Monday, August 1, 2016

I Did Not Come to Africa to Help the Children

“I just really wanted to come to Africa help the children”, I hear the white girl across from me say. She pushes her straight blonde hair back over her left ear and lays her RayBan sunglasses on the plastic table. She sits in a blue plastic chair with “Pepsi” written on the back, under a tent that leans such that it looks as if it could topple at any moment. On the wall across her is a bare cement building with “Chakula House” in colorful paint on the wall and written again on the Pepsi-branded sign. On both sides of the long table sit Tanzanian men and women, eating wali, ugali and mshikaki. “Chips”, she says to the young woman with an apron who walks up next to her. “Chips, you understand?” she repeats. The woman nods her head.
From my quick interaction I am already forming her backstory. She comes from California, just out of college. She has always wanted to go to Africa, doesn’t really matter where, since last year when her friend went. On the weekdays she goes to orphanages and hospitals where she plays with the kids and unsuccessfully tries to teach them english. On the weekends she goes on safari, lounges by the pool, and goes to all the clubs. Her Instagram is a mix between her with the little children with captions about how happy they are even though their situation is so tragic, and selfies with elephants. Her profile picture is her in the middle a group of African (she doesn’t specify the country) kids. She is White Savior Barbie. She is everything I complain about to my other mzungu friends.

View up the road

But am I all that different? I am in Tanzania for two months, I go out on the weekends, post pictures of landscapes on Instagram, and speak a few words of broken Swahili. I like to think I came to Arusha to do something that mattered and get experience in international development, but I am also having a good time living in another country. There are no doubt things that separate me from her. I am not pretending I know what is best for Tanzania, I take the bus and ride my bike through the local entrance of the national park, I live without many of the luxuries of home, and my profile picture is not of me with a group of Tanzanian children. I want to believe that I am not a “white savior”, but there is a part of me is not sure and it makes my stomach hurt.

Lake Manyaya National Park

One night, after a long talk about what were were really doing in Tanzania, my friend said to me, “The people who are thinking abut the things and questioning if they are really making a difference are usually the ones that are.” So hopefully, by recognizing that I have the privilege to be able to go here (and the privilege to leave whenever I want), that I am not a savior, and that I do not know what is best for Tanzania, I don't have to be like the girl sitting across from me. It is okay for me to go to Tanzania for a summer. It is okay for me to have an experience where I learn about international development, do my best to help, and even go on small trips on the weekends. But I did not just really want to come to Africa to help the children.

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