Tuesday, July 24, 2007
"Please do not leave us. We do no want to remain cripples, we wish to get up and walk."
Ok am bloody frusrated (what's new) I came across a picture on a disc the other day and remembered the aching words above before leaving West Africa a few years ago....thought I would blog a couple of days of my diary and I wanted to show you this regal woman called Lydia - well, sadly I can't the file is too big and when I downsize the image becomes poor (bugger!) - so instead you get another regal woman. I never knew her name, she sold bannanas on the street, and as we hit a red light in Tamale i bought some from her and quickly then took this shot.....she spoke no english, if only those eyes could speak...
There is something remarkably amusing about a journey to a remote African village which gives you more up’s and downs than a day out at Alton Towers. As we drive deeper and deeper into the jungle the small communities we observe begin to resemble the villages from my childhood memories of Tarzan films. A bus supposed to carry 8 people is carrying 15 to the isolated village of Agazo.
The people of Agazo have been driven from the land they have farmed for generations. An American Company bought the land and forced them to leave – the trouble with this is that these dear people have no concept of ‘owning’ land – land is a gift from God, not something that can be bought and sold. I reflect on how many indigenous cultures we have destroyed - have you ever wondered what a fence means to a nomadic people?
When Christian Aid partners Development Action Association arrived in the village the community, who had been threatened with legal action, retreated to a small clearing in the jungle. There the men would not speak to anyone, these are proud people – much more than their land had been taken from them. Huts were built and the villagers hid inside. Soon children became malnourished, and tragically some didn’t survive by the time DAA arrived. We were the first white people to speak in their village.
We are welcomed by the Chief with drumming, dancing and song. Then, as is custom, we settle in a circle under a tree to share food and stories. The Chief of the village tells us that their Cassava crops had been bulldozed half way through the season - they had been left with nothing – no crops, no land. We hear that Christian Aid (through the partnership) secured a plot of land, and helped with the acquisition of a grinding machine for the Cassava, enabling faster and more efficient processing of the crop, so producing a better quality commodity so becoming more marketable. This is both the genius and simplicity of Christian Aid – it is an invisible partner providing funds for local people to work their way out of poverty. The partners know and understand the people and the land, and as a consequence the projects have a very high rate of success. The people of Agazo are testament to this.
Our driver Samuel seems to be all things to all men. Not only is he a cook, he is also a mechanic, which comes in rather handy as our exhaust falls off with the weariness of the return journey. We finally arrive at our ‘hotel’ to find three French men and their landrover about to set off for Brazil via a big ship and the Atlantic. It seems these able fellows have driven from Bordeaux through Spain, Morocco, and the Sahara desert - then on into Senegal, the Gambia, finally arriving in Ghana. They were now having a few days rest before embarking on a trip that would take them around South America. Their enthusiasm is only marred tonight by the fact that they have run out of Claret – all the same they give me a glass – I am so pleased I actually think about kissing them, think I might have if it had been a better vintage!
We rise early. A 10 hour drive awaits us over the kind of terrain Chris Rea must have had in mind when he wrote ‘The Road to Hell’. We leave Kumasi for Tamale, heading for the Muslim north. As I gaze out of our window I see a weary, worn people desperate to carve a life out of this shanty jungle. This wilderness is claustrophobic. Every space is littered with steel, wood, tyres, bricks and crates – interspersed amongst this seemingly hopeless jungle are people’s homes. Bits of wood, mud and tin and stone thrown together are the ingredients of that sacred space called community. I’m beginning to understand that real poverty is not about having no home or no food and clothes. Real poverty is where there are no choices. As we drive through Esase, a dust village where children at best walk around in old dirty under pants, I realise that this community has been robbed of the greatest seed planted deep within each of us – choice. I have lost count of how many children I have seen with a lost distant look in their eyes. They look for a tomorrow that may never come, somehow dazed, confused and exhausted by their very existence.
Over breakfast this morning, on a small television with a coat hanger for an ariel, we were subjected to African T.V. evangelists. I fear once more the West is now beginning to bring a curse much greater than the greedy foreign policies and trade laws. It is the curse of pharisaic dogma born of the West’s prosperity gospel. For too long now there have been too many Pharisees and not enough prophets in the church. Few are willing to ‘stand in the gap’. The tragedy is that most of the Pharisees see themselves as prophets.
There is no quick solution here. Greedy foreign policy and corrupt Trade laws make for a bitter cocktail – but drink it the African people must. Trade should be for life; not profit at any expense, and the only way in which these people will find themselves living with choice is if rich multinationals in the West (and the list is long) understand this and the WTO restructure their rules so providing an environment which allows the developing world to shape their own destiny – the West must yield to an economic system where fair trade is the norm.
The last few days have not been about espoused theories, but rather about befriending people and allowing them to cause me to colour outside my lines. Pastor John explains that through the partnership new hope has been born and that ‘we love you because you first loved us…you first loved us in our poverty. Sometimes sacrifice is not measurable. The Saviour has come so that we, the poor, may live before we die.’ As we prepare to leave this painfully beautiful land a dear lady whose life and community have been transformed by the projects supported by the capital raised during Christian Aid Week shares with us a message for those back home. ‘Please do not leave us. We do not want to remain cripples, we wish to get up and walk.'
What was it that fella who worked with wood in Palestine 2000 years ago said? Love your neighbour as yourself? Something like that wasn't it.....