Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Food for Thought: What Is Africa?

The other night I went to an open mic night at a bar in Gaborone. There were people reciting their poetry, rappers and vocalists, musicians, and comedians. It was surely a display of some of the best (and worst) of what Botswana had to offer in terms of talent. One person, in particular, caught my attention (and I found myself wanting to befriend him almost immediately).

When he approached the mic, he started belting out, in the most amazing voice, the opening notes to "The Circle of Life" ("MAAAAA ZIFENGYA MADIVIMBENGAYOOOOOO!") He then stopped suddenly and said "Why do all tales of Africa start this way?" and the audience cheered. He then went on to discuss, in poetic form, what was one of his main frustrations - that people misunderstand Africa. His examples started with the tribal music that everyone equates with Africa (which is some of the coolest music ever so I understand) and extended to an example from earlier that day when a girl studying at the University of Botswana in the capital city asked him where the elephants were. His comedic response: "Oh, sorry, they marched this morning through the streets so you missed them, best to check back again tomorrow. Or you could visit Kasane." (Note: Kasane is where the elephants live en mass, but they are definitely nowhere near the busy capital. Everyone laughed, myself included, because asking about elephants down here is quite ridiculous and funny since there's no way elephants could wander the busy streets of Gaborone. But, we realize still, that this is because we live here so we understand the reality while others don't.)  The moral of his anecdote being that people abroad have a vision of what Africa is - full of mud huts and wild animals - and fail to realize that it is also civilized and developing rapidly.

Listening to his monologue made me think: What did I think Africa was like before I came? How has this notion changed? Could beliefs like this be keeping Africa from moving forward and gaining a foothold in the global community? What connotations evolve from this way of thinking? How do we educate people about this other side of Africa without losing all the support received for necessary development? Would tourism flourish if people realized there was a developed side too? What would happen to those children and families I am working with in the villages if people started thinking Africa was "all good"? Would they benefit from a new understanding of Africa or would it be a detriment? And many many more questions... Because, yes, the stereotypes are here for a reason - they do exist - but there is also another side of life here too. The village life that most PCVs live and talk about is a completely different lifestyle than that of the capital (and the two other larger towns), which is full of multi-story buildings, traffic, shops, and youth working laboriously to bring the world up to speed about the different faces of Botswana (and Africa). I want to help dispel the rumors and share that Africa has it all - the good, the bad, and the growing. Like the man who performed at open mic night, I wish everyone could come here and have their perspectives challenged. To see both the mud huts and the towers of Botswana and to experience the quiet life of the village and the growing abundance of the capital. The juxtaposition is unlike anything else I have experienced.

No comments:

Post a Comment