I spent today just wandering through my house looking at all my stuff. There’s my closet, which has clothes spilling out everywhere in spite of the fact that it’s huge, and our bookshelves, which are so full that if they tipped over on you you’d probably drown in books. Then there’s the fridge, which has so much food in it that goes bad before we get a chance to eat it.
We have three tvs and three bathrooms and probably twenty towels and eight sets of sheets and fifteen place settings and this mountain of canned goods and who even knows how much food is in the deep freeze. And the most ridiculous part is that only two people live in our house.
In Kenya I met a family of eight who live in one room the size of my bedroom. They have two pictures on the walls and a few possessions in an old rickety china cabinet and a couple chairs and a small lumpy sofa. Even though primary school is free in Kenya, their youngest children can’t go because they can’t afford books or school supplies.
Every single day since I got back I’ve spent every other moment wondering what that family would think of my house, overflowing with all of this stuff. What would they think of the head of lettuce I threw out today because I forgot that I was planning to make a salad this weekend and it went bad? What would they think of the t shirt that I threw out because it had a button sized hole in the hem? What would they think of the fact that I spent more money on a tube of mascara today than they do feeding their family for a week?
Before I went to Africa I thought that the goal of aid and development was so that everyone in the world can be able to live like we do here in Canada. When I got back I realized that I had it all wrong. The way we live here doesn’t make any sense. It’s wasteful and excessive and it doesn’t make us happy.
I think we first world people think we’re going into the developing world with the right intentions. We really do want to help. We feel guilty for having all that we have and we want them to be able to have it too. What we don’t realize is that this way of thinking is just another permutation of the same white-man’s-burden attitude that Europeans had during colonial times. The truth is that even if we managed to do the impossible and turn every African country into another Canada, with overflowing refrigerators in big suburban houses, we wouldn’t be making the world a better place.
We need to help fix the poverty in Africa, yes. It’s terrible and heartbreaking and it is our fault for colonizing and conquering and enslaving the African people in the first place. However, never make the mistake of thinking that Africans want to be just like us.