Tuesday, January 17, 2012


This is an article an RPCV Dan Evans posted on his facebook and agree with what is written. Although there is financial and social disparity in Africa, there is also great potential. There isn't a single answer or a single problem, and in reality it tends to be a vicious cycle that involves cultural and social impasses. In Peace Corps, we try to emphasize hand-washing, talking about AIDS, and other problems that can be solved either with an increase in knowledge or a behavioral change. Unfortunately, I find that more and more we sound like a broken record. Just about everybody knows and understands the arguments given by NGOs and foreigners about hand-washing. When people go in and explain hand-washing, people do it right and give many explanations. Malians know the key words and phrases that will make development workers happy or that will get UNICEF to provide funding (I once barely suppressed laughing at a Malian who submitted to me a proposal to have food and gifts given for an event teaching about AIDS and child sex trafficking in my area - it sounds bad, but although I agreed with the AIDS issue, it was clear that the man I was speaking with knew exactly what to include to get funding especially because although sex trafficking may be an issue in some parts of Mali where there are gold mines and such, I know for a fact that sex trafficking is not an issue where I am, some 500 km or more from any gold mine). It's funny when people try to provoke a response from me. They will say things like, "I plan on marrying 4 wives. Is that bad?" or "I want 10 children per wife". They say these things because they have experience with other development workers who get excited or angry and try to change their minds. For me, as long as it's cultural, I tell them that it's not a problem and that they should invite me to their wedding or baptism. But with issues like hand-washing, I try to explain to them my reasoning.
Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend (the accountant at the IFM so clearly educated) about hand-washing and tried to explain to him that water wasn't enough. After a long debate, with me saying that in the past the death rate was higher, at a younger age, and him saying that as long as children lived past the age of 10 they survived until 100 we clearly weren't getting anywhere. So I asked him why people die early now and he said it was because of all kinds of new diseases that occur because of living closer together and brought by foreigners. Some of this was true, but the idea that malaria was new and the fact that they say malaria for almost all illnesses because it's so common frustrated me. The decisive factor was using his own cultural ideas to my advantage. I told him, "Ok, say I'm wrong, malaria is brand new to Mali along with a crazy number of diseases that were never around to kill or weaken your ancestors, but NOW, there are all these crazy diseases, and they cannot be washed away simply with water, and maybe they didn't need to protect themselves before but clearly now things are different and soap is necessary." I felt bad putting it this way because I felt like I was lying, but it at least put things into perspective for him.
I also might have just uninstalled my director's keyboard on his laptop... so I need to fix that. I'll finish this post later...

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