material culture?

What is wealth? A 2000W stereo system? A TV + VCR set? A new car?

Today I was informed of just another Harambee somewhere in Kenya where influential Kenyans donated money and goods such as a brand-new TV set to a community project.

Material objects must always be seen in context with the humans who created and used them. It is only possible to recognize and evaluate material culture in connection with human thought and behavior. The material world depends on the immaterial one, and vice versa. Neither sphere can exist without the other.
(JARITZ, emotions and material culture, Austrian Academy of Science and Press, 2003)

Ah, ok. Sorry for being so misinformed, I forgot to appreciate the materialism as lived by many ppl around the world. Just like the pastoral people, whose wealth is measured by their cattle, today’s wealth is still measured by the goods you own and money you are able to share with others?
Just as much as I appreciate the Harambee culture, where funds are collected for an individual by a group of (wealthy) donators, I still have problems to understand WHERE all these amounts come from. Or in other words: since ppl are supposed to donate once they are rich, this obligation also works as an excuse for their accumulation of wealth? A justification for their partly corrupt business strategies?

The day I returned from Kenya, a huge supermarket for electronics opened here in GermOney and ppl where literally storming its premises. Waiting in front of that shop as early as 6 am just to strike a good deal. A new tv set, a new digital vcr, a new notebook etc…ppl consume these goods in a way they also buy their food: on an almost daily basis, as if there’s nothing else one could do with the money. The money? Oh, I thought we are having some sort of recession here, a period of time where ppl would rather stick to their hard earned cash instead of spending it on goods. Hmm…

Wealth for me is having the time to communicate with various friends around the world, reading the newspaper, enjoying a sunday afternoon at home doing nothing important and enjoying life without being forced to spend a lot of money (that I don’t have anyways, but that’s another story..). Even my old car, an ’89 Volkswagen Golf, whose “death” I’ve already considered due last summer, still runs fine and was a blessing to drive after these 3 weeks of bumpy roads in Nairobi. All that leg room compared to the small Suzuki Jimny (hey, I am 6,3) and smooth acceleration – hayyiiiiaaaa….I am truly blessed.

Which of course reminds me of those unfortunate ones who do NOT have Kshs. 3m to share with others. Oh, anyone remembers this story of an MP who accidently “lost” his bag containing Kshs. 1m on a flight? What’s the official income of a Kenyan MP again? Is that still a diet or rather a fat meal?

We keep on blaming our politicians and business tycoons for their greedy behaviour and at the same time, I think, we also forget that this accumulation of wealth has always been considered the main indicator of success and public acceptance. Corruption isn’t a Kenyan phenomenon only – it is everywhere in the world, and pointing the finger on those involved isn’t a solution. Instead, I think, it could help to rethink our values and what else there is to satisfy our short-termed desires.

A new TV set, though, won’t feed 100 hungry children in an orphanage. A donation like this one clearly indicates the insensivitivy with which many ppl tend to ignore the basic issues of the poor and how detached the donators are from the rest of the society. In their understanding, their emotional context, the item of course makes perfectly sense.

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Hi, I am an engineer who freelances in water & sanitation-related IT projects at Saniblog.org. You'll also find me on Twitter @jke and Instagram.

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