As Richard Hawkins and Christopher Hitchens loudly blare their “faith” in secularism, a retired fishing family in Brittany perhaps shows by silent example what being “saintly” entails in our era. Their inspiring story was told by Fred Eckhard, lately Kofi Annan’s spokesman, who recently retired with his wife Kathryn after thirty years UN service in New York in Brittany, northwest France.(“85 Euros and a Bicycle,” IHT, 3/3/10, p.7.)
Brittany has more stone manors per square kilometer than any other part of France: It came from their profitable linen weavers who supplied sailing ships for centuries with the raw materials for sails (including, tradition had it, those of the Santa Maria, Pinta, and Nina.) Came the steamship in the nineteenth century, and there were suddenly many empty manors, one of which is now inhabited by the Eckhards.
She was a Scot, with a deep curiosity about Brittany, so in 2005, they settled in a small fishing village, Plourhan, where they met Gilberte and Jean-Claude Saint Cant, recently retired from a local lifetime of fishing. Jean-Claude had once also served in the French Merchant Marine. Jean-Claude used to take Gilberte to Djibooti, one of the hottest places on earth, where they would sleep buck naked on the tile floor, with overhead fan, until dawn, when they’d take running dives into the Red Sea. They dug Africa, those lower class, high class Britts!
Ten years ago a priest from Koudougou, Burkina Faso (at 100,000 plus and growing, the third largest city in the second poorest state in Africa).Pere Albert Kabore and Gilberte set up an NGO to finance girls in secondary school there. At first they begged bikes, fridges, and clothing from village friends and sent the stuff by container ship. One girl named Souli was an inspiration. She made very popular cakes. For 85 Euros and a bike she started a successful year around business. She put two younger brothers through school. Now she’s married to a shopkeeper, has one child and a thriving cake biz!
But the 2002-4 Ivory Coast Civil War cut off landlocked Burkino Faso’s access to container ships, so Gilberte shifted to Euros. Pere Kabore happily took home her last collection of 7000 Euros(she sells her fabulous chocolates over Xmas and throws a fund- raising Xmas luncheon). That will pay tuition for 45 girls. Not everything is working.
Many girls are forced to stay at home to help with chores. And some girls miss 3 to 4 days a month because they can’t afford sanitary napkins during menstrual periods. But their little NGO is still gogo! It suggests a career pattern for pre-retired in our crazy Casino Capitalism: Pick a missionary and ask her how you and your friends could help! And even our secular media are beginning to think and act that way.
CNN now runs an annual Hero’s Race, in which a dozen or so such global “saints” are described and viewers are urged to vote for their favorite—and emulate her/him/them in a fresh way. Let’s call them People Plebiscites. Recently it has been argued that the sudden decline in liberal arts majors is explained by a massive transfer to business majors where the Big Bucks allegedly are. Mebbe so.
All the more reason to tout generosity as an essential compensatory attribute in Casino Capitalism. The generosities of, say the Gates Foundation as well as those of George Soros and Warren Buffett are necessary to balance the distortions of the Bigger and Bigger Bonus Bums! Where are our comedians mocking the Bejeesus out of Harvard MBA’s ruining capitalism by their juvenile shenanigans. Becoming a Billionaire is a very shallow aspiration!