Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Redefining Rich eSwatini (Swaziland) 2007

Carlo Capua (Toluca, Mexico / USA)
(translated by Laura Vaillard (original version)
Pictures by Carlo Capua

“I wanna be RICH when I grow up.”

Sound familiar? Most of us can remember hearing (or boldly stating) this on playgrounds, in classrooms, or at sleepovers when we were kids.

As a kid, I fondly remember tuning into channel 5 on Saturday mornings to watch my favorite cartoon, Richie Rich. This kid had it all – personal butler, huge mansion, live-in chef….and practically everything he owned was gold.

I envied him.

Most of us tend to think of being rich or poor in terms of money and possessions. Being rich in an 8 year-old’s mind means not having to work and still being able to buy anything you want. Poor means being unable to go out to restaurants with your family, not getting that new Spiderman backpack, or having few presents under the Christmas tree.

These terms are often used loosely in context. For example, “Papua New Guinea is a really poor country.” In fact, New Guinea is the richest country in the world in terms of languages, boasting over 800. Socio-economically, however, it is considered a developing country in terms of GDP when compared to other world superpowers.

During my 12 days in Swaziland I thought a lot about the words “rich” and “poor.” Was it really a poor country? How do we define “rich” and “poor”? Are they really poorer than I am?

Here is my experience.


First, as I do with my students, let’s address the common stereotypes we have of Africa.

1) Africa is a country
Many of us have heard someone exclaim “What an exotic and dangerous country that Africa is!” This is pitiful. I have noticed this much more since coming back and talking to people about the trip. And yes, I correct them every time. There are 53 countries in the continent Africa, each on being significantly different in terms of language, dress, music, physical features, customs, and religion.

2) Everyone in Africa is black
I didn’t remember this from my World History class, so don’t feel like I am lecturing you here. During the scramble for African land in the late 1800’s, many European countries threw their hats in the ring, including Belgium (Congo), England (Swaziland, South Africa), and Portugal (Mozambique). Although a majority of African people are black, a handful of countries are indeed multiracial.

3) All people in Africa are suffering
Go to any country in the world and you will find people who are suffering. Are there a higher percentage of people without the most basic necessities in Africa? Yes. Is everyone unhappy and dying? No. Is the media responsible for creating this image and furthering the stereotype? You bet.

Watch movies like “Blood Diamond”, “Amistad”, or “Hotel Rwanda” which show the struggle of Africans and how foreign (i.e. United States) people come to their “rescue” at the end. Is it a fair and balanced look at the culture? No. Does it sell movie tickets? You bet.

4) It is always hot in Africa
A good part of Southern Africa is at the same latitude as Australia, which means that the seasons are opposite to those of the USA and most of Europe. I wore a sweater and jacket during most of my July visit to Swaziland.

5) Africa is all jungle
That’s like saying that all of California has beach-friendly weather. Just look at San Francisco.

6) Africans ride lions and elephants
This stereotype is undoubtedly perpetuated by the Tarzan story. And by the way, wasn’t he white? Oh, wait, I forgot. He was the son of a British Lord who was marooned on the west coast of Africa by mutineers. Um,…..yeah. Right.

The Kingdom of Swaziland, sandwiched between South Africa and Mozambique, is one of the last and longest reigning monarchies in the world. Originally a colony of England, it achieved a peaceful independence in 1968.

About Carlo Capua and Sister Cities International
I travelled on behalf of Sister Cities, for program between Fort Worth and our newest partner of Mbabane, Swaziland. I went on a fact finding trip to start a young professionals exchange and visited communities of HIV patients, orphaned children, and brought attention to our new Sister Cities relationship through media events and visits with City Council.

In June 2008 I will lead a group of our young alumni to develop projects to create mutual understanding between students in both countries, increase the partnership between Fort Worth and Mbabane and create opportunities for cultural exchange and friendship between students.

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