The passing August was the hottest one in recorded history. Phil Plait is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer (science pastor?), and writes a blog on Slate.com entitled Bad Astronomy. On this blog you will find that the World’s on a Hot Streak! With (drum roll) - 11 – consecutive - record-breaking - average temperatures - according to the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
For the first week of August I was still in Accra enjoying the last days of summer. But those final days faded into each other and the start of the school year began to loom. Before returning to Lund, I had one more breath of summer to live with my parents in Washington DC. Then, onto my final year as a masters’ candidate in Lund University, Sweden (Environmental Studies & Sustainability Science).
The weather in Accra had been moody and relatively chilly for the most part. Summer for the rest of the ‘world,’ is rainy season for West Africa. Coming from Sweden I thought I was immune to the moderate cold so I disregarded clothing and spent my days lazing at home with a wet towel wrapped around my body. The day of my flight to DC, a flu broke through my immune system’s defenses. Sneezing, sweating, shivering and red eye I had to muster the energy to get through a connection in Heathrow Airport before flying over to US.
You can imagine my very real fear of being quarantined as a biological threat. Here was this West African, coming from one of those Ebola/Zika countries, coughing, sweating, dying and contaminating their country.
I managed to pass-by undetected in Heathrow. On the plane to America my symptoms became even more pronounced and the British Airways’ hostesses eyed me with suspicion and dereliction. Finally in DC, I slopped through the long immigration cues and hypnotizing propaganda onto a train to Union Station to be picked up by my mother.
I got out of Union Station to see if my mother had arrived, and felt the immediate singe of the sun. Scrambling under the shade of the great arching pillars I rethought my plan of action. I didn’t have a US phone number so it would be impossible to know if mother had arrived.
Unless… I walked outside of the station and waited in the open. Under the Sun’s scorching, terrifying wrath of hell-fire!!
Carrying the troubles of a sickly child and a suitcase filled with consumerism, I scurried over the burning plains to the pickup point. There was a spot of shade under this abstract public art structure. The problem was, a gang of homeless people occupied the spot. Now, you would assume that I would be the one to not care about this social divide. But their look suggested they were probably a little worse off than just homeless. Anyway, what option did I have? It was either that or potentially fatal sunstroke. Annoyed and sick I squeezed myself at the furthest spot away from the homeless under the structure.
Why did they have to be here? Stupid homeless! What are they even doing with that ice-chest? Is that water they are selling? Yeh, that’s a great plan for alleviating yourself out of poverty. Selling re-bottled water!
In this somewhat dire situation, I had forgotten the systematic oppression these groups of people faced. I had forgotten that there was little opportunity for them to realize a meaningful life. Forgotten, that they were forgotten. All it took was some slight discomfort to push me to think of them as dirty -ill fits occupying a spot of shade meant for people like me.
And that is all it takes for us to be us, and them to be them.
Competition for shade. Competition for water. For land. For survival. For the future!
Obviously, it doesn’t descend to such dramatic ends, does it?
Our society is more complex and resilient to violence.
Our society has democracy (not all countries). World Trade Agreements! UNITED NATIONS! MIT! Even Leonardo Di Caprio! These institutions, and famous people, are the pillars of the globalized world, representing freedom, justice and peace!
Yet, they are the same entities contributing to climate change, in one way or another. And therefore, contributing to the terribly inconveniencing dilemma of sharing spots of shade with homeless people. That is one face of it.
The other face of it is, these institutions are very much complicit in the reasons why the homeless are without a home in the first place.
It might seem a crude assumption based on no evidence. But if you look into it deeply enough, you begin to unravel the truth; freedom, justice and peace is for the rich (for more on this stay tuned). There are still issues of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sex and many more splintering the sides of our society and defining inequality.
However, with enough money you can eradicate your disease of not being white-male and begin to enjoy lavish access to everything. Access is everything! And money is the great homogenizer! Neo-liberalism is the bleaching agent for your skin. Globalization is the extra layer of skin cut and reconstructed into a phallus.
The game is simple. Make money - live happy.
For Africa, this manifesto is tearing our society. Our previous values and morals were first illegitimated by colonization. Then in the void left behind, hyper-capitalism has festered and birthed a hybrid ideal system ‘Makemoneyism.’ Justifying politician’s profligacy and corruption. Enabling dispossession of our land. Parading resource-extracting businesses. Decapitating local agriculture practices. And most devastatingly, most harmful to our existence, subtly telling our youth that they will never win.
To say it is our fault would be insufficient. This is the workings of centuries long toil that has done more to harm us than to empower us in recent history. The fact that I am talking about empowering already implies we have been disempowered! Franz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth or Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa elaborate extensively on this point particularly. But my point is, the deep-rooted nature of our problems will require the collective effort of a cohesive, diligent and resourceful society. Africa’s predicament is that of a great historic injustice on multiple fronts.
The unknown hangs ominously over us.
But, there is hope.
A week of malaria medication and heartwarming meals with my family passed all too soon and I was packing for Lund. As an environmentalist you don’t have to tell me about my horrible flying habits. But the more sustainable options for crossing the Atlantic were too ludicrous and time-consuming to consider. And I needed to arrive in Sweden before my Visa expired, which I did on the 29th of August a day before invalidity.
I spent the next day thinking of my master thesis and what research would benefit Ghana. It made my head hurt thinking about it. I kept thinking ‘who am I to think I can do something that benefits the whole country? Why am I so different from those who have tried to change the country or continent for the better?
Then I thought ‘what about those who are trying?’ I googled multiple versions of certain key words and saw the breadth and depth of research and initiatives going-on toward changing Africa. Some still within the money-happiness paradigm, but a lot were discussing new ways of defining problems and solving them. Ways that I agreed with to some extent.
Downloading papers on papers of research, the sun pouring into my room, I unconsciously wiped a bead of sweat off my head.
An unusually hot day in August!