stuff Africans hate: those thoughtless questions we’re tired of answering

africa-is-bigA couple of years ago, I used to be a regular user of international online chat rooms. And by regular, I mean daily.

Other than those who were brazen enough to admit that they liked sniffing…er, socks, I also met people who have remained friends to today.

But to get to meet those cool gems, I had to sift through bullies and ill-informed people who asked really rude questions about Africa.

I have never lived outside of my country or continent, but my sister has, and so have several of my friends.

Africans abroad are often subjected to assumptions and stereotypes, despite the world being the global village it is presently. The most common ones are:

★“You’re from Africa? What part of the country are you from?”
Cue the jaw-dropping and mouth-gaping-open moment.

Africa must be the place where no one leaves, and an African in Europe or the U.S. is a unicorn, who must have snuck out of the continent by devious means.

It’s 2014, and there are still people who think that Africa is a country. Many also proceed to ask whether you’re really from “South Africa”, because South Africa is Africa and Africa has one president.

★“How did you get over here?”
When my sister lived overseas, this was the first question that her landlord asked her. She answered that she used a boat, swam halfway through and walked the rest of the trip. Landlord was pretty impressed by her tenacity.

★”Do you speak African?”
Africa is a continent, not a country. A continent with 54 separate states, every country having several languages spoken within its borders.

There is no United Language of Africa, and in each country, there are several official and national languages.

Including indigenous languages and mother tongues, Africa has over 2,000 recorded languages. And none of them is “African” or “Africanese”.

★”But your English is so good!”
Africans are illiterate, have AIDS, have flies buzzing around their faces, don’t know a computer from a block of wood, and they communicate using clicking sounds.

While there are southern African communities that have “clicky” languages, Africans are learned people.

They are doctorate degree holders, some teaching in international universities, some teachers and head teachers of schools in their communities, some starting businesses that win international awards, some knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re”.

I lost count of the number of times an online chat member asked me how I got the computer I was chatting from. Was it terribly mean of me to say it was my white neighbour’s computer and I was using it without his knowledge?



★“What’s life like in Africa?”
Africa: the second-largest and second-most-populous continent.

Africa: 54 countries, 54 different economies, cultures and subcultures.

Africa: 1 billion+ people.

That’s a pretty big box to ask about.

★”Did you wear clothes in Africa?”
Another assumption about Africa is that we all walk around baring our breasts and butt cheeks, and we have no clue about clothes.

True, there are tribes that are still rooted in the traditional life, but majority of Africans would be thoroughly shaken when a man walks down a street or through a mall naked. I’m certain that he would also be arrested for indecent exposure.

★”Did you live in trees in Africa?”
Like Tarzan.

I don’t know whether it’s genuine curiosity or complete ignorance that makes people ask some questions.

Beyond insinuating that Tarzan was your neighbour, they will also ask about your experience with amenities for the first time: how did you feel when you flushed the loo for the very first time? Do you know what Christmas is?

★”Did you have a pet lion when you were growing up?
Or a monkey. Or an elephant.

Over the years, we’ve had dozens of dogs and cats in my homestead, but never a wild animal. The odd chameleon that scared the shit out of us, but no helpless hyena.

Africa’s wildlife is in reserves and national parks, and even us locals have to pay entrance fees to see The Big Five.

They don’t roam around in our backyards or cities, and our guard dogs are not lions.

It can be fun to mess with gullible people, though.

★“Wow, I love your tan!”
We’re perpetually ‘tanned’ all year round.

When you make Caucasian friends and they want to drag you along to the beach to “get a tan”, what can you say to that?

★All Africans know each other.
Apparently, this is quite a common misconception.

“Oh my God, you’re from Africa? I used to know a girl who was from Lesotho, Madeline Matsoso. Do you know her?”

Where do you even begin with that one?

4 thoughts on “stuff Africans hate: those thoughtless questions we’re tired of answering

  1. Nice article. I grew up in the states to a Kenyan American family so I’ve dealt with some of the stereotypical b.s that comes with being an immigrant. It’s interesting to see how some of these dynamics play out on the ground for people back home.

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