Saturday, November 19, 2011

Giving Stuff Away Without Creating a Feeding Frenzy

There is only so much we can or want to take back with us to America. Most of our stretched, faded, or torn clothes have had a rough two years here in Africa, with the tropical sun and hand washing. These rags would be embarrassing back in America, but here in Africa there are many who would cherish them. It is Africa after all, and some stereotypes about the poverty here are true. Unfortunately giving stuff away isn’t as easy as it would seem. One volunteer who recently left simply informed her neighbors to come to her house on her last day in site and take things that could be useful to them. Starting at 5am, her neighbors swept through her home cleaning out everything in less than an hour, someone even took her half full coffee mug and the open can of cat food she had bought as a going away present to her pet. We’re trying to avoid this kind of free-for-all, not only for our own sanity, but we don’t want to reinforce the perception that all white people are primarily a source of freebies for locals. Having been on the receiving end of countless begging encounters here in Mozambique, we know how this type of irresponsible behavior can permanently impair community relations for future generations of volunteers. The begging relationship seems likes a continuation of the dependency on the rich Patrão the relatively wealthy Portuguese deliberately fostered over centuries of colonization in these parts. After plenty of opportunities to see charity gone wrong, like the kids at popular tourist destinations who temporarily suspend their laughter and street games to approach white visitors and request in their most obsequious voice possible, “Pencil boss,” “Give me 10 meticais,” or just simply “hungry.” As our departure date draws neigh, people have no shame in coming up to us and suggesting we leave them lembranças, souvenirs to remember us by. A souvenir could be our flash drive. “Do you really want my flash drive as a lembrança? Or do you just want a flash drive?” So, we’re not handing out anything to people who randomly show up to ask for things. Instead we are earmarking things for favorite students, helpful neighbors, and special people, and trying to give them away as discreetly as possible. We also made a trip out to Zach’s village with ten items of clothing for the large family, plus a couple dictionaries and books for Zach’s ever curious mind and Janet’s old sandals for his new wife. Luckily, we will be replaced by new volunteers, so we’ll just pass on most of our stuff to them.

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