Saturday, December 19, 2009

The New Yorker: Gorongosa National Park

The December 21st issue of the New Yorker has a great article about Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. The story is mostly about American Greg Carr's efforts to use his personal fortune to restore the eco-system that was lost during Mozambique's Independence and Civil Wars. He is bringing back the large animals that could increase tourism and give the people of the area jobs. But he is facing some cultural problems as the Régulos and fetiçeiros of the mountain do not trust his intentions. At one point the author talks to Mia Couto, who came to speak to my Peace Corps training group. And he told us the same story he tells the author, about the monkey and the fish. The short version is this: A monkey passed by a stream and saw a fish swimming. But the monkey thought that surely the fish was drowning and he took the fish out and placed it on land. Even as the fish suffocated, the monkey felt that he had saved the fish. The point is, some people don't need outsiders, who don't understand the situation, to come and "save" them. But the author pointsout the contradictions of placating to a culture that has only emerged since the civil war. The people who live on the mountain now were not there before the war. Their traditions of slash and burn agriculture do not work on the mountain and will likely destroy it.

ABSTRACT: A REPORTER AT LARGE about philanthropist Greg Carr and the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. Back in the nineteen-eighties and nineties, Greg Carr made a couple of hundred million dollars developing and marketing voice-mail and Internet services. In 1998, he quit all his for-profit ventures and decided that he would become a full-time philanthropist. He didn’t just want to give his money away; he also wanted to give himself to his projects—body and soul. Tells about Carr’s involvement in the Market Theatre in Boston. After just two seasons, he shut it down. He had fallen in love with a national park in Africa. Gorongosa National Park is a wilderness the size of Rhode Island at the southern tip of the Great Rift Valley in central Mozambique, and when Carr showed up there five years ago, it had been all but abandoned. Tells about the history of the park, which was established in 1960, by Portugal, which had dominated Mozambique for five hundred years. The park was the scene of much of the heaviest fighting during Mozambique’s sixteen-year civil war. Many of the wildlife species in the park were severely depleted. In 2004, Carr said, you could walk or drive all day without seeing any other living thing but some birds. That was when he committed much of his fortune and much of the rest of his working life to resurrecting the park. Carr’s idea is to use his philanthropy to create conditions that will attract for-profit ecotourism businesses to the park, insuring its economic self-sufficiency. He has already spent twenty million dollars on revitalizing the park and its environs. Describes how he is restocking the park’s animal populations. And how he has created hundred of jobs in and around the park. In 2007, Carr signed an agreement with the government of Mozambique to run the park and manage its buffer zone for the next twenty years. Tells about Carr’s childhood, and his business, Boston Technology. Describes studies of the park done by the South African naturalist Ken Tinley. Tinley advocated expanding the park to include nearby Mt. Gorongosa, which was a key part of the park’s ecosystem. By then, the park was a civil-war battleground. Writer describes Carr’s attempts to negotiate with the leaders of the mountain’s two administrative zones, one of whom has been more coöperative than the other. Tells about deforestation on the mountain. Discusses the difficulties of balancing economic development and ecosystem preservation with respect for the traditions and authority of the local peoples. “I’m a human-rights guy and a conservation guy trying to do both at the same time,” Carr said.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ms. Lohan in India

Here's an irritating story: a former actress, who has aged herself beyond belief with alcohol, drugs and partying thinks it's a good idea for her to go to India to "save children" from human trafficking.

As if she could save anyone. As if she could find India on a map of India.

Why do celebrities think that their mere presence has the power to change all the evil in this world? Are people really going to stop wearing fur because Pamela Anderson likes to be photographed nude for PETA? Would a man really stop buying sex from child prostitutes because Lindsay Lohan says it's wrong? And because she said it while sporting a bhindi?

I imagine the total irony of her chosen charity case is lost on the actress; in some ways, Lindsay Lohan is probably so messed up because she
was a child prostitute. Her parents earned a lot of money from whatever talent she used to have. Have you seen the "music" videos she made when she was still just a teenager? Tell me that's not a child being prostituted by her own parents.

If she wants to go to India, fine. If she wants to donate large sums of her fortune to Indian charities, who would I be to criticize?

But what she is really doing is something different from charity work. She is using the poverty of India as rehab. She is hoping that by going on this "mission," she will somehow become a better person, in the public's eyes and her own. She probably hopes that in India she will be able to purge herself of whatever it is that has made her so crazy. Here's what she has said about karma:

“I am all about Karma… what goes around comes around.” this, published in the Hindustani Times. I wonder what Indians think about her summation of Hinduism. I bet they wish she'd go home.

It bothers me when celebrities do this. It trivializes both the problem and those who are working hard to actually improve the lives of those living in whatever developing world the celebrity has decided to claim as their own. Why is it that this child trafficking NGO didn't get press before Lohan graced it with her coke-saturated self? Why aren't the local Indian employees highlighted in any of the stories about her trip? A big part of the problem is that Lindsay Lohan is no Angelina Jolie and she doesn't know how to spin the news of her trip into true awareness and education about child trafficking. She's a drug addict with a lot of money on what is essentially a poverty-tour. How is that going to help anyone?

For more on this thread read: Ms. Hilton in Africa and commentary on MTV's Exiled.

Here's an extremely biting article called What has India done to Deserve Lindsay Lohan?

Monday, December 7, 2009


WHO Anti-Malaria Campaign in Lusophone Countries.