Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rethinking the hurricane

Maybe I shouldn't say this.

I understand that hurricanes are dangerous and that people are worried.

But why is everyone shopping?

How has mass consumption become the solution to every disaster we face, whether it is a hurricane or a recession?

Here, in New York, the grocery stores are packed. People are pushing around huge grocery carts full of bottled water, soda and juice, nearly colliding with each other. Piles of batteries and ready-made snacks line the checkout counter, as people murmur to each other "at least time is on our side and we can prepare."

Exactly what are we preparing for? And where do we think we live?

We seem to be provisioning for a doomsday scenario in which we might need to live off our household supplies for months at a time, completely out of contact with the rest of the world.

The reality is that yes, the power might go out for a few days. And yes, we should have some water set aside, and a couple days of food.

But take a look at the average American kitchen. I keep an extremely poorly stocked kitchen, and I still counted at least 8 cans of beans/chick peas/tomatoes not to mention a number of canned soups. I have peanut butter. I have oatmeal and bread and potatoes. It might not be a party, but we are not exactly likely to starve in this house any time soon. Even with a pregnant lady on board! :) The one real thing we need is water. And that was easy enough. We just took some buckets and other large containers and filled them up with water. You know, that stuff that comes right out of the tap.

If you have ever bought something from SHONA (and many, many thanks if you have!) I would like to pause here so that you can go look at that item again. That item was sewn in a workshop that has no electricity. Ever. And no running water. Check out the stitching, the attention to detail. And let's pause to consider the amazing strength and talent of these women who live in quite literally in one of the most disaster-prone regions of the world, without any of the security with which we live.

Because it is is not just that they don't have running water or electricity or stores of food in their kitchen. They live in a town that sits beside an active volcano. National Geographic called it "the most dangerous city in the world". When the volcano erupted in 2002 not only was there no clear evacuation plan, but many Congolese fled to the Rwandan border, only a few miles away, only to discover that Rwanda had closed the border and for a while stranded them inside. There is no doubt that the volcano will erupt again, with even more strength, and yet the city continues to grow larger by the day. Why? Because despite the natural threat of an active volcano, Goma still seems safer than the surrounding countryside where a war that has killed millions in the last decade continues to this day.

When we lived in Congo, there was a time when the fighting got so bad, that shooting and pillaging swept into Goma, forcing everyone to lock themselves into their houses. And no one had any idea how long that would last.

So, here in NY, I am thankful. I am thankful for a government that is responsible to the public. That issues evacuation orders, provides shelters, and monitors safety. I agree that the transportation system should be closed in New York City this weekend and activities should be canceled. This is a storm and it is dangerous.

However I refuse to believe that this is a call to shop. To stock up on the ridiculous amount of resources that I already have access to. Because, to tell you the truth, I can live without electricity and running water for a few days. And perhaps, I should have to. It is the way much of the world lives everyday.

I guess that is why all this shopping seems particularly obscene to me. Most likely, our society's over-consumption has played a significant role in the global warming which has caused extreme weather to increase. Yet we see a hurricane and flock to the stores. We have got to find a way to live with less. And to understand that most of the world does live with less everyday.

Instead we are sticking our heads further in the sand. Reassuring each other that we somehow have a natural right to live in a world where we never have to stop, where the lights never go out and the water never stops flowing. When things become scarce we simply buy more.

You know what? It may be a hell of a storm but our electricity will come on again. Our water will flow. Our government will send people to clean up the streets and treat those who are injured. And very few of us are likely to starve. There are an awful lot of people in this world, who live with worse conditions everyday.

Sure, we can be scared of the hurricane. The power of nature is awesome and terrifying.

But let's not pretend that shopping is the cure for all of our woes. If we do face real danger, it is because we are in a flood zone or because a tree falls or a roof crumples. It will be, because some things are out of our control.

It will not be because we didn't buy enough snacks or batteries. We probably already have too many anyway. And perhaps we should use this time to consider those who live everyday with none.

PS: If you do want to shop, how about supporting the work of these amazing artisans, and helping to share a few of our resources with those who can only dream of them.


Rebecca said...

I LOVE this post! Thank you!

patricia said...

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