I anticipate this topic sparking some vocalization from my normally docile reading crowd, but I want to bring it up as it bothered me during my last week in Fiji. Freshly departed from all Nakavika affiliations, I sat atop a barstool for seven hours at Uprising, telling friends and barmen my stories from the Highlands and my frustrations with the final portion of the experience. My eyes sat at half-mast from a rough morning of good-byes.
An American girl nearby overheard some things that sparked her attention and asked to know more. Her significant other, an Aussie or Kiwi (haven't figured out how to tell the difference yet...yarg), came and listened for a bit, sucking on his cigarette and sipping his Fiji Gold. He was one crispy fella, evidence of his job in the Yasawa islands. He had a face that seldom adorned a smile.
"Don't you think we're somewhat to blame for those problems?"
"Say what?" I inquired, feeling the imminent pounding of my already feeble soul.
"I mean they were fined - they thrived - for hundreds of years, if not more, without the need for bars of soap and medicine. And then we come in and tell them they need more. There are Americans who die from heart attacks at 25, and we're non the wiser. A 45 year-old that dies from a heart attack isn't that uncommon, not that crazy. I mean don't you think were partially to blame for what we've exposed them to?"
"I didn't come here to represent America, I came to represent a healthy mindse--"
"I'm not saying you're not doing good things. It's good you're out there trying to make a difference, but I just think we're to blame."
My eyes unnoticeably welled up, and I rotated to face the barman, who looked at me even more pitifully than he had prior to this verbal onslaught. I had nothing in me to rebuttal. I was tapped, tired and dry of anything to support my cause. I had just left crying people in my wake and a project at an unknown state. Even though he applauded my good intention, albeit in a pretty "bitch" way (apologies for my French), this man who heard about one and a half sentences of my project explanations had just told me I was fighting a useless battle that had no place there - that I caused, being the Westerner I am.
We left Nakavika in an odd manner, not wrapping up many loose ends that should have been tied. I was angry my expectations weren't met, but even though I had these issues, I still believe there were probably many things I should have done differently. I cannot blame the outcome on certain villagers or the difference in culture. I still feel there's a uniformity in mindset among all humans, and I must have missed a step in formality, civility, hospitality, or something to offset the trajectory of our project.
But I certainly don't blame myself for introducing ideas and supplies to the village that it "has no need for."
Medicine evolves continuously. We no longer use leeches or encourage pregnant woman to drink martinis. Therefore, I'm fully aware that specific treatments and techniques we've brought to Nakavika may one day be proven invalid or skewed. Regardless, I have good health, excluding a little extra poundage for the old winter months, and I don't see most of my physical bumps and illnesses as irreversible. I trust the medicine I know to take care of me, but above that, I trust that a healthy lifestyle will prevent the need for reactive, expensive measures to normalcy. And even though Americans are especially anal-retentive and hypochondriacal, I understand we need to scale down our neuroses in health and present a reasonable standard all humans can feel comfortable with. We should all have the most recent knowledge to take care of ourselves.
True, our ancestors were healthy enough to procreate and develop human society up to this point. I don't know if I'd call them "perfectly fine," as debatably none of us are, but here we are - obsessed with living longer. I feel good because I know how germs spread and how to avoid so many. I can think clearly because I understand the benefits of eating nutrients, good water and not knocking my brain out constantly with drugs (ignore the fact that I'm drinking in this story). And I can move today because I've been lucky and learned to cherish the body that got me here, to Fiji. I'm healthy because of the knowledge I've obtained to this point. I'm "perfectly fine" because I know how the body should feel and how to get it where it needs to be.
And so, Man of Crispy Skin, I thank you for playing devil's advocate, big thinker that you are, and making me reevaluate my entire two and a half months abroad in Fiji. You may have a point when it comes to many, many other social maladies our society has caused, but when it comes to health, I do think everyone has the right to soap.
In the wake of this dude's deep thinking, I read an article by Paul Farmer entitled "This I Believe." Farmer founded Partners in Health and is a huge influence on the slow but steady fight to alleviate poverty in Peru, Haiti, Rwanda and many other global locations in need of better, or any, health care. This quote from the article most connected with the argument I wished to profess to the crispy Kiwi.
I move uneasily between the obligation to intervene and the troubling knowledge that much of the work we do, praised as "humanitarian" or "charitable," does not always lead us closer to our goal. That goal is nothing less than the refashioning of our world into one in which no one starves, drinks impure water, lives in fear of the powerful and violent, or dies ill and unattended.
What do you think? Are we to blame for raising the standards of living for a world where most people haven't the time or resources to meet those new expectations? Should everyone be left on their own, to live in their tried-and-true ways, without the interjections of a worrywart from the West? What would you have said to this man at the bar?