Oh wow, here we go again.

africa-713336_1920I am extremely AFRICAN…and yes I am not poor or malnourished and I can speak about three other foreign languages. No, I wasn’t forced into an early marriage, I married out of love and yes, that college degree is as real as the architecture on Donatella’s face. My vagina is perfectly in place, nobody ever tried to mutilate me thank you very much for asking. I don’t have ‘THE HIV’ hahahaha….’the HIV’…this one always gets to me, yaba.

And I think I know just where to place that verb and subject in a sentence without stuttering along the way. Oh yeah, my sister is dating a man with surprisingly lower levels of melanin on his skin than us but it’s not for reasons you might think. Our family doesn’t need rescuing; we actually donate to charities of our own every now and then. Ah, let’s not forget, that President of Africa they told you about in school, he doesn’t exist! Yes, it’s true! THE HORROR!!!!!!

Enough about my grievances.

I really don’t know who to blame for the way some foreign folks think about anyone that comes from Africa. Could it be just sheer ignorance on their part or did Africans, on their own volition make the foreign folks believe that they are always in deer need of saving be it emotionally, biologically, physically, socially, economically and whatever else you can think of? Most of the times I have become friends or gotten acquainted to someone from ‘another world’, I am amazed by the shock they seem to register on their faces when they get to know me a little better. You can literally see their huge ball of prejudice and ignorance burst into bubbles. It’s horrendous!

After my recent unfortunate encounter, I found myself wondering – who is to blame for all this; the Geographic Channel, the History Channel, the NGO’s, our governments, or ourselves? This is a very big issue and someone needs to take responsibility for it and get on straight to fixing it before someone gets struggled in their own web of ignorance.

I have heard of experiences from many Africans who have travelled to foreign countries and have been subjected to treatment stemming from people’s ignorance. The pitiful looks on their faces, for some the disdain, others the –don’t-get-close-it’s-a-plague kind of treatment. And Ebola really didn’t help things these past few months – an insufferable and nefarious disease this one. Thank God it is slowly fazing away without touching the rest of the countries in Africa or the world at large. Did you know, The USA actually had cases of Ebola and Zambia (an extremely African country) didn’t!?? You say?? Indeed.

But who’s responsible for the misrepresentation of all Africans and who is to correct this heinous error? They say charity begins at home so let me start on a national scale; our own governments! I should state that this is merely my opinion and I am not in any way presenting it as a fact. The tendency by many Africans to elect into government people that lack merit but only out of loyalty is one of the things I am holding responsible for how people elsewhere regard us. How is it possible that for so many years we have been boasting of natural resources, the copper, the gold, the land yet we do not own any of it? They are mostly in the hands of other people and we rely on them to show us how to run them. Now let’s not get all xenophobic…international relations are imperative especially for developing countries like Zambia. However, I feel that there is need for some major reorganization in terms of managing our own resources.

It could be a fact – to some extent that we lack the capacity to run our own affairs but when are we going to start building the foundation so that in future, we can possess the means to do so on our own? I get totally embarrassed when our states men travel long distances to get medical attention in other countries and the embarrassment levels reach even higher heights when they return their bodies in bags and not in some fancy seat in the first class section of some fancy airline. It’s embarrassing. The questions I keep asking myself are; since when have government representatives been getting sick? How much does it cost to cover all the possible expenses of that patient and his whole entourage?

If we were to put all those expenses together, couldn’t we possibly afford to build our own state of the art hospital where these people can be taken to when they fall sick? I will not even begin to talk about the health of almost everyone we put in positions of power. It is not as if we don’t know the truth. Our problem is that even when we know that we are making a grave mistake, we continue with our plans and then spend the rest of our lives on our knees begging God in prayer expecting a miracle. These days, such miracles come with a price tag and they do not bear the face of God.

It is true that I am not in any position to know or even imagine how a country is run, but unfortunately, I have been put in a seat that requires me to suffer the consequences of how that country in question is being operated – whether good or bad. I have found myself in a position to see first-hand how much is spent on allowances for government officials who are sent out to perform duties that they were initially put in their positions to do yet some of them have refused to perform those duties when they felt the allowances where just too low or the lodge they were booked into was not to standard. Now picture in your head the kind of universities or hospitals we would have if we were to cut off on all those fancy allowances we seem to spent on unnecessarily and yet we proudly raise our heads during meetings and call ourselves ‘developing countries?’ For how long are we going to be a developing country? The shame. The shame.

I am of the belief that sometimes for one to succeed, he or she must suffer a loss or make some kind of sacrifice. I am not looking at the big picture right now, I am simply looking at parts of that picture that are visible from where I am sitting and what COULD be done to change some things. If there are ways we can avoid all that donor funding, the huge debts, and the like…if it meant going hungry as a nation for three days so we could correct these things and set ourselves on the path for stability, couldn’t we do that?

And then we have ourselves as Africans to blame. Here I am talking about two major things; 1: Being lazy every day and expecting our governments to perform miracles. 2- Those people we see in the streets rushing to tourists or anyone with a ‘white’ colour to their skin begging with impunity. I especially despise those kinds of people. Let me focus on the laziness part first. Here’s an example; you live in a small community and for over twenty years you have had no running water whatsoever. Every time news crews visit your location, you cannot wait to air out your grievances to the government. Without shame you look into the cameras and scream ‘the government should look into this!’

I think that we lack the self-drive to make things happen for ourselves, always waiting on someone else to do things for us. There are so many ways one could think of to get water to that village only if they put their heads together. Even if it’s gonna be dirty water, just get it so that when next the camera’s come, you can proudly ask the ‘government to compliment your efforts because it’s their responsibility as well as it is yours.

Recently, there has been talk of the government installing surveillance cameras on the streets and much of the response has been, ‘you wait, these are Zambians, they will steal them the very first night they are installed!’ And we all have been saying that without shame. Well, shame on us people. I don’t know if we have a natural inclination towards self-destruction but we have somehow managed to render ourselves poor and incompetent by our own hands. All that vandalism, the dirty streets and dirty towns…we are responsible for all of that. Imagine what would happen if people stopped throwing their rubbish anyhow. Then we wouldn’t be crying to the government to come clean up our streets! It’s like what they say about love, you first need to love yourself before anyone else can love you or before you can dare love another. That’s just how things work.

We do not need Barrack Obama to send his people to teach us about what diseases we are likely to suffer if we continue throwing our rubbish anyhow. The truth is that we already know but we are too wrapped up with being rescued by others while we cover our faces crying about poverty and what-not.

On the second part – black folks approaching white people on the streets to beg for money. Forget all people with disabilities and let’s focus on that one man with fully functioning body parts. If there was no white person passing through, he would have approached me to beg for money but the minute he sees a white person, there he rushes. Here’s my issue; I am naturally offended and embarrassed by your sheer laziness, and you going ahead to sink in the brain of that tourist that that’s how Africans are only makes my blood boil to a record level. If anything, I would rather you approached me for assistance and leave that person alone. I always imagine the stories the tourists take back home concerning the many instances they get ambushed on the streets for a dollar or two. It’s preposterous. It should stop.

And then we have NGO’s, the TV channels and the movies authored by foreigners who have only heard about Africa from third parties or lived in one African country. I am tired of seeing the image of poverty being that face of that malnourished kid from Africa on white people’s TV’s. For your information, we also have very fat poor people in Africa. The issue here is that this is what people outside Africa are constantly seeing whenever someone says the word ‘Africa.’ Oprah Winfrey visited Africa – motion or still images of her feeding or carrying a sad and sick looking kid. Modonna visits Africa – same story.

When Hollywood celebrities donate, they don’t donate to a country, a foundation, or a cause, they simply donate to Africa. The face of HIV is Africa and this is because of the many mushrooming NGO’s all dressed up in humanitarian uniforms and painting our nations as disease-ridden ones simply because they are greedy. And where do they even get those figures from?? Sadly, this is what kids overseas grow up seeing and hearing and these are the kinds of people I meet and they shyly ask me if my vagina is intact.

It is not nice when we are greeted by all this prejudice just by virtue of being African and it needs to change. This change should start from home. For all those people seeking donor funding or wanting to borrow, please save us some dignity. Yes there are a lot of poor people in Africa but when presenting those figures and showing those images, try to put some smiling faces and health looking people because it’s very possible for one to be hungry and still afford to smile for the cameras. It would also help to find alternative means of empowering poor people instead of feeding them so that eventually they can stop depending on others.

For those people outside Africa who might not know, maybe because they had no chance to or because they were raised to believe otherwise, not all Africans are poor. Yes, most African governments are poor but it’s not all of them. We have water, electricity, judicial systems, cars, cinema’s and very good looking houses and mansions over here but you will not get to see such on tele because ‘it doesn’t sell well.’ Television stations need those ratings and some greedy folks back here at home need the funding to keep coming.

As Africans, we should take a larger chunk of responsibility for how people perceive us out there. We need to change the way our brains function and learn to love ourselves more. Let us not wait on people to pave the way for us. If we want to see change, we should work at it and make sacrifices along the way. I reiterate, “charity begins at home.” My government might lack money to run the country successfully but on a personal level, I think I have worked hard enough to rise above the ‘poverty’ line. And I think my country will too if everybody resolved to see that most needed change.


When charity becomes a nuisance

beggerEvery now and then I encounter those moments that make me stop to think. It happened again yesterday. I have experienced this situation before but for some reason, there was something about it today that really stood out.

I was driving along Bishop Road in Kabulonga when I almost came to a standstill. I saw a little boy, somewhere around the age of 7-10 leading a woman by the hand approach the vehicle right in front of mine. It became apparent that the woman was blind and that the child was most probably hers. All I needed to do was to stretch my eyes a little further behind them to see three other kids sited by the road side looking over solemnly at their sibling and mother as they begged motorists for financial aid or food.

And then something strange happened. I saw the driver in the car in front of me take out what looked like a K1, handed it over to the girl that was seated in the front passenger seat …she looked about 15-16 years of age. The girl took the coin, looked over at the two people by her window side and then shook her head side-ways before pocketing the coin. At first I was dumb folded. What had just happened? I can bet you that was the same question running through the mind of the owner of that coin looking at his befuddled expression through my windscreen. As fate would have it, just as the pair was about to knock on my window, traffic moved and I was not given the opportunity to either give a helping hand or shake my head like the teenager had.

As I drove off, I was left with numerous questions in my head. I hate it when that happens…and its something that happens frequently! This time, my moral campus was bouncing around hitting all directions. Something had felt off about that whole episode by the road side and the fact that I didn’t know what the right thing to do was made me feel even worse. But I am going to put down all the thoughts that went through my head at that moment and let’s see where that leads me.

My first thought was; it was just K1, why couldn’t the girl give it to them? It must seem little to me but it would certainly mean a big deal to them. But this thought was quickly replaced with, “imagine how much they would make at the end of the day if every motorists gave them a K1? It would be enough to feed that whole family for a whole month or so! Unfortunately, I didn’t like where my thoughts were leading because right after that thought, another disturbing one crept its way onto my brain. Why did the boy drag his blind mother to the road every time they needed to ask for money? The obvious answer I gave myself was, it was a strategy! I didn’t know whether to feel offended or to applaud them for their well-thought out plan. The truth is I felt a little more offended than admiration. Like a bunch of greedy business strategists busy pushing buttons behind the scenes so as to generate maximum profits from unsuspecting clients…except in this case, this family was the business entity and us motorists the unsuspecting clients.

Take the whole family with you, sit by the road-side depicting a well painted portrait of poverty, then send oldest son with a slight walking impairment and terrible mouth infection, let him hold his blind mother by the arm while he begs total strangers for a show of kindness. I mean, who would have the nerve to turn a blind eye to all this? Guess what, that teenage girl did and she is the reason my mind went berserk on me! I will be honest with you, I did feel a lot evil thinking these things but what can I do, once my mind goes out there…there is no stopping it.

At the back of my head, I wanted to give that family the benefit of a doubt; they just couldn’t be that calculative could they? But then, was there any need to bring the whole family to the circus? Well, maybe there was no one to leave them with. Who knows, maybe they didn’t even have a home where they could remain. And what about the boy dragging his mother along every time cars came to halt around that area? Why couldn’t he have just left her there with the rest of his siblings? What was he hoping to achieve having her by his side? It was a perfect scene with the perfect visual effects.

I think at some point I even wondered why a woman obviously incapable of taking care of her own children due to her disability would still go ahead and have so many of them. I knew they were her children because I heard the boy say, “…just a little money to buy some food for my blind mother and young siblings.” Of course there is a possibility that they might not actually be biological siblings…perhaps they all met on the streets or somewhere. But those kids…the little ones all looked about the same age or maybe just a year difference between them?? My next thought of course was that perhaps the woman had been taken advantage of in her condition…probably abandoned or raped by some nefarious bastard of a man…or men and left to fend for herself? I really needed to give them the benefit of the doubt if not at all to make myself feel less inhuman.

So let’s say that I put away all my suspicions because they are really making me look like a terrible person and focus on the gist of all this; financial aid. There is that proverb; give a man fish and you will feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Unfortunately, this is where the lines become blurry for me. It is one thing to have a lazy relative who is always looking to leech off of you all the time and then teach them how to fish…there are many options here; send them to school, teach them a trade, give them money for capital to set up a business…etc. however, it is a whole different story when you are looking at the number of unfortunate people you get to meet every day begging on the streets. How do you teach them how to fish? Wouldn’t it just be easier to give them a dollar and move on or would that also be like feeding them for a day? And so what if I feed them for a day? Another person will come tomorrow and give them a dollar and another the other day…just like that. Obviously, they will have food every single day, isn’t it? But there is something wrong with this scenario don’t you think?

I have had to work hard to be where I am in my life and there is no joke about it. Heck I’M still far from being where I really want to be! I have a pretty good idea of what it’s like to be rich and then be extremely poor. I have seen the best of both worlds and at times I have lived somewhere in-between. This is why I do not take lightly to people that seem fully able-abled loitering the streets and begging for a free dollar when there is obviously something in this part of the world they could be doing to make their lives better. However, I am aware that not everybody is blessed the same way…that even those that might face the same evils will not always come out with the same amount of scratches. I understand that. But still, something doesn’t sit well with me.

I obviously cannot afford to give a dollar to every person I meet on the streets who is in need of one so should be content with the idea that helping one is good enough? And don’t tell me to give money to the church because we all know where that money goes! I am tired of seeing Pastors who claim to be representatives of society’s most vulnerable dress up in Armani suits and other branded clothes, driving around town in fancy cars whose names they can’t even pronounce. I know I just said something daring but I never said all pastors are thieves stealing from the poor. I am not just comfortable with giving them my money believing that it will be used for the right cause.

I am neither a church nor an NGO, so how do I teach a man how to fish instead of just feeding him for a day? This is the question I have struggled with every time I meet someone seeking help on the streets. I never really know what the right thing to do is and the result is always the same; a very perturbed mind. Do I give money or not? And if I do give money, should I do so blindly, not thinking about whether that person is in genuine need of it or if they are just being lazy? Should I just close my eyes to the fact that people without the means to provide for a family just keep on giving birth and sending these same children to beg on the streets? Or that people have now started perfecting the art of begging just so they can deliver the ultimate con by utilizing what visual effects they feel will gunner them the most kind acts? And most importantly, should I even care about who is genuine or not, isn’t the thought the only thing that matters? Should it matter if I keep giving money to the church even when I know that the pastor will use it to enrich himself because all that should count is the thought? Will my giving those on the streets K1’s every time get them off the street or will it encourage them and many other to come to the streets as well? I really want to know the answers to these questions.