After all, I cannot expect other people to feel the way I do, as they have not seen exactly what I have seen, experienced exactly what I have experienced. All I can do is try to explain.
OK, so how did it change me?
- It forced me to grow up quite a bit and I learned to look after myself.
- It educated me about another part of the world and showed me a completely different way of life.
- I realized that my ‘normal’ upbringing was actually very privileged.
- I learned to appreciate how free I was to make choices about my life.
- I was reminded how many people don’t have food security or proper health care in the world.
- I realized that my home town was only the center of my little universe, not everyone else’s!
- I learned that many people live lives that are neither fair or easy.
- I learned that many people die young and often for the most pointless reasons.
- I learned that a great deal of my ‘proud’ history was in fact quite shameful.
OK, you might think that this is all very obvious and that I must have been very naive……well, you would be right, I was naive and shallow and self centered and selfish and ignorant. What a great education I had huh!
Well, the beauty of education is that it can start at any point in your life and continue for as long as you want. I learned that a person does not have to stay ignorant, that a person can learn to make a difference, even if it is for just a single person. Does it really matter you might argue? I argue that it matters to the single person that you helped.
Sure, it would be easy to dismiss the plight of Africans as being nothing to do with me, sure its sad an’ all but hey…..I put my money in the bucket when it comes round don’t I?
But rationally, because I have lived there and seen it first hand I somehow feel that I have more responsibility than normal to inform other people, although I now realize that it is almost impossible. Lots of peoples minds just can’t take it in; as they say, one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.
I guess that if Africa was a terrible wasteland it would be easier to write it off as a poor place to ‘choose’ to live. But, since Africa itself is fine, I can’t dismiss it. An old boy once told me on market day (when men sit around and discuss ‘important’ business), that:-
Africa is not poor……Africans are poor, but Africa itself is rich.
The next question is why? Many better brains than mine have been trying to answer this question for decades and indeed many blame the Africans themselves. My view is that there is ‘blame’ on both sides. There is no doubt that rampant tribalism has held back social development, but then carving up the continent with a bloody pencil and ruler can’t have helped matters either!
The irony of todays uber respect and lip service paid to minority groups, makes me smile, looking back at ‘our’ behaviour in history. Guilty conscience………very possibly?!
In the end……
Africa had a deep and meaningful affect on me and I yearn to return. For me, even with its bloody and terrible past it seems ‘real’ to me because:-
- Respect is everywhere and not just towards the ‘big’ men.
- People are humble and helpful, even if they have nothing.
- People endure incredible hardships with hardly a murmur of complaint.
- Sharing is a way of life, even if you have almost nothing to share.
- You would never cook just for the house because you never know when a visitor will call.
- You don’t need to ‘call’ in advance, to pay someone a visit.
- You are always welcomed and you would never be an ‘inconvenience’, just join in!
- Status is measured more personally; what you do and how you do it, matters more.
- How much money you have and what you spend it on, is somehow separate from status.
- A smile and laughter is never far away…………….
We would do well to learn a lot from the African way of life, hardships and tribalism apart, for true happiness shouldn’t be something that we have to search for…….it should be the norm. Because for some people, life really is too short.
p.s. I found this post most difficult to write and I am not convinced that I have made my point anywhere near how I wanted it to sound! Oh well…..