Welcome to JP Melville's review, experience, and statement on foreign aid and the international development industry. A conservative faith in family. A love affair riding the riotous tensions between money, personal freedom, the majestic travesty of our specie's ecological footprint, and economic politics. Selected writing of both prose and poetry, anecdotal travel log to rhetorical essay, dating back from the 1980's to the present. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Villages and Cities, Rice Paddy and Cars

 I look at this thing and I call it a village.  Made up of bunches of little things.  Like wood houses on stilts, dirt paths, woven baskets. Also children’s voices.  And buffalo and rice and glyricidia trees and paddy and the wind.  No rice without a village.  No village without rice.  One and the same thing.
            I look at this other thing and I call it a city.  Made up of a bunch of different things.  Like concrete sidewalks, motos, canals, and overhead wires.  Also light at night.  And music and cloth and colourful flags and diesel.  No neon with cities.  No cities without neon.  Pretty much in any country you know.
            Villages and cities change.  People live and die.  Families come and slowly go. Hearts are broken. Joys are found.  Stuff is built up.  And stuff is undone.  Villages and cities are kind of the same.
            And somehow different. Because we can see the entire physical village, because we can easily walk around its circumference, we think it is uncomplicated, simplistic.  A city is very big.  Strolling in the midst of streets and buildings, we are content because we believe we understand the colossus surrounding us.  Complex and sophisticated.
As though a village is not complex.  As though we can build a fish.  Or a buffalo.  As though we can build a village which was there for, perhaps, a thousand years.   To build an automobile, if we are lucky, sticks with us for twenty five years?
We are failing miserably as a species to understand the distinction between the complexity of a village and the complicated quality of a car.  The production of a car consumes some fossil fuels and some minerals.  The operation of a car burns them up in running.  Spits them out.  Rusts.  Ends.  For all intents and purposes, only one species, humans, involved in the entire process.  This is simplistic, complicated if you like, but not complex.
In ten square meters of rice paddy, you have maybe 1,000 different obvious species of insect, plant, bird, and many things living, using and reusing quite some minerals and materials… and then they do this interactively with humans, who also live with buffalo and trees and chickens and infections.   Seems kind of complex, especially since we do not even know how these things really work together.
 So I wonder how do we believe that we, humans, define this world?  Why not that we are defined by this world?  Instead, my people, my education taught me to believe that things ought to be this way or ought to be that way.  Somehow, I was told that my two cents mattered.  That we can fix problems and make things work.  I have been taught to believe how a human world matters.
Yet, when I sit in the village, under the shade of a thatched roof, watching two children play in the dust, surrounded by nothing but rice paddy, the soft wind, and a straw munching buffalo, for the first time in my life I am humbled.
The village is such a humane world.
And so little upon which it depends is human.

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