Last week, I caught an episode House Hunters International, a US-based show where they help expatriates find housing in a new city and country. An American woman was moving to Gaborone, Botswana, to train flight attendants. In a few sound bites, the show made it her sound like she was a martyr for moving Africa and helping lowly African women achieve their flight attendant dreams.
I get it. It’s reality TV. They’re going to be a little heavy-handed in finding an ‘angle’. But really? Training flight attendants in Africa is a self-less act? One wouldn’t move to the United States to work in human resources and be hailed a savior. That’s just …weird. Sometimes a job is just a job.
Yes, even in Africa.
If there’s one thing I wish more Americans (and American television) could come to know and express, it is this: Africa is many places, just like home. It has jobs and cars and malls and fashion shows and people with dreams and hopes and careers and (sometimes) internet connections. Painting it as only a place of depravity and famine that needs “help” does both geographies a disservice.
It’s the same thing with development.
A while ago, I was complaining to my partner about a tough day at my job, when he interjected: “Yeah, but at the end of the day, don’t you feel like you’re Doing Good?” he asked. “It’s not like you’re pushing paper for a big insurance company or sub-prime mortgage lender.”
Sure, I say, but it’s all about the spin. Big picture – yes, I help farmers get irrigation sites that work, slaughterhouses that aren’t gross, goats to rear and sell. But if that’s true, then selling insurance is about providing safety in an unsure world, and being a mortgage lender puts more people in homes. Although I appreciated his take, just because I work in development make paperwork any more fun.
I’m proud of my career, and what my company is trying to accomplish. I’m lucky to be in Africa where I can, at times, physically see the fruits of my paperwork labor helping someone else. But let’s not overstate the impact. At the end of the day – it is still a job. I'm no saint.And that lady who moved to Gaberone, who eventually settled into a three-bedroom apartment for $700 ($700!) isn’t either.
*photo courtesy of shutterstock.com*