A game of 20 Questions between a hungry Somalian child and an affluent North American, where it's clear the North American isn't very good at the game and, frankly, clueless.

Photo: Feisal Omar / Reuters

NORTH AMERICAN: Is it an animal, mineral or vegetable?

SOMALIAN: Yes sir, I believe it is all three, sir.

NORTH AMERICAN: Hmm... Can I get it online?

SOMALIAN: I’m sorry, sir. I do not understand your meaning, sir. On where, sir?

NORTH AMERICAN: Online... You know, like at eBay or Amazon?

SOMALIAN: I do not think so, sir. You do not need to go all the way to the Amazon, sir.

NORTH AMERICAN: Then is it close by?

SOMALIAN: Yes, sir. I think it’s close by, sir. Definitely don’t have to go to the Amazon, sir.

NORTH AMERICAN: Is it in my pocket?

SOMALIAN: I don’t know about that, sir. It is very much a possibility, sir.

NORTH AMERICAN: It’s not these Viagra pills is it?

SOMALIAN: I don’t think so, sir. In truth, I do not know what Viagra is, sir.

NORTH AMERICAN: It’s a kind of medicine. Are you thinking of a medicine?

SOMALIAN: Not this time, sir. Maybe next time, sir.

NORTH AMERICAN: Can I get it at a mall?

SOMALIAN: Mall? Do you mean Mali, the country, sir? Of course, you can get it at Mali, sir. But that is on the other side of Africa and therefore very far away.

NORTH AMERICAN: Then, you really should build another mall.

SOMALIAN: Yes, sir. Of course, sir. I will try to speak to my friends in Mali at a later date. But for now, can I give you a clue, sir? Here it is, sir. The thing I am thinking of will make me feel good.

NORTH AMERICAN: Really?... Well then... Maybe it was something you saw on Oprah?

SOMALIAN: I’m sorry, sir. Again, I do not know what you are talking about, sir. What is this Oprah you speak of, sir.

NORTH AMERICAN: Oprah? Oh, she’s great. She’s always talking about good feelings. How to feel good about yourself, why you should make others feel good, who is out there spreading good feelings, etc – wonderful stuff. Although to be honest, what I personally love are her “Favourite Things” episodes. Anyway, it’s a pity she retired her show – where I come from, we kind of eat that stuff up.

SOMALIAN: She does sound wonderful, sir. And yes! Yes! You can eat it! You can definitely eat it, sir.

NORTH AMERICAN: Great! I must be getting closer... So you can eat it... Is it Atkins-approved? SOMALIAN: I’m not entirely sure, sir. I’m sorry sir but I do not understand, sir.

NORTH AMERICAN: I mean is it carbohydrate free? You know, to do away with the love handles...

SOMALIAN: Ummm.... Sorry sir, but love handles? I do not understand this term.

NORTH AMERICAN: Nevermind... You’re obviously one of those high metabolism folks who don’t need to worry about love handles.

SOMALIAN: If you say so sir.

NORTH AMERICAN: Anyway, let’s see... If you can eat it, then we can probably presume that you saw it on the Food Network, right?

SOMALIAN: Yes! Yes! You got it, sir. The answer was food! Although what is this “network of food” you speak of. It sounds magical, sir!

NORTH AMERICAN: Well, I don’t know if it’s magical...

SOMALIAN: If you say so sir. But no matter, you have guessed right – The answer was food: I crave food.

NORTH AMERICAN: Awesome! And in less than twenty questions!

SOMALIAN: Yes sir, right you are sir. But tell me... Do you have any food?

NORTH AMERICAN: No, sorry - not on me, unfortunately. But let me buy you lunch! Must be a food court around here somewhere. Where was that Mali place again?

* * *

UNICEF reports that “Two million children are at risk of starvation in Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia. The worst drought in 60 years is compounded by rising food prices and a refugee crisis, creating a true children’s emergency in the Horn of Africa.” To make a donation, please click on this link.


    1.  @Jack Holmes you forgot “stupid.” I understand the point they’re trying to make, but jeez. Also, there’s not too much you can do about Somalia until Al Shabab GTFO.

      1. “Also, there’s not too much you can do about Somalia until Al Shabab GTFO.”

        Yay! Someone who’s paying attention!

        So, yeah – we need to apply pressure to get the aid through. This is the link that you need, right here. No idea how much good an internet petition will do, but Avaaz seems to have a fairly decent rep, and it’s not like it costs us anything to sign it.


        Still, I’d appreciate if anyone knows which of these other aid orgs people have linked here are working to apply political pressure to allow aid through, and which are just uselessly getting aid.

  1. “Hey guys! I’ve got an idea!  How about we realize that we could be waging peace for the betterment of all humankind, and a better world – instead of wasting it on being the most wasteful nation in the history of the earth! No guilt! No shame! Just helping people!”

    Fixed that for ya.

  2. Did someone make a typo and type ‘affluent’ instead of ‘effluent’ when describing we North Americans?  They really didn’t drive the point home hard enough that we’re not the most well liked section of humanity as well as they could of with that omission….

  3. The use of “Favourite” tells me that this fellow is Canadian. Please don’t let those vile northerners ruin the stellar reputation of the continent’s remaining two-thirds; they do not speak for us. Without question, a REAL American would have given that kid one of his Viagras.

  4. I’m confused. Is this a REAL conversation or some white guy’s meta-snark? My son (1.0) would have guessed in 5 questions AND sent the kid a goat. About the only thing he doesn’t know is how to get a goat in a box.

  5. I’ve gotten a lot of stuff like this from my mom, ever since she discovered the inter nets, although the players are usually Lieberals and Soldiers. 

    1. Watch it now…those Canadians don’t like to be lumped in that same category as us stupid Americans.

  6. “Favourite”? could be Canadian. Or British, or Australian or… well any of the english speaking countries that aren’t the USA. Still, the use of such heavy- handed, artless propaganda doesn’t work on my, it makes me think the person doing it is an asshole and definitely not going to get my donation because of it. Of course the knowledge that a donation to UNICEF is essentially a donation to Somalian Warlords and not the actual starving people doesn’t help.

  7. HURR DURR i’m american i’m so fat and stupid . what’s an africa? get me a
    cheeseburger hurr imna drive to the mall now and buy some plastic thing

    Seriously, is this supposed to be clever? Does anyone really think that
    ignorance of Somalians’ problems is the reason why the world isn’t
    coming to their rescue? Do you really think that, after decades of
    continuous media coverage, we really don’t know that some people don’t
    have enough to eat? Hell, lazy TV-watching slobs are exposed, via all
    those sponsor-a-child ads, to more of it than most of us.

    The problem is not ignorance. Anyone trying to “raise awareness” is
    missing the point. Awareness has been raised, it’s done, we’re all

    Certain people seem to think that the only reason why we aren’t moved to
    help others is that we just don’t know of their suffering. That’s
    simply not true. I may only have “first world problems” (what an awful
    meme) but that doesn’t make them any less important to me. I deal with
    my needs and problems, then deal with my desires, and then, maybe, I
    deal with those of others… and they may be someone else’s, rather than
    this hypothetical Somalian’s.


  8. The birth rate is Africa is 7+ children per female. The birth rate in America is slightly over 2 children per female. This sounds callous, I’m sure, but if I couldn’t afford to feed another child, I would stop having them. For every crate of food we send, we should also be sending condoms, birth control and education about how to use them.

    If you are aware that you could use condoms to tamper down the risk of AIDS and the number of kids you have and you prefer to say “fuck it”, then you’re an asshole.

    1. If you are aware that you could use condoms to tamper down the risk of
      AIDS and the number of kids you have and you prefer to say “fuck it”,
      then you’re an asshole.

      Right. Because Somali women usually have such egalitarian power in matters of sex and reproduction.

      1. Right. Because Somali women are the ones who refuse to put condoms on their penises before they penetrate the men.

        Your point is my point: the blame goes squarely on the men.

        If then the answer is “But these men won’t use condoms no matter what!” then we need to have a different discussion altogether.

      2. That would only be true if the Statistics did not show that education lowered the amount of children per woman and sti’s.

    2. OK, I will jump into your trawling net.  Forgetting the whole Darwin thing, access to birth control is one thing but compliance another.  If a woman has multiple children do you think she is going to have a lot of success in getting her spouse to use a condom?

      You assume quite a bit of gender based agency.  Hell, l just learned that  the late NY Gov. Carey’s wife had 14 children!  They were devout Catholics.  Of course, your argument is that they could afford to feed them all.  My argument?  Were it not for her religious observation, would she plan all of these pregnancies?

      I assume you identify pro-choice.  That is what it means, choice….or does it?

      1. My point here is that its not on the women to get the men to put on condoms, it’s on the men. When starvation and AIDS hits, everyone suffers: Men, Women and Children.

        As I stated in another reply, if we as rational human beings simply throw our hands up in the air and say “There is no way that we can convince men to wear condoms in order to make their own lives better”, then there is a different discussion to be had.

    3. What they really need is education of the women and to keep the christian group “the family” and the Catholic church out of Africa, get more women into aid organizations so that it is not a bunch of men talking to men who are asking for “need bigger machines” 

      1. Well, the Islamic majority in Somalia has done your bidding!  There are about 1,000 practicing Christians in the country, total and an estimated 100 Catholics.

        Somalia =/= Africa the same way that Canada =/= North America.

    4.  The problem is that many African women have no form of sex education, and therefore no way of knowing that condoms are used to prevent both unwanted pregnancy and STDs. Not only that, but condoms are unavailable in most cases. Governments’ attempts to render aid and assistance in this particular matter have resulted in disaster, such as a certain incident in which the instructions on safer sex were, in fact, stapled to the condoms. There isn’t widespread and readily available sex ed or contraception that people have access to.

      And if you assume that African women have information and choose to ignore it without being marginally well-informed about the issue yourself… then you’re an asshole.

    5. Family planning matters quite a bit.

      You must also ensure, though, that the woman actually have a choice in the matter. Will their partners mistreat them if they find out they’ve been using birth control? Can they survive financially on their own if they have to? Would they be shunned if their partners left them? Can they realistically force their partners to use condoms? What is the rate of childhood mortality?

      Humanitarian aid, education for girls, and economic development all need to go hand-in-hand for the problem to get solved. Unfortunately, many aid organizations seem to care more about the feelings of their donors than they do about achieving real progess. Remember, the end goal is a world in which such organizations cease to exist.

    6. You have your causality reversed. Africa is not facing starvation problems because so many kids are being born, but so many kids are being born because a lot of them do not make it out of childhood. Look at the Western world 200 years ago – families were much bigger than they are today, and for much the same reasons.

  9. Maybe I am callous, but exactly how much money has been given to UNICEF so far.
    Exactly how much better has it made these peoples lives in that time?

    Maybe the problem is not in getting enough money, but maybe in how that money is being used.
    Maybe portraying me as uncaring and clueless was not the best way to get me to think you have the right idea.

    @unmoris:disqus  – Because we have caring religious groups in charge of much aid money and if you don’t follow what they want, you get no help.  Besides if we did something about the spread of AIDS we would be denying pharma’s profits from gouging for the drugs.

  10. Africa doesn’t need your crocodile tears or your petty donations.
    Africa doesn’t need charity, it needs your first world governments and megacorps to leave it the hell alone.
    Stop using Africans as quasi-slave labor for resource extraction projects for the first world.
    Stop fueling resource wars with foreign weapons.
    Stop wrecking local economies with cynical or clueless donations from the first world.
    Stop your government using international loans and political corruption to secure economic advantages in Africa over local industry.
    Stop global warming, which causes desertification, war, and food shortage disproportionately in Africa.

    Africa is not starving, it is being starved by the first world.

    1. The first world, broadly, does not care enough about Africa to starve it. Sure, the continent is not 100% isolated from the world economy, but short of crimes syndicates few Western actors would not stand to make much more money were the continent to turn more stable. Indeed, the parts of the continent that are relatively more stable see more first world involvement – many more Western businesses in Pretoria than in Mogadishu, for instance. In any case, the money propping up local despots is tens of millions, not tens of billions – it’s first world government and megacorp stationery expense.

      Africa’s problem is that its present socioeconomic structure is more or less feudal in nature. The conflict and poverty are a direct result of economic, political, and military power being concentrated in the hands of a small elite, with no other individuals or institutions having any at all. When what is now the first world had a similar socioeconomic structure, life there was similarly unpleasant and violent.

      And history has not yet shown any solutions to this problem other than time and education. In a few decades, Africa will be perfectly on track, regardless of what the first world does or does not do.

  11. This is just silly; even the moniker “North American” doesn’t work at all. There are quite a few cultural references that a Mexican or Quebecer wouldn’t understand, much less other non-US first world people. This does not work at all to illustrate the difference between a rich American and a poor African.

    (BTW: Amazon and eBay may not have a presence in Somalia but urban Somalia _does_ have a rather good telecom infrastructure and ubiquitous Internet.)

  12. As if all the rest of the world is filled with angels of mercy. I guess it is easier by far to deal in the ugly American stereotype than to really think about what needs to be done about Somalia. The warlords must be dealt with and I don’t think please is a magic word for them. It will take military action, but I don’t think anyone wants a piece of that action. Besides that, how could it be done so that it doesn’t worsen the situation? Send money and food all you want, but it’s pointless if it can’t get there.

  13. After reading this, follow it up by reading ‘A Primate’s Memoir’.  Their problems stem as much from mistreatment by local structures of power and financial forces (see post above) as from dumb lazy Americans not sending them money, and until those structures are replaced (god knows how, it would take more knowledge of African culture and history than I can muster to have that debate), the mistreatment won’t magically disappear because some American writes a check. I’m not saying it’s not worth trying to feed starving kids, but I feel donations should be coupled with efforts to fight the forces that cause things like the cited situation to keep perpetuating.

  14. SOMALIAN:  ‘Please, sir, I want some more.’NORTH AMERICAN: MORE?!
    INTERNETZ: ZUH?Duh-hyuk, Yes, my day as an afluent Cauck-a-zoid isn’t complete until I feign shame for something America was doing since before my grandparents even immigrated to the USA. 
    But seriously, without belaboring the point, the problems of Somalia are exasperated by far more than ig’nant white folk. What a totally lame and counterproductive “story.” Even my humble home state Minnesota has led the charge on several fronts to help fight starvation in Somalia. 

  15. Agreeing with Eric above that it is Somali not Somalian. And I’m pretty sure Somalis know what malls are, as well as the internet. Not only does this 20 questions thing make the American look like an idiot, it makes the Somali look like one too.

  16. The thing about this that makes the North American look like an idiot is the idea that somehow all it takes to stop the famine is donations sent to the right agency.  Famine is a political failure.  A lot of this could be solved with a whole bunch of asshats with guns and a Koran down their shorts being shot in the head.  

  17. It is really insulting to blame Somali women for their higher birth rates. These women don’t have food, they don’t have a government, yet somehow they are supposed to have access to birth control?

    And while Africa’s birthrate may be 7+ children per woman, that is not Somalia’s. Somalia’s is 6.4 per woman with 1 in 10 children dying in infancy.

  18. I am a bit surprised at the amount of pope-hat-and-judges-robe-wearing comments getting tossed about. My guess is the post hit a little close to the boing-boing demographic/mark. bwahahahaha! Semi-literate (cauc) guys get made, can’t stand it, and complain from ON HIGH! Keep posting things like this — if it causes such disdain, I’m game.

  19. While this was hyperbolic (I guess that’s the term), it did remind me of a real Q&A session when I was in high school.  A university student from the (then) USSR fielded questions from us. One of them was “y’all don’t have, like, Wet ‘n Wild, do you?”

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