The opinions expressed in this blog are mine, and mine alone. They do not represent the views of the Peace Corps or the United States Government.

Friday, August 17, 2012

How We View Africa

I just came back from an amazing vacation visiting a good friend of mine in Indonesia.  I spent a day in Jakarta, the capital, a week and a half in Bali and another couple days in Jogjakarta.  I stayed with my friend in Bali and slept in hostels in Jakarta and Jogjakarta.  Hostels are interesting places.  Inevitably, you run into characters from all walks of life.  Many are backpackers treking through the region.  Some are just having short vacations.  Hostels oftentimes organize tours to cultural places that would be difficult to get to otherwise.

On Tuesday, August 14th, I went to Borobudur, a Buddhist temple built in the 9th century (photos to come in other posts).  A van took us from the hostel.  On the way back, one of my fellow travelers and I began talking about our travels and my PC service.  He was from the Netherlands.

At one point, he made a comment to me assuming that policemen and women in Botswana are corrupt.  When I informed him that they are actually pretty good in that category, he was surprised.  He said something like, "Well, when I think about Africa, I think about war and poverty so corruption naturally goes along with that."  I smiled and responded, "Yeah.  That is the problem with our [western] reporting about Africa.  Not all of Africa is the same thing."

I know I should expect this, but it still surprises me.  Not all Westerners think of Africa in this way.  Not all Americans think of Africa in this way.  Yet, it is a trend I see time and time again.  And when I say I am working in HIV/AIDS in Botswana, people say, "Oh yeah, there is a lot of that there, huh?"  Although the HIV prevalence rate in Botswana is rather high compared to other countries in the world, that does not tell begin to tell the real story.  But I know that the more I try to describe the nuances and the beauty that I see here, most people will never get beyond their view of Africa as a war-torn, AIDS-infested continent full of suffering victims.

The victims are there, for they are everywhere.  But so are the heroes and the intellectuals and the people who would NEVER accept being thought of as a victim.  There are people who care more and work harder and love life more than most people I have met in the states.

We [Americans] get annoyed when people talk about the states in one way.  How many times have you found yourself trying to explain the difference between Texas and New England, California and Indiana?  We are so diverse.  Why do we think that other countries are less so?  Someone may get murdered in New York City one Friday night.  And that story should be told.  But so should the one about the spelling bee and the talent show in the high school ten blocks over.  Africa is no different.

Here is a great article about journalism in Africa and how we can better our perspective and our reporting for a more holistic view of what Africa is really like.  Check it out!

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