I really am just trying to express my deepest thoughts in the most non-confrontational way possible. All this preamble is because I want you all to know that if I sound a little annoyed, it’s because I am a tad irritated by this situation and I yearn to set some things straight and discharge any misconceptions.
It’s about Africa; Nigeria. It’s about the gross misrepresentation of Africa and the immensely condescending responses of people who have no idea of what Africa is to her. Where to begin? Africa is a wonderful place with some of the most hospitable people in the world, some of the friendliest and kindest hearts you’ll ever know… at least I can say that about Nigeria. Everyone looks out for everyone. And while it may seem that this results in a great deal of nosiness, it is truly comforting to know that you cannot be attacked in the presence of people whether or not they know you without finding strangers who’ll chase your attackers and recover your lost belongings on your behalf. People will not turn up their noses or shrink back and pretend unawareness when they see you in trouble, regardless of your race.
Yes, I mentioned race. I do not like to talk about race. I’m that person who pretended race did not exist and until I moved continents, the biggest form of racial prejudice I knew was that African parents are not keen on having their children marry white people. Well, most Nigerian parents. They’re terrified of this possibility and while I believe in seeing the person and not the colour, sometimes it’s not even about colour, it’s how the colour and person is raised. You see, Nigerians grow up watching American movies and reading American books (at least I did); we know A LOT about how people in the Western world live, I knew about mashed potatoes, tortillas, meat loaf, shepherd’s pie before I was ten and I had never tasted any of them. Let’s not forget that as a child growing up in the 90′s and early 2000′s without internet and DStv, I didn’t have a lot, but I knew. It is therefore shocking to me (yes, shocking) that people on this side of the world know close to nothing about Africa.
A large part of the blame is our administration’s for not putting out enough good representation to combat the bad, no doubt. African Governments contribute to the ignorance with issues of corruption and fraud. The media also contributes to this. Unfortunately, a lot of the things we see, read and hear about Africa tend to be bad. But, it still baffles me that all some people know about Africa is that there are children dying of AIDS or hunger or something. Maybe I lived a very sheltered life, but I’ve never seen one of those AIDS-ridden children in Nigeria. I know they exist in other African countries and it’s sad, but it’s also sad that that’s all some very educated and ‘exposed’ people KNOW about Africa. A British professor does not know that Nigerians don’t speak ‘Nigerian’ and that there are over a hundred languages in our country. It’s our diversity. We don’t all need to speak the same language to be united because we have this amazing kind of English called ‘pidgin’. A Ukrainian actually considers believing that African women produce BROWN breast milk. Yes. Shocking. HOW? I was recently asked if Nigerians wore trousers in Nigeria and I asked what the person thought we wore? ‘long flowy dresses’. As ethereal as that sounds, I beg to differ, we are not flowy gown wearing people, but like every other part of the world, Nigerian women are fashionable and very trend conscious. At least she did not picture us as half dressed people swinging a la George of the jungle with elephants and giraffe. Can I just say now that I’ve never seen either live because we don’t have them in my country.
Nigeria and Africa are victims of the ‘single story trap‘. The world only knows one side of all the beauty that is us. The world only sees starving children, jungles, safaris, AIDS, mud houses and hot sunshine when they hear Africa and with a bleeding heart, I urge you to find Africa, find Nigeria, because you know nothing about us. I’ll leave a few sites below that showcase Nigerian food,music and culture and monuments and literature below and if you really care and if you never want to seem condescending while you pretend to know us by what flowers and trees we grow or if our ankara is cotton or greeting every Nigerian ”Ba Oni”, then take the time to see beyond the single story. We can tell when your smile is condescending and when you think our accents are too heavy. We don’t like it when you mispronounce our names and it confounds us how the CNN can pronounce Russian names like ‘Tsarnaev’ and not ‘Chinua’. It’s worrisome that some people have no idea that Nigerian authors exist, but they seem so curious about Nigeria. Reading is a fine step.
Rice is not all we eat. If that’s all you see us eat, it’s because that’s all you have for us in your countries, no offense. We eat moin-moin, yam ( a lot), egusi, afang (no, its not spinach), tuwo,okpa,akamu, akara, abacha, plantain and more. There are thousands of recipes on YouTube if you actually want to know. We do not understand the fascination with our hair. A lot of Nigerians do not like to have their hair touched – it’s strange. No one at home touches our hair and too much/unnecessary touching makes us feel like exhibition pieces in museums. We also do not know all the Nigerians who live in the same country as we do. It’s not possible. Do you know Fela? Do you like his music? No? It would be nice if you listened to him.. and Lagbaja and Asa. They’re very Nigerian. Don’t expect us to know your ‘indigenous’ artistes if you don’t know ours and don’t make us feel bad about it. If we give you gifts- African gifts; ankara, beads- wear them proudly. Our parents raised us well and we do not like to refuse food or hurt people’s feelings so try not to force us to eat things we do not like because you could not eat ogbono soup or goat meat peppersoup even if we paid you. Respect our cultures like we respect yours. We do not have ‘national songs’, there is no such thing. There is a Nigerian/National anthem and many Nigerian songs. Ever watched ‘Ije’? The Nollywood film? You should watch it. Or ‘Araromire’? If you want to see the beauty of Africa, she won’t be a mystery. You just have to try. These are both amazing movies in my own opinion. Normally, some of these nollywood movies are very cliché & repetitive but these two (and a few others) have very good storylines and have won many awards both locally and internationally.
I was upset. Really upset. I feel better. If you’re Nigerian, or African, I hope this makes you feel better and if you’re not… I hope this helps you. Ignorance is not a good look. If you care, if.. then try. If not, keep walking and don’t be surprised if you never ‘understand’ Africans. I love all my non-African friends, but life is better with knowledge and this is for some of them. All the things I cannot articulate in person. I hope this makes sense to you and you see my heart. And you understand that I don’t need you to worship Africa, just give her a chance and see her beauty.