Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Primitive? Civilized?

I was walking alone in remote rural Bangla Desh one day (as one does, you know.) It was hot — well it’s nearly always hot — and I had brought nothing with me, not even a bottle of water. But I knew that, as always in rural Bangla Desh, even though one has not seen or heard a soul for hours, every clump of trees I passed concealed at least one bamboo-roofed mud hut where a family lived. So instead of skirting the next spinney I went between the trees, and sure enough there was a house, with a woman crouched outside; I think she was sieving or grinding some grain. She looked up as I approached and scurried indoors: strangers, especially white ones, were rare, and besides Bangla Desh is mostly Muslim and women hide when men approach.

A boy of about fourteen, probably her son, came out and looked at me inquiringly. I hadn’t even learnt the Bengali word for ‘Water’, but he soon understood. He picked up a machete, put it between his teeth, and ran — literally ran — up the trunk of a very tall coconut palm. A green coconut crashed to the ground and he ran down again. Holding the coconut in one hand he used the machete to chop off its top and handed me the deep bowl he had made of the coconut. It held about half a litre of cool clear water and I drank it all, knowing I would not find purer drinking water anywhere in the world.

Everywhere in Europe, of course, clean water comes out of the tap, doesn’t it? Well not quite. It’s often not all that clean, and this hilltop village in the Aegean still doesn’t have permanent running water. When it does run, most people use it only for washing and perhaps cooking; they buy mineral water in plastic bottles to drink.

There’s permanent running water down in the harbour town, but people are so wasteful — hosing down their yards and their cars — that the water-table from which it is pumped has dropped so far that what comes out of the tap is pretty well sea-water and quite undrinkable.

These are Bengali hailstones, somewhat melted and smaller than when they fell becuse of course we had to wait until the storm was over and it was hot again before we could collect a few.

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