Well, I’ve only got one “Third-World Country” visit under my belt, but I can tell you what I saw there.
I spent three months studying in Kenya at the end of 2002. I stayed mostly in Southern Kenya, and all of my studying was done in Maasai land.
The children weren’t usually skin and bones, but the cows were. There was little grass to graze on in some areas where there were tons of cows. Corrugated aluminum housing was “luxury” in that area. I helped some Maasai women get water from both the Athi and the Nolturesh rivers. The water the second time was carried in old Mobil Oil containers, about the size of an antifreeze bottle. Most people living in the area would have liked to visit a national park or reserve, but couldn’t afford the fees. At the time it was just under 80 Kenyan shillings to 1 US dollar. I found a 10 Tanzanian shilling piece there and was told that it was worth about 1 Kenyan shilling. A private school in the second area I stayed at washed all their clothes in the Nolturesh, and then hung them to dry on the fence by the road.
Do you know what “lion-proofing” a goat pen means? I found out it simply means adding about 5 foot tall chain-link fencing all around the wooden fencing so the lions can’t stick their paws in and grab a kid (goat). To hyena-proof, all that needs to be done is bury the fencing a bit. But to leopard proof the pen, you effectively need to put a roof on it, since they are excellent climbers.
In the second area I was in, most medicinal plants were thorny acacia trees and were also used for fencing. The nearest hospital was an hour away by car, and it was filled to the gills. The nearest eye doctor was four hours away by car, in Nairobi.
But in Nairobi, there was a mall called the Serit Center that would not been out of place in most American cities. While on break from my studies, I saw “Bourne Identity” there. I visited a house that I would not mind having here, and a coffee shop that I would love to go back to. Also on break, I visited Lake Baringo’s Island Camp, a lovely tented camp owned by an English woman. As a friend on the same break trip put it, “Yeah, it was a tent. But calling it a tent is like calling the Mona Lisa a painting.” Technically true, but not even close to conveying the reality of tiled bathroom additions to each tent and tea and biscuts (cookies) served to your door at any time in the morning you wanted them.
Corruption ran/runs rampent in the Kenyan government. I was lucky enough to be there during an election cycle, and not just any election cycle. I got to watch as Daniel Moi, the Kenyan leader of 26 years, was being forced to step down due to laws imposing term limits on Kenyan presidents. The Kenyan people eventually rejected his hand-picked successor and voted in a man he had thrown in jail many years before. (The elections were suposed to occur while I was there, but occured the next March.) So maybe there is hope that the corruption can eventually be cleaned out. But it is going to take a very long while if it does happen.
Most people I met in Kenya lived in what Americans would call dismal conditions. But there did seem to be people who lived very well, even by our standards. So it’s hard to say. Kenya (Nairobi) is home to the largest slum in East Africa, as I understand it. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the name, just that it starts with an “M”. It’s also home to the Serit Center and some of the nicest housing I’ve ever been in.
I don’t know if that helps you or not. Just some food for thought.