Wednesday, July 3, 2013

africa is a country gotcha: boston globe columnist falls for 15-year-old's put-on

While visiting my #1 daughter this weekend I had the rare pleasure of reading the Sunday Boston Globe. Having spent a year in Nigeria on a Fulbright, one article about a Nigerian immigrant caught my eye, a wonderfully inspiring story by Yvonne Abraham titled "Orchard Gardens graduate excels with determination, support." It told of this great, personable kid with a wry sense of humor, 15-year-old Abubakar Suleiman (pictured), and his struggle adjusting after moving to the Boston area from rural northern Nigeria when he was only ten. The hurdles both academically and socially were great, but now he has graduated from middle school.

Abubakar also excelled in track as a sprinter and in the javelin.  He said he had an advantage in the javelin: the zebras. Zebras? To understand, we need to read the first lines of the story by Ms. Abraham:
Five years ago, Abubakar Suleiman was hunting zebras with spears and trying to avoid antagonizing cheetahs. One foggy day last week, in a ceremony on a Harbor island he has come to know well, Suleiman graduated from Roxbury’s Orchard Gardens school. He was surrounded by fellow eighth-graders who have come a long way, putting worlds between themselves and the lives they had just a few years ago. But even in this remarkable group, it would be hard to find someone who has traveled as far as Suleiman.

Yep, being a spear-chucking, zebra-hunting African gave him a leg up in Massachusetts and now he is at the top of his age group in the javelin.

Problem?  There are no zebra in the wild in Nigeria. (There are zebra on Nigerian postage stamps but that is about selling stamps to collectors, not zebra habitat.)  While it is possible for a cheetah to exist in the savannas of northern Nigeria, this is extremely rare. Humans would frighten, not antagonize, any wild cheetah there.  Besides, hunting is about accuracy; javelin is about distance.

Yep, being a bright 15-year-old boy with a wry sense of humor gave him a leg up on Ms. Abraham.  He put her on, dangled the hook and she went for it.  As a sophisticated Bostonian, I'm sure she's seen all those National Geographic specials; Africa is chocked full of zebras and cheetahs. Kenya and Nigeria must be pretty much the same thing.  All part of that country called Africa.  Yes sub-Saharan Africa consists of about 50 political subdivisions called countries, but it is still Africa.  Just like Iowa has 90 or so subdivisions called counties, but it is still Iowa.

Problem?  Sub-Saharan Africa is more diverse economically, socially, culturally, religiously, linguistically, and in any other way than Europe, let alone the USA.  Even more so than Iowa!  Nigeria's 150 million people in 250 ethnic groups are more diverse than Europe, the USA, and of course Iowa.

Africa is not a country.

BTW, I wouldn't worry about Mr. Suleiman.  He'll do just fine. A bright kid like him should succeed at just about anything he puts his mind to.

Be blessed!
RB

[edit] P.S. In all fairness to Ms. Abraham, maybe she never has spent much time around 15-year-old boys.  Maybe young Abubaker shouldn't have taken advantage of a journalist's stereotypical view of rural Africa.  But then that is like saying he shouldn't be a bright 15-year-old boy with a sense of humor.

2 comments:

airmanchairman said...

True about the diversity of sub-Saharan Africa.

Nigeria alone (one in every 4 Africans is a Nigerian) has as you have correctly mentioned, 250 distinct ethnic groups or languages, with another 250 dialects.

Social scientists the world over are watching very closely. Any consensual formula that actually succeeds in stabilising and pacifying that tempestuous country will be taken very seriously as a panacea for the global community as a whole, naturally...

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