Wednesday, November 11, 2009

it’s been awhile...

(march 16, 2008)

i have been working in mombasa, which is not a bad place to work if you don’t mind the excruciating heat and humidity and love the beach. my hotel had cnn and al jazeera so i am well informed of the news. go tibetans. sleezy senators (or governors?). poor new yorkers. cold and snowy canadians.

i got some beach time in, achieved a touch of the sun burn, bought some more kanga, and drove around in tuk tuks. i also had to face a moral dilemma whereby the participants in my workshop were lying to me to get more money. now tell me something, in countries like the uk, canada, or the us (i ask you because i know people in all these countries visit me here regularly), do you provide money to those who attend your workshops/conferences/trainings to cover their transportation to and from the venue (if they live in the city or nearby areas) as well as a stipend to cover accommodation for those travelling from out of town?

if you found out that those coming from out of town were actually going back home to sleep and then returning in the morning, do you think they are still eligible for this accommodation stipend? my answer is no. my participants’ answers were yes.

when i outright asked them if they were staying in town that night, all but 2 said they were. i have good reason to believe none of them actually stayed and pocketed the money instead. even the priests and pastors were amongst the dishonest, nice. go jesus.

i made the executive decision not to give them money on the second day. it may cause some concern when i get back to work tomorrow because i did not stick to our budget and our donor may wonder why we planned so inaccurately (answer: the government told me to and i have to listen to them as per my organisation’s mandate and membership), but i frankly do not care.
sure, sure, more principled action, but it felt wrong to spend taxpayers’ money in such a way just because it is the ‘done thing.’

it probably did not help the liars that i was reading We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families by Philip Gourevitch. if you are at all interested in the rwandan genocide and even if you are not, i recommend you read this book. i recommend, in fact, that all grade 12 students read this book. it is so good. and instead of just telling you that it is just so good, i will tell you why.

often, the rwandan genocide is broken down simply into a ‘tribal conflict’ or ‘ethnic hatred’ and although these we certainly elements of the 1994 genocide, this book explains clearly and in non-academic language the how’s and what’s and even attempts to look into the why’s of the events leading up to the genocide and immediately following it. if you read it and look at the situation i was in above, you may understand why i was so adamant not to be a part of the ‘problem of aid.’ and yet, i know i have in so many ways.

this book has sat on my shelf since a nice (clean shaven!) gentleman remembered that i mentioned that i had wanted to read it for years and popped into a bookshop in downtown nairobi and surprised me with it. and it made sense to me to read it before i go to rwanda (on thursday, yay), but it was timely for many other reasons as it spells out exactly how humanitarian aid can (and does) make things worse. and how an african leader like Paul Kagame can be largely disregarded by the international community even though he was the one that brought peace to his country when no other country in the world, rich or poor, northern or southern, african or not, did anything significant to stop the systematic murders.

and remember when that country that is now known as the democratic republic of the congo (not to be confused with the republic of the congo right next door) used to be called zaire and be led by that crazy man who had the fantastically egocentric and self-declared name of Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (translated according to Gourvetich’s book as ‘the all-powerful warrior, who by his endurance and will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake’ and ‘the cock who leaves no hen alone’ – i kid you not. this man, in charge of a country full of riches and leading millions of people for decades.)? well, rwanda helped Laurent Kabila, the current president, to get rid of that megalomaniac through directly opposing international (read: western) opinion to not invade or support rebel troops, which it did and now that crazy man is outta there (and also dead), but no one talks about this. about how a small african state that was trying to overcome the imaginable, mass killings that are comparable only to the Holocaust in modern memory, helped get rid of a dictator who was stealing from everyone in his own country and was known as ‘the dinosaur’ he had been around so long.

(let me just say now that i am not so familiar on the drc nor on how Kabila has done since overtaking the crazy man and running things for himself. me thinks there are a lot of criticisms directed towards him because his country isn’t exactly peaceful nor moving up in the ranks of poor, despotic, african countries, but i leave that for another post and for more reading that i surely will do once i find an excuse to get myself to the drc...)

i could go on and on, but i really loved this book. and at times when i am not so sure that i love my job or the moral conflicts that come with it, it is the kind of book i need on my shelf.