VIDEO: Children In Paraguay Create Music Out Of Trash


Life in Cateura, Paraguay, is tough. The neighborhood is built on a landfill and the people there make their living rummaging through the garbage for things to sell or reuse.

Now they’re using their skills to turn trash into beauty. They’ve started the Recycled Orchestra, in which local children play instruments made from trash. As this video shows, it’s not just a cute pastime. The instruments sounds like proper ones and the kids show real musical talent.

Now their efforts have caught the eye of some independent filmmakers who are working on a documentary about them called Landfill Harmonic. Check out their Facebook page and Twitter feed, for more information.

These kids are growing up in the depths of poverty and yet have made something out of their bleak surroundings. One of the girls in this video says she’d have nothing without her music. As their teacher says, “People realize that we shouldn’t throw away trash carelessly. Well, we shouldn’t throw away people either.”

London’s seamy side revealed in new exhibition

London
London has always had an underworld, a dangerous side. Just go out late on a Saturday night and you’re sure to see a fight. For many, the hint of danger is one of the city’s attractions, at least if you don’t have to deal with it full time.

Back in the 18th and 19th century, there was nothing attractive about the St. Giles Rookery. It got its name because tiny apartments were stacked atop one another like birdhouses. Only the poorest of the poor lived there–the beggars, the prostitutes, the gin addicts. Especially the gin addicts. Gin was a national addiction, a cheap way to get blasted. Gin addiction was immortalized in Hogarth’s engraving Gin Lane, showing a drunken mother accidentally knocking her baby over a railing while a tradesman hawks his tools and a man hangs himself within view of an uncaring crowd.

Hogarth was no teetotaler. He liked a good drink, as his engraving Beer Street shows. It’s the same scene, gentrified. Industrious drinkers of real ale prosper and flirt in clean, attractive surroundings. It must have seemed like heaven to the denizens of the Rookery.

A new exhibition by the Museum of London looks at the lives of these nearly forgotten people, thanks to an excavation the museum sponsored at the site of the old Rookery. London’s Underworld Unearthed: The Secret Life of the Rookery features finds from the excavation along with contemporary and modern depictions of this Hell on Earth.

The finds remind us that these were real people living here. Children’s toys, simple crockery, and trick glasses used in drinking games give us a glimpse of their lives, and the gin bottles hint at how many of them died. The modern art, created by Jane Palm-Gold, draws comparisons with today’s urban blight. The permanent collection at the Museum of London is well worth a visit too in order to get a better understanding of one of the world’s most fascinating cities.

The show runs until June 3 at the Coningsby Gallery.

[Hogarth prints courtesy Wikimedia Commons.]

“How to write about Africa” and “How to write about poor people”

In “How to write about Africa,” a classic satirical essay from Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina, the author pokes fun at those who recycle the same well-worn clichés about Africa, especially the portrayal of Africans as uncomplicated stock characters.

The following satirical “advice” for writing about Africa represents the tone of the essay pretty well:

Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid having the African characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids, or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate something about Europe or America in Africa. African characters should be colourful, exotic, larger than life-but empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause…

Read the rest of the piece, originally published in the literary mag Granta, here.

Over at Aid Watch, a blog which I recommended to you, humble reader, just yesterday, Bill Easterly has some satirical “advice” for anyone looking to write about the impoverished, particularly those in the developing world. A couple of suggestions from Bill and his readers are below:

  • Display pictures of poor children (alternatively women).
  • Don’t show pictures of poor men, who make your audience think of drunkards, wife-beaters, or janjaweed.
  • Assume that all poor people everywhere have the same interests and views on all subjects.
  • Write about the interests of the poor as entirely consistent with other good things, such as preserving the natural environment and fighting global warming.
  • Suggest specific answers that will end poverty in every possible situation, such as a package of microcredit, fertilizer subsidies, and a women’s handicraft cooperative.
  • It is not necessary to talk to any real poor people, they do not understand how to solve their problems anyway.
  • Suggest to the readers some demonstrative action that they can do to end poverty, such as wearing a white band on their wrist. How these actions affect global poverty does not have to be completely spelled out.

(It shouldn’t be necessary, but let me say this again: This. Is. Satire.) The lesson, if you haven’t caught it already, is that the world’s poorest people are still people, not merely vehicles for fundraising. Their problems are immeasurably complex and sometimes hopelessly intractable.

As travelers and as people who care about world poverty, we often do more harm than good when we spout off about people and problems we only think we understand.

For more, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of the hilarious but thought-provoking “How to write about poor people.”

Not-so Dangerous Destinations

“You’re going where?!” my father asked when I told him of my plans to go to Colombia. The Colombia he knows of, the one from the 1980’s, is filled with cocaine, street violence, and Pablo Escobar’s thugs. The country’s days as a dangerous destination are gone, but its stigma still remains.

Colombia isn’t the only now-safe country still considered by the masses to be too dangerous to visit. Forbes Traveler has put together a list of other destinations that aren’t as dangerous as you might assume.

Along with Colombia, the list includes places many experienced travelers wouldn’t think twice about visiting – Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Laos, Sri Lanka, and Ethiopia are all included – plus a few a little farther off the beaten path, like Haiti and Tajikistan. The list also includes two spots that become a lot more dangerous if you travel there illegally: Cuba and North Korea.

There’s no such thing as a completely safe destination, but still most of these spots have earned their reputations. At one point, they were lands of famine, war, and strife. Now they’ve become safer, though in some (like Haiti and certain parts of Colombia, for example) problems continue and there are still areas you should not venture.

If you plan on visiting one of these “not-so-dangerous places”, do your research and be sure you know what you are getting into. The bad reputation in some of these places can mean lower travel costs and few tourists, but there may still be an element of risk.

Photos of the Lakota: a lesson in culture and inclusion

In Mike’s post on he brought up the conflict one can experience in cultural tourism. He was prompted to write down his thoughts after visiting the Tiwi Islands in Australia. In the photo essay and interview in the New York Times,Behind the Scenes and Still Wounded” Aaron Huey, who found himself drawn into the terrible beauty of the Lakota tribe of the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, Huey alludes to similar ideas.

It is impossible for people to develop an accurate impression of a culture in one visit.

Huey has spent the past five years photographing the Lakota who live in Manderson, one of Pine Ridge’s most impoverished towns. This process that has developed friendships that are as close as family and an understanding of the Lakota that few have been able to attain. But, even then, Huey’s experience has not brought him any closer to knowing the answer, “‘Who are the Lakota?'”

As he writes: In many ways, I feel like it is not my question to answer. The Lakota are a people who have been wronged many times over. Coming from the dominant society and attempting to define them is a guaranteed failure for a white journalist. I have no right to define them.

Huey’s photos and essay, along with Mike’s musings, are a reminder that as we travel, we’re merely picking up tidbits of what a place is about.

What I think happens is that as we travel, we’re mostly finding out about who we are by looking through a lens of the “other.” If we arrive back home with a better understanding of who we are through our interactions and experiences, we’ve done well. To really know a place and what a particular culture is about takes years–and even then, it may not make us an expert.

Reading the interview with Huey and looking at the images he captured in Manderson is one place to start on a journey of trying to understand the complexities of the Lakota. It certainly gives an insight into Huey.

(The Hamner Photos image was taken on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Click here for more of them. From what I can tell, they were taken as part of a work camp to build houses on the reservation, just a Band-aid to the poverty problem, according to Huey.)