I drove up to Manica, Mozambique through Zimbabwe this week. In a way it feels like it always feels: adventure, stress, depression, joy, hope, despair. The first four days of our trip provided some food for thought:
I drive with an old Isuzu and so I am neither independent nor self-reliant. The day before we had to leave my Isuzu started to give problems with the batery running low and the engine eventually starting to cut out. I drove to my friend Jean’s house and he helped me to charge the battery overnight. On day one, Jan the German volunteer arrived and as we were about to leave we realised the battery was flat again! It was 8pm at night and I called another friend Stefan for advice. He gave more than advice and got in his car and came to assist. Stefan paid for a new battery we bought at a BP in the city (10pm) but the problem were still not solved, so we delayed our departure and slept over in Joburg. The next morning at 7am I drove to my mechanic, Dieter and explained the problem. Dieter, knowing we were supposed to leave for Mozambique, stopped his own work, took the alternator out of his own bakkie, put it in my Isuzu and with everything working perfectly, we could leave Joburg at 8am. Dieter saying he will sort out the broken alternator and his bakkie later on.
The people showed me kindness and generosity… unselfishness. This would not have been possible if I had no need. Is our drive for independence and financial muscle justified? We feel safe in new cars, fenced houses and with large bank saldos, but my friends reminded me again that life is beautiful when it is messy, and need opens doors for others to show kindness and goodness, even personal sacrifice. From personal experience I know that money makes me less vulnerable and often less human. I feel grateful for having unselfish friends in my life, and their actions made me reflect on my vulnerability as well as how reliable and flexible I a when others come to me with their needs.
We spent 6 hours at Beitbridge. The system is a joke and the experience very unpleasant. Doc mentioned that one must just keep your cool. I have learned that at border posts in Africa. The old white man standing in front of me in the queue have not learned this. He was visibly angry at everything and dropped subtle racist comments for all to hear: “this is typical!”, “I don’t expect anything else from these people” and “I’ve given up” reveals how Africa and its challenges can become unbearable if you link every bad thing or frustration with a skin colour. The fact that he was one of two whites amongst thousands of black people embarrassed me. Considering the colonial and oppressive history of Zim and SA and the dire need for reconciliation, seeing this white man treating black people with disdain and disgust, really bothered me. He created an experience which the black might also call “typical” and when looking at me, surely they will think “these whites are all the same”… I try to make sense of my being Umlungu, a white man in Africa, I try to be part of a new world where whites serve and cooperate, but every white man that acts like an ass puts the whole process back with a day, a week or even a year. How many good experiences are needed to cancel a bad experience. Africa as a continent has many challenges. I suggest we all unite, be positive and try to change things… or immigrate. Instead of complaing about ‘them’, just move to Australia.
Arriving in Manica, the talk of the town was Tasso who stole the video camera at the club and went to sell it in Chimoio. The local used a traditional healer to discover who stole the camera and indeed Tasso admitted. A few months ago Tasso tried to steal the club generator, was caught and eventually forgiven. He repaid the faith people had in him by using his second chance to steal again. This time, he cant come back, he wont be forgiven. Why would he be so stupid? Why kill his future at the only organisation that has ever done good for him? Everyone is saying how stupid and short sighted Tasso is. Why would he makes such self destructing decisions? Why, is a good question indeed. Tasso is one of the hardest workers I have ever met, so he definitely doesn’t steal because he is lazy. When I thought about it all I realised that as I grew up, I had people and a system around me that rewarded me for good behaviour. I had incentive to be a good person, I had people who cared for me. Morality was part of the good life I was born into. Tasso never had anyone. He grew up in the mountains and had no mother and father, he always had to hustle to look after his sisters and brothers. Struggling for literal survival, not having anyone who gives a shit about you, turns you into a hustler. You focus on your own survival and you take a chance when the opportunity arrives. Long term planning is a luxury not afforded to the extremely poor. For 25 years Tasso’s brain was programmed that the world is against you, you are not special, you are not loved, no one cares, you have to make a plan, you have to fight. He never had anyone who explained to him how to ‘play the game’ how to invest, how to be patient and he never had people who tought him trust and inter-dependence. I soon realised I was naive to be surprised by Tasso stealing things. For me stealing is dumb and stupid, but I grew up on another planet compared to Tasso. Now I’m definitely not saying all poor people are justified to steal things. Especially because many poor people have significant others who teach them about life, good and bad. What I am saying is if the world (including us) ignore Tasso and the likes, if their desperate need does not compare to our luxury clothes, meals and holidays, then we should not assume a moral superiority because he steals and we don’t. We, the system failed Tasso and his siblings… we should not be surprised at his ‘deviant’ behaviour. I wish he could have risen out of his context, I wish he coud believe that the people here at GDM really cared and it was worthwhile to trust in the organisation long term, as a new family, I wish and think many things… but I did not grow up in Tasso’s shoes, or lack of shoes.