Let’s talk about Africa

That map you have hanging on the wall in your dorm room or office or apartment is lying to you, and it’s lying to you in a multitude of ways but I’m only going to talk about the ones that relate to my upcoming trip.

Take a look at Greenland on a flat map and it looks huge. It appears to be equal in size to Africa when in fact Africa is 14 times larger. Here’s a pretty handy puzzle from Scientific American that shows the United States, China, Eastern Europe, some other European countries, Japan and India all fitting neatly inside of Africa.

The name ‘Africa’ is derived from the Roman Empire’s reference to a Berber tribe in present-day Tunisia known as the “Afri,” and Arab invaders would later call that same northern territory “Ifriqiya.” But it wasn’t until Europeans began exploring the continent’s coastline in the fifteenth century that ‘Africa’ came to mean the entire continent. It’s a landmass with more than 50 sovereign states and more than a billion people speaking thousands of different languages. It’s the world’s second-most populous continent but also the world’s youngest. Half of the population is under the age of 20. And by 2050, a quarter of the world’s people are projected to live there.

I’m not traveling to Ghana as an African Studies PhD or even as an African Studies major. So if you already knew everything I mentioned above then great! I’m glad, and you’re off to a head start. If you learned a bit then I’m also glad. I did too, and I expect to learn a lot more. I’m heading to Ghana as a journalist and researcher, and in that capacity I hope to not fall into the traps that others have when writing about Africa.

There’s a brilliant satirical essay in Granta by Binyavanga Wainaina called “How to Write About Africa.” In it Wainaina deploys every cringeworthy trope, every demeaning and reductive description and every sensational anecdote and metaphor that so often accompanies onanistic musings of visitors to Africa. I’m going to try my best to avoid all of this despite my Western education.

It’s my hope that as I learn and share my experiences that you join me and learn and grow too.

Travel has the tremendous ability to help us see ourselves in others despite race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. If you’ve never been to Ghana or to any country in Africa, I hope you see people represented here in the same way you see yourself—as someone complicated, with a story that’s been crafted by your own choices and that’s also a product of generations of decisions before your own. I hope you see people affected by the wills of governments near and far, but also vivified by personal hopes for future comforts. Africa is as rich and as complicated as the billions of people who’ve lived and died there and the billions of others that are part of the African diaspora.

I hope this is the longest you hear me blather on because mostly you’ll be hearing from the people I meet, especially the women and men I work with at the Ghana Community Radio Network.

A final note: I want to thank you for visiting and I hope you continue to do so. I want to thank my parents, family and friends, everyone at WSHU Public Radio, the Fulbright Program and my professors and advisors from Stony Brook University and those at the Ghana Community Radio Station and the Ghana Institute of Journalism who helped me through this process. I never imagined myself, a girl born in the middle of South America and raised on the northeast coast of United States, living and working in sub-Saharan West Africa.