"Western Africa" story # 30

Bubaque, Guinea-Bissau           November 8, 2012

Was the Archipelago of the Bijagos a good place to live?
     It was a good place to visit, but I'd have a tough time living there. There were too many lazy people watching you, wanting things from you, envying you because you had places to go. Maybe I could've lived in a village, but not in Bubaque. I felt uncomfortable there.
     Before going to Guinea-Bissau, I'd heard the popular opinion that Africa* was a place of suffering, of struggle, a place where no Westerner in his right mind would want to live.
     (* - sub-Saharan Africa)
     I thought about Africa the same thing I'd thought about other underdeveloped parts of the world: People had been living there for thousands of years. They grew and had families and built their lives. Though they lived in different conditions, they probably had as much chance at being happy as anyone.
     In Latin America and Asia, my hypothesis was proven* true. But, Africa** ... Africa was struggling. Africa suffered.
     (* - seemed to be)
     (** - These thoughts were inspired by my time in West Africa.)
     Here were the first reasons* that came** to my mind:
     (* - superficial reasons)
     (** - ingeniusly)
     Looking at my reasons, one could see that the first two came as a result of Western influence.
     The fourth reason did, also. One could argue that, by lowering the infant mortality rate, Western medicine was creating a more crowded Africa. I would argue* that this was also a result of Africans abandoning their traditions. The Bijagos, for example, used to prohibit sex: before a young woman had completed her initiation ceremonies; while a man was between ages twenty and thirty-five; during the three years a new mother was breastfeeding.
     (* - wrongly, probably, but what the heck)
     The third reason seemed to restrict itself to drought-prone areas, in Africa. There was also some flooding.
     The fifth reason offered the strongest argument for why Westerners should help*; Africans hated to see their loved ones die as did all people. But, didn't they have their own medicinal knowledge that had developed over thousands of years ... in Africa? Who were we to tell them it wasn't satisfactory?
     (* - meddle?)
     I was no doctor. And I didn't want to talk about health problems. I wanted to talk about* African's real problem:
     (* - oops, I didn't mean to put an asterisk there)
     Africa's lack of faith in Africa.
     Africa showed up at the global market and was ready to accept whatever the other continents were offering. She was very open that way. But, the problem was, nobody wanted what she was offering!
     Her people had come to wear Western clothes, speak European languages, emulate American musicians, watch Bollywood films, have Portuguese names. They strived to obtain Western technology, to build European nations, to follow non-African religions. Meanwhile, the other continents barely knew Africa existed. It was unjust. This situation couldn't be good for Africa's self-confidence.
     She should be proud. If she wanted to join the global world, she should ensure "globalization" meant more than just Westernization.
     Africans should say:
     "We'll start to use cell-phones, if the other continents begin to wear colorful West African suits."
     "We'll eat bread, if you other continents listen to the music of Super Mama Djambo."
     "We'll learn French, if you learn a Bantu language."
     "We'll be baptised, if you let us teach you how to capture the spirits in a wooden statue called 'Orebok'."
     "We'll send our kids to school, if you teach your kids how to survive in the forest during initiation ceremonies."
     African culture was as good as any.
     -- School? Did I just mention school? Was I going to get started on the subject of education now? Oh, no ...
     Education. A Fyodor Dostoyevsky character once said, reminiscing about her childhood in the countryside: "Nobody tried to teach me anything, and I was happy for that."
     Education. Africa was obsessed with development, and subsequently obsessed with education. What did education do for Africa?
     For many, it opened the door to a new world of interests. For the lucky ones who'd find jobs, it offered a higher standard of living, and comfort with their place in the world. When put to good use, it could improve the quality of life of entire communities.
     But, I also disliked the act of "receiving education" for being so passive. An uneducated African villager knew several ways to make food and/or money. A twenty-year-old still in high school was yet a burden to his family, and his education often trained him to be dependent on finding employment to make money. In Guinea-Bissau, even in Morocco and China, there weren't a lot of jobs for educated people.
     When it taught people to be independent, education was a good thing. But, when a man studied until he was twenty-five only to find that his best choice was to become a fisherman, and he'd already had a baby with a woman who'd had to beg while he studied, it was depressing. Education was one option, but it shouldn't be forced on everyone.
     Africa's race to development, in my opinion, was making her sick. She should've been confident where she was, and developed at her own pace.
     It was difficult to communicate to people that maybe development wasn't the most important thing. I discussed this subject with an intelligent man in Bubaque. Speaking of villagers, I said:
     "They're happy."
     His response:
     "That's because they don't know any better!"

Well, it would be unjust of me to give advice to Africa without acknowledging what she'd taught me. I met great friends in Bubaque, whom I hoped to keep in touch with. The exotic islands, and my girlfriend Tida, had given me reasons to go back.
     And I'd learned a lot:
     1. I learned to say only positive things about others. Accepting other people's faults, I was free to enjoy only their good qualities.
     2. I liked the idea of girlfriends/boyfriends being forever and not exclusive. From now on, I'd ask women to be my "Guinean girlfriends".
     3. I learned that sharing was a good thing; but, that the sharer should give voluntarily.
     4. I learned that communal societies were strictly run, and they made having individual ambitions difficult.
     5. I learned that, when people begged from you, you should try to find a way to use their need to an advantageous end. Try to think of a small job they could do, to your advantage or theirs.
     6. I learned, when one was poor and in a poor land, how to get help from the rich. Go to them offering things: friendship or services.
     I'd arrived in Guinea-Bissau with almost nothing, and I survived there. I would argue* that I hadn't gotten my job because I was privileged. I worked doing web design** in Portuguese***. I got my job because, even when I hadn't had a teacher nor job in my life, I made use of my time and learned new things. I hoped this would be an inspiration for my friends of Bubaque.
     (* - correctly this time, hopefully)
     (** - something I'd taught myself)
     (*** - something I'd taught myself)
     I worked for Father Luigi Scantamburlo.
     But, with a name like that, he deserved a story of his own.

until then,
Modern Oddyseus

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