Sosolya en route
“70 Children Rescued.” My friend reads the headlines out to me and shows me the article in the daily newspaper that exposes an NGO. “It’s people and NGOs like this who make things so hard for the rest of us trying to do our work on the ground,” she comments. I don’t miss the frustration mixed with sadness in her voice.
CBOs, NGOs and INGOs -community based, national non-governmental organizations and intergovernmental organizations. I am fairly new to this world of private organizations that support a cause but not new nor blame the skeptics who no longer want to reach into their pockets as yet another charitable organization is found to be corrupt. Truth somehow always prevails -so bought, bribed or built from the ground up… there are no short cuts for anyone at the end of the day.
We are not new to the questions of why we are doing what we are doing and assumptions that we are trying to save the world because of colonial guilt and/or feelings of first world superiority. It no longer comes as a surprise when yet another person voices their opinion that they believe we are arrogant enough to impose our beliefs and culture onto their people and children. We are no longer surprised by assumptions that many people still think that the lighter our skin colour the deeper our pockets -filled with quick-fix band-aid support and that in Canada and abroad -money “grows on trees”. Coming from Trinidad and having friends from China, India, Jamaica, Ghana and even my Ugandan friends, who now live or study in Canada or abroad, face this assumption of wealth.
I find it amusing when I have to remind my African friends to hide me around corners when haling down a boda boda or a taxi or when they laugh and quickly bury me under hats and gear in buses when traffic police are seen up ahead. Most often than not -fees are raised no matter who’s colour is having to reach into their pockets to pay.
I know that every African friend who walks beside me has been changed a little as they have changed me. The little ones are surprised and question the difference in treatment. They are so cute when they then take on the role of my protector. My older friends smile and know that they must play this game of hide the muzungu and seek the ride, meal or item. I find I step back and play the supporting role by falling back or secretly passing money to my African friends to pay for my purchases -especially when prices are not openly displayed. Supermarkets and malls are not a problem but markets are. Sadly, I love markets -everything about markets. I am not angered by this treatment as I realize that we have endless years to tear through stereotypes on both our parts.
Why are we here? Why am I here? Yes -a cultural exchange program of photography workshops and micro businesses.. but why am I really here? For my friend, “You have lived in the other world – you know what reaching out is. I trust you more than someone who just wakes up and decides to save the world,” she is often told.
My friend is giving back. I, on the other hand, am not. However, I did not wake up suddenly and decide to save the world -I am not here to save Africa. I am not here to make myself feel better or superior because I am not able to do that in Canada. I am not here to become the next Ghandi or Mother Theresa. I am not selfless nor selfish and I am not stronger or happier than many of the lovely people I am meeting or working with here on the ground.
I am often sensitive and can be moved to tears from hurt, anger or happiness and sadly my sensitivity and compassion are mistaken, by some, as a weakness and assumptions are made that I am here to be protected. I am not here to be protected from the truth nor am I here to resolve world issues nor here to solve personal problems. My pockets are not deep and I am not a charity. Do not come to me with the intent to reach into my pocket and do not tell me how my pockets are the answer to your problems nor the reasons for your unhappiness. I am here for my children and I to see past the sadness and the poverty that our media throws at us and to see and share your beautiful traditions and culture starting with our friends and, in turn, I hope that I can share the rich and diverse cultures we are so blessed with to have in Canada. Together we can build tolerance and appreciation for our differences and our similarities.
Growing up in a working class immigrant family I was fortunate to have all that I needed but not all that I wanted. Having lost my father at the age of eleven, I watched my mother raise seven children on her own. My sister, Mary, was only twenty-three and at the time I didn’t realize that the older ones took on the difficult roles of both parent and sibling. Looking back, I realize that not getting everything we wanted made us grateful for the little extras that did come around and made us aware that initiative and hard work paid off. Am I giving back? Yes, I guess I am -To all of those special adults and siblings in my life who took the time to tell me that I could make a difference in the world if I believed I could. As a child, the most important thing was that they believed in me and I continue to keep their words close to me and share them with the children and youth I am so fortunate to work with.
This trip has opened my heart and closed it at the same time. I had begun to question my judgment of character and had begun to find it hard to trust as I found our line of work was a target for cons and hearts alike. I found that I had begun to doubt those that came close as I had judged a few people so poorly. Yet I look around at those who have been keeping pace with me and know that I have chosen wisely and will again.
I still try to shake the sadness I feel of lost closeness but realize that it is more important to see them as blessings in disguise and that I can no longer blindly trust those who seemingly wear their hearts on their sleeves. The string of cliches fill my head and rings true more so now than ever before. Necessary lessons as I move deeper into this line of work. As I move each project forward with those I trust implicitly and with those new hearts that join in -I realize that the lines between work and play have blurred once again.