Mentalities of Hope
Meet Ama. Her parents are hard-workers; She and her siblings have everything they need and a little extra. She goes to private school and most of her friends are like her: middle class Ghanaians. One day she decides to water the little garden in front of her house. She extends the garden hose and leaves it running. Thirty minutes later she returns to find that her next-dooe eighbors, the people who share a compound house, are filling their buckets with the water. She remembers – their neighborhood has no running water. Her parents simply have enough money to build an underground well so her family has water.
Abena is Ama’s neighbor. She goes to school, but is often kicked out for not paying her fees – sometimes her parents cannot afford it. Everyday after school, she helps her mother sell bread. She is usually too tired to do her homework. School is difficult, and she is tired of struggling with her work and of having to wear *chale-wote everyday, while others wear full shoes. She plans to stop soon and so she can sell bread like her mother. Business is better than school. Money is better than learning.
Dylan is only 16 years old, but already he has visited about 15 countries. His parents are millionaires and they travel every summer to any country of his choice. His favorite shows are Grey’s Anatomy and How I Met Your Mother. Of course he is Ethiopian. He only has an American accent because his school is very international. He cannot wait to get a car for his 17th birthday. His parents give him everything he wants.
This baby is only 6 months old. He is in a refugee camp. He has no food. He is dying. Over the past few weeks, with the help of social networks and of course, our dearly beloved memes (common ideas or images propagated through the world wide wide), there has been an even more intensified movement against the half-truth imageries of Africa shown around the world: the one where we are only diseased, only begging, only living in huts, only walking around barefoot hoping for some help to come from somewhere, most probably in the shape of western aid and celebrities singing songs about our utter despair in order to raise money to help us survive. For
Africans in the Diaspora, and for students especially, these memes have been an incredible way to show the world, or our friends on our Facebook homepages, at least, that Africa is not just a place of sickness and poverty. We are helping to break the stereotypes. Excellent. However, while it is true that “Where you actually live”, may be a fancy two story building, and “What you actually do”, may be to use the latest invention from Apple, or party the night away in one of the most expensive bars in your city, the fact is that your truth of the African condition might be farther from what you say it is. Statistically, you and your friends would probably make up 30 – 40% of your countries – barely an average. But. Does that make your stories invalid? Should you be silent because you are the luckier percentage? There is not just one single truth for any African country: our experiences can be extremely divergent, and apart from the fact that it is impossible to craft a general truth, it is also unfair to dictate that the “average” truth of a country should be an individual’s truth.
It is not wrong to correct pre-conceived notions no matter the statistical evidence. It would be like meeting an under-privileged American family and arguing with them over their reality because America is one of the richest countries in the world, ensuring their definite affluence. As with telling stories, there is probably always going to be a problem with representation and I think it is extreme to shoot down attempts to create awareness, even though they may be showcasing just the 30 or 40%. I do not think that the creators of these memes think that everyone in their countries have the same experiences they do. These memes are a result of frustration, and rightfully so, because ignorance still persists.
People are still willing to be ignorant about Africa and think about negativity first before anything else. Despite the persistent evidence of intelligent, normal people, of beautiful music, UN Secretary leaders and Nobel Prize Winners, it is never enough to convince them that good, positive things come from Africa, first. If they are good, they must be privileged. If they are good, they must be rich. If they are good, they must be lucky. If they are “normal”, they must not be the average person. And that is why you find professors talking about African characters in books and criticizing them for being too “western” because they speak English, that’s why you have friends who are disappointed at your less “tribal” language: it has no click! This is why when you have not seen an elephant before you are less fascinating, and this is why it is amazing that people listen to Taylor Swift (and understand her lyrics too!). There is a resistance to change. And you will still find people saying they are went to “Africa”, when in fact, they just visited Senegal for two weeks, because they just are not bothered.
People should exhibit what is true for them, without restrictions of any form, because that is the reality of Africa: a place of mansions and huts right across from each other, a place where children ride in air-conditioned cars and where others beg on the streets. It is a continent where some dance azonto, and some starve to death, where some have
more than enough to eat, and where some receive rice from other countries. It should not be about proving to the western media that we have houses too. In my opinion, their ignorance is their burden. It should never be about them. It is about who we actually are, and what we would like to share about our culture, our lifestyles and our activities: the good, the bad and the overdone ugly.
*Chale-Wote – Ga word for Flip-Flops (Ghana)