As the center piece of the living room when one walks into my home they will see this picture. Okay you caught me, I'm a Christian. But this isn't about Christ. It is about the little boy. He's a real little boy from Africa. The painter is a woman by the name of Liz Lemon Swindle. She shares about an the experience she had in Africa back in 2007 with the organization Mothers without Borders (the full story can be found here). The little boys name is Kennedy. At the age of three Kennedy had lost both of his parents to AIDS and lived alone with his six year old brother and their ten year old sister. You may have seen the internet meme of first world problems, and third world problems. The reality of it is that they are worse than most realize.
We all are aware of AIDS being a problem in Africa. Much of this comes from the common practice of prostitution in Africa. Often the cases involve transactional sexual relationships between older men and younger women and girls. According to a fact sheet on www.unaids.org "An estimated 22.5 million [20.9 million–24.2 million] people living with HIV resided in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2009, representing 68% of the global HIV burden." While that information isn't current, I don't expect that it has changed significantly, especially considering that the use of condoms in Africa is a cultural taboo. Now while we in a First World Country will complain about our healthcare system and how terrible it is, the truth of the matter is: We have a healthcare system.
Let us consider another problem of Africa, this comes particularly from the Congo, because this is where I have heard of it occurring the most. This problem is known as the fistula. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary a fistula is:
An abnormal passage that leads from an abscess or hollow organ or part to the body surface or from one hollow organ to part to another and that may be surgically created to permit passage of fluids or secretions.
Because of poor training among medical staff, complications during childbirth, or rape women are left incontinent because of a fistula or rupture between the lining of the vagina and bladder or rectum. According to various sources (This material can be disturbing, please take caution in reviewing source 1 & source 2) you'll get different pictures of the epidemic. Whether you believe that most of it is being caused by the lack of medical understanding or the brutalization of women most of us don't have to worry about that being common among us.
Last of all the issues we'll discuss today is the problem of First World e-waste being sent to Africa for recycling. So what happens is we throw away our electronics and through various means it finds its way to Africa where families Africa make their living off of stripping them of the valuable metals that are within them such as: gold, copper, and other rare earth metals. The problem with this is that in order to do this they have to contend with dangerous metals such as: mercury and lead.
If you notice in this picture you have various folks in a family stripping the metals from electronics to sell. The fumes coming from the burning electronics is dangerous. The possibility of coming in contact with the dangerous metals is deadly. And they have no safety or health regulations, no healthcare to support them if someone gets sick and worst of all it is such an important industry to the people that they would rebel if you attempted to take it from them. They need it to support their families. Millions of people supporting their families this way is even more frightening when you realize that the annual revenue of the industry is only 268 million a year currently. That means these folks are risking their lives for very little money. And oftentimes we complain about how terrible our government and political system is.
Now you may be asking, "Mr. Garrett isn't this supposed to be about black men?" It is. Every black man I've met who has come from Africa has been an impeccable gentleman. Smart, well cultured, and thoughtful. But we often don't consider the cost for these men to leave. A Long Way Gone is a book I read a few years ago that was written by a young man who was a child soldier in Sierra Leone. His story is amazing, especially when you realize what a good person he has become. But that wasn't an easy journey.
These are things to consider when you think about black men around the world. What kind of circumstances are they dealing with? How does a young black man deal with a mistake that leaves him with HIV? How do you think they deal with their wives and daughters having fistulas? Or how are they dealing with having children ill from the means by which they make their money each day? Our world is so much more complicated than we can even comprehend. Oft as Americans we think we are superior to others because of where we live. We minimize the importance of the cultures and lives of others around the world. Both as readers and writers we have the responsibility of seeing the world as it really is and trying to make things better for those within the sphere of influence we have chosen. I don't have the money to invest in making these people's lives better. But I have the time to inform you about them.
As I close out this series of blogs, I want to express my gratitude for the opportunities that I have been given to live in the United States with freedom to live my life as I will. I am so grateful to have a healthcare system and government regulations to protect me. More than anything I'm glad to never have to worry about if anything so terrible as a fistula will take place to my wife during childbirth. I chose to write on this subject as a small way of expressing my gratitude for all I have.
Another small way of expressing my gratitude is my monthly book give away. This month I'm giving away one bundle of books. Karen Sandler's Tankborn (one of my reads for this month) and Samuel Delany's Dhalgren. For each person who follows the blog (inclusive to those who joined since the beginning of March) I'll put your name into the contest three times. And for each person who comments on each post for the month I'll put you down for one per comment. A blog is a conversation, and this is just a little way for me to say thanks for talking with me.
Next time I'll have my Mashup for Wednesday and my ROW80 goals for this week. This is Jayrod Garrett, the First OG, with just one question for you. Did this make you grateful for the life you have?