Tuesday, August 25, 2009
The Worst of the West
Posting by Betsy
So often I have visited countries and was saddened by how we seem to export to them the worst of the West. We live in such a magnificent country in the US and somehow, it is Brittney Spears and our plastic bag obsession that seem to make it abroad. We have witnessed this all over Africa and wonder what we can do to help change this. Rwanda, to its credit, does not allow plastic bags into the country and the difference this makes in the roadside litter, is stunning.
Many of you know of my anti-bottled water obsession and yet as tourists, it has been necessary to drink bottled water to maintain our health. In an effort to minimize this consumption, I have been pretty dehydrated for the last two weeks! As we drive through the beautiful Kenyan countryside, we see plastic bag and water bottle litter everywhere. Most shocking to me is the litter we see in the game parks, which I expected to be completely protected and pristine. Once the litter hits the ground in the parks, it does not get picked up - leaving your vehicle may make you dinner for a lion.
I am also struck by the poverty in Kenya, where much of the power and money is still resides with European concerns. Just this week, 800 tea-pickers lost their jobs and homes due to mechanization of picking at one of the large European Tea companies. The same is true of the booming flower industry. The build-up to Valentine’s Day is huge in Kenya flower-growing regions, like Lake Naivasha, where the flowers are exported to the US and Europe. It is important to remember that that $80 bouquet of roses we received from our sweetie was cultivated, picked and prepared by a Kenyan making $1/day.
Many Kenyans that do have some economic success work in various aspects of tourism. Many of them leave their family to relocate to one of the parks area, working in the lodges with 3 days off per month. We witnessed this last year in Nicaragua, as well. Because they receive room and board as part of this arrangement, wages are low so hardly an economic boom to these hard-working folks. It is impossible for these employees to bring their family as there is not housing provided and often no schools available to their children.
You read earlier how disheartened Susan and I were to visit the Samburu tribal village. We had to balance our feelings of exploitation of the Samburu people with their need for income. With the current drought and the death of all of their cattle, we realized that our money – for the tour, the school and buying their crafts would go a long way toward food, when a bag of rice costs $30.
We are having a fabulous trip yet it is not possible to ignore the ills of this country. I wish a similar experience could be had by all in the USA, thereby expanding our capacity for gratitude for what we have and compassion for others.