I've been asked literally for the clothes of my back. I've been asked to build houses, churches, dams, bridges, libraries, classrooms, pay school fees, medical bills, buy cell phones, install cell phone towers, find jobs, build factories and bring electricity. There's practically not a day that goes by where i'm not asked for money, candy, magazines, something, everything.
I'm white. I'm an American. People here think I have suitcases full of money under my bed. I not only have shoes, I have 6 pairs. They think i have no problems of my own and can solve all of theirs.
When white settlers came to Africa, their intentions weren't that different from mine. They wanted to explore. Some liked this new life and stayed. I can imagine the surprise on both sides. "Look at these dark savages practically naked!" "Look at these white creatures and their big poofy dresses and funny hats!" And so colonization began. Up went the roads and schools and flushing toilets.
I asked a Swazi friend of mine the other day if she thought Swaziland was better before or after colonization and she replied, "well before the British came we didnt know we were poor."
Somehow one part of the world developed rapidly while another part remained the same and eventually these worlds collided. Is it pity that makes people want to give? Does it make us feel righteous and nobel? And the people on the recieving end tend to take what's free. ALthough people had lived here for thousands of years with out receiving handouts, including bags of processed maize and goodwill clothes, they have suddenly become dependent on these gifts. To me, it makes sense to help those who cannot help themselves. But to help those who are perfectly capable, is to do them a great disservice. If people are given money and food for free, why on earth would they want to figure out how to get these things for themselves?
I sometimes think it would have been better if everybody just stayed where they came from. But that wouldn't have been possible. Some people, including myself, can't help but to venture out. When does exploration become exploitation and why do we feel the need to pawn off our excess, preach our religion, and fix what others never thought to be broken?
Of course, like with so many issues, it's a catch 22. The people here want what they think I have; money, extravagance, gadgets and gizmos galore, and I want them to want what the DO have; resourcefulness, self-reliance, simplicity. However, because of charity, these qualities are slowly diminishing and people are becoming lazy and corrupt.
I suppose I can't blame people for the requests they make of me. Some tourists DO come to Africa and throw candy out of their car windows and watch thte barefoot children run after it, and feel like their generosity is making the world a better place. Is it rather turning Africa into a sort of zoo? 25 cents to feed the poor children of africa... line up here.
White people will continue to come to Africa just as I have. Volunteers, Christian missionaries, business men, UN envoys, all trying to help. And i just wonder what effect are we actually having.
Even though I didn't come here intending to give material things, it continues to be expected of me. And when a young girl comes to me crying after being kicked out of school because her sick mother cant afford the fees, I can't turn her away. For $150 I'll give her another year of education. I can spare it and it's important. But what will she do next year when I'm gone? And what do I do when word gets out and 10 more girls come knocking on my door? If you give a mouse a cookie. There are big questions that can make my head spin as I drift off to sleep, and there's never an answer. I'm just trying to soak it all up and be the best person I can be.
I came here to see what life was like, and slowly I'm finding out. In Africa, it's black and white.