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 You'll also find me on Twitter @jke and Instagram.

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