Notes from Africa – Progress

Progress is what’s needed. Just some good old British progress that can be quantified: measured, weighed and counted. 

From the back of the pickup truck we drove through the compound on the edge of Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. The buildings, such as they were, were rough-shod constructions of breeze-block and dried mud. Wooden poles held up the slatted roof and banana branches lifted lazily in the afternoon’s breath. There were no windows, only square holes draped with dirty sheets and hung like curtains. Was cold at night, I knew this, and I wondered how many warm bodies it would take to be warm enough; how it would smell in that place after a hot and dusty day in the city; the smell of sweat and feet and dust. 

Outside each dwelling a little wooden frame held another soiled sheet in the shade of which a young girl stood to attention, guarding her wares on the table set out before her. Fruit, mostly. Sometimes dried fish or a pile of nuts. Each girl’s face black as the African night and teeth and eyes brilliantly white. Eyes that followed our white faces as we passed by, defying us not to stop. 

Some of the stall, though not many, were crammed with fruit and other stuffs but many more held a pathetic selection. On one stall just two apples. On another, a single banana. 

I wondered what these girls though about progress. If they sold two apples yesterday would they urge themselves to sell three today. Would five put the pressure on for tomorrow? I know that I would feel this way. That is the way that I see progress, though now I start to wonder who has it right. 

Around the fire that night as we ate steak and drank wine I asked out local guide about the girls, I told him that I couldn’t stop thinking about the poor girl with just a single banana to sell. 

He laughed at me. Told me that I cam from a world where supermarket shelves are filled every time an item is removed. I felt foolish. You should not feel sorry for the girl with a single banana, he went on: feel sorry for the girl with a stall full of fruit. She has sold nothing today.   

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