Today's interaction is sourced from reading Ben Berman's Strange Borderlands. But is more an interaction with they type of poems and conversations the collection reminded me of, through minimal fault of the author.
The briefest review of the book is "A person goes to a country with an organization that sets out to improves lives throughout the world and comes back with poems about cultural differences."
That's a really tough topic to pull off without sounding like an elitist asshole. And I think Berman does, occasionally, pull it off. So, rather than write an interaction specifically with his book, this is more an interaction with all the poems and anecdotes I've ever heard from other white people who've visited Africa.
The Best Of Intentions
The best of intentions sometimes leave their native land to learn about other cultures and improve the lives of other people. It is worthy of note but not maybe applause.
If the best of intentions are traveling to learn, I wish them education and wisdom and peace and whatever other vague intangible concept they desire that doesn't come at the expense of anyone else.
But if the best of intentions are traveling to learn, they should be more eager to come back with facts than stories. Percentages of homeless children in Zambia, and how they can be housed, rather than how the best of intentions saw a homeless child and gave them their granola bar.
The best of intentions' travelogues read in paragraphs of privilege, stanzas of condescension. Even when the narrator believes they are at eye level, the pesky nose gets in the way, and they end up looking down. Do you believe these people (not we people, not us, not where the best of intentions are from) live without this thing that the best of intentions all take for granted? Isn't that stunning? Haven't the best of intentions educated themselves to how better the world is where they're from? Surely, anyone without this thing is leading an inferior life. Not a different life. Or maybe they do call it a different life. The gods must be crazy. See how they are not patronizing, merely sharing cultural differences. Don't they deserve biscuits or cookies or wafers or whatever baked flour and sugar is called where the best of intentions are from?
The best of intentions should be writing almanacs not manuscripts. They should be hanging out in government offices talking about solutions instead of telling humorous anecdotes in bars.
I have the best of intentions when I meet someone. I want them to be a person and not a series of stories I tell to get other people to like me. See how entertaining I am? Do you believe that person (not me, not us, not someone involved in the conversation who could offer an opposing view) did that thing that I and we would clearly never do?
I should be speaking to them not about them. But sometimes the best of intentions can't help themselves. They must share. I saw this different thing. I experienced this cultural discord that is humorous hopefully from both perspectives. See how it makes me human. How thoroughly human to strip someone else's humanity away in an attempt to appear more human to other humans.
An ongoing conversation between writers and the text that they're reading.