How Did You ‘Coming to America’?

“I’m planning a trip to Africa, and I would love for you to join me.”

“Uhh…I dunno. When I think of Africa, I think of…”

“Women walkin’ around with their breasts going ‘jiggy-jiggy-jiggy’?” (Cackles and simulates jiggling breasts with her hands.)

“Hahahhaaa!”

Conversation between Phaedra Parks and Kandi Burruss during a recent episode of Real Housewives of Atlanta

I don’t know which is more tragic: That two African-American women have this dated view of Africa, or that I am even privy to this view as a direct consequence of watching trash TV. I believe the tragedy is the latter, but it’s like vaginal childbirth. You want to look away but you just can’t!

I’ve recently given a lot of thought about the West’s view of Africa, given that there is a new scramble for Africa with China leading the charge. Asia is gobbling up our resources like a ferocious cancer, and the majority are watching helplessly (or uninterestedly) from the sidelines. Why is Africa still viewed as the ‘Dark Continent’? With the advent of the internet and cable TV, surely the world ought to know by now that we have some of the best education systems and homes that money can buy? Why don’t the broadcasts on Africa include men of wealth cruising around in air-conditioned Land Rovers instead of armed thugs roaming the streets in open Jeeps?

My first inclination has always been to lay blame at the feet of a racist media whose only goal must be to present Africa as a desolate wasteland populated by famished waifs whose flesh serves no purpose but to nourish an ever increasing multitude of plump flies…but then I did a Michael Jackson and took a hard look at the woman in the mirror. Perhaps I am the one to blame. And if you’re anything like me, perhaps you are to blame too.

African Reader, do you remember when you first came to America fresh off of Lufthansa or KLM? Do you remember going to that first University class and sitting amongst your new peers? Do you remember how astonished they were when you were able to blow every exam and engage in enlightened discourse with your professor? Do you remember how astonished you were when they asked you how you got here?

“What do you mean, ‘how did I get here’?” I asked the pretty green-eyed girl from Texas.

“I mean, did you take a plane or…”

I paused and considered my next words carefully. Finally, I decided to recount a tale that my friend from Gambia had told a group of African-Americans in a salon where she was getting her hair done a few years before. I delivered the tale unsmiling, completely deadpan.

“I came by canoe,” I said. “It was a very difficult trip, but fortunately there was a crocodile at sea that gave me directions. When I landed in Virginia, I took the few clothes I had and came straight to Hampton’s campus.” I shrugged. “Now I’m here.”

She looked at me quizzically.

“That’s not true!” she challenged. She didn’t seem so sure when she asked her follow up question. “Is it?”

“Nah man!” I laughed. “I took a plane. I came through Europe on Lufthansa. It was a long trip.”

Some of my favorite questions from “ignorant” Americans are the following:

How long did it take you to learn English?

Did you live in a tree back home?

Do you want to marry Marshall because you need a visa to stay here?

Did you ride a zebra to school?

How did you get that scar? Fighting tigers and sh*t? (This one is my favorite, because everyone knows there are no tigers in Africa. Not indigenously anyways.)

Sometimes the questions are so ridiculous they can do nothing but elicit a laugh. Sometimes, they stun you into silence.

Just 2 nights ago I bought a pair of shoes for my BFFFL, Nana. They are a pink satin pair of Mary Jane pumps made by Jessica Simpson. I casually mentioned to the cashier (whom I work with) that the shoes were not for me, and I would be sending them to Ghana soon.

“They can wear pink in Africa?” asked Jen, an elderly blond woman from Michigan.

WTH? I was so astonished by her question that I was neither able to confirm or deny her query. I paid for my shoes and went back to the sales floor still trying to figure out what she meant by her question.

But how Reader, how are these people to know any better if we do not educate them? When you consider that there are people of my ilk roaming this nation perpetuating the vicious cycle of obliviousness, it seems like an indomitable task. My own sister was spinning tales on her university campus that did nothing to improve the situation.

“There are no airports in all of Africa,” she told one freshman. “Except in South Africa. And that’s only because White people live there. SO I had to walk from Ghana to South Africa and take a plane to here. That’s how I got to Atlanta.”

Of course, the twit believed her. I almost spit my coffee when she told me.

 So what are we to do? Don’t look at me to be part of the solution. I’m far too mischievous to stop the wheel from spinning. I don’t have that sort of personal discipline. That puzzled look when I know I’ve caught a foreigner in my trap of creative falsehoods is just far too amusing! All I can ask is that if you see me engaging in toil, be the bigger man/woman and tell me to stop! After all, how would you react if someone asked you if wearing clothes was a new experience for you?

By the way, how DID you react? What’s the craziest thing anyone has ever asked you? I’ll grab my coffee and wait for your reply.

  • Do you remember our mutual friend Maame N? She told me one time when I visited her in Florida that some college mates had expressed an interest in her cooking an African meal for them. Her response was:

    “Okay, in Ghana we have these extremely large rats, they are a delicacy. I’ll make some for you.”

    But surely these people must know its only a joke. Right?

    As for your saleswoman colleague I have no words for her. No words. Especially as the shoes are coming to me 🙂

    • Since when is akraanti3 a joke? Grasscutter soup is a delicacy! One I would never partake of myself, but a delicacy none-the-less! 😉 I can’t wait for you to get these shoes. They are so fly! I hope you can find something to wear them with. After all, it’s hard to match pink satin with red African ocher, is it not?

  • Great post!!
    It is so sad how ignorant Americans can be, especially in the Midwest. I grew up in St. Louis and I went through the full gauntlet of silly questions when we moved from the inner city to the suburbs in the 4th grade:
    “How does it feel to wear clothes”
    “Do you have a pet lion”
    “Do they have TVs in Africa?”
    And many more.
    One time I just went with the flow and told them that life in Africa was just like in the movie “Coming to America”. For about 2 weeks, they thought I was an African prince!!
    In Asia the level of ignorance is even worse. Check out my latest post about it at http://ericcharchi.wordpress.com for more about that 🙂

  • davidsfullstop

    My favorite episode was my first year of college preparing for an invitational swim meet. Since we didn’t know our fellow competitors we began chatting and exchanging introductions. There was one fellow, Chad. Chad was from Macon, GA. When I told him I was from Ghana his response was: “Wait. You mean you are from Africa, and you just came to America?” I nodded. He said “Then where did you learn to swim?” Hmmm, where indeed. I paused for effect, made eye contact with him and in a level voice said “On the way.” Five minutes later I heard him telling one of the timekeepers that I swam all the way from Africa. One hour later, we competed in the 100m freestyle and he beat me by a country mile, but usually when I am retelling the story, I leave that last part out. Chad may have been pathetically ignorant, but damn that boy was fast!

    • Oh My GAWD!!! I am dying here! And you, I know you, with those your round eyes. I’m sure you didn’t even flinch when you told him you swam all the way from Ghana to Georgia. Ebei!!! LOLx1000!

  • I’ve gotten quite a few of these including one where someone asked if I’d driven from Kenya to N.Carolina! The one that takes the cake is when someone asks where am from and I say Kenya and they say you don’t LOOK African (Malaka begs to differ. She maintains Kenyans have prominent foreheads lol) I once asked what African’s looked like and was so shocked by the response, I no longer do so.

  • LMAO. The canoe story is brilliant!

    • I laughed so hard when she told me. Can you believe they ACTUALLY believed her???

  • As experiences go, I have had so many of them and some similar to these from questions whether my family and I lived in trees to if we had to fight for food with wild animals. At some point you start to give up explaining the reality and resort to tales that are ridiculous but seem to be taken as reality. It is just so sad!

    • A good tale would be one where you had to tame a wild animal to ride it to school/ work and then were forced to eat it for dinner because of the famine. Everyone knows that all of Africa is in a famine. As we speak.

  • Malaka… I am from Sierra Leone and I love you!I am a sucker for witty humor… and tomatoes with avocado and a dash of FULL FAT mayonnaise.Don’t do reduced fat nonsense..Anywayz at my first job in Rockville,MD,I was busy munching on the latter when this girl asked me if there were avocados and tomatoes in Africa or is it when I came to America that I had those.Iwas too stunned to reply at first.Then even felt foolish afterwards enlightening her ignorant self.At the same job ,I was asked what I was going to do for the weekend?I replied that I would be washing and styling my hair that weekend..To which she asked “Do black people wash their hair?”

    • I love you too!!! Well, as much as one person who has never met another can. Your sandwich sounded awesome. Your coworker sounded ridiculous. What did she think we ate in Africa? Rainbows??? Oh no no no no….

  • Well, it is not the Americans only that are ‘racist’ in the name of ‘ignorance’, in Budapest (Hungary, before I am asked where it is), a friend answered a query about his home being in a tree by explaining that the ambassador of the ‘asker’s’ home country also slept in a tree like everyone else!

  • Hi Malaka, this is one of my favorite questions from Ignorant Americans. I have been asked some really hilarious things.I eventually started to have fun with them.
    1.When I got asked where i learned such good English.. I went, ‘as i soon as I got to the airport they gave me a dictionary and told me that i had 8 hrs to learn English or go back .’
    2. How did you get here; me ‘ I ran, you know Kenyans can run’
    3. After receiving a phone call at work,’ I announced that my pet lioness had given birth to 6 cubs back home.
    4. Lastly one African American man asked me, so you are from Africa, do you know John, my friend from Nigeria? lol

    • OMG!!! #4 is my favorite! I get asked that all the time.
      “Oh! You’re from Ghana. Do you know Kofi?”
      I tell them I can tell them all about Kofi if they would oblige me by helping me locate my friend Stacy.
      “Stacy what?”
      “Stacy the American.”
      Then I leave it at that and WAIT.

      It’s not their fault. How are they to know every 7th boy born in Ghana is called Kofi? SMH.

  • I just stumbled on your blog today, through an FB share of the “You Lazy (Intellectual) African Scum!” blog post (challenging and thought provoking), I have a ton of things I should do today, but somehow I am still reading your hilarious posts since 9:30am (this is 5:09pm). Unfortunately I am a male from Nigeria (still living in Nigeria), so for most of your posts, I am just a cracked up spectator in the Movie theatre. But I have a friend that used to ask me crazy questions too, like:

    1. I heared Africans eat rats? (like Nana’s comment).
    And I was like yeah, but they are rather King sized rats, and so have kind of surpassed the rat level.

    2. When she saw an old picture of Oshodi, a suburb in Lagos (before: http://cdn.bellanaija.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/oshodi-before-2009.jpg; Now: http://cdn.bellanaija.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/oshodi.jpg ), she thought the Yellow buses (We call them Molue) were school buses, and expressed concern about the volume of people milling around the “school children”. Had to do a lot of explaining on that one too.

    @Malaka, your blog is the first blog I have ever subscribed to. You have me hooked!

    • What a compliment! Thank you do much! I am honored to be your first.

      That came out wrong

      But you know what I mean. 🙂

      Keeping reading and welcome to the M.O.M Squad!

  • Andrew

    I read this post sometime back but then today I came across an FAQ section on a UN Website for interns and thought…no way!!! Here goes:

    Will wild animals attack me during my stay in Kenya?
    No. Interns at the UN offices in Kenya are normally allocated duties in Nairobi, which is a big city with no roaming wild animals. In fact most of Kenya’s wild animals are in the parks. However some harmless ones like zebras, giraffes and monkeys can be found in various parts of the country. The dangerous ones like lions and leopards are far away in national parks and game reserves. Around the UN Complex, monkeys can sometimes be seen and although generally harmless should be treated with caution.

    As for a question I got: Africa must be a big country, right? Am like, yeah, Mandela is our president!!

    • I really don’t have a comment. I’m too busy literally laughing out loud!

  • Love Lives Here

    I remember my first day in school in the America. My sister and I were seated in the Admission office. We were 12 years old and had only been in the US for 3 days . Well, while seated in the Admissions office, a white American boy by the name of Nate just happened to be in the office. He actually asked my sister and I , after he found out we were from Nigeria, if we lived on trees while in Africa?

    We were flabbergasted,!

    • Oh!!!! 3 days in and this is the reception you get. I hope it got better after that, although I suspect it got much worse.

  • Love Lives Here

    We found his statement to be strange, to say the least. This was due to the fact that in Africa, we lived in a 20 room mansion, equipped with maids, nannies, chauffeurs, so to hear his perception of Africa was mind boggling.

    However, my sister and I took the time to explain to him about our lives in Africa. It was interesting, those first couple of days in an American Junior High School. I recall being introduced to all the students by the teacher, right at the beginning of class as the new student from Africa. Lol! It was cute, I was sort of treated like a celebrity and back then, my accent was quite thick.

    I recall once in Math class when the teacher asked a question. I knew the answer, so I raised my hand. Mr. Barrington ( the teacher) pointed to me to answer the question. I stood up and gave my answer, just like we did in Africa. My American classmates were in awe! They could not understand why I was actually standing up to answer the question .

    Memories.

  • Lily

    Oh my God!
    I need to visit this post each time my spirits are low.
    Just so Hilarious!Thanks for the post Malaka…
    My gratitude equally goes to the commentees:))