Africaaa

So, as a society, can we collectively decide to stop referring to Africa as if it’s some singular, homogeneous entity? Africa is a huge continent – much larger than the Mercartor projection has led us to believe and is home to between 54 and 57 countries, depending on who you ask (It’s 55 if you ask the African Union, for example). It boasts a plethora of languages, a variety of cultures, and a multitude of social, political, and economic features. Trying to generalize what it means to be “African” is exactly as ignorant as trying to minimize the diversity you see in Europe or Asia. I’m sick of people referring to Africa as a singular entity, and I’m sick of people thinking it’s, as my little brother put it, “all dirt roads and zebras”. We are above this, kittens; it’s silly and ignorant and we can do better.

In my first semester of grad school, I had this awful marketing class with a professor whose competence was – how do I put this? – questionable. It was a usual day, starting off with the “marketing mix” question – “What is a ‘marketing mix?'” I swear the woman asked us that question every single class the whole semester. Anyway, after we discussed that for the nth time, we began discussing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Now, I have strong feelings about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I think it’s nonsense. If you don’t know what it is, it’s this pyramid diagram that shows how certain needs have to be met before other needs are accessible. At its base are the most, well, basic biological needs – food, water, oxygen, and the like. The next tier involve security needs – that is, you need to feel safe in your environment before you can access the next tier of needs: relationships. Once you’ve established friendships and family connections, and perhaps a romantic relationship, your next goal is what is called “esteem needs”, a tier which concerns confidence and respect. Self-actualization is the top of the pyramid and it involves intellectual and creative stimulation.

Okay so, clearly, there are lots of holes in this concept – like Swiss cheese, but far less pleasing. Of course, you can’t survive without meeting your biological needs, but is someone who cannot meet their security needs – for example, someone living in an active war zone – immune to needing familial relationships, respect, and intellectual stimulation? Are security and social relationships not considered basic needs? Are esteem needs really higher on the totem pole than social needs? It seems to me that these needs would go together. If someone is struggling to meet their basic needs, such as the extremely poor and homeless, are the incapable of requiring respect and security?

My main criticism is, however, more that this hierarchy doesn’t really teach you anything, and in the classes that have used this diagram, there’s no useful context given as to why it’s important or relevant to anything. This class was no exception. As an example, our professor told us that people in highly developed countries, such as Germany or the United States, might require something like internet to be happy, whereas people in Africa need to meet their more basic needs in order to be happy, such as food and shelter.

This is so incredibly ignorant, to have these words come from an educator was more than disappointing. First of all, while it is true that people in highly developed countries enjoy internet access, so do people in the many, many countries that make up the enormous continent of Africa. In fact, if memory serves, the U.N. declared internet access a basic human right in 2012. People need it – and deserve access to it – all over the world. Secondly, there are PLENTY of people in highly developed countries who struggle to meet their basic biological needs, the poor and homeless. Social welfare programs and non-profit organizations attempt to reach this demographic, but this is far from a perfect system.

I could go on. This kind of ignorant thinking needs to stop. We have so much information at our fingertips, we should know better than to succumb to these overdone tropes so blindly. Luckily, in that class, two of our exchange students from South Africa spoke up, and some other students raised their own concerns; we need more of this. Stereotypes are so 20th century.

Reasons

I would love to have a really profound reason for writing a blog. I would love to tell you all that I have profound, intelligent, insightful insights that will draw you in and make you question everything you ever thought to be fact. The truth is, a series of events led me here: the floor of my mother’s living room at one in the morning, tapping out a few whimsical little words, and the product is secondary. I’m all about the process over here. I learned that in college: it’s all about the process.

So, I’m three weeks into a five-week vacation in my home country of America. Ordinarily, I lead a beautiful life in Germany, my second home country. There, I study development economics and work as a barista at a local Starbucks; I make art and I enjoy my relationships with the people around me; I struggle to keep up with the German bureaucracy and celebrate my American rebelliousness. I clash, all passion and fire to the German coolness and formality. I find exceptions to the rule and call them my friends.

Here, I just returned from a weekend trip to my old college town to see old friends and former professors, and it was a wonderful time. I fit right back into the fabric of that community as if I had never left, and rediscovered my confidence, which had taken a few hits since my plane landed in Washington. I would go into all the details of that happy little weekend, but I won’t. Those details are precious and mine, and not relevant to this thread anyway, which was originally about this writing process, and how I came to bring it here. During my trip, I visited my former writing professor – one of my favorites – and he gave me a copy of his latest book – a cheerful, yellow volume about how to teach writing as a professor of any subject. Not long into it, I got the urge to start writing again. His passion, as it did when I was his student, inspired me, and I just had to get some words out on paper somewhere about something. I needed not only to recapture my love of writing, I needed a new way to reduce my emotional tension.

So I grabbed my Superman notebook and my fancy German pen, and wrote a few, meandering sentences about my chipped nail polish, neat penmanship, and how my hand was already aching. I never learned how to hold a pen correctly as a child so I struggle with writing by hand; as much as I love to do it, it hurts, and I can never seem to keep it up for very long anymore.

I’m struggling with insomnia, too. Somehow – somehow – I’ve been manic for about two months. I’m absolutely surging with energy all day and then I can barely shut my eyes at night when it’s time to sleep. I can practically feel my skin crawl from restlessness.

So here I am: inspired to write, too sore to do so by hand, and excessively awake. I feel so unhealthy.