Things Are Different in Different Places

I spent some time today, reading the comments on some athlete’s take on the Rio Olympics, (Stop reminding me there’s raw sewage in the water I’m about to drink!) I’m sure everybody’s read that, by now.

The comments were more interesting than the article, itself.

There were, of course, a number of people from Brazil, who more or less pointed out that they (as individuals, and probably representatives of large groups) did not want the Olympics in the first place–do not feel they can afford it–and are being saddled with both debts and complaints.

Fair enough. Plenty of crumbling Olympic stadiums around the world make it pretty easy to see where they’re coming from. You do have to wonder if the expense is worth it.

And let’s be honest… the priorities that bring the people an Olympics, but not a sewage treatment plant… Well, probably the same priorities that have us worrying about the athletes who have a choice, instead of the children who live there year around.

The other comment that stuck with me was from a woman who was from Guyana. And she’s a smart woman. Maybe a little young, but intelligent. I tracked her down to her blog, and followed her, and I hope she’s reading this. If I’d found an email address, I’d be sending her a letter.

And her comment was–paraphrased, of course–that of course, there’s shit in the rivers. Nobody’s surprised by that. There’s shit in water all over the world, and how can we be so shocked? Didn’t we make it through second grade?

That’s just how it works. Shit in the water.

Except… that’s not how it works. Not everywhere. In my country, the sewage is run through treatment plants so that by the time it gets back to the rivers, it’s safe. Solid waste removed, liquids sanitized. By the time it gets to the rivers, it isn’t dangerous anymore. It’s not… well, it’s not identifiable shit, anymore.  And the diseases that Americans are worried about our athletes catching have been removed.

I’m not an expert on wastewater management. I don’t know exactly how the process works. But, no. It’s not the same everywhere in the world. And it doesn’t have to be that way in Rio, or Guyana, either. It can be better.

People do not freak out over conditions that are exactly the same as where they come from. And, in general, they do not freak out about conditions that are better than they’re used to. If large numbers of people who have been to different places, and who have seen the ways things are in other parts of the world are freaking out over the water you drink, the air you breathe, or the food you eat, you have a problem that doesn’t exist everywhere.

And in the interest of non-linear thought, one shit-themed essay led to the next, and I wound up thinking of the police raid scene in Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues (free pdf download). As it turns out, her estate seems to be giving digital copies away, or selling print ones at cost. It’s probably not legal in all the places I get my readers from, so  a few people who live in places where GLBT literature is legal may have to read it twice. It’s the kind of book that sticks with you.


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