between first and third: conflicting world desires

(photo: Global Worship Center Vosloorus, South Africa – home to the black elites and british neo-missionary colonizers)

This is a topic that I have been thinking about for a very long time in relation to my development studies. While in South Africa this became extremely evident as I sought a more simplified life closer to people and many of the people I encountered sought a life that could be had in the country I had just left. What follows will be based on the noted and bullet points that I made on 2 June 2008.

First’s desire to return to simplicity:
– be unburdened by technology, communication, and fast-paced life
– experience difference that is removed
– leave 1st behind/ out of mind for some time (vacation)
– something missing from 1st –> true community, self-discovery

Third’s desire to gain complication?
– technology, materials, cars, Ipod
– false ideas of US –> “nigger,” media, hip hop, gangsterism
– leave 3rd behind in pursuit of new opportunity/ life (forget past)
– something missing (adequate schools, health, family, country)

13 October 2008 Reflections

Those to travel to ‘developing’ countries, who experience poverty, and who realize that there is a better way seek to simplify their lives, this is the goal of a conscious ‘first’ worlder. I sought to be unburdened by technology and communication and the fast-paced life. In the ‘third’ world I have experienced a difference that is all but removed from the ‘first’ – or rather attempts are made to hide the difference: poverty, lack of, etc. I wanted to leave the ‘first’ behind, put it out of mind for a time. In the ‘first’ I always feel as if something is missing; true sense of community is gone and what else. In the ‘first’ it is so easy to be wrapped up in society and systems and just the way things are, that opportunity for self-discovery is negated.

So if the goal of the ‘first’ is to achieve simplicity. Is it the goal of the ‘third’ to gain complication? This is a long running debate within the development field among other fields of study. The ‘third’ seeks technology, cars, MP3 players, and the material things that I tend to leave behind. The ‘third’ holds false ideas of the ‘first’ (and vice versa), but the ‘third’ does not have the opportunity as the ‘first’ does to engage in world discovery. Many people in the ‘third’ world want to leave it all behind in pursuit of new opportunity offered by the ‘first.’ There is also something that is missing in the ‘third,’ but that tends to come at a higher cost, it is much more than self-actualization and discovery. What is lacking is health care systems, schools, infrastructure, family structure (orphans of disease and war), and adequate living necessities.

The conflicting world desires between the ‘first’ and the ‘third’ leave a hole unfilled. Many argue that through development world desires are made to conform as everyone seeks a life of happiness and wealth through materials.

3 June 2008
Sunday we went to church with Thuli, a friend of Celumusa’s, who she met at the Library. Thuli is a wealthy South African, went to University and her husband works for the UN or the government or something. We were to meet some good people to help the center at her church and a social worker.

We entered an incredibly live [musical] arrangement with a very vibrant choir. The Global Worship Center; the first thing I noticed was that everyone had a BMW, Mercedes, new Toyota, etc. This was the secluded enclave of wealthy South Africans; the nu-riche of South Africa. The pastor and founder was there this Sunday “out of his busy schedule” and he said, “I like to show-off at church!” Church is where you must show-off. It seems he founded this wealthy enterprise on his own love of music and dance (and fame). We learned at the invitation only lunch with him afterwards that he studied Chemistry at USC in the US – why start a church in South Africa after that? His sermon was taking Bible passages out of context and applying them to owning a credit card now. He spoke of the poor using credit cards, denouncing materials and working for others in his own new suit, probably a fancy car out back, he has a second home in Pretoria, a daughter studying at UNISA and just loves the US.

We had met the black African elites of South Africa. Very educated, knowledgable – debates on politics and world oil in the economy – and very taken aback that we lived and worked in Zonke – “Oooo, what an experience, huh?” Was this the real South Africa? At any rate the church is a great place to make connections in-country. The social worker, Christine, is a great NGO asset, even if the church promotes hypocrisy – nothing new. They even had their own bottled water and were indoctrinating their children to be “soldiers for christ.”

On Monday we planned the drama. Headed to the Library where internet happened to work very well and found a great assortment of books. The Library here is full of books on important people and events in South African history and social justice. The Librarian tried to get me a girl friend, but he failed – mostly because he was a shady character. Later we ran drama/ acting exercises with the students which was great fun.

Today we headed back to Germiston – again – to take care of some business. I was able to blog, SCOUT BANANA is growing and staff is working well during summer. We went to a stationary store that had a white (British?) shopkeeper and almost all white management staff. He treated Celumusa as our “girl” instead of the Executive Director of an NPO that she was. We will be working on coaching her so that she has the confidence to command the room from her past days as a domestic worker. Mostly a successful trip – field day tomorrow.

Today was also Pension Day, when the government gives out all the checks for the elderly, children, orphans, and the disabled. It is like a massive market day all over the country and it is very difficult to get around in Germiston or Zonke. In Zonke the main street is filled with street vendors with everything and anything to sell.

There are municipal strikes happening because the Mayor was caught by his wife with another woman. He used government money to cover the cost of the lawsuit, etc.

Yet another rainstorm complete with thunder and lightning today. “It never rains in Zonke,” said Rachel (retracted statement) The rains are nice though and remind me of Michigan summer weather.

4 June 2008
I very much desire and long for the style of community and human interaction of many African countries, which is greatly missing in the US – there is a cold, calculated contempt for all others born on the beauty of self-advancement and a wanton individualism. [bred by a false exceptionalism] It is too often forgotten that you can never get anywhere alone and through working with and for others that you gain greater meaning and association in life.

The best example of this dream community I have found mirrored in African history and my own personal experiences. You always greet everyone on the street, neighbors are extremely well known that property lines really don’t matter, most everyone knows everyone in the community and help each other when needed – but the plagues of modernity and globalization threaten to tear that apart. Crime, materialism, drugs, self-advancement, personal over community – but who am I to speak against the oldest running practice in the world, globalization can be good. Who am I to say that desires for modern life, convenience and technology are not good?

The gap between the “1st” and “3rd” world desires hinge on privilege. I seek a simplified life, a sense of community, an absence of technological wonder, for a human face, to leave America behind for some self-discovery. At the same time I see the African communities I visit caught up in popular culture, music, media, movies, slang, technology, and wealth – do they just not see or know the complications this all brings?

I often dream of denouncing the system, backpacking my days on the generosity of others, and not worrying about the ills of structure. So privileged that I can even think of this, I know the communities I visit have no ability to even fathom this dream – burn my money, take almost nothing, and live in the natural world – seeking seclusion in a shrinking world. And as I have stated before, my travels to African communities are short lived and I can easily pick up and leave, whereas the people here have no choice and no privilege to do anything of the sort.

Yet this still does not deter me from continuing this dream quest of seclusion from society structure that shames me to meet real people and experience the world without the weight of America or anything its ‘culture’ brings. But is that something that can really be avoided? Am I not just running from my own rendezvous with my own ‘harsh’ reality? Is it so despised as to run from it?

changing human behaviors: sexual and social

Review of AIDS in Africa: a perspective on the epidemic
by: Michael C. Latham

Africa is a continent wrought with many pressing issues, these issues are often not natural or specific to the continent, but they have been forced and applied to the people and so become a burden of near epic proportions. One of these pressing issues is the epidemic of HIV/AIDS. Responses to HIV/AIDS are based in human behaviors, both sexual and social.

Michael Latham noted that many accounts, “may suggest that the virus originated in Africa, and therefore it is Africans who are blamed for this human scourge.” (39) However, as many know, HIV/AIDS is not solely an African problem, uncontrolled and spreading like wildfire. These accounts springboard off of old myths of a ‘dark continent’ into new myths of dirt, death, and disease. This new myth is of a continent ravaged by disease inside and out, you can’t run from all the disease in Africa. It is also important to note that there is still no solid proof or knowledge of the origin of HIV/AIDS.

If the world is to blame Africa for HIV/AIDS, then Latham writes,

[…] but does it matter that syphilis was probably spread to the rest of the world from cases brought back to Europe from the Americas, to that cholera originated in the Ganga Delta of India and eventually reached East Africa from the middle east only in the mid twentieth century. Should Africans flagellate North Americans and Asians for spreading highly infectious diseases to Africa? (39)

Here we are at the historical spread of diseases and also, more notably, the social implications of associating one area or group of people with a disease. The social implications of chalking AIDS up to African causes becomes especially problematic in the medical community. Latham writes about when one potentially useful drug in the treatment of AIDS [HIV] waa described by the Kenya Medical Research Institute in 1990, it was largely ignored by the world press and […] the west.” (40) This proves a strong disdain and indifferent to Africa as well as a lack of respect for African doctors.

A key feature of HIV/AIDS is that it places all segments of society at risk: mother and father, child and grandparent, youth and elderly. Latham decries the lack of adequately funded research on HIV/AIDS in Africa, or anywhere (42).

We should have African anthropologists and sociologists in the bars and on the truck routes, in the urban slums and rural villages, gathering data on human behaviours, including sexual behavior, that may influence the spread of the disease. We need local epidemiological sleuths conducting the kinds of studies which led us to understand how cholera was spread and how pellagra could be controlled. (42)

Comprehensive understandings of HIV/AIDS and sexual behaviors in Africa will only be more helpful, but the social behaviors of the West and its institutions create a serious roadblock. The Kenyan discovery of Kemron was shown to reduce the effects of full-blown AIDS, but the announcement by the Kenyan president didn’t even make headlines. If a Western doctor had made the discovery the coverage would have been entirely different (46).

Another well-known fact about HIV/AIDS is that it is highly preventable. The only thing that needs to be changed or taught is human behavior: both sexual and social. There needs to be adequate health education for female members of a community. Female members also need more control in those communities, socially and sexually. Very often there is a strong gendered focus on women, but men also need serious engagement and education if their mindsets are going to change about women.

HIV/AIDS is an illness that requires changes in human behaviors: socially and sexually. There needs to be more comprehensive education on sexual prevention as well as a shift in the minds of Western organizations and institutions. There cannot only be a call for changed sexual behaviors in Africa, there must also be a concurrent change in the social behaviors of the West.

are the MDGs credible?

The ‘bright idea’ of the West very often comes under scrutiny from the rest of the world. In Tanzania the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are seen as the ‘hidden agenda’ of the West that is impossible for African countries to achieve. Many see South Africa’s ability to achieve the MDGs as an obvious reference to the Western powers’ foreign policy towards ‘developing states.’ Is it because South Africa is most Western and developed that it has achieved so much?

The MDGs can certainly be seen as worrisome, however I would not go so far to state that they are a tool for Western powers to control African countries or ‘underdeveloped’ countries. The ‘developed’ and Western powers do hold the power in the UN, but I know a good number of people who work for the UN and are dedicated to reducing poverty and providing access to the necessities that all people need to survive. I am not a proponent of big plans, such as the MDGs. As I have come to understand and know by way of William Easterly – big plans do not work, big plans do not succeed and there is a large cynical backlash when the big plans fail.

Many professionals say that the MDGs are unachieveable by African countries but the institutions say otherwise and claims that African countries are actually achieveing the goals. The UN newsletter on Africa, African Renewal, has facts and figures from the 2005 MDG report that outline how Africa is doing at achieveing the MDGs. Many of the goals are very far off track from the actual goal, but in the area of access to a clean water source and primary school education there is improvement.

Since the 1960s numerous, ambitious development goals have been set for the world to achieve. Every time that goals are set their deadlines for achievement are passed and new goals are drafted. Most recently we reached the new millennium and the most ambitious goals were set.

They are the most broadly supported, comprehensive, and specific reduction objectives the world has ever established. (UN Millennium Project)

The deadline is fast approaching and achievement is far off for many ‘developing’ countries. The first ‘decades of development’ (1960, 1970, 1980, 1990) focused on economic growth. Beginning in the 1990s, development started to focus on the need to create “macroeconomic stability, strong institutions and governance, enforce the rule of law, control corruption, and provide greater social justice.” From those aspects, the new MDGs reflected the emerging role of human rights in the international community, focusing on the economic, social and cultural rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (rights to food, education, health care, and decent standard of living). Throughout the ‘decades of development,’ conferences upon conferences, meetings and more meetings were held to build the best plan for development in our world. Yet as this happened goals failed, new goals were created, and millions lost their lives. This is where I will end with a very important quote:

“Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.” – John Kenneth Galbraith