“Boys, today there’s a nationwide teacher strike. The government has declared this strike illegal stating that any teacher who doesn’t teach will be fired immediately. To avoid that what we will do today is pretend. I will pretend to teach and you in turn will pretend to learn, so let’s pretend.”
These were the words spoken by my A-level history teacher during one of many nationwide teacher strikes. Of all the teachers that had an impact in my life, my A-level history teacher sticks out. FYI the government fired the lot of them that very day only to reinstate them two days later after realising that they could not replace every teacher in Zimbabwe in 24 hours.
The one thing I valued about him is that he was all about real talk. He was never one to fill our heads with lots of fairy tales. The latter was due to our school being a traditional boys’ school. The former was due to him being morbidly obese.
It was clear he had accepted that he was overweight a long time ago. I remember him refusing to follow the trend (at the time) of teachers migrating to the UK to take up menial jobs as care workers when the economic downturn in Zimbabwe had reached endemic levels. Regarding that issue his response was something along the lines of: “I will not be going to the UK to take up a menial job like some of my colleagues at this school have done. I will not be wiping people’s behinds (he didn’t say behinds but anyway) I have enough trouble wiping my own (he looked like he actually could have trouble doing that).
When I was younger I didn’t plan on becoming a teacher. Now that I am, I realise that it was this teacher who taught me that teaching could be a fun job as long as you showed your students respect by not patronising them. I found his ability to be frank with us very refreshing. In a schooling system that could be very militaristic in its approach to discipline he showed me that teachers are humans too (and so they should be).
It amazes me that in 2012 certain stereotypes about Africa still exist and some are even embraced by people one would think are open minded. There are many such misconceptions out there but this week I will focus on a few that I’ve encountered personally in my reading, in the media and in conversation with Africans and people from other parts of the world.
Firstly, contrary to some beliefs we actually have airports. Some of these airports rank quite highly due to their world class facilities. So no worries, when you visit you will actually land. You won’t have to parachute off your plane while it circles the country to allow for everyone to jump off.
Secondly, Africa is a continent and not a country. It is the 2nd largest continent and is made up of +/- 60 countries (depending on your politics and whether you count a peck on the cheek as a kiss). So before you ask, No! I don’t know that guy you met in Ghana this one time. I’m from Malawi which is a separate country very far away from Ghana.
Although we have wild animals that live in the wild, we don’t have pet lions. Instead, we have these weird creatures called dogs, cats and birds amongst other things that we like to keep as pets. I know a guy who used to have a Lion though (psssh! giving us all a bad name).
In addition to this, we have computers, broadband, Blackberries, iPhones, Tablet PCs, the internet and in fact most technologies that people in the 1st world (whatever that means) are used to . We don’t have a soothsayer who posts Facebook status updates on our behalf using smoke signals. In case you need to send a text message, make a call or send an email via your phone we also have 3G connectivity in most areas.
Most of the major media companies would have you believe that it’s all doom and gloom here. What with all the stories of corruption, hunger, war and disease. Yes, like Britney Spears, Joe the plumber and Homer Simpson we have our problems (like running out of beer on a weekend) but despite this we go to movies, we have comedians, we gossip about celebrities doing what most people can’t imagine their parents doing, we have parties (where we actually eat), we worry about health insurance (yes we have that too) and we go to the park on weekends with our families.
Though Nelson Mandela is an icon he is not the only icon to come out of Africa. In as much as we appreciate the work that Mr Mandela did for his country and the rest of the continent we have a large number of Africans working hard to effect change in their countries today. Off the top of my head names that come up are Kofi Annan, Nwanko Kanu, Roger Milla, Desmond Tutu and many more.
Furthermore, we don’t need your help (I am of course referring to Tarzan, Superman and whoever feels that we need to be saved from something). We have the intellect and the human resources to come up with solutions to our problems. Don’t get me wrong everyone needs a little assistance when they are facing difficulties however giving us 22 million pounds or dollars and then lecturing us about ‘good governance’ doesn’t really sit well with most Africans especially if you are involved in a myriad of dodgy wars across the world and your airport security policies regard toothpaste as a potential weapon. That said, Oprah we love the school you opened and we hope you come here and do another one of ’em shows where you give away cars.
Finally, most of our clean water is provided to us via the tap and not Matt Damon.*
*Matt Damon funds projects in Zambia to bring clean water to communities in some areas that do not have access to it.