As faithful readers will know I've been to North West Uganda on two separate occasions, and I have to say I just love it there. People are fantastic, warm and welcoming, the classes I ran went down very well, attending church was just amazing.
Particularly, I'm aware that the way I live my life and the way the people I meet live theirs are poles apart. So my lifestyle prioritises my job - I have a clear track record to demonstrate that I am prepared to move wherever the job I want takes me. And with the job comes a reasonably comfortable income, pension plan, health insurance, air conditioned flat, car, etc. etc. As far as I can make out - and I'm somewhat wary of speaking on behalf of other people - their lifestyle prioritises community life, family, corporate activity, continuity with their predecessors. I'm almost sure that they would regard my lifestyle - in terms of living it themselves - with the same fascinated horror as I regard theirs.
On a number of occasions since I've been out here the fact that I come from a country with health care which is free at the point of delivery and a social security system has come up in conversation. Almost always this is regarded, in my experience, as an unmitigated good. But, I say, hold on a minute! In one sense it is great that in the UK we can turn to the state when we need medical care, lose our jobs, etc. But this comes at the expense of corporate responsibility, of working together, leading to social fragmentation. Is this really better than being in North West Uganda, where the clear expectation is that one should be helping each other in times of need, in effect as a small scale informal insurance scheme. As and when my turn comes to need help I better have a track record of helping others!
In a similar vein, as a PhD student I read somebody else's thesis which was set in a village in the Peruvian jungle. There was a primary school there which theoretically all children of the appropriate age attended, necessarily in the medium of Spanish even though that was never spoken locally. Children who did well at primary school could go on to the 'local' secondary school which was three days' boat ride away - and if they were successful there, the choice then was to return to the village to take jobs which did not necessitate that level of education, or to leave the village and set up home somewhere else. There are choices here to be made. Bu there's a problem. You can't have individual choice and collective choice simultaneously here. The freedom of academically bright youngsters to leave the village diminishes the village which is left behind.
To take another example, I had very mixed feelings when Joanna Lumley was campaigning on behalf of the Gurkhas to be able to stay in the UK on retirement. Actually, I have very mixed feelings about the whole notion of Gurkha soldiers in the British army. Is it really in Nepal's interest that the brightest and strongest should leave the country to fight in a foreign army? Or that to do so should be the aspiration of so many young men that there are well over 100 applicants to every 1 place? How are the other 99 supposed to feel as they continue to live their lives in their home country having been deprived of their dream?
Not quite sure where I'm going with all this, I suppose it's the kind of conundrum which has been preying on my mind in trying to make sense of my experiences out here. Also, the principle of collective responsibility, of the sins of the fathers being visited on the children is very much a Biblical principle, not least in the book of Ezekiel which is where I am right now. Of course, in one sense this is necessarily the case: if, for example, the breadwinner of a household is sent to prison, then this will have clear negative effects on the rest of the family, financial and emotional being but two of them.
So, I think I'll leave it there for this week. If I've provoked any thoughts or reactions, please do send a comment, it's always a joy to get one which isn't SPAM!