Taken down due to unusual technical difficulties, remasterd and now reposted… In case you missed it the first time, here’s A hole in the ground.
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Baku has gone through an amazing transformation in the even ten years since I was last here. Except for the wall and Maiden’s Tower, I might not have even recognized it all. Downtown is clean(ish), re-plasterd, re-painted, and well-lit. There are more and better restaurants, chic coffee shops, and a wonderful German micro-brewery. Fashionable couples, all perfumed, coiffed and manicured stroll arm-in-arm through quaint parks with bubbling fountains.
And I would not for one minute begrudge the Baku-ites these long awaited and hard-won changes.
But this capital city facelift belies what you see in other parts of the country.
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And so I was unprepared for my own reaction during the too-short period spent with actual beneficiaries on this trip.
One afternoon we spent an hour walking through a remote, dusty IDP settlement just a few kilometers away from Armenia-occupied territory. And I have to say: it was one of the more abject places I’ve been. Not that you can ever compare, really. Poverty comes in many forms and human suffering has many different faces. Every impoverished community, refugee camp, and war zone is terrible in it’s own way. But this was the first time I saw – not just saw, but talked to – people living in what can only be described as hovels that were literally holes in the ground.
I won’t post pictures (although I did take some). I won’t take a side or preach a perspective on the long-stalemated conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia (although I do have one). But I cannot keep my own sense of sympathy from giving way to moral outrage, and I have to get this out: what I saw in that village just a few hours ago was un-freakin’-acceptable.
People have been living in holes in the ground for 20 years. And for what? What the good reason is there for that? Someone needs to sort that out.
And since I’m on a roll… it’s not just the IDPs in Azerbaijan. It’s the Palestinians languishing Jordan or almost two generations, now. It’s the Tamil stuck in Manik Farm. It’s all the displaced inhabitants of Swat Valley. And that’s only those in the countries on my personal current radar screen. But as we all know, there are more. It’s untold numbers of people all over the world, forced from their homes and unable to return, persecuted, abducted, exploited, trafficked. Terrible situations that absolutely do not have to exist.
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It’s easy to become passive.
We see this stuff all the time… the grinding, abject poverty.
I’ve lost track of the number of totally live-in-the-dirt villages that I’ve walked through, the number of kitchen gardens or skirted water points inspected, the number of grimy hands shaken…
It can wear you down. And if you think about the big picture for even a minute, it can be downright depressing. The amount of power and momentum and sheer force of will on a massive scale needed to change some of the awful situations around the world is flat daunting. It’s easy to see oneself as simply a very small cog in a very large, often malfunctioning machine. But whatever our individual roles in the aid industry, our challenge is to never lose sight of the gaunt faces, the dusty villages… the people living in holes in the ground.