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An Gorta Mor
February 10, 2012 - Stephen Browne
That's what went through my mind when I opened my email this morning.
"An gorta mor," is Irish Gaelic and means, "The Great Hunger." It refers of course to the Irish potato famine of 1845-46, when the potato crop was infested with a blight that turned the staple food of the Irish peasantry into an inedible fetid mush.
The famine was compounded by political stupidity and the incredibly callous attitude of the English government. The famine caused the starvation of an estimated quarter of the Irish population, and another quarter to permanently immigrate. It's how a lot of us became Americans.
The reason I thought of this was that I am on the mailing list of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Today I got a notice of an international conference next Wednesday, Feb. 15, commemorating the great famine of 1959-61 in China.
That famine was also the result of political stupidity and an incredibly callous attitude on the part of Mao Tse Tung's communist government. The famine came about because of their attempt to reorganize Chinese agriculture during the so-called "Great Leap Forward." The price of their ill-advised experimentation was at least 40 million dead, and cannibalism in the countryside.
I got on the foundation's mailing list by chance when I was living in Washington for a few months. My first week there I came across the Victims of Communism Memorial, located at at the intersection of Massachusetts and New Jersey Avenues and G Street, NW, within view of the U.S. Capitol. The memorial is a replica of the statue the demonstrators at Tien An Min Square made, itself a copy of the Statue of Liberty with a Chinese face. The face was modeled on a woman who died under torture in a secret police dungeon for the crime of asking embarrassing questions of the regime.
When I stumbled across it, there were a bunch of Bulgarians conducting a memorial service around it. They were commemorating the panahida, a word which means a funeral service in Greek and many Slavic languages, but to Bulgarians means specifically a remembrance for the victims of the communist regime.
I introduced myself and told the organizers that I'd actually lived in Bulgaria and I wanted to write a story about the ceremony. I did, and there are Bulgarians who believe God personally directed my footsteps that day.
It was in Bulgaria that I experienced real hunger for the first time, living in a country that had not yet re-privatized agriculture, getting paid in local currency that depreciated at the rate of 10 percent per day. I lost an alarming amount of weight, with effects that linger to this day.
This morning I threw away half a ready-made lasagna that's been around too long. Tonight or tomorrow I'll probably throw away the rest of a bean and rice dish we won't finish soon enough.
I can't say this is going to change my behavior any. But for a while when I do throw food away, I'll be a little more conscious of what I'm doing.
An Gorta Mor.
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