Editor’s Note: The letter below was written in 2001 and appears in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.
PEACE CORPS WORKER
Ivory Coast, Africa
The following is written by an American Peace Corps worker in his mid 20s, who is presently living in a remote village in Ivory Coast, a country located in West Africa. His letter is dated Oct. 18.
Your letter took about a month to get here. I was wondering where you might have been. Your last postcard talked about you moving to a city and I was waiting for an update from you.
In response to your letter and current events in the U.S. –
I did hear and see what happened on Sept. 11 but was not particularly moved by it, much less surprised. I’m sure you will be hearing this a lot, but boy did we have it coming! The only reason for showing the Palestinians celebrating in the aftermath is because of all the reporters on hand. I’m sure there was a lot of dancing on tables in the world (China, Cuba, most of Latin America, Lybia, Russia, Serbia, etc.). There was some live French news on the Ivorian TV station the day it happened, but not much talk of it afterward.
The Ivorian response did not include any dancing on the tables (that was in Nigeria and Liberia) but was somewhat of a mixed response. It was strange in that some police and military personnel were friendly and shared their condolences when only several months prior, they were hostile. The U.S.-run World Bank and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) are seen as the source of our political problems in Cote d’Ivoire. Americans are thought to support Alassan Ouattara and the North, and the IMF has been pulling strings and manipulating the country with funding cuts and constant new criteria to meet. Teachers and most government officials seemed to be aware of what happened yet not surprised by it. Most villagers don’t really know nor does it really matter to them. One villager friend asked me if there was a plane crash in the U.S., but that’s about it.
A teacher friend of mine said he thought something like this was going to happen. The village chief is the village’s most powerful and respected member. It doesn’t matter who you are in the village, you can always talk to him. You can invite him to a meeting and he will always come. He might sleep through it, complain, or disagree, but he will always stay until the end. The U.S. is seen as the chief of the world and (like it or not) when it walks out on a meeting like the one on racism recently held in South Africa, people are insulted. We seem to do whatever we want on the basis of “because we can” and are powerful enough to do so (Kyoto, missile defense, etc.). This doesn’t sit well with the rest of the world. The U.S. doesn’t have to be the world’s policeman or a sucker; it just shouldn’t be such a bastard.
The more I hear about what is going on in the U.S., the more I am sickened by it. Our reaction was totally wrong! Instead of reflecting on why this would happen and why most of the world is so indifferent/happy about it, we are going to “smoke” those bad guys out of Afghanistan and get on some crazy nationalistic bandwagon. We haven’t stopped to think that smoking out those terrorists will include bombing the shacks and tents of innocent people in a famished nation. We’ve taken some sort of moralistic high ground of “Good and Bad” (Black and White) that has been dead since the Victorian era. We, of course, are the “good guys.” For all the bad that we are about to do, we have our “escape clause.” We are also sending food to Afghanistan along with napalm. What a joke! (Can we be so naïve to believe such propaganda?)
I guess that you can’t expect much better from a nation that has no understanding of how the majority of the world’s population lives and struggles to survive on a daily/yearly basis. The average American can’t even begin to conceptualize the life of a subsistence farmer, much less the situation the Afghanis are in with a serious drought. A serious drought for an American means he can’t wash his car at midday. Our biggest problem in life as Americans is not to consume ourselves to death by purchasing yourself into bankruptcy or eating yourself to the point of being obese. Americans wouldn’t know what it’s like to have to produce their own food or the real meaning of “to pray” for rain (the majority of Americans, at least). To top it off, Powell said the U.S. bombings won’t let up during Rhamadan. Wait until you see the Islamic world’s response to that brilliant move!
There are underdeveloped nations in this world. Africa has a lot of them. AIDS isn’t taken seriously here. There are so many other things to die from that AIDS is rather a secondary concern. I’ve heard, “SIDA est gentil!” That kind of thinking is based on the fact that people are always dying here. At least with AIDS, you don’t die right away. Someone died in the village today, as well as last week. There is at least one death a week for this small village. Why are they dying? I don’t know, nor do they. No autopsies are done. Life goes on. People seem healthier here and are lean and muscular. Children don’t look as healthy and most suffer from a protein-deficient diet, yet they are more active than American children. It’s America’s blind eye to the poor health conditions in other nations that fuels resentment against the U.S.
There are overdeveloped nations just as there are underdeveloped nations. The U.S. as the number one overdeveloped country in the world is consuming the planet. Instead of having the means to live comfortable, healthy and safe lives, we are driven to excess. Houses, cars and things get bigger and accumulate to no end. We have the economic means to help, yet not the ambition or interest. We like to think of our country as not colonizing, but we are. The U.S. runs many nations “better” and more efficiently than any of the old colonial powers did in the days of yore. Even Adam Smith said that it’s good economic policy to be good to your neighbors! With that in mind, what are we doing?
There is a saying here: If you slit a chicken’s throat in order to prepare it for dinner, it will flap around for awhile bleeding until it is dead. There is no need to get angry with that bleeding chicken once you have slit its throat. It won’t do you any good to go over and chop its head off.
Afghanistan is that bleeding chicken, and we’re going after it trying to chop its head off (i.e., economic sanctions since 1999, etc.). The rest of the world is crying for mercy. What are we trying to prove? The world doesn’t sympathize with us and it can only serve to foster more dissention against the U.S. I am ashamed to be American at times while abroad and even more so now with our current behavior.
In all, I like the U.S. and am proud of a lot of things that our country has done. I plan on living most of my life in the U.S. but am not particularly bothered by a recession. If the U.S. loses money, it only means that it loses some of its power and influence. Other countries will do better and not be so dominated by the U.S. (With all the economic success the U.S. has had in the past 20 years, life for the average African, Latin American, etc., has diminished. Africa’s greatest success was during the Great Depression when colonial powers/companies loosened their hold over foreign nations.) Maybe some Americans will learn to do with less – and like it. Or is that asking for too much?
As far as the “Attack on America” is concerned, I feel sorry for the firemen, policemen and janitors that died in the incident. I hope that more people don’t die.
I included some photos and articles with this letter. The articles deal with foreign nations’ (or their companies’) manipulation of Sub-Saharan Africa. They are about European companies, but the U.S. is guilty of all the same as Europe, if not much more. We say that there won’t be any more investment in the region until there is less corruption and more democratic governments, yet we support (indirectly) these corrupt and unstable governments (and exploit them). One of these articles refers to loans available. Many of the banks are Swiss or French run here, despite having different and/or African names. Many of these banks charge 50% interest on the small loans with the rationale they are high risk. A lot of times money is required to be put up by someone wanting to take a loan, and then they are charged interest on the loans AND the money they already provided in order to take the loan. This is called a compensating balance (for a $120 loan, you pay $30 upfront and pay high interest on $150, even though $30 of it was your own.). Talk about kicking a guy while he is down! Anytime someone does get it together, we take them down (i.e. Allende in Chile, The Triple Alliance war initiated by us to cripple Paraguay, Angola, Congo, CIA assassinations, etc., etc.). We are the number one terrorist nation! I just don’t understand why people put up with as much crap from the U.S. as they do. I’m surprised that more people aren’t up in arms against us.
Enough of this ranting by me. I’m interested in hearing a realistic/down-to-earth response to what is happening over there (if such a thing exists). Obviously, I have trouble seeing eye-to-eye with what is going on over there now, or ever, but am I such a rare breed? I heard Bush’s proposal rating is around 90% (probably more VOA propaganda) (Voice of America) which is the scariest part of this whole ordeal. Another term of this guy and it will really be the end of us Americans! Even conservative Americans who work at the Embassy (very conservative) complain about how hard he has made their work for them. Well, I look forward to your next letter and a fresh perspective.
A quote from my friend: “My true feelings about the ‘Attack on America’ are not all that mixed. The Trade Center and the Pentagon are arch symbols of America’s decades-long war against the Third World and the world’s oppressed. Anyone who works/worked there is and has been always at ground zero in the struggle between the ‘civilized’ (the ‘haves’) and the ‘have nots.’ A deluded, naïve, and brain-washed American public is duped into imagining that it has been innocently and wantonly attacked, when in reality, it has been the middle of its own attack on the Third World for years. But, its attack is a ‘civilized’ one and just as clandestine in its own way as the hijackers’ one, and certainly the daily bombings of Iraq, and the children that die in Iraq, Cuba, and elsewhere because of U.S. policies are every bit as dead as those in Washington and New York. Only the deaths in those cities were instant and painless, rather than dragged out and agonizing.”
Your somewhat backward friend…