Paper for Class:
Reflection #1: Reflections on Africa
I feel at home in Africa and maybe a little too comfortable with the African way of life. Although I notice the cultural differences, I am used to these things. Differences that are shocking to other foreigners don’t surprise me anymore.
Working at orphanages and living in villages in both Ghana and Kenya has made me realize just how happy the people in Africa are. We look at the African life style from a Westerner’s mindset. How could these people who have very few material possessions and live in what we call ‘poverty’ be so happy and content with their live styles? In terms of our American standards, they have very little yet they are always smiling and are so happy with what little they do have. These people who outsiders, especially Westerners often view as ‘indigenous people,’ have a lot to teach us. They have discovered the happiness which comes from people. Us Westerners on the other hand look to material things to find happiness. It’s no wonder Africans are so much happier than Americans.
I am intrigued by the simplicity of the African life style. Although countries such as Kenya are in the process of urbanizing, they still hold on to many of their traditional practices. This life style is centered around the family; this is not just limited to the nuclear family but also encompasses the extended family. This is something I admire very much. Being in Africa and seeing the closeness of the families here makes me long for a more closely knit family back home. Due to our fast paced and complicated life style in America, family is not something that is treasured and appreciated as it is in Africa.
In a village like Riruta Satellite, families are not the only people who cherish one another. The community is very welcoming and is very closely knit. The strong community in Riruta Satellite means that people know each other. My host family was shocked to hear that I do not know my neighbors at home. This is a sad but true fact and adequately summarizes the lack of community that exists in my neighborhood. Walking around Riauta Satellite with my host sisters helps me realize just how strong the community is. Mothers, fathers, boys, and girls know my sisters names and call out to them as they pass by. The Riruta Satellite community has welcomed my classmates and I into their community by hosting us and greeting us, offering us handshakes and hugs as we pass by.
This idea of a strong community in Africa, particularly in East Africa is something that Aylward Shorter discusses in his book, East African Societies. He explains that “people look for job opportunities for their relatives and fellow tribesmen. They lodge them and feed them and help them in moments of crisis, when they are sick and in trouble. A great deal of their earnings is paid out in the form of school fees for their young brothers and sisters and even more distant relatives” (Shorter 1974:54).
The African life style revolves are the idea that children are worth something. Their hands are important assets on the farm and in the home. African children are given much more responsibility than most American parents would even imagine giving their children. While taking care of one’s siblings is often a chore in America, it is something that children in Africa do without complaint and with an open heart. Young children in America are very restricted, unlike children in Africa who are commonly allowed to wander around and play outside without parental supervision. I have witnessed many older siblings watching out for their younger siblings and carrying their younger siblings on their backs. I have also seen many older children carrying around and caring for other children who live in the community. These children are not required to do this but do it out of the love in their hearts and because this is the way a closely knit African community operates. It is incredible to see the way that these children embrace everyone and care for others as their own siblings.
Being an American in Africa helps me realize how much I take for granted in my daily life. In America, no matter where I go, I know that I can turn on the faucet and water will flow. In addition, I know that if I flip the light switch, there will be light. It is when I am in Africa that I realize that electricity and water are things that we are privileged with in America. In addition, being in Africa and listening to the news and to the locals, I have realized how lucky we are in America to have a well functioning and non corrupt government and police force.
Being in Africa makes me question many of the practices we have in America. At the same time, I realize that America has many adequate and well functioning practices and institutions. While America has a lot to learn from Africa, Africa too has a lot to learn from America.