Coming to the United States was not much of a culture shock given that I had previously spent a lot of time in Europe and Canada. Having said that, the US is still a distinct and different country from the others – a country I had so much wanted to visit. And who wouldn’t want to visit the most powerful nation on earth? So gladly I came, and although the initial adjustment was slightly stressful, gladly I have stayed. Coming into the US in 2011 was a dream come true for me.
There are many cultural differences and similarities between Africa and the US Prominent among these was how little many Americans seem to know about other continents, especially Africa. Below is a sample of questions I have been asked by Americans since coming to the US.
Do you have universities in Africa? Do you have computers, TVs, cell-phones and internet services in Africa? Do you have fried chicken in Africa? How many schools do you have in Africa? I have a cousin working with **** organization in Namibia, do you know him? What language do you speak in Africa? What currency do you use in Africa? How many children in Africa attend school? If I come to Africa to visit, will I find good hotels with running water? Are there cars and paved roads in Africa?
The list is endless really. Some people even believe that Africans generally live in caves and in trees. To some Africans, these questions and assumptions are annoying, abusive, condescending and demeaning, but in truth many Americans whom I have met ask these questions innocently, curiously and ignorantly. It is the western media that has informed the western world only of the dark side of Africa. This unbalanced and dark view, however, has become the only picture of Africa that those who have never been to this beautiful continent know.
Many Americans who have traveled to Africa will laugh relentlessly at the questions above, and I am laughing too. When I tell people back home that these are the questions I am asked here in the US, they can’t stop laughing. Interestingly, many Africans have a clear sense of the geography and nature of the US except that many Africans who have not been here in the US believe that everyone in America is rich and that poverty is not a word that is associated with anyone who is an American. Isn’t the media so powerful? Therefore the amount of poverty I have seen in inner city neighborhoods in the US has surprised me greatly because in Africa, we believe that everyone in America is rich!
Africa is a continent of 54 different countries with different languages, cultures and governments. Africa is three times larger than the US in land mass and population. It will take the USA, Europe, China, India and Japan to cover the land mass of Africa. Africa is not just a continent of poverty, diseases and war; it is a continent that has richer nations and poorer nations. These nations whether rich or poor have big cities (Lagos in Nigeria for example is a city of 21 million people), towns and villages. It is a continent of vast agricultural activities, but in some nations of strong aridity, there is drought and famine. There is no doubt that of all the continents, Africa is clearly the poorest, but it is growing.
This YouTube video “The Africa They Never Show You” will surprise you of what African cities look like.
The biggest problem in Africa is corruption. This has meant that some public service offices and facilities are not found in every nook and corner of Africa except in the towns and cities. If Africa can work on these, then the continent can prepare the ground to surprise the world in the same manner China has quietly been able to do to the rest of the world.
The beauty of the United States (as in many developed nations) is that infrastructures are available to the greatest percentage of the population. Clean water, electricity, education, health facilities, good roads, and other social amenities are available to most if not all in the US, and not just for some like in Africa. In the US there are more job opportunities and better salaries, there is much less corruption, and better life prospects for young people than in the Africa. In terms of facilities and effectiveness of social amenities the US towers much higher than Africa. Rules, regulations, organizations and policies work much better in the US than they do in Africa.
In Africa though, people are more hospitable and caring towards each other at community and family levels. There is a greater sense of interdependence in Africa than there is in the US. The “mind your business” syndrome has not permeated as much of Africa as it has here. Community life is a strong value in Africa and the African adage of “I am because we are” is a big reality. Africa is still very religious and has not taken the strongly secular state that the US has taken. Faith and belief in the divine is a big part of many Africans including those who may not attend church, go to the mosque or visit the traditional shrine. Social life is more elaborate in Africa than it is here and it is the reason why many Africans come to the US to make money and return home to enjoy the harvest of their labor.
In poverty or wealth, I seem to think and actually believe that people are happier in Africa than I see here in America. In any case, culture is a way of life of a particular people. If we all had the same culture and lifestyle, wouldn’t the world be boring? I like America, but it is my mother continent of Africa that I love most! Who doesn’t like his mother’s cuisine? North, South, East and West, home is the best! I have just given you some appetite for Africa. The next time you are thinking of an international adventure, visit at least one of the 54 nations in Africa. Happy Safari!
Br Moses Msughter Abunya, FSC graduated from Mount La Salle College, Naka Benue State, Nigeria where he met the Brothers in High School. He joined the Brothers in 1995 and did his spiritual and religious formation in Nigeria and Kenya. He has an associate degree in Religious education and a Bachelors in Education. He was a member of the International Council of Young Lasallians in Rome, Italy for four years, representing Africa. And was a school Principal for six years in Nigeria before coming to Memphis. In Memphis, Brother Moses is rounding up a Master of Science degree in Educational Leadership at Christian Brothers University and hopes to proceed onto a doctoral program after graduation in May.