Had it not been for Corona I might never have 'met' Amitée. I should mention that our meeting was online, and that Amitée is her 'trade name', not her given name. Amitée, deriving like Amity from French Amitié (friendship), certainly sits well with her infectious warmth and generous character. We met to discuss a mysteriously far-reaching venture which had immediately caught my imagination. However, it was only when after our meeting I had begun to compare her various business projects (Amitée calls them 'experiments') that I sensed something of the thinking that linked them.
I decided to contact her after a City friend mentioned a cross-departmental online encounter with Amitée hosted by his management consultancy office. The unlikely title of the meeting was Personal Poultry. Was this a paltry gimmick? In what became a webinar, or 'egginar' as my whimsical friend dubbed the teaching phase (consisting of 10 x 10-minute sessions), office staff from the first-year intake through to partners were invited to learn about organic chicken raising and how to run their 'own farm' straight from their laptops. The 'egginar' had been funded by the partners to counter the pervasive, punishing drudgery of zoom meetings which, during Corona, all office staff were forced to endure. If willing, participants could later assume responsibility for a brood of hens. This involved remote, real-world, webcam-supported control of the birds' feeding, security, health and hygiene, and due attention was rewarded with regular deliveries of pasture-range eggs to the participants' doorstep.
According to my friend an astonishing number of office staff have since become hen carers, with duties frequently shared among several colleagues. What is more, welfare, nutrition, healthcare and sharing were now frequent topics of post-lockdown lunchtime and coffee-break conversation. If Amitée had held a talk about the relationship between non-human and human survival in 'our strange and difficult times', would she have enjoyed such success?
It was in healthcare that Amitée first made her mark. Working with a company developing plant-based capsule treatment for the enlarged prostate gland (in men over 50), she had given her name to a product and attractive booklet (containing nettle recipes and easy talk about prostate gland function and enlargement) which the company inserted into each box of capsules. It is known that treatment based on nettle plant extract, a gentle diuretic, can not only counter prostate enlargement, but is beneficial in treating arthritis, seasonal allergies, as well as bladder and kidney problems. More to the point, it is also known that many men feel vulnerable talking – whether to other men, women, or their own children – about this natural but potentially dangerous and often uncomfortable symptom of ageing.
To cut a long story short, the Amitée brand caught on and not only reached older men in their hundreds of thousands, but as a result of the attractive booklet, charmed their families too. Men felt comforted by this kind woman who cared for their troubled prostates and showed them in a touching way how to look after them. In some countries Amitée became a household name, while the vulnerability of older men's urinary and reproductive systems – with digital rectal examinations, residual urine, erectile dysfunction, low sperm-counts and many other previously tabooed subjects – became considerably easier to talk about. At our meeting Amitée put this to me: is it not true that most men in powerful positions in politics, public administration and industry belong to this age group? How can we expect them to care for a planet in distress if they cannot mention their prostate gland or acknowledge their own vulnerability? What better way to reach them as a group, if not by such genuine 'friendship'?
Meanwhile, Amitée finds herself heading a language-learning 'experiment' based in Tunisia which she herself had proposed to a large intergovernmental NGO. It had long been Amitée's belief that almost every child, given the opportunity, can learn 3 languages or more, and that only the colonial and imperialist history of certain countries (and the inherited assumption that their inhabitants were entitled to communicate solely in their own language) could explain why educational planners thought children capable of less. The project is grounded in the apparent contradiction between the enormous resources devoted by these countries to education, and the widespread monolinguality of their inhabitants – in contrast to previously colonised countries where many speak three languages by necessity despite far lower educational budgets. One thousand families from France, the UK and USA had volunteered to take part in this generously funded experiment over a period of 25 years. What might be the benefits to peace, social harmony, worldly happiness and international cooperation at every level, asked Amitée, if many millions of children in the formerly colonial countries grew up learning 5-10 languages? Might toxic nationalist narratives be relativized?
I hope so, and look forward to her next projects.
This piece was originally published in the September edition of Splinters.