Perceptions! Perceptions! Perceptions! I am looking forward to the day when we as human beings will look at each other as one despite the differences, colour, races, cultures and cultural upbringing. If only we accepted that we all need each other in one way or another. This might not be a dream that will be achieved today, but just like Martin Luther King Jr said, “I have a dream,” yes, I have a dream too!!
One thing I have really enjoyed during my stay in Norway, is my class presentations with the students at the Gimlekollen School of Journalism and Communication, CSJC in Kristiansand. A number of times, I have had to do various presentation on issues to do with Kenya. I love to do such assignments, just to engage these students and try to find out their perceptions on my beloved country, Kenya and Africa at large.
Three weeks back, I received a mail from one of the lecturers “As you know, we are sending Journalism and Intercultural Communication students to East Africa every year. A week before we go, we are having introductory lectures of various kinds. I am wondering if you could come and give a talk on the subject: The Africa I Want You To See. You can pretty much say whatever you want with a title like that. You could include something about being a journalist in Kenya in your talk.…….” Read a mail extract.
“The Africa I Want You To See,” mmmm, sounds quite an easy presentation, so I thought! But when I sat down to structure my presentation, I actually realized I didn´t have much to think of. So I sought to find out from some of the students who had previously been to Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia on the same programme, what did they think of Africa, did they have their expectations met? What do they remember most about their 4 weeks stay in Africa? What did they learn about being in Kenya?
That took me back to last year during our preparatory course as Fredskorpset participants (FK) together with my group members, we were assigned to talk about development issues especially in Africa. Our audience were Norwegian students aged between 14 to 18 years. “What comes to your mind when you think about Africa? We asked! Amazing answers we received, that left me thinking, “Who is to blame for marketing Africa in such a way?
When Africa is mentioned, they see poverty, malnutritioned children, beggars, robbery, violence, they see lack! These are some of the key words that the students used to describe Africa. “I have heard and seen from the TV that most children in Africa do not have food, they have tattered clothes, they sleep under the bridges and they do not have parents.” Said one of the students. He went on to explain that every year together with his family, they collect clothes and food to help children in Africa.
I can go on and on and on, actually I have had to go back to my notebook to see what these students said about Africa. I do not blame them, that is for a fact. They are right to describe Africa in such a way because that is the picture we have painted about Africa. I am taking this blame as a journalist.
The United Nations, UN, The Media, The Non-Governmental Organizations, NGO´s day in day out, strive to seek more and more funds to help this poor continent, and so because they have to appeal to the so-called developed countries, they continue to paint an exaggerated picture of what Africa is. This is good for them to achieve as per their visions. This pretty explains why we still have slums in Kenya after all the million shilling’s projects that have been set under slum rehabilitation schemes!
Norway, Richest Country
“We went to Kibera slums during our stay in Kenya and I was so disturbed. I really didn´t see the point of us being there. For me, I felt sad especially when we did not do anything to help solve the situation, it was more of a poverty exhibition, I regret being there,” said one of my colleagues at Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, (NRK) a former student at GSJC.
I realize most of the students are actually bothered about being at the slums and seeing extreme poverty, of course I understand them. Norway is rated among the richest countries in the World, so to them such poverty is way too extreme. This does not mean there are no poor people in Norway, no, the social welfare makes it possible for all the Norwegians to manage what I will call “ decent living standards” despite the high living costs.
“I am sure even those living in the slums are tired of seeing these white people, who seem to show a lot of sympathy yet they do not do much to help. On our last day in Kenya, we still had lots of Kenyan currency, so we asked our taxi driver to drop us by the supermarket, we shopped and then went to Mathare slums, where we randomly gave out all the shopping, it was a good feeling,” said a Norwegian who has been to Kenya on a 6 months internship.
Ok, then I asked myself, could there be something good about Kenya and Africa? By now I had an idea on how to structure my presentation. Your guess is as good as mine, I talked about all the good things in Kenya and gave some recommendations on what they should do and where they should go while in Kenya, what they should eat, of course I talked about the famous “Ugali kwa Nyama Choma.” I also emphasized about the friendly people they will meet in Kenya. I am pretty sure I did my best. Now, I only hope that Kenya and Kenyans live to my expectations!
“So when you think about going to Africa, do you have any worries?” I asked. That started a huge discussion. Some of the things they were worried about include, the pick pockets and robbery in Nairobi, heavy and hot meals in Africa (remember Norwegian´s main food is bread and they eat it cold) they were worried about crossing the congested roads in Nairobi, about the “white man´ prices, (where they are expected to pay at least twice as much as the locals), about taxi drivers overcharging them and of being called Mzungu! *(I will explain this in my next blog post.)
I totally understood their worries. We are human, we always tend to remember the bad and negative things and it is incredible how fast we forget the good and positive things. These students have heard of such stories from other Norwegians who have previously been to Africa and narrated their experiences on homecoming. The reason is, back in Africa we treat the whites (mzungu) a little special, so we overcharge them and rob them of their valuables. It happens, but not always. We do this with the assumption that they are rich and have plenty of money. Very wrong perception; ask me, now I know!
“Anyone who thinks sitting in church can make you a Christian must also think that sitting in a garage can make you a car.” Garrison Keillor