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The original world nomad "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance." - Confucius.

What are you going to do with your life's great fortune?

EGYPT | Friday, 1 January 2010 | Views [3015]

The Nile at Aswan

The Nile at Aswan


January 1st 2010 finds us staying with a Nubian called Mustafa who definitely has the house with the best view in the whole of Aswan. Perched on the roof as the sun sets over the Nile and the desert beyond, you can pretend that you are miles from anywhere on the set of some exotic movie and conveniently forget the ugly tourist town hidden behind the village.

So here we are: day one not only of a new year but of a new decade. Years whip past these days, especially so with the demands of a family, but the start of a new decade is an opportunity to reflect on where I've come over the last decade and where or how I'd like to be in another one.     

The last decade has been a good one: had a family, built a business, created Footprints to raise money for people in need, travelled a lot ... and had a great deal of fun doing all of these (often together) in the process. Some great memories from these years. 

But what would I wish for by the time I'm 56, an age that somehow seems impossible (what happened?). Or probably more likely, irrespective of what I might wish, how well will I deal with the hand that life serves me in the next decade?

We pass through many mud brick villages. Always dusty. Some have fresh water, none have any opportunity. If your fate is to be born here, which statistically should be the case for most of us in this world, then you have a high probability of dying before you reach the age of five, little to no chance of receiving any education let alone any meaningful education, and therefore no opportunity to reach your true human potential.

On our last trip to India I have been asked why I didn't write much, the reason for which was that in my view I thought it prudent that if I couldn't write much that was positive, then I'd better write nothing at all. As it happens, while it isn't politically correct to say so, India sucks. It''s a stinking cesspit of humanity. Where everyone is out to climb over you in a dog eat dog existence. Where the really poor have no chance and the middle class don't care. Where the caste system is alive and well. Where they build hundreds of new apartment towers for the burgeoning middle class but fail to plan what to do with the raw effluent so just dump it nearby. Where you can walk along a palm-fringed white sand beach, dodging hundreds of mounds of human excrement deposited there by the local fishermen. Where buildings start to crumble as soon as they are finished. Where there is apparently little or no planning of anything and start and end nowhere in particular. For any Buddhist this must be quite humbling because if you are to be born again then this is most likely what you are going to be born into. The one thing the Indian's don't seem to be short of is optimism. If only they could export it. How people with so little can be so positive which was well encapsulated in the recent movie 'Slumdog Millionaire', I would argue, I think, that they have little or no reason to be. 

Is this the future that we have to look forward to in a hot, flat and crowded world? It makes a fascinating comparison with China; both booming fundamental players in the twenty first century. Twenty years ago I took the same journey: I was in India in March 1989 and in China a couple of months later. Even back then, when China was at the very start of it's spectacular renaissance and India was stuck with a dusty nineteenth century Socialist Government, the contrast between the two was extraordinary. In India the Bombay to Delhi train was two and a half days late arriving and the toilets on board were a health hazard; in China the trains right around the country were punctual and efficient with two staff per carriage to clean and organize. In India I was sick from the food and the general level of hygiene my whole time there; In China I wasn't sick once. In India the toilets were simply indescribably filthy; in China they might have been basic but were always clean. Nobody can argue however that both countries are, indeed, lifting huge numbers of people out of poverty, and showing their people how to do so far more effectively than any aid program ever could. It might not be the go-go gung-ho capitalism so evident in China, the people here seem to be quite comfortable with what they have and where they are going. My bet? In twenty years I'd suggest China will look something like Korea or Taiwan today and India will look like, well, India.

While nobody should feel guilty or apologize for the good fortune to be born into a middle class family in a wealthy country and to have been blessed with both education and opportunity, the real question you have to ask yourself is this: what are you going to do in this life with such good fortune? 

Now there's a question to keep you occupied for the next decade.


Tags: aswan, flat, india, new year, nubian

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