01 02 03 Africa Expat Wives Club: Avoid the Stereotypes.... 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Avoid the Stereotypes....

Somebody, 'Anonymous' sent me via comments, a link to a brilliant tongue-in-cheek article by Binyavanga Wainaina entitled 'How to write about Africa.'


His beef is how writers over-generalise way too much when writing about 'Africa' in broad, sweeping, dramatic terms. Although I enjoyed the article - it made me laugh - I still haven't forgiven him for being SO MEAN TO ME - when I signed up to do a writing course with him in Nairobi a couple of years ago. I do feel privileged that I got the opportunity, but at the time I felt like the worst sort of uninvited guest at the party.

We were a group of twelve or so would be writers, some students, some adults, two ex-headmasters - and I was the only mzungu which was fine by me, but I suspect, not my tutor. Here was Binyavanga, trying to raise the bar of Kenyan writing and there was this silly, bored English expat housewife in the midst of it all. He didn't try hard to hide his displeasure - but I stuck it out every day for a week - and am almost..... over the experienced of being dismissed, ignored, passed over and barely tolerated. I actually learnt a lot, and probably it was good for me. Even though I suspect he had me down as one of those stereotypes that he was so keen for everybody to avoid.

Anyway, the reason I started this blog three years ago was because I wanted it to be hopefully a bit different from the way foreigners generally write about 'Africa' and give a more realistic, honest picture of day-to-day expat life, just to throw into the mix of everybody else's blurb and points of view. Visitors still come to Kenya or Tanzania or wherever today and say that they want to see 'the Real Africa' - what the hell is that? What exactly do they expect?

Kuki Gallman, bless her, is the worst culprit I've come across. When I read her book ten years ago, every word of her 'I dreamed up Africa' - with all its; 'I felt I was finally home' - 'the Swahili flowed naturally' and 'like me he was intelligent, fascinating, alluring'.. all conspired to drive me nuts - though I must admit, I toughed it out to the end. 'Rules of the Wild' is another - though I do really admire anyone who can spit out a book and get it published - perhaps there's a hint of sour grapes here. If so, I apologise.

From the Granta Magazine article, I followed another link. It's a video clip of Nigerian woman author Chimamanda Adichie talking about preconceptions and generalisations in writing. It was really well delivered, honest, thought provoking and v. much worth a 5 min watch.


I think her message was - let's all tell our own stories, especially from Africa, then when everybody is done and there are so many out there, there will be no more tempting generalisations and people will finally see the colourful, vibrant diversity of a continent rather than an amorphous whole.

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