Loretta nibbles crumpets and tea while I scarf down a tomato and cheese toastie at Bergville’s only restaurant, the appropriately called Bergville Inn. Here, we part ways after almost a week together, me hitching a ride to the hostel up the road, she barreling home to ‘Maritzburg.
During the five hour jaunt from Pongola to Bergville–counting a breakfast stop at, you guessed it, Wimpy’s–Loretta and I continue making the world again, but this time, we focus on South Africa.
Everything I hear, the vibe, the troubles, the forecasts, suggests that this region of the world needs to hit a rock bottom of sorts before propelling itself into forward momentum under its own gumption. Between Zuma’s flagrant abuse of public funds to affirmative action now resulting in meaningless accreditation–as in, someone might hold a PhD but literally not know how to write–to the cultural differences between South Africa’s blacks, whites, and Indians, to some of the Daktari staff simply never completing a chore 100% and therefore requiring that someone else pass behind to pick up the metaphorical crumbs, a question arises in my brain–
What is the relationship between colonial legacy and local, indigenous culture?
Are some populations inherently more (fill in the blank with your choice adjective) than others, and therefore, when disadvantaged historically, will either spring forward for fall back? Why are Asia and Africa in such different places today in regards to their economic development? Or, for the sake of not using economic development as an indicator of the progress–such an ambiguous, culturally-specific, and truth be told, pejorative term–health? Female equality? Access to water? Hunger? Education?
When I came here last, I bristled when people spoke of Africa–or, any disadvantaged persons–as lazy. Don’t you understand, I’d think, that we as Europeans robbed and continue to rob them of their material resources, going so far as to enslave an entire continent, shipping them across the seas like lowly cattle?
We are talking about massive structural, historical, psychological inequality, here.
But, we are also talking about cultural differences.
Here, I start to notice a quality, a characteristic, that smells of doom from the start–an air of entitlement. Because, with entitlement come feelings of being owed something, of getting phantom rewards based on imaginary constructs. I see it here, in France, and in friends and acquaintances who’ve been spoiled from the day they were born–not necessarily materialistically, either, convinced that just because they have a certain name, position, whatever, society owes them recognition, money, power, prestige, things, ease; I feel it breeds apathy, anger, and lethargy.
How do you wrap your head around the injustices and suffering, so much of it structural and multi-directional, and contribute? Is that the fallacy–the idea of contribution–and that instead, the folly of man really is the misguided notion that there’s much to do about nothing, and that, on the contrary, we are terrible at learning another’s lesson and must, literally, put our noses in the proverbial poo poo?
I do think education is a big part of the equation, whether that means helping illiterate populations read or informing prestigious countries about their role in perpetuating cycles of distress for others–after all, I hope we all know that the reason we can refill our closets every season with the latest and greatest is because someone, somewhere works in a dark, dank factory for next to nothing to churn out Ralph Lauren’s–but it’s not everything.
But, why, oh why, is it that today, we see places that not too long ago, were equally in the trenches, but today, several are global leaders while others aren’t much beyond the battle lines?
Are we so used to talking about these problems in terms of colonial history, geography, minerals, people, culture, etc., that we can’t quite imagine a new frame of conversation, where, with a shift of thinking, we might just better understand the glaring discrepancies between the global haves and the global have-nots?
Discourse on development speaks about empowerment as a means for lifting disadvantaged communities up, letting the communities figure out solutions relevant to them and their needs instead of external forces imposing their imagined fixes on them, likely off-kilter and out-of-touch with the on-the-ground reality of said group. We personally know this, too, that if it doesn’t come from us, it doesn’t get done, maintained, supported, followed through, confronted, and so on.
But, to quote Loretta, how do you empower when you see villages of women and children struggling to survive while the menfolk work away in the cities, and, unfortunately, often end up taking city families?
Maybe, just maybe, we all do simply live in completely different worlds, separated by gulfs of cultural differences, and that trying to bridge the gap means trying to force a round peg in a square hole.
People here function in different temporal plane, meaning that their future consists of this afternoon and tomorrow, so planning for a thousand tomorrows overwhelms when making it to one tomorrow is victory enough. In Asia, I notice people operating under a different spatial plane, orienting themselves around cities and locations in ways completely foreign to me, grouping together a constellation of places and buildings relationally, which, to my anachronistic grid-logic makes no sense.
And, until this particular trip, I was under the false presumption that all indigenous peoples the world over valued conservation and an interconnection with nature like so many of the Native American tribes I am more familiar with, seeing themselves as part of a whole, respectful to take only what they need and not more. I see elements of that philosophy echoed elsewhere, namely Buddhism, Shintoism, Taoism, but here, I see quite the opposite, an attitude also mirrored in Christian thought, which is, the dominion over nature, meaning that nature exists for man’s pleasure and can therefore be exploited at man’s whim. So, my hypothesis is incorrect–living close to the land does not necessarily result in greater appreciation for its bounty.
Back to the world’s injustices–I am not suggesting disassociation or disinterest. On the contrary, I think we are a global village and thusly all concerned. I simply think that our conceptual world views are starting to appear to me as so vastly different that privileging only one organizing principle or system to turn the world round is contradictory and misguided, for it forces conformity where we need diversity, resulting in poorly fitting policies and executions of said system. No one agrees on the rules of engagement really; that certain values or rights are unalienable.
To play devil’s advocate, it’s a man eat man type of world, and maybe that’s a reality I am simply uncomfortable with, for I much prefer visions of the Earth Goddess singing kumbaya and holding up a peace sign.