I stumbled upon an interesting article in a 2004 edition of the Economist just last week on New Year’s Eve while going through my pile of old stuff. You know one of those things you do at the end of the year and contemplate what to get rid of and what not. The title of this long article which spanned several pages was “How To Make Africa Smile”. A quick scan revealed that the article touched upon the political hot issues of the time including international aids, conflicts, Robert Mugabe and the rest. Somehow instead of getting more interested in the details of the article, it set me off thinking of what would make an individual African smile. Since then I have been pondering over the things that would have made me, a teenager completing my secondary education in the late 80s in Nigeria smile.
It is not that I had any problem smiling then or now for I get complimented every now and then for my broad smile (see picture) and for my thunderous laugh. It’s about the things I had wished was different then despite the fact than I had not lived abroad and had nothing else to compare with. There were many things I had believed were not right and did not require any ingenuity to be put right.
The first thing that definitely comes to mind is water. What can you do without water? Cook, brush your teeth, take your bath, wash your clothes or do the dishes? Yet in those days fetching water was one the most important chores. You were lucky if there were people on the same street that had running water you could queue for otherwise you had to look for it anywhere. The landlords of those houses with running water were not usually the most hospitable. I remember being slashed by one landlord who by the way happened to be the father of one of my best friends for no other reason than that I wanted to get some water for some basic household needs. What saddened me most even then was that the grownups (the parents) somehow felt it was the children’s responsibility and duties to get the needed water for the family. Even at such an age, I had challenged that notion though I was never brave enough to voice it.
The good news is that a lot seems to have changed for the better in this area. Many people seem to have prioritised water availability for many reasons. On a recent visit I was amazed to discover that many houses in the cities have dug wells which now provide most of the needed water and people no longer wandered the streets looking for water. I was happy to see that the grownups had taken the responsibility of providing water for their households.
It is also pleasing to see that many other international charities have made water supply a priority in various creative ways. Take the One Foundation http://www.onedifference.org/ and their Playpump water system for example or Water Aid. Seeing these changes confirms what I had felt as a teenager and I am happy to know that action is being taken. It really can make a difference. See video below.
In my next post, I will be talking about the other things that would have made me smile.