Knowing too much about other people puts you in their power, they have a claim on you, you are forced to understand their reasons for doing things and then you are weakened.
Margaret Atwood – Cat’s Eye
I repeatedly ask myself the same questions. I rarely answer them. One question that sticks and bores is – if you (you being any Gambian I meet) had an American passport would you be living and working in The Gambia?
I think that I initially internally and rhetorically asked this of Gambians to make myself feel more pious, more morally superior, for I believe I know that the vast majority of Gambians, if they had the ability to live and work in the US, would go there in a flash (I say this as someone so patriotic that i haven’t been living in my home country for over two years). I thought this desire by Gambians to get out of Gambia was a major cause of poverty here and contributed to the ineffectiveness of institutions here. I’m singing from a different prayer book now. Now I say ‘ Get out, make some money, send some money back to your family, try and skim some of that cream off of the rich world’s milk.’
I think to myself if all the money that it has cost for me to be here – loss of earnings, travel, health cover, training – was just given directly to the village of Ker Sait Maram how much more they could do with it, how much more it could improve their lives in comparison to having a clueless westerner wandering around their village for two years.
But I have to remind myself that I’m not here working for an Aid agency per se. I’m here working, nay ‘volunteering’, for the Peace Corps, a different beast entirely. Peace Corps isn’t that focused on development, the premise of the organisation doesn’t gear it towards that. It’s a star trek enterprise, boldly putting Americans where no Americans have gone before, and I ain’t no Captain Kirk, hence some of my disillusionment with the venture.
The Peace Corps’ mission has three simple goals:
- Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
- Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
- Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
And I feel barely qualified to achieve any of these.