The Burden of a Single Narrative

Photo Credit: Francisco Vanacio

Dateline: Eixample, Barcelona, Spain

By Chiogor Constance Ikokwu

As an African woman living in Western society, I am constantly peppered with questions. There is a dearth of common knowledge about Africa. Aside from the beaten narrative that “Africa is poor,” the level of awareness and understanding is shocking. People seem to have no clue.

To an extent, this explains why a whole continent is often treated as “the other”. There’s a tendency not to humanize whole populations that are constantly painted as one thing rather than the richness embedded in their culture, traditions and true history. I use the word “true” history as opposed to the whitewashed accounts of the African past and present that is intended to diminish the people.

I am usually happy to respond to interrogations from an interested person. In my view, this leads to some enlightenment. The queries range from the normal to the absurd. Depending on the situation, my reactions could be twisted lips, widening eyes, a quick bark of laughter, staring without blinking or a slow and shaky smile.

Take a look at some – “Do you like it here in Barcelona? Why did you come to Spain? Is it dangerous in Nigeria? Do people wear shorts in Nigeria? Do people have cell phones? Do you have internet? Why is your hair short today? “Spain used to be like Africa until we joined the European Union”. “I’ve been to Morocco and Egypt. What is it like in Africa?”

Chai! Guys, Morocco and Egypt are in Africa. Ancient Egypt or Kemet as it was previously known, was an African civilization. Are we still discussing that in 2019?

The lady who asked if my country is dangerous is a medical doctor. So, we’re not talking about a random, uneducated, person. I was exhausted thinking about her question and how to approach it. Then, I informed her that during my first week in Barcelona, someone tried to steal my laptop and phones from my bag in the metro. That was my introduction to Barcelona

It was morning rush hour. My backpack was strapped to my back as usual while I tried to find my way through the sea of people pressing against one another in the underground. Suddenly, someone started screaming at the top of her voice. My head twisted towards the direction of the noise.

I noticed everybody was pointing at me. In a second, I became frightened. I was the only dark-skinned person in this hoard of human beings. Thoughts flashed through my mind – “What is going on?” “What did I do?” “Will I be mobbed?” “Is this the day I die?”

In the meantime, two people standing close to me were engaged in a hot exchange of words in Spanish. As I stared in confusion, someone stepped forward to inform me that my backpack was open. Ah, I got the message. A guy had opened my bag attempting to steal my belongings. A lady noticed it and called him out.

After narrating my experience, I asked the medical doctor if she thinks Spain is a dangerous country. This ended our conversation. She understood how far-fetched assumptions could be, particularly when one is closed-minded. At the end of the day, we can choose to be intelligent or willfully buy into whatever propaganda is fed to the public.

The other query on cell phones and internet access was surprising, coming from a university student. This question was put to me last week after a lecture that I delivered to a group of American students. My answer was yes. Nigerians carry two to three phones from the cheap to the expensive depending on one’s financial means. And yes, there’s internet access even if it may be slightly more expensive

Thanks to the internet, there’s a plethora of channels to source for information. Today, it is possible to bypass the mainstream media that are in some cases controlled by big corporations. If you want to know, you’ll find out.

Have a good week everyone and let me know your thoughts. Keep the questions coming!

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  1. That was awesome, I laughed out loudly at too many points!!…”I’ve been to Morocco and Egypt, what’s it like in Africa!! OMG.
    Yes, there are too many ways to seek information and gain true knowldge these days. In the meantime, we will continue to be good amabasadors for the motherland, our continent Africa.

  2. I have just read Nmadili talking about the motherland. I’m Scottish so I suppose Scotland is my motherland. How did this come about? Was my birth an accident of nature or by divine design? If by nature it’s purely random and it’s only my life experience that keeps me attached to my Scottish imbilical cord. That random awareness, if I’m humble enough, will include empathy for others born elsewhere and even allow me to identify with them for, after all, I could have been one of them had natures random wheel stopped elsewhere. So it behoves me to grasp my Scottish heritage lightly and try always to see the good elsewhere as well as the bad.
    On the other hand, if by divine destiny (which I believe), I really should take to heart the Old Testament command by God to the Israelites to treat foreigners amongst them as equals and fairly. This is reinforced by Jesus in the parable of the good Samaritan.
    So what’s my point in all this. No matter where we come from appreciate the other as well as your own and give your well-being a boost. Have a discerning eye unhampered by being over patriotic especially based on historical injustices. My challenge coming from a working class family in Scotland is to fight for change but not be embittered by the past and what is still an ill-divided society. Treat others as i want to be treated. Let’s count our blessings, for real change starts with individual hearts and minds.

    1. Ian, the world hardly recognises these virtues that you talk about – fairness, equity and justice. If only we all embrace these, our world will be a better place. Unfortunately, greed for money has seen oppression, discrimination, and dehumanisation at a large scale. We only can change that.

    1. My dear, they’re living in denial. There’s nothing like “white” and “black” Africa. Africa is Africa. Efforts have been made to cover up and deny us our history. We know better. Ancient Egypt was black. They should forget about it. The evidence, which they have tried fruitlessly to destroy stares in the face. Subject for another article.

  3. Denial and the rewriting of history is universal to suit the establishment. There is a good BBC program by Lucy Worsley on how the US altered historical facts especially about their independence from Britain to whip up patriotism on Independence Day. The trick is how to maintain a fresh and honest love of the good and true without falling into a state of cynicism and despair yet be able to weed out the false from the genuine.

    1. I hear you Ian. It’s a tough job to seek to “weed out the false from the genuine”. It’s exhausting and one has to be really motivated to do that. Not to talk of dealing with life’s myriad challenges, often leading some to depression. In fact, knowing how far the establishment goes to cover the truth can lead one to depression. Not child’s play at all

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