Wednesday, 24 April 2013

What is Left of Home?

happy childhood

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”

When I think of home, I think of my childhood. It is not a particular place but a certain moment in time, one filled with innocence and expectations, laughter and daydreams echoing across the yellow cornfields as I ran barefooted under the blazing heat of the summer sun towards the peak of Mt Matutum which loomed over the horizon.

That idyllic home of my early years only exists in my memories now. Just after my eight birthday my family was forced out of our comfortable way of life by the influx of squatters taking over the surrounding areas of what used to be agricultural farmlands which were soon turned into sprawling cheap housing developments. My carefree world of open expanse was replaced by the suffocating concrete jungle which became home to hundreds of families like us, coexisting in the dark and grim suburban nightmare of rows of boxlike houses that were separated only by a thin wall between them and very narrow streets. It was considered modernisation then: we were introduced to electricity and public transport that our previous rural existence would have not heard of.

It was modernisation that drove me away from the city I grew up in, mostly because of the lure of the bright lights and big bucks from the country’s financial capital. Yet there had always been a desire to come back, to return to the much simpler way of life compared to the fast paced monotony of the big cities that when I made a brief visit home two years ago, I was expecting to see everything as I have left it. 

But the world is constantly changing and so has my hometown. During the recent years, the city’s economy has shifted from one that is largely sustained by a big fishing industry to one that is retail-driven brought about by large investments from greedy multinational giants who have set up shops in massive shopping malls that have taken over what used to be a rural landscape. This development was welcomed by the local government and the population rather imprudently without consideration for its long-term effects, including the death of local businesses, foreseeable issues with obesity, rubbish disposal problems and  the shortage of electrical power that would grip the city for hours, causing a frequent blackout. Daily Facebook status complaints on the electrical power cuts flood my wall but no one seems to be asking why it is happening, maybe they should.

And yet I wouldn't have asked any questions if I have stayed. My culture insists that we must always try to look at the bright side of things. Living in Europe has made me realise that this almost blind acceptance of fate is the very reason why there is no lasting and meaningful change in a nation that only looks out for number one (or for number one's relatives). In this part of the world, paying high levels of taxes is an accepted way of creating a more equal society where every individual's basic needs are met and problems from the local communities to the general population are rightfully addressed. It takes a shared sense of social responsibility to create a fair and humane society.  

I am not against progress but there is a certain progress that was not considered in the city’s recent economic boom, one that is sustainable and inclusive which would provide for all and not just for the moneyed few. Instead the government has acted in a clichéd ‘short-term gain, long-term pain’ manner. In keeping up with American model of modernisation, my hometown and indeed the rest of the country has lost its identity and most certainly its natural resources. I am scared to think of what the future generations would be  left with.

When I think of my hometown, I am no longer gripped with longing but with sadness. When asked if I still have dreams of settling back, I say no. This is not because I have suddenly become an arrogant immigrant who refuses to look back to my roots but because, aside from my family who were left behind, there is little that is left of the life I have once cherished and would have wanted my own children to have a glimpse of.

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