For this blog, I’d like to think I do better than identifying things that are wrong and pointing out that they are wrong. However, in this case, I can’t resist.
On Facebook, I recently saw this YouTube video posted: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3HrkQaPHAA
It’s worth watching now, since the rest of my post deals with this video.
The basic idea present here seems to be, your problems are mundane problems, the poor have to deal with real issues like having no water.
While my time abroad hardly makes me an expert in “what the poor want”, my thoughts while watching this video are that most of the complaints mentioned in this video sound like EXACTLY the sort of thing my friends in Kenya, Ethiopia and Bolivia would complain about.
Phones are extremely prevalent throughout the world, and people enjoy using them just like we do. For the complaint of “My phone charger doesn’t reach my bed,” I was reminded of a co-worker of mine in Kenya who lived in a stick hut in a small, remote village. His village wasn’t electrified, but he had a portable battery, and guess where he kept it? Next to his bed, so that he could text his homeys and romantic interest late at night while still charging it. You better believe Kenyans are just as likely to text/talk on the phone while walking as we are. Though I’m less enthused about it when they’re driving a motorcycle taxi and trying to talk on the phone.
“I hate it when I ask for no pickles but they still give me pickles.” While pickles aren’t perhaps the food of choice, people in the developing world care every bit as much about whether their order is right as someone in the developed world would. They don’t think “Oh well, I am just so thankful to have food, it doesn’t matter if the order is wrong.” When friends of mine have ordered food and gotten the wrong thing, or asked for a cold drink but received a warm drink, they are every bit as annoyed.
Yes, the poor have many challenges, some of them quite serious. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t have mundane experiences, good and bad, to boast in or complain about. While I can appreciate that the goal of this charity is simply to raise money, one of my least favorite things about the way the developing world is portrayed is how one-dimensional it inevitably is. There are some huge challenges here, yes. But that doesn’t detract from how ordinary the life here is. People go to the store and buy gum, and get annoyed when it loses their flavor, they complain about how Arsenal haven’t bought any good players this summer, and like talking about the hot chick they know while drinking beer with their buddies.
That’s I think perhaps the biggest takeaway I’ve had during my time abroad. It’s a common question to be asked–what’s it like, living in Country X (or, in the case of Africa, equally often “Continent X”). Yes, there are many differences; you won’t see a horse taxi or shops painted bright green bearing the logo of the local telecom provider in New York. And to be honest, I despise the efforts to make exotic characterizations of the people there (“For an African, music is a part of their soul.”) Live here can still be equally mundane, for better and worse. People are still people, with the same level of nuance and complexity, whether they’re living in Olturot, Kenya; El Alto, Bolivia; or Washington, DC. And in my mind, any effort to simply characterize people as nothing more than their poverty is to forget why it’s worthwhile to help them in the first place.