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Can You Spare a Minute of your Time?


Writing in the local paper. Local issues with a global take. I never translate literally and the editor trims at will to make it fit. Here's my version, then theirs.

I spent some time in Libya before the fall of the Ghadaffi regime. Among the many almost surreal aspects of the Green Republic, one of the things that most called my attention was the complete lack of advertising in public spaces. Apart from North Korea, I think it was one of the only places on earth where you could walk the streets and not be constantly reminded of the fun that Coca Cola can bring to your life. Apart from the dictator’s face ubiquitously staring out from billboards, no one was allowed to try and sell you things from silently shouting billboards as you walked down the street. The refreshing absence of this near constant yet silent commercial noise made me realize the unconscious effort that one makes every day to filter out the messages of 20% off this and 40% that as you move from point A to point B in just about any city in the world. Caceres is no different. But what I have noticed is that, like some terrible late-night science fiction horror movie, the once immobile signs have come to life. Walking up the pedestrian street from the Gran Teatro to the Plaza Mayor has become an exercise in dodging moving ads. Whether you are absorbed in conversation with a friend, fiddling with your phone or making sure your toddler doesn’t get trampled by the oncoming crowds, it doesn’t matter. Suddenly a smiling face blocks your way and is politely demanding just a few minutes of your time to sell you on the merits of their NGO, above of course the four others that await to pounce on you before reaching your destination. Driving rain or searing shine, they're ready for you. I have observed first-hand the great work that the Red Cross does and have also seen Chechen women being resettled in Azerbaijan with the help of the UNHCR but at the risk of endearing themselves to people as much as the telephone sales person who calls at seven in the morning on a Sunday, wouldn’t it be wiser to spend the time and energy lobbying for a change in the distribution of the 0.7% income-tax-pie from the government, than harass people trying to get where they are going in the streets?

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