An excerpt from a story I wrote for an anthology published by Casa Africa, a Spanish online resource for Spanish-African diplomatic and cultural relations. The idea came to me as I was sitting on the beach in Senga Bay one day, watching a newly-arrived American volunteer being chatted up by a Malawian boy. How did I know she was new here? After a while you just know these things. I remembered when I first arrived in Malawi, brimming over with enthusiasm for a new culture and new experiences, eager to learn, mingle, and make new friends. At first I was amazed by how friendly the Malawians were: people would stop me on the street just to say hello and ask me how I am; one guy, about my age, would even walk to work with me, talking to me in a way that at first seemed very genuine. But with time came the realization that most of these people’s intentions were not altruistic at all. The cultural exchange I had been hoping for does not exist here, at least not in the way I had expected. We come to Africa, assuming that we have something to teach, something to give, and that people will eagerly take a piece of our culture in exchange for a piece of theirs. A piece of culture may be valuable to us but it is worthless currency here. People in Malawi live day to day and do what they have to do to feed their families and survive.
It’s a truth that is difficult to see by many Westerners but it’s a truth I urge everyone to accept: Africa never belonged to us.
Mama Afrika, Forgive Me
From the shade of the flame tree I watch them arrive at the spot Innocent and I agreed on. I am shocked. The mzungu he has brought is hardly a mzungu at all! Her skin is darker than the others’, like tea with milk, and her hair is short and frizzy. She has Mama Afrika’s blood. I curse Innocent. What was he thinking? We cannot steal from a sister. I almost turn to leave but curiosity stops me.
They sit down on the sand, with Lake Malawi and the blue mountains of Mozambique in front of them. The girl removes her chitenje wrap to reveal a skimpy bikini.
‘I can’t believe I’m finally in Africa!’ she says, loud enough for me to hear. She takes a camera with a big lens out of her bag. ‘Do you mind? It’s for my blog.’ She points it at Innocent, who stretches his lips into a gap-toothed grin.
[click here to read the rest: p. 51-52]