Wednesday, November 24, 2004

A Brief Essay on Human Geography

In the nominally affluent Outpost there are people in the mountains (where the highest temperature in the winter can be between 5 to 9 degrees for two months) who are too poor to afford heating their homes. Most of them are pensioners, though, so it's all right.

The Outpost also serves as a transit centre (and 'testing ground') for women being trafficked to (the rest of) Europe. So claimed a report published by the Principality's Ombudsman a few months ago, complete with case studies. Nevertheless, this was dismissed as 'exaggerated' by the police and the executive authorities. Obviously, they know better than overly rely on a woman (the Ombudsman) researching into the rights of foreigners who also happen to be women.

Recall that in the Outpost there is a ready answer for any question, which flies in the face of the abstruse idealisation that there exists an infinite number of sentences (consequently an infinite number of questions, as well). Consider the following question to a local few days after I first set foot here: "Why is there no public transport?" The answer unraveled in the following logical progression: public transport is for poor people, Outposters all own cars -- in fact most families have two; therefore public transport is unnecessary. Compare this to what the relevant minister stated three weeks ago: this is a small place, therefore we do not need public transport (had you had to experience the perennial traffic jam and generalised mayhem in the streets of the capital, you might form a different opinion). Yes, some questions actually have two ready answers available...

In general, Outposters indeed possess a remarkable talent for quick and to the point answers. A week ago, Jod's mother was visiting us. She went to buy cigarettes and she asked for brand X. The woman in the cornershop said: "Aw, we are out of X. This idiot of my partner never looks after stocking this place properly." Jod and me grew suspicious, because 'the idiot of a partner' is a pleasant and diligent guy, despite his being a compatrido, and also happens to be the sole owner of the cornershop, hence a partner only with himself. Guess what: Brand X is not imported in the Outpost, either.

Before closing, today's anecdote: Jod works as a school teacher. There, I gave this one away, as you are such a nice and accommodating readership. A parent phoned in today to tell the head teacher that her son would not be coming to school today. "Why, is he unwell?" "Oh, no: it's just that, because his class will go on an outing tomorrow, we thought it would be better for him to rest today."

(Pity the Dutch have lately become stingy with asylum applications.)

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