we landed in Africa a few days ago and it is unlike anything I have ever experienced. needless to say, my words feel incomplete and somewhat insecure at this point.
but a day or so before we left for south sudan, a friend of mine shared some thoughts she had while living in Africa some years ago. i found it really poignant and thought it worth sharing…. thank you Prisca.
“Before I came to Tanzania I thought extreme poverty and destitution were equivalent. My image of poverty in Africa came from ‘starving children’ commercials and glossy magazine ads showing dirty, distraught looking faces. Perhaps the fallacy of that image did not fully strike me until an African friend asked me not to photograph dirty children for show in America. He objected because he believed Americans would misinterpret their dirtiness as a sign of neglect, degradation, and want. Although children in the village near where I live are poor and often dirty, neither they nor their parents are destitute.
Destitution is living without the things necessary for human dignity. When Americans see people who lack things we think we (and by extension they) need to maintain self-respect, we see destitution. But the American concept of what comprises a dignified life has been formed with little knowledge of life in the developing world.
The poor in Tanzania live without excess, but not without dignity. Homes are small and constructed of mud bricks and straw. Clothes are few and well-worn. Ugali, a dough-like substance of maize flour and water, makes up the bulk of almost every meal. Yet Tanzanian villagers living on pennies a day practice generosity and hospitality. They maintain codes of interpersonal courtesy as intricate as those of the British court. They are individuals with complicated personalities, intelligence and humor. The poor have dignity proceeding not from their lifestyles or material possessions but from their humanity.”