In my novel Living with the Truth, there is a scene when Truth passes comment on Jonathan's relationship to Charity:
“You have seven days a week, so you could attend an R.S.P.C.A. meeting on Monday, Greenpeace on a Tuesday, C.N.D. on Wednesday, distribute hot meals to the winos and junkies on the streets Thursday night and address a rally to raise public awareness of the various forms of cancer on Friday. On Saturday morning you could give a few hours to your local charity shop and in the afternoon visit one or two of the local pensioners. And on Sunday you could spread yourself as far as possible over the county’s AIDS sufferers. Not forgetting your spare time in which you could write long, fact-filled letters to your local MP about the country’s misuse of public funds and to food companies to warn them about the dangers of additives and to third world dictators about human rights. Would you do any good?”
“Maybe not but I’d feel as if I was doing something.”
“And that is practically all it would be, a flea in a sandstorm. You, you don’t even recycle your aluminium cans or your bottles let alone even one or two of those other things. You didn’t even watch Live Aid. In fact you do nothing.”
It's a striking moment and it raises important questions.
You're on your way to the shops. There's a girl standing on the corner of the street holding a donation tin and you drop your 50p in, accept your badge (so the world knows you're a giver) and head off to buy whatever it is you're after, a CD, a DVD, or something practical, ink for your printer or batteries for your cordless mouse. And then there's another one nestling in wait at the entrance to the mall and another as go into the shop. Charity's all about sticking your hand in your pocket, right? That's what Bob Geldof was shouting about during Live Aid: "Just give us the fucking money…"
Back in January the Burmese poet, Saw Wai, was arrested the day after his poem 'February 14' was published in a popular weekly entertainment magazine. I read about it on several blogs. It's old news. But where was the donation tin? I didn't see one so I passed on.
I wonder whatever happened to Saw Wai? I found a link that said he's been allowed to meet his wife but I got a 404 page. Oh well. He's got a Wikipedia entry but it's only a stub. It doesn't say too much. Maybe whoever wrote it lost interest. It seems he's in Insein prison and his wife tried to see him on January 28th but they didn't let her. Insein prison is an enormous detention centre built by the British near Rangoon and has become the symbol of the military regime’s repressive apparatus. It is known for appalling conditions and the frequent use of physical and psychological torture
I had a look on the Burma Campaign UK site but I couldn't see anything about Saw Wai. There's a DONATE button but I'm not sure Saw Wai would benefit from my money. Maybe money isn't the answer. I could write him a poem. He's a poet. He'd like that. But he probably doesn't read English and if they won't let him see his wife then I doubt they'd let him have a poem even if it was in English. I guess that's a bit of a non starter then. Mind you, in February Anti published a collection inspired by the incident called Crazy Senior General Than Shwe. I wonder if anyone sent him a copy?
Afer a bit of effort on another site I discovered that Saw Wai did eventually got to see his wife, Ma Nan San San Aye, on 20th February. After the visit she had this to report:
Apparently he told government officials during interrogation that the poem had already been rejected by the censor board before it was published in Achit Journal [Love Journal]. He said that the journal's editor, Myat Khine, knew publishing the poem in his journal would increase sales, and so decided to publish it anyway and said he would take the consequences. – DVB
On hearing of the accusation from Saw Wai, Myat Khine denied any responsibility: "No. We published the poem as we received it from Saw Wai," he said.
I can't find anything more concerning Saw Wai but when you investigate things a bit further there's no reason he should have been singled out other than he was a poet. The western papers never mentioned Soe Min Oo and Kalar Shae who were arrested on the same day or U Par Lay and U Maung Soe who were arrested two days earlier or Htet Htet Aung, Ko Kyaw Kyaw and Kyaw Zin Win who were all picked up on the 4th of January. They're just odd-sounding names to me but they were all a part of someone's family, they'll have had husbands or wives, children, parents, uncles, aunts.
Do I feel bad that Saw Wai is trying to get free by abdicating responsibility? Who am I to judge? What would I do in a place like that? Maybe he's not the heroic type. Maybe writing that poem was the best he could do.
We talk about the power of words. Talk's cheap. But is it pointless? Will this blog make a difference? Even when added to all the other blogs that will be posted today? The answer really is: I don’t know. I only have words and strangely enough the freedom to say whatever the hell I like but someone, somewhere along the line might read them who actually has the ability to do something but lacks the motivation. Isn't that the way writing works, when the right writer and the right reader come together? Or I could just click on the DONATE button and be done with it.
Have a look at the Blogger Unite website. I think someone might have forgotten to add a DONATE button to it through.