Guilt, Technology, Race, Women, Photography & ZANZIBAR

Key facts (World Health Organization)

  • Every day, approximately 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
  • 99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.
  • Maternal mortality is higher in women living in rural areas and among poorer communities.
  • Young adolescents face a higher risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy than older women.
  • Skilled care before, during and after childbirth can save the lives of women and newborn babies.
  • Between 1990 and 2010, maternal mortality worldwide dropped by almost 50%
The same time that internet access increased ten fold, death in childbirth dropped worldwide, and acceptance of gay rights became a hallmark of OECD nations.

Two recurring themes of this blog are the student of mine who died from bloodloss in childbirth in Ngaoundal, Cameroon, and the three loads of Pentium 4 computers seized from a medical student and hospital electronics company in Alexandria, Egypt (called "e-waste" by authorities).  When I'm accused of "not caring about toxics", I say I care about peoples lives.

The last day I handed out grade cards in Cameroon, I felt like a fool for calling her name .. the last student, the worst grade (grades were read out like a competition, in order of performance). Another teacher came and whispered to me that she had died that night.  She came from a relatively privileged family.   Her father was the Sous-Prefet, he was a fat cat, a grand legume.

The 1% in Africa also rely on the "good enough market" at the hospital.  There is no special hospital for the upper middle class, the prefectures.  But the good news, above, from WHO, is that the hospitals are getting more modern, and mortality of women in childbirth is declining.

The chances of dying are declining as Africa modernizes... but at what cost, this modernization?  Should the "precautionary principle" cause us to slow down on our exports of used computers and hospital equipment exported to emerging markets?

Another theme of this blog is the use of photography.  Photography has attracted artists, whose dream is to do something which brings justice, peace and equality to the world.  The photography of war, the photography of child labor, and the photography of injustice have helped change laws and helped improve peoples lives.

Tomorrow:  How the West learned the Poisonous Fruits of PHotoGraPhy.

But first... a little digression This 5th Day of September.  Why the photo of Zanzibar?
The exotic Zanzibar.

The photo at the top of this blog is from the Wikipedia article on Zanzibar, which translates to "black sand bar".   Farrokh Bulsara was born there on September 5, 1946, and would be 66 years old this week, had he not died of pneumonia complications of AIDS in 1991.  He was my favorite singer when I was 16;  I had no idea then that he was of Persian decent, that he was born on an African island in the Indian ocean, or that his real name was not Freddie, and certainly not that he was homosexual.   My kids at 16 would be confused that any of those issues had anything to do with music.

Many people who export used electronics to other countries who are afraid to admit it, like Freddy Mercury was afraid to tell his fans he was gay, and afraid to tell his friends he was dying.   He's remembered as something of a hero, though he came out of the closet a bit late.   In Africa, being gay is taking your life into your hands, as dangerous as giving birth.   Is there a connection between the internet and my kids generation's tolerance?

I suspect so.  I suspect that exporting computers, which are 85% reused in Africa, is contributing to world peace just as much as its contributing to the repair economy and jobs.  I suspect that the laws proposed to ban the export of used goods to Africa will get a lot of juice from photographers and filmmakers who show the death of computers at the end of their lives.  But I have a degree in this, have been studying development for three decades... and I think that letting Africans enjoy Queen on Youtube, and experiencing pride in a Zanzibar-born gay man, signing Cab Calloway inspired octaves at Wembly stadium, is a step towards homosexual tolerance.

It's a shock, it makes us angry to find ourselves compared with the anti-rock-and-roll generations of 50 years ago, or the segregationists of the era, or the anti-gay fear slingers of today's Zanzibar.  But the logic of the ban on repair trade between the people who are so rich we buy new rather than repair, and the people so poor they cannot buy new but can reach the internet through repair, is a ghastly logic, which puts importers and exporters into the closet.

England arrested an African man for buying used televisions just 3 years ago.   The Independent, a respected newspaper, treated it as an environmental crime.  The man is exonerated by the statistics involved, but no one has made an effort to interview him or any of the other geeks of color I trade with.  They are under pressure from dictators, and we are under pressure not to sell them the goods they want to buy.

Maybe it's just me.   I know people who find my connections absurd, tying the photography of the 1860s and 1920s, and the toxics of Daguerretype photography to the burning of computers in Africa, or making the case that African tolerance of homosexuality and African development of blood banks in hospitals will be influenced by access to youtube on CRT tubes.

But end of digression... tomorrow the history of Display in Emerging Markets - like America in the 1860s - through the witches brew of photography.

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