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Ants with Nukes

How to solve the problem of Africa

DISCLAIMER: The views within this blog entry may not represent the views of my employer. To be fair, as i'm already more than 7months late – and this number will rise - back, I may not even have an employer anymore anyway. But even if I do, they might not agree with this. As might most of you. And really, there is no need for this post at all anyway, let alone for any of you lot to actually READ it. Oh no. You might as well just skip it. I just wrote it because in a slightly bored moment, i realised that somebody needed to say it, and that might as well be me.

Whilst sitting in the bar of Mabuya Camp, Lilongwe's premier – and, pretty much only – backpacker destination, i got talking to Sam, the friendly if sometimes confused (OK. Always confused) barman. It wasn't the first night I was there – and won't be the last – and so we were continuing, to the utter bemusement and incomprehension of anybody else within earshot, with our attempts at solving what, in our high and mighty and possibly drunken tones, we had described as the problem of Africa.

In a nutshell, that meant NGO's.

Now before you all start sending hate mail to the wonderful overlords (Hi Sam and Pete) here at Travellerspoint, or go and actually do something useful (you know: watching dry paint fade, rearranging your ties according to hue, or talking to your wives/husbands/partners/kids [delete as appropriate], that sort of thing), I should probably explain. I will start with another disclaimer: There are many, many NGO's that produce brilliant – indeed, often miraculous – results every week, all over the world. There is lots of good work done, and there are any number of minor Saints who, day after day, fight against a virtually incomprehensible range of problems, bureaucracy, corruption, stupidity, incompetence and odds in order to try and make peoples lives better. And there are lots of well meaning, well intended aid and NGO workers and projects in Africa, and indeed the world. That I am not disputing.

What I am saying, is that so much more could be done with even half the current resources and donations that are used, if more of it was actually of immediate relevance to the people who are they think they are helping. For years it was a vague curiosity of mine that Aid/NGO workers (especially the 2white people in a brand new white 4x4's that proliferate allover the world) were pretty much the most despised people to locals around the world. In all seriousness, I have met people in countries that Dubya Bush declared war on (or at least royally f*cked over, though I admit that doesn't narrow the list of countries down much, if at all) who much prefer Dubya – even love him – in comparison to NGO's and Aid workers.

It is an odd situation to fully grasp. Do the locals not understand that they are here to help, I thought? Then, one day several years ago in a really really really poor village somewhere lost in my memory, I finally realised (or admitted) what I think I had always known at least subconsciously: They are here to help, but are really not helping. Too much aid/NGO is about the aid company feeling good in themselves, showing the people back home how great they are and how much they care and how much they are helping, whilst simultaneously managing to not actually help out the people they are supposed to be – and are saying they are – in the slightest, for a variety of reasons. I would even go so far as to state that in the medium to long term, significantly more than 50% of the normally well-meaning aid 'given', actively make things worse (sometimes significantly worse) for those it is intended to help, in one way or another. I wish I was joking. I really, really am not.

I don't have the time (or, really, the inclination) to expand that to the lengths that I probably should, full of detailed examples and personal experiences, but I will happily debate that point in depth with anybody who wishes to, when I have more time, internet access, and possibly alcohol. For now, to those of you frothing at the mouth and plotting my long and painful death – or, worse, tipping off Kiki to my whereabouts – let's just agree that everybody is entitled to their own opinions and let it go at that.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, the bar at Mabuya.

Anyhow, Sam and I were discussing this problem (and it was him that started this long 3 day debate, saying how useless the NGO's are, not me) and how to save Africa. We started off by thinking that the easiest way was just to destroy Africa and then start again. But then we felt that to be grossly unfair to all the innocent animals and locals. So we looked at removing all the animals and most of the locals, and then bombing the utter sh1t out of Africa, killing the NGOs and then returning the animals and locals; ideally with new countries and national borders that actually make sense (unlike 99% of existing African borders which are basically, ignorant, arrogant imperial European f*ck ups). But logistically, that would be hard: To take just one reason, there are no planes able to carry a big enough payload to drop a single nuke that would be powerful enough to destroy Africa. And we don't have the budget for the number of planes that would be needed to do it independently. And besides, such an approach would also destroy much of the glorious nature and countryside that Africa contains.

We needed a different approach. One on a smaller scale.

To this day, I don't know the route we took – and it was a long, convoluted and possibly (though actually, not all that) drunken night to be sure – to arrive at our conclusion, but in the end it was pretty much agreed.

Yup, Ants with nukes are the answer to all of Africa's problems.

Posted by Gelli 01:38 Archived in Malawi Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Bye-bye Yes-Dear


After abandoning me for the second time – this time, 10 days in Uganda – Maaret returned to Nairobi. Feeling a bit better and in one of my “let's wait and see” rotations at the hospital between appointments and Maaret's return to Europe looming, I made an executive decision and decided we would go to Arusha for a few days. Now I freely admit that I am not entirely sure what i expected to accomplish as i am still not in anywhere near good enough to attempt such things as long safari trips or climbing Kilimanjaro (I can barely climb stairs at the moment, let alone anything else!), but it made sense at the time. Basically, I was so bored of looking at the same walls that I just fancied looking at some other walls for a bit.

And it kind of worked. The journey didn't cause me too much in the way of problems, and we found a nice little hostel mostly used by long term volunteers, and where we were instantly brought into the 'family' and made to feel very welcome. Plus there were puppies. Which for those that understand – and even those that don't, as it is pretty obvious at least from one angle – means baby animals.


The people behind the Ujamaa Hostel have links to several local charities and projects, and people come and stay for a while and volunteer. You can choose to do as much or little as you want, and get involved in whichever project you want, and mix and match pretty much as you please: It is one of the few programs that i have come across in the last few months where they are genuinely looking for people to come and volunteer, as opposed to the norm which is that they want the money the volunteers pay (normally lots of it), but then really seem like they couldn't care less if the volunteers stick around or not. At Ujamaa, you don't pay (read: hand over a blank cheque) for the privilege of volunteering: You just volunteer.

Sadly, i wasn't really up to much. I had good moments and bad, but pretty much did not allot except hang around the hostel and occasionally wander around Arusha. Frustratingly, I didn't make it to a single of the projects (reasoning that with my currently extremely sensitive stomach, the last thing I need was enthusiastic kids running up and grabbing/hugging me), though have already resolved to return when I am finally alive again and stay for a few weeks and help out.

One of the things that I have enjoyed so much about being sick and stuck around Nairobi for the last few weeks has been the wonderful support and consistent presence of Maaret. And so having been abandoned by her twice in the previous couple of weeks, and with a third abandonment rapidly approaching, I was warmed to discover that when she went out to a club with most of the hostel residents (pretty much everybody except for me and 2 other sicknotes), she had to field 2 wedding proposals – and not from locals – and got involved in this**...


Sigh. The hints are becoming increasingly less subtle. The evening was topped off when part of the group arrived home around 4am, and when Maaret came in to check on me, I got a strong whiff of alcohol and “club” smells and pretty much had to sprint straight off for another, erm, comfort break. And who said romance was dead?

  • * To be fair, the three guys are all really cool New Yorkers who are gay, gayer and really gay.

DISCLAIMER: I have been almost politely asked to point out that Maaret has never really abandoned me, and I am using that term for semi-dramatic-ish affect. Left me alone for days on end whilst she went off to do other, more exciting things on 3 different occasions? yes; abandoned me? not really. To set her worries that free that any of my friends who ever stumble across this and actually read it will think that by leaving me in my hour of need (or something like that) she is a heartless so and so, in the hope of not being slapped later on, I hearby state for the record that I had no problems with – and actively encouraged – her side trips. I don't want somebody ruining/wasting the end of their holiday to sit in a cell staring at a wall with me hen i'm in an even less friendly, sociable and useful way than normal, when they could be out enjoying themselves and seeing all sorts of exciting things, such a paint drying. Fred, on the other hand I am a bit miffed that he deserted me. He could have worked wonders in several hospital situations that I have found myself in! Now, Honey, please don't slap me?

Posted by Gelli 16:42 Archived in Tanzania Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

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