Photo by Neils Photography
BINYAVANGA WAINAINA once wrote a little piece for Granta magazine, titled How not to write about Africa. It would turn out to be one of the most popular pieces the magazine ever published. Its as sarcastic as it is perfectly executed, and if you havent watched it before, take a peek below.
And when you have finished watching, and cant possibly believe that anyone would be so silly as to fall into these traps, take a gander at this pearlescent gem of a video from Robin Wiszowaty. Author, white Maasai, and knower of fundamental truths African.
There seems little doubt that Robin truly believes in the things she saw, and the sacredness of the experience that she had in Kenya. Yet there is equally little doubt that her impressions of the place, and reduction of the people to props around her own story of discovery fall into a great many of the traps that Wainaina rails against.
Its more than a failure of vocabulary, or a reductive approach to describing it almost feels like a caricaturing process of experiencing. One where things are new and novel up until they can be assimilated into a story in which I am the hero, and I am able to progress towards my own enlightenment through the simple and unproblematic assistance of local support characters.
The world isnt like this. People dont exist to one-dimensionally facilitate my journey of discovery any more than I exist solely to facilitate theirs. Lived experience and particularly lived experience in foreign surroundings is absolutely dripping with fine detail and contradiction.
Yet even if not to Wiszowatian levels of delusion Ive often failed to think of a journey as a story beyond my own self-involvement. Its hard, sometimes, to look past the world where you get to be a hero in a foreign land. But its perhaps the non-negotiable first step in really starting to see your surroundings.