Monday, January 26, 2009

The Lives of the Saints

The January 5 New Yorker had this intense article, The Lives of the Saints, about the UN refugee camps in Chad. It was extremely interesting and detailed. The title is a little ironic. Many tend to think of aid workers as saintly beings, doing what other cannot or will not. I'm not contrasting that image with the recent stories of abuses by UN Peace Keepers on the people they were hired to protect. I'm contrasting the saintly vision with actual human beings. Chad is considered, by the UN, to be one of the most difficult places to work. Image what that must mean for the people who aren't paid to work in the refugee camps, but who are actually refugees. The UN pays well. Many people take on such jobs, not for religious devotion to the poor, but because the benefits are many, it is prestigious, and it isn't forever. They can always go home. The article is balanced and fair to the UN workers, many of whom are afraid and frustrated by the inability to help anyone very much. Read it here.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Babar, le petit éléphant

A September 2008 issue of the New Yorker had this article about Jean de Brunhoff's Histoire de Babar. I was a little disappointed to read that there is a growing belief that Babar is a figure that strongly reinforces the idea that colonization has a civilizing affect on the colonized. I think I'm disappointed because I would continue to think of Babar as a an adorable children's story of an elephant living like a human.

But after reading the article, it's hard for me to think of Babar in the same way. The thing is, even if Brunhoff didn't intend for Babar to represent an African confronting and readily accepting French colonial society, it makes perfect sense. If Brunhoff wanted to write a story about an anthropomorphized wild animal, what kind of human would he have Babar be? A Frenchman in Africa, of course. What other model would Brunhoff have had than the French people of his own time and place?

Perhaps a modern Babar could become civilized by working for the UN and driving a white SUV? Read the article and decide for yourself.