This time it’s personal… (yet strangely mundane)

Tea growers in Theyakkuni watching a film of women in Oxford who are part of their Just Change community trading network.

Last night I was utterly gripped by a TV programme called Britain in a Day. It showed snippets of films made by ordinary people all over Britain on a single day; November 12th 2011.

There were no characters to get to know, there was no plot, no argument to follow… It was just little fragments of life as they happened. I cried, laughed, tutted, yawned, reached for the remote, stopped, cried again, laughed again… as things like this happened; a man proposed to the mother of his children – she screamed and screamed with joy, a girl interviewed her Nan about her terminal illness, a boy said how safe he felt in Britain because there were no wars, natural disasters or poisonous insects, mothers and fathers read bedtime stories to their kids, cooked dinner, watched badgers, yawned, laughed, cried, tutted, reached for their remotes…

It was like one of those summer evenings when you can peer into people’s lit but un-curtained windows. But speeded up, expanded out over the whole country and across an entire day. And with sound. It was impossible to look away.

Because that’s the most powerful draw, isn’t it? Connecting with other people and their day-to-day lives, however mundane. Or perhaps because it’s mundane. The common factor amongst all these thousands of films was nothing less than our humanity. I could relate to them – all these complete strangers (and some were very strange). Even if it had been Kurgistan in a Day I think I would still have been mesmerised by seeing my own humanity mirrored back at me in this pool of humanity.

There’s a bit in the short video I recently made about the link between a women’s group on the local housing estate and Just Change tea farmers in South India, that everyone comments on. It’s the bit where the film cuts back and forth between Katie in Oxford and Ambika in Theyakunna, South India, making a cup of tea. It doesn’t matter that Katie makes hers with a teabag in a mug with water boiled in an electric kettle and that Ambika makes hers with tea leaves and six spoons of sugar boiled together in a saucepan on a gas ring and served in a glass. What people react to and love is that it shines a spotlight on their (our) shared humanity. The women themselves say what they were most intrigued by was each others’ homes and lives.

That’s why I believe so strongly in buying fairly traded things. I could try to help poor people by donating money to a charity, but by doing that they remain at arm’s length from me. But if I buy a packet of fairly traded rice that another person, a mother like me perhaps, has planted and harvested with her own hands, and if I cook it and eat it, her work has literally become part of me. And when she eats the food she buys with the money she’s earned from selling the rice, my actions become part of her. We’re connected on a deep (yet strangely mundane) personal level. And when it’s personal, that’s when it is truly powerful.

So every time I’m about to buy something, I’m going to remind myself “This time – and every time – it’s  personal.”

Photo: by me.