Crossing borders allows us to experience the richness of different cultures. It is more about giving and sharing your own identity and to further educate the people we meet about our heritage. As Africans, we may as well be princes and princesses of empires as far as the world knows. Unfortunately, that is one of a few positive stereotypes about our continent.
Due to emerging pop stars and comedians, South Africa and Nigeria are probably the only African countries that matter. Zimbabwe needs representation and by telling our story we get recognition, not for the artists that we have but for our culture and great personalities. I want to meet someone and get a response like “I know someone else from your country and they are wonderful!” However, that is so uncommon.
When someone asks where I am from I give a two-prong answer- Zimbabwe, north of South Africa. I do this because 90% of the time I get asked where that is. It is not likely to meet someone who has even heard of Zimbabwe unless they follow politics. Being asked for the location of my country is at the bottom of the list of “interesting” questions I have been asked.
I didn’t need to be in America for too long before I was swarmed with the most shocking questions that left me wondering. The following is one of those:
Did you buy your clothes at the airport when you got here?
That was my official welcome note to ‘culture shock’. I honestly thought she was joking but that wasn’t the case. She had no clue. I wish I could blame the movie “Coming to America”, but after a few years in this country I realized it was more to do with basic ignorance. That statement came as a shock. I asked her what she thought I was wearing the whole plane ride from Zimbabwe and she was clueless. I had this image in my head of me wearing “imisisi” in an air-conditioned plane for over 16 hours. I imagined myself huddled by the window of a Delta airplane with a tiny blanket over my body. That was a hilarious thought.
Most Americans live in a bubble, all they know is the area in which they live and nothing else. I have met locals who have never stepped out of their state or ever been on a plane. There is no curiosity to know beyond that in which they reside in. I do not blame them or find fault as all they know is what they see on TV. I also had the notion that America was all the glitz and glamour portrayed by Hollywood which it really isn’t. They have large cities, small college towns, farming towns and suburbs. Every city is unique. Some are diverse and some aren’t. Accents in the Midwest are different from the ones in the South. In a word, the country is not the same through and through like we see in our very own Zimbabwe.
With this realization, I knew that even if I put up a charade about being an African princess it would not help anyone including myself. I wanted to be the one to open their minds about the country I grew up in and in turn learn more about them. This proved successful because it made my American friends more curious to find out more about the beauty of my country including the tourist attractions.
I want to help put our country on the map for the right reasons. Not by telling them I own a giraffe or that I slept under the stars all my life, but by telling my story as it is. There is no better way to entice people to learn more about you and your culture than just being you and representing that culture.