Monday, June 06, 2011

Heroes and victims

I’ve been thinking more about the stuff I was writing about yesterday, about those that position themselves as heroes and saviours of others. The arrogance, the courage, the single-mindedness... there are plenty of things to admire, but a few to question as well.

I’ve been talking about this a lot with V and he said he worries that my idealism has been replaced by cynicism. I asked when I was ever idealistic and he reminded me that I used to be much more willing and eager to charge off on something.

I admit that I’ve often been impulsive. I accepted a job in Mali without knowing anything about the country or even where to find it on a map. I love traveling without a fixed destination, discovering as I go.

But at the same time, I think I’ve seen enough to have long lost any idealism I might have held about international work. Reading a book like Little Princes just reminds me of the risks of parachuting in to fix someone else’s problems and I get frustrated when complex inter-cultural relationships are portrayed in hero/victim roles.

When I was in Mali I struggled with my role as a foreign teacher. Sure I had some skills that could be useful to others, but there were hundreds of Malians with these skills, and more. My daily allocation of $10 was the equivalent of a good 2-week salary. Add on the money for my plane ticket, immunizations, visas, etc and basically my 5-month stint could likely have given a Malian a full-time job for a few years.

I asked a young man who had trained in IT what he thought of people like me coming to Mali to do jobs he was qualified for. He dropped his gaze and shrugged.

“Its complex here,” he said. “Because of your skin colour, people will listen to you. I could go in and say the same thing, but they wouldn’t respect me.”

So while I could say my presence enabled people to receive computer training, and acquire skills to complete in the world economy of high tech, on the other hand my presence disabled people him from assuming these same roles.

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