Monday, 7 May 2007
A Lovely Day in Africa...
I was intrigued by this article in last week's Observer. It's inspired me to write something that would perhaps counteract the negative images of Africa with which we are continually bombarded whenever the media of the privileged north deigns to check on how things are progressing on the continent we've been happily plundering for the last few centuries. I don't for one moment want to pretend that there aren't a lot of horrific things going on in many parts of the continent, but it just seems to me that it's all too convenient a reality to present - you know - those poor, poor Africans helpless, famine-ridden, toting machine guns (and usually hampered by those ubiquitous flies crawling over their passive, sorrow-filled faces...) The repetition of these images causes a drip-drip effect that begins to erase all the other possibilities of what the place might be like - or could become. And I'm afraid that the people who profess the most concern for the continent's future have been at the forefront of hammering that same nail. Something in my gut suggested this isn't the whole story, so I did a little vox pop research.
Well, I tried to... The idea was simple: message a few folks on myspace and get the lowdown from the horses' mouths, as it were. Just tell me what do you think a lovely day in Africa would be like? I asked them. What could be simpler? Well, the first search results were immediately surprising. I looked for people from Rwanda. The first two screens were almost exclusively populated by white faces - a fact that perhaps tells its own story. Undaunted, I fired off a few messages to random locations - Morocco, Togo, Tanzania, Uganda and waited for the Brotherhood of Man thing to kick in, a host of repressed and thankful Africans eager to share their life stories with the anarchic West London blog legend....Well, quite sensibly, the majority of the people I contacted chose the silence of J.M. Coetze's fictional Friday from the novel Foe. On those terms, who could blame them?
But good fortune was at hand. I had a couple of really pleasant "yeah, go for it - whatevah" type responses from a couple of young white lasses. And then along came Joan. Joan is in her early twenties and lives and works in Kampala, Uganda. She was really happy to talk about how things were in her part of Africa. Sure, to the north of the country things are pretty bad - boy soldiers, poverty, rape and abuse; all the things we've come to expect to see bemoaned on our TV screens. Worse, although the aid agencies raise a lot of money, it only seems to translate into blankets and meagre aid of that sort when what these brutalised and abused young souls really need (according to Joan, at least) is counselling and support and jobs and - well, in short a future with some hope in it. And there is hope. All the time Africa is producing people with Joan's fierce intelligence, clear sightedness and compassion, there is plenty of that. Her church is moving to set up a refuge in the troubled north and I wish her and her community every success in their endeavours as well as sharing with my readers here my delight at having had the pleasure of corresponding with her. If you read this, thank you Joan for your inspiration and friendship.
But Joan also told me something else. She describes a lovely day she'd just had with her friends - a coffee, some shopping - in fact, most of the things many of us here in the UK would do on a day off. There - I had my song! So, here, offered in the spirit of hope that there can be a few more of them spread around - is 'A Lovely Day in Africa'.
L.U.V. on y'all,
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