Monday, July 03, 2006

Where is the Love?

Tonight I had one of the moments I was told to expect. Jude and I were walking through Hain waiting for our TZ (edible millet-based PlayDoh) to be ready. We were stepping over muddy patches on the winding dirt path through the houses; a series of mud and straw huts to our left, remains of a mud-brick house surrounding a crop field to the right. It was almost pitch black since none of the houses around us could afford the electricity offered by the nearby power lines, but even through the darkness I could make out the unmistakable shape of a child rolling an old tire with a stick further down the path. Jude was telling stories and laughing about how life was great and, despite the ‘terrible’ conditions I saw, everyone we passed was invariably in a good mood as they gathered around their fires and rested after the day’s work. I was just considering to myself how cliché of a Hollywood scene it all was when suddenly the Black Eyed Peas’ “Where Is the Love?” came booming through the night from a (very nice) speaker system in one of the houses near the main road.

Now it wasn’t that the sound was unfamiliar or necessarily bad; and certainly no-one around me seemed to notice the music (except Jude, who sang along with me with a mock falsetto that rivals my own). But even while goofing around I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something wrong with this picture. The village is so rich with tradition and the musical culture is such a fundamental part of everyone’s lives.
I mean, I always question the development work we’re doing; I think it’s necessary to constantly be doing so. And yes, sometimes overanalyzing means that I can get worked up over perfectly harmless things. But, as I was warned by former volunteers, there are those moments that just feel unmistakable; those times when you realize that something is going terribly awry in this noble pursuit of justice. And I’m sure that it’s a moment that I won’t ever forget.

What purpose does this all serve? Yes, these people suffer from a lot of disease, malnutrition, and chronic unemployment. Yes, they are actively looking for ways to better the conditions they live in. Yes their complete lack of infrastructure is the result of centuries of oppression by white colonials. And yes we should try to help them, whether driven by good intentions or simple “white guilt.”

But how is this type of development helping to alleviate these oppressive conditions? Pop music hardly cures sickness, and it certainly doesn’t put food on their table. It does, however, undermine the local culture only to promote a more empty and glamorous one. How much culture are we going to bulldoze until we feel these communities are ‘developed’ enough?


At 12:31 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some insightful thoughts. I will likely see the light later (remember that point), but for now my initial reaction to your post was to sort of take the other side... :S
Cultures, like it or not, do 'evolve' or change with time (in my opinion, for better And for worse, but that is just my opinion). It is all very nice to think that Ghana will stay forever how it was 20 years ago, or even how it is today, but is that really fair to ask of them when Canadian (american) culture changes? In the 1920's, jazz music was very popular. In the 1600 and 1700's, Baroque music was common. If i turn on the radio at home, I get one classical station, two country stations, two 'modern'/pop stations, and one talk station.

I think I am straying from my point here, but I'll try to come back.
As far as I know, no one forced us (as a collective) to like baroque, then (skip a couple centuries) jazz, then (a couple decades) whatever is on now. We were introduced to new ideas, and we gradually adopted them as fun, worth trying, or otherwise interesting. Yup, baroque music is now pretty uncommon, but it is there, and isn't dissapearing. That Ghanaian culture is changing might be hard to watch. But i don't think it will dissapear. This 'new' 'empty' culture might not feed people, or cure diseases. But culture isn't meant to do that. Culture is part of the beauty that can inspire people. Definitions of beauty change with time (think to the powder wigs worn a couple centuries ago), and cultures change too (a causal link in either direction would be hard to define). But who are you (we) to judge that 'our' culture is empty? That 'their' culture is full and good?
Different perspectives.

At 5:52 p.m., Blogger Emily said...

The last comment just reminded me of good ol' forum class . . . the meaning of life.
Wasn't it you, Bryn, who agreed that the big "M" meaning may be the beautification of the world we live in? We didn't agree as to whether it was achievable or not . . . it seems to me that the beautifcation of the earth is something continual, ever changing (you didn't read the Bhuddist book, but the only thing that is constant is change).
I know this doesn't directly relate to what 'anonymous' said (by the way, you write some interesting stuff Mr. Doe)but it kinda makes sense in my head. . . hahaha!
Basically I'll finish by saying what I always say - have fun and keep smiling!

At 4:20 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there's a better way of "developing" then wiping out that place's culture. It really doesn't do much good's been proven in past history.

Making their culture one of the most important things is key, or atleast not changing how culturally involved they are. Creating more oportunities for work and better access to medical suplies and such so that it does improve their living but not so that it worps them to the material obsessed culture that we have today in north america.

Change isn't always bad but it isn't always good it's finding that happy medium that can help them. You're there helping them find that happy medium that can improve their lives without ruining their old ways of life.

At 8:06 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just for the record, that was a different anonymous.

At 6:06 p.m., Blogger Emily said...

Bryn and others, espeically from NB, you must check out . . . I think Brian MaGee is doing this . . . um, wow is all I have to say!

At 7:00 p.m., Anonymous sarah maclellan said...

bryn, You are an amazing writer. I enjoyed your blog immensley. I just got back from Costa Rica and am working here in Canada now. Have a great 2 more months
sarah maclellan
ps I look forward to your presentation for jonathan

At 11:00 p.m., Blogger Laura said...

Byrn, I haven't visted your site nearly enough, and honestly you're making me want to jump up, save the world, and do so that doesn't include my usually cynical look that usually occurs when I look at things critically.
I actually have thought before about the cutural shifts that societies once not only dominated, but ultimately molded by our society, face in light of the natural evolution of scoicety.
I know you posted this some while ago now and prolly won't read this but if it makes you feel better there are differnt ways to look at the route that life takes when you start to debate what is natural flow, what is a tampered past (if there is such a thing), or what is the correct future?
Man oh man do I sound like a Forum class or what!
Keep writing your awesome insights, maybe I will be out of my summer slugishness by fall if I keep reading your inspired entries!


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