I often wonder what would have happened to me if I hadn't made that decision. I suppose I would have sunk. I suppose I would have found some kind of hole and tried to hide or pass. After all, we make ourselves according to the ideas we have of our possibilities. I would have hidden in my hole and been crippled by my sentimentality, doing what I was doing, and doing it well, but always looking for the wailing wall. And I would never have seen the world as the rich place that it is. You wouldn't have seen me here in Africa, doing what I do.
~VS Naipaul, A Bend in the River
I never would’ve thought I’d be going on 10 years in Africa…. When I applied to Peace Corps, I didn’t really care where I’d go as long as I went. Then when I went to grad school I thought I’d have a chance of going to another region. But being a French-speaking development person pretty much means one continent. Apart from one year in Kenya and three years in Morocco (to which I am now permanently associated via marriage), I’ve spent most of my professional life in West/Central Africa. Heck, I’ve now spent more time in Africa than in the Philippines. But I’ve never been one of those people who are totally in love with Africa. I prefer to think that Africa and I have a good working relationship, no romance involved. I suspect that people who are in love with Africa are more in love with the lifestyles they can lead here rather than Africa itself.
I still struggle with reconciling my social justice-oriented work with my cushy expat life, but at least it's not the moral wrench as discussed in today's Christian Science Monitor, Western Reporters in Africa Struggle Over When to Help. I hope at least by the nature of my job and by contributing to the local economy (even if the local economy is dominated by Lebanese businessmen and not Burkinabé), I'm helping out a little bit. Even if it's not much compared to the magnitude of the poverty here.
well you've certainly got the required "field experience" for any job nailed.
interesting what you say about the love of africa. i was certainly taken with it and impressed by it the first time i went there and got around a few countries in the east and horn. but if you think about it, for any westerner to go on about a love affair with it is a tad patronising really.
that article was interesting. poor guy and the vulture picture. they're right that naything people feel inspired to do is just a drop in the ocean, but humanity has to exist and thrive, otherwise you just have all these westerners feeding off misery for their own careers
I've enjoyed every country I've lived in or visited in Africa but my experience is so tied into who I am (a foreigner) and all the privileges associated with my status.
I've always thought that int. dev. was kind of like being a dentist - it's in our collective interest that problems exist. Sigh.
Since we're planning to return to the US next year I worry about our excellent housekeeper who's a single mom and sole breadwinner. I think we'll give her a couple of extra months' salary but I'm sorry that she'll be losing her best gig ever. (And then there are people who refuse to employ household help because it's demeaning. I think it's more demeaning not to have an income.)
yes the household help is an interesting thing... i agree it shares the money around, rpovides someone with employment and why clean house when you're working as well. mind you, even though i'm not going out to work at the moment, i still don't feel like cleaning.
when i was working full time i raised getting someone in to clean and H couldn't cope with the idea. but he couldn't cope with doing an equal share of housework either. it's coming up again as soon as i get a job!
Does anyone ever feel like cleaning? LOL
Interestingly our office has always had American women married to African men, including the past three country directors (married to a Senegalese, a Rwandan, and a Moroccan), who all followed their wives' and looked after the kids, etc. and yet my male colleagues are still so resistant despite these examples.
Sorry I wasn't clear! (lunchtime haziness) My male colleagues are v. resistant to the idea of equality in marriage. I don't think they'd see the utility in hiring a cleaner or helping out because Mme takes care of it all - often in addition to a paying job.
yes well H seems to think whipping up wonderful meals a few times a week constitutes a fair and equal contribution to running the household. the *occasional* vacuum and washing of the dishes, with a tiny bit of shopping thrown in serve to keep him viewing himself as a real all rounder. i feel like it's all my lazy karma coming back to bite me as that was more my role in the past! heh heh.
then he does this fabulous line in "i'm not the houseboy" if i ask him to take down the garbage or do a bit more. which cracks me up it's so bad. but i guess it was worth a try... who knows, i might have been riddled with colonial guilt somewhere deep down :)
My colleagues and friends always tell me that when they're on foreign soil they act differently. I have a colleague here who did his PhD in the US and he helped around the house. But now that they're back here it's not the same deal.
When I was at the ANU I did my final essay on the Australian administration of PNG and how PNG was a colony of a colony. So your colonial guilt is probably justified!
oh, yes i guess i have plenty of opporutnities for white person's guilt... just look at what we did with the indigenous australians.
but as i say to H, i don't have white guilt when it comes to africa - i figure our slate is clean enough there, (well it's probably not, but i'm not digging deep enough to shoot my own theory in the foot) and i'm not taking on any on behalf of any other western country so he can wriggle out of carrying the rubbish down 4 flights of stairs :)
In a way I'm jealous that you've been in Africa for 10 years. I like my life here, but I miss living in Africa. It was so nice to go back to Ghana in 94, even for just 2 months. Although going back and living the expat lifestyle was weird. I appreciated the comforts but I hated being another rich obruni. I would try to dress and act like a Peace Corps Volunteer, something that would be more difficult in a country I didn't know as well.
and yeah I enjoy working on African issues and I wish the best for the continent, but I don't think I'm in love with africa either.
Oh gosh...Africa's becoming an ex-boyfriend! (ha ha)
Seriously, I think I'm feeling burned out. I went overseas right after SAIS in 1999 and haven't been back since except for home leave.
PLUS I'm always being mistaken for a Peace Corps Volunteer even in "professional" clothes.
Speaking of PC, I think I'm off the PCD's "approved" list because at the last COS conference for the education group one of the PCVs asked what we missed most about teaching as a PCV and I blurted out "corporal punishment."