Friday, May 7, 2010

You and Me, Man

So, I sit around and I write things on Facebook and on this web log about loving the crisp white sheets and the pretty soaps and the little shampoo packets in my hotel room, while I’m south in Lubumbashi for these five days. And while I write these things in one internet window, the other internet window is opened to this , and I read it, giggling hysterically– it’s brilliant, no question. And Nathan – oh Nathan. You and me, man. “Unpaid” workers. (Can we take comfort in the fact that, while our monthly stipends are less than our fellow ex-pat colleagues’ weekly per diem, they are also higher than our national colleagues’ salaries?)

But then I think – No! That isn’t me! – Dr. Alden Kurtz and Nathan are traveling to meet with quote-unquote African Experts who hail from Connecticut and Geneva. I’m here in Lubumbashi to listen and question and attempt to comprehend the technical language of our big boss in the health program, and he is a NATIONAL staff. He’s Congolese. My only job is to understand what he desires as best I can and transcribe it comprehensibly for our donors, because he is too busy running programs to write proposals. And because he’s Congolese, that makes all the difference, right, between me and the good Dr. Kurtz?

Why should it? Seriously, isn’t that weird? I have to say, it’s also something that I thought was weird in the OnemillionteeshirtGate phone conference. Amidst all the experts with their various credentials, there were two other people on the line. And they were THE AFRICANS on the line. I missed the opening of the phone call, so maybe I missed their further qualifications, but what I heard is that they were THE AFRICANS. The voice of the continent. But I mean, hell – I’m damn sure not an expert on North America despite having been born and raised there. (Canada? Mexico? California? Texas? Huh?)

In my opinion, both those persons (one woman, one man, one from Ethiopia and one from Kenya, if I remember correctly) offered unique and pertinent contributions to the OnemillionteeshirtGate conversation. But isn’t that because they are both individually intelligent and knowledgeable? And not an indication that their voices match the voices of the populations of 54 counties? That’s 1,000,010,000 people, according to Wikipedia.

Likewise, my Congolese colleague I’m meeting with here is also very qualified and smart, and when I meet with him, you can bet that I will sit back quietly and humbly and try to soak up his knowledge, asking question after question to clarify his point of view in my mind. But isn’t that based on his own personal merits, and not solely, not mainly, his nationality?

So? Are he and I both Dr. Kurtz and Nathan, in our respective hotel rooms with the paintings of rural England waterfalls on the walls? Or are he and I both just trying, with our Good Intentions (not enough) and our individual skills, to map out movements to combat these horrific mortality rates in Haute Katanga, meanwhile enjoying complimentary breakfast brunches with little packets of mixed berry jelly for our toast? I don’t know.

It reminds me of another debate I had with a colleague last week. H said he thought that, in an instance like Ugandan’s anti-homosexuality law, the “international community” should just keep silent, keep out, and if they didn’t like it, they should just leave. But wait, I said – Wasn’t it members of the international community who prodded that ridiculous and cruel law into naissance in the first place? Aren’t we all responsible for each other, by virtue of the fact that we all are trapped here together on this little mysterious rock hurtling through space, enjoying the same blink of consciousness before we disappear? Me for you and you for me. We’re in it, hopelessly entwined, forever together. I breathe in the air that you breathe out.

What would I think if a coalition of people from Zambia moved into my hometown and began dictating MY healthcare system? Honestly, I’m sure I’d be pretty put off at first, because they and I would have trouble with intercultural communication and they would make weird, offensive mistakes and probably do quite a bit of harm along with some good. But in the end – hell, I lived for a few years in the States without insurance. It’s terrifying. In the end, I probably would have been confused, sad, angry, but also RELIEVED if random Zambians had moved into fancy houses next door and fought to give me access to doctors, where my own country was failing me.

That’s just me, though. I mean it. That’s just me. I can't speak for anyone else.


PAH said...

Very well put, and Agreed!

Rachel said...

Thank you so much for reading and commenting!!! :o)