Saturday, January 30, 2010

Chimamanda and the "Single Story"

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. Not only is her name really fun to say quickly, but she's one of my favorite new writers that I've been following lately. She's a Nigerian author whose first two novels, Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus, I've devoured during my service here in the Gambia. In addition, I just blazed through her short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck. I love the way she really gets into the minds of her characters and shares moments of Nigeria's (troubling) history through their fictional lives. The short fiction collection is a really interesting read as an American living in West Africa because the issue of migration has become such a serious issue here. Nearly every young person dreams of traveling America to make money without really understanding the harsh realities that such a journey likely entails. The sentiment regarding the unassailable desire to travel to the promised land and the consequence for those who do is captured spectacularly in the stories. Adichie also is keen to challenge our stereotypes about Africa. In a recent TED talk, Adichie gave a lecture about the danger of the “single story” in which people know Africa only as a place of disease, conflict and corruption. Clearly those, generalizations are untrue of the continent, which just so happens to be a rather diverse place, ethnically, culturally, economically and climatically. Check the enlightening talk out here:

So I have a crush on her what are you going to do about it?

Nigeria alone is a place that suffers from the single story. The recent attempted airplane bombing on Christmas day by a Nigerian set off a whole round of criticism that Nigeria is a hotbed of extremists, scam artists, and corruption. I have a number of Nigerian friends that I talk politics with in the regional town of Basse and they were all seriously embarrassed by the events of Christmas day. They felt Nigeria had lost a lot of hard earned ground in the fight to improve its image internationally. Take one look at the music, film and telecommunications industries and you can easily see that Nigeria is much more. Nollywood for example, Nigeria's domestic film industry is the 3rd most productive in the world. These films, found all over west Africa and likely farther, entertain millions of people and create thousands of legitimate jobs. Now more than ever, when the world is becoming more connected, it's important to find out more about a place than just what you hear on TV. Never be satisfied with your perceptions about a place. No matter how much you know, cultures and places are dynamic and one's views can always be refined.

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