Why do we fight? Whether it is with internal or external forces it is our desire to fight that pushes humanity forward. I’ve been pondering the question if humans are inherently bad or good and come to the conclusion that more than anything else we find ourselves fighting FOR something. Be it for our lives, for love, or sometimes for the so-called greater good we like to think we are always fighting for something. More often than not we don’t start a fight for a cause, but we are just ordinary human beings placed in extraordinary circumstances. We tend to idolize some men for their bravery or valor but such is history. It’s the winners who decide history and so, for example, someone like Christopher Columbus crossing finding America accidentally is considered a great explorer but we observers of history overlook the death and destruction he inflicted upon The New World and its former inhabitants and instead we honor him every year with a holiday in his name and perpetuate revisionist history. We fight because that is all we can do and some may even believe it’s something we were born to do. It is something that is hard-wired in our core. There are “good” bad people out there and “bad” good people too. At the end of the day we’re all just human beings. We try the best we can.
Over the past two years I’ve experienced extreme poverty. People here live in mud huts and they sit around in darkness at night because they have no choice. I’m one of the “lucky” ones where I have a concrete house with a tin roof and electricity but my case is more the exception than the rule. Even then, my friends who have visited me will attest it’s not super cush. Most volunteers live in mud huts with thatched roofs in the middle of nowhere. Children here routinely die of preventable diseases because most people are too ignorant to believe that it was anything but God’s will. Instead, those more educated are forced to stand by idly while their children die because they can’t afford the medication. It’s difficult to stand by and watch this happen around me without asking why. There are people in this world who are so rich they don’t know what to do with their money. Then why do people continue to suffer? In a logical, sensible world wouldn’t those people who have money and those charged to govern be able to do something about the poverty and suffering that exists? Some, like Bill Gates, have tried to use their billions of dollars to help those least fortunate. Yet his efforts continue to fail. People who are suffering revise their expectations on life and become fatalistic, believing there is nothing they can do to change their circumstances, so why bother. Or, worse yet, there are many villages in Mali who have NGOs swoop in and tell them they want to save them so they build them a school. These same villages then start to believe if they ask for something long enough there will be some magical “toubabs” who will come in and just give it to them for nothing. There is no motivation, no incentives, only dependency. I remember walking through my town one time when this man showed me an e-mail. He told me Bill Gateshad sent him an e-mail telling him that he was going to give him lots of money. I took a look at the message and from the misspellings, poor grammar, and lack of credibility that it was just another Nigerian scam. But to this man he felt like he was Charlie holding the golden ticket. It was difficult but I had to tell him the truth and even after I did he wouldn’t believe me, while his friends just laughed on. How do you tell someone there is no Willy Wonka, no Chocolate Factory?
We delude ourselves into believing our twisted logic because reality is what we choose it to be. Somewhere along the way we lose our sense of right and wrong and the only justification for our actions is our individual happiness. We go through the moral gymnastics to get to where we need to be. We start out in these defensive positions and end up flinging the pendulum too far in the other direction. We lash out like abused animals because we know nothing else. We’ve forsaken the very thing that will save us: logic and reason. Instead, we cling to any sort of rally cry that appeals to our emotions, and when it goes too far we wonder how we got there in the first place.
At what point in our lives do we learn to fight for something WORTH fighting for? How do we justify our actions? Some may cling to religion, doctrine, or ideology but ultimately it comes down to a strong sense of self. Know thyself. Only when we know who we are can we start to move forward, can we try and fulfill our true desires. In the end I know I am a simple man with simple needs. I’m not trying to be the richest or most famous person in the world. I just want to live a life worth living. I hope that when I leave Mali I’ll be able to continue to help the people who have had a significant impact on my time here. I think there are a lot of people in The States who look for a way to “help” people and end up blindly giving a donation to some random charity each month. For most people this scratches that itch to help someone but then again the majority of that donation goes toward paying for overhead costs of the organization. So even though you think your $20 a month might be going towards helping little Soumaila’s education the reality is that only a fraction reaches him (it’s an exaggeration but still, who knows really?). It’s important to look for charities where your donation goes directly towards the people you are trying to help. For us Peace Corps volunteers taxpayer money pays for us to be here so the funding we request through Peace Corps Partnership Project (PCPP) goes 100% towards different projects geared at helping our communities. I don’t know if it’s a better model than traditional NGOs but it’s an alternative to just blindly giving. I’m not advocating not giving to charities but it’s okay to ask questions.
My time in Mali is quickly coming to an end. I have less than a month before I close my service. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I came here to help some people, until I can’t anymore, then I’ll go home. I’ve had a great time here and am one of the fortunate ones who don’t have to wait ten years to know that I’ve made a difference. Today I went to show my women’s cooperative the label I designed to help them sell Shea butter more competitively but while I was there my supervisor, Sabou Sisse, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working, recounted past volunteers who had more trials than tribulations. She told me that when I leave that the new volunteer has to be someone like me but we both know that’s impossible. What I’ve done for these women’s lives, especially Sabou, will be hard to duplicate. I was trying to convince one of my friends who was changing sites to come to Kita but after she had seen all I had done she was intimidated to step into my shoes. It was quasi flattering but it makes me wonder what kind of volunteer will be charged with picking up where I left off. I’m going to miss certain things about Mali but it’s time, and like Diddy said, “I’m coming home.”