View From Our Bungalow

Africa…What a S**thole

Today the boys learned “Shithole.” I prefer they don’t swear but realize they will learn these words on the playground or after school with their buddies. Or, sometimes at Grandma’s house. But, they overheard a conversation Audrey and I were having about an article we had just seen. So, I explained.

There are mornings I wake up and read the news from the previous day and wonder, what the hell just happened. We are 10 hours ahead of California so while I am comfortably dreaming about this unbelievable life we are living, many of the news stories are just breaking. Well, unless it is CNN or FOX where they are breaking 24 hours a day. This morning I woke up and saw that a friend had posted, “It takes a “F****ing asshole to know shitholes!”

I pulled up my news feed to learn more and then just put my hands on my head and looked down. Having been on the African continent for two months, I was disappointed because I have loved my time traveling here. During our worst times when we were stranded with a flat tire in the middle of Namibia or stuck without at a train in Zimbabwe, the warmth and hospitality of locals shone through. I would never call their land “shitholes.”

But, one doesn’t have to visit a country to be disgusted. I have not been to Haiti but can only imagine what the 10 million people on that island-nation are thinking. After being ravaged by an earthquake almost eight years ago and then again with recent hurricanes, it can’t be good. Being referred to as a “shithole” is just another punch to the gut. We are better than this.

I offer a different perspective than our president and ask for more civil discourse at the highest position in the land. I don’t want to walk along one of the most beautiful beaches in the world — where I currently am — and have locals look and me and think, “he believes our country is a shithole” because I don’t.

We have been to many places in Africa that are dirt poor — compared to our standards. Where a small rain storm and a little wind will decimate one’s home. Where $100 a month is a good income. Where garbage dumps are often a pile of rubbish behind a hut. Where those dumps are often burned at the end of the week. Many live off the land and rely on their neighbors to survive by growing their own food or sharing their livestock. It’s very different than what I am accustomed to but it is what they know.  All of Africa is not like this.

Africa is made up of 54 countries with some extremely rich, some extremely poor, and a bunch in between. Unfortunately, more to the poorer side. Compared to the U.S., significantly more. U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) is $57,500 per capita versus $3,320 for Africa so the lifestyle is very different. We have seen the poor and we have seen the rich. It is a diverse continent.

Like our President, I don’t want to bring in all the poor causing our already overburdened-social services to be even more stressed. I would prefer to bring in those who will create jobs, pay taxes, and raise our overall standard of living. So instead of lumping a nation (or, in this case a continent) all together, can we look at standards and criteria people must meet to live in our great nation with gender, religion, or origin not being one of them? As a former Human Resources Executive, federal law prevented me from discriminating on these (and other) criteria in my hiring and firing. Shouldn’t the Executive Branch follow the same guidelines?

In my previous post, It Told You So – Part II, I referenced new friends who invited us into their home for a wonderful BBQ. They were all very astute business people and impressed me with how much they knew about our government structure, electoral college, and financial systems. All were highly educated. I would welcome those Zimbabwean-born citizens to our country any day.

Last night we had drinks with a European Ambassadors to one of Mozambique’s neighboring countries. His family was vacationing here and the kids played together. He shared his views, along with those from his Ambassador community, about how the United States is losing its influence on the world stage. This wasn’t the first time I heard this as I read an article in the Economist a few weeks back saying the same thing.

For all its flaws, America has long been the greatest force for good in the world, upholding the liberal order and offering an example of how democracy works. All that is imperiled by a president who believes that strong nations look out only for themselves. By putting “America First”, he makes it weaker, and the world worse off. (Economist Nov 2017)

I love living in the most powerful country in the world and would prefer that we remain in that position. But saying our friends and neighbors live in “shitholes” doesn’t help us remain at the top. Coming in first doesn’t mean we push people to the back of the line or to the bottom. As the saying goes, ‘All boats rise in a high tide.’ Let us be a country that helps the other boats rise higher versus pushed to the bottom of the ocean. We can do that and still be first.

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Bryan Gillette

Bryan Gillette is the founder and principal consultant for The Summiting Group focusing on Leadership and Organizational Development. He has traveled extensively for both work and personal reasons visiting almost 60 countries and 40 United States. He is an avid runner and cyclist and ran 200 miles around Lake Tahoe in 76 hours as well as cycled across the United States. He recently spent one year traveling the world with his family.

This Post Has 5 Comments
  1. Bryan – The only way I can relate to you on this subject is how I felt when traveling in Israel. I made it a point to let the Israeli people know that most Americans DID NOT like or agree with Obama’s position on their country or it’s people.

    Kathy

  2. Bryan, once again, your comments are spot-on! Right now when traveling, it’s almost embarrassing to be from the US, yet at the same time, being from the US has opened up fascinating conversations with residents in the countries we’ve visited: an inn-owner in the Galapagos, a ranch-hand in Ecuador, a tour guide in Australia, a friend in New Zealand, a store clerk from Syria in the UK. Each of these conversations, in part, have focused on the world’s (and the particular individual’s) disappointment (and disgust) with our current President, and are amazed that so many in the US voted for him. Let’s hope the next few years, caused by members from his own party, will bring about an improvement over what is taking place right now!

  3. I thank you my brother. I have been stunned beyond words these past few days. Sorrow, shame, and sadness. That we must explain this to our young children is incomprehensible…not only the context of the word and it’s use, but the individual saying it. We are better than this. I have experienced hatred throughout this world that haunts me to my core. I have also experienced love and acceptance at the same depth. We are better thank this. We must demand better than this.
    And Haiti is magnificent! The people, the country, the hope.
    #Iammybrotherskeeper

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