After watching the film, I felt inspired…remembering the years I lived in Africa and of the children I’d met in the villages.
In the third world, things aren’t taken for granted. What seems like a small thing to us, can be very important to a child who has nothing but the clothes on his back. Salim, was 10 years old. He wanted to go to the village school but needed some money to buy a notebook and pencil in order to attend classes. His family didn’t have the money.
When you drive through a village in Chad, children run out into the streets shouting: “lalay lalay.” and if you happen to stop in one of those villages you very often find yourself surrounded by young people, hands out, asking for baksheesh … most of the visitors never ask why those children are begging for a few coins. The westerners just feel impatient and put upon, you might even hear someone comment on the lack of dignity that is part and parcel of the African people.
There is no electricity in the villages, no running water, no supermarkets or libraries. The schools are a place under a tree where an itinerant teachers holds impromptu classes when he or she arrives in the village. Often a government worker, the teacher is hosted by the most prominent person of the village. If a child wants to attend class that child must have a notebook and a pencil or pen. Only those children who are able to come up with the money for their school supplies will be educated. The government can’t be expected to furnish those supplies, there are too many other priorities…and you don’t want to know what those priorities are. Yet, at least, there has been some planning made for the future generations.
“Lalay lalay!” shouted Salim with his friends as the car came into his village. The car stopped and a white woman with her African driver got out of the car. The children ignored the driver, but surrounded the woman. She dipped into her purse and pulled out a handful of coins which she flung into the air. The children scrambled for the money as she walked, laughing, to the house of the village’s government representative.
The next day, under the tree, stood the white woman. She was a Peace Corps volunteer and was going to set up school. She had a box beside her, and inside the box were books, notebooks and pencils. Nearby, some men were building a small mud-bricked hut for her, where she would live and work.
Salim looked at the notebook and pencil he’d bought with his baksheesh, and thought he could have bought something else with the money. But he was happy.
Through the clarity of retrospect, the obvious conclusion surfaced: things don’t always turn out as planned.
This story is a combination of reality and fiction. There are many Salims in the third world, far less volunteers who come to teach in the villages now days, in fact I’m not even sure if the Peace Corps still exists. Back in the 70s they were one of the few whites who were roaming Africa without a church or big company behind them.
True, they had the United States behind them, but they never taught propaganda and there were no strings attached to the work they did in the villages…no one required them to become Americans in order to take part in classes or profit from the hand dug wells they dug or any of the other little projects they put together. Most of these people were under 30. They lived a little better than the local people, but not like they would have at home.
Are there any ex-Peace Corps workers reading? If so, let me say, thanks guys and gals for your time out in the bush!
Written for Speakeasy 154