You see a lot of things in the developing world that you’d rather not see, you’d rather didn’t happen, or you’d do something about if you had the slightest idea what you could do. You’re approached for money by people with blindness or deformities. You see violence towards people and animals. You see the conditions that some people live in. On a regular basis, you see people and animals experiencing the kind of suffering that makes you feel sick to witness, sad and powerless. Powerless because you just can’t do anything , to do something might endanger you, you have no right to interfere, or more often than not there are simply more important things to deal with. So hopefully you develop a filter that helps you to decide in a moment what you disregard, and what you act on. You try and unsee some things, you try and detach from your cultural assumptions a little to process things better.
The other day in a village we visit regularly, we checked on a house to make sure their mosquito net was up and in use – a young girl had a toy that was a brightly coloured bird, tied to a sandal with a length of string. The bird couldn’t go anywhere. No-one in the family thought this was a bad thing. We’re in a place where children’s toys are sardine tins on lengths of string, sticks with wheels on the end. The bird was a bright, moving object, nothing more. One of the people with me bribed the family to let the bird go with the offer of a book – the bird was duly released, in all likelihood to die of shock, and the family found the whole episode hugely entertaining.
If you get upset about one bird, people generally regard you with incredulity, and laugh. And you feel ridiculous because you’re complaining about a bird when a family of six people are sleeping in one bed and one of the children has malaria.