Wednesday, July 25, 2007

People I'm talking to about Africa

My friend John (Doe – anonymous for racial sensitivity issues) has traveled on business in 19 African countries, and sees incredible potential that is usually overlooked by Westerners and also incredible adversity in the form of corruption which keeps up the state of despair. He also sees two Africas, Saharan and Sub-Saharan. He seems to be more a fan of North Africa, and feels that Sub-saharan Africans have a culture which lacks a certain base level of respect for other human beings and themselves that would be a pre-requisite for development. Certainly the many stories of atrocities that go on all around the continent and have been going on since written history began in Africa don’t bring the word ‘humanism’ to mind, but then again when you see the way people (at least mothers) mourn in the face of killers such as underweight, malaria or AIDS in children, you can see the spirit of life hoping to overcome all of these adversities which include remorseless killers wearing or living in human flesh. I think he’s mostly trying to point out that brutality reaches levels in Sub-saharan Africa that are unheard-of in the present day elsewhere in the world.

Another friend, also a John, is in awe of Nelson Mandela and the political sandwich he created. Blacks controlling the government, a very predominantly white middle class and a vast lower class of blacks. The democratic and easy thing to do as a political leader, it would seem, would be to appeal to the masses by abusing the “others,” the whites with the economic power. Instead, he set in place a dynamic whereby political power of the blacks and economic power of the whites co-exists and produces economic growth to the great benefit of the country (over time). Someone in his group suffered head-trauma in a car accident while they were in Namibia, where all hospitals are government owned, government run and government staffed and the health care is “free and worth every penny.” Yes, Hillary, he is being sarcastic. It was here that he had an encounter with a life dis-respecting doctor who brashly told John, with a straight face, his friend would surely die unless they submitted immediately to 5 days of intensive care with the doctor at exorbitant rates and pay, of course, in cash. Hippocratic oath, anyone? The next hospital being at least a day away, John not being medically trained, he was unsure what to do but took the advice of a native-resident friend and left the quack's office. Are you a doctor or a con-man? Such a perversion of roles and a wolf in sheep’s clothes, it reminds me of the U.S. doctor who got women addicted to pain killers in order to abuse them as his junkies.

Greg Z., RPCV who worked down the hall from me at First American Title Insurance. Greg thinks that there's a chance that Peace Corps will start a program in Portuguese speaking Angola soon. If they do, they will probably want qualified volunteers to be the first people on the ground. Since my Grandpa was a Marine in WWII, I'm particularly drawn to this idea and if they offer me the chance to move to Angola after one year of service to be in the first group of volunteers there, I think I would go. A very exciting distant possibility for the future, I'm glad Greg advised of this possibility so that I can be ready for it if it happens.
Greg also taught me that even though PCVs tend to think the experience will be better if they get posted in a rural area, this is not always the case. He got posted in Lagos when it was just a big city (now it is HUGE). He also told me that the river that separates Tanzania and MZ (the Rovuma River) was plagued with the tse-tse fly, which causes sleeping sickness, when the American explorer Stanley passed through that way into the African interior. We hope the fly has gone somewhere else by now. He also let me borrow his copy of The White Nile by Alan Moorehead, which is a really good read about the misadventures of the first European explorers in East Africa.

Stan, a friend of a friend of a friend of my Dad's, who does real estate work in Africa. He taught me that my long term ambitions of spurring home-ownership and efficiency in African cities is possible, because he's already doing this and making a buck while he's at it. Maybe not the same rate of return you could get in some other continent, but it sounds like it's not necessarily a money-losing proposition. The property registries may be slow and backwards, but they function, and people are increasingly conscious of the importance of acquiring property rights. As he explained, there's lots of development happening right now in souther Sudan, since they are just getting out of a civil war. It seems to me that the whole continent is just getting out of a civil war, so hopefully the infrastructure building begins and the violence ends. He also warned that some NGOs (or at least people masked as NGOs) operate as loan-sharks rather than doing micro-lending in a helpful way. Coyotes. That is news to me, and I haven't looked into it yet.

Elizabeth M., an RCPV of the South Florida chapter the the PC association. She served in MZ. Learned: She figures taking care of my health should be a foremost concern. Also, she recommended that I should take with me some of those pants that zipper off into shorts, which I think is a great call since they are synthetic and will hold up to the washing by hand better than cotton work pants like Dockers.

Chris Smith, my local Congressman who has served in the House International Relations Subcommittee for a long time, tirelessly advancing Human Rights (particularly in Africa) in the face of (it seems to me) overwhelming apathy on the part of his colleagues, who think leadership involves something other than working hard to make the world look closer to the way you'd like to see it. My favorite is that (according to an editorial I read in the Washington Post) he stood up to Bush when the Executive tried to short-change veterans (he asked them to re-do the math, the funding was inadequate) and to get this money for he veterans he paid the predictable price of demotion after having served the interest of veterans for quite some time. This being at some point in 2005--yes, we were at war at that time. After countless attempts to contact him through his office, it sounds like they're going to let me meet with him either in August or September.

1 comment:

GREGZ said...

Livingston went up the Rovuma on his last journey. Stanley departed from Zanzibar to Bagamoyo on the mainland and went overland to find Livingston.
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