Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Lessons from Africa

Every day, or so it seems, news is broken of yet another species joining the 'endangered' list.  Had I not been listening to the radio the other week I would have missed the latest inclusion.
Do you know what it is?  It's the once-essential, ubiquitous washing-line.

I hadn't realised, had you, that in past centuries the very design of our towns and cities was influenced by the need for washing-lines?  The space occupied by an outstretched, drying sheet was a contributing factor to the length of a garden.

Not surprisingly, this consideration is no longer a priority in town planning.  On the contrary, many areas ban outdoor washing-lines.  Nowadays, instead of curling up between sheets that are redolent of fresh air and new-mown grass, we opt for the ease and efficiency of the spin-dryer.  Why buy clothes-pegs when everything can be done by the click of a switch?

Not only that, if the spin-dryer breaks down we rarely think of mending it . . .  speaking for myself, I wouldn't know how to mend it.  Instead, we go online to find a new, more up-to-date model.  Built-in obsolescence, so we are told, is the engine of the economy.

All this came to mind the other day when a friend sent me some remarkable photos he'd received from Africa.
"Never let it be said," he wrote, "that poverty is synonymous with stupidity!"

On looking at the photos, and thinking about our pampered lives, I couldn't do other than agree.
In fact, I would add to that statement.  Surely, by the same reasoning, affluence could be said to cripple creativity?
Having acquired all the commodities we need, could it be that we've simultaneously limited the opportunities for using our ingenuity?

In materially-impoverished parts of Africa the opportunities are boundless.  Let me show you the photos I received and you'll see three ways in which resourceful Africans tackle their problems.

Problem number one . . . a group of young men have a truck, but what they need is a bath.
A problem?  Not at all, it's an opportunity to uncover that old sheet of blue plastic and put it to good use!

The second problem might appear more intractable.
What if you're a keen snooker player in an area where you're more likely to come across a white elephant than a snooker table?

Once again, this situation provides boundless opportunities.  Given plenty of mud, and plenty of heat, the outcome - a  carefullly-crafted, sun-baked snooker-table - affords these keen young players all that they could possibly want.

Finally, what if it's your wife's birthday and she talking wistfully about that most desirable commodity, the flush-toilet?
This is the perfect opportunity to bring together a traffic cone, a discarded loo seat, a pedal, and a flair for ingenuity . . . and . . . hey presto! . . . how's this for a perfectly functioning and serviceable appliance?
All you now need is the wrapping-paper!

We, in the well-endowed Western world may be blessed with spin-dryers, snooker tables and en suite bathrooms, but there's a great deal we can learn from our impoverished but creative African neighbours.

What if our lives change in the future . . .  what if our sources of energy diminish and washing-lines regain their popularity . . . what if the pumps at the filling stations have only limited supplies and our ability to travel is dramatically reduced . . . ?

 Should there be the need to drastically rethink our way of life . . . then let's pray that we'll rise to the occasion.

Let's pray that we'll display the courage, the wit and the ingenuity of these undaunted and imaginative Africans . . . who use ponies for pleasure . . . but bicycles when things get serious in Mozambique!