Sunday, November 8, 2009

What is it like?

People often want to know what it is like to live in a Third World country, to be part of some humanitarian effort, like the Peace Corps, USAID, or United Nations, . My efforts to explain the conflict between the frustration of trying to do "good" with love of trying are best described in Norman Rush's short story about an AID worker in Botswana, "Official Americans" .

"But you can't quite figure why you like it, am I right? ...Drought, poor people.. But, we still like it here. One night I figured it out. It's because it isn't our country and we can't help what happens. We can offer people advice and we get paid for it. We get good vacations, we eat off the top of the food chain chain, we get free housing. Hey!, but we're not responsible for what happens if Africa goes to hell, because we've done our best. Also, at the same time, we're not responsible for what happens in America, either, really- because, hey!, we weren't home when it happened. Say we get fifteen percent compliance on birth control here, which is what we do get and which is terrific by Third World standards. O.K., it's not enough. But what can we do, we tried. We told them. But, we're too late. We all know it, but somebody pays us to keep up the good work, so we say fine. Why am I telling you this? I forgot."

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