What do I really want to do here in Moçambique? I want to make people think. I want to make people question the world around them. I want to force people out of their tiny cultural bubble in order to consider and experience novelty. When dealing with village people this is not a difficult task. The second objective of the Peace Corps program is to exchange culture and promote a better understanding of Americans. I take my job very seriously. The only problem is that I don’t identify myself as American. Yes I grew up under the influence of and am familiar with the American culture and value systems, but when asked where I come from I identify myself as a citizen of the world. This is a much more accurate statement.
Nationalism is a fools game. I didn’t choose to be born in the US, it just happened. Of course I am grateful for the opportunities that this chance occurrence has afforded me, but to say that I am proud of this fact doesn’t make any sense to me. I didn’t have any decisions in shaping the value systems or constructing the civilization that I was randomly born into. One can be grateful and appreciative of their cultural heritage, but pride is just inappropriate. Pride is what drives people to make idiotic statements such as saying that “the US is the best country in the world”. In what sense? In producing the most obese population in the world? Yes the US is the best. In producing the highest amount of climate change causing pollutants? Yes the US is the best.
Think about it, the average American is still in America, and doesn’t even have a passport to leave the country. The average American would NEVER come to Mozambique for a resort vacation let alone to live for 2 years. There is nothing average, nor very American about what I am doing here in Mozambique. I tell people that if they want to meet an American they have to go to America, because anyone who comes here is already out of the ordinary.
This past weekend I went to Xai Xai, the district capital of Gaza, to do some shopping and check out the big city life. There was a grand opening for a South African grocery store chain that was opening a new store. There was music, speakers, and a festive atmosphere as shoppers clogged the aisles of this first world novelty. Perhaps it is a testament to my new level of deconditioning, because when I entered this home depot like warehouse filled with modern day conveniences and grocery store amenities I actually felt fear and repulsion. I wandered down the aisles stocked with mass produced industrialized products, absolutely blown away by the amount of worthless shit that someone could buy if they so chose. Even more shocking was seeing the Mozambican’s reactions to this monstrosity of a store. They loved it. They lapped it all up; hook, line and sinker.
In the US there is absolutely no excuse for being an ignorant consumer. With the massive amount of information and exposure available about the environmental consequences of buying certain products or their detrimental health effects there is absolutely no excuse for bad health or environmental practices. If you choose to buy and drink 2 liters of coca cola a day YOU are guilty. If you choose to buy a meat product that was produced in a totally inhumane and environmentally polluting way YOU are guilty. The responsibility for ignorant consumerism in the developed world rests squarely on the shoulders of the consumers and the decisions they make.
Here in Mozambique, this is not exactly the case. The general level of exposure to ideas such as ecology, globalism, market economies, nutrition and health is at such a low level that people cannot be held entirely responsible for their culpabilities and vulnerabilities when it comes to advertising and consumerism. Walking down the aisles of this mega store, seeing the products that were being bought it became entirely clear to me just how entirely disordered human value systems can be under the pressure of corporate capitalism. Let me give an example.
In the jam-packed checkout lines I cruised by to see what Mozambicans were buying. To my horror I witnessed a man, maybe 30 years old, dirty, clothes ripped, no shoes, emanating an offensive stench, who was choosing to buy South African beer and 4 miniature plastic chairs for his children to sit in. Even the smallest of adults could not fit into one of these chairs. This was a man who by his appearance was very bad off. If you went to his house you would probably encounter no food, children running around everywhere, poor sanitation and hygiene practices and no mosquito netting. I say this out of experience of visiting homes of people who appeared like this man did. And so here he was, spending probably all the money he had to his name so his kids (who probably couldn’t have cared less) could sit on a worthless plastic piece of shit.
So I decided to investigate a bit, and asked the man why he was buying these chairs, which in relative terms were ridiculously expensive at 70 meticais each. (A 5kg sack of rice that could last a family a week costs 125 meticais) He explained that he wanted his neighbors to see his kids sitting on chairs instead of the ground which would show how well off this family really was. Thank you corporate capitalism for bringing an opportunity for this man to demonstrate his wealth in such a life enriching manner. The other shopping carts were no better off. Probably at least three quarters were filled with only the following products: white bread, soda products and this disgusting South African processed sausage meat. The fruit and vegetable section was pathetic; filled with hydroponically manufactured tomatoes that had the texture of a hockey puck, processed bagged produce that looked old and tasteless. I don’t need to go on, you in the developed world are probably used to this disgusting display of industrially produced vegetable produce and think its normal. The sad thing was that people were so happy to buy these products, just for the novelty and because they could save 1 metical per tomato. The woman selling tomatoes on the corner, who depended on those sales to feed her family was left with no clientele, where as the sales of this corporate giant went to enrich the pockets of some CEO in a far off land.
So in a world where there is a serious lack of exposure and education, who is responsible for this rampant ignorant consumerism. Are the Mozambicans to blame for their terrible choices in consumption, or is it the fault of the corporations who prey on a naïve and vulnerable populace? I think it’s a combination of both, with each side needing to take responsibility for better practices. In my opinion, corporate capitalistic values combined with an uneducated and market naïve population has the unfortunate consequence of producing the disgusting scene that I witnessed. As the developed world encroaches ever more on simpler peoples, I expect these situations and conflicts of values to arise ever more frequently. That is all for now.
Oh you such a writer – never stop! Brilliant.
Do not put down the white plastic chair, they are the most ubiquitous product of the human race. We see them from the back yards of the toniest homes in Sarasota to little hill towns in China and Turkey. Only in Paris, which defines western good taste, are they banned – but that of course is just for esthetic reasons.
Check out this commentary on work, it’s even more applicable today then when it was written http://www.zpub.com/notes/idle.html
Wow, Mao Tse Tung has reborn… Jokes apart, I kind of agree with most of it.