After class and dinner at Les Pensieres Global Health Centre in Veyrier-du-lac, France, I decided to walk back to the Encore Hotel where I was lodging. It was a nice twenty-minute walk and most of the way you could walk right by the boardwalk over Lac d’Annecy (Lake Annecy). It always made for a nice way to end the day with the late sunset over there compared to Southern Africa where I am from. The sun was still out though it was past eight in the evening.
I was walking briskly, headphones in my ear, listening to classical music, hands in my coat pocket, hoodie over my head for the cold. About half way through the walk I noticed what looked like a castle in the distance across on the opposite shore of the lake, though it could have been a church. I had walked this route for over a week now and had never noticed it.
I stopped to take a picture. But as I aimed my phone in that direction to frame the shot a sombre mood suddenly fell on me. I think it was the view of that castle in the distance, tantalisingly close yet so far, the empty boats tied by the lakeside and the classical music I was listening to that brought in my head the thought of a migrant with a family on a boat.
I imagined that migrant looking afar off in the distance at the castle and thinking “finally, we are almost there, almost in Europe.” He had a family, young children and a wife on the boat. The next image in my head, that I resisted, was the image of his children in the water, drowned, so close to shore.
I did not take the picture I had intended to. Instead I switched the camera to selfie mode and took a picture of myself, with the lake in the background. The castle was too small to see in the selfie. The reason I took that selfie was to remind myself of what I thought and felt that instance when I thought of that scenario.
I felt a heaviness I cannot describe. I imagined if those children on that boat had been my own. I thought of all the migrants whose children had lost their lives at sea trying to find a better life. I thought of all the parents who had died trying to make a better life for their children in their home countries. All their dreams, all their hopes, lost at sea.
Yet there I was with my latest smartphone taking a picture, coming from eating a three-course meal cooked by a world class chef, learning about vaccine science from some of the world’s leading scientists, meeting people from well over fifty other nations during the course.
There I was, not realising how privileged I was. Not realising how much blessing I had, how education had made such a big difference to me and others like me. There I was, not appreciating the things that other people have died to have for themselves and those that they love.
I had the luxury to complain about inconveniences such as the hotel not being able to do laundry or not serving dinner, or the internet being slower than I had expected, or the weather being so cold compared to home. I could get to my room and cuddle into a warm bed, out of the cold.
I was standing on land that people died trying to set foot on – and only their corpses experienced its cold, unwelcoming embrace.
What of them? What of those children in that war-torn country who have no warm bed, no food, no education, no healthcare? What of them? Those that have no parents, no money, no warm clothes? What of them – faced with despair and fear all day long?
They dreamt of starting a better life. They only wanted a fair chance to have a decent life. They wanted what every man wants – to live well and to live free. They wanted hope. But all they got was death. Death and the scorn of those who enjoy such a life. Those who are more privileged. Those who see themselves as worthier to live and to live well.
We do not see injustice until it affects us. Then how unfair it seems. How we look to the world to see our plight and fight for our cause. But all we get too is silence. The same silence we so loudly practiced ourselves. All we see is injustice when we are the ones affected.
Yet, every life matters. Every one of those drowned souls is important. They might have died in those waters but their dreams and hopes carry on in the millions they have left behind.
Their blood cries out to those that led them to that death. No, not the boatmen or smugglers that promised them a safe ride across the rough seas, but the politicians and leaders that promised them a better life and instead gave them hell.
Their blood cries out to the conglomerates, the oil merchants and the mineral gobblers that value money over human life. Those that have their gold covered with human blood. The western leaders that see Africa simply as there mine and source of raw materials, blind to its people and their plight…singed of all conscience.
Those are the real villains. Those are the real scum…and those that protect their interests at all costs. They are the ones to be really held accountable for it all. Their day will come. God will require it of them.
I took my selfie, looking serious and thoughtful, nor a smile on my face, and continued my walk to the hotel. My pace had changed. It was heavy. It was deliberate.
I said a prayer in my hotel room and asked:
“Lord, when will it all end? And what am I to do till then?”
Visiting the USA for the first time recently, I left with mixed feelings. But mostly, feeling blessed that I am from Zambia, a peaceful nation where one has as much opportunity for success as one can have.
I met lots of Africans, mainly Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somali and Ghanaian. Sadly, they were the cab drivers, waitresses and hotel cleaners. One waitress told me at breakfast whilst serving me, when I asked her if things were going well for her:
“It’s been a struggle. I came here looking to live like you, attending conferences and being a professional. I have spent half my life here…since I was 18. I wanted to study, but had to support my family back home. I haven’t given up though. Am still pursuing my degree.”
She felt the courage to talk to me after I had tipped her when settling the breakfast bill. So it was, the Ethiopian cab driver said he was working several jobs just to survive. He was thinking of going back home. It was no longer worth being there, he said.
Everywhere I went I saw Africans and other immigrants working the tough jobs. Many looked broken, uninspired, getting by. Why are they here, I thought? Why not just go back home? Why are so many Africans struggling to get to the USA? But then it hit me that some have little choice – they are running from poverty, persecution, war, oppression.
But I couldn’t help but feel many are too ashamed to go back home. How can they go back home with little to show for the decades spent overseas? They will likely be laughed at, ridiculed. Or so they probably think. Better to stay. Yet, I can’t help feel that some do have a choice…that they could make more of themselves back in their home countries.
I remember as a medical student studying the USMLEs – the exams that would allow me to work in the US as a doctor. I soon gave up on that dream – realising that in Zambia lay my success and opportunities. I have never desired to work outside the country since, especially not in Europe or USA.
‘’Why be a second class citizen?’’, I thought. Whether I get citizenship or not, I would still be a foreigner…away from home, with limited options and missing my homeland.
That this was my first visit there is a testimony to my lack of excitement about it. Africa is my turf. I can travel within Africa and never get tired of it. After three days in the US I was already homesick. I went to the shopping malls, and found nothing special that I could not find in any developed African city. The scale of things was bigger, but alas nothing more.
I don’t mean to speak ill of the US or of anyone from Africa living there. I just love my Africa. I wish its people would take pride in it. I wish its people would thrive in it. I wish they would work to make it better and not leave. I wish they could see the potential and opportunity in their land. I wish they could see that slavery is not just physical. It is also economic – and for many that is the reality there. They are slaves to the economy – working to live. No life in their years, only years in their life. Yet the consolation perhaps is that it seems that is the way to goes for all over there, American or immigrant. Money rules and life is spent trying to get it…more and more of it. Yet it is never enough. All in all, am happy to be African. I am happy to be living in Africa. When I spoke of home and missing it, many I met were almost brought to tears. “Don’t do that to me” the Ethiopian shop assistant said when I spoke of wanting to get home to take pictures of flowers in my garden with the macro camera lens she had helped me purchase. She missed her home and didn’t want to cry. I felt for her.
Yet, I realise not everyone is blessed to be in my kind of position…educated with choices. What can Africa do to change that? Everyone should have choices and opportunity. Africa, what must be we do?
It starts with you and me. Africa, let’s be the change we want to see. We can do it! We shall do it!
God bless Africa and its people, wherever in the world they are. Shall a man run away from his poor home and go to seek the pleasures of his friend’s wealthy home? Should he not stay and make his home better instead so he can enjoy his own pleasures. Barring war and natural calamity, political persecution and such, I see little reason for the fight to get to the States or Europe.
But that is my very biased view, I realise that the matter is more complex. Perhaps it is the optimist in me, the persuasion that if you want to succeed bad enough it does not matter where you are, you will find a way. How come others are succeeding in the same environment?
Part of the reason I have not ventured much outside Africa, apart from much of my work being in Africa, is that I detest the prospect of applying for VISAs to go overseas. I joked once to a colleague that I had to fill out more paperwork to go to Europe for a week than I did to get employed at the University where I am based. It irritates me that it is assumed I want to stay overseas forever when I apply for a VISA and have to give every proof that I will come back!
What makes them think every African wants to stay there forever? Oh yes – the many Africans that have stayed there forever, legally or not. None-the-less, there are plenty that do not want to stay there forever.
Yet, isn’t it ironic that many who come to Africa from Europe or the USA never want to go back themselves? They love the weather, the huge houses and massive gardens. They love the easy pace of life here. I have nothing against that – they are most welcome. I just wish more Africans would appreciate all those things and realise that they are blessed…and cherish it…and exploit it. Our opportunity lies in Africa! Our future lies in Africa!