Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Money; It's a Drag

King Tubby

I've got a title and picture that don't really match what I've got in mind. Foolishness, but one way or another I'll try to fit them with the rest of the post.

There are clearly down sides to being foolish as I am, but there must also be some up sides; or why else would I persist? The short answer is "crazy," but that doesn't quite get to the "why."

For whatever reasons I end up chatting on Instant Messaging with African people. Not so much, but enough that I can see a pattern of flimflam in some of the chats.

Amongst my foolish habits is I read palms. People who know me know that I'm so lazy that my disclaimer with every palm-reading session: "I don't know one wit about reading palms." is easily believed. It's rather uncanny, however, people still seem to think there's something to my readings. "Oh my Gawd! How did you know?

There's a little of what makes the flimflam work at play:
The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and to a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence. --Thomas Wolfe
Most of us do feel lonely and want very much not to feel so lonely. So the appeal for money in flimflam IMs and emails follows along the lines: together we won't feel so lonely. In essence what I read in palms is an acknowledgment of a person's loneliness and then an expression that they won't be alone. Buba at Cunninglinguistically Yours --my favorite blog name evah!--shared a missive of the sort I'm referring.

A recent chat devolved into my interlocutor cursing me out. I don't have money to send so I tend to try to steer such conversations elsewhere. But I'm a bit of a dolt when it comes to reading between the lines, and perhaps it was simply my being dense which set him off. I asked him why the insults and he answered to the effect: "Because you've got the money and won't share it."

I'm very much in favor of the approach of people like me taking a focused and modest approach to seeking solutions for African problems described by Robert Rodale in his book Save Three Lives.

I'm also reminded of a story I read about a mother of a three-year old adopted daughter from Africa. The girl had seen some coverage of crisis in Africa--perhaps and image like this one--and Mother was trying to quiet her daughter's fears. She told her girl that even when they might be apart the girl could call her. The girl protested about children in trouble, "But what if their mommies can't find a phone?" I'm afraid I've butchered the story, still even to a child in a nice middle class house in America it's plain that the problems people face are real and big.

There are at least two sorts of fears people encounter when they think about a "Save Three Lives" approach: The first "What if I'm conned?" The second "What if I'm forced to confront suffering I'd prefer not to?"

After that guy cursed me out in chat, I wondered how much money sails across oceans in search of romance and to fill the void of lonesomeness. I also puzzled over not really making a clear judgment about the good and bad of it. Last year about this time "I Go Chop Your Dollar" was a popular song on the Nigerian airwaves referring to 419 scams. There's a video up at YouTube which is worth watching if you've got the time. The Riverside Rugby Blog provides a helpful translation of the pidgin Nigerian English. The sentiments expressed in the song aren't hard to understand.

One of my other interlocutors finally and with good-nature has accepted that I'm not going to send money. I was telling him there might be better ways to make some money using the Internet and suggested blogging. I suggest blogging to everyone and just about no one takes note. He told me that the Blogger Web site wouldn't load for him. That set me off looking for other Ghana Blogs to see if any used Blogger. There are some and I discovered a new cool blog, Buchele Ghana Adventure.
An Ashesi Lecturer and an international man of leisure spend a year in Ghana, West Africa
Lovely, the blog is a family affair. First of all it's worth saying a word or two about Ashesi University. Patrick Awuah left Ghana in 1985 to attend Swathmore College. After graduation he worked as an engineer at Microsoft. Awuah enrolled at UC Berkley's Haas School of Business to explore founding and managing a university in Ghana. In collaboration with Swathmore, UC Berkley and University of Washington, Ashesi University opened its doors in a suburb of Accra in 2002.

I was just looking for Ghana blogs, but in one of the posts I found an insight into money that I hadn't expected. Steve, international man of leisure, has been blogging about a trip with Emmanuel, the family's day guard's family home. The three posts about the trip are delightful travel writing. Americans can be ugly, but we're not without our charms. Steve's observations about Emmanuel's approach to money are intriguing and he concludes:
They say that one of the differences between the Western World and Africa is how westerners will let money ruin friendships. The joke in the West is if you want to lose a friend, just loan them money. That would never happen here. Money is treated like a community resource, maybe like water from a well. A neighbor asks for some water, and of course you would share, so it is when friends/family/neighbors ask for money, if you have any, it is theirs for the asking.
That makes sense to me. Certainly I don't think people should fall prey to cons. But I think the worries about them are over-blown. The real issue is that we shouldn't imagine crossing cultural differences is a simple matter. Instead rather and adventure based in dialog.

Confronting suffering is not easy. The idea of being involved in the lives of real people to solve problems people face in practice one becomes quickly aware of the magnitude of the problems facing real people. That presents quite a dilemma: To know and do nothing; or to know and try to do something? It's painful either way as far as I can see. But to be moved into action seems quite a reasonable response.

It's not so easy to move a lazy man. And money, it's a drag. I find it really hard to motivate myself towards fund raising. Oh well, I have to try, I guess. Which brings me to the great King Tubby. He was a Jamaican electronics and sound engineer and a genuine original. Without King Tubby modern dance music wouldn't be; without King Tubby no Dub.

I love the picture because of his crown. I can't seem to get the idea of fund raising with paper party hats off my mind and off the ground. But I'm going to try once again, Paper Party Hats 2.0. The coming holidays seem an auspicious time for a launch. Watch out for Paper Party Hats redux.

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