Do you remember the bathroom mats that became fashionable the 1970s? Do you remember the ones with shaggy, long pile that came in colours like mauve and pale pink? They were bathroom mats that represented luxury to those of us used to standing on cold linoleum or even colder tiles.
I saw such a mat hanging on a washing line. It was one that was cut to fit around the base of a toilet bowl. It was a reminder that the world is becoming a better place.
It is thirty years since I first travelled to the developing world. The three week visit to the Philippines December 1990-January 1991 took me to various parts of Luzon and to the sugar growing island of Negros. Everywhere there seemed to be grinding poverty and the shadow of violence. Staying in the homes of ordinary people reveled the daily struggles they endured.
Returning in 2001, there had been a remarkable transformation. There was still poverty, but, for the overwhelming majority of people, life had improved. In 1990, a three minute phone call from Manila to home had to be connected by the operator and had cost £6. Visiting Luzon, Negros and Mindanao, calls home were a matter of using a pre-paid mobile phone.
However, there was one more significant indicator of economic growth. Visiting the home of a staff member of a development agency revealed a bathroom with shaggy pile mats. When people can afford expenditure on non-necessities, it is a sign that life is becoming easier. Undoubtedly, the man whose house we visited will have moved on to much more contemporary bathroom furnishing in the past two decades, he will regard the mat I saw hanging on a line as being very much out of fashion.
Since I bought a copy two years ago, Hans Rosling’s book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think has become one of my favourite pieces of reading. In hard numbers, it demonstrates how much better the world has become, not just in centuries, but in the past generation.
Anyone who has visited the developing world will have seen signs of constant change. Health care is improving, education is improving, housing is improving, technology is improving, life expectancy is improving.
I visited Rwanda five times between 2009 and 2015, each time I visited, I saw change. It is five years since my last visit, I have now doubt the progress has continued. When the European Union issued the list of fourteen countries in the world from which it would accept visitors without quarantine, Rwanda was among them.
I look forward to the day when I can visit Rwanda and there being comfortable bathroom mats.