Sunday, January 27, 2008

Beauty on Sunday 1/27

The Washington Post reports, that with the humanitarian crisis continuing in Kenya, Ugandan locals say they understand their plight and make them as welcome as limited resources allow (1/27/08).

The Los Angeles Times reports on a meeting between Kenyan rivals :
"In their first meeting since the disputed Dec. 27 presidential vote, President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga met with former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for about an hour. Then they emerged from the presidential office side by side, smiling broadly and vowing to work together." (1/25/08)

The New York Times reports that rebel groups in eastern Congo have signed a peace agreement with the government to end fighting in the last remaining war zone in the country. (1/24/08). Also reported on 1/22/08

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Africa elitists

While I was in Europe, I had a lot of time to think. About my future. About a career. About life. I spent time in Amsterdam attempting to brazen through the labyrinth that is my family. In London I supported a good friend who will soon be taking the consulting world by storm. I also realized just how small the world really is when I met up with Zigoto, my Cameroonian brother. Finally in Edinburgh I reminisced with an American friend about the two weeks we spent in Africa.

This trip made me confront some interesting feelings, and what I learned is this: There are always going to be people in the world: family, ‘friends’, and strangers who dismiss you. Who define you buy your appearance. Your job. Your title. Your field of study. Your age. But their definitions have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.

While I was catching up with my American friend who shared my experience in Cameroon, an interesting concept came up… Africa elitism. We defined it as: people who think they are morally and intellectually superior because they feel they have more knowledge and understanding of Africa. They have lived in Uganda. They have worked with the Peace Corps. Or maybe they have friends in Botswana. Whatever their relationship to Africa, they feel they are superior to those whose relationship with the continent is just beginning. Let us be clear; this does not include everyone who has experience in Africa. In fact, it is probably only a very small percentage of people who feel that their knowledge gives them this elite status. But never the less, those that do think this way have a large impact on how the rest of us view African studies.

She remembers how she and some of our friends were looked down upon by our fellow American travelers. What was it that made them think she was inferior. Was it the fake nails? Was it the blow-dryer and the makeup in her suitcase. Or maybe it was all her laughing? What was it that made these Africa elitists think that she didn’t care about the issues?

It’s absurd really - the idea that because you care about how you look, you can’t care about Africa. That because you laugh and joke, you can’t possibly be respectful or serious about learning anything. And worse yet, that because of these things, you have nothing to offer. I knew exactly what she meant…

Let’s be honest; these Africa elitists usually do know more about issues facing Africa and have been interested in African development for a relatively long time. But this is in part why their way of thinking is so tragic. They have so much they could share: their experiences, knowledge, and insight. All the things they have seen and learned - they really do have so much to offer. But you know what, so do I, and so do my friends.

There are always going to be people that judge you. Who think that they have you “figured out”. Who think that they can wrap you up in a nice neat box and but you at the bottom of their closet and dismiss you. Because after all, what can you possibly offer them? You’re just another pretty female college student who is more interested in her boyfriend, or sorority, or her clothes than anything important. You’re nothing special. Nothing exotic. Nothing inspiring. Nothing epic.

Well, in the spirit of the New Year, I have something to say to all of these people...

Everyone has something to offer and as much as I hate to break it to you, people don’t fit into perfect little boxes. Everyone is fighting a battle. Everyone has a story. A beginning. A history. And often times an end. And while you are preoccupied with looking for something special, worldly, and exotic, you are missing out on the beauty that is sitting right in front of you. The beauty that is human nature. You’re passing up a chance to share your experiences and learn something from ours. And you know what, it is a tragedy. But it’s your tragedy.

So spare me your condescending remarks and attempts to make yourself feel superior. Don’t receipt definitions about the endogenous theory (I am after all an economics major) and don’t’ tell me that I can’t possibly care about African development while wearing my Marc Jacobs heels. I am going to make a difference with my life. I don’t know how, and I have no idea when. But I do know that the only way I can get there is by opening my heart and my mind. By remembering that we all have something to offer – we are all only a single piece of the puzzle that is bigger than anyone of us alone. You can choose to be a part of it, or not. The choice is all yours.

When I was in London with Zigoto, he told me about the vision he had for this world. With a great big smile on his face he described a wonderfully colorful world. With people from every different country, of all different colors, with diverse knowledge, working together to fix the world’s problems.

“One world” he told me, “How beautiful it would be if we all worked together.”

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Beauty on Sunday 1/20

Executive mansion of Liberia reports, the west African heads of states have adopted a regional Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS). (1/19/08)

The Africa Nations Cup began in Ghana today. BBC reports through a "nation's cup diary". (Latest entry: 1/17/08)

BBC writes about hopes for change in Zimbabwe; "it is still basically a rich country, and - because the aid agencies do an excellent job - there is little malnutrition" (1/15/08)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

New Years in Amsterdam

My uncle told me that the Dutch spent 65 Million Euros on fireworks this year. The sounds of blasting lasted until 2am. I have been in Amsterdam to welcome the New Year only one other time. I was 8 years old. We were downtown in the center of the city at a cousin’s home. Bottle rockets bounced off the glass windows of houses lined by small alleyways. Christmas trees burned until morning in the middle of the streets. Car alarms sounded as fireworks exploded under them. It is the only time I ever remember my dad being scared. It reminded him of Vietnam.

This year I was at my uncle’s house. 10, 9, 8, … the sound of explosions begins… 3,2,1. The Champaign is uncorked. Hugs, Kisses, Bohemian Rhapsody is playing in the background (The new years radio countdown to the ‘number one voted classic rock song’ started a week before). We step outside of my uncle’s house. The only thing remaining remotely calm is the water and the boats sleeping on the canal. Everywhere you look, colors spatter the sky: yellow, purple, red. The night is tinted with a soft smoky haze. It thickens with each new firework lit. The smell of burning ash and celebratory cigars. We walk along the canal with our heads glued to the sky. Fireworks everywhere – not the small ones we set off on Zig Zag during the 4th of July. Disneyland fireworks. Bigger than Disneyland fireworks. All around. One after another. A series of bangs and white lights dance on the ground on the other side of the water. Sounds like war – or what I imagine war to sound like. My 80 year old Oma is on my arm. She smiles. her eyes are opened wide. A blast of light explodes on the ground in front of us - a bottle rocket that exploded too soon - before flight. She laughs. My uncle and cousins laugh. I look for something to hide behind.

Despite my uneasiness - caused by 7 year olds lighting firecrackers fifteen feet in front of me - the whole scene is still really beautiful. There is a sense of organization to the chaos. Grandparents, parents, and children enjoying the same form of entertainment. As we walk back to the house I wonder what it is that fascinates us about fireworks. They are loud and obnoxious; they last only a minute. The red bits of packaging debris, like puddles on the street, are the only remnants found the following day. And the smoke they produce is absolutely nauseating.

Maybe it is the dichotomy of sound and sight that is so intriguing. Or maybe the unity it brings. Externalities that force onlookers to take part in a celebration – whatever the celebration may be - on this day especially. People all over the world, albeit at different times and in diverse ways are welcoming the same New Year. I can only imagine what the bright lights must look like from space.

Wishing everyone peace, love, and happiness in 2008.