At the UN European Headquarters in Geneva this week, while attending a conference of humanitarian aid workers from around the world, I heard two of them compare the flat-beds in business class of two international airlines.
The conversation was more than just a passing one. They were passionately discussing the relative merits of different business class seats and perks.
I almost felt like butting in and saying that Singapore Airlines – the world’s finest airline, no argument – has just created a new product that they can now lust after: personal cabin suites in the air.
Here are two images from the airlines’s website:
I’m all for humanitarian aid workers being well paid, well protected and well cared for. After all, they risk life and limb for the rescue, relief and recovery of large numbers of people caught in disasters or conflicts.
Perhaps I’m being naive, but there’s something incongruent about aid workers aspiring to flat-beds and space beds in the air.
Which reminds me, it’s about time somebody updated the well known poem, The Development Set, by Ross Coggins. First published in “Adult Education and Development” September 1976, it’s now more than 30 years old — the luxuries both in the air and on the ground have evolved a bit in that time.
Graham Hancock’s book “Lords of Poverty: The Power, Prestige, and Corruption of the International Aid Business” gleefully reprinted this poem in the 1980s.
I’m no poet, but there’s a need to update this to include GPS, satellite phones, four-wheel drives, and yes, business class beds.
If you are not familiar with the original poem, here it is:
The Development Set
by Ross Coggins
Excuse me, friends, I must catch my jet
I’m off to join the Development Set;
My bags are packed, and I’ve had all my shots
I have traveller’s checks and pills for the trots!
The Development Set is bright and noble
Our thoughts are deep and our vision global;
Although we move with the better classes
Our thoughts are always with the masses.
In Sheraton Hotels in scattered nations
We damn multi-national corporations;
injustice seems easy to protest
In such seething hotbeds of social rest.
We discuss malnutrition over steaks
And plan hunger talks during coffee breaks.
Whether Asian floods or African drought,
We face each issue with open mouth.
We bring in consultants whose circumlocution
Raises difficulties for every solution —
Thus guaranteeing continued good eating
By showing the need for another meeting.
The language of the Development Set
Stretches the English alphabet;
We use swell words like “epigenetic”
“Micro”, “macro”, and “logarithmetic”
It pleasures us to be esoteric —
It’s so intellectually atmospheric!
And although establishments may be unmoved,
Our vocabularies are much improved.
When the talk gets deep and you’re feeling numb,
You can keep your shame to a minimum:
To show that you, too, are intelligent
Smugly ask, “Is it really development?”
Or say, “That’s fine in practice, but don’t you see:
It doesn’t work out in theory!”
A few may find this incomprehensible,
But most will admire you as deep and sensible.
Development set homes are extremely chic,
Full of carvings, curios, and draped with batik.
Eye-level photographs subtly assure
That your host is at home with the great and the poor.
Enough of these verses – on with the mission!
Our task is as broad as the human condition!
Just pray god the biblical promise is true:
The poor ye shall always have with you.