Monday, 18 April 2011
Entitlement and expectation
Tanzania – Meserani, near Arusha
‘Give me pen, give me book, give me sweets, give me money’ the little boys chanted as we jumped off the truck to re-fuel. In yet another example of how you can’t leave your self behind my reaction was ‘give me a break’. I’m not immune to nor naïve of the reasons behind the steady flow of children begging, and within me there is an element of sympathy, albeit detached sympathy. What I don’t have is any desire to hand out freebies; to further embed the sense of entitlement and expectation that fuels these requests. The same sense of entitlement and expectation that results in the little boys pointing at us and drawing their forefinger across their throats as we drive away, our pens, books, sweets and money still safely inside the truck.
At some point in the past other tourists must have acquiesced to these requests, figuring ‘what’s the worst handing out some sweets can do’? And maybe they’re right, and I’m a misanthropic scumbag. Or maybe they’re idiots – well-intentioned idiots, but idiots all the same, leaving a legacy of entitlement and expectation in their wake for the next mzungu to deal with. By throwing a passion fruit skin at the head of the death threat making child and then being severely rebuked by their more compassionate wife, as an entirely fictional example. Or to give a real example, and following our theme of entitlement and expectation to its logical conclusion, the gift of £15 million the Scottish National Party leader, Alex Salmond, gave to the Malawian premier, Bingu wa Mutharaika. Which Bingu promptly spent on a private jet. Rather than on, say, hospitals or schools or infrastructure in a nation where 40% (!) of the national budget is from foreign aid. Think about that the next time you painfully glance across the tax entries on your pay slip, and then write a very simple letter to Alex Salmond which reads: You IDIOT!
The good news is that we found an absolutely splendid way to contribute to the local people who, joking aside, are extending their hospitality to us as guests in their country. And what is this method of contributing directly to a local school and clinic that is free for the Masai people of Meserani in northern Tanzania? Drink as much as you possibly can. Needless to say, we took our benevolent responsibilities very seriously, with the suitable lack of sobriety such a task such demands. The Meserani Snake Park camp ground is a regular and favourite haunt for the overland trucks that plough the well-trodden eastern Africa route, situated as it is near to the Serengeti National Park and the Ngogoro Crater. Owned by a quite delightful older couple, known affectionately as Ma and BJ, they decided long ago to say a firm ‘no’ to the requests for bribes running a business in Africa often demands, and invested a portion of their profits instead in a clinic and school that is free for the local people. And where do these profits come from? The bar, of course, populated as it is by thirsty and carefree overlanders who are more than happy to roll off a truck and straight into a friendly bar where they can literally drink for charity. On occasion a penny-pinching tourist complains that the beer is 500 shillings (20 pence) more expensive than other campgrounds and Ma, smiling serenely, replies ‘you’re quite right, but that beer you’re drinking might cure a child from malaria’ before continuing to playfully tell the overland tour leaders off for drinking and smoking too much. The overlanders love Ma and BJ because they serve up cold beer with big smiles, and the Masai people love Ma and BJ because they serve up free education and health care with big hearts.
I love Ma and BJ because they made us feel so welcome, because they have cultivated a feeling of home in a place where so many are so far from home, and because they have found a way to be both well-intentioned and impactful. And because they gave me a t-shirt. The other campgrounds better do the same now or there’ll be trouble.