Why I won’t be tipping cold water over my head

August 22, 2014 in Mark, Culture, Justice, Mission

Anyone who has been on social media in North America or Europe over the past few days cannot help but have seen the phenomenon that involves people filming themselves tipping ice-cold water over their heads, apparently to raise awareness and/or money for charity. Although the details vary, the first step is generally that someone is challenged by a friend, to either give $100 to charity, or to tip a bucket of ice-cold water over their head to be released from the obligation to donate (or in some cases to give a lesser amount). This person then challenges several more people, and the cycle continues…

While the idea has become hugely popular (as my Facebook and Twitter feeds testify), and apparently successful in terms of raising money (with this report suggesting $41 million has been raised for A.L.S. research up until August 21st), I have to say it makes me feel uncomfortable. Read the rest of this entry →

What’s wrong with Tanzania?

May 31, 2013 in Mark, Africa, Culture, Front, Justice, Tanzania

On the train from Mbeya to Dar es Salaam this week it was fun to bump in to some of the backpackers for whom the TAZARA train seems to be an essential part of their African adventures. I was interested to hear their perspectives of Tanzania, as well as Zambia, Malawi and South Africa that they had travelled through.

However, it seemed that the travelers all came trying sub-consciously to answer the question: What is wrong with Africa? Whether it was in complaining about the train being a couple of hours late (not really a big deal when it travels thousands of miles, and there is no strict schedule anyway), or frustration at not understanding how the process works to buy tickets (yes there is an orderly queue even if you don’t see it, and no you can’t just push everyone until you get to the front), or thinking that workers digging a road are lazy because the majority are standing around (if you do manual work from dawn until dusk every day near the equator, you’d better pace yourself in the middle of the day or you’re not going to survive…), there seemed to always be the unspoken assumption that Tanzania is broken. The worst thing is that I can see all their same attitudes in myself when I first visited Kenya twelve years ago. Read the rest of this entry →

First World Problems

February 6, 2013 in Mark, Justice, Mission

The following video, made by Everyone Matters, is entitled “First World Problems read by Third World People”. Personally I don’t like the terms First and Third World, but I think the video does a good job of juxtaposing the very different realities of day to day life in different parts of our world. Read the rest of this entry →

“The Africans”, the Non-Africans, and a bus trip

December 29, 2012 in Mark, Africa, Culture

On my recent trip to Mbeya I brought along a couple of second-hand books that we had been given a while back, to pass the 16 hours each way on a bus. One of the books was The Africans, by David Lamb, who lived in Nairobi, Kenya, for four years and travelled around several African countries as a newspaper reporter. I had expected the title of the book to be ironic, but no, Lamb really does aim to describe “The Africans” in 300 pages. (Given the fact that there is apparently more genetic diversity in Africa than in the rest of the world combined, in addition to immense cultural diversity too, one wonders whether it would actually be easier to write a book about The Non-Africans.)

After the first couple of chapters I was ready to throw the book out of the window as Lamb paints a pretty depressing picture of the continent as a whole. There is little hope, and quite a patronising tone towards Africa and its people. However, the fact that I still had 6 hours before I reached Mbeya and little other reading material persuaded me to keep going. I was glad I did, as there are some very interesting stories, and I learnt a lot about the history of parts of Africa (mainly from the 1960s, when many countries gained independence, to the 1980s when the book was written), albeit told from a particular perspective.

This perspective was evident throughout the book, and I ended up learning as much about the author’s worldview as I did about Africa. Read the rest of this entry →

The importance of listening before doing

February 21, 2012 in Wycliffe, Mark, Africa, Front, Mission

There is a huge amount of thought, energy and money that goes into development work in Africa and other places around the world, but every now and then one comes across efforts for which the best that can be said is that they were born from good intentions. This morning on twitter I came across a post of the 7 worst international aid ideas.

These bad ideas range from sending a million t-shirts, or thousands of pairs of shoes, to Africa (thus putting local traders out of business), to restricting the use of aid to achieve certain apparently unrelated business or political goals, to even taking up arms to rescue abducted children. (You can read more about these 7 ideas, and why each is so bad, in the original post). Read the rest of this entry →