I remember telling a friend of mine that I was looking forward to going back home for a break and how by the time I had finished regaling him with tales of power outages, shoddy Internet, and potholed roads, he wondered what the heck there was to look forward to!
I couldn’t articulate how electricity is that much more appreciated because we don’t have it all the time, how reaching your destination is that much more meaningful after spending three hours in traffic, how no Internet probably means I’ll be able to finish those books I’ve been meaning to read, or even how I would rather sweat my balls off in Nigeria than freeze to death in Philadelphia.
So all the talking I failed to do then, I intend to do right now.
Now first off, backwards is relative. I say that for those of you who think Africa is full of huts and lions and God knows what. That’s not the kind of backwards I’m talking about. I am talking about concrete houses with lights, electricity, WC’s, air conditioners… and everything else your houses are probably equipped with as well. Except, electricity supply is spastic, water is supplied by a water pump in a bore hole in the back yard, and the Internet is accessed via a wired dialup 56K modem. So we’re not talking pre-historic versus modern, we’re talking perhaps a 10 year lag at most.
Anyway, when you realize this, you think ‘Well that’s not half bad, is it? But why would I even want to go a decade into the past regardless?’ That’s where the benefits I want to talk about come into play. Because parents in the more advanced west have started complaining about children who never go out to play. College students are getting addicted to Facebook and World of Warcraft. Adults are finding it hard to pay their electric bills, and the aged? Well the aged always have something to complain about…
So how are these problems solved in Nigeria? Many of them are solved by the lack of constant electricity which makes it impossible to be on any electric device 24/7. That is unless you have tons of money to buy yourself a constant supply of diesel for the generator or two that you also have to buy and constantly maintain. This means no TV, no PC, no DS, no PS3, no AB, no CD, and certainly no EFG 24/7, if it is powered by electricity. Hence, your children will go out to play and to visit friends, you won’t be pointlessly wasting time on Facebook, and your parents will complain about the phone bill instead. There’s always some bill to worry about innit?
Besides these advantages of prevention by lack, there are other things that “not having” does for you… like boredom. And when you’re bored you’re either going to sleep or you’re going to find something to do. Something which does not require electricity and is thus likely to be something physical. So you’ll get exercise, or you’ll get rest – and both are good for the body.
Another benefit of this so called ‘backward’ society is cheap labour. With cheap labour you can buy yourself some comforts which are considered luxuries in advanced societies. For example, a middle class household here in Nigeria can afford to have a maid, security guard, and a chauffeur for about N60,000 a month. To put that in perspective, that amount is equivalent to $300 or £150. So in actual fact, contrary to what you may see on Discovery channel, middle class families actually have a higher standard of living here than their counterparts elsewhere. That said, unlike in developed societies, the middle class does not make up the majority – which explains why many people believe otherwise.
Yet another occasionally beneficial lack, is the lack of automation. From minor automatons like vending machines which steal your money to major ones like the endless push button menus of customer service centers, all are few and far between. So you will always get to speak to a customer service rep, you will hardly ever find yourself cursing a machine out under your breadth, and you will most likely never find yourself in a situation where you will have no access to the human counterpart of an automated system – and the benefit of dealing with man over machine should be obvious: room for negotiation.
So you see, there are benefits to not having everything. Whether you happen to live in a place that has, or a place that has not should not determine your appreciation of it. Even in places that seem bad there is always good to be found and vice versa. I love Nigeria. I love it for the things it lacks just as much as for those things it has in abundance. No electricity? Right on! No Internet? Gimme a book! No vending machine? Sweet! I can hustle a bargain deal.
It is always easier for those who do not have to assume those who do consequently have it better and for those who have to assume the opposite. But having comes with its own set of pros and cons. Notorious BIG said it best when he coined the phrase “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.” So whether you live in a developed nation or a third world country, appreciate your country for all that it is. Don’t be so quick to admire those who have more and abhor those who have less.
That said wanting more is only human nature so there’s nothing wrong with going out to find greener pastures. I can only hope that in doing so we do not lose sight of the value of what we leave behind.