East Africans are so “out of touch”

Tanzania 1907. Is this your view of Africa?

Tanzania 1907. Is this your view of Africa?

On a recent flight I overheard a gentleman seated behind me talking about some volunteer work he did in Kenya.  His church sponsors work to build wells in rural locations.  This is a worthy project and one I'm passionate about myself, with most deaths in the developing world a result of poor water sources. But then I heard him add an interesting commentary.  "You just can't believe how out of touch these people are."  He commented.  "I asked the kids once if they knew who Justin Beiber was and none of them had ever heard of him." I will be one of the first to admit that East Africa could benefit from much the developing world has to offer such as modern medicine, water filtration and a number of other advances.  But Justin Beiber?  Really? Here's a crazy idea.  Maybe the people of East Africa are actually better off precisely because they don't know who Justin Beiber is.  One of the things Tanzania is famous for is their cultural focus on family.  In Tanzania, everyone is family.   On every one of my trips there it felt more like going home than going to my real home.  There is a sense of community, a focus on people and an emphasis on living in the moment. Americans and other citizens of the developed world are spending billions of dollars looking for ways to reduce stress, find a simpler life and build better relationships.  The people of Tanzania already have this.  Would you trade that just to know who Justin Beiber is? I took an important lesson away from my time in Tanzania.  When I arrived the first time I was arrogant; assuming I knew more because I was more affluent and lived in a more developed world.  But as I trekked up the slopes of Kilimanjaro I learned that these "poor" people still have a lot to teach, and this "successful" man still had a lot to learn. Yes, East Africa has a long way to go.  But then, so do we.  Maybe we have something to teach each other.  Maybe the focus of our NGOs in Africa isn't just to impart our own wisdom, but to learn a thing or two while we're there as well. I know I did.
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  1. September 13, 2013 | Permalink

    Very well said. I just wrote a blog post about charity in Africa, after having lived there (and sadly had to move back) and after just finishing Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if it is not Africans who end up teaching us more than we do them.
    And yes, everyone would be better off not knowing who Justin Bieber is. My biggest regret about moving back to the US from Africa is no longer being among people who are connected to the basics of life, if that makes sense, even if that means they have to struggle for survival. So many people here have such silly worries and seem to be unhappier.

  2. June 29, 2013 | Permalink

    This is so true – and such a good reminder! Thank you for sharing this.

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