Yesterday, I was on a bus from Maryland to New York and somewhere between exit 5 and 6 on the NJ Turnpike the Chinatown bus had to make a detour because of the holiday traffic. We ended up driving through what seemed to be the most banal towns in America….Then it struck that what I was seeing was “development a la American” but even worse than that, I realized I was skimming through the American dream; with its semi-detached houses and two car driveways. I then understood why it was so easy for an immigrant to buy into this dream and begin the arduous climb to attain it. Somewhere deep within our subconscious and very much in our consciousness we believe that these people have gotten human development right. Regardless of the reality of our personal hardships and feelings of isolation and loneliness reared in us in this country we still believe in the American dream and the possibility of social mobility. So we work two, sometimes three jobs if we have to trying to get a slice of the big America pie. But what lies beneath?
As we drove by the houses I wondered…how many of these home and care owners actually OWN their property? How many of them are drowning in their own debt and over consummation? I wondered about the families in those houses and thought about the hours the parents spent working while their kids are raised by television and babysitters. What may seem to outsiders, immigrants and the like as a recipe for perfection in this country is far far away from it. I realized that though this was the land of opportunity that some of us were completely bamboozled by the American dream. In fact there are very few people outside the likes of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton living the so called American dream (not that they are to be envied).
American social development was and still is propelled by the means of production i.e. capitalism. Every aspect of the American dream is intricately tied into debt bondage and materialism so that one has no option but to become trapped in doing everything possible to pay to keep one’s American dream. Anyone who desires a bigger piece of the pie will inevitably become more entrenched in the system. And it is because of this struggle for the attainment of this dream that many Sierra Leoneans may never be able to completely move back to Sierra Leone. Every time one begins to consider that possibility one also feels an overwhelming attachment to one’s American dream: bills, loans, mortgages, tivo and all. How many Sierra Leoneans can say that “the only thing keeping me here is myself”. For many, there are the obligations and constraints of being entrenched in the American social therefore economic system of debt bondage, materialism and over working.
But what quality of life can a person hope for working 16 out of 24 hours in a day? No amount of money or things can ever really compensate for time spent working those crazy hours. (though we may convince ourselves that the flat screen 52 inch plasma, hummer on 22s, Gucci bag, prada shoes and 60gig ipod make up for it). This is the fallacy of the American dream at its best. As happiness is not at he bottom of a bottle neither is it in a store.
There are too many SLeoneans in this country working too many jobs and hours trying to get a tiny taste of the American pie but AT WHAT COST? I don’t deny the value of hard work and feelings of satisfaction, pride and accomplishment that one can feel acquiring things in this country but once again I ask “AT WHAT COST?”
The social decay in this country is a direct result of the breakdown of the family structure which is directly linked to an economic system and way of life purely driven by the profits of buying and selling. Anyone who is a part of this system has to think about how their participation in this system affects them on an individual more spiritual level. I’m sure the costs that we’re all paying are by no means small.
When I tell people to consider moving to Sierra Leone or Africa in general these are the reasons why I do so. I think of the banality of American life, the social decay and isolation, the debt bondage, the over working, buying things you didn’t need until the commercial came on TV, and the fact that so many of us are contributing all our brilliance and talents to a ruthless system that puts the market above the people’s quality of life. All the while our sweet salone is brain dead; suffering from the malaise of mismanagement and the loss of our energies and ingenuity. Why do we so easily believe and buy into the American dream or believe that American social/economic development is the pinnacle of human development?
There has to be something wrong with any society where the unspoken motto is “fake it till you make it”. We should all try to imagine and strive for the African dream (as intimidating and overwhelming as that may be for some). Don’t worry your children will love Salone just as much as you did as a child, and deep down you know its a far better place to raise children than this country could ever be.