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!

African Press Club

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