Those days of early internet in Uganda, you would enter a chatroom and people would be shocked that technology had evolved on the dark continent. Initially it was alright to just screw with the ignorant masses, but Denise has had it! No more will people be clueless about our beloved continent. If they are, it’s at their own risk. Take it away Ms. Kavuma.
We have come across these listed on some website or the other; seen them as small gags and shrugged them off or – and we know this is true – have actually believed some of them. You should know however, that the more documentaries you watch before taking a trip to this great continent, the less you’ll understand and that is always a recipe for disaster (or death depending on which rumors you believe.) So here, I explain a few of those silly things that have been whispered into your ears about us and I can only hope you’ll have the good sense to pay attention.
#5: Africa is not a country.
This might seem incredibly obvious, after all, everyone knows this by the time they’re 5 years old but you’d be surprised the number of times people assume Africa is one gigantic country – as seen from some unnamed prominent political characters. How many times must this be emphasized before people actually internalize it? Let’s take an example of the simplest of statements. Someone will say “I just came back from Hawaii” or even “we’re taking a holiday in Rome” but you’ll find most people saying “I’ll be in Africa for a couple of weeks.”
At this point, I shall point out that the continent has some 50 plus countries, with more than 3,000 distinct ethnic groups and it doesn’t kill you to be specific about them. Say “Ghana” or even “Uganda.” Who knows, you might get that rare awesome moment where you seem more traveled than you actually are when someone asks you “really? Where is Kenya?” then you can show off as much as you want.
Still doubting me? Well, let’s have a look at most of the Hollywood movies out there. Whenever there is anyone who comes from the African continent, they will have the exact same accent: ‘The African Accent,’ as I’ve dubbed it, and no one ever questions this. We do not all sound the same; emphasizing our ‘t’s and ‘d’s and speaking like dis wit a lot ‘o dem preTTy accenTs. If anything, that particular accent is unique to the western part of Africa where we have Nigeria and is not generalized to everyone. So, much like you can tell which part of England someone comes from by that tiny flair to their accent, we too, can tell which side of a particular country someone comes from by the way they sound, let alone the whole continent.
#4: we are not innate game rangers.
Remember all those movies you watched as a child where a touring party comes across a dark-skinned man who can somehow track the missing elephants with a single glance at the grass. Or perhaps you’re more the type who read a story of X!mbala the Mighty – or whichever demented book you came across – who defeated a shark with his bare hands and used the teeth as a necklace thereafter. Now, this is the part where understanding the definition of the word ‘fiction’ comes in handy! We do not raise children to wrestle animals from a tender age and pass down to them the secret art of game-rangery so they too can hunt like we do.
I mean, we do not believe that most Americans speak the way those girls do in all those celebrity reality series – or maybe you do, how should we know – so likewise understand that we do not fight sharks or have lions sleeping in our back yards.
Though technically there are game rangers who do have lions sleeping in their back yards but that can be explained by the fact that that ‘yard’ is actually the entire reserve park. Also, they have all kinds of magic items like black sticks that shoot out small metallic pellets with the sound of thunder to keep the animals at bay! Guns you call them; such sorcery is powerful!
Perhaps I should also make it clear that no one really hunts lions anymore and we are not good athletes because we are always running after or wrestling with wild animals. I do not even recall the last time I ran after a lion; it might be because I’ve never seen one outside a protective barrier but who knows, maybe I am going against my African genes.
#3: we don’t discriminate based on dress code.
The number of times I’ve met a foreigner who came to visit my motherland and assumed she had to carry long bulky skirts and loose ugly shirts to fit in only to find us dressed in leggings and jeans are simply too many to recount. It’s always the same thing with these people. I’d advise you to stop reading books written in the 60s by non-Africans no less; it’s a clear case of the blind leading the blind.
No, we do not dress in robes or bark-cloth anymore. However, if that’s what you’d like to see, we have museums for that! So don’t come carrying your stiffest, most uncomfortable clothes because you assume we shall burn you at the stake if you don’t cover your arms. Some parts of the continent are quite hot and all you’ll get for your efforts are hot flushes and sweat stains on dem pretty shirts if that’s all you come wearing!
Similarly, we understand that many non-Africans visit the continent for holidays, but for goodness’ sake, despite our having third-world countries, remember that we actually know what pajamas and bathroom slippers look like; after all, we own TVs as well! There are two extremes of vacationers! Those who come dressed like they’re in some movie about American pilgrims and those who seem to think they can treat the country like it’s their own personal sauna. Allow me to emphasize that it is not a dress code if you’re not wearing anything and any sane person would discriminate against that sort of idiocy!
#2: we don’t climb trees to access internet.
I will admit that there is a lot of stupidity on the internet but it seems strangers on the other side of the world never get tired of asking things like: “are there computers that side?” or the classic “do you have internet in Africa?” during chat sessions. Questions like that make me realize what people are thinking when some the snapshots that result in meme faces are taken – and I bet Jackie Chan would agree with me. I still do not get how I am supposed to respond to that so I came up with a story, the gist of which is: I send letters through the post office and somewhere in the middle of the ocean, they’re transformed into emails and that’s how am able to chat with the freak on the other side of the line.
We don’t climb hills and mountains with desktops strapped to our backs to access social networks – really, who’d we be contacting anyway, the few miserable individuals who do the exact same thing in the whole country? And I uploaded this in the comfort of my room, where I am currently downloading the most recent episodes of a couple of TV series on my torrents. And, I am proud to point out, that I didn’t have to send my child to the mine to work as I hunted for and sold elephant tusks so I can get money to access these speeds either.
#1: we are not all uneducated.
There are a couple of facts people need to get straight; yes, there are a number of families starving and uneducated children in many countries on this large continent but that does not mean we are all illiterate. The education levels are rising up all over the continent and a number of people have come together and are gradually succeeding in providing information to the ignorant masses.
Plenty of people speak English fluently with a large vocabulary at their disposal and a good fraction of these are fluent in French and German. A few more in Spanish and mandarin! On top of all that, we are also very adept in speaking a couple more languages native to our individual countries. Am not exactly certain why people make fun of many African children not being able to speak English fluently while their kids – for whom English is the first and only language – can barely grasp the basic grammar (‘your’ and ‘you’re’ argument anyone?)
Understand that quite a number of people have studied up to college level and gone on to graduate with Masters or Doctorates and do not live in huts, even if yes, some people do live in them. There are quite a number of cutting edge architectural buildings in Africa and from what we see, our living space is actually better. We are not cramped in some crappy apartment in the middle of the city but rather enjoying our living space, and at cheaper prices I might add. In fact, this might be disappointing, but most of those grass thatched buildings you see your distant family members posing in were built just to amuse them. Yes, we do that; exploit tourists. It’s what they exist for isn’t it?