I watched, last night, with fascination, the last episode of Bruce Parry's brilliant series Arctic.
If you're not familiar with the fabulous Bruce, he's an ex-Marine who now presents tv programmes in which he lives, for a week, a month or longer, with another culture, putting himself as closely as he can into their shoes, living in their houses (or huts, or tents), working with them, sleeping with them, eating their food, wearing, in some cases, their clothes. He's also absolute nails.
I think he's amazing. I am in awe of how he manages, despite the barriers of language and culture, to become close to these people, whether they are Ethiopian cow-jumpers, dressed only in ropes across their chests, or Norwegian reindeer herders, equipped with helicopters, skidoos and fluent English. I suspect it's very well edited, but I don't think you could fake the fact that these people really like him, and you certainly couldn't fake the enthusiasm with which he eats freshly-killed seal eyeball, or attempts to lassoo a reindeer, or turns his youknowwhat inside out (no, really).
But what does bother me about Bruce Parry, and I realise that this is almost certainly not his fault, is the fact that he doesn't, and perhaps can't, ask the questions that I want to ask. The questions I'd ask the women:
What is is like raising children in this environment?
Do you have any autonomy?
Will you be educated?
Can you choose who you marry?
Can you work independently of your husband and family?
What do you do without nappies? Or, for that matter, tampons?
How is/was childbirth?
How do you feed your family?
Is it really true that you can manage not to bond with your newborn in the knowledge that he or she is unlikely to survive until he is five?
What do you really think about genital mutilation?
What do you hope for your children?
Do you have a voice?
Because Bruce doesn't give them one, and, as I say, I suspect that that is because he himself is a man, and that in many of these cultures he simply can't have those conversations. I also realise that, in Arctic at least, he was concentrating on the, perhaps "bigger" issue of climate change and how this is already affecting the communities in which he stayed, so the "smaller", more immediately personal questions I wanted to ask perhaps were asked, but ended up on the cutting room floor. Or perhaps just weren't so relevant in communities which are already much more industrial and like our own.
So I find myself watching, fascinated by the glimpse of another culture afforded to me, but also frustrated. Frustrated that I can't find out what it would be like to be the Darkhad, or Kombai, or Daasanach equivalent of myself or my daughters, born female, but into another culture so vastly different from our own.
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