Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Refelctions from Paradise (for some)

My family and I are currently on a wonderful All inclusive´ holiday in the Cape Verde Islands (off the west coast of Africa, near Senegal) and it really is a treat. All you can eat and drink at any time of the day; air conditioned rooms with wonderful showers; a pool large enough to lose the kids in, and a beech with its own security, bar and surf school!

All very, very nice.

But yesterday, we hired a car and drove around the small island of Sal to explore our environment a little, and what I saw there challenged me greatly. Along with the impressive desert landscape and volcanic mountains we saw how the rest of the island lives.

Some were clearly doing ok, but in our local town of Sainta Maria, we saw many people walking the streets with 5 gallon cans looking for water, and learned that much of the island population spends up to a third of each day making sure they have sufficient water for family life.

Then along the only highway on the island we saw the dormitory blocks, built in the middle of nowhere surrounded by rock and sand. These were home for the many migrant workers from Africa come to build the luxury hotels, and service the tourist industry. At first we thought they were empty derelict ruins, but then saw them teaming with people later in the evening after work had finished.

But most shocking of all was the shanty town I saw in the late afternoon while taking a back road into Espargos, the central town. Surrounded by desert in the baking sun (and for half the year a piercing wind) separated from the slums of the town just enough to make it clear that they were not welcome, were thousands of people living in makeshift huts made out of corrugated metal sheets and plastic.

As I drove through, the faces that stared back at me made me feel uncomfortable. It was not that there was any resentment in their eyes - perhaps that made it worse - it was my inner fears of what they must be thinking in the midst of their poverty as this rich European drove through in his air-conditioned 4x4. And even more, what would they think if they came back to my luxury hotel and saw the running water - unlimited and on demand in every room - the acres of food 3x a day in the open buffet restaurants when they had so little.

My discomfort was because I was ashamed.

News that such poverty exists is nothing new of course. We support Tearfund and sponsor a child with Compassion and I knew it was out there in Africa and elsewhere in the world, but it was the contrast that blew me away, and it has opened up a whole new world for me to grapple with if I want to be an truly inclusive Christian.

What can we do now, while we are here? Very little I suppose, but we are looking for local charities to give some of our holiday money to before we leave. It will only be a drop in the ocean, just as this island in a tiny speck in the Atlantic, but we have to start somewhere, because to do nothing would be criminal.


  1. I know what you mean....I have been in the same situation in Africa many times and most recently in India.

    What I always do on a trip to the parts of the world with the kind of contrasts you describe, is to leave most of the contents of my suitcase behind......Clothes, stationary and any usable stuff form my wash-bag. Oh, and whatever is left in my wallet - local cash.
    If I have met any local people on the way, (which I always try to do) I leave the things with them. It is a very small gesture, but one that makes a bit of difference.

    I have witnessed the delight on faces of people in different parts of the world and it leaves me feeling very humble at my lifestyle.
    I am so glad that you went beyond the walls.....I wish more people would do it.

  2. I read your post with a familiar sadness. Years ago I was on holiday in a third world Asian country and saw similar. I gave some money to an underprivilleged school there and the children were fed hamburgers for lunch with my donation. They were aged 7 to 12 and had never eaten burgers before. It was a treat for them.

  3. Thanks to both of you for your comments and encouragement. We did find a small local charity on the island of Sal, (from our Travel Guidebook for the islands) It is run by local people for local people, and out Thomson's Travel Rep arranged to take me there. We have since had an email thanking us for the donation, and inviting us to continue to support them. A drop in the ocean, but perhaps the start of many ...