When asked where I was from, I’d reply Togo and Benin (as those were the only two places I’d ever known up to that point) This answer would quickly be met with
“Did you hunt lions in the wild?”
“Were you living in a mudhut?”
“Did you have to walk for miles everyday to get water?”
“How did you get here? Did you have to walk all the way from there? That must have been hard”
No matter how much I described my very spoiled city girl upbringing in Cotonou, the capital of Benin, I was met with stares of disbelief. For some reason, the image my interlocutor had in their mind of “Africa” didn’t seem to match with my lived reality. They wouldn’t believe me when I said I’d never seen a lion in my life and that the first time I did, was in captivity at the Antwerp Zoo. I’d never had to walk to collect water, because I’d just turn the tap open and there it was, flowing out. I didn’t live in a mudhut, but in a 3 story house with lots of space to run around and play hide and seek with my siblings. We had a driver that would take us to school and back, and moving to Belgium actually meant a decrease in the level of comforts I was used to back home.
Over the years, throughout my travels, I would and still continue to get similar remarks and questions. Upon mentioning that I am born in Togo or grew up in Benin, more often than not the following reply would be something along the lines of
“Ah Africa, I went to (fill in any other African country not remotely close to my countries) once, it was wonderful.
If in the other direction my conversation partner had said
“I’m from France” and I replied,
“Ah Europe, I’ve been to Prague once, it was wonderful”, I’d rightfully be met with looks of bewilderment. But why is it that when it comes to the African continent, that line of thinking is so widely accepted?
Truth is, we know why…