Saturday, May 17, 2008

Beware when the so called sagely men come limping in to sight

The area outside the gate for the Uganda flight in the Amsterdam airport was awash in people in coordinated t-shirts, always a sure sign the church groups were on the march. Sure enough, group #1 was "His Holy Hands" (picture of a halo over the African continent) and they were building a school. Group #2 was "Hope and Peace Ministries" (rising sun over the African continent) and they sponsored kids in villages and were going to visit them, group #3 was "Saviors of something or another" (big handshake across the African continent) and they were, well, I'm not sure what they were doing, but they all had thick East London accents and tattoos.

There were more. These were just the ones which came up and told me what they were doing. And believe me, they all will come up and tell you what they're doing if you make any sort of eye contact at all. Even passing glances.

I never really had contact with the missionary types or the summer "goin' to africa to save me some babies" crowd before. They weren't in my part of India, they hadn't made it to Liberia and they sure as hell weren't in Darfur, so my only previous contact with them was in the Kampala and Nairobi airports, where I would quietly judge them.

I can't help it. I know I shouldn't and I'm just being a horrible horrible snob and, given how ineffectual I feel much of the work we big, well funded, experienced NGOs do, I'm not even sure where I get off, but I just object SO strongly to these types of people. The ones that come out to Africa once a year to shower money on some village and will talk your ear off about how grateful everyone is and how it changed their lives seeing that little girl hold her first ever toy or whatever.

See, I'm just nasty about it. I even kinda shocked a guy on the flight from Yei to Juba today. He started talking to me and it turned out he ran orphanages, which is one of my pet peeves, I hate them. Anyway, he was telling me about how they had this one little girl who was so smart and lovely and all and her mom (MOM people) came for her and he said no because he couldn't guarantee she'd get the same level of schooling in her home village. I told him I thought that was a bit paternalistic and I wasn't sure he had the right, morally or legally, to keep a girl from her family nor did I think the whole idea of a orphanage where the kids had living parents was particularly sensible.

He looked like I hit him. I'm sure he's never gotten anything but hugs, teary eyes and canonization from anyone for his work before.

I'm going to hell. Immediately. And I deserve it.

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