I have been very vociferous about my challenge of the stereotype of the educated African, as my colleagues in the newsroom will attest.
I went to school in both Ghana and Gambia and read African literature as part of comprehensive education.
I liked ‘Things fall apart’ as much as the next African child who has lived in an urban jungle all her life.
Talking about Okonkwo and exploring the themes of post-colonial Africa, not forgetting the rushing feeling of righteous indignation at those wicked white men, was all well and good.
‘Weep not child’ by Ngugi wa’Thiongo was also a favorite of mine….how I wished there was a struggle I could join and die in tragic circumstances, my red blood seeping into the red earth of my continent to nourish the next generation of brave warriors!
‘The dilemma of a ghost’ was the first play i produced in high school (yes i was an active member of the drama club, scrabble club, debate team, wrote for the school mag and instrumental in the formation of an informal wannabe programmer club but i digress….)
That American woman Eulalie! Hmm…she was just full of her self…how can she smoke and drink?! It is simply not done! No African woman will do that!
In short I had been weaned on a steady diet on what it meant to be African… a recipe of strife, turmoil and the constant struggle against the corrupting influence of the west.
I was comfortable, curled up the protective cocoon of my calabash.
Unfortunately I did not grow up in a time of struggle. The white men I knew were disappointingly normal. My History teacher, Mr Devaney (originally from Canada) was the only exception. He could make you suicidal with boredom.
I probably will have continued to ignore the lie of my life, my lack of authentic African experience if I continued to live the upper middle class bubble constructed by my parents.
Unfortunately I ended up in Northern England as a fresher when I was eighteen. That was when I started answering the awkward questions.
‘No I haven’t slept in a hut before’
‘Yes I saw a lion once, in the zoo’
‘The wierdest food I have eaten? Dunno…snail?’
‘Meaning of my name??!!! Uhhhhh….’
‘How do I say hello at home? I guess I just say hello….’
I wasn’t offended by the questions, I was humiliated. I felt like a fraud. I saw the chasm between my true African experience and the ideal I automatically identified myself with…I had not even heard a gong-gong beater before…it was bad.
My name was African, I grew up in Africa, but was cultured in some weird way that meant I knew more about Sesame Street and the Muppet babies than Kweku Ananse and his son (whose name i forget) ….