I need Africa more than Africa needs me…

I was asked by Mocha Club to write about the concept of why ‘I need Africa more than Africa needs me.’ Mocha Club [www.mochaclub.org] is a community-based website where members can start a team and invite friends to join them in giving $7 a month – the cost of 2 mochas – to support a project in Africa.  Mocha Club’s vision is to provide a way for people who don’t have hundreds or thousands of dollars to make a difference in Africa.

When I first read the phrase “I need Africa more than Africa needs me,” I had a reaction that many of you may have had. I (honestly) first thought, ‘Can that really be true?!’ My pride flaired up, and immediately I was characterizing myself as the giver of help, and Africa as the poor, helpless continent just begging for MY help. And then I stopped, said “Jessica, you’re an idiot” and began to really think it through. Because you know, it is trendy today to talk about Africa and to do something to help. It’s *trendy.* And much of the time we sort of pat ourselves on the back, thinking “oh, those pitiful people… good thing we are here to help them.” Could it really be that they are the ones helping us? Helping us to see? Helping us to live?

I spent January-May of this year living in a mud hut in a Saharan desert village in Niger, W. Africa. I was there long enough that I had time to get past the ‘romantic’ phase that sometimes accompanies overseas trips. I lived life with the people– my friends. They became a part of me, and I, an accepted and loved part of their community.

I really expected that Africa would be like the commercials- that everyone would be sitting around, emaciated and never smiling. What I found instead was an industrious and jubilant people. I found friends that loved their communities and spend hours pounding millet to feed their family, or hauling buckets of water on their heads to make sure they had enough to get through the hot day. I saw people that lived from day to day, and had only enough personal possessions to carry on their person.

The desert is hot and very, very difficult to survive in. And as I looked around at the lives of my beloved friends I saw great poverty (Niger is consistently the last or second to last on the list of the world’s poorest countries) and lives of great difficulty– and yet I saw such great strength. I saw a rich, deep culture. I saw ways of doing things I’d never seen before. I saw how very, utterly simply I really could live. And I saw that these people were no different than me. It seemed nearly impossible to reconcile my life in America with what I was seeing– simply thinking of transporting one of my friends into a Walmart proved my point. And yet, ironically, apart from all of the things that comprise ‘life’ in the United States, and by living among them, I saw life. I saw life and love and hope stripped down to its bones– without all the fluff that clouds our vision in America. I lived their lives and felt the great difficulty, and yet it was in that difficulty that I was changed forever.

I know I need Africa more than Africa needs me.

I want to hear your thoughts! Share your thoughts in my comments, and even blog about it yourself.  Join in the worthwhile cause of recasting the damaging images that force pity over partnership.  Come back Dec 1st to see what Mocha Club is doing about reforming that image.


5 Responses to “I need Africa more than Africa needs me…”

  1. Jessica Spelce Says:

    Well said Jess! I totally agree with you. Africa doesn’t need me. I can’t offer the people there anything. Our friends in Niger taught me so much and I miss them dearly. They do need a Savior. I do not want to downplay that need at all. We were able to bring the Word to them. I do believe that that is extremely important.

    However, in so many other ways, they get things right when we get them so wrong. Our materialism and individualism should be replaced with their sense of community. They take care of one another like I have never seen!

    I want to go back so much! But is it because I feel that I have anything to give them? No. I just miss doing life there. We have just as much to learn as they do. I think a partnership is a much better view of how things should work. Props to you for your work with Mocha!

  2. Suz Says:

    Beautiful Jess, beautiful. Loved every word of it!

  3. julie Says:

    Wow. Very powerful. i like the statement partnership instead of pity.

  4. Jessica Says:

    Great post, Jess! Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  5. Evelyn Fuson Says:

    Jessica, first let me say that your photography is beautiful! And you wrote this beautifully. Through both your images and your writing you really captured the simple joy of life and love that I think we as Americans miss because we are so spoiled. I love this line: “…by living among them, I saw life. I saw life and love and hope stripped down to its bones– without all the fluff that clouds our vision in America…” One word:beautiful. I would love to hear more about your trip and you experiences!!

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