I was watching Disney Junior with my children. We were watching an episode of Zou, precisely “Zou goes camping”. Zou’s granddad was setting up a tent in the backyard and reminiscing on the ‘good ole’ camping days.
“… Now I remember when I was camping in darkest Africa…”
And he went on to say:
“I was on an expedition to the deepest darkest jungle with this tent…”
I howled with laughter.
The hilarity of a family of essentially wild animals native to Africa (African Equids), wearing overalls and living a civilized suburban life in America talking about darkest Africa and deep jungles like it is far removed from them is satire that I can’t even begin to explain.
My 5 and 3 year old sons were lapping it up and enjoying every moment of it.
The humour faded off and all that was left was how ridiculous it was.
I grew up in Jos, a city in Northern Nigeria. There are two zoos in Jos. I have only seen wild animals in the Zoo. My husband saw lions for the first time in the Zoo when he visited Jos with me. He was 30 years old when he visited. My brother in law is in his early 30s and has never seen a Lion (caged or not) before. I have taken my children to the two zoos. We are all Nigerians and except for brief visits out of the country, we have never lived anywhere else apart from Nigeria.
In Lagos, there is no tree or grass where we live. They are apartments with a concrete driveway.
We do not understand the jungle tales of Africa that are persistently told by people in the West.
I realise that people love to dream about exotic and dangerous places. The most exciting window to peer into Africa is a wild one. Where the Lion king leads a pack of exotic animals running across a vast land through billowing hills framed by trees and a blue cloudless sky.
The next window opens up to the danger, conflict, hunger, poverty, disease and uneducated Africa. This brings out the altruistic side of the people in the West. They just want to cry, buy us chocolates and teach us how to speak English.
The third window is one through which they see us dancing barefooted under the moonlight, smiling and laughing at nothing. We are dressed in interesting swaddling fabrics, wear huge head pieces and are draped with beads. We perform ancient rituals, speak in wise Rafiki-like proverbs and eat with our hands while we drink from calabashes.
Anything outside this does not exist to the people that have never been to Africa.
This Disney Junior show, Zou, explained it perfectly to me. The introduction to Africa to a little American child is what my children and I watched. With words like darkest, deep, jungle and wild. Granpa even attempted wild animal noises to show how scary it was in Africa.
On a visit to the United Kingdom, I remember watching TV where I saw commercials soliciting for donations to help starving African children.
“Five pounds will give 10 villages clean water for a month.”
They showed heart wrenching stills of big eyed hungry but happy children. The images that people that have never been to Africa will carry in their hearts as the authentic and only face of Africa.
They do not even realise just how big Africa is.
I have found myself in many online forums trying to explain to people how I am able to speak good English.
The worst for me is when I am complimented on how well I speak or write in English.
I never say thank you, I don’t understand how that is a compliment. I grew up speaking English. I did not learn English separately or as a second language. My husband and I only communicate in English because it is the common language between us. So I feel uneasy when people speak of it as though I have accomplished some extraordinary feat.
I find myself wondering if people in the West truly want to see us in our entirety.
There is a Danish woman that works with children accused of witchcraft and abandoned by their families in the Southern part of Nigeria. A particular boy aptly named Hope was rescued and we watched the horrifying pictures of him near death and the inspiring pictures of him receiving love and care and looking very healthy.
I looked at his pictures and the comments were amazing. The outpouring of love and support. Offers of help and prayers. The West reacts perfectly to situations like this. And as sad as their occurrence is, it still does not tell our entire story.
Someone asked me about the Nigerian children abandoned and killed because they are deemed to be evil. I did not know how to react at first.
Then I felt like apologizing for it.
Then I felt guilty about it. About the fact that these things indeed happen in my country.
But something struck me. The very first time that I heard about these children was from clips of a BBC documentary I had stumbled upon on You Tube. I was as stunned and saddened by it as anyone asking me about it.
I cannot explain it.
The best I can do is to talk about how superstition, paranoia and poverty combined to create this monstrous evil.
But I do not even want to feel the need to explain it.
Just like the story broken by BBC on Malawian ‘Hyenas’, men that are hired to deflower girls and introduce them to womanhood. The hyena guy had HIV and was happily talking about not using protection with these girls.
I was very upset with this story. I felt embarrassed that cultures like this do exist in Africa.
But this is but a phase in the African Story.
I have seen so many horror stories come out of America. Serial killings, paedophilia, mass shootings, abducted people kept in captivity for decades and so many more. Why don’t these horror stories define America? How is America still somehow less barbaric than Africa? It would be very ignorant of me to ask the first American I see about these things happening in America.
How is America big enough to accommodate different stories and yet a whole continent is persistently spoken about via a one dimensional view?
How is the whole of Africa a jungle when Florida, alone, in America has about a million alligators? A million Alligators!!!! It also has thousands of bears. Tell me why Florida is not referred to as a dangerous place teeming with wildlife.
Social media has created a fantastic opportunity for people everywhere to tell their stories by themselves. This is the reason why I found the #Lintonlies saga fascinating. A few decades ago, she would have written her book “In Congo’s Shadow” and Zambians would have been oblivious to the fact someone was telling their story wrongly. I read an introduction to the book and even though I am not from Congo or Zambia but I was stunned by how it portrayed Africa. I found it amazing that a teenager could truly think she had a shot at ‘rescuing’ poor Africans because she was armed with the ability to teach English.
I cannot deny that there are so many things that are not going well in my country Nigeria, but at the same time, these things are bits and pieces of who we are.
I think we just want to be seen.
Not stared down at like a fascinating specimen through the light of pity.
We also want to be respected. Respect would mean holding back from broad generalisations, finding the nuances and the influencers that have ferried us to where we are as a people.
We do not want rescuing.
Explaining this is a bit complicated. I acknowledge that there is aid that is useful to us and that our complicated artificially-crafted countries have a lot of work ahead of us. As human beings living our lives, we do not need rescuing. Perhaps a better way to put is, if you do not understand our bondage, you cannot rescue us.
You cannot rescue us.
We, as various countries, are trying political structures foisted on us by the West but they do not just fit. These first nations should stop insisting that their ways are better. They should stop interfering.
Let us figure us out.
First World nations, educate yourselves
Does that surprise you? A lot of your people know nothing about us. That is why they refer to us as though we are one country. Stop telling your children that our home is the setting of The Lion King. It is not. We are people just like you. We thoroughly enjoyed watching Lion King knowing that it was just a cartoon and not a reflection of wild African jungle life.
We know everything about you. We read your books, we watch your movies and we listen to your music.
Explore our world. Listen to our songs, learn our languages, read our books and watch our movies.
See us as a whole or not at all.