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Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela as a Facebook Headshot. Memories of Africa. Our Next Step.

When I was young and stupid I was a leftist and I attended rallies.

At one a middle aged white man, paunchy and ginger-haired, stood on a stage. We, the thronged masses below, followed him in a singsong chant: "Free Nelson Mandela."

Just three words but for us they were part of a bigger package: Mandela was the heroic black man fighting against all the evil that Western, Christian, capitalist white men had spread in the world. When the white man was finally shunted aside, and the values of women and people of color dominated, the world would be Utopia, Nirvana, the worker's paradise.

I believed in stuff like this so unquestioningly that my first job after graduation was teaching in a remote village in a remote African country.

I almost never talk about my time in Africa. What I saw there was so awful, and so contrary to what anyone wants to hear. What I want to say is practically illegal.

The media hoopla over Mandela's death prompts these few words.

Within days of my arrival in Africa, reality twisted my soft, young, leftist brain around like a corkscrew. I discovered the following things, listed below, quite rapidly. I didn't realize it at the time, but each of these realizations was a step away from being a leftist, toward being someone who would, one day, vote Republican. The child of two politically active registered Democrats, the niece of a beloved uncle who was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party, I really, really, really, did not imagine any future where I would someday vote Republican.

Shortly after getting off the plane I found out that:

1.) Black Africans have black African slaves. So much for the whole "The white man is the problem" approach.

2.) The white man – French colonizers – left, but Arabs, or Arabized Africans, stayed, and they were still taking slaves, dominating economies, and exuding contempt.

3.) Africans hate each other more than they hate us. One day, without warning or apparent motivation, members of one tribe in my village rose up and started torturing members of another tribe. To outsiders, these two different tribes looked identical in every respect. French troops in tanks had to arrive amidst the mud huts and straw roofs to break things up.

The tension between Christian-Animist-Black-Bantu Africans and Muslim-Arabized Africans was so intense it was genuinely terrifying. It was clearly only a matter of time till they started killing each other. (They are killing each other now.)

4.) Americans treat their dogs better than many African men treat women. I once saw an African woman walking down the street with her family. She was balancing a moped – a small, motorized bicycle – on her head. She had luggage in one hand and a child in the other. She was pregnant. Her man walked beside her, unencumbered in any way.

5.) Buildings I entered, even in remote areas, including buildings that would have been planned for and used by Africans, not by French colonizers, had electric light switches and water taps. These light switches were not attached to lamps at one end nor electrical generators at the other. No water flowed from these taps.

There was no electricity or running water beyond a few streets of the capital city. Duh. In the past, people had electricity here. People had running water here. Now they do not. Some things about the bad old days of colonialism were better. Some things about the good new days of self-rule are worse. Duh.

6.) If I touched the water, I risked schistosomiasis. Schistosomes are parasites that feed on human blood in the liver, kidneys, urethra and bladder. Schistosomiasis is so common in some parts of Africa that young boys urinate blood around the same time that girls begin menstruation. It's considered a rite of passage.

If I were anywhere near a river I might be blinded by worms that crawl across the eyeball. If I breathed, I risked incurable TB. If I had sex, I risked AIDS. If I went for a walk, I risked being eaten by lions, or bitten by a viper, adder, mamba, or asp. Although it is the hippos in the river that are the deadliest of all. If I stayed home, a mosquito bite might transmit malaria and kill me, or I might get rabies from the thousands of bats that live in the rafter of the house, or the rats that live in the foundation.

Wow. Wow. So Africa is in trouble not just because of the evil white man. Africa is in trouble because much of Africa is a hot zone, a Petrie dish, a really challenging place for human life, it always has been, and it always will be until we make big, big strides in medicine and technology. Wow.

7.) My bosses, my Peace Corps superiors, are all completely clueless, leftie hippie flakes. They are all angry at daddy, maybe not their own daddy, but their friend's daddy, the one who made more money than their daddy at the law firm, and their Peace Corps careers are guided, not by what works, but by left wing ideology.

My bosses are in competition with each other to express the appropriate amount of contempt for whitie, for the rich daddy who angered them in their childhoods, when that's not what Africa needs. Speaking basic truths about Africa is taboo, because these truths violate left ideology. We Peace Corps Volunteers travel in our own bubble, a mini gulag of mind control.

We couldn't say that anything any African did was wrong. We couldn't say that anything any colonizer did was right. We couldn't say that until women's status was elevated and inter-tribal hatreds were done away with, nothing could work in Africa. We couldn't admit that the hated Christian missionaries, who came, learned the language, stayed, and built institutions to last, did more than Peace Corps was doing. We just constantly had to blame the white man and capitalism.

This last feature was in overdrive during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, said to be the world's fastest. Westerners fell over each other to blame long departed Belgian colonizers for Hutu machete-ing Tutsis to death. Bullshit. The Belgians did not cause that genocide. Human nature did. Human nature squeezed through the potent force of inter-tribal hatreds, very much alive in Africa.

The African country I was in was so dangerous there was no American ambassador. Even the Marines had left. Me and my fellow volunteers were constantly under assault. One of my fellow vols was raped. At least one. One lost it and had to be psycho-vacced – evacuated by force for psychiatric reasons. A handful were kidnapped at gunpoint and held for ransom. Armed men tried to kidnap me but I fought them off. One vol was stabbed. Six French volunteers were killed in a bombing at a theater I used to attend.

I flew directly to Washington, DC. I met with the Peace Corps officer in charge of the African nation where I served. I presented him with a lengthy report on all of these dangers. I presented him with page after page of evidence that Peace Corps was accomplishing nothing positive. I presented him with frank, politically incorrect suggestions from real volunteers in the field.

He spoke words to me I have etched inside my brain. "Within twenty years, we are going to have every man, woman and child in that country living like an American."

Yes, he was an idiot. More than twenty years have come and gone, and CAR is now descending into what some are calling a genocide between Muslims and Christians, something I saw coming decades ago.

Pygmies are victimized in ways too horrible to name. Let's name one way: they have been victims of cannibalism by their fellow Africans. If you've got a strong stomach, you can read about that here.

***

When Nelson Mandela fell ill, I dreaded his imminent death. I dreaded it because I knew we'd soon be awash in a tsunami of piety.

Mandela was a great, inspirational man, and he fought against a real evil: apartheid. So far so good.

What I knew would bug me would be that the tsunami would celebrate the wrong Mandela.

I knew there would be a temptation to interpret Mandela as the celebrity cover boy for "white man bad / black man good / self-rule is the solution / self-rule happy ending."

South Africa has self-rule. There is no happy ending.

South Africa has been called the world capital of rape. Men rape infants to cure themselves of AIDS.

Self-rule is even worse in Zimbabwe. Who is worse, Robert Mugabe or British colonizers? Human rights are violated all over Africa in ways that are hard even to think about. Sierra Leone's No Living Thing campaign involved mutilating children.

The country I lived in, Central African Republic, is now a site of what some are calling genocide.

I don't know anyone who pays any attention to any of this. I don't know anyone who pays any attention to any of this. I am not using cut and paste here. I am typing these words over and over because they drive me nuts. I don't know anyone who pays any attention to any of this.

It will be wall to wall Mandela for days in the media. Who is paying any attention to genocide in the Central African Republic?

I knew that as part of the tsunami of piety devoted to Mandela's passing, many of my Facebook friends would use Nelson Mandela's photo as their Facebook photo. That's happened.

I honor that. He was a hero. I see where they are coming from.

But what does that photo mean to them?

If it means, let's care about the poorest of the poor, let's care about Africa, let's do what's necessary to help Africa, then can we please, after we retire headshot, celebrity Mandela as our Facebook photo for the day, can we please post a photo of the very unfamous victims of the killings in CAR? Can we talk frankly about what Africa needs? Like less Politically Correct ideology, and more roads, industry, jobs, schools, and status for women?

One can dream.

It's harder to chant "More and better infrastructure, frank conversations about root causes of poverty, and education for women and girls!" than it is to chant "Free Nelson Mandela" but the former is what Africa needs.




12 comments:

  1. Very stirring.
    The BBC reported today "hundreds dead in CAR in two days of fighting"
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-25273681

    I don't see it getting any better. I recently read a book on China's interest in Africa. Political, natural resources, labor, dumping ground. I think it goes from bad to worse in my view. I don't see who or how it ever gets settled.

    While it was tough to go through it's gratifying that experience can help others undefstand what it's really like there.

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    1. Otto, thank you for reading, commenting, and for caring.

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  2. This blog post is a devastating demolition of leftist hogwash regarding Africa.

    Wow.

    I admire your willingness to talk about "what Africa needs." I think I'm starting to understand why you don't teach college full time.

    I've heard rumors about the Peace Corps' ineptitude, and the people I knew in college who joined, or planned to join, were of a type--know-it-all naifs whom I wouldn't trust to change a light bulb in my apartment. How I used to admire these people!

    I wonder, too, if one of the reasons for the Peace Corps' dismal record is the nonage of its rank and file participants. It's criminal to send 21-year-olds to countries in which they will be of little use and in much danger, is it not? And since so many of the volunteers go there to teach, let me ask you this: What does your average 21-year-old have to teach? Am I being unfair? It does, after all, take guts to live in a country like the CAR.

    As far as I know, there are no Peace Corps volunteers in the Occupied Territories, the reason being that Palestine is not poor enough. I have, however, met not a few volunteers from other shady organizations, e.g., the International Solidarity Movement. Self-righteous, ignorant naifs constitute a high percentage of the participants, many of whom receive a rude awakening the first time a man or boy gropes them in public; the first time they see "militants" use children as human shields; the first time they realize that, in the eyes of many, unaccompanied girl or woman = slut to be taken advantage of, etc.

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    1. Liron I am grateful more than you can imagine that you read and comment here.

      For the most part I am content knowing I have few readers. With this blog post, I wanted to hand it out in tract form. I got only one facebook friend to read it.

      I think you, Liron, understood it best.

      Me? Just call me the Ancient Mariner.

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    2. BTW, Liron, I was in Peace Corps twice, once in Africa, once in Asia.

      Complete regret.

      I think Peace Corps is a disgrace and should be abolished. I know exactly how they sell themselves and I can tell you all the photos of shiny Americans standing next to mud huts are hogwash.

      Know it all naifs. Yes.

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  3. I agree with you so much. Thank you for bravely speaking the truth so eloquently, Danusha.

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  4. Well said, Ancient Mariner.

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  5. I came here from your post on The Anchoress. Thank you for writing this. How often we talk about things we know nothing about, and do things that won't accomplish anything, and ignore (or know nothing about) those who truly suffer. -- Gail Finke

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  6. Well done...also linked to this blog through The Anchoress. I was in CAR the summer of 1983. I loved the country...didn't see what you did, but I was in a very protected mission environment. I'm grateful you care enough about Africa to write this. It should be emblazoned across every link to African News for a week. Having spent time in Zambia before Mugabe went nuts...then after...I have buried many of these very same thoughts. Well done.

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