African Community, Part 1

Posted on December 18, 2007. Filed under: Community |

As I finish up my Christmas shopping I am reminded of all of the material items Americans strive for. I am reminded of all the things I have that many (most) Africans do not. But yet I still purchase everything I want and I get friends and family gifts that I hope will be useful but may not be.

So why do I continue to purchase things I know I don’t really need, but I want. You know its really just because I can. Every year I think more and more about buying people gift cards to give to nonprofits or instead of buying gifts I donate to charity. But yet every year I continue to buy gifts, its our culture, I am able too, I have become subject to the materialism around me, and every year I try to at least think more practically. Instead of buying my mom yet another sweater she doesn’t need, I am getting her a gift card to Home Depot to do some much needed repairs around her home.

Africans don’t have the chance to have this thought process. They have only what they need and in most cases do not have what they need. For Christmas they will have a little extra chicken with their usual Shima or Sudza (really thick mashed potato like food made from corn, they have it at every meal) and will not exchange gifts.

I had the chance to experience many things when I was in Zambia and Zimbabwe, but there are a few things that stick out in my mind when it comes to the lack of materialism and consumerism they have.

First, when you go to a party or have a gathering of people of any kind, everyone shares cups. You don’t go out and buy 20 extra cups or paper cups for everyone to use, that would be a waste. Each person takes their turn getting a drink and then rinsing off their cup and handing it to someone else. Yeah I know you all may be thinking this is not sanitary, and I know while I was there I did not partake in this ritual or they would give us the cup first. To them it is normal, sharing is something they do for their livelihood.

Second, I was able to be in Jembo when they handed out blankets, dried fish, salt, oil and sugar to all of the caregivers working in the World Hope Community Orphan Trust. You see, they all work in a garden and tailoring shop to grow food and sew clothes to sell and make a living. From what they grow and sew they take what they need and the rest they sell to buy other goods and food they need. Each caregiver, most of which take care of three or more children on their own, got only one blanket a bag of salt, a bag of dried fish, a pound of sugar and a pint of cooking oil. This is all they will receive from the trust for a whole month. They don’t complain they didn’t get enough or that all of their children will be sharing that blanket, while they sleep on the ground. It is about surviving. As I handed out the blankets I was trying to pick out the cute ones to give first, (man I sound shallow) because if I walked into a store I would pick out the blanket I wanted, but they didn’t care, they took whatever was given to them.

Last thing, while we were in Zimbabwe, a country that is stricken by poverty due to an overpowered dictator, I had the chance to go to the store with Joe, a native. Joe and went off to find razors, a rain coat and bottled water for our team. We traveled through Harare, through intersections with out working Robots (traffic lights) and past businesses that have been closed for more than 10 years. We arrived at Spar, the largest grocery store chain in the country, trampled through the puddles and tromped past the line of people waiting for bread.  In the store we walked through aisles with little on the shelves.  The easiest things to buy are bottled water, candy, and hygiene products, all things no one really needs to have.  We filled our cart with bottled water and found the razors and rain coat we needed.  While I was filling up the cart I lost Joe for a second and he came back with some ground beef in sausage, with a huge grin on his face.  I looked at him with a quizative look and he said “I haven’t seen these things in the store for about 5 years.”  Africans buy only what they need, they don’t worry about buying deodorant or candy for their children.

As I walked through our packed grocery store last night I was thinking about how little was on the shelves in Zimbabwe.  I have a million choices when I go to the store.  Anything I want I can get and there are 30 options for everything.  In Zimbabwe it is a matter of if you are going to find food on the shelves and for survival they buy bread from the store and sell it for double the price on the streets.  Maybe this isn’t a lack of materialism, but more a form of survival, but I cannot help but think if we weren’t so material would Africans be better off?

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