Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Letter to an English Landscape Architect, November 12, 1991. Part I

Tuesday, Nov. 12th 1991
Durham, NC

Dear [English Landscape Architect],

The time between my leaving England and writing this now is about ten weeks, which seems at the same time both actual and surreal. 

Working for the AIDSTECH Division of Family Health International as a temporary secretary for three people, one of them the deputy director, another a "Condom Logistics Specialist," and all of whom are women adds to the mixture of actuality & surreality. 

I can appreciate the trials and tribulations of permanent secretaries, without having to become fully embroiled in long-term bureaucratic politics and power relationships. I can leave whenever I like, being a temporary; on the other hand, I've made several friends and I can probably stay through December, and since AIDSTECH is a better place to work than a bank or a for-profit corporation, I'll probably stay. 

Fighting the spread of AIDS, particularly in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and Southeast Asia is a good cause, though the attitude occasionally seems at times to dip into patronizing.

Out of eleven secretaries, two of us are men. Stephen F. is an ex-minister who worked in West Virginia until, after a month, he decided he'd had enough. His father is a Swedish Lutheran minister living in New Jersey. Patricia M. is a Classics student, she has a Ph.D in ancient languages, & here she is working as a secretary! Several people are working between "here & there," deciding what to do next, or like me, about to move on.

I'll be moving in early January to Philadelphia, and will set off in a couple of weeks for an exploratory visit. My history program begins on January 20, 1992. Living in London has prepared me well.

I really enjoyed spending the summer in greater London, both in Clapham and downtown. 

London is perhaps fifty times larger than Durham, North Carolina. The entire metro area here, the Research Triangle -- including Chapel Hill & the University of N.C.; Durham & Duke Univ. & N.C. Central University; and the state capital of Raleigh & N.C. State University -- may have 600,000 or 700,000, which is still only about one-tenth of London's population.

At the same time, this area has seen an increase in crime. In the last year, there's been a 45% rise (according to statistics-driven social scientists) in violent crime, with more murders than in all of London during the same time span. 

This is a more openly violent, and certainly more gun-toting country than England; we're a nation under arms. Some guy in Texas, just a few weeks ago, drove his truck into a cafeteria and gunned down 27 people; and not long after that, a Chinese Ph.D student in physics shot seven people at the University of Iowa.

I'm looking forward to Oliver Stone's new movie about the Kennedy assassination, because of its commentary and apparent indictment of violence in the U.S.  

I'm not sure how we'll get out of this mentality, but we should start with sensible gun control and improved humanist education. Whatever, it will take a long time.        

[End Part I.]

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