Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Less Than Romantic Realities of Village Life

by Dave


For various reasons throughout my life I have heard people talking about the virtues of “village life.” I generally do not say much on these subjects, as they tend to be a bit touchy, and to be honest, I did not have a lot to say. However, I realized that after living for a while in an African village, I can offer some facts regarding village life that most people would not know. My goal is not confrontation in this blog, but just information. As you are making decisions regarding your family, raising your kids, and how you counsel others, I hope you will find this information helpful.



Family Life
A friend on Facebook linked to a blog about how Westerners rarely raise their children in a real community context. The author defines this “village” contest as:
“the way of life inherent to relatively small, relatively contained multigenerational communities. Communities within which individuals know one another well, share the joys, burdens, and sorrows of everyday life, nurture one another in times of need, mind the wellbeing of each other’s ever-roaming children and increasingly-dependent elderly, and feel fed by their clearly essential contribution to the group that securely holds them.” 
This “village” context is one in which there are many people that are involved in our lives and giving feedback regarding how we live, including and perhaps especially, how we raise our children. The author used the examples of villages in Mexico where she “witnessed, firsthand, the blessings made possible by the presence of a tribe, however disadvantaged.” I actually agree with much of the premise of this argument (i.e. a multitude of counselors is a good thing). However, I see very few things about living in an actual village that I imitate in my family.

Here are a couple of the problems in village life:

1) Kids “raised by the village” end up being raised by no one. What I have found here is that everyone expects everyone else to be involved in the lives of the children, and very little rearing is actually happening. We are teaching the kids in our neighborhood their colors, because no one else is doing it. When children offend or attack others, no one stands up to correct them. Instead, adults sitting just beside the children will call out “Take your own revenge” to the injured party. I do not let my children roam freely through the village for fear of what would happen to them.

2) Peer pressure. There is extreme pressure placed on everyone in the village to conform to the community standard. Our kids LOVE playing in the rain and mud. However, in the culture we are living, being dirty is pretty much a sin. So we get reprimanded every time. This is a pretty silly example. But when it comes to traditional religious ways of dealing with issues, it can be extremely hard to say “no”. This is particularly hard for Christians that are trying to be faithful to the Lord, while their relatives constantly demand that they follow traditional customs. In fact, I have heard Christians counsel other Christians to get OUT of their village in order to escape some of these pressures.

Really the problem is that no matter what type of community you are raising your children in, it is a fallen community. Most villages in the world are inhabited by unbelievers (we are working on that), so the community here is much darker than the one that you are living in. I think what this author is describing is not a “village”, it is the Church. In fact, if making sure that my children were being raised in a godly community were my number one priority, I would not be living in a village in Africa. I would have stayed in the States and would probably be going to your church.

Economics
In their book The Poverty of Nations, Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus write that it is surprising that so many people,
“still believe that subsistence farming is soulful, organic, and proper. These earnest and well-meaning people believe that a community’s economic security would be enhanced if all the people grew their own food and produced the necessities of their lives. Then, markets would become irrelevant and families could ensure their own survival. If only this were the case.” (Grudem and Asmus, 110).
After spending time with subsistence farmers (nearly all of my neighbors), I too am surprised that there are so many that think this way. The days of traveling by foot out to their fields, seeking to tame sinfully affected soil, with women often carrying and nursing a baby, are terribly long. This leaves them with no time to seek education or to develop tools to make the work easier. It leaves them with no time to learn to read, or even if they know how, no time to study. We have very few old people living in our village, and lots of tombs.

Subsistence farming also leaves my neighbors with no way to get ahead. And one heavy wind, or devastating insect, and they find themselves in dire straits until they can plant and harvest again. The hopes of nearly every family in my neighborhood is that one of their children can find a job as a police officer, customs agent, or doctor so that they can escape the way of life that results from subsistence farming.

Vaccinations
I know this is a contentious one, and I am in no way seeking to change anyone’s mind on the inherent morality of vaccinating children. But, one of the worst things that I ever hear in this area is when people say, “We do not need vaccinations, look at people living in villages. They do not vaccinate and they are doing just fine.” Where you live, have you ever heard of someone having a bad case of the measles? I had not until I moved here, and five infants under two years of age died in a neighboring village. There are two girls in our village that have been crippled because of polio. Their lives are so difficult.

A doctor friend of ours said in an email that it is just a given here that children will be exposed to vaccine-preventable illnesses. I long for my neighbors to get vaccinations. I am so tired of seeing people die from diseases that we can control. You have no idea what it is like here. I have seen so much death, and we have not even been here that long. I am so tired of seeing sick kids. The average life expectancy here in Cameroon is 54.59 years. Compare this to the average life expectancy in the US: 78.74 years. Of course, there are a number of factors at play here. But the idea that people are so much healthier in villages in Africa is just not true. And my neighbors wish that they could have the healthcare that we constantly complain about.

My goal in this blog is not to condemn your perspective. However, I do find myself in a unique situation to speak to what “village life” is really like. I hope that, in reading this, you are armed with more information so that you can make better arguments. The truth is, for most people living in villages in Africa, life is very hard and very short. And while some in the West are dreaming of being able to live the “simple” life, they are longing to escape it. My goal is that when you make your arguments, you stop saying “like they live in the villages in Africa” to support your points. You do not want to live like they live here.

Another goal I have is to challenge us to be content. Paul (probably in prison at the time) wrote:
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Just as we seek to help our neighbors have better lives here in Cameroon, it is good to seek better lives for our families and friends. But we must not miss out on contentedness. I think one of the ways that we can seek to be content is to remember all of the things we have to be thankful for. If you go to a church with people that want you to raise your kids in the fear and admonition of the Lord, thank Him. If you had time to read this blog because you were not in a field planting corn again because the first crop was eaten by rodents, praise God. And if you do not have to watch your neighbor’s little girl lift her feet with her hands, bent over with every step because of polio, thank our Father for his kindness. And pray for our village.