Mar 7, 2012

No One Outside Africa Believes Africa Can Fix Itself

Hoping is hard. I learned that in 2008 when a Black man whose middle name is Hussein & whose last name rhymes with Osama ran for US President. And won. I'll never forget it. Hoping is hard - sometimes there is nothing harder. But you can't give in.

Paul Theroux said all news out of Africa is bad. Indeed, the well-known narrative of Africa tells of a place that is regressing & riddled with corruption, disease & blight. But Ngozi Okonjo Iweala has identified reasons to hope.

Ngozi Iweala 

Iweala, the Minister of Finance in Nigeria, speaks with authority & certainty. With no visual aids, nothing distracted from her powerful story of an Africa many believe cannot exist. An Africa where the tolerance for corruption & government mismanagement is coming to an end. An Africa that is a viable market for international investors & private enterprise. (view speech here) She was unflappable. Her strength concealed how fragile the vision is... whisper a breath on it & it dissolves.

It was compelling and radical. It runs counter to everything that's being said about the continent. It's the kind of vision I love. Optimistic. Looking at an utterly hopeless situation... yet finding a kernel of hope.

Dambisa Moyo
Dambisa Moyo from Zambia has said much the same. A best selling author and one of Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World", Moyo says it's time to stop focusing on the old story because Africans are ready for change. Don't focus so much on the negative. There is a vibrant young population coming up who are eager to participate in the global economy & will do what it takes so their countries can sustain itself.

I was eager to share what I learned from Iweala's speech with the African I know best. Unfortunately, my husband (a Nigerian like Iweala) could not resist the impulse to crush the evidence that change is possible & already underway. He said "She is a politician. She's lying."

He has good reason to distrust Nigerian politicians. Nigeria sets the bar when it comes to corruption. He, like many, has become so cynical he can barely tolerate the words "hope", "justice" and "Nigeria" in the same sentence.

But his cynicism frustrates me (& pisses me off). I demanded: if you believe in your heart of hearts Nigeria is beyond redemption why do you want to live there? why do you pour money into constructing oversized homes there? why do you waste your time & money? (Actually, I wasn't that nice... I said he might as well take his money, wipe his rear end with it, & flush it down the toilet... that'd make as much sense as building homes in a country he hopes to see crumble).

After I fussed at him & he had a good laugh at my expense (after 18 years we know how to push each others buttons), he backtracked then & tried to offer his own examples that Nigeria still has potential.

Too late. Out of the heart, the mouth speaketh. Your thoughts become words, your words become actions.

No wonder people have such a hard time seeing Africa as anything other than a lost cause. Africans themselves are often so polluted by the endless examples of disorder & dishonesty, the default response to encouraging news is denial. The very idea that change is achievable is rarely uttered & so it gets aborted before the promise can form in people's hearts & minds.

Bill Clinton said “Pessimism is an excuse for not trying and a guarantee to a personal failure.”

Maybe if I'd used the words of this White man my husband admires rather than those of 2 African women, he would have had a more open mind. An irony which is not lost on me one bit...

Mar 2, 2012

Immigration and the Bastard in Me

If you were slapped, whipped, lied on, degraded, threatened, humilated, called a whore from the ages of 12 to 21, then you escaped & went on to live your American dream... you'd have a helluva story to tell. Your name would be Ola*. You started out inAmerica as a child slave trafficked from West Africa to cook, clean & nanny for your cousin's family of 5. You'd be my age now. You'd be my friend & neighbor. Our daughters would be BFFs.

After you became a US citizen, you'd want to file for your mom to come live in America. You're no different than any other immigrant from the "third world". Your mom would be in her 70s & her health is failing. If your mom is given a green card, she'd be able to work & eventually be eligible for medicare.

But "work" isn't what you have in mind...


When Ola told me she wanted to file for her mom to get a green card so she could get proper medical treatment, I was immediately torn.

On one hand, I support her. She's my friend, I want her to be successful & if I were in her shoes, I'd file for my mom in a heart beat. Anyone would. Ola is upbeat & giving & full of energy. A marathon runner whose life story embodies the power message: ENDURANCE, she's a hard worker & has the best heart. She deserves to have her mom with her especially after what she went through.

But if I'm brutally honest, in my gut, I thought... this isn't right. This isn't fair. In fact, it's f*cked up.


Because if you were my mother, you'd be 64 & you worked since you were 15. You always did the jobs a person with no high school diploma does. Nurse's aid. House cleaner. Janitor. And when your body started to break down in your late 50s, you wouldn't qualify for disability & your worker's comp claims were denied. So you'd have to retire early from your job with the county & start collecting a small pension you contributed to for 13 years. You can't live on $600 a month so now you live with me & my family. And you don't have health insurance. And since you're diabetic, your BMI exceeds healthy limits & you've been hospitalized twice for chest pains, you can't get health insurance either. What's more, you can't afford the high-risk pool premiums the state offers.

So if you're my mom, you're screwed until you qualify for Medicare. You pay out of pocket for all your prescription meds. You try to see your doctor as infrequently as possible to avoid that $240 fee (not including lab work).

If I'm brutally honest, I can't stand the thought that the same "system" that locked my mother out would open its purse strings & provide health insurance & maybe other benefits to Ola's mom, a person who has never paid U.S. income tax & most likely does not have enough productive years left to do so.

The stuff I was thinking & feeling caught me off guard. It was enough to make me wanna go OCCUPY something. I saw how easily I could crawl into the same swamp as all those Arizona or Georgia or Alabama conservatives who vote to pass immigration laws that make undocumented immigrants pack up & flee in the middle of the night.

The "stuff" is all fear-based. It came from a place I was arrogant enough to believe didn't exist in me because it's the kind of thinking I despise. It's all about lack & division & the "Uses" vs. the "Thems". It says there isn't enough to go around. It says if we keep giving to you & yours, that means there's less for me & mine. It says the same system that f*cked my mother over for the last 8 years better f*ck you over too. In fact, worse.

It says what right do your foreign relatives have to our stuff?

It's beyond ugly. And the conclusions were all pure conjecture. Fact is, when a US Citizen files for a non-citizen family member to become a permanent resident, she must prove she can can afford to financially support her relative so they won't become a burden to the government. And many social service benefits aren't available to new green card holders. They have to live here a minimum of 5 years.
But even if an immigrant does bring a relative to America who immediately begins to draw social service benefits, the problem is not the person who does what is legally allowed. The problem is the system that drop kicks its own citizens while allowing others to benefit in ways they may not "deserve" or have earned (Wall Street vs. Main Street bail out debates sound familiar?)
In any case, after I almost turned myself inside out over this situation, it was all ego-based speculation. And it's humbling for me to see the ego is far from slain. It's still in me (the bastard)... even after years of prayer & soul searching & wanting to be a bridge builder & show people how beautiful other cultures are & how immigration makes our communities & our society richer.
For now, I don't have any tidy conclusions except to say I'm still trying to reconcile "the me I be" with the best & highest "me I hope to be". And I'm lifting this situation up in prayer (sorry if I offend, but I'm one of those nonconformists who can talk about prayer & use the "F" word in the same post). 
I am, as always, a work in progress.
Thanks for stopping by.
* not her real name


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