Intense things take hold of you in Africa.
Thus another Conradian journey into the Heart of Darkness commences.
Drink driving by an American who knows it would not happen back in civilization. An old white couple who have become Lifers. The kind of prisoners who have no chance of release. They are trapped, ‘That’s what happens when you stay too long. You become ‘unhinged, paranoid or just plain weird’.
Why are the inhabitants of the darkness like this? Pat Robertson said the Haitians were hit by the earthquake because of a pact they had made with the devil. This blogger, a certain Ms. Lindsay Morgan who is a ‘communications consultant,’ quoting a New York Times columnist no less, puts out another theory. Culture. Not a lack of culture, but CULTURE.
‘Progress resistant cultural influences,’ the columnist calls it. And what are these? They sound vaguely familiar. We know we have them. We are African and Tanzanian. We recognize these things when we come across them. But what does our voyager think? Because it is the Culture that drives expats like her to become unhinged, paranoid and just plain weird in this here Heart of Darkness.
But what is ‘The Culture’? How does it manifest itself?
The lazy ignorant teller at the post office.
Bureaucrats and civil servants who don’t do their jobs at the Ministry.
Drivers who can’t keep time.
And then the zinger – ‘Corruption is part of the Culture’. Ouch.
But here’s the thing.
Are developing countries responsible for their own development? Well, not really. Not when its being paid for by someone else, like her governments. They don’t act responsible because they don’t feel responsible.
Because they are not blowing their own money.
Because they don’t need to when almost half of the budget is funded by her people! And however much of it disappears and goes unaccounted for, they keep bringing it. And now your partners in development are hooked. And everyone knows, you shouldn’t leave an addict alone in the pharmacy.
But there is no need to be too hard on oneself. Ms. Morgan blames herself for feeling arrogant and careless in those moments when her thoughts turn dark, she feels confounded by the darkness and begins to entertain ideas and theories that make you feel like a ….you know.
Which she most definitely is not! But these things just float into her headspace from time to time. And she wonders why these people are like this. And seeing as she can’t put it down to their…you know, then perhaps it’s their Culture?
But she is wrong. Because in truth she has a limited understanding of what the Culture is. She can’t be blamed for that. It’s not in any books she may have read, artworks she may have seen, theatre productions and films she may have watched. But it is there.
What she has experienced is not ‘Tanzanian Culture’. Tanzanian Culture has nothing to do with the intransigence, corruption, torpor, stupidity, laziness, arrogance and mediocrity. What she has experienced is commonly known in Kiswahili as Uzembe, Ujinga and Un’yoko.
She imagines that only her and her people are aware of the encroaching darkness that threatens to engulf this country, this continent that seems reluctant to better itself. But she is not alone. All those other faces standing in the queue behind her at the post office, the bored idle faces of the people sitting in the reception area at the Ministry, the thousands of commuters who stand waiting for the unscheduled, over crowded, dangerous dala dala to arrive at the stop next to her taxi rank, all those people are as pissed off and confounded as she is at what they are witnessing. The encroaching darkness.
And if she asked them, they would tell her. They wouldn’t bite. They would nod in agreement with everything she thinks and says about her experiences of Tanzania.
Except the bit about Culture. Which sounds a little….you know.
(H/T Swahili Street)