Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time or electrical power to respond to any of the comments posted by you, dear readers. But I was able to at least read them occasionally, and today as I got my last glimpses of Africa I was thinking about Jill’s question – whether I find more similarities than differences among us.
While I have been here I have heard this uniquely African way of describing similar things: “same, same…but different.” One might hear this phrase from a server who delivers orange Fanta rather than coca-cola, for example. Or when you want to purchase an orange shirt and the shopkeeper offers a black shirt instead. If you protest in either of those instances, your protest is likely to be met with “same, same…but different.”
When I think about this cultural mosh pit in which I have been thrown for the past three weeks, I am more impressed by our similarities than our differences. Westerners and Africans have the same aspirations, the same goals, the same dreams. The real difference lies in our ability to achieve them, and the tools with which we are able to realize our full potential.
African mothers want a balanced diet for their children. They want medical care that is accessible, affordable, and adequate. They want their children to attend school. They want their children to grow into productive citizens. These are the same goals that American mothers have. But, sadly I think African mothers are faced with many more obstacles and far fewer tools.
Sometimes the similarities are more striking than the differences, like when I watched a boy cutting grass with a long stick with a machete roped to the end. Or when I saw a man walking his goats along the road one evening at dusk. He was calmly strolling behind them, with a rope drooping between him and the goats. It really made me laugh at how normal it seemed to me – it was almost as though my mind transposed a mental image of a man holding a dog leash and walking his dogs in the park at sunset.
But the differences are also marked. Today I was learning to make samosas from Harriet, Anneke’s housekeeper. Harriet was surprised that I paid my own way here, and that I came here to volunteer. She talked about how she dreams of travel, and when I asked her where she would like to go, she replied, “Rwanda- I have friends there.” For her travel is unattainable luxury. She remarked that my ticket probably cost five months of her salary; she’s probably right. It was another quiet moment in which I was reminded of the privileged life I live. In terms of privileges, I think we are different; in aspirations, in values, and perhaps most importantly in capabilities, I think we are much the same.