Opinion | Susan Knopf: What we can learn from ‘s—hole’ countries
For the Record
The heat is suffocating. We walk through the sun baked village. Dust curls in little clouds around my feet. Giggling children scamper about to catch a glimpse of the strangers. They mug for pictures. They want to see their smiling images on the screen.
The mud huts with thatched roofs are largely tidy. Potted plants sit outside rickety doors. The edges of the plant leaves are sun-scorched, and yet struggle to live in a place that has not seen rain in many months.
The roads through the village are clearly defined but not paved. Each home has a little outhouse in the rear of the yard. Clearly, there are no organized services: no running water, no electricity.
The guide explains the chief of this tribe owns all the land. With permission from the chief, anyone can build a home here. You must live here and maintain the home; that is all. Six of us from Summit County have made this journey. One asked, “Do villagers pay taxes?” The guide tells us there are no taxes: no property taxes, no income taxes, no sales taxes.
Without missing a beat, my friend retorts, “We just found the perfect place for Republicans!” When the community pays nothing for community services, there are no services.
We’re here to visit Tukongote Community School. It’s just a few years old. It is the charitable project of the Waterberry Zambezi Lodge, where we are staying. In stark contrast to the village, the lodge is nestled in a clump of trees on the bank of the mighty Zambezi River, just outside Livingstone, Zambia. Livingstone is a border town, a river town, a tourist town. Last year, it hosted a quarter of a million visitors touring Victoria Falls, one of the seven wonders of the world. So different from the rustic, seemingly remote Tukongote Village.
The children of Tukongote Community School are lucky they have such a benefactor. Most children in Africa pay tuition to go to school. Many are denied the privilege.
Our president refers to places like the ones we visited, as “s—hole countries.” Many of these third-world countries have figured something out that seems to elude us. Guns kill people. Get rid of the guns, and you save lives. More people died in the U.S. over the Thanksgiving holiday than died in several African countries in a year. Guns are outlawed or highly controlled. Those who need them, must get them through the government and account for every bullet according to our Botswanan guide. Looks like we could learn a few things from these “s—hole countries.”
My Summit County friend and fellow traveler gave me the name for this column. She and our other travel companions were inspired by the resiliency of the people we met and their commitment to the forward progress of their nations. My friend was particularly inspired by the symbolism of the flags of the nations we visited.
The flags of each country include an homage to the natural gifts and their value to the people. The Botswana flag features a blue field celebrating the importance of water to this arid nation. The black and white stripes symbolize the harmony of people formerly racially divided.
Likewise, the South African flag, represents unity of the people. It was adopted in 1994, following the creation of a new republic and the end of apartheid. The central V or Y shape reflects the motto on the top of the country’s website, “Together we move South Africa forward.” Officially, the flag is intended to incorporate elements of several flags that have represented the area. Unofficially, our guide told us the black and white symbolize people once racially divided, blue the water and the sky, gold the mineral-rich land, green the lush vegetation and red the blood spilled to create a republic of racial equality.
It made me wonder about our flag. What if we changed the colors of the stars in our field of blue to reflect our country’s ethnically varied people and the richness of our natural resources? Would such a change help us to place a higher value and respect for each other, the richness of our natural resources and our fragile environment? Would such a commitment to our forward progress even be possible when our politicians work so hard to divide us?
Susan Knopf’s column “For The Record” publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf has worn many hats in her career, including working as an award-winning journalist and certified ski instructor. She moved to Silverthorne in 2013 after vacationing in Summit County since the 1970s. Contact her at email@example.com.
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