Importing and exporting NH
New Hampshire is emphatically my home. It’s the place where I grew up, like a dozen prior generations of my family, and to which I always planned to return after venturing abroad. Now that I’m back, after living on four continents and visiting the other two, I couldn’t be happier.
But loving your home does not mean you never want it to change. Returning to my wife’s native South Africa (our home from 2011-13) on holiday this August, it occurred to me that there are more than a few good things New Hampshire has to offer the world, as well as a handful of African customs I would’t mind bringing back home to the ‘Shire. That realization, coupled with the imminent ascent of a South African to America’s top comedy job as host of the "The Daily Show" leads me to offer this mini cross-cultural exchange in place of my monthly column on Nashua affairs.
Without further ado, I present my short list of recommended imports and exports between the Granite State and the Rainbow Nation, starting with the exports:
1. Ice cream – In New Hampshire (and admittedly Vermont), we know how to put the cream in ice cream, and chunks of gooey goodness to boot. Sadly, South Africa has yet to discover that vegetable fat and milk solids are no replacement for good old-fashioned cream from cows, that "syrup" isn’t worth the name unless it starts with "maple," and that farm stands, hayrides, apple-picking, etc. are the ideal complement to a cone. Enough said.
2. Safety – When New Hampshire’s Robert Frost penned the phrase "good fences make good neighbors," he didn’t have South African fences in mind. It’s hard to be neighborly when your "fence" is a concrete wall 10-feet high topped with electric wires. The fences and private security forces are an unfortunate consequence of high crime in South African cities, which in turn is an unfortunate consequence of the extreme inequality that persists between rich (mostly white) and poor (mostly black) South Africans. Apparently, 21 years of democracy is not enough time to undo the effects of three-and-a-half centuries of colonialism and apartheid. New Hampshire has long prided itself on offering a level playing field to all our youth, although school funding formulas and the recent spike in drugs and accompanying crime in low-income areas are cause for real concern. Let’s make the changes needed so that picket fences and neighborliness are once again the norm.
3. Politics – If you think New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary doesn’t matter, think again. I can’t tell you how many times I’m asked by foreign friends about the latest movements of Hillary, Jeb, the Donald and other candidates working the Granite State. There’s plenty that’s just plain crazy about American politics – like the way we fund campaigns – but a primary that allows voters to interrogate the future leaders of the free world is not. Let’s keep the primary strong, ditch big money and set a good example as the longest-running democracy in the world. South Africa’s ruling party could benefit from a bit of NH-style accountability.
Now, the imports:
1. Traffic circles – "Stopping for ghosts," as we like to say in my family, is not my favorite pastime. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rolled down Main Street in Nashua late at night stopping at one red light after another waiting for … not a car or pedestrian in sight. Studies show that traffic circles save on gas and brakes and that most precious commodity: time. In South Africa, they’re commonplace. Let’s ditch the lights wherever possible and round our intersections out.
2. Sustainability – As much as I enjoy off-roading in a souped-up SUV, I wouldn’t mind a few more small car options to economize my daily commute and solar panels on my roof to cut electricity costs. Renting a "compact economy" in New Hampshire is akin to "full-sized sedan" in South Africa. For a real education in "compact economy," look no further than the American-made Ford Ka or Chevy Spark, on offer at any car rental in South Africa. That and the ubiquitous solar panels that dot the roofs of South African homes could go a long way to keep our precious planet from overheating. With solar power finally on the march in New Hampshire, it’s time we closed the gap.
3. Ubuntu – Don’t get me wrong: I love New Hampshire people, individualist and
melanin-deprived though we may be. Since the Mayflower days, they’ve been my people, after all. But I am reminded by my in-laws that there’s a world of kaleidoscopic culture to be found beyond our borders and inviting some more diversity can enrich our lives – not to mention add some much-needed youthfulness to our workforce. In terms of our vaunted individualism, the South African concept of ubuntu can offer a healthy complement. Translated from the Zulu as "I am because you are; my humanity is tied to yours," ubuntu is not meant as a lofty ideal so much as a statement of fact: we all live mutually-dependent lives in an interconnected world. Although New Hampshire is a good deal friendlier than Boston or New York, I reckon we could learn a thing or two about humane interaction and general sociability from the Rainbow Nation. After all, it that wasn’t long ago – in geologic time – that our earliest human ancestors comprised a single band in Southern Africa.
Dan Weeks lives in Nashua and is executive director of the New Hampshire-based move-ment Open Democracy. His column appears here the fourth Sunday of each month.