Warning: the following may be offensive to some readers; it contains coarse language, adult themes, sexual references, irreverent dribble and some unsavoury advice.
Yes, my sincere apologies to the innocent eyes who may stumble on this piece accidentally, and the few young readers in my very, very small fan club (I too have family, you know?), who may be checking what I’m up to; but I am satisfying my urge to vent publically, exploiting my privileges of self-publishing, and in the process, I will be discharging profanities and impertinent prose to … feel as though I am making a difference.
Making a difference – because the topic of this article is ‘development’, or development as another word for ‘what the fuck’ – development as in aid-help-the-poor-people kind, if you get the drift. But I’m not going to write about the big picture stuff; there is loads of literature and critique on the cons of development, if you’re interested chase up Easterly or Sen to confirm that trillions of dollars and years of do-gooders intervention have delivered next to diddly squat to the pitiable hungry eyes in sponsor-me-today TV ads; or you could look up the occasional spare-me-the-ego-trip-pleeease stars like Bono, Bob or Angelina, who are hell bent on making their own brand of history by telling world leaders that they aren’t doing enough to address inequalities.
But be warned, if you take sides it is at your peril, the big guns of ‘development’ have heard all the criticism before, and they have all the answers too; stats and indexes to try to turn critique into shame and guilt. They will not be deterred easily and have no problems in deploying their big shots and dancing girls to talk fests and conferences to tell you how it “really” is; backed by massive budgets (despite their claims of underfunding and under resourcing) and fully equipped not with one or three weasel words such as empowerment, participation, capacity building and the like, but a whole collection of sanctimonious scriptures to clothe their smugness in the cloak of humbleness.
Right now it feels like the cup is full, actually more like my gut is full. It’s hard to keep swallowing the same fill of diatribe, day in day out, while searching for a new recipe. It’s almost tempting to consider another kind of swallowing, if that could just guarantee that the ‘donor’ would be denied the prospect of siring another development big gun.
Instead, I want to write about the little things I see day in day out – the deeds of many of those who have been deployed or thrown themselves into the fry of the ‘make a difference’ mission. The dynasties built while addressing cronyism; the comfy existence of white privilege amid brown disadvantage; the forsaking of youthful ideals because “it is different in the real world, you know?” caper; the safe enclaves built in the name of safety and expertise; the acceptable levels of corruption because “it’s culturally appropriate this way”; the squandering of funds and resources in the name of relationship building; or the perpetuating of elites in the name of capacity building.
I’m sure many of you have heard or witnessed firsthand these kinds of situations, and in the process, you have been embroiled in the nihilistic debates between morality and epistemological, metaphysical or ontological forms. Thankfully, black market liquor is an oft-useful device for loosening the tongue and freeing the mind during the sundowners that follow cluster coordination meetings, before the event becomes just another episode of drunkenness not to be discussed outside of the inner circle, despite the fact that the whole village knows about it and the security guard has taken pictures with his mobile phone of the boss leaning on the intern and plastered them all on one social network or another.
But short of becoming nihilist myself, despite the contemptuousness of my current state of mind, I’ll throw in some unsolicited thoughts and tips in an attempt to construct something after the deconstructive efforts of the above:
Don’t employ a house-maid – yes, I’ve heard it all before, “It helps the local economy”; “I wouldn’t necessarily do it but it’s the way things are done here”; “She came with the house”. Ok, if you can’t get yourself out of the situation of having a servant, at least consider the following. Given that most likely you would not have a house-maid back home because you wouldn’t be able to afford it, and if you could, you would have to provide a decent and fair pay anyway, why not apply the same measures in the developing country you are in? That is, rather than settle for the acceptable pittance local cronies dictate for slaves, figure out an average wage amount, even from among what your local colleagues get paid, and offer that to your worker, after all, her daily living expenses are not different from those of other people you work with. Too much? Reduce her hours to the bare minimum, and with your networks, help her find a decently paid job. Oh, one last thing, when you talk about her with others, use her real name, not ‘the maid’.
Don’t sit in the backseat of your chauffeur-driven monster truck, spreading papers all over the seat under the guise that you have to check the report that you are to present at the meeting he is taking you to. You would not do that back home if your colleague was giving you a lift somewhere, would you? Sit in the front seat and have a chat. Language problems? Experiment, take risks. Not keen? Sing him a song while he drives and cheer him up.
Give your driver a day off once in a while, and tell him to take the car too, so he and his family can go to a picnic. It wouldn’t harm you to catch public transport from time to time to see how the others do it and live. Chances are that your office is close enough for you to take a nice fact-finding stroll. Don’t worry about sweating, we all do, and you are a common mortal after all, aren’t you?
When you plan the next monitoring field trip call it ‘junket’, and as you fill in the cells of your budget spreadsheet, listen to your conscience, or at least acknowledge the slight pangs of self-reproach that are trying to tell you that you don’t need top of the range hotels or business class flights to look like an effective operator.
When the opportunity presents itself to offer someone the chance of a study, research or exchange scholarship, think outside your convenience, and look at it as a real prospect to enrich someone’s life, not a vehicle to enhance your own networks and status. If you think you don’t have the time to concern yourself with the selection process, make the time, because that time can make a difference, or have you forgotten the ideals you carried in your canvas bag, while walking everywhere in your sandshoes?
Don’t hold ‘foreigners only’ parties, even when you feel the accumulative frustrations of cross-cultural communications. You need a break from the locals? Go home. Can’t afford it? Nor can the country hosting you.
A few words if you are an intern.
If your internship has come thanks to daddy’s networks, I’ve not much to say to you. But if you are one of those who is going to be the office shit-kicker for a considerable amount of time to enhance your prospects of getting a job, don’t fret, you will get a job. But in the meantime, don’t sacrifice your dignity, especially if you think you are pulling your weight, or performing useful tasks no one else would do in the organisation. That is, don’t pretend to be happy in being a shit-kicker by displaying insincere signs of gratitude – remember the old Zen adage ‘it’s those that have that should be grateful’. More importantly, don’t let exploitative actions become a booster to your boss’ ego trips or empire building ambitions.
Enough for now! If you can’t heed to any of the above, don’t worry, I’m not your judge or jury, and in any case, I’m not without sin either. But please do me a favour, if someone asks you what you do, refrain from sanctifying yourself with over the top explanations of heroic feats and sacrifices in the name of development work, and have the courage to admit that you may just be a self-serving missionary, mercenary, misfit or broken-heart, who has found an alternative lifestyle than the pedestrian, boring home existence you would otherwise have to endure.