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Myths about Africa

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Mama Lillian tells great stories. With every story she tells, you can see the various emotions and thoughts from the event rising back up, and she tells her stories like she’s reliving them. One of her recent stories was about a woman she met when she was visiting her son in New York who asked her if she came to America by boat. Mama Lillian was (naturally) taken aback that the woman thought Africans were still using modes of transcontinental transportation from centuries ago! She told the story with the mix of hilarity, incredulity and frustration that you might expect with a comment like that.

Her story made me think that today, a light day for me here in the office, would be a good day to help dispel some myths about Africa. I hope you enjoy it!

Myth 1: Africa is all the same.

It’s common to hear about going to “Africa” and what things are like in “Africa.” I always find this quite interesting. Just imagine if a friend were going to China or Thailand or Japan, and you asked him where he was going and he said, “I’m going to Asia.” It would sound intentionally vague, right? Africa is a huge and diverse continent with  54 independent countries and innumerable cultures and languages. Even within the community of Ndola in which we work, the Hope staff here talk about the community in Twapia, where the school is located, having a particular culture that some of the staff are better at navigating than others.

Myth 2: Africa is hot.

This one is the most interesting one to me. Take a look at this incredible infographic map of Africa. You can see that Africa is HUGE! How on earth could you have a land mass that large that has all the same climate? For example, in Zambia, it’s currently the cold and dry season. This means that in the morning it’s a chilly 55-65 degrees at times and in the afternoon it warms up a bit more. One of our trip participants, when I reminded the group to bring a jacket for the chilly mornings, even said that people thought she was crazy when she was talking about bringing a jacket to “Africa.” Anyhow, the point is, yes, some parts of Africa are hot, but others are not.

Myth 3: Africans are very different from Americans/Westerners.

This is a broad one, but I get all sorts of questions about how different the Zambians we meet are than Americans. I find it so interesting because I have found more in common with many of the Zambians I’ve met than some of the Americans I’ve come in contact with! Mama Lillian told me a story about how a man she met in America asked where people in Africa slept. Wanting to mess with him a bit, she told him that Africans sleep in trees, the monkeys sleeping on one side and the people on the other. Mama Lillian’s jokes aside, yes, there are of course cultural and other differences, but you could find the same cultural differences between a “typical” northerner and a “typical” southerner in America.

Myth 4: Everyone in Africa is poor.

In much of the Western world, news coverage of Africa focuses on poverty, war and disease, but as would be expected, the story of Africa has many more layers than that. Yes, there is indeed poverty, war and disease, but there’s also wealth, joy, progress and growth. In a special nod to those raised in shopping malls of suburbia like me, I’ll tell you about Pick and Pay, a new supermarket that has recently opened in Ndola. It’s beautiful, huge and couched in the center of a shopping center with a beauty shop, toy store, rotisserie chicken restaurant and more. Pick and Pay looks and feels almost exactly like a Wal-Mart. Not what you think of when you think of Africa, right? Of course there’s poverty and disease, and Spark’s working to help address those issues, but there’s much more to Zambia and Africa in general than that.

I hope you guys enjoyed Mama Lillian’s stories! The Partnership Trip participants arrive tomorrow, so we’re getting ready to have a great week here in Ndola with them. I hope to keep you all updated!

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