The other evening I was sitting with an Ethiopian friend enjoying
a meal of injera and tibs and some quiet conversation. The tv was
tuned to some evangelistic channel.
At other times, I had told her that the world is inside out from
the way that most people see it most of the time. That most people
are wrong about most things, most of the time, although there are
some people who are wrong about everything all of the time.
An infomercial came on. They showed african children, their limbs
horribly thin, their bellies distended, flies busy around their faces,
and eyes full of sadness, fear and hunger. They showed one or two
white people, handsome, strong, healthy; giving food and administering
to the children. They asked for the viewers to send money.
I asked her what she thought. She shrugged and said "The poor
will always be with us."
I said to her, "But you know, these are the only images that
most of my people ever see of Africa. This is what we think of
when anyone mentions the continent. We are taught this way to
believe that we are strong, healthy, and happy while all of the
Africans are desperate, unhappy, dying, and in need of our help
and support. This is such an insidious message. We are exhorted
to send money but we also learn that we never, never want to go
there. We send money to make us feel good and powerful. Almost
all of the money received stays in the hands of white people, the
rich evangelists and charity organizations with their fine offices,
the rich agribusinesses, the transport organizations, and all that
infrastructure. Only a tiny amount actually becomes food and help
for these children. And even when they receive help, they still
grow up to face an environment with no jobs, no land to work,
but only more needs."
"In this way, my people receive a message of their superiority.
They receive reassurance that the way they live is the best. They
learn control and arrogance. But you and I, we have been there,
we know differently. The people of Africa, by and large, know an
astounding beauty, happiness and joy, companionship, sharing,
friendships which is utterly beyond the knowledge and experience
of my people. In reality, my people have an appalling emptiness
in their lives, they dare not reach out to talk or to share anything
with strangers or even acquaintances, but instead live in isolated
cocoons, unable to taste any but the slightest little bit of
I saw a light go on in her eyes. Suddenly she saw, she
understood, how most of us see things and why we act the ways we
do, towards her and towards her country and her people. A light
went on which will never be extinguished.
It was Jesus' message as well, over and over, such as his
statements at the beginning of the sermon on the mount, about the
poor inheriting the earth while the rich are so poor in spirit.
Those statements are so familiar to so many people, but they read
and write and say and sing them without any understanding.
You have to go there.