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Vail Travel: Waiting for the rainy season

Luc Pols
Travel Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail Daily/Luc PolsWomen in traditional dress in Ilha Mozambique, Mozambique.
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VAIL, Colorado –The flight to Amsterdam is uneventful and thankfully I sleep through most of the night. The weather is as expected: absolutely lousy and cold and I hurry by train to my sister’s home, where my warm clothes have been patiently waiting for the last three months.

Even though I am not the student visiting his parents with the proverbial laundry bag, I do come with a suitcase of clothes that are in desperate need of cleaning. The washing, which has been done over the last months through at various hotels and guesthouses, hasn’t always been up to par and I can’t wait for a real washing machine.

For those of you who are of European descent or have visited that part of the world, let me use this second-to-last article to give you some impressions – and relate some of the many conversations I have had here over these last months – rather than tell you about the food in Holland and the beer.

Only one thing about Amsterdam – I listen to a concert of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra and I am reminded that the last time I was in this building, I came in through the artist entrance as a member of the boys choir from the Hague, when we participated in the Carmina Burana. Memory lane!

During my time in Africa, I spoke to scores of people from all walks of life, white and black, local and visitor. Allow me to relate some of these conversations.

This is a continent in deep trouble and one not easily or quickly solved. It will take many generations – if, as one of the black people I spoke with said, if they’ll ever get out of it. The most pressing problem, according to another black person here, is the corruption.

Things don’t get done here because someone is not willing or able to pay the required baksheesh and proposals and plans then tend to gather dust. This corruption goes from top to bottom, with the top of course moving those substantial monies to safe havens abroad.

In talking to a Norwegian NGO (non government organization) worker, I told him I what other NGO workers had told me – that only five to 15 cents of every dollar given freely by Westerners ends up in the hands of the intended and the rest disappears in different bank accounts. He then told me and for one of the few times in my life, I was completely speechless: “So what, at least they get something!”

That’s quite an attitude for someone driving around in a brand new Land Rove.

Then churches, which have done a good job in education. But he country of Malawi had one of the most thriving and successful textile industries in southern Africa until the churches start giving away used clothes – once again freely given by the West to charities and thereby completely killing that industry.

Next is the giving of aid in the form of cash. This, in my opinion, is one of the worst things that we as Western nations have done to Africa and we should stop it. I know I will. Instead of teaching them how to do things, we just “buy off our guilt” by donating money and thereby creating a continent of people who now feel entitled to receive this. Instead of producing, they now wait for the weekly truck to deliver their maize and grain. So why grow it yourself? Don’t give them a fish, but a fishing pole and teach them how to use it.

I was talking to some white South Africans who related the story that a farm in Zimbabwe (previously Rhodesia) was the highest per-acre producing farm in southern Africa until it was taken over during President Robert Mugabe’s land grab. Now this same farm barely produces for one family – this was confirmed later by black people to whom I related this story

One of the saddest examples of my trip is when I was going through northern Malawi. I noticed fields all dried out and dusty, and this is about 150 feet from one of the largest lakes in the world, about 400 miles long and up to 2,000 feet deep. When I asked someone about this, they responded that they were waiting for the rainy season.

I shook my head incredulously and said but what about all that water within spitting distance, his answer was, again: “We are waiting for the rainy season.” All this lake is used for is as a bathroom and laundry. Sad, very sad.

A black English teacher with whom I has quite a lengthy conversation estimated that if this continent is to get out of its malaise, it will take up to five generations. That is 100 years and even slightly more than I estimated.

You know, if I compare this continent to another part of the Third World – Southeast Asia – there is absolutely no comparison. That part of the world has been and is coming up, while here they either remain stable or sink even further down the hole. Then realize that 50 years ago they were in about the same economic and political shape. Very sad indeed.

Well, these are just some of the comments. Next week I’ll give you my final remarks together with the highlights.


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