Alcoholism in Africa: You know it's a problem here when even I start looking good!
The African village where I have been staying recently has surprised me in a whole bunch of ways. For instance, who'd have thought that I would have gone all the way to rural Africa only to get hooked on prime-time TV! At 8 pm every week night, there I am -- on the couch, getting ready to watch "Generations". Will Dineo try to kill Kenneth? Will Karabo get to adopt Sezwe? And what about Ntombe's father? I can't WAIT to find out!
I also thought that living without running water would be a bitch. No problem. I can now take a complete bath in a bucket and still feel like I've been to a spa.
And germs? "What about germs!" Guess what? Apparently I have a cast-iron stomach. And even the AIDS problem here has surprised me. I had naively assumed that I would be seeing large clumps of emaciated men and women hovering around in the background like hollow-eyed ghosts. Nope. In this particular village, that doesn't seem to be as great a problem as in other villages I've seen. There have been very few funerals here since I arrived. That was a big surprise. I'd been led to believe that there would be several AIDS-related funerals a week. Not happening. Cool!
Another surprise? The women here are awesome. The older ones are wise and the younger ones are spunky. And the village itself is picturesque as hell. This could be a freaking tourist destination. Build a Hilton here and you're set. Think Puerto Vallarta. Think Bali. Think Branson, Missouri. Branson, Missouri? Sure. The music here is great. Even the kindergartners can sing in three-part harmony. Going to church is like going to Carnegie Hall.
And the school in this village? It's as good or better than half the schools in the States.
But the biggest surprise here for me is the sad reality of alcoholism. I just wasn't prepared for that. "Hey baby how ya doin' where ya goin' come talk to me...." How many times do I have to listen to that per day? Don't even ask. Good grief, I'm 65 years old. Could someone actually be that desperate? Apparently so. Come Saturday afternoon -- or Tuesday afternoon or Thursday afternoon or Wednesday morning -- suddenly even I start to look good to all too many of the village's men.
There is a freaking major drinking problem here in this town. And whenever I see a group of men here, I shy away from them. Does this mean that I have finally become a modest, shrinking violet in my old age? Hardly. It's just that the drinking problem here is so huge that even I have been forced to notice. And how can these guys even AFFORD to drink? Most of them seem to be unemployed.
"So, Jane. What are you going to DO about it?" asked a friend. That's the trouble with problems. Once you notice them, then you sorta feel like you gotta do something.
"Not a clue. Start an AA?" What CAN be done about drunks? Open a tavern! (Just kidding.) "Solve the unemployment problem?" I don't know! What? You think that I'm Mother Theresa or something? Or Einstein?
What would YOU do if you knew there was a town that was afflicted with drunks who were tearing the social fabric of the community apart? Form a chapter of the Hells Angels? What makes a man want to drink to oblivion every day? What makes a man so desperate that he is willing to even hit upon me? And what kind of medicine is there that can cure an illness buried so deep in one's soul? When I figure that one out, I'll let you know.
In the meantime, I am taking my cue from the wise women of this village and keeping totally away from inebriated guys -- which is hard to do in this town, I am surprised to say.
PS: I talked with one village woman recently regarding the causes of alcoholism here. "Basically," she said, "it's because there is not much else to do for many of the men here and they initially start drinking as teenagers -- to keep from being bored after school lets out. We need recreational facilities and organized sports for them -- and we also need more jobs. And also there is a colonial history behind the drinking problem here. For generations, white traders used to make money by coming to the villages to build beer halls and sell booze." Like I said, the women here are really aware.
But, sadly, it is the women here who end up getting harassed by the drunks.