Farida calls me from Nairobi.
She’s aenimic, lacking iron in her veins,
Least that’s all she can pay to know.
I don’t know how to call her back.
The community center where we met burned yesterday.
with its library, computers and wireless tower
it was reaching for my world and over here,
we cut our veins and write poetry about it,
and we scurry past each other so fast we don’t have time for Kenyan greetings
and we do fucked up things like romanticize Kenyan greetings
and Kenyans and Africans and Africa means children who smile even when they’re hungry so we feel reaaaal good giving ‘em money and I know Farida’s asking for money and can we blame each other when I say I’ll try but it won’t be enough
I wonder if I’m just another white friend she smiles for
Or if hers is another story I’ve bleached and folded into boxes of conscience
There is nothing fair in the perversity that prompted me to cross a distance I wasn’t ready to be held accountable for,
And nothing fair when I tell her I’ve discovered the problem lies festering within my own people; that this is my place now.
I feel stupid telling her what she already knows.
Rewind a generation. The Green Revolution introduces genetically modified monoculture crops, and their partners pesticides and fertilizers, across Asia and Latin America to bring “food security.” The world grows more wheat and rice than ever before, but decades later the poor are just as hungry—they cannot buy their own crops, and now their soil’s as hungry as they are.
Meanwhile, the West imposes structural adjustment on newly independent Kenya and much of Africa – big loans to build countries as long as they follow World Bank rules.
They must stop investing in local agriculture, and import American food instead.
Local farmers lack infrastructure to store their food,
bumper crop years flood the markets; famines follow,
U.S. food is shipped and machine gun guarded while local food rots in the grainhouses or is sold overseas.
Cycles of dependency develop.
In a slum neighborhood not too far from Farida
I remember how a boy pointed to a cliff and basin
said that place is a problem, people go there to kill themselves,
I ask why, he shrugs, “they learned from the Americans.”
Fast forward to November, 2008, a Kenyan is elected President of the United States.
It’s not fair but I wonder if he’s ready to be responsible for the distance he has crossed.
He donates a billion dollars to the Gates foundation to bring the Green Revolution to Africa.
He says this will help Africans “lift themselves” out of poverty.
There is much he doesn’t say —
That those who use these patented genetically modified seeds are forced to buy them year after year and sell crops back to corporations, even if their neighbors are hungry.
He says nothing of soil exhausted after barely a generation,
of fertilizer spread with bare hands,
of pesticide run-off,
of displaced thousands,
of the millennia of subsistence wisdom that is lost when we grow merely to produce
He reminds me of the World Bank, and of the Imperial British.
I tell Farida I voted for Obama.
I tell her he promised iron but is delivering corn syrup.
Maybe I’ll write him a letter.
In the meantime, I’m sending her $100 and I hope she can find a good doctor.