Last week, a friend of mine from Peace Corps Ethiopia came to visit Addis from her work site in Gondar. She is very familiar with the city, and showed some of the other group members and I around. She opened my eyes to the wonders of Bole and I couldn’t be more appreciative. It’s now my favorite place in all of Addis, but its certainly not the only place that’s worth spending time in. The city is full of hidden gems, places that crush any stereotypes about what a misinformed person might think a restaurant or bar or club in Ethiopia might look like. I love that idea. Before I came here, a few people asked “why did you choose Ethiopia” or “aren’t there any programs in Europe” or “well if you must go to Africa, why not South Africa instead,” as if to mean that Ethiopia was too impoverished or not “posh” enough for them to understand why I would choose to come here. There are still so many misconceptions about the country, which is a total shame because these things usually allow us to rule a place out without ever actually taking the time to visit.
For so many years, Ethiopia was seen as the face of poverty, and its disappointing to think that this image still holds true in the minds of some. I’m glad that I’ve gotten to experience firsthand that there is way more to the country than that. It’s no secret that African countries are always victim to negative stereotypes— there’s the child soldier story, the lion and zebras and naked people running around with spheres story, the malnourished child story etc. Needless to say, none of them are positive or productive, and most of them center very heavily around the notions of darkness and despair. These harmful misconceptions continue to guide a lot of what the Western world perceives about African countries. It’s a travesty that in 2016, people still use these hyperbolical narratives to inform their ideas about a continent that is home to over a billion people.
This issue brings to mind one of my favorite TED Talks entitled “The Danger of a Single Story,” by one of my favorite intellectuals, Chimamanda Ngozi. Like always, Ngozi breaks it down, reminding viewers why its important to recognize Africa’s multiplicity of stories. This sentiment is certainly not new. Many of the continent’s most illustrious thinkers have been speaking out against the trite and oversimplified “African narrative” for years now. The late Chinua Achebe dispelled these concepts quite matter-of-factly in his lauded essay “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness”–it’s a must read.
Check out Ngozi’s talk below, if you haven’t already and make sure to bring it up the next time someone looks perplexed when you tell them you’re vacationing in, lets say, Zimbabwe rather than the South of France.