I just finished watching one of the most depressing documentaries I’ve seen in a while. Darwin’s Nightmare is a stark film, depicting the Great Lakes region in Tanzania. A huge fish industry has started up there, exporting hundreds of tons of Nile Perch to Europe. Many people have jobs that tie directly to the major company that processes the fish for the EU.
The Nile Perch is not indigenous to Lake Victoria though. It was brought over by a man with a bucket, who I guess felt like seeing what would happen if you transported a foreign fish to a new environment. Well what happend was that fish, which is huge, ate all of the native fsh in the lake – and those little fish were responsible for eating the algae etc…thereby keeping the lake clean and oxygenated. Because those fish are gone, the lake is dying. Now the Nile Perch are eating their own babies, effectively wiping out their own chance for survival.
The EU pays the governement tons of money to keep the industry going. They are interested only in their exports. The locals survive on approximately a dollar a day, fishing, gutting, packaging, guarding the fish destined for Europe. They are too poor to actually buy any of the fish and eat it. They get the fish carcasses, which they pack into a truck, drive to a market, and stack on wood to dry. One of the most horrible sights was of maggots crawling all over the fish carcasses as women sorted through them.
HIV and AIDS is part and parcel of any story about almost any part of Africa now. Street children pack the streets – leftovers from fishing famillies, where the parents died of the ‘virus’, of from a fishing accident (they dive in the lake to chase the fish into nets…there are crocodiles in the lake). The women are forced into prostitution. The pastor won’t tell his people to use condoms because fornication is a sin and using condoms is a sin…I guess witholding lifesaving information isn’t.
The children face sexual abuse, smoke up, sniff glue, and dream of becoming teachers.
Famine hits one region of the country and the UN asks for money to provide food for the people – funny because they could just eat the damn Perch if it wasn’t so badly ‘needed’ in Europe.
The farmers are not farming anymore, they are fishing. What they will do when the fish are gone is unclear. What is clear is they are not earning enough to eat the fish they are catching.
Russina planes land in the local airport carrying cargoes of ammunition and weapons destined for Angola, Sudan, Liberia, DRC, etc… They fly out with tons of perfectly filleted fish destined for Europe.
Everyone turns a blind eye to this…the EU says “keep the fish coming…and by the way please make sure you keep European standards of hygiene”, while kids play in the garbage dump and fight over a bowl of rice.
The Tanzanian officials at a Kenyan conference get upset at a film they are shown, that depicts the tragedy that is happening to the lifeblood of the Nile, Lake Victoria. “Show us the positives too, not just negativity! Why does everyone focus on the negatives only? We are here to sell Tanzania!”
What can you do but cry? This is only one town, one region, one country on a continent so big. And everywhere you turn there are similar stories. At the end the only thing I could wonder was ‘what would the Prophet do? I really wonder how he would react, what would he say? Would he be astonished at the avarice, the greed, the coldheartedness of people? Would he cry over the small children getting high and then passing out in alleyways?
The Sufis say this world is an illusion and I know Islam holds answers for everything, and I know it is the only thing that will free your mind and soul so that the tragedies of this life remain the illusion that they are… I know, I know
But looking at the eyes of the men and women and children tonight – I would be too scared to repeat that to them. I think the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, might be the only one who would be able to do that. And he is not here. So the world spins on its axis and we settle in and wait for it to fall off.