A few years ago, I got stuck in Mozambique.
I’d been there on a week-long filming trip and after a week of staying in a rural area guest house, we headed back to the capital and to a really nice hotel. That night, we had an amazing buffet meal, stacked high with different meats, fish and salads. I tucked in, relishing being back in an environment with good food and running water, but shortly after, the agony began.
I woke up in the middle of the night, feeling like someone had planted a heavy brick in my stomach and a few hours later, the hideous side effects of truly virulent food poisoning, grasped me in its bony claws. The team was due to fly home the next day, but there was no way I could face a 10 hour flight home. So after checking in with a local medical clinic (and my insurance company), I crawled back into my bed and waited for the worst to pass.
It was hot and over the next few days, I dozed on the bed with my patio doors open. In my delirious-state, I watched the security guard and guests walking up and down the beach and the waves crash in….and one afternoon I woke up to hear this ferocious clacking noise in the room.
I looked around (lacking the energy to get off my bed) and saw, to my absolute horror, two HUGE beetles clinging to the curtains. Even if I were well enough to go head-to-head with two giant bugs, I would never have dared, so I lay there in frozen horror and then carefully reached for the phone, rang Reception and asked if they’d send someone.
A few minutes later, this tiny, wiry housekeeper knocked at the door, and laughed heartily when she saw my grey face. I was half expecting her to be armed with masks and fumigation equipment, but she merely walked up to the huge beetles, grabbed one in each hand and chucked them out of the window. She flicked me a slightly patronising grin; silly girl comes to Africa to tell everyone about how hard life was….and can’t even deal with a few creepy crawlies.
Recently, I was thinking about this lady and also some of the other amazing, life-filled, entrepreneurial people I met in some of the poorest areas in the world; the grandma in Uganda who’d lost 11 children to AIDS, so became a local educator, to try and make other people aware of how it spreads. Or Margaret in Zambia who was gang-raped and had her home re-possessed by local thugs – she lost everything, so she started over with a market stall, selling tie-dye clothes. Or the children who had no shoes but still walked 3 miles each day, just to get to school…or the two little boys who were struggling to survive, having buried both of their parents, but still dreamed of being a teacher and a doctor. So many stories, time and time again, of people in desperate situations, finding the guts to keep on going, to start over, even when the odds seem stacked against them.
The truth is, Africa doesn’t ‘need’ my help. Over the years, this vibrant, beautiful, lush continent has developed huge resilience against some pretty extreme weather and poverty. It has guts, the will to survive and it doesn’t need me to rock up with the equivalent of fly spray and dance around its bugs. It can do very well on its own thankyouverymuch
But, occasionally, what it does need, (like we all do from time to time) is a bit of TLC, while it tries to fight off things like Ebola or an unrelenting no-rain Summer or HIV or the effects of civil conflict. I’m not suggesting for a sec that we turn a blind eye, but rather like me and the housekeeper in the hotel, we need to stop thinking of ourselves as the ‘saviour’ of developing world countries.
Nearly every developing country I have been to has proved many times over, that it has the will, guts and desire to recover…but sometimes, it just needs a bit of extra support and a chance to build an infrastructure. As a continent, I’d have to say, Africa has some of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever seen. I’ve had incredible adventures there; I’ve been serenaded by children’s choirs, taken part in burial ceremonies, watched Masai rituals, met victims of HIV, Trafficking and gang rape….but Africa does not need my help.
It’s time to stop thinking of this continent as a forgotten barren wasteland,but instead seeing it as the vibrant, alive place it really is.