Life is not without its fair share of troubles and strife. We all begin from the same place with nothing to show for ourselves and nothing to set us apart from each other. Within a few weeks we begin to show signs of our own character and individualism. Within a few months, the first few words have come from our mouths and we identify each other with our surroundings and our families. For most people, this continues for years, and the reality of having to fend for yourself, look after yourself and feed yourself doesn’t hit home until university or sometimes even later or not at all. There are a few among us however, who learn this important life skill much earlier, and have to change what they do at a very early age in order to make sense of the world and how cruel and lonely it can be at times. You might think this is going to turn into a long sob story about how I lost my father or how I struggled to make it on my own, but no. I consider myself to be in the first group. The people in this world who did have everything they wanted, and who loved and was loved back in equal measure for the entirety of their lives. No, I’m not talking about myself, rather a juxtaposition of my own outlook upon those with whom I share my life now. I am surrounded by people young and old who have a completely different set of boundaries and beliefs. The people of this mountain know not of divorce and separation and going to visit dad at the weekends. They have no affection for some things that I hold dear and I no love for theirs. In short we are different people, from different countries, with different colour skin and even a different set of goals to achieve. Up here on Kilimanjaro, I have learned the importance of some of the things I take for granted, and have developed myself as a result of this to continue with my work despite our differences, with the aim of bringing a status quo to both sets of ideals, and find the peaceful medium within which we should all be living.
I am blessed with this opportunity to share my life and skills with people who have not had a chance to develop themselves. All around me are people living within their means, in a way that gives them the belief that they are poor and have nothing, yet within every household I see a wealth that some of us don’t ever see in our own lives. Underneath the thin veil of poverty lies a complete family system that is built from the ground up out of the hopes and aspirations of the people who dwell within. Each morning a set of routines and procedures take place that an average European household could only dream of. Grandma lives in a house next door, Uncle and Auntie just up the road, and without any organisation or pre-arrangement the family is a unit that will not break up for anyone or anything. This is a normal African household, and it is something to behold when in full swing.
There are however some very distinct problems and differences between the dining area outside the house here and your ordinary British kitchen table. The differences exhibit themselves in every facet of life, and despite the initial scene looking very familiar there is not really a single element save the tables and chairs themselves that could be found elsewhere in different cultures. My morning routine has built up over the last two years to adopt a set of these things that fit in with my own view of life, whilst also retaining who I am from my upbringing in the UK. Similarly, many people here have taken aspects of western life and adopted them into their home lives. All of this happens with varying amounts of success and failure. What we have then is a mixed up society that doesn’t know if it wants to move forward, backward or stand still. These three different approaches are visible in every family in each generation, and it is perhaps Africa’s main reason it has fallen behind so drastically over the last 50 years, and why many of us here see a future which will continue on this road until something happens to change it. Young people here have been faced with this very dilemma, and unfortunately will be leaving their older siblings and relatives on the wayside when it comes to a brighter future for themselves. Western technology has arrived and has been here a while now, but only the youngest generation are able to fully harness its power. Just a few years back, before the mass rollout of mobile phones and internet, it would have been impossible for me to be sat here writing this where I am right now, but I would have had to go into town and use an internet café, probably paying as much ten years ago as you pay now in 2013, and it would have been only other white people and foreign ex-pats that would use that service in the way I did and nobody else would have understood how or why. Moving back to the present day, and my internet café is full with local people getting on with their own lives in their own way. I am not here to challenge the way of life people have here, and have had here for a long time, no I am here to provide what is being asked of me, a decent connection to the outside world, and an opportunity for the young people to grab onto that and use it for their own benefit.
Those of you who know me well, know that I like to whinge and moan about lots of things. I especially like to complain about people, and their inability to do anything properly. I live here on a fairly meagre wage of just a couple of hundred dollars (US) each month, and have done so for so long that I have even forgotten the PIN for my cashpoint card. My view of being poor is tainted by my years in front of the TV and access to all the things that make the West “great”. Unfortunately, when I come down from my lofty heights of self-deprecation, I realise that I am actually very well off here, and have enough to survive, more than many others, and the fact I struggle shows that I am not yet a fully integrated part of this society, but rather an addition that is still finding his feet. On the other side of that, comes the reality about most of my neighbours and friends here on Kilimanjaro. Most families don’t have a regular salaried income like me. Most families are not just one guy and his dog, but a mish-mash of people, friends of friends and daughters of cousins that care for each other in a much simpler way, and succeed. There are parts of Tanzania where food supply is still an issue, but not here. There are parts of Tanzania where water continues to be unavailable, dirty and difficult to transport, but not here. Up here we have everything that humans need to thrive, but what is missing, is the connection with the outside world that was in effect discarded in order for this lifestyle to continue as it has done for so long. Also unfortunately is the reality that it cannot continue like this, and needs a drastic overhaul if these people are to survive whilst retaining their history and culture. What was a seemingly endless amount of land to be handed down the generations is rapidly disappearing and becoming overcrowded and over worked. The Chagga tradition of your sons and daughters carrying on the family farmland and producing enough food to survive on with no outside intervention is a passing memory for some, and a laughing joke to others. In effect, the plight of the average man here is worsening and it has nothing to do with the government or any outside factor that could be blamed or controlled.
I believe that this has happened before and so we must learn some important lessons before we try to fix this with band-aids and foreign money. Running out of land is not a problem new to humans. It was in fact this very issue that drove the early species of upright-walking humans into Europe in the first place. Fighting with each other to control land continued into living memory, and even continues to this very day, yet despite all of that, we still all consider the borders of the world to be disintegrating around us, as we become one planet of people, rather than several continents of enemies. A real solution to the problems that face a modern African in this day and age will consist of many new ideas that a lot of his or her peers will not want to consider as a possibility. Taking on new roles and responsibilities, especially those developed by a different race of people, is not something that any proud African will want to accept, yet through this knowledge and experience, Africans will gain the expertise to see what needs to be done and fix it accordingly. Sadly, in order for them to succeed, we all need to leave them to it. We are welcomed here in droves to work in schools or develop strategies that might help in the long run, but we are all band-aids and we all are doing damage rather than helping. In our own little bubbles, it’s possible to help, to make a difference, to really improve some people’s lives through education and development of skills, but in reality, we are doing what Africans should be doing themselves.
Throughout modern history, humans have been converging on an almost parallel state of being across all the continents in the world, but one has been left behind, or rather one is definitely struggling to keep up. Africa needs a boost, and it needs to find it soon before it is forced to take things in a different direction that could be much more harmful in the long run. It needs to start making sense to the outside world, stand up for itself, and defend its rights and way of life by showing everyone that it works. Until then, we only have the possibility that through continued outside help and effort that people might wake up and start doing things right. We are already in a situation which proves this approach to be both damaging and of no real use to the average African person. In effect, Africans need to pick up the pieces of their old and broken lifestyle, make it work, integrate it with these new standards of living and show us how we could be moving on in the world more in harmony with our surroundings. In exchange, we will invest and continue to work with this continent for the benefit of everyone involved. For now we carry on as normal, pushing where needed, and taking everything as it comes.