It’s been a while since I’ve written. It’s not because I’m out of stories to tell but simply because the lessons I feel like I’ve learned are so grand that I find it hard to put them on paper and do them justice. Here’s an attempt to one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned, I hope you enjoy it.
What surprises people most about a place like Africa is the contentment of the people. Even though they have much less in a materialistic sense than most people in the world, they seem much more content and peaceful. It’s an interesting phenomenon considering that they are amongst the poorest people in the world.
I had a chance to look into this more deeply while working on the farms with a lovely group of ladies. I figured I might as well learn a new skill and get to know a different aspect of society. Most of the farmers are women who plough and water the land, dig holes in the ground, manually distribute the seeds, and plant trees. It’s a lot of labor work. There are women who work there who range from the age of 24 to 60. When I first arrived to work on the “shamba” – farm, they all laughed asking me, “ Unaweza?” – “Are you able to?” I simply put my head down, smiled and said I’d try. With time, I showed them I was able to and soon we were all able to become friends. As they taught me how to farm, I was able to teach them a little bit of English. Not only did I learn how to farm, I learnt a bit more. These women get paid about 1.5 dollars a day for a 9-hour labor filled day and yet they spend the whole day working and laughing. They don’t know if they’ll have a job tomorrow. They barely have enough money to feed themselves. They break their backs under the African sun each day and yet they continue to smile and take care of each other.
Lack of Control
For one, I think it’s because of the lack of control and acceptance of it. A lot of these women cannot read nor write. It’s not like they can go to a bigger better company with more benefits. It’s either they work in the farms or do construction work and that’s about the end of the road for them. There is no real ray of hope. Even if they were to think of getting educated – the beginning would be learning their ABCs and they would need a teacher for that and time and commitment. Aziza is the youngest woman working there and she is 24. She has two kids and no husband. I don’t think she has the time to learn her ABCs. I think shamba work is what she’ll always do. It saddens me – we are constantly trying to climb up some kind of ladder but there isn’t much of a ladder to climb here. Yet, they’ve accepted it. They’ve accepted that this is their way of life. They do not overanalyze what is wrong with it and constantly compare to others but learn that it’s hand-to-mouth. They need to work to make sure that their next meal arrives on the table.
Not only is there a lack of control in their education level but also in the medical area. A disease like malaria is so prevalent in countries like the DRC and Tanzania. A disease that can kill you and kills so many and what carries it? A tiny insect. I remember reading a quote that went along the lines of “ If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito.” That can easily be molded to “ If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you’ve never had malaria.” When people are dying constantly because of a disease carried by a tiny flying insect – a feeling of no control will easily follow. They let life take its course. In the developed world, we are under the impression that we can control a lot more than I think we really can control. Things don’t always work the way we want them to and that leads to frustration and despair but maybe we need to loosen up a bit and let life take its true course.
Living in the Moment
Secondly, they live in the present. They are forced to. They are not worried about next week, month or year. They are focused on today. They live on a day-to-day basis. They need to make sure that they have a meal for today and if they do they are grateful for that. They are grateful for the fact that they have a meal and a job for that day. The image that gets painted in my head is like they are hanging right above a fire – starvation. It’s close but they are still above it – and because it is so close – they are simply grateful that they are alive. There’s a saying that goes – “It is not the happy people who are grateful but the grateful that are happy.” A lot of us are so far away from that reality of starvation that we forget to be grateful for that one meal. A lot of us are guilty of not living in the present. We are either living in the past or worrying about the future. It takes the joy of that present moment away. I remember listening to a lecture named, “What is wrong with now?” Generally, there isn’t that much wrong with the present moment, yet we are worrying and unhappy and we forget to be grateful for the simple bare necessities that we have.
Another attribute of the people here is that they are patient with their circumstances. Every woman here is working hard under the boiling sun and trying to send her child to school. She is patient with her circumstances. It’s her situation and she was born into it.
She may not be able to fix her situation but her child will hopefully be able to have a brighter future. If I ask them how they are each day, they reply with “ All Grace is to God.” Of course they want to have more money but they have learnt to be patient and hopefully a better day will come. In the developed world we are impatient in general. Our bus can’t be two minutes late, let alone our plan for our lives. A sense of failure and defeat overcomes us if we are not exactly where we are in that perfect plan of life. We find it hard to deal with the fact that there was a hiccup in the plan – something that we didn’t see coming. We become impatient and stressed.
Furthermore, the people are also very connected to their mosques and to their churches. This may be because there is no security, whether it is job security or life security. There is no system holding them up. Hopefully tomorrow their job will still be waiting for them. Hopefully a malaria-carrying mosquito will not bite their kid. Hopefully they will get enough to eat tomorrow. And where do they get that hope from? It’s the belief in a stronger just power and the belief that everything happens for a reason. These religions emphasize that one should turn to patience and prayer and never lose hope. In Islam one of the worst sins you can commit is to despair – to lose faith – and I really believe that having faith gets everyone through their hardest days.
At the end of the day, I think letting go is the key. They are neither fighting their present situation nor are they in denial of their situation. They’ve accepted it and are doing their best. They work and earn enough to barely eat and send their child to school. Their situation is not the greatest in the world but there is an acceptance of today and a hope for tomorrow.