Reality Bites

Preface to Gorrel Espelund cs. Reality Bites. An African Decade. Cordaid, Zeist, 2003

Why are people fascinated by Africa? Because of its nature? Its history? The poverty? When I visited Africa for the first time in my life, some thirty years ago, I was not drawn to it, but knocked off. I knew Asia, it was my first love, travelling. Asia was subtle, Africa was raw. Asia seemed to welcome me as a guest, Africa to lock me out as a stranger. In Asia I felt at home, Africa scared me. It took me years before I came under its spell, but thereafter it never let me go.

Africa's nature is of an astonishing beauty. It is pure, the origin of life. Knowledge about Africa's history instils a sense of humility. Africa knew a civilisation long before people started to inhabit Europe. Realizing the vicious character of Africa's poverty makes you breathless. Poverty and death are close in Africa, but resilience overbears. I had to learn to see all this, but then fascination struck. Africa: a continent that lost its past, that presently seems to be incurably injured by capricious forces from within and outside, a continent apparently without a future, but also a continent where people display the spirit of real survivors.

In Africa reality bites and hurts. It bites the people. In Africa reality also bits. It bridles the perspective of the people. The perspective appears to recede. But the bits of reality displayed in this book are proofs of an enduring resilience of African people. Resilience in times of hunger and drought, resilience when deadly diseases manifest themselves, resilience when the world economy turns against any glimpse of prosperity, resilience in times of war, resilience when leaders fail, rulers govern badly or despots suppress denizens.

If people in Africa are resilient, others should stay away from gloom and doom. Those who consider themselves partners in an effort to develop, allies in a struggle for survival, or friends on the road toward peace should never despair in the sight of decline. African people are accustomed to decline. They pick themselves up, wipe the dust from their clothes and continue their way. Their friends should do the same.

This books shows us why despair would be unfair. Hope is justified, because people in Africa do not give up. Supporting them is legitimate, because they are determined to face their destiny, whether or not support will reach them. The stories in this book are more than reality bits. They are reality jewels, shining, worthy of exhibition. The narratives deserve to be told, remembered, retold and relived.

These stories give inspiration. Cordaid, an organization aiding and assisting people in Africa and elsewhere in their struggle for rehabilitation and development, wants to share this inspiration with partners and friends. It has dedicated the publication of these stories to Hans Kruijssen, who has directed Cordaid for more than twenty years. Hans Kruijssen found his inspiration amongst his friends in Africa and he was able to pass it on to his friends and colleagues within Cordaid and to others. We are grateful to him.

The past twenty years were difficult: debt, Aids, civil war and economic plundering were the order of the day. But there were also African women taking care of their families; children playing and enjoying themselves; teachers committed to tuition; nurses devoted to their patients; human rights activists and peace makers risking their lives to help their fellow-men; musicians, poets and sculptors creating an authentic culture, reflecting African realities and African imagination. Their experiences and examples have helped Hans Kruijssen, me and many others to express solidarity and to keep it up when onlookers preached pessimism. May the stories narrated and the images portrayed in this book be a source of unceasing inspiration.

Jan Pronk.

Preface to: Gorrel Espelund cs. Reality bites. An African Decade, The Hague, 2003, Cordaid, pp 6/7