Well Brandon, it’s a new year and a new start. Anna and I are all moved in together; we’re in a small town outside of Santa Cruz, CA called Aptos. We are sub-leasing to an old man who calls himself Taale. This particular gentleman has lived in Burkina Faso for twelve years of his life, filming the music and dance aspects of various peoples in the country. Despite having created a critically-acclaimed film and obtaining a Master’s degree in film and literature from UCLA, my friend Taale lives in self-perpetuated poverty. The cause of this poverty? Laziness. This I am certain of and Anna is in agreement with me. He is one of those unfortunate individuals who was born into wealth and believed himself immune to the dangers of sloth. His wretched lifestyle reminds me of my own in a way, but I am merely twenty-five years old and he is entering into that phase of life where a man’s eyes begin to fade into the abyss and memories become nothing more than dust strewn about into the collective consciousness of the universe. He squandered his freedom away and he wants society to pay for his selfish choices in life.
My time in Africa was way too short. Anna and I had a total blast, but I think we were both tiring near the end. I had stopped bathing and washing my clothes; and Anna seemed to stay indoors more and more. I think the malaria had a huge impact on the last three weeks of our journey; it is truly a nasty virus. I first felt the symptoms on the bus ride to Ouagadougou, a massive city on the outskirts of the Sahara desert. By the time we reached our hotel room, I knew I was really sick. The puking and the diarrhea made things official. As I sat there on my knees in front of the throne, my mind began to wander. In between the soft, sweet voice of Anna’s motherly questions, I became focused on the genocide of the Native American nations in the United States. I couldn’t help but despair at all the knowledge that was lost in the ensuing march of the Anglo-American people across the North American continent. Recent literature on the last fifty years of archaeological, historical, and anthropological research has shed a bold, bright light on the world of the Native Americans before the arrival of European princes and pirates. It is now believed that over 95% of the indigenous population in the Americas at the time of Columbus’s arrival was wiped out by diseases stemming from European contact. Despite the horrors of plague and war that beset the Indian nations, some societies continued to exist and thrive while trading with European powers as equals. These nations, among them the Iroquois of the United States and the Botocudo of Brazil (the Brazilian state declared war on the Botocudo with the stated intent on wiping them off the face of the earth, and they succeeded), all had political institutions based on the decentralization of power and democratic representation. Essentially confederacies, these societies, though not able to fully recover from the waves of disease that ravaged their societies, ultimately thrived and resisted European encroachment much more successfully than the big, famous, centrally-administered (and therefore aristocratic), divine right monarchies of the Incan and Aztec empires. In fact, how does one not heed the swift, devastating collapse of both empires in such a short span of time and fail to take into account the political systems practiced by these societies? Disease, of course, played a MAJOR role, but hardly explains the thriving nature of the various trading confederacies. The economic advantages, not surprisingly, also played major roles in the swift downfalls of the empires and thriving trade of the confederacies. Mother Nature, Homo Sapiens creator and destroyer, and her laws recognize that free people require free markets, regardless of skin color, language spoken or kinship structure. I thought to myself how much enjoyment I will get from writing a book on the market functions of Native American societies, especially the chapter on Aztec markets.
My mind began to swirl on over to the African continent, currently host to my own sufferings, as well as those of almost a billion people, who still live under the boot of European imperialism, though some may fooled into thinking otherwise. I thought of the immensity of the African peoples challenge to earn the independence and self-governance that all peoples are endowed to by our Creator (or non-creator, depending on your point of view). This immensity was clarified through the oft-heated debates with my aunt and uncle, two extremely well-educated, thoughtful, self-reliant, intelligent, big-hearted twenty-somethings who have, between them, over a decade of world travels and experience under their belts. Not cruise ships and resort hotels, real travel. Real shit! Through their examples, I have endeavored to follow in their path.
When I brought up the idea of the violent nature of states, particularly West Africa and more generally around the world, they were taken aback and fiercely skeptical at my suggestion that we let the Africans create their own boundaries and borders, free of European and international “support”, by letting these states disintegrate into their natural self-governing societies. It was almost as if they believed that it was our duty to help the Africans sustain the states that we had created for them. Now my aunt and uncle are no imperialists, but this strain of thought, so embedded in Western culture, is, if you really think about it, a fairly condescending attitude to take towards our fellow beings. The thought that we, in all our technological and intellectual superiority, need to lift non-Western peoples up to our standards through the application of Western customs and laws into non-Western societies is what created the third world in the first place. The misplaced faith that our aid, our money, could be evenly and fairly redistributed among African societies by our government, the same government that is broke and fighting two losing wars in the middle of the Islamic world, has also contributed to the misery of the African continent. More often than not, the aid money coming from our government goes to keeping brutal dictators in power, if only to protect the “national interests” of our government and the people it serves: multi-national corporations that thrive on heavily regulated markets and large government contracts. The average, everyday African never sees a dime our government gives to his or her government.
The problem that we, as youth and therefore the future, need to realize is that the whole culture of giving away money for “aid” or holding free and fair elections within a post-colonial state is based upon imperial pretenses. In order to make a better world for all, we must begin to treat non-Western peoples as equals. Throwing money at them or providing troops for the “stability and order” of an artificially created state will only lead to more misery for the entire global community. I have found that trade based on mutual cooperation, respect for individual rights and a healthy dose of real travel, complete with rigorous studies and exchange programs a la my aunt and uncle, are the best ways to achieve these elusive goals.
For a time, I thought I was going to be able to realize my lifelong dream of shitting and puking at the same time. I could have done it, too, with the way that hotel’s bathroom was set up. You see, the shower was built right in front of the toilet, close enough that you could simply stand up after doing your business, and then taking two steps forward into the shower area. There were no barriers, so I think the natural thing to do was to step forward and be a man about it. The drain was situated so that one could easily lean forward and puke into the shower drain while at the same time keeping one’s own behind faced firmly into the pot. Alas, my dream was not to be. I had to settle for puking at one moment and then pooping at the next, never simultaneously.
As Anna led me to the bug-ridden bed to rest, giving me the medicine she had somehow found in a strange, foreign city, my thoughts, still swirling around as the malaria coursed its way through my body, found their way over to Anna herself, her natural light radiating through the room, piercing my being like some heavenly ray of hope, comforting me, enrapturing my soul with a gentle touch and a firmness not found anywhere else in the known world. As I hovered above the bed, floating in the perpetual safety of the dusty Saharan air, my heart became filled with a warmth that was altogether different from the heat of the desert city. Great God! I exclaimed in my head. Oh merciful One! I give thanks to you for sending Anna to me. Your harmony, your essence is truly divine, oh noble Spirit! My sweat was cold and I continued to fade in and out of consciousness, but when possible, my gaze fell upon the love of my life. Despite my protests, she would force me to drink the awful medicine that she somehow found, at once my guardian angel and nagging girlfriend, and it was here, in the massive urban sprawl on the outskirts of the vast Sahara desert, that I realized Anna and I would be together until the cruel hand of Death decides to lead us into the unknown.