Dec 29, 2004

Earthquakes, tsunamis and life

I was chatting with a Sri Lankan friend about an hour ago and I mentioned to him my surprise that the Bam, Iran earthquake of last year is not mentioned by the BBC (at as one of the major earthquakes of this century. Instead, after mentioning the Indonesia earthquake of a couple of days ago, the list jumps to 1964, I think. He said something to the effect that that's because the international community was not affected by Bam. With the Indonesia earthquake, the dead came from many countries around the world.

I suppose this view is cynical, but at least to me it's not such a surprise. I know that most people are more or less self-interested -- I know I am. So it's hardly immoral to give something more importance that affects you directly. Still, considering that 30,000 lives were lost in Bam, I think it deserved a mention.

And now, we're hearing that the Asian death toll is 44,000 (my God!) because of Indonesia's losses of maybe 25,000 and Sri Lanka's (almost) 19,000. I'm seeing stories of people from all over the world, famous and obscure, being caught up together in this disaster. This is brutal and amazing, that all are levelled to the same ground in the maelstrom, from supermodels to football stars, to the German chancellor himself.

And to add salt to the considerable wounds, Asia will almost certainly have to implement, at the cost of perhaps millions of dollars, tsunami and earthquake early warning systems or the tourist industry will never recover. Paradise on Earth will forever be on the lookout for death from the sea.

Dec 15, 2004

For science

A few weeks ago I caught a little household spider in a transparent plastic floppy disk case. I showed it to Yaman, who recoiled in disgust (he's mortally afraid of all insects and most animals). Still, he overcame his fear enough to take the case from me and give it a good shaking. I shouted at him and snatched the case back. Then I put it on a table to observe.

In about a minute, maybe, the spider turned itself to `stand' on the ceiling of the case, upside-down. I then turned the case upside-down, to put the spider right-side up again. It went crazy! It started running about inside the case for about ten or twenty seconds, then slowed down and hung itself upside-down again.

I put it upright again. And again, it went crazy, skittering about madly, and then finally putting itself upside-down again. I did this several times, and each time it responded in exactly the same way.

After a while, I have to admit, I got bored (I'm not Richard Feynman :-). So I let it go on the balcony outside my bedroom. Immediately Yaman squashed it under his sandal. I shouted at him some more, then gave it up. He's totally determined to wipe out all of insectkind, it seems. (Yes, I know a spider is not an insect, but an arachnid. Yaman doesn't care.)

Dec 12, 2004

Mistakes I can make

Yes, I too make mistakes. I did a very foolish thing today. I was walking home when a man wearing a shirt and lungi greeted me as if he knew me. He said he'd used to work for this video store that had closed down and that I had used to go there frequently (which was true, but that was a _long_ time ago, and he shouldn't have been able to have recognised me from from then). Although I didn't recognise him I shook his hand and he clasped my hand for a long time while he spoke of himself and asked me where I'd been recently. I answered him (Chittagong, Dhaka), wondering what he wanted (idiot me).

Then he started describing all the troubles he'd been having in Dhaka after losing the video store job -- looking for a job, supporting the family, and so on. And still I stood there like an idiot letting him talk on. I don't know what spell came over me -- was I uncertain as to whether he had really recognised me? Was it because he spoke some English as he told me about trying to get a job at a club in Gulshan? Was he going to ask me for a job?

Then I got a call from my mother, and I decided to get going. So I told him I had to go, implying that my mother had told me something I needed to do in a hurry. He kept on talking, finally getting to the point -- would I lend him some money, he would never ask me normally but he'd been having trouble recently and also suffering ill health -- he showed me his left arm, which had discoloured patches on it. That was when I started kicking myself (figuratively speaking) for staying to listen so long.

He was saying, maybe I could lend him a hundred taka? Maybe even fifty? I told him I didn't have anything, I would have given him something if I did have it, but I didn't. I lied, I did have some money on me, two hundred taka, but I would never give away money to anyone I met on the street.

He seemed very reluctant to let me go. I left him behind, feeling like a total idiot.