VOICES | I Will Never be a Millionaire


Virtually every day, in America, you are told to be a millionaire. Day and night, television peddles the dream that even you can be a millionaire, if only you work hard enough. Alternatively, you can be a millionaire by just winning the lottery. It all sounds like a fairy tale, but millions of people believe it.

Maybe there is something wrong with me, for I have never tried to be a millionaire. Even if I did, I am sure I will never be a millionaire. How sad, you might say. It is not that I don’t need money. I do need money, like everyone else. However, being a millionaire is out of the question.

You might say, why don’t you try? Well, perhaps I could try doing several jobs, working day and night. Honestly, I cannot do that. The job I have is challenging enough. A second one would kill me. However, here’s more.

Appearances aside, I am an African villager. In the village, we never valued money very much. There, your money is not really yours. Even if it is yours, it is not yours alone. Many people had a right to it: sisters, brothers, uncles, nephews, cousins and in laws. The cousins, nephews and friends of all these people, whom you did not even know, also had a right to your money.

Now these are a lot of people. I have heard that Africans have extended families. That is not true: we have extending families. Every time you visit your city or village in Africa, you discover new little nephews, little nieces, little aunts, little uncles, and little cousins. They are all there at your house, to see their relative from America. Your adult relatives are there too, to greet you, and from the appearance some of the women, you can tell that some more little ones are on the way. Whatever money you make will be theirs as well.
I have never figured out how to hoard money. I guess it is because of my village roots. As soon as I get some money, it slips away, towards those cousins, uncles, nephews, and others I don’t even know. The more money I make, the more it disappears, just like that. Strangely, when I have money and am able to share it like that, I feel happy, though not as happy as the television millionaires.

Joseph L. Mbele, who teaches in the English Department at St. Olaf College, is the author of Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, available at http://www.lulu.com/content/105001 or by sending an email to info@africonexion.com. You can visit his blog: http://www.josephmbele.blogspot.com