Tag Archives: exotic

Africa: Or How Over-Generalization Can Undermine Your Cause

This post was inspired by Waikisays’ There’s More to Africa Than Corruption and Poverty.


Indeed, there is more to Africa than corruption and poverty. I have never visited any African country, but I can’t wait to. It’s a very rich and diverse continent, full of magnificent architecture and breathtakingly beautiful natural areas. This may surprise you given that the image of Africa we get from the news in Europe is, from north to south: where illegal immigrants come from (10%), a huge desert (40%), the place where the documentaries are filmed (5%)  blood diamonds, sickness and starving children (40%), some rich white people (5%) .

This is Africa, too. Photo by Dr. Andrew Hill of Yale University.

I understand why the news give so much attention to these issues. It’s because these issues matter and need to be solved. But in their attempt to concern the general public about everything that’s wrong with Africa, they overgeneralise and forget to mention everything that’s right with Africa! And this is very, very bad for all those issues we cared about in the first place.

Why is it so bad? Because it causes detachment. In the first world it is very hard to consider African countries as equals because the media never talks about the things we have in common. You’ll never hear about the African girl who just wrote an outstanding thesis for her Architecture final year, you’ll hear about the one who didn’t go to school because she had to take care of her brothers. You’ll never see the exotic fashion the middle class is designing, you’ll see the rags and patches of the poorest. Judging from the news, Africa hasn’t discovered concrete yet.

This isn’t helped by the fact that most black characters in American media are African-American, born in America, raised in America. A fantastic example of the opposite is Lt. Uhura from Star Trek (1966), whose nation is the fictitious United States of Africa and whose mother tongue is Swahili. She’s also a female. Take that, inequality. Note that this doesn’t happen only with Africa… non-white characters in American TV tend not to be too foreign. Sadly, American media reaches the whole world, thus perpetuating this negative view.

But there’s one reason why it’s even worse: the common belief that Africa is a helpless mess paralyses the potential aider! The failure to show how Africa’s pulling itself out of poverty tricks the viewer into believing that his little aid will only help one child live a little longer, and then everything will be the same. It makes us think it’s a helpless cause, while it is clearly not.

I’ll be honest with you. I have no idea what Africa is really like. I’ve never been there. But I know it’s not a mess of a continent. I know it had a very rich history. I know that not everybody is dying of malaria and starvation.  I know that there are African scientists, doctors, historians and teachers who are just as good at what they do as any European guy. And I know that Africa is definitely worth helping solve the problems it currently has. So take action now.

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Filed under Places I Like, World

Learning Swahili From Scratch

Why Swahili?

Note that is it not my first attempt at learning a fourth language. A few weeks ago I decided that my French was good enough and it was time to make an addition to the family. Given that I speak Spanish, English and French, I decided to give Portuguese a try (talk about Eurocentrism). After one week I got bored and quitted. It was too similar to Spanish.

I quitted and started playing my favourite game, Civilization IV. When I got to the start menu, I paid a closer than ever attention at the theme song, which I had previously identified as “random exotic pleasant sounds”. I wondered what language that was. It was Swahili. So I suddenly realized that people outside of Europe and Northern Asia… speak. And their languages are truly fascinating! I spent the rest of the day in Wikipedia being amazed at the vastly different syntaxes, pronunciation, alphabets and grammar of the many languages of the world. Now I can say it is one of my primary interests (but then again, what is not one of my primary interests? ;)).

In short: because Swahili is beautiful and exotic. In shorter: because I like it.

Where To Start?

Now I faced a problem. The two foreign languages I speak were introduced to me at school. I had never started learning a language from zero.

I browsed a little on Amazon and this little book, The Loom Of Language: An Approach To The Mastery Of Many Languages, popped up. A life saver. Even though it is centred mostly on European languages, it made me understand languages better, and is a valuable acquisition given that I plan to learn more of them in the future.

Now for the Swahili. To learn it I decided to rely mostly on the information available online. I only purchased one book, the Lonely Planet Swahili Phrasebook , which turned out to contain much more information on the language than I thought.

The phrasebook itself suggests a very helpful website, The Kamusi Project, which is only one of the many free online resources available. So far, getting started in Swahili is costing me almost nothing :).

I am also reading a lot about the origins of Swahili and the history of Kenya and Tanzania, as well as Swahili music and poetry.

Curiosities

  • Hakuna Matata is Swahili.
  • Swahili is the mother tongue of Lt. Uhura, female African character from the TV Show Star Trek (1966).
  • Swahili is the national language of Kenya and Tanzania, and is the third African language by number of speakers.
  • In 1928, a standard written Swahili was created.
  • The Swahili word for itself is “Kiswahili”.
  • Swahili has only 5 million native speakers, but 80 million have it as a second language.

The Most Important Thing

Determination. I am determined to speak decent Swahili in three months’ time, and then I will decide if the language is worth more time of study.

And I know that as long as I am determined to do it, I will do it 🙂

Wish me luck in this new experience, I will update next month with my progress! And don’t forget that Civilization V is going to be out soon 😉

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