Thursday, July 12, 2007
What Life is Like in Rural Africa
Over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to travel through some of the more rural areas of Zimbabwe as I have visited project beneficiaries. The beauty of the mountains and grassy fields is tempered with the desperation of those who inhabit this scenic place. As I walked along the side of the road there were many waiting for scarce transportation, searching for scarce work, or haggling over scarce food. Maybe that is the theme for rural Zimbabwe right now: scarcity. Everything seems to be in short supply from grocery items to electricity.
People cannot afford their own cars or even bikes, so public transportation is important. In the city, many people wait to pay high prices to squeeze into small buses. Those in the rural areas are less lucky and routinely have to walk to their destinations many kilometers away. Walking presents a unique challenge to women who must carry large bundles on their heads, strap babies to their back, and lead their other children along by the hand.
Many in the rural areas do not have running water. Some have always lacked the necessary plumbing, but others just recently have been deprived of water due to power cuts at reservoirs and water pumping stations. In order to cope, families must walk to the nearest river, sometimes very far from their homes, and bring back water in buckets. The water must then be boiled before it is sanitary to drink.
Since money is scarce, families grow their own vegetables to supplement what they are able to buy. The gardens must be carefully tended and protected from roaming animals. If the crops do not grow or are destroyed, the family will suffer.
There are, however, some things that are not at all scarce. There is no shortage of children who have lost parents to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, nor is there a shortage of price increases as the country faces 4000% inflation, and certainly there is no shortage of the unemployed, who currently compose 80% of the country’s population.
Nothing about daily life in rural Africa is easy, but Zimbabweans continue to persevere and work hard to improve their lives. The situation here is often bleak, but it is not hopeless. Many of the challenges rural Africans face today are similar to what farmers in America struggled against less than a hundred years ago. The United States has taken giant leaps forward in national health and prosperity and I believe that Zimbabwe can do the same.
In spite of all the difficulties in providing even the most basic standard of living, there is something beautifully complex about seeing life in rural Africa as an outsider. To me, it is like being at a party where everyone is dancing to a song that I can’t hear. All I can do is copy their moves and hope to be only a beat behind. There is so much I don’t understand that I could embarrass myself with examples. That’s why any foreign imposition of how Africa “should” be will inevitably fail. As cultural outsiders, all we can do is assist Africans in changing their own lives. They are ready. Are we?
Posted by ASAP Africa at 9:35 AM