12:09 PM, December 31, 2004  
Blogger Kirsten said...

David and Aliyah,
Thank you so much for going to India, being there and doing all that you do. I too continue to be aggravated by the media's habit of only covering the stories of white people affected by the disaster. Today's Olympian includes a story of a woman in Australia who had to choose which of the her children to hold onto when the tsunami his the coast there. Thank you for demonstrating through your actions that a person's skin color is not equated to their value as a person. I so appreciate all that you are doing. I cannot say that enough.
David, I remember you telling me about your Indian parents and how, when they saw a situation that needed work, they went to it. You are there, in India, where the work is needed.
Aliyah, I wish I had half the courage you do! Aren't you glad you took that class on natural disasters? Too bad you had such an immediate, and HUGE need to put that peice of your education to work.
I am glad you two are there together. Take care of each other. I will forward your blog out to other friends and family and continue reading your updates as often as you are able to post them. Thank you, again and a million times over.

4:08 PM, January 01, 2005  

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