Friday, November 23, 2012

A Shared Sense of Humanity

I've been reading Ryszard Kapuściński lately. Apart from his magnificent style, I was deeply touched by his humaneness. From every single sentence he wrote, you could feel his determined effort to understand the lives of ordinary strangers and describe them as best as he could. What a style, what a soul!

Here's one passage that really touched me. Even though it's about a slum district in Nairobi, I feel like these words could easily apply to our ger districts as well. Perhaps this is an indication of the scope of his perspective that allowed him to distill the universal from a particular observation.
They go, either tempted by the mirage of employment, or frightened by an epidemic that has suddenly broken out nearby, or evicted by the owners of the clay huts and verandas, whom they were unable to pay for the space they occupied. Everything in their life is temporary, fluid, and frail. It exists and it doesn't exist. Even if it does exist—then for how long? This eternal uncertainty causes my neighbors to live in a perpetual state of alert, of unabating fear. They fled the poverty of the countryside and made their way to the city in the hope tha,t life would be better for them here. Those who succeeded in tracking down a cousin could count on some support, some help getting started. But many of these former peasants did not find any of their relations, or any fellow tribesmen. Often, they didn't even understand the language being spoken in the streets, didn't know how to ask about anything. Still, the force of the city absorbed them, its life became their only world, and by the next day already they were unable to extricate themselves from it.
"My Alleyway, 1967" from Ryszard Kapuściński's The Shadow of the Sun

The passage also reminded me of this another brilliant point by Edward Glaeser. Especially when discussing the issues of ger districts, it is essential to understand that those people are here because they find relatively better conditions in the cities. I wish the public discourse in Mongolia would explicitly acknowledge this fact.
The basic point here is that cities don’t make people poor. They attract poor people with economic opportunity, with a better social safety net, the ability to get around without a car for every adult. People are moving for a reason. It’s a terrible thing that there are so many poor people in the world, but it’s not a terrible thing that they have come to cities to try and make their lives better.
Edward Glaeser - Triumph of the PPP: A Leading Urban Economist on Risks and Rewards

Or perhaps those people who discriminate recent migrants should read more carefully what the great David Simon recently said,
So what am I saying? Do you all need to move to Baltimore, or Mogadishu, or Karachi and flagellate yourselves because you happened to be born and raised and educated in better circumstance? Of course not. That’s not what this is about. No one’s asking for cheap, useless guilt here. No, this is about empathy, about a shared sense of humanity, about – and here it comes again – responsibility.