Thursday, May 8, 2014

The curios incident of the sandwiches on the bumpy road !

Africa! looking North to Leywa, and Isiola and the semi arid region of Northern Kenya 
So your leaving the crag the group are happy but all the sandwiches have not been eaten. That means a box full of left over sandwiches is sat in the back of the truck for the drive home their destination unknown. The first few miles from the crag is a very bumpy road, the old main road linking Nairobi and Isiola in the North which winds through the Ngdare Ndare forest where lots of little Masai kids will be herding their cattle with no food for the day. Thin and obviously in need of food they stay with goats and cows for the day making sure they are not taken by rustlers or the wild animals which take them as they graze their skeletal frames on the tough cotton grass among the trees. 

Do you : A : Give out the sandwiches to the kids ?
Do you : B : Take them back and dispose of them at base ?

This seems like a no brainer you dish out the food, who wouldn't think that the food is there and no one wants it, who looks at thin kids who are working hard and would keep the spare sandwiches back from them? But this could actually create a much larger problem. I did just this a few days running thinking it was the best thing to do but I am not so sure this was the right thing to do now. After a couple of days of feeling good for doing a good turn I started to realise that more and more kids where appearing on the road with hands out and becoming more and more frantic about receiving one of the cheese and ham sandwiches. This makes things tricky as you want people to eat but is it creating a much larger issue one of expectancy and then dependency. The small scale experience of a few sandwiches over a few days showed me that suddenly their was a team of Masai kids who when they see the Toyota land cruiser expect food to come from it, which then also creates a feeling of loss and why not me today when all the sandwiches have been eaten and we speed on by in a cloud of dust. That in turn will end in resentment towards the green land cruiser and result in a stone bouncing off the canvas in frustration. There is no denying that life is tough and in no way even comparable to what we refer to in the UK as ‘poverty’ but perhaps there are smarter ways to help. Or is for us to help in the end ?
 Life the further North becomes more and more difficult in the heat and droughts that blight Northern Kenya. This is where the many as Paul Theroux author of ‘Dark Star Safari’ refers to as ‘The Agents of Virtue’ head, the NGO’s and Aid workers who have the very large and expensive Range Rovers I see, with tinted windows tightly shut to maximise the air-con. Any number of them will be seen in Nakumat (expensive western style supermarket) in Nanyuki. Aid groups for all imaginable reasons from ‘wet feeding’ to food aid and helping people gain skills for the circus are in operation and not forgetting those who are on a mission from God himself to save the Africans. Many of these charities also try and challenge African tribal beliefs, we may not agree with certain practices but are we the people who should wade in and try and teach others differently.
 Imagine the sandwich saga on a multi million dollar scale with huge camps that provide food and shelter, is that really helping Africans develop or creating a condition out of a problem. Africa is where the human race was born, from Southern Africa we spread all over the world but many African tribes operate the way they did hundreds of years ago and my suspicion is that long after the oil runs out and the IPads explode and you cant tweet for a take away they will still be wandering around using the land to survive. In numerable charities start projects hand it over and it soon falls apart after that. I have been involved in a few project things on this continent. I remember in Tanzania arriving at a school in the Mwanga district where we where due to paint a school the typical middle class schools answer to a helping hand. There was not much reception other than ‘do we get the gifts now or at the end’ hmm. Lots of schools had been here painting and building shelves. We bought a lots of blue paint in the town on the first day in readiness for the following days helping hand. In the morning after the walls had been prepared we slapped on this watery pale blue paint which barely made a mark on the wall, my assumption was that the paint was not to good and headed into the village to quiz the shop. But as I walked down the lane I passed the headmasters house and noted its brilliant blue coat of paint, I went into the property walked straight up to the wall and stuck my finger on it, wet paint which had just been applied. During the night the headmaster had sent someone down to take the paint and water down a small amount so our pots appeared full. I was mad with him and made it known and left promptly with our gifts, of which he still requested. I think that was the first time I started to realise just what charitable work was doing to people here. The second strange but in the end positive occurrence I had was in Malawi, I would take a walk in the morning before the group got up as the cool of the morning is often the best part of the day on this continent. I would follow various tracks past shamba’s at one in particular man would always approach me for money. I would not hand over any but did notice his bloody hands outstretched from his efforts to clear the long sharp scrub on his plot. While in town I spied a scythe hanging in the back which after some haggling over the price which oddly was written on it but she quoted a figure twice that on the implements sticker I bought it. When I next passed him I handed over the tool, he was very pleased and I in turn received a cup of tea which I thought would guarantee an upset stomach as a freshly killed chicken had blood dripping off the shelf towards the boiling pan of water. A few more days passed until I passed the plot again but this time the plot was cleared of all scrub and he waved his hand across the plot showing me the results and asked for no money we both smiled nodded and carried on our way. 
 There are ways of helping people and perhaps the best way to help Kenyans just now is to have your holidays here for one thing as tourism is taking a hit, and say hello to people. Handing out food and money in my opinion is not helping and many charities and NGO’s are business orientated and by doing things for people are actually just fuelling the dependancy on aid rather than creating a need to deal with problems themselves. I also know from asking and reading that a large proportion of business for prostitutes here in East Africa is aid workers for example. Its arguable that the way we have dealt with the continent over the years we have created a large proportion of these problems and our efforts to redeem ourselves are actually counter productive.Its certainly also not helped by government corruption and greed at the higher levels of power. The continent has never really recovered from being divvied up into the colonial countries, Kenya, Tanzania etc where never there to begin with it was just one large continent that had many tribes moving around without borders, a time which I knew nothing about until I started reading as it was not taught at my school we learned about the olden days and then the glory of winning two world wars but not about why we are one of the wealthiest countries on earth. The African traditions such as the Masai who would kill a lion which in turn made them men and warriors are now unable to practice this as there so few left compared to then, why is that ? Because we came over in large numbers to shoot them. And now we have created parks to help save the animals meaning the Masai no longer have their lands to roam across. You have to wonder who is really creating the problems here. 
To develop, a bit of advice where wanted would be sufficient but actually ploughing in a doing it for people will not help in the long run. And is it our arrogance which developed the idea of developing countries in the first place, is to be developed to mean we all live like us in the west? Perhaps one for another blog. 
 The evidence with the scythe suggests a small helping hand is never a bad thing wherever you are. The Agents of Virtue will suggest that they are the ones saving the world but I don't see that as the reality and I understand that people helping others can hardly suggest they are bad people but many are misguided and not fully aware of what the long term effects of providing the charity are especially when many projects are stop start, leaving those expecting more and then resentful more is not coming, or the funding just stops and people are left high and dry. Many also see the Africans as unable to deal with these issues themselves which is also wrong they will in the end if they want to be but the NGO’s, missionaries, general do gooders, Dr’s needing practice before exams and foreign governments who will buy there way in to get the riches they need but ultimately come in and deal out their agendas hampering the progress of the country. 

A lot can be taken in learning from handing out a sandwich in a foreign country but I think its better for all if the sandwiches come home and people find a way to make their own sandwiches for the future. I think I believe now the opinions and agree with Paul Theroux when in Dark Star Safari (probably the the best African book I have read and book I think) that  "the impression that Africa is fatally troubled and can be saved only by outside help, not to mention celebrities and charity concerts, is a destructive and misleading conceit".