Monday, January 16, 2017

I Live in a Developing Country and So Do You


This post is part of Blogging Abroad's 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week two: The Danger of a Single Story.

Antananarivo 'Hollywood' sign, Palace, and soccer field in the capital

 My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story, there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.” ~Chimamanda Adiche


            When people hear that I serve for the Peace Corps in Madagascar they are often times astonished.  Astonished that I am ‘brave’ enough to live and serve in Africa.  They say things like
“How do you do it?” or “I’m proud of the work your doing. They need it.” Or they are astonished at the possible similarities they may share with them; saying things like “Your friend speaks English? But where did he learn it?” or “They have music videos just like ours? Really!? I would have never thought.” 
            No matter how frustrating it may sometimes be to hear some of the questions or comments people make about Madagascar, I can’t wholly be upset with them.  Yes they should know better.  We should all be more knowledgeable of the world around us.  But the truth is we aren’t; none of us fully are.  We all have at least some biased view brought about by lack of knowledge of a group of people, either abroad or at home.  That’s the danger of a single story; it leaves us vulnerable to misconceptions. 
            Madagascar is often referred to as part of the developing world, or, in the out of date term, third world.  These terms alone, outside the stereotypical view of African nations, create an image of Madagascar as a place that is inferior.  The term ‘third world’ relates it as a country that is of lower quality than that of a ‘first world’ nation, which is far from the truth in many respects.  Madagascar has a rich culture that is far from inferior, as well as a social net at the community level that is arguably far kinder than the social nets found in the western world.  The term ’developing world’ can also be demeaning.  Yes.  Madagascar is a developing country. It has its problems, all countries do, and it is striving to develop itself.  But to define it, and countries like it, as developing while not giving western countries (who are also countries that are developing) the same title is belittling.  It classifies them as lesser and perpetuates the stereotypes of them as irresponsible, backward, or different. 
            Yes many aspects of life in Madagascar are different than Americans are used to, and sometimes it can be ruff, but that’s what makes it great.  Living and serving in Madagascar doesn’t make me brave.  It’s not a different world made of people that are wholly different from me and you.  Madagascar has a different culture, way of looking at life, and way of living.  But it is also full of amazing people that are no different than you.  They get up and work. They play. They go to school, many of them learning English. They go to university to obtain higher degrees in law, engineering, medicine, and more. They listen to the same songs you do. And they dream the same dreams you do.  Madagascar is not a place to pity, but embrace. It is not a place of a dissimilar people, but a place of human equals.  When you think of Madagascar I challenge you to look past the single story of Madagascar as a place of catastrophe that needs your pity and help, but look at in a way of both similarities and differences and a way that draws a connection of human equals.
             

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