Jason Carter on Foreign Policy
The former president's views on Israel are not the only ones to make his grandson squirm. Of the elder Carter's call to ban the death penalty, his grandson said, "I love my grandfather, but we disagree."
The elder Mr. Carter has plunged into his grandson's campaign. "He got elected governor of Georgia by shaking 600,000 hands," the younger Mr. Carter said. "That's what he would tell you: 'You've got to go to the grocery store and shake everybody's hand.' "
I left for Liberia in July 1997. In my three weeks there, in addition to the work, I was going to decide if I wanted to spend more time in Africa.
After the election, won in a landslide by Charles Taylor, my grandfather asked my uncle Chip and me to stay for another three weeks to represent him at Taylor's inauguration. My uncle and I spent a lot of that time traveling, trying to find out what was going on outside the compounds where most diplomats and international bureaucrats lived.
He sat down and we started talking. "Let me buy you a beer," he said. "No," I said, "We'll take care of it. Here are $3. We'll each get one." The soldier grabbed my hand. "You are rich and white and from US," he said. "And I know that I'm poor and black and from Africa. But I can buy you a beer. Do not disrespect me. Allow me to pay for it because I want to. Because I want to sit here as equals and share our beer."
He spoke with a thick Nigerian accent, and we had to listen closely to make out exactly what he was saying. But in the end his message could not have been more clear. Africa is not only a story of war and famine and disease. It is also a story of triumph and self-respect in the face of those hardships.
A Dutch woman said, "Americans are so insensitive that they do not see anything that is happening outside their borders, and still their culture presses in everywhere. Even you, you come here to teach people how to be American." I said, "I'm not trying to westernize anyone."
She said, "it happens anyway. In Kenya, the Masai have stopped putting lip plates in their mouths because tourists thought it was disgusting. That is sad. They have done this for years, and now they stop because white people come to town with money."
Deep down, I agreed with her. The cultural stampede was now moving right along, and something had to be done to preserve indigenous culture.