Murat Can Bilgincan reporting

An Excerpt: “Bulletpoints from My Moleskine”

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            Couple nights back, Alex (my college classmate) and I joined the happy hour at a bar called “Cubana”, situated somewhere between Long St. and the Waterfront (Cape Town, South Africa). The Latin American music and decorations were pleasant while the cocktails were disappointing. Oh and the nachos weren’t bad at all. Accompanied by merengue beats, Alex and I stroke a philosophical conversation. He commented that he didn’t believe in diminishing returns within the context of an experience, such as volunteering. On the other hand, to me the value of an experience was equivalent to the rate of learning, which did diminish in time. Alex introduced the concept of an “Internal Learning Curve” that had a shape totally determined by what you make out of the opportunity. For instance, you may not be learning anything new from your teaching job, but the routine of the job provides you with an opportunity to detach yourself from your ordinary life, thereby allowing you to turn your attention inwards. If put to good use, this opportunity may allow one to arrive at a new understanding about oneself and also to produce masterful intellectual property. I agree with all this. However, this opportunity can be found in any comparable position, be it working at a group home in the US or volunteering at the IHF orphanage in Kenya. Therefore, the returns generated by “Internal Learning” are not intrinsic to the specific volunteering experience. Since only intrinsic returns should be attributed to the value of a specific experience, Internal Learning cannot prevent the returns of an experience from diminishing. What do you think Alex?
            I have to know the limits of my experience in Africa. I have a very good idea about Eastern Africa and a fair idea about the Southern parts. In South Africa, I saw a large city in depth, a smaller city briefly and only the posh rural life in the Winelands. However, I can clearly imagine an equivalent of the Kenyan farmer on one of the farms near Ivan’s (an orphanage owner) place, being present somewhere in the kwaZulu-Natal Province. I know that I haven’t traveled as extensively in South Africa as I could have, but I came to this place with a different mindset. Wanted to see Alex and Selcuk (a high school classmate), constantly be in the company of friends and escape from the depressing atmosphere in Nakuru.
            In retrospect, I am happy that my volunteering experience in Kenya turned out to be a very difficult one. This way it became the best experience possible and I grew from it. Perhaps I need to thank IHF for giving me the opportunity to negotiate with an intoxicated Kalenjin wielding a machete…
            After having spent a month in a badly-run orphanage, having visited 3 far better children’s homes and spoken to numerous individuals involved in the process in different capacities, I have developed a few thoughts on the humanitarian aid process in Kenya. Humanitarian aid is being provided to Kenya, and possibly to many other African nations, in a wrong way. Too much cash, food and donations, and not enough training and local involvement. This horrid mix does not only make Kenyans addicted to Western aid, but also encourages racism in the sense that it forces Kenyans to treat muzungus (white men) as a stack of dollars. Unfortunately, the Western governments do not have sufficient incentive to reform the aid system, since it is in their best interest to make the developing world dependant on their support. Perhaps a strong incentive could be created for the governments if the disturbing issues related to the humanitarian aid process were shared with the citizens of the developed world and a loud pro-reform lobby were formed…
            Being home (in Istanbul) has never felt so good, even after my backpacking journey in Asia. However, there is a drawback. Although it has only been a few days since I left Africa, I am losing track of reality. The leap from the orphanage in Nakuru to my house in Kemerburgaz (one of the up-scale suburbs of Istanbul) has been so great that there is a disconnect between my past and present experiences. Therefore, one of them has to be real and the other one a dream. But which one is which?

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Author: bilgincan

Murat Can Bilgincan is a Turkish journalist and filmmaker who has worked for CNN and on PBS' "Frontline." Bilgincan holds a bachelor's degree from Yale College and a master’s degree from Columbia Journalism School. He teaches an independent journalism seminar at Koc University in Istanbul.

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