Today I was going over some old magazines and I came across a photo of a woman pounding something in a mortar while a baby dangled from one of her breasts at a very odd angle.
The subject of the photograph looked utterly bored, but the image took me a short way down memory lane. Back when I was a semi-serious journalist with a social conscience, I came to the point when I started to care about how Africa was portrayed in the international media.
There was a period when the poster child of Africa was the skeletal fly-ridden baby, too weak to cry or shoo away the vultures hovering in the background for effect.
If you said you were from Africa, someone was likely to hand you a hefty beef burger and a doggy bag for the rest of your starving family back home.
I became a rabid crusader against starving baby porn, and when I had blogged, ranted and written extensively about it, I turned my attention to the portrayal of women.
There was the quintessential African woman – with a baby strapped to her back, another gestating visibly in her front and a toddler waddling by her side trying to get her tired and limited attention.
I hated the idea that (back then), with no ring on my finger and my love for fast cars and my life in general, I could not technically call myself an African woman.
I was not prepared to stretch my boobs to the ground and have sorrow etched indelibly into my face like all the ‘authentic’ African women in the pictures.
Of course, the icing on the cake is the pot of water balancing on her head and the firewood she has to somehow carry with no real space left on her body to balance.
Nothing got me as angry as these portrayals except perhaps well meaning but ignorant white people for whom Africa is a homogenous country.
And perhaps Egyptians, Moroccans and Tunisians who do not believe they are African – maybe they should blast their bit of the continent off and attach it to the Middle East.
Anyway, some of these things are true about Africa, while others are utter nonsense. It got me thinking about the other ideas and images people have of my neck of the woods that are not entirely accurate.
In wonderful Africa, the weather is always sunny and fantastic. Well, it has been raining everyday in my hometown, tourist hub or not. During the day we have the kind of rain that is soft but steady. It can go on all day if it chooses to, and on many days it chooses to.
If it is a night rain, it will thunder and storm and wind so hard it will fell small trees and break branches off big ones. And then our national electricity supply will die, because it is impossible for them to keep the power on when it rains – I think the rain leaks into the wires and makes the electricity wet. At least in that aspect, this is Africa: it becomes the dark (rainy) continent about three times a week.
Another myth is that the people here are all friendly and welcoming. Some foreigners believe all the natives are naive, childlike honest individuals who enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
They often have another think coming. In the urban areas, especially, natives have perfected the fine art of playing foreigners. We have the most peculiar tendency to be brutal to strangers of our own descent why then, should strangers of foreign descent trust us?
We supposedly have a g Christian foundation, especially the educated lot. However, it is the more educated who will shock you with their g beliefs in the power of voodoo and charms. With human beings of whatever colour, you never know really what to expect.
Which brings me to the final myth: that Africans are black. Perhaps a few are really dark, but no one is black. Not really. We are different shades of milk, banana, chocolate, cocoa and brown, with everything thrown in between. African people are a gloriously kaleidoscopic contradiction, exactly as our creator intended.
Source : The Star