I spend the last few days in NY and then Washington (sorry for the lack of blogging over the last few days – but I have a day job). I attended a few conferences that dealt with sustainability, climate change and everything else that the closest tree might need a hug for. My rants on that in the next few days. But I thought I would take some time out to go and watch a movie. And one without the kids. The last movie I saw on the big screen was about a big, bad ogre stomping through the woods, breaking trees and doing whatever harm he could to the environment – all while he was trying to become king while no one wanted him as king. And no, I am not talking about the Bush environmental policies.
I decided to go and see a movie that fit my image. You know, this caring, sensitive guy. The Brad Pitt of Africa. Minus the good looks, money, body, fame, star quality – okay, nothing like Brad Pitt. But I digress. I went to see FLOW – For Love Of Water. All about water and the problems we experience and will experience with water. It is serious stuff – water. We need it like oxygen. Can’t do without it unfortunately. And most people in this world do not have access to clean water. And kids die from drinking dirty, polluted every single day. Such a basic thing. You can turn on the tap, but they don’t even know what a tap is if it hit them in the throat. We are starting to run out of water in our little world. And it is again the poorest of the poor who are suffering and who will pay the ultimate price for this problem. You pay a few cents for your water – they pay with their life. So you can see I am pretty serious about this. It is a bigger problem in Africa than climate change or anything like that. And I was ready to fight the good fight for the umlungu who made this movie. Ready to go out and shout – Go with the FLOW! But alas, like so many other things it just left me more frustrated than what is good for me. Where do I start? Let’s start at their opening scene.
It takes place in my country – South Africa. In KwaZulu-Natal. Out there in the bundus. It shows a pretty picture of a small village on top of a hill. And then they start talking about the struggle people have in getting water. That they have to walk for miles to get water at the closest river. And then it is most likely dirty water. Of course it is all the governments fault. They don’t provide running water for the village. Oh, wait – there is a tap. But then the violin starts playing again. The tap doesn’t always work. People turn
on the tap and have to wait for many minutes, maybe even for 30 minutes before the water starts running. And the narrator starts talking about how water should be provided to these villagers and it should be much better than what they have at the moment. Back off umlumgu. Let’s have another look at the scene. The bits you “forgot” to tell us.
Let us start by looking at the scene behind this village. What do you see? Another hill next to it. With another village. And this is repeated for as far as what the eye can see. They forgot to tell the moviegoer the proper name of this place. The Valley of a Thousand Hills. YES! There are hills everywhere. And villages on top of each hill. And it is high up. So here is your bloody problem with the tap water. They have to pump it all the way from the town that is 100s of miles away. And pump it uphill to a thousand 3 to 4 family villages. Problem one – because of the length and angle of the pipes the water runs back and settles when the tap is not running. So it takes a while for the water pressure to build up when you open the tap. Secondly, because you have to cover so many villages with one pump you just run out of power and water pressure. If 100 villages open the tap then there just isn’t enough pressure to serve a new one. A problem? Of course, but this was always an interim measure while the government tries to connect EVERYONE in South Africa. And it is still a damn lot better than walking to the river – I can promise you that. Don’t bring you western “easy-tap” attitude into our homes and say that this is all wrong. Your idea of what it should look like is based on your experience of having clean easy to use taps. Ours are having a tap. Really, KwaZulu-Natal have bigger things to worry about than how long we have to wait for the tap to work. It has the highest HIV/Aids rate in South Africa – rather think of how the hell do we get medicine and medical services to those 1000 villages where the roads are dirt roads and the people walk from place to place.
They then moved the scene over to Gauteng where they interviewed a guy who acts like an activist. I know him. I have had some experiences working with this guy in South Africa. He is no activist. He is a wannabe. He’ll sell his mother for a cause. He shouted a few slogans, but never got to a point. Why pick him? Why not pick someone who are actually respected in this field in South Africa – or why not the trade unions who have been fighting the water issue for more than 10 years already. No – you picked the guy who gave you the soundbite. Or rather a bark without any bite.
The movie wasn’t bad though. They addressed an important issue. And did so better than Black Gold – the movie about coffee. The India section was particularly good. But my experience of watching the South African bit and knowing their lies made me think that maybe they are lying elsewhere as well. There are more on South Africa – like the privatization debate, the price people pay (or rather don’t pay) etc that they did not cover in a transparent and open way. But I won’t go into that – I still have a flight to catch tonight. But a few more issues.
What’s with the bunch of white guys and girls? Every single time they interviewed a “global” expert they spoke to some or other lame westerner from the US or Canada. And when they went local? They’ll speak to a local person AND one of the so-called experts. Really. We don’t need a Canadian speaking on our behalf. And Canadians do NOT know everything about this world. They are not brighter than us. And I don’t care if you call her the Nader of Canada – we didn’t like Nader to start off with.
I went to the Premier of the movie. Impressive hey? Sorry – no red carpet. Only bad popcorn and hot tap water. But they did have Irena Salina there. Yes! The director. She’s French. So I guess that makes her even more untouchable in NY. Someone who cares and who has a cool accent. And after the showing they had a panel session with a few knowledgeable people their. All white. Damn. And damn again. They had Nader-Light from Canada there and someone from Corporate Accountability International (uh, not so international though – they work on almost only US issues) and some hippie from go-knows-where. I had no problem with the CAI person. She was young and passionate. And pitched her organization and their issues. The passion is still burning bright and making her miss a few key issues – but she was okay. Nothing wrong with passion – she’ll learn how to direct it a bit better in future. And we all have our hang ups. But the bloody hippie? Come on. He had his bushy hair and beard and all. And spoke about Thales (Greek philosopher of water and the “first” philosopher) as if they were mates. And he made about as much sense as what Thales would right now – in the original Greek. All about harmony and how he is bringing this gift of water knowledge to us, man (man said in that hippie smoked up way). Back off baby. Go get a haircut and stop smoking that weed. You know that it takes way too much water to produce your plant of wisdom. And in your case the ratio of water to wisdom does not make a pretty picture, man.
But not a single person from Africa or Latin America or Asia or remotely remote. No. All from around here and San Francisco. With all their wisdom. You could have saved the hippie from San Francisco and flown in anyone from my hometown and get more insight. Or just walk down the road to the UN to get a development voice. It just gets to me how they always have better ideas for how we should work and how others should help us. No. Talk to us baby. We suffer, not you. We know what we need and know how to get it. we have been doing it for longer than you. You with your tap and all.
But the thing that got to me the most? The blame game. They just kept on going on and on about the bloody problems in the world. The movie and the panel. How it is the fault of this one and that one. How the world is coming to an end and it is all the fault of the others. Where is the bloody solution? Not once did they actually come up with any solution. Actually, the movie did. They showed a guy in India who used traditional knowledge to make water work in the most wonderful way in a water scarce area. Clean drinking water and water for agriculture and everything. And that was it. No solution to the global problem. Just a few rants and raves and no solution. If only they brought that guy from India to the panel – he would have given them a few solutions. Oh sorry – he was busy solving the water crisis and couldn’t make it.