By Way of Explanation, or Why Africa is Personal for Me
I’m feeling rather feisty today, more so than usual. Maybe it’s because I’m fighting off a cold/flu so I’m kind of in a mood. Maybe it’s because our foster kittens are battling their second round of coccidia and I’m freaked out (though, knock wood, we seem to have turned a corner). Maybe it’s because I’m feeling overwhelmed by the outrageous need I see every time I go to the back room of our vet’s clinic–animal after animal after animal dumped on her primarily because of someone else’s negligence and irresponsible behavior. There’s a blog in there about animals, it needs to percolate. But, for now, I’m kind of in the mood to sound off about something else that is tied in to “need” and touches a very personal nerve. Africa. Weird, maybe, but it is what it is.
Most people who know me know that we lived in Guinea, it was our first overseas post, baptism by fire we like to call it. Most people also know that we were evacuated from Guinea when the country erupted in civil unrest and violence. I’ve blogged about Guinea before (here, here, and here) and I’ve often thought I’d left Guinea in the past but I’m learning that will never happen and that’s not a bad thing. Certain places get under your skin and Guinea got under mine. I have no desire to live there again, though I would love to visit, so it’s not that I am missing it or pining for it. It’s just that I feel a loyalty towards it, towards the Guinean people, and towards Africa in general. I guess that will happen when your middle child went through a time in her life answering “I’m from Guinea!” when people asked her where her home is. I guess that will happen when you feel shell shocked moving to a new, very different, country and the thing that finally breaks through the shell shock and pulls you out of yourself is the kindness and the joy of the people who live there. And I guess that will happen when you see those same people suffer every single day from lack of water, electricity, proper nutrition, proper infrastructure, medical care, the list goes on, and it all results in otherwise healthy, vibrant people dying slowly and painfully.
I get frustrated because I feel like too few people pay attention to most of Africa, I guess South Africa is the exception to that rule. Africa is just this place that exists totally outside the frame of reference most people have. Guinea? Where’s that? So when someone has made it a life’s focus to draw attention to Africa, to the epidemics and poverty that exist there, and also to the profound spirit and vibrancy that runs parallel to those things, I feel loyalty to that person as well. My feisty rant today is rooted in some ragging on Bono that happened on my FB page. It honestly doesn’t bother me how people personally feel about him, or what they think about him, people are entitled to their opinions. I get that he has a massive ego, that he’s had tax issues, that he loves to run his mouth. I also get that he deserves a whole lot of credit for drawing attention to, and doing a lot of good for, a continent that most people don’t give a flying fuck about. So no matter what his other faults are, what else he’s done, I kind of don’t care. What I DO care about is that there are people who are much better off because of him, that AIDS/HIV are weaker because of him, that people who have gone their whole lives without clean water have it because of him. And, granted, he’s not remotely the only one, and he hasn’t done this alone, but he has shown a tremendous amount of leadership, he’s used that big mouth of his to do a whole lot of good, and he has been a bridge between people who might not otherwise think about Africa and the African continent, her people, and her struggles.
I’m sure I’m garnering some eye rolling here, and I’m sure I feel so strongly about this because of my personal experience, but I think it’s important to acknowledge how much good is done by good people–regardless of their faults (and people are only human so they’re bound to have a whole lot of baggage). When things started really falling apart in Guinea our families were hard pressed to find news about it. People–children, ffs!– were being shot in the street for protesting peacefully and few people in the Western world were saying boo about it. After we left, and the civil unrest continued, there was a massive and peaceful march to the national stadium that turned into a horror show of people being shot, women being raped with the barrels of guns, civil society activists being taken by gun point. It was difficult to find out a lot of info on it in the mainstream media. Why? The ONLY conclusion I can draw is that people don’t care that much about Africa.
And it’s not just the violence, it’s the disease. Maybe Bono’s work in Africa touches me on a deeper level because I’ve lived in a country in Africa where diseases that have been pretty much eradicated in the Western world are still killing people, where otherwise healthy, strong people are struck down by diseases that should no longer be strong enough to do that kind of damage. Malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, internal parasites that cause deadly diarrhea, the list goes on and on. It’s not right, IMO, that when something as simple as a bed net can prevent death, and someone makes it their mission to do things like raise money and awareness about the simplicity of solutions to very serious problems, that we focus on that person’s faults rather than on the profound good they’ve done. I am honestly not calling out anyone in particular because this is pretty widespread, it seems like every time I mention Bono someone around me rolls their eyes. I get not liking the man but why focus on that rather than the tremendous amount of good he’s done? Why can’t people just say “I think he’s an egotistical ass but, man, he’s done some damn good things for a place not many people notice.” Former President Bush isn’t exactly my favorite person in the world, I disagree pretty much with 99.9 % of his policies and I think he’s beyond vapid, but his policies towards Africa were relatively progressive and they did good and, for that, I will give his administration a lot of credit and a great big “thank you!”
I guess this goes along with my own struggle to focus on the positive, to push away cynicism, and to nurture those things in our kids as well. I found myself, for quite some time, drained by the negativity of focusing on less than perfect political policies, politicians, advocates, whatever, and ignoring the slow slog of good that less than perfect policies and people can do. So I decided to switch my focus, that’s just me, personally. But I kind of think it’s more important to focus on the awesome good that people put into this world than on the imperfections they– we– have. I’m not saying we shouldn’t call people out for being assholes, I just think that folks like Bono have balanced the scales a lot further towards good than towards evil and it’s nice to focus on that, and to acknowledge all the concrete and very tangible good he’s put into a continent far too many people ignore.
Also, I know from personal experience, he gives nice cheek kisses 🙂 And, for now, I will climb off my soapbox …