Africa is almost synonymous with misconception. Outside of this land, people know little except that it is a deep dark land, full of famine, poverty and diseases. It is and yet, it is not.
Interestingly, our journey into Africa began with a deluge of misconceptions. I will confess a few of them were in our own minds, the rest we came across among our families and friends.
I have lived in this land for the last few years, loved it, made it my home, criticized it and yet, also appreciated it. Now as our Africa journey nears its close, this is a light-hearted attempt to dispel some of the misconceptions I’ve come across in these years and to bring some interesting facts to your notice. That you are reading this article is proof that you would like to know more about this remarkable land and for that, kudos to you!
Truly, this has been the first and the most often-encountered impression of Africa I have come across. From the very beginning, even though I would tell people that we are in Ivory Coast, a West African country, minutes later they would refer to my host country as South Africa. Endless times I have faced the question, “So how is South Africa?” and endless times I have tried to explain that I am actually closer to Europe than South Africa!
Truly, Africa is about so much more than South Africa. Yes, South Africa is beautiful, well known and has made a name for itself on the world map, but this continent (yes, Africa is a continent, not a country) has so many other famous nations to boast about. Egypt, for example- Egypt is an African country. So is Morocco, Congo, Kenya, Tanzania. In fact, this hunk of a land has over 50 countries within its borders!
“So, what is the weather like there?” I’m asked.
“Very pleasant,” I answer.
Really, everyone wants to believe that if I’m in Africa, I’m plagued with unbearable heat. But that’s so not true. I live in a coastal country and while this place can get hot at times, honestly, it gets much much hotter back where I come from in India. I remember arriving in Delhi one June and complaining about the heat only to get an instant reply, “But you’re coming from Africa!” I didn’t know what to say! Did you know there are parts of Africa that get really cold in winters?
This one comes as a rejoinder to the “it is not hot” answer. “But then why are people so dark there?” I am asked. Really, how do you go about explaining that this is genetics rather than tan? Moreover, not all Africans have the same shades of skin colour. North Africans, for example, share very similar complexion to us, South Asians.
A few months into my stay here in Ivory Coast, I was asked by someone back in India which all animals I had seen so far. You know, outside of a zoo, I have seen fewer animals here than I have in India. I have not yet seen a single elephant, the animal for which this country is named. Yes, I have seen dogs, cats, tortoises, rabbits and even crocodiles, but no, I don’t happen across a lion while sauntering down the road.
If you’re imagining dark and dense forests, teeming with the worst possible epidemics festering inside them, it is far from the reality in which I live. I am not claiming that the urban life I live in is representative of Africa, but this also is Africa. Restaurants and resorts, high rises and state-of-art bridges, malls and luxury outlets- these are also in Africa. And not everyone is sick and dying, even in the rural parts. Yes, these countries need better hygiene and hospitals, but they are on the road to health insurance, vaccinations and facilities for the ailing.
So many people have been surprised to hear that I converse in French with the locals here. Coming from their many different tribes, the Ivorians do speak their own tongues, Djoula, Baoule, Bete and others, but they are almost all Francophone as well, owing to colonization by the French. Conversely, if you go to an African country that was colonized by the British, you will hear plenty of English.
Yes, many countries in this continent suffer from poverty, but this land is also remarkably rich. It is rich in natural resources, in forests and plantations, in minerals and oil. Africa alone possesses 99% of the world’s chrome. It caters to 70% of the world’s cocoa requirement- that is where chocolate comes from. It is estimated to have more than 60% of the world’s diamonds.
Little by little, the African countries are learning to use these resources to their benefit. Slowly, but steadily, they do progress.
For as long as I live, I shall be grateful for this opportunity to have come and lived in Africa. Not only did I learn so much about a new land and its people, I was also charmed by its lush greenery, pristine hidden beaches and endless plantations. I hope to continue to be an ambassador to this land that took me in and gave me so much. I hope to continue to dispel some of the darkness surrounding it.
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Piyushi Dhir is the author of 'In Search of Love', 'I'm Yours, The Next Time', 'Silent Promises' and 'Enmeshed Evermore'. She is a contributor in 'Nineteen Tales of COVID-19', a collection of short stories. A voracious reader, a keen traveler, a businesswoman and a mom, Piyushi currently resides in Canada. A nomad at heart, she loves to discover new places and capture the hues of life with her pen.