Friday, May 11, 2007

Pollution or Poverty?

Earlier this year in a frenzy of hyperactivity, I suggested that we start a book club, so three of us, a South African, a Srilankan and a Kenyan, all Stay at home mums waiting for our kids to grow up, met for our first meeting in a quaint coffee shop in the city of Abuja.
It sounded like an exciting idea, a group of women interested in cultivating their mind not just changing diapers and mixing baby formula, meeting to share, vent, and hopefully celebrate our similarities.
Though I appear to be the most outspoken in the group, I’m actually the youngest and the only Nigerian. So far I seem to be sticking out like sore thumb, my views overly subjective and empathetically indigenous. I met an Indian writer based here in Abuja, and invited her to join the group; it was refreshing to meet someone who had gone though the struggles of self and societal doubts (i.e life as a writer). Despite our continental differences our interest in the spoken word gave us a lifeline on which we could relate. When she suggested that we all drive in one car to our next meeting place instead of driving different cars and polluting the atmosphere we all applauded her commitment to the global environmental issues.
I was sincerely impressed with her commitment to such global issues, and as others in our group joined in committing themselves to caring more about the cause of world pollution, I had to step back (as I often do) and look at the issue of pollution as an average Nigerian would see it, and my young mind perceives that poverty is more of an issue here than Global warming, I mean people would gladly embrace the side effects of industrial pollution if only it means more Jobs.
Pointing this out to my group created an unsettling balance, as everyone else felt that I was giving undue credit to industrialization and the apparent development that came with it. Though the general opinion was doing something about pollution made one feel good about oneself,
I came to the conclusion that pollution was less of a problem compared to poverty in Nigeria.

I would rather spend my time doing something about poverty. Perhaps as one of the ladies pointed out, Nigerians needed to change their “culture of poor Hygiene”.
So count me in, in the campaign for a cleaner Nigeria, even though I’m quite aware that when the effects of global warming hits, Africa and other less developed nations will as usual suffer more, with the increase in humidity which will mean more mosquitoes and floods for tropical Africa and Asia.
In a bid to convince me on the disadvantages of industrialization, my Kenyan Friend gave an example of the simplicity in a village in her country she did some research in, she described a peaceful setting where lack of electricity meant sitting under the stars and listening to the elders tell folktales.
To me, lack of electricity means the death of small and large scale industries, businesses that would provide jobs and enable an environment where better hospitals and schools will flourish. All three members of our book club, described darkness as beautiful and an opportunity to get back in touch with one’s self, I was stunned at their perspective, irritated by their romanticization of poverty. To me lack of electricity didn’t mean an opportunity for self reflection but a signal for self evaluation. e.g
“Why is Africa still behind economically?’
For me, this is what lingers often at the back of my mind, I’m quite aware that corruption and greed, fueled by poor leadership has been the story of many African Countries, so as I sit, busy “cultivating” my mind, participating in book clubs and late morning breakfast, I’m quite aware, that though this is a temporary stage in my life as a mother of young children, I really wonder if as a Nigerian, and as an African I will always stick out like a sore thumb, viewing the world a little differently than others,
Seeing the rawness of man-made human suffering instead of the beauty of nature, and the simplicity of rural life.What weakens me is that though I see and even agree with the issues of global pollution, my comrades could not see my side of the argument, that poverty can be soul-wrenching and aesthetic appreciation is a luxury.
Why was it so easy for me to see their point, but so difficult for them to see mine?

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