Corruption is frightening in it's pervasiveness. The media has us trained to think of it as primarily a problem in the upper echelons of society, a sin of the top dogs. Clearly, a simple cleaning of house and refurnishing with honest everyday folk will solve the problem. We then have the nerve to act shocked when our new everyman government, board, or committee behaves in the same manner. I now realize that this behavior is not restricted to the bourgeoisie but that, given the opportunity, even people on the bottom have come to see greed and "skimming off the top" to be acceptable practices.
On Wednesday I received a check from Rotary for my cereal bank project. On Thursday I cashed said check and met with my counterpart and his brother to go and purchase materials for roofing the building. We agreed that it would be best for me to wait in the car while he went and negotiated and that I would join them after the price had been settled. This was fine and is the best way for me to buy anything expensive here. Nigeriens see a white Anasara and immediately assume I am loaded and so they jack up the price to unreasonable heights. It's very frustrating due to the fact that compared to them, I do have quite a bit of money, but compared to most NGO workers I have nothing.
Now, I was thoroughly excited to have the funding and to be moving on the project again. It's nice to be doing work and I felt like I was finally showing my villagers that I was there to do something other than just sit around and play guitar. But my enthusiasm has already been nearly crushed and replaced with bitterness and frustration.
I am living many thousands of miles away from everything I know: my home, my family, my culture, my entire lifestyle. I am making enough to get by but I will bank nothing from this experience. I have waded through the swamp of bureaucratic red tape to get this money so that my village can have a renewable stockpile of FOOD! That most basic and immediate of human needs!
I have been constantly blown away by my villagers effort. They have amazed me by their desire to actually improve their lives. They have trusted me to deliver money with which to buy food and gone ahead and donated time, effort, and even a starting stock of food, all of which they can't really afford to do. They have been welcoming, encouraging, and supportive. I love my villagers.
But I cannot help but be disgusted by the fact that as soon as the money appears I am seeing the signs of this opportunistic mentality that breeds corruption in the wealthier classes. So far it has not been ridiculous, but everyone has their subtle way of asking for a handout. It may be asking for a reimbursement for gas or phone credit, or simpling upping their price, but it's there. It's come to my attention that some of the people I'm working with fully expect part of the money we've received to go to me as compensation for my effort. It is frightening and explains so much about the situation I see in this country.
I meant what I said when I said I love my villagers. I do. And I want to help them. I want to see this grain bank succeed. But it will not succeed if I simply control the money entirely and only control this skimming on my own. They have to figure out on their own that enterprises cannot work like this. The mentality here is that it doesn't matter what the situation is, if you put your hand in you deserve to be compensated. This is why they are baffled whenever I turn down compensation for a days labor for another project that has come through, or why I am eager to simply lend a helping hand carrying sacks of millet even when it's clear there is nothing in it for me.
I know that I sound bitter, but mostly I'm just annoyed. There is no concept of long term in this culture. If you have enough food for right now, you can spend all your money on a cell phone no problem. If asked what about buying food for next year the response is simply "God will bring the food." Thus, if more money than they can really comprehend comes to them, it's totally OK to skim off the top even if it means we won't have any money left at the end to buy millet. Unfortunately, this is a cultural thing, and not something that I am going to change in my two years. But hopefully, even if the grain bank does fail, I can help them to learn from the experience and see where they made the mistakes. Perhaps by doing this I can feel that the money, effort, and frustration were still worth it because it will make future projects that much more effective.
If just one person, even a child, learns from this experience, I will be happy.