Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Understanding Africa

I hope that you have all had a great week and I know that you have anxiously been waiting for our next blog post. Well here it is. This past week has been our opportunity to come face to face with some of the realities of Africa that we did not expect.

When someone says “realities of Africa” many things probably jump into our minds and most of them are bad. Let me just begin with a small statement of common sense, Africa is a huge Continent made up of countries that are as diverse as any you could find anywhere in the world. From predominately Muslim countries in the North, such as Egypt to very diverse countries, in every way possible, such as South Africa. From places of almost constant conflict like Sudan, to places of relative peace like Namibia. All in all there is no way to describe Africa as any one thing. There are specifics of place just like in the U.S.A. If someone asked me to tell them about the U.S. I might say some things about the places I had been or the constitution but, nothing that I could say would ever describe the specifics of places like New York City, or Athens, Alabama. It is just not possible. So it is also not possible to describe Africa, a continent over 3 times the size of the U.S. What you will have before you is one small slice of African life.
This slice of life is from Central Windhoek and this week it included connection to two pieces of technology, a cell phone and T.V. with a satellite hook-up. In addition to our high-speed wifi internet connection we are very connected to technology. Most people in Windhoek have cell phones and I think it could be safely said that it is THE main way people communicate with one another in the city and in the rural areas. Many people, I could not say how many also have TV’s with satellite. There are no TV signals other than satellite so if you have a TV you must have some way to pick up a signal. So it is quite strange for us to be here in Namibia and have many of the things we had at home. I have been reflecting this week on whether or not we SHOULD have these things. Certainly it is possible to get by without them and they represent different things to different people. It would be easy for someone in the U.S. to say, “Well if they can have a cell phone and missionaries can have TV sets why do they need our help?”

What is missed most often coming from a western cultural context is that all the trappings of western consumerism are a very thin veneer here in Namibia and I would guess in most of Africa. While there may be cell phones, there is not always electricity to charge them, while there may be TV’s and satellite connections, rolling blackouts are becoming more and more common. Many people who have these types of “conveniences” don’t have reliable sources of clean water. I guess what I am trying to say is that just because someone has a cell phone or TV does not mean that there is an infrastructure behind it. It is a lot easier to put up a cell phone tower than to provide whole towns with drinking water, and it is a lot easier to get a TV than to prevent the spread of malaria. It is a lot easier to buy western clothes and listen to western music than it is to provide public education to all children. I would say that, just because things might look the same on the surface level, like veneer, doesn’t mean they have the same depth of infrastructure. That is what we, and others, are here for. We are here to work with the Diocese to help develop depth.


Peter Chasse said...

"It is a lot easier to put up a cell phone tower than to provide whole towns with drinking water..."

This is a great point and one that really makes the problem that much more difficult. Often these veneers hide the truth of the poor most effectively.

We have seen pictures of women with a cell phone in one hand, collecting filthy water from a polluted stream to bring home to their children with the other...

We're working beside you in other places in Africa too. We're pealing back veneers with clean, safe water.

Your readers might be interested in checking out what we're doing to provide clean water by digging wells in Africa.

God bless your work.

Fr. Jason Emerson said...


I was recently visiting friends in Tanzania and had a similar experience. Cell phones were more common and more reliable than land lines, black outs were more consistent then electricity, and a lot of roads had been paved at some point in time but with no on going maintenance.

I sound my self wondering if Tanzania was trying to develop into what Tanzania ought to be or if it was trying to develop into a western nation, which I'm not arrogant enough to say it is what it should do.

God's Peace,
Jason Emerson+

Sarah+ said...

thanks for posting. it's great to hear from you guys...this is good stuff to chew on & i'm glad you're there.

love & prayers!!!

Dianne, Dee, Mom, Granny said...

What wonderful insights, Penny and Jeremy; thank you both for sharing them. I'll be back in Maseno, Kenya, by mid-October, God willing and gold fillings coming... Did you follow the GAFCON 8 last month? Please know that you, as well as Deb & Bob, are in my prayers!