What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What's worse?

So much is written about Africa and Africans. So many people, news organizations, governmental organizations, etc, talk down upon Africa saying the problem with Africa, is it's full of Africans. But it is also full of Westerners. I spent the evening with a group of them last night. I am not sure what is more a hinderance to 'development' here, the "Africans" they speak of, or some of the 'whites' that are here trying to 'develop' 'them'.

The group that I was sitting with was in no way a holistic group with one view. But the discussion put together a solidly "what Africa is not" argument rather than seeing Africa for "what it is". They have mostly been here two to three months, are in the medical field, and for the most part VSO (British volunteer org)workers and were from the UK (plus less vocal ones from Holland, the Philipines, and Canada).

They have some valid points, and I would never say their experiences aren't accurate, things here can be tough. But everything they were saying was completely ethnocentric and sounded to me to be colored by an almost imperialistic colonialesque arrogance. Now this is not to say everyone was directly engaged in this conversation, some just listened. But everything was about how the West did it, and how 'they' don't do it like that here. NOT about how 'they' do it here and how you as a 'helper' can assimilate your ways and teachings into another's way of life - without just bludgeoning them to death with Western principles while looking down upon them for showing some cultural resistance.

We talked about Africans mostly, but I realized that it wasn't actually about Africa doing it "wrong" (though that word was used), when they lambasted me for not being on anti-malarials. I am from the West, and I follow Eastern medicinal principles for the most part. So when the stuff hit the fan over my decision not to take them, I realized that it was not about Africa, but "their" way, the British way. They didn't want to listen and question to clarify, they simply heard and judged via their vantage point. No real questions or intrigue in an alternative medical approach, but even anger. They didn't even have an ear for the concept of integrative medicine. They didn't want to hear ANYTHING that was not what they thought was the right way to do things.

This is a huge hinderance in Africa. Western pessimism and negative judgment on the 'African' way of life. The world is full of variance, divergence, and assimilation. They were literally spouting colonial rhetoric about bringing civilization to Africa. Like Africa was all just barbarians with no reason for existance unless they could be taught how to "do it right".

They come here to help, which must be commended, but can't come here expecting home or expecting people to be like or become like them. Don't even expect them to want to. Even if 'they' may want some Western things, that doesn't mean 'they' want to be Western. They want to be AFRICAN. And to come in from the outside and think otherwise is not to be here for "development", but as an imperialist and/or colonialist...

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