Russell: Flowcharts in Mermoz

September 4, 2010

I am stressed out, confused, and tired. Funny thing is, I’m not physically tired at all. I’ve been really on top of staying healthy in terms of sleep, hydration, and sanitation. But being here is exhausting in many other ways. There is a certain amount of that struggle that “getting used to things” will alleviate. But after being here for 5 days, I think that a large amount of that exhaustion is actually part of life here. One of the domestiques a ma maison, qui s’appelle, Nina, was sitting with her head in her hands this afternoon when I came home. Knowing the amount of responsibility she has, especially after a really raining morning like this one, would make her fatigue understandable. The confusing thing is…she does this every day. And not only that, she’s probably done this every day for her entire life. To show physical exhaustion like that on a day like this, which was rainy but not apocalyptic, blew my mind. Life must actually be as hard as it’s seeming to me—you can’t just get used to things. It’s the little things in life that are difficult and then turn into flaming hellfire encompassing bigger difficulties. They’re constant and persistent and frustrating and make you feel helpless. There is nothing that makes that pain go away.

Even in my short time here, I have found a completely new sense of purpose in studying development. My passion was extensive before, and it remains that way, but I now have opaque blinders on me, and they guide me only to the plight of people. Political pondering is nothing but an obstacle. I still believe in politics, but only because it takes political action to conquer the status quo. The very disciplines of political and social sciences have become an obstacle to simply fixing things. I mean think about it. When you struggle to keep water flowing to your household because pipes are exposed to vandals that pillage just 2 miles away because they want to be rowdy in the cleanest area because the city is dirty and dangerous because not enough planning goes into developing physical infrastructure because contractors have to rush projects in order to make a living because business owners need money for their families right away because their medical expenses are off the charts because their children keep getting diarrhea because they aren’t using sanitary water sources because they can’t get water to flow properly to their household,

…life just sucks. And hey, I got more:

• Bad/inconsistent water –> pipes exposed to vandals –> urban abuse –> fast development –> unsupported/unregulated business –> household poverty –> high costs and poor medical care –> water-borne diseases –> bad/inconsistent water
• Caste system –> certain roles to fulfill in society –> a universal desire to show off one’s physical or cultural wealth –> building houses bigger than your financial and familial means –> being in need of help to take care of basic daily chores and tasks –> housing maid(s) –> becoming lazy –> abusing relationships –> creating a culture of abusing power –> halting social immobility –> caste system
• Religious government –> strong religious majority –> temptation to bypass constitutional precedents –> centralized disrespect for the law –> legislative stagnation –> decentralized disrespect for the law –> more crime and instability –> higher enforcement costs –> advantaged majority –> religious government
• Bugs –> f-ing bugs –> f-ing bugs everywhere

There’s little you can do. Neither is there something for any one individual of the agents involved in this network to do. Either everyone must act, or a higher authority must. And both can be successful, but the problems have to be hit where it hurts. Normally, the most painful spot is right in the middle of these networked maps:
• unsupported/unregulated business
• building houses bigger than your financial and familial means
• centralized disrespect for the law
• f-ing bugs
These hurt because it sucks for everyone to admit the necessity of doing something. No ordinary citizen wants their tax money spent on politicians arguing about some random business near the airport, and neither does that business owner. No person wants to admit that you can’t have a house bigger than his/her neighbor’s, and neither does the builder being paid to construct it. No politician wants to be held accountable to a constitution that they might not agree with that much, because it was drafted under the table by a colonial power. And f-ing bugs. But these things must be dealt with, in the most direct way possible.

I’m not here to change the world, nor Africa, nor Senegal, nor Dakar, nor Mermoz or anywhere else, I promise. I’m just going to keep accumulating perspectives on these and other problems. Maybe in shouldering some of the frustration, pain, poverty, and sadness that strikes people like my maid, Nina, I am, in fact, changing something.

To stray from that poetic statement, I’m also changing the world because I take care of Bebe Verain quand il pleut. That’s one very good thing. This is just about the cutest and most beautiful baby anyone will ever see. And don’t worry, you’ll see him.


One comment

  1. Wow! I really felt some of the frustration that you are feeling. I feel for Nina especially. Would it be appropriate to send anything that might help? Like tablets for the water?

    it sounds like you are helping, that gestures that seem unremarkable could mean a great deal.

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