Some years ago I went to Ghana. I was 19, 20... and a bit more naive than I am at the moment. I wanted to explore Ghana, and I found an organization which organizes volunteering work, and decided to combine my wish for adventure with a cause, so I would go there "with a reason".
Ghana was promoted as Africa for beginners, because the people are very friendly, it is a bit more developed (or at least the capital) than most African countries, they speak English... Why I wanted to go to Ghana, is another story that would distract too much the message. Helping people was just a result, to cover the real reasons.
When I arrived in Accra, the capital of Ghana, I was really... shocked. Although I wouldn't call myself a racist, I expected slums, poor people without legs, garbage everywhere, crazy traffic, wild jungle with big trees, human-eating snakes and almost naked people... but I saw big boulevards, people in suits, big buildings...
Later, on that journey, I noticed garbage, poverty... I don't want to deny it, but I still remember how... disappointed I was, holding my cheap camera, and hoping to catch pictures of typical Africa I later could show to whole the world. Later, on that travel, I was embarrassed that African people could talk me under table (* I don't know if this is an English expression). Mother Africa taught me a lot.
Education can be simple. Pre-school where I volunteered, Agona Swedru, Ghana 2009
But... when I came back home, I told people what they expected to hear. I told them about the high toll of deaths in road accidents, about the trotro's, the vans where they try to use every square centimeter by putting as much as possible people it, and the poverty in the slums...
... I didn't tell about the development which was already present. I kept stories hidden. Why? I didn't do it on purpose. Only after talking with other people who went to Africa, following subjects at university like "Development coordination" and "problems of countries in development" by professor Develtere , as part of my study in Geography, maybe by meeting other Africans, by traveling more, and by reading more, even about mythology... I started to become more critical. Which stories, theories... are the right, or are they all right?
One day one of my good friends in Belgium let me watch the TED-speech by Chimamanda Adichie, a novelist from Nigeria, called "The Danger of a Single Story". In this video Adichie warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a misunderstanding. When she told how the media always use the same stereotypes, or "single story" to portray Africa, I time-traveled to that 19-20 year old version of me, who was disappointed that she couldn't take photographs of poor almost naked Africans. I realised how I was trapped by the media, and worse... that I had seen other "stories" about Africa, and didn't share.
I was not better than all these people who use stereotypes to deny people from a certain country, culture, gender... give a job, an opportunity, because sometimes "these discriminating people" don't know better. I had the tool, namely a simple story, even more simple stories, to tell my environment, but I didn't. In the last months... I realize more and more that I want to tell stories about amazing people, share my experiences in the different cultures, which are not reported, or not told enough... and use media, not as a tool to simplify the truth, but to show the whole, the complexity of the truth... to make more people critical... so more misunderstandings can be avoided. Let us tell stories... to break stereotypes... to break taboos...
... so we can create chances.
|A street in Accra, Ghana 2009. People don't look that poor... in this picture.|
This is also not the best street. There are streets with really high buildings.
I know I'll always offend people, but please also share your opinion, if the story gives you negative thoughts. I love to learn.
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The danger of a Single Story
TEDGlobal, July 2009, Oxford, UK, duration: 18:49