Stones from a Glass House: the #ALSIceBucketChallenge

Mokaddhe machang mey ice bucket challenge eka?”  (What’s this ice bucket challenge, machang?) asks person A. Let’s call him Ruwan.

Mala vikarayak oi! Ara Polonnaruwe minissu wathura nathuwa merenawa: mehe booruwo wathura liter ganang oluwe dhaala nasthikaranawa!” (It’s a farce! People are dying of drought in Polonnaruwa and here people are wasting liters of water just dumping them on their heads!) replies Roshan.

They’re talking, of course, of the latest trend sweeping the world: the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, in which people dare other people to dump a bucket of water and ice on their heads and record it on video.

Like Bathiya here

Like Bathiya here

It’s as strange as hell. Waste water? Are you mad? It’s a crime to waste water! This practice, which started in America (everybody knows Americans are evil conniving imbeciles) has invaded Sri Lanka, almost polluting in its fame – Iraj, Bathiya and Santhush are just three among thousands who have joined the bandwagon. Why on earth would you throw away all that water? It’s blasphemy.

Discussing this, they finish up their kotthus (Rs 400 each, from Pilawoos – because those other joints are too expensive, machang) and go home on the bus. Roshan heads to Dehiwala, where he gets home, sits down on the commode, flushes down 7 liters of water into a concrete tomb. His concern for the drought in Polonnaruwa forgotten, he gets up and has a quick ten-minute shower, discharging 3.5 liters per minutes in absolute confidence that his parents will pay the bills.

That done, he goes to his laptop and opens Facebook, where he spends a healthy thirty minutes calling all ice-bucket challengers attention-whores. “Aha!” he thinks, coming across a photo that shows a starving child in Africa, depicting it side by side with a bunch of Americans dumping buckets of water on themselves. This picture clearly illustrates how absolutely mental the Americans are, so he shares it. Then, feeling slightly queasy after that kottu, he takes another dump (another 7 litres for the peasants!). This is of course perfectly acceptable: after all, one can hardly care about random people in Polonnaruwa when Rs 400/= is coursing through one’s anus. And Africa? Out of the question.

Roshan eventually gets out of the bathroom, wraps up his good deeds for the day and goes to sleep, knowing that he, as a Sri Lankan, has Stood Up Against This Idiotic American Practice of Wasting Water. Ceylon will live to fight another day. Bravo.

Meanwhile, Ruwan, too, has arrived home. Showing an almost heretical amount of empathy, he spends a few minutes looking for the cause of this arguably weird social trend. He unearths some startling facts:

  • ALS is a motor neurone disease. It starts off as weakness and muscle atrophy. Victims then gradually lose the ability to walk, use their hands and arms, talk, swallow, while being able to see, hear and feel everything. Eventually they lose the ability to breathe and usually die trapped inside their own bodies.
  • There is no cure for ALS.
  • Most people don’t know what ALS means.

He discovers that the third point is changing  – mostly because of the ALS Ice Bucket challenge, aka this stupid act of dumping ice on one’s head.  The Challenge invites people to do it, video it, and – more importantly – to donate to the ALS community. And in doing so, it’s driving awareness about this disease. In fact, he himself is learning about it now. He might even see this video below – which is literally the last ALS ice bucket video you need to see.

Scrolling through the numbers, he discovers 4) This seemingly stupid act has raised almost $80 million for the ALS Association.

80 million US dollars. Let’s look at that figure for a minute.

My math is rough, but that’s over 9 Billion Sri Lankan rupees.  9 Billion for a disease. That’s more than anyone’s sent to Polonnaruwa. That’s more than any Sri Lankan has donated to all those thirsty children in Africa, God bless their starving souls. That is more than Roshan, the cynical friend, has ever done for anybody or anything.

“Of course machang,” says Roshan in his wisdom. “If you want to donate, you should just go and donate. You shouldn’t need a bloody American challenge! All of this is just bull!”

Yes, the majority of people taking the challenge are probably idiots looking to get their kicks. In fact, the majority, like his friend Roshan, thinks ALS is a type of bucket. Nevertheless, it’s working. Hundreds of thousands (dare I say millions?) of people around the world are dumping buckets of ice on their head and donating to ALS and it is WORKING.

Yes, it’s not a perfect world, and yes, people in Polonnaruwa are dying of drought, children in Africa are starving, and somewhere on some other part of the world people are probably being forced to drink polluted water. And dying of it. As usual.

And as usual, these things are remembered – especially on Facebook – only as a counter-argument. Will Roshan donate a kottu to a starving child, or save a bit of water because, well, drought? Will he start, an ice bucket challenge to help these poor starving peasants? Nah, of course not. We can’t be bothered about such things. After all, that water’s not free, is it? He (or his parents) are paying the bills, aren’t they? This is life, mate! You get what you earn! In fact, let Polonnaruwa take care of itself: let’s go have a beer.  Useless farmers should know enough to dig a well, anyway.

Ruwan, being a more or less average soul, decides to leave well alone. He’s not going to douse himself: he’s got better things to do with ice. But in the interests of not being a hypocrite, he shuts up, scrolls over the endless lists of people talking about ice buckets, logs off and goes to sleep.

Ungey wathurane, he thinks. After all, it’s their water. Let them spend it in any way they want.