"The body is the harp of the soul. It is yours to bring forth from it sweet music or confused sounds" Kahlil Gibran

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Future is Face

         Here on a river delta on the corner of a continent I see the only change of season The Gambia has.  Rain, three months of it cornered by unbearable humidity and heat, and other than that, dryness.  Gambia is the seasonal desert, on the boarder of the Sahara; this rain is the only reprieve from the desert that lies beyond.  There is therefore little to mark time.  Weeks may pass on the same endless sunny day.  There are many here who do not know their birthday or even their actual age.  I was told that Africa was home to 4,200 languages and that only 3 of them have an actually have a word for future; lending to a lack of the concept of time.  In Wolof the word for future is the word for face.  If I want to say something will happen in the “future” I say, “it will come to face” as in it will come to your face soon (and past is the same word as back).  So cut down a tree today for firewood because the family must eat today.  There is little ability to save money and resources under in the endless day with no future.  Often daily survival is the task at hand, and the abstract idea of having to do this again later is not as pressing as what we will eat today. 

I felt this was a powerful picture of a kid trying to read a book upside down...
Do not give money or aid here, because I have seen as have many how it is squandered as a desert oasis that can be drank in one gulp and not preserved for the “future”. Generations of farmers are often not interested in our strange technology, or lectures on how to change.  They trust their family knowledge with the assurance that it has gotten them through every rainy season.  The future is what is faced and the desire to look beyond needs to be developed from within.   

(a great talk about why giving aid hurts often more than it helps)

The rain brings these guys...
Indeed this simple concept of no future has changed my life here.  I will not work for a non-profit in the “future” because there is no sustainability where funds from the rich countries are squanders and the results are most often unsustainable and even sometimes hurt the people in the dependence and expectations that it creates.  The Gambia, a truly impoverished and developing country where NGOs and non-profits are as numerous as the small children in the streets, often just float on donations and promises, distributing aid that is used to buy extravagances and in no way improves the situations or future of this country. 

People told me that they didn’t want to waste two years in sitting doing nothing in a foreign country when the clock was ticking on grad school or the never ending career ladder, but in the adventure of life, I have found that the shifting perspective of living in a developing country is what can make all the difference as to the path you choose, helping me in particular find a more certain first step.  Had I not done this, operating under my initial idealism I would have pursued grad school and jobs, and many years from now I would have discovered this flaw in my plan… and then way more than two years would have passed. 
The Chicken was not happy...
Please investigate the truth on the ground; you will find something much different than the altruistic theory which many intentions and aid is based on.  Here I sit listening to the rain, the definitive change of face, the one thing that signals new life and new harvest here, as the fields are ready to be flooded for rice, the farmers go to work

Cultural Runoff
Teaching children American values
There is fear and curiosity in ever child here about me.
(See previous post)
Even in the village, everyone has cell phones.  They ring constantly, destroying the idea that there is a place where the small villages of Africa are insulated from the influences of the outside world.  It this globalized society, even small kids who live in the village get Rihana and Justin Beiber from the small radios, and the old men try to give me what they believe are well informed opinions about a world they've never seen.  Many think the oustide world is much like theirs but with more money. And if America has more money they assume that we would do what they would do, have a bigger compound, have more animals to slaughter (one question asked of a volunteer was "how many cows were slaughtered at your friend's wedding back in the states?" after making a mental note of the number of steaks served, the volunteers guesstimate was about 3).  In this way we are very much the same. 

Now if we can  provide cell phones, cheap movies, and massive waste in aid spending... why can't we give quality education?  As mentioned before aid is not the way here, so please think about this...
A school master's desk in the Gambia who I visited

My Work in the Village

The President of NDARR cashew and a member and mason who is building a structure to house the cashew equipment
I have spent only a few days in Fass on the North Bank, but in my short time I held meetings with 3 different cashew growers associations.  The primary group is a group of women married to cashew farmers, it is them who produced these nuts
This is village processed cashew.
Delicious but not fit for the international market

This is what we want to change by giving them high quality equipment from India that I have worked on here my whole time, we hope to give these women jobs processing cashew nuts that are beautiful and white, and fit for consumption internationally. This will  hopefully bring sustainability and money into the village.

The challenges however are many.  On a daily basis, I have to convince myself that this can work.  I believe in these women, but I always feel like the cards are so stacked against them that they will fail. Everyday these women are burdened by child rearing, cleaning, gardening, cooking, and complete male domination that they have so little left despite the fact they give their all.  I am just so scared that they will not be able to contribute the buildings they need to house the equipment or be able to manage a business when they are illiterate and their husbands control the money.  It is so much stacked against them.

I go back to the village July 5th, I hope that they will have made financial progress and building progress... if not, we may have to pull out about 1/2 of our equipment.  I will keep you updated.

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1 comment:

  1. Fantastic Post. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I know this is difficult work, and each project won't end succuessfully, but keep trying. Each experience builds your program in a positive way and I feel that you are representing all caring people around the world. I think you're doing a wonderful job and ultimately, even the little things you do, will make a big difference.
    Best wishes always, W. in IL.