Africa you don’t see on media

I was on twitter the other day, and came across a tweet that said, “Africa you don’t see on media” and to it was attached a picture of a beautiful resort/hotel with a gorgeous pool and a city in the far distant. Such a paradise. It was breathtaking! And I was about to started going on some kinda rant, that the West depicts Africa as a poverty stricken continent, with hungry barefoot kids roaming around, big tummies in the open, flies buzzing around their dry lips. The minute they get to Africa, they rush into the villages and take photos of the worst infrastructure there, the unhealthiest kid and interview the widow with 10 kids. They completely ignore the cities and suburbs, where the rich people live (some are even richer than the azungu). But before I continued my rant, I stopped myself. And I remembered one particular case I came across this holiday which I will talk about.

Before I left Malawi for my short stay in Britain, I had this idea of it, the one the media shows. Great Britain. The Queen. The London Eye. Going to a school around the neighborhood, making tons of friends, shopping at a big mall. Sky scrapers. Big house with a gorgeous driveway. The magnificent London. Mostly, I imagined England to be like the United States because movies and music were mostly dominated by the Americans and for some reason, I thought they were the same. Boy, was I wrong! Sure, England was fun, big malls and yes, Britain IS gorgeous. But the first big disappointment I had was London. We had to take a gazillion trains and we had so much luggage – it was hell! I didn’t even get to see the sky scrapers, because London tube. Then I had to wait for 4 months before I started college (not high school as I thought, and the college was 2 bus rides away), and Mum and I were mostly alone in the house, FOR FOUR MONTHS. I spent the first year of college alone, I was THAT black girl and honestly, it was horrible. Of course I got the hang of things as time went by, and I thoroughly enjoyed my stay, but bottom line, what the media showed me of England wasn’t exactly what I experienced.

So what exactly stopped me from the rant? Isn’t it true? The media likes to show our poor Africa and we see the West as these rich luxurious countries and almost every Malawian you meet, if they are honest enough, they will tell you they want to escape from this God-forsaken country, move to the West and prosper there. “I don’t want to die here,” most people admit. The media has somehow shoved the idea that ‘Africa is too poor’ and yes, this is wrong, because it is much more than that. I am usually on the forefront to rant about not wearing leaves as clothes and living in trees, having lions in our back garden, walking 30 miles to a borehole and sleeping on an empty stomach because “the rains weren’t enough last year”. But just because I have food, a good healthy family and an education does not mean Malawi is alright, there is no poverty and I need to speak against this codswallop. Here’s why.

I got called for an interview the other week, and it was for a transcription post. The interview required us to transcribe an interview, an hour long. I was given an audio file and it was in Chichewa, and I had to translate it afterwards. So the interviewee was a woman living with HIV/AIDS and she is pretty much the definition of poverty. Her husband is a polygamous man, with 4 wives, and she believes one of the wives he later married brought the virus in. She has about 8 children, two of which are under 3 years old, and I kid you not, I dropped tears listening to her story. It was painful to hear. Her husband left her right after she told him she had the virus and has never returned. She does piece work, cultivates in other peoples land, goes to her local maize mill in hopes to find left over mealie meal, or cuts grass and sells it. And she did all this when she was heavily pregnant WITH a baby.

What really touched me was when the interviewer asked her about God. She said she is a Pentecostal, and she actually told the interviewer how she prayed after she was found with the virus; “I said, thank you Lord, for this is how you planned my life to be. I have accepted it, Lord, may your will be done.” And she said God has been so good to her, because she is alive and her mother is there for her (she went back to her mother’s home). It all just redefined “gratitude” to me. I was touched by her faith but her state made me realize something more. This woman is the definition of poverty: high birth rate, household headed by a female, no job, no land, she couldn’t even afford soap, the same washing soap you know, and to make it even worse, she is living positively, popping ARV’s every single day.

So here I was, about to rant about the image they paint of my beloved Africa, but I just couldn’t ignore this case. It came to my mind, and I know that there are a lot of other women like her, MILLIONS of them. And I was about to look around my very small circle and object, “No media! You got it all wrong! My Africa is beautiful! She has cities and rich folks, just like the West!” Before you go about objecting, have you talked to your house help and heard her story? What about the lady you buy your vegetables from? Do you even know the distance she walks everyday to get to the market? If you listen, really listen, you will see just how poor we really are, and maybe, just maybe, the azungu have their eyes open and we are blind to what is happening right under our nose! And maybe that is why they go to the village and display this sad image of Africa, they are doing their bit by waking people up to the inequalities of this world.

In my Sociology and Economics lectures, I am constantly reminded that Malawi is poor; the statistics are appalling and honestly heart breaking. But what do I do about it? What have I done to make this all better? What about all those graduates that actually study HIV/AIDS management, Poverty Reduction and what not, what have they done for Malawi? Most importantly, what will I do about poverty after I have graduated? Will I go to the hospital and give a few women soap? Or maybe some sugar? What impact will I have on someone’s life?

P/S: I never went to see the magnificent London because my life was full of day and night shifts, and studying for my A level exams between those shifts. The England you don’t see on media.

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