The West African author Malidoma Some tells his story of bridging two worlds, explaining his mother culture of Burkina Faso to the West and the West to the people in his village. In the latter case, he says; “The one thing they simply cannot understand is the concept of insurance.”
Yesterday’s blog suggested that we turn around our notion of giving charity and pity to those “poor African countries.” Here is another example of reversing our notion of anthropology, white European descendants explaining the charming or degraded customs of tribes far away. Now it’s time for anthropologists from small villages in New Guinea, the Amazon, Burkina Faso, to study us objectively and try to explain how children are suing their parents, people are left alone in their house staring at screens, people who can’t name more than two historically true facts or how democracy works are given the power to vote into office a shameless bully and dangerous man. They can report back that we take care of each so poorly that we have something called insurance and the game is for the companies to give us as little as possible.
In my friend Kofi’s town of Dzodze, Ghana, most everyone belongs to some kind of musical club. They get together to play, dance, socialize and generally keep community alive through music. Each member pays some nominal dues and that money can be used for its members in times of need— house repairs, fires, funeral expenses, what have you. It’s a given that everyone helps take care of everyone else and no one has to pay to some faceless company far away that doesn’t know them and is generally more interested in its own profit that helping out its neighbor. Even if the intent is good and the workers are kind, it’s a business rather than a social contract. From the Ghanaian point of view, insurance is a failure of our strange exotic culture to simply take care of each other.
At the after-party of our wonderful concert, Kofi expressed deep appreciation for the money we raised. I then told this story and added, “What is especially wonderful is that the money came from our love and admiration of the Nunya Academy kids. And that the way we raised it was using the need to create an opportunity for our kids to learn some fabulous music and dance and to publicly share the joy and power with our community in our time of need. So the money that carries the practical power of putting in posts and floors and ceilings is also filled with the pleasure of the experience that helped raise it. It comes filled with our heart’s appreciation for this two-way exchange, our gratitude for the beauty it brought to us over here and satisfaction that it will help the Nunya kids over there.”
The chance to see ourselves through other’s eyes is an opportunity to question who we are and who we have become and see ourselves in a new lens. That which is worthy, that serves human kindness and brings us together and sharpens our intelligence and opens our heart, may be affirmed by the outsiders reporting back on what they noticed. That which is in need of re-thinking can likewise be examined anew. The new anthropology widens the perspective on what culture can be.
Meanwhile, I offer this fund-raising event as a model of how we can help each other out. It worked.