Seeing through a different lens.

  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Feb 07, 2008 12:46 AM GMT
    I feel very disconnected.

    I just returned from Africa. Not the nice places tourists usually go to near Cape town, The Canaries, Morocco, or the beautiful Seychelles.

    The places I went to were a tour of several villages, guided by the Gates Foundation, mostly for international businessman and entrepreneurs following on the heels of the Davos conference last month.

    As was probably the point, the tour left everyone connected with it a real determination to help those less fortunate help themselves.

    I got off the plane here and was met by my driver (the flight cost more than the annual GDP of several of the villages we visited; my driver makes more annually than the combined income of an entire village; the car he met me with costs more than the entire cost of the new village school I am sponsoring ).

    We stopped of at a clothing store to pick up a couple new suits I had ordered. While I was there, I picked up half a dozen new shirts, a couple of sweaters, and a small present for Iain. The total was more than the cost of laptops for every child in the school for the next five years.

    I went home and changed. The house we bought last year could alternatively have funded more than a dozen schools.

    We then went out to dinner and the theatre with some friends. The cost of our dinner would have supplied medicines to a 6 village area for a year. The theatre tickets could have paid for a small herd of milk cows to provide the villagers children with milk.

    This has happened to me before, though maybe not to this degree. And I have the luxury of knowing that it won’t last; that soon the more interesting fiction of my daily consumer driven life of excess will again supercede.

    For right now though my friends can’t understand why I was so quiet and looked a little ill having dinner at Petrus. I didn’t eat very much. I seem to be seeing through a different lens.

    Have you ever experienced a huge sort of disconnect between realities?



    (I actually delayed posting this for a few days to see if I still wanted to post it)
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Feb 07, 2008 1:23 AM GMT
    Yes. When I lived in Zimbabwe.

    What you're going through is typical, I'm afraid. Here's something though: we in the west tend to see Africa as a *poor* and *desperate* place that *needs* our aid. How condescending of us. Africa has richer and poorer parts just like we do... for every Zimbabwe there is a Botswana.

    What use do you think your house and your suits and your dinner would be to Africans? Rich as you are, do you think that a few hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions of dollars, can change Africa for the better?

    It is not so, believe me, Africas problems are corrupt governments, environmental damage, social inequality and misguided outside interference, and an unwillingness to face up to these problems. These are not problems that can be fixed by throwing money at them. Of course, aid is important, but there is more to

    So here's what you can do:

    1) Return to the Africans the dignity you (we) just took from them. Stop speaking of Africa==Poor, Africa==Helpless. Remember how everyone thought Kenya was a successful country and now is amazed at the violence going on there? Read your history; understand colonialism and its consequences. Understand the tensions in the conflicts. Challenge stereotypes portrayed in the media and by certain charities about Africans. Learn about African successes as well as the obvious failures. Ask yourself: what can I learn from the Africans? Did you know for example, that the MRI machine was invented in South Africa?

    2) Lose the hypocrisy. Stop the US and other countries from interfering in the politics. Let African governments persue socialist policies if they are transparently administered. Don't sell weapons to one despot and then prattle about human rights: African despots have a new partner in China who doesn't care about these things. Affect change in the US. Don't rant about free trade when we refuse to trade freely with the poorest countries in the world, who have products we want but just don't want to pay a fair price for. Here's the deal: with biofuels and an exploding population, there should be *NO NEED AT ALL* for protectionist agricultural subsidies such those enjoyed in the EU and the US.

    3) Challenge the widely-propagated fallacy that people who live in a Former Colonial Power (and to be honest, this includes you, Mr American) cannot criticize African governments. Apparently, the rich commonwealth countries (NZ, UK, Australia, Canada, etc.) cannot criticize certain others (ZW). Of course we should criticize Mugabe!

    4) Since you think you're rich, make Africa and foreign policy electoral issues. Donate only to candidates who have good policies on these things. Educate the american public to do likewise.

    5) Take religion out of Aid Relief. By refusing to educate and distribute condoms, Christian agencies have condemned *millions* to die of AIDS. (this is really part of 1 actually).

    6) Make sure you give to aid agencies that take these things to heart. The Gates Foundation is one of these.

    Frankly, the one subject that gets me *truly angry* is the current state of Zimbabwe. It is a beautiful country and people there (black and white) are resourceful, decent people who have been abused by their government and their fellow mankind. But our money cannot help them... only time and a change in our attitudes can. Let us not let Zimbabwe become another Catalonia.

    Reconnect: these people you saw were humans too and brothers.
  • EricLA

    Posts: 3461

    Feb 07, 2008 1:43 AM GMT
    Tim,

    I strongly feel that everyone should travel abroad if they can. Being exposed to another culture, of any kind, is likely to open your mind a bit. I've been to Mexico and seen the slums their. I've been to Germany and toured the rundown towns and villages of the East after the Wall came down. I'm sure these images can only pale in comparison to what you've seen.

    And at least you, who are obviously in a position to effect change, are doing so. You are investing in these areas, not just a voyeur. Do more if you can. Get the word out and educate other people you think you can about what you have seen.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Feb 07, 2008 2:06 AM GMT
    TigerTim saidYes. When I lived in Zimbabwe.

    What you're going through is typical, I'm afraid...

    ...It is not so, believe me, Africas problems are corrupt governments, environmental damage, social inequality and misguided outside interference, and an unwillingness to face up to these problems. These are not problems that can be fixed by throwing money at them. Of course, aid is important, but ...


    Actually that was one of the themes of the Davos Conference this year.

    I am making plans to 'adopt' a village there, primarily with assistance directed at health, education, and sustainable community development.

    But certainly Africa isn't the only pocket of real poverty I've seen either. There are places in Asia nd S America that are just as impoverished. Parts of India, Bangladesh; the slums outside Mexico City come instantly to mind.

    And you are right, I could piss away every penny I own and not affect the problems in Africa. But I think that eventually you have to take a first step, otherwise nothing changes.

    It's not that I haven't contributed to charities and relief agencies before; I even tithe. But that it was such a jarring juxtaposition and reminder of desperate need and my own excess.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Feb 07, 2008 2:22 AM GMT
    ITJock said
    It's not that I haven't contributed to charities and relief agencies before; I even tithe. But that it was such a jarring juxtaposition and reminder of desperate need and my own excess.


    Yes, I know what you're talking about, ITJock. I remember walking out of a restaurant one winter night, where I and my friends had just plunked down hundreds of dollars for a meal that was instantly forgettable. Sitting outside the restaurant was a man wrapped in a blanket with a small cup.

    We were in Manhattan.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Feb 07, 2008 2:27 AM GMT
    ITJock, it's really great that you're doing *something*. You're part of the solution! But what I'm trying to say is to think about whether you are doing all you can *politically*. I've written so many letters to so many people about Zimbabwe, been to so many protests, etc. Sometimes you feel as if it achieves nothing. But I think it does.... Gordon Brown boycotted the Portugal conference last year. And he was right to do so.

    I know a great deal about organizations that work in Africa, and what I said, I hope, reflects the ideology and best practice of those organizations.... I'm very well aware of the detailed happenings at the Davos conference, and the barrage of criticism that was unleashed at the rich countries there. About time that Africans have a voice in our media, although once again African governments blame their troubles on the richer countries rather than facing themselves in the mirror.

    Please understand the point that you must make sure that your perception of the donor/acceptor relationship does not in itself divest African people of their dignity and empowerment. Do you see what I mean?
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Feb 07, 2008 2:41 AM GMT
    A friend of my work for airline business, so he traveled often. He told me once he was leaving one of those poor country (I forgot which one). He was sitting in the soft, first class seat, enjoying video, the first class service and drinking complementary champagne. As he looked out the window, all he saw was rolls and rolls of poverty stricken sheds along side the runway, expanding in size as they took off.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Feb 07, 2008 3:00 AM GMT
    I felt sorry for many people here in Panama. I don't anymore. They seem more fortunate then most Americans now that I have gotten to know them. Granted I have not been to a 3rd world country. I have only been to Central America.

    I know a man named Erasmo. He is 60 years old. He works 6 days a week form 7 to 4. It is just grunt work like construction, gardening, anything really. He makes $90 a week. That $90 goes to supporting his family of 10. He owns a small piece of land where he has a few cows and a garden for fruit and veggies. His wife does not work because she is busy looking after the house and children. His house has dirt floor, old dirty furniture that is falling apart, and just 2 light bulbs. The whole house is about 700 square feet. The rooms are about 10’x10’ and 5 people sleep in each room on the floor. He is not paying taxes like American for property. He grows most of his food. He rides his horse everywhere for transportation. That may sound awful, but his family is far happier then any American family.

    I think Americans are very high maintenance and over indulgent. When they look at Erasmo they see poverty, but he is humble with what he has and he does not need more. Why do we feel that children need laptops and they need more cloths and money? Do they really need those materialistic good? I do believe they need education. I agree with the saying “Give a man a fish and feed him once. Teach a man to fish and feed him forever.” 3 people caught malaria in the small village where Erasmo lives. I told Erasmo it is because of the water they leave out. I told him how mosquitoes breed in the water. He told me that is was because of some superstition of his. I guess you can’t blame him for believing it. If he had the proper education then I believe he and the village would understand what to do. I am all for relief, but I think prevention and education should be a major investment

    All in all, Erasmo is a great guy. I could never live like him and he could never live like me. We are two different worlds. I support him buy paying him for work or something, but I never give him money. I gave his brother $5 and that night I saw him stumbling down the street drunk. The money had no value to him because it was given to him.

    I don’t think I would ever give money to a charity or organization because there are a lot of secret little pockets and bad motives. If I am going to change ‘poverty’ then I would have to do it first hand. I would have to be part of the team building the house, or a boss employing people for working. I have never believed in free money. I know that sounds mean, but I don’t think it is.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Feb 07, 2008 3:03 AM GMT
    Itjock
    What a great post. I'm going to hold on to it and read it each time I'm templed to spend money on myself and maybe I'll send that money to Heifer International or to an organization that makes microcredit loans.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Feb 07, 2008 3:22 AM GMT
    One effort I am a huge supporter of is entrepreneurial micro loans.

    If you don't know what I am talking about check out this website:

    http://www.kiva.org

    I think this is a fantastic idea, the return - in humanitarian terms - is spectacular.

    If you are worried about even such a small investment, the default rate on these types of loans is almost negligible.

  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Feb 07, 2008 9:47 AM GMT
    ITJockThe cost of our dinner would have supplied medicines to a 6 village area for a year. The theatre tickets could have paid for a small herd of milk cows to provide the villagers children with milk.


    As someone from such a country and not too well off either, I agree.

    It's the truth. I often get amazed when some of my friends online compare about their wages. For example, a friend recently complained of only getting ~150 dollars a day on his job. He's actually getting TWICE the average MONTHLY salary of a Filipino in a DAY.

    I do not like charity either. I applaud ITJock's support of microloans. People here don't need charity, they're finite, and more often than not, people would refuse accepting charity because of pride. Knowing that they can pay it back is good. For people who can afford it, investing in microlending helps equalize wealth distribution while still providing returns for you.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Feb 07, 2008 6:00 PM GMT
    ITJock: Yeah, microloans are a great idea (and one I've been doing too)... and totally consistent with what I was saying above. Thanks for pointing that out!
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Feb 07, 2008 6:51 PM GMT
    I’m sure most bankers would be envious of the low default rates on microloans!
  • DrStorm

    Posts: 185

    Feb 07, 2008 7:41 PM GMT
    I agree wholeheartedly with TigerTim. I am from South Africa. Been to many African countries. Thank you TigerTim for pointing out the real issues, needs and wants of Africa.

    PEACE

    daWeatherMan icon_neutral.gif
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Feb 09, 2008 7:31 PM GMT
    awesome thread!

    to ITJock - i've worked and lived in several countries that are 'developing', or not - Brazil, Taiwan (which is pretty 'first world' now) the Philippines, etc.

    i have to agree about not pitying, but i would also add to the other great insights here - learn to live simply, if you're making good money, save it. learn about systemic economic violence, half people on the planet live on US $2 or less a day - and the trend of that worsening poverty is a direct result of the consumer driven economy of the first world. wear out your shoes, keep that old tv until it fries instead of putting one or more flatscreens in the house, which is just contributing to a system that is now oppressing most of the world's popluation, including you, for the benifit of the very few.

    Here's a fun fact: the two zipcodes on either side of Central Park (the upper east and upper west sides) in nyc represent fully HALF of the private income in the united states. let that sink in for a couple minutes - all those cities: miami, la, chicago, all those suburbs, highways, farms and the rest of american wealth spread across a pretty big continent - half of all THAT going into two zip codes. or, somewhere between 20-30% of GLOBAL private income, depending on how you crunch the numbers. somewhere around 50% of all economic transactions of the world take place in Manhattan, it's most profitable import and export is... money. icon_eek.gif

    the current consumer driven, targeted marketing society of the first world has very much been conciously developed to support that community since the end of WWII. 'Marshal Plan'? How about some nice new banking systems to go along with that food and aid?

    the goodies you buy now (you can buy a madonna CD in a tibetan village it takes two days walk to get to) flip numbers up in many of their bank accounts, as opposed to the average u.s. household savings of NEGATIVE 1%. hiv/aids, poverty, and much else in our world revolves around this. it's also put us on a very scary path in the united states, but that's another issue.

    excellent books on this are 'Dying for Growth' and 'The Uses of Haiti', either written by or contributed to by Paul Farmer and others at Harvard's School for Public Medicine. I worked for his organization 'Partners in Health' in Brookline/Boston Mass.

    http://www.pih.org/home.html

    Paul's an awesome example - he's a MD, PhD teaching at Harvard Medical School and could easily be comanding well into mid 6 figures for income - but lives in a very modest apartment while in the usa and drives a ford explorer wagon. he lives in a tiny open air house for much of the year while providing free medical care in central Haiti, and does battle with pharmaceutical companies and upper-level gov't officials among others. he's also been known to smuggle hiv meds out of certain places that can more than afford to lose them so he can to bring them down to haiti ;-)

    if you really want to have fun, read Noam Chomsky's (at MIT) classic: 'Manufacturing Consent,' about how media culture is inherantly biased towards economic consumerism and the institutions that benifit from it, ie. very much a propaganda tool for the 'elite,' if you haven't already. learn to trace the routes that money and power travel and act to filter the information you receive, you'll become more effective.


    http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Herman%20/Manufac_Consent_Prop_Model.html


    ok - i've already written more than i intended, so i better quit while i'm ahead.

    hang in there with your uncomfortable dinners and other awarenesses of disparity - you're on the right path to becoming fully human. icon_biggrin.gif