Friday, April 30, 2010

Too small to ignore

Recently Craig's boss lent me her copy of Too Small to Ignore by Dr Wess Stafford. Wess grew up as I did in the West African country of Ivory Coast and is now President of Compassion International. It's a very personal account of his African upbringing, traumatic boarding school experiences, and ongoing concern for children's rights worldwide.

I know my readers from International Christian Academy would especially enjoy reading this book. I urge you to borrow or buy a copy (only $14.95 AUD with free worldwide delivery from here). 

To give you a taste, here's Wess Stafford's account of the introduction of Coca-Cola to their small isolated Ivorien village.

One desperately hot day in the dry season the truck dropped off something new: a wooden case of bottled Coca-Cola. Of course, it had been bouncing and jostling its way along the rutted roads for a long time. Apparently, back in the big city some marketing genius with a soft-drink firm must have figured that in this scorching climate Coke would be so good and irresistible it would sell itself if people would just taste it. So he instructed the market-truck driver to deliver a free case of twenty-four bottles to the “gas station” in Nielle...

I didn’t see the arrival of the first Coke samples. Several weeks went by. The gas station attendant, not having a clue what they were, kept stacking the additional cases in his hut, awaiting instructions. Finally one market day he stopped my father as we were deep in negotiations for a small pile of mangoes.

“Monsieur, please come with me,” he requested. “I need your wise counsel at my gas station.” My dad followed him toward the hut. “I have been receiving glass bottles of something for several weeks on the market truck,” the man explained s they walked. “It comes with no instructions. I don’t know what it is, how to open it, what to do with it. I don’t even know what hole in the truck engine I am supposed to pour it into!”

Now he really had Dad’s curiosity piqued. They arrived at the station and pushed the rickety wood door open. There in the dark interior sat a dusty stack of wooden crates with bottles of dark liquid in them. Dad blew the dust off one and burst out laughing. By now a crowd of curious people had gathered.

“This is a drink from America,” my father explained. “It’s called Coca-Cola. You will probably like it. It is made from the very cola nuts your old men and women chew all day long---those nuts that make your teeth yellow.” At least this was a familiar connection they could comprehend.

“Let’s give it a try,” Dad continued, reaching for his pocketknife with a bottle opener blade that had not seen the light of day for nearly four years. He deftly flipped off the cap.

You must remember that these bottles had been sitting in a very hot hut for weeks. They were even hot to the touch. They were basically Molotov cocktails in thick glass bottles marked Coke.

An eruption of white foam spewed into the air and onto everyone nearby. The fizzing and sputtering sent dignified men shrieking and scattering in all directions, fearing for their very lives. My father nearly collapsed with laughter.

One by one they timidly returned after the explosion died down without apparent fatalities. ‘This is delicious, you guys,” my father coaxed. “Here, have a taste! Come on---it won’t hurt you!”

The gas station attendant was thrust forward to serve as the guinea pig for all. Fear filled his eyes as though he was about to drink something very much alive. After a good deal of ribbing for being a coward, peer pressure made him bring the bottle to his lips. There was a hush of anticipation.

“Ça pique, ça pique---comme un serpant!” He screamed, dancing around and fanning his burning mouth with his hand. ("It stings, it stings-like a snake!”) Nobody doubted him. After all, the strange dark stuff had certainly hissed. Why not assume it would also bite you? There were peals of laughter as the man offered the bottle to others. He got no takers.

“Well, Monsieur Stafford,” he announced for all to hear. “If you like this and are willing to risk your life with it, it’s all yours!”

Dad insisted the stuff actually did have worth and paid him what he guessed it would cost in the outside world. From that day forward, our lives took a big step upward. This Coca Cola sample system went on for several years, much to our delight. Each day we would come in from the scorching heat at noon time, ceremonially open a single bottle of Coke, pour it over precious ice from our kerosene-driven refrigerator, and listen to the fizz. We split each bottle four ways.

But otherwise, the marketing ploy was a miserable failure. Neither boys and girls nor dads and moms in Nielle ever came to think that they needed Coca-Cola to live the good life. They remained quite content drinking lukewarm water from the village well. They weren’t convinced that the beverage known round the world was all that essential for them...

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