Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Alyssa - Tuesday

I bought a lot of what my mother would call junk today at the market. My purchases included a pipe, slingshot, hand-carved knife, lots of jewelry, a spice grater, and two bars of soap big enough to get me through the next eight years of my life. I’m hoping that it will encourage me to shower more, but chances are not likely.

The market itself was an interesting experience, not only because it was something new and an anthropologist’s dream site, but also because it reminded me about the concept of poverty that I was struggling with in the beginning of writing my thesis. Early last summer, I stumbled across a book called Festival Elephants, in which the author explores the meaning the word poverty and the manner in which this perception affects aid work throughout the world. Most importantly, he discusses the perceptions of western ideals of poverty imposed on the developing world, which lead to the epidemic of what development analysts call global poverty. According to the author, however, global poverty does not exist. It was an interesting idea, but one that is difficult to understand without visiting a place such as Bakang. Cameroon, by western standards, is a poor country. They lack consistent modern conveniences, such as electricity and computers, and most people live off less than twenty dollars a month.

So the Cameroonians lack money, modern appliances (with the exception of cell phones), traffic laws. They don’t trust refrigeration and they wear their clothes more than once a week. But this is not what defines their poverty. In fact, the community itself very proudly stands by who they are and the work they do. They do not consider themselves part of the endemic of global poverty; instead, they see themselves as a strong village with a problem of water access. The premise of Festival Elephants is that “global poverty” cannot exist because the concept of poverty itself is defined by the community and therefore cannot be uniform across the world. For some societies, this means a lack of family, food, money, even cows. In the case of Bakang, it is lack of access to water.

I am reminded of our mission here, which is not to save the community from their lack of monetary income or rather unique traffic laws. We are here to help problem solve and to explore different methods that can aid with a problem that cannot be solved by one group alone. This mutual relationship and understanding that has developed over that past two years has enabled the organization to approach the problems here in a way that does not encourage the fixing of “global” poverty. Instead, we get the opportunity to really explore the ways that a different community works, and learn all kinds of new and crazy things. How to walk with 20 pounds on your head. How to keep your clothes clean in this dirt. How to build a chair without nails. And ultimately, how a different way of life does not necessarily make someone worse or better off than you.

So we continue with this goal in mind: to make cleaner water more accessible to those who need it. I am also trying to convince the kids here that my hair is real, but I am thinking I will have more luck with the first goal.

We’ll see you all soon, stay warm all! Love.

Alyssa

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Anthropology Rocks!

-Sam

dieudonne taleu said...

hi,
you all did a great job.

thanks very much

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