I have been thinking about my last post A Meeting of Two Worlds and some of the issues it has raised in chatting to people. Living here and experiencing this sort of disparity is unsettling yet we get used to it and see a truth that is somewhat different from what is imagined by those in the West. There is nothing we can do to close this wide gap between us and them and nor should we. There is a type of arrogance in a white and rich person trying to come in and fix the lives of African peasants. Having said that there are areas in which Aid is needed and is most beneficial: Aids research, access to clean water, wells and medicine; anything that can help those who cannot help themselves. But we cannot try and take an entire continent and turn it into the West.
In my first months here I felt uncomfortable living side by side with such poverty and I recently spoke to my class about this after our visit to the school. We talked about how we felt visiting a school where nearly none of the kids owned shoes. I explained to my students that the wealthy ones had no need to feel guilty; why should they feel guilt for being fortunate through an accident of birth? The world is not fair and never will be. What is important is to always feel gratitude, be aware and help where we can.
One thing that I didn’t mention in my description of the school was the smell. When the students pressed close and squashed together to watch the dance show that some of their fellow students performed for us there rose an overwhelming stench of unwashed bodies and clothes. Most of Africa lives as Europe did, pre industrial revolution, without electricity and running water. They do not notice the smell, nor do they feel miserable about their circumstances. They are not hungry, nor unhappy. They were all smiling with the joy of being young and playing games with their friends.
So the disparity will stay, the gulf will remain. The lives of a few may change, less people will die of malaria and Aids and more and more will get electricity and running water, but if they want to lift themselves up and improve their lives I really believe it is them and them alone that will do it. They have all the tools; a lush and fertile land, schools, a strong population, imagination and a secure political environment.
In some future posts I want to focus on the middle class here in Uganda. That might present a different side to the coin.