Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Little Light Reading

In the summer of 2006, a mere weeks before I was to set foot on the African continent for the first time in my life, I read two fascinating books: Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Paul Farmer's Infections and Inequalities. I came away from the first thinking to myself, "That probably wasn't the best thing to read as I'm about to need a whole lot of hope to make it through two months at an African orphanage...and that was a lot like Apocalypse Now."  About the second, I was absolutely floored and quickly moved Dr. Farmer onto my list of "People With Whom I'd Like To Have a Conversation."

In the years since then, I find myself reading a lot of cautionary tales about Africa, about development, about trying to work while bridging cultural divides.  At the same time, I'm always on the lookout for the success stories that will inspire the work that I hope to do.  One day I'll have to make lists of both.

I thought about that this weekend while Sarah and I escaped into the mountains, and I holed up with the two latest issues of the New Yorker (Sarah will tell you that when I'm flummoxed I often refer to them as episodes of the New Yorker).  There's an interesting phenomenon about the New Yorker - be forewarned all of you who are considering a subscription: as a weekly magazine, it has the burden of putting out almost 5000 pages of writing a year, and it seems that the editorial team at the New Yorker has decided that rather than spread the best work out evenly across all 52 issues, instead to have 26 issues that are middling and superficial and 26 that are compelling and fascinating.  To the person at the airport bookstore who is contemplating a New Yorker purchase for a long flight, go the safe route and pick up the Atlantic.  It's always provocative.

OK, tangent complete.  The point of all that is to say that the April 5, 2010, issue (episode) of the New Yorker is one of the fascinating ones.  The story that I found myself all caught up in is about a married couple who happen to be anthropologists who move to Zambia to first observe and then ultimately protect African elephants.  Classify it as one of the cautionary tales, regardless of which version of the events described in the article you choose to believe.  The note of caution that rings out from Jeffrey Goldberg's story is that in the developing world, when there's an ulterior motive beyond aiding people in their own development, a debacle will soon ensue.  It's more than just aid - Cornel West said, "You can't save the people if you don't serve the people.  You can't lead the people if you don't love the people."  I hold on to a hope that the work of Cornerstone Friends will always be rooted in a profound love for all of mankind, but also for the specific people with whom we work.  

I know that the idea of keeping the people we serve as our primary motive is a deceptively simple idea, one that is harder to execute than it is to fathom, but I hope that we will always hold to it and place ourselves in the tension of how to make our ideal a reality.

No comments:

Post a Comment