There are a couple of volunteers that I love having around. They’re not only good company (turns out, most volunteers are), but we end up having absolutely amazing conversations about development, politics, and just life in general. And it’s absolutely fascinating to see how service over here has affected each of us in different ways.
I’m pretty cynical about development. I know that developed countries are better markets for American products. We spend money helping these people so that we can better exploit them later on. Fantastic. I’ve (more or less) convinced myself to be okay with that because the idea is to raise people’s standard of living at the same time. I close my eyes and ignore the fact that the vast majority of goods people buy once they’ve got money are foreign. I pretend not to see the cash flowing out of Benin, and I certainly don’t think about any trade deficits that may or may not exist.
In my less cynical moments, and last night was one of them, I can see the hope here in Cotonou. This city is a teeming thriving metropolis practically brimming over with expectations for the future. People are excited about the possibilities they see for themselves and their country.
My main project here is incredible. We’re working on something to put market power back in the hands of farmers, instead of the large-scale transformation operations that buy their product and essentially set the prices. Awesome!
Brook’s working with a group of Beninese businesspeople to get a cashew factory up and running so that cashew transformation can be done in Benin instead of exporting the raw product then bringing it BACK into the country once it’s been processed. Awesome!
We both have enormously frustrating moments, but we both also are fortunate to be working with motivated people who understand that the way to succeed is just as much hard work as it is luck and who you know (note that I said “just as much” and not “more”).
Anyway, the point is that it’s great when Brook comes to town. We talk a lot. We bullshit a lot. And it’s a lot easier to see hope for the future when I’m with someone else who sees it, even though he experiences a lot of the same daily frustrations as I do.