It’s 4:40am. The dogs have quieted now just barely – they seem to have some affection for the hour of 2am – as does my body, for some reason still jet-lagged even 4 days after arriving. Scratch that, the dogs were just taking a break. An hour ago, they were joined by a car alarm that’s now drained the battery of the vehicle to which it belongs. An hour from now, perhaps sooner, this canine concert will be overshadowed by a lone voice singing to God throughout the streets of Arusha.
I’m not usually a light sleeper. And jet lag doesn’t usually so affect me.
Chalk it up to the ebb and flow of a sometimes capricious universe.
I had a bad dream too – and some seriously itchy welts on my back that we’re attributing to bedbugs. Enough with the whining. Sleepy, itchy, whatever, somehow Arusha has come to feel like home. Nyumbani. As I reflect back on the first time we arrived, wide-eyed, apprehensive and totally overwhelmed with the constant rush of never-before-seen flashes of experience and insight, now is so very different. We are no longer wageni (guests), just old rafiki (friends) – though I’m sure our Swahili has, sadly, not gotten much better.
(Prayers have begun. It’s 5am. I was right, they do drown out the dogs, though they’re trying very hard to sing along.)
My sleeplessness could be a result of the fact that my mind is filled with so many ironies and so much cognitive dissonance both when I arrive and when I leave Africa each time…how could the same world hold so much and so little all at once?
This morning, as a lie awake, I’m consumed with…
My Super Sweet 16.
I flipped on the television earlier today briefly and found out that Yasenia (sp?) of New Jersey was having her 16th birthday party. Hooray. As her gifts, she received a 7-carat diamond ring and a Mercedes S550. (I don’t even know what that car codename means, except that her father paid over $100,000 USD for the privilege.) In addition, through the miracle of MTV, she gifted the rest of the globe with a radically ostentatious display of her conspicuous consumption. When she was finished, NBA stars gave even the poorest people in the world a tour of their palatial estates, er, “Cribs”.
A month or two ago, someone Mama Lucy follows on twitter was giving a 140-character inventory of their technology possessions – all the latest toys and gadgets they’d proudly acquired. Not one to shy away from important conversations, Mama Lucy subtly & graciously engaged the person, with whom she’d interacted many times before. She tweeted (I’m paraphrasing) – “Wow. You’re truly blessed to have so much. If you don’t need all that you have, the children at my school need technologies like these for learning.” The tweeter did not respond.
I wonder how the world would change if each time we consumed, we were required to interact with those who, through no fault of their own, could not afford our luxuries. What if, when we spent $100 USD on our next meal, we had a conversation with a child who hadn’t enough to eat, or, when we proudly purchased our next iPad, we spoke directly to the factory worker who constructed the machine?
We may call these radical inequalities the “status quo”, a somehow immutable evil. We may delude ourselves into thinking that somehow we or our ancestors have earned our relative privilege. We may blame or credit “the system” from which we benefit, as if we do not in our action (or inaction) perpetuate it. I wonder.
What is enough?
This week in class, I asked students in the 5th & 6th grades to write short paragraphs on their recent field trip to NgoroNgoro Crater. I passed a clean sheet of paper to each student on which they’d write their name and 5 or 6 short sentences about their trip, depending on their grade level. At the end of class, as I collected the work from each student, sixth-grader Vicky pointed out that six sentences had only taken about 1/4 of the paper, and asked if she should use her ruler to carefully tear the “used” portion of the page from the “un-used” portion. Since she hadn’t written on 75% of the page, she knew we could use it later for another assignment.
Imagine if our children were so careful, so conscious. Vicky is no Yasenia – and yet, our culture, and its exports, may sadly imply she should aspire to become her.
It’s not what you know…
While we’re here, we’re hoping to open the school’s first library and move the technology lab from its current classroom (which will be used to house their first seventh grade class next year) into the same space to create a library & technology learning center. To give Mama Lucy a few ideas on finishing touches, yesterday we visited three other local schools to see their libraries and computer labs. The schools we visited were founded nearly the same time as Mama Lucy’s, and had nearly the same number of students.
One, founded by an Australian, was funded by millions of dollars from abroad. Millions. Admittedly, the facilities are gorgeous – surpassing even most US schools I’ve visited. I’d wager, though, that Mama Lucy has spent less than 10% of that budget, perhaps less than even 5%, to build her school. Mama Lucy’s students have also outperformed students from this comparatively extravagant campus for both of the past two years in which they’ve participated on national exams.
As Mama Lucy, Sanjay and I talked about our visit on the way home, we reflected on the differences between her school and it’s comparatively extravagant counterpart. We wondered whether Vicky’s conscious regard for resources would be found there, whether that proud aspect of her culture would be maintained.
We also discussed changemakers we’ve met from across the globe. Indigenous changemakers from emerging economies are often incredibly resourceful, scrupulously efficient, and able to create remarkable outcomes on a shoestring budget. They also tend to be able to negotiate the best prices for local goods and services; here in Tanzania, when I’ve mistakenly tagged along to request estimates for construction or materials, we’ve been quoted a mzungu (foreigner) price that may be 10 times the going rate for a local.
Yet it is vastly simpler for Western changemakers to attract resources to their projects than for an African or Nepali, for example, to forge the relationships required to attract investment from abroad.
I wonder if Vicky or Yasenia, if they set their mind to change the world, would sooner find funding for their endeavors. Would we laud Yasenia for her generous heart and lavish even more resources upon her if she set about changing the world in her own image? Would we be impressed by her audacity when she sought to raise $10M for her project? Would Vicky even be heard? Would her relatively meager request for $100K be brushed aside, dismissed as small potatoes in comparison?
So many questions dancing right now. I fear I’ll have to sleep to hush them. If sleep would ever come.
Of course, my more common path to quiet these incessant internal inquiries is to keep so busy that I won’t go absolutely mad in my attempts to resolve unanswerable questions.
While I wait for sleep to return, I’ll text friends to set up email, twitter & tumblr accounts for 20 fifth graders, and type up the short essays they wrote…
I wonder if I do these things as distraction or progress.
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