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Do I deserve to be travelling? Hard work or privilege?

January 31, 2014 4 comments

I’m in India! Travelling through this beautiful sub continent for just over 2 more months. And its amazing. So interesting, challenging, fun, frustrating, intriguing, irritating, luxurious, uncomfortable … Really its constant intense experiences and interactions except when its a long boring wait for a bus, someone to do something they said they would etc. And its warm and the sky is blue and I can be outside and walking and seeing things and it’s January and if I were in glasgow it would be dark, cold, wet with icey pavements trapping me indoors. But I made this trip instead. Well, sort of.

So I’ve been planning this trip for about a year. There was a lot to organise and I had to work 2-3 extra shifts every week for months and months to save up to pay for it. I found this hard and tiring as I’m a bank nurse so I’m working in different wards all the time, meaning each shift is more challenging as I’m having to hit fresh ground running each day. And I guess that’s what friends and family and people I met through work meant when, as the departure date was approaching, they (you!) told me I deserved the trip.

But now I’m here, and I’ve met a fair few Indian nurses, and I know that yes I worked to come but it was much easier for me to save up to come to India than it would be for them to do it the other way round.

I was born white, middle class with a South East of England accent. This makes it easier to get taken seriously, for example in uni or job interviews. I am given the benefit of the doubt more than I would if I had a working class accent or wasn’t white. In general interactions with strangers are empowering as I am assumed, because of my social markers, to be more intelligent, respectable and trustworthy than average. This leads to me feeling more confident and less hesitant as I’m constantly getting messages from those around me that I am competent. This confidence in turn spirals upwards as I am then given ever more credibility.

Being female does detract a bit from this – I can’t begin to count how many times this has happened, but minimum of once a month it is wrongly assumed that a male nearby has more technical experience or knowledge than me. And of course that usual female experience of being talked over by men, and being expected to yield in interactions. This does damage my confidence and willingness to speak but as I said, in other ways I am privileged*.

I was born with an intelligent brain and a reasonably healthy body – I am very short sighted, clumsy, short and have rosacea but I’m definitely at the able bodied end of the spectrum, especially as I live in a time and place where I can get glasses! I’d have been much more disabled otherwise! Being smart and healthy and able bodied has allowed me to work and to travel – India would be about impossible for a wheelchair user, or someone with a compromised immune system. Working to save up, and the trip itself, would have also been incredibly challenging if I had chronic pain, poor mental health etc etc.

Being female does make travel more dangerous due to sexism and rape culture** but my other privileges protect me from much of that – eg being black would mean I was seen as less credible and therefore would be an easier target for a sexual predator. Being older as a female makes me less desirable in this society so I am less harassed and sexually assaulted now than when I travelled in my twenties. If I were transgender (rather than just androgynous and genderfluid) travel in many places would again be much more dangerous and there would be a constant fear of being discovered and in what brutal way I might be punished for not conforming to societal gender norms.

Another massive privilege I was born with is geographical. I have a passport from a white, high income country meaning I can get tourist visas more easily as it is not assumed that I am secretly an economic migrant (though actually specifically for India having a UK passport makes obtaining a visa much more expensive, though still cheaper than for an Indian to obtain a UK visa) Crucially, though I’m not high earning in UK terms (I make roughly £1400 a month when working full time), because the UK is near the top of the economic food chain and has a history of imperialism leading to wealth, I was able to save enough to live and travel in India for 4 months, in a way not accessible for the average Indian to do in reverse. So just by the luck of being born in the UK I have life choices in much of the rest of the world.

But this trip was definitely not handed to me on a plate. It was hard work to save up to come and to organise my life to enable that, by minimising expenditure and commitments. I could have not fought inertia, and then I’d still be in Glasgow now.

So do I deserve this? Was I able to come on this amazing trip of a lifetime to India because of my hard work or because I am so privileged by society?

Why yes. ;)

* the idea that everybody is privileged and oppressed in different ways by different axis (eg race, gender, class) is called intersectionality.

** rape culture is the commonly accepted ideas, systems, language etc that encourage and enable sexual assaults. This includes sexual objectification of women so that they are dehumanised and seen as things to prey on for sex rather than people with desires of their own and the right to their own bodily autonomy. Also ideas that females should be modest and have specific proven, displayed virtues (be it clothing, alcohol consumption, being out on their own at night, being a sex worker etc) or that otherwise anything that happens to them is their own fault and the actual perpetrators are let off the hook.

Union Carbide factory, Bhopal

December 14, 2013 Leave a comment

We walked hardly 5 minutes through the densely populated district from the clinic and suddenly we were at the union carbide factory gates. This factory filled with toxic chemicals to make pesticides, with untested technology and equipment, had been built right where thousands of people lived. And yet after it was no longer profitable, union carbide (now wholely owned by Dow Chemicals) did not keep up the maintenance despite leaving there tanks of MIC – the highly reactive and deadly gas that leaked and destroyed so many lives.

The factory is now just an iron skeleton with old pipes and tanks and machinery surrounded by trees and flowers. Parts reminded me of a video game with iron stair cases climbing up to exposed platforms from which hang thick vines.

The tank itself which finally, inevitably given the negligence, leaked causing so much harm is lying peacefully on it’s side, surrounded by verdant life. The guard who showed us round is one of the thousands of survivors from that night who still has extensive health problems due to the inhaled poison.

A lab was there – big bottles of chemicals just there, many broken. A packet of bright orange powder split open on the floor. Nobody has come to even make a pretense of cleaning up this contaminated abomination. The perpetrators walked free. The local people still suffering from their negligence and inhumanity.

Near the gate, on the way out, I noticed a small garden had been made by the guards. Just a few flowers but obviously being tended with a raised edge so it can be watered.

The factory was so peaceful. So horrible. So beautiful in rewilded post industrial decay yet with such horror associated. I’m still overwhelmed with all I’m seeing and learning here so can’t really process much.

Here humans prioritised profit over other humans and devastated a community.

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Complexity of the choices faced by parents of a child with severe learning difficulties

March 12, 2012 2 comments

This story is so ripe with complexity and ethical nuance that I’m a bit warey to post as I have wise and thoughtful friends who may well convince me that I am entirely wrong, but my first response is to support these parents who chose to “freeze in time” their severely disabled child

For me it is the lack of support for those with disabilities and their carers, leading to such immense challenges to carers as in this story, that gets me angry. Although this case is in the USA, we really shouldn’t feel too smug in the uk.

People with severe learning disabilities never “grow up” to become independent and leave home. Instead they tend to be cared for by their parents, as all involved get older and older. The love, commitment and bonds that I’ve witnessed in such families is beautiful. But if a society is to be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable, then we are in a very sorry state. These families have very little support from the state, whilst the political class appears confident that those with learning disabilities and their full-time carers will have little time or energy to do anything about it. Whilst they were wrong in this assumption with some of the carers when glasgow council decided to close the only facility for adults with learning disabilities in the east of the city, a large proportion of the carers involved are elderly and exhausted by their caring commitments and supported the campaign but couldn’t get involved.

In the USA I can’t begin to imagine what life must be like for those with learning disabilities, and their parents. Do they get any help or respite?

As a nurse I have experience of providing “all care” for fully grown adults. I wouldn’t dream of trying to reposition them or change their incontinence pad without at least one other person. In addition to maintaining dignity and comfort for the patient, doing both regularly is essential to avoid bed sores which can quickly become deep, painful and hard to heal. But for large patients it is a physically challenging task. Could we have teams of compassionate, motivated caring staff without time pressures visiting each of the “patients” frequently each day to assist the parents with the care needs? They could provide the extra hands needed to get the service user out of bed and for trips etc, for a richer life, as full as is individually possible.

Without social support parents like those in this story are going to make difficult choices. But choices aren’t made in a vacuum. There is a political and economic context, and criticizing individual actions without reference to this is akin, in my mind, to blaming the victim for what they did to survive an attack.

The coalition is chipping away at our relationship with the NHS

September 13, 2011 Leave a comment

An article in the Guardian today describes how cuts to the NHS budget are pushing some patients to go private for operations. I think this is the government playing an intelligent long game in their goal of reducing the redistributive function of a social democratic state, in much the same way as when they were moving child allowance from being a universal benefit.

When all socio-economic classes benefit from the public sector, this gives political protection to state provision.*  This meant that even Margaret Thatcher could not dismantle the NHS. However when more and more of the middle classes are not receiving child allowance, or using private healthcare, there is less attachment and association with these social democratic functions, and a neoliberal government can attack them without the same fear of political repercussions.

* I’m an anarchist and want to do away with the state, however whilst we are still forced to live under an unequal, capitalist regime, reforms that soften its harshness should be defended.

No Mr Cameron. It is inequality and injustice that is wrecking communities

April 14, 2011 3 comments

“Immigration is wrecking communities” according to Etonian David Cameron who leads of a UK cabinet of whom 2/3 are millionaires.   He claims that it is a large influx of migrants that is placing stress on schools, housing and healthcare, attempting to divert blame from Government policies of privatisation and cuts.   But it is inequality and injustice that is actually wrecking communities

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