The children sat unsmiling, clutching the presents on their knees. The photographer a middle-aged German, had tried to press them into them into unwrapping their gifts. The children weepily resisted his encouragements. Finally he had removed – wrenched – the gift from the arms of a five-year-old, and begun to tear the paper away” (Forna, 90)
This passage in the novel was one that stuck with me while reading this novel. It reminded me a lot of what I see in everyday life. In our society there is this perception that the western world goes into Africa, donate to the ‘helpless’ Africans and sudden they are all happy. However this passage disproves that. These children were not exactly happy when they received their gifts in fact they did not want to open them. The photographer literally had to force them to feign happiness so he can get a good picture to take back to his country so people can see all the good the west is doing for the country. In a lot of mission and service trips we see the image of the westerner in a sea of smiling African children. These mission trips are a misrepresentation of what the need actually is and perpetuates the idea of voluntourism, where people travel to impoverished countries and perform service and believe they have helped and done their work. Most often, the work they have done may not have benefitted the population at all. I once read an article of a group of students traveling to an African village to build houses, they worked and lived for two month and were able to produce 10 homes. The unfortunate part, however, none of the villagers wanted to live in the homes. The volunteers neglected to consult the people in the village and when building the design of the house and how the door was placed was not accepted by the people as they saw the placement to bring evil spirits. This passage reminded me of this article the volunteers wanted so badly for the village people to love and live in the homes they built as the German wanted the children to enjoy the gifts. The issue though was the privilege group did not seek to understand the needs of the underprivileged.