Waiters have a saying, that every person should be a waiter at some point in their lives. Being a waiter is one of the most difficult jobs I ever had, and bartending was even harder. We always felt that if everyone had the opportunity to walk in our shoes, they would be more sympathetic and tip us higher. If you’ve ever been referred to as a Canadian in terms of your restaurant gratuity you should think about upping your tip* As a development worker with the PC, I theoretically get to step into people’s shoes in the community and see how they live, sharing their difficulties and finding ways to help them. I say theoretically because the PC pays you more than most people you work with, gives you a big safe house and if anything ever went wrong, they would be all over the place to help you. But at times I get a glimpse. For example, if I look down while I walk, I can see that most people in my village aren’t wearing shoes. If you’ve ever walked barefoot in the sun for a few minutes you know it’s uncomfortable. Try that your whole life, in hard dirt roads, in Africa. 

But even though we don’t really get to walk in their shoes, I think everyone should be a PC volunteer or live among the very poor for a few months. It cures the callousness we have about development work and suffering people. For example, I often heard (and thought myself) that the world is getting overcrowded and the resources are running out. So what if a few million people in Africa or Asia or Latin America die? Maybe it’s Mother Nature trying to last a few more centuries or humanities own way of implicitly dealing with the problem. One glaring example of this was when one day, in middle school back in New Jersey, I had the opportunity to choose between two charities to give money to, one was to feed a child in Africa, and the other was to help stray dogs. I chose to help stray dogs

 But now that I’m in one of those places you hear about from the One campaign or Save Darfur or whatever the fashionable at the time, I see that I’m not helping a far away cause. I’m helping my neighbor. My world was way too small before and I thought helping the people around me was enough, but it turns out there are people really far away from my usual place that are just like me, and are suffering and it turns out, I’m supposed to be helping. The Chief of the village has this little story about Americans and people from the west in general. He says that back when the slave trade was going on, many of his own ancestors sold off slaves either because they had committed some crime, owed some money to someone important in the village or just because the elites of the village could. He says they did it for many different reasons, but at the end of the day, they didn’t realize what they were doing. They were selling off the lives of their brothers and sisters to hard labor in a foreign land, far away from their families and all they knew. So he says that when anyone from the West comes back to Africa, whether black or white, it’s like it’s their grandkids coming back, and they’re happy to see them. It might be a little simple, but I happen to like this story.  

*Canadians are people that tip badly. In Texas it’s also often used to refer to a table of black customers, which I always disagreed with.