New Statesman - The burden of knowing too much history
31 Jul 2008 Michela Wrong
The one thing the developing world has a surplus of is physical labour. Africans cut grass, dig ditches, lug wood and build shacks with a speed and skill that make western city-dwellers look like the ham-fisted, overeducated sophisticates they are. So why offer what is already there in abundance? Why rob the locals of the wages?
In stark contrast, consider the response of my 16-year-old niece, who just came with me on a fortnight's trip to
and Kenya , her first to Tanzania Africa. I feared that already we might have left it too late. In fact, we got the timing just about right. She knew nothing about colonialism - it seems not to feature on the British history syllabus. She had no inkling of western culpability; nor had she imbibed the Oxfam and Christian Aid lessons on debt relief and trade reform.
She felt no ancestral guilt, no contorted need to compensate for the sins of her forefathers. Her questions and comments had the unmediated directness of someone genuinely looking, rather than telling themselves what to see.
"Gosh, if you're white here you really can't blend in" (as eyes swivelled to clock our arrival in an Arusha marketplace); "Maasais are really annoying" (after a series of over-pushy sales pitches from Rift Valley herdsmen); "Are all Kenyan policemen corrupt?" (after negotiating six highway roadblocks); and "Mangoes taste completely different here". There was also, it has to be said: "I don't think I like having my things carried for me," harbinger of the guilt complex to come.
Later - I hope there will be a later - she can ponder where she stands on the legacy of empire and the thorny challenge of poverty alleviation. She will come to worry about how much to tip, fear she is sounding patronising, and smile far too much. But, at least, underneath all that new self-consciousness will lie a bedrock of spontaneity, unfiltered by received opinion.