Foie Gras and Truffle

Charlie Pickering presented a very funny satire about Australian foreign aid on The Weekly last week (ABC (Australia) television), which has been doing the rounds on Facebook.  On average, a group of polled Australians believe that 16% of our gross national income is spent on foreign aid.  These same people, probably influenced by the political spin that has been dominating our news in recent months, want us to cut this aid to around 12%. In actual fact, the proportion of money we spend on foreign aid equates to 0.22% of our national income!  Charlie’s take on this was hilarious – you can see him here:

When I think of the lifestyle disparities in our world, this is an incredibly measley offering to the poor world from our robust, healthy country, and further proves just how disconnected we seem to be from global realities.

Bill Gates outlined briefly in a QandA program a couple of years ago, the benefits of foreign aid, which include saving children’s lives, providing reproductive health tools to women which allows them to have fewer children, and improving seeds so that farmers can grow enough food for their families and children.  He describes these impacts as “phenomenal”.  He is a huge proponent of evidence based philanthropy and the fact that, contrary to the popularly held belief otherwise, incredible improvements can be and have been made in the poor world.  He suggests that because these programs are far away, they appear irrelevant to us personally, when in fact they are highly relevant.

Gates says that if we could “come and visit” (the poor world), it would make a difference (to our disconnection).  That has been my experience in both Australian indigenous comunities and the poor world.  It’s easy to have opinions on something from afar, but getting to know the people in a place puts a very different perspective on those opinions.  Seeing starvation in your own street, in people you know and care about, is a much more powerful experience than anything the media can show  you.  Knowing people and hearing their personal experience always provides you with the human side of something which is only ever a remote perception via any media.  I’m staying in France with frends at the moment, one of whom visited me in Cambodia last year.  She feels as affected as I, by the suffering we witnessed together in Cambodia.  Even then, I realise that I am an outside observer in Central Australia, East Timor, Cambodia and anywhere else I happen to find myself in my privileged existence.

Right now, kicking myself to confirm it’s for real, I find myself in continental Europe!  Kate, who I was at nursing school in England with 25 years ago, met me in her Audi TT at Folkestone where we boarded the Eurotunnel Shuttle which transports vehicles under the English Channel to Calais.  From Calais we drove to the outskirts of Paris where a ring road took us around the city’s perimeter, spotting Sacre Coueur Cathedral briefly, to the motorway leading south to the Dordogne in France’s south-west.  We drove for over eight hours through the length of France.  When I wrote about going under the English Channel to the children at Phter Koma they suggested that I must have “seen a lot of fish and marine life”.  I had to provide a visual of the tunnel, to explain to them that we were under the sea, not inside it!

The Dordogne is a rural area of rolling meadows with wildflowers, wheatfields, grapevine-smothered medi-evil ruins, pig farms, hillside chateaux bearing down on valley floor forests and rivers.  Kate’s family home is in a medi-evil village with a stream flowing at the end of the long, wildflower-strewn garden with free range chooks wandering amidst the pet cats and dog.  We have cooked our own meals each evening after days of sightseeing through ancient walled villages, churches, chateaux and market places, serving ourselves in the formal dining room of this wooden floored, shutter-windowed, very French house.  Every evening as we sip champagne in the garden at dusk, the neighbour over the road leans out of her window, waving with both hands and calling out French greetings to us before closing her wooden shutters for the night.  “Bonjour Madame” has replaced “Tuk tuk Madame” in my daily experience.  I haven’t been here long enough to get a good feel for French culture but greeting people in shops and waiting rooms is the norm, so that when we walk into a shop we say “bonjour” to staff and customers alike.  Contrary to legend, the French are very understanding of language inabilities.  After practising sentences repeatedly before getting it monumentally wrong when I finally brave it with a local, all I have encountered are friendly smiles, laughs and incomprehensible comments of obvious amusement!

Family who have spent the past ten years sailing the Mediterranean have been visiting at the same time as us.  Theirs is such a different lifestyle to mine and such a different experience of the Mediterranean to others who use it as their escape route from conflict and misery, risking their lives on overcrowded and poorly maintained boats.  As I travel in Europe I feel acutely aware of my proximity to these simultaneous experiences of struggle and suffering in this disparate world of all-and-nothing.  Everyday I am in awe of my position on the “all” side of this birth lottery, which has become such a strong motivation in my life as I come to the realisation that the only way it can really bring me happiness, is to use it in an active way for the benefit of others as much as myself.

Shop window advertising foie gras, Thiviers, Dordogne
Shop window advertising foie gras, Thiviers, Dordogne

3 thoughts on “Foie Gras and Truffle

  1. A really good read Helen. I have missed a bit by being out of communication while in Aus. I agree about having to experience the 3rd world poverty to really see it. Perhaps some more of the world leaders could go there,( not to be feted & live in the unreal world they experience if they do so) A slice or reality might change their thinking.
    I wish I had done so years ago.


  2. On that note, it seems Australia is going to send it’s first batch of unwanted refugees to Cambodia in the near future. A new low in what’s already a shameful period in Australian history, has begun.


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