Hargeisa, 23 June 2009 – One day in high school while at lunch, I sat down with a group of friends who were having a conversation about a new guy that had just transferred to our school.
“Did you meet him?” Someone asked me.
I shook my head. I was hungry and didn’t want to be bothered.
“You may know him,” another friend said.
“Why?” I asked.
I lost my appetite.
One of the biggest misconceptions that Africans in America have to deal with is that Africa is a huge country where everyone speaks “African” and wears “African clothes” and dances “African” in tribal ceremonies that are held for the king of “Africa” (who Eddie Murphy played in that movie); and despite the fact that it can hold the land occupied by China, India, Europe, Argentina, New Zealand and the continental United States, with room to spare, everyone knows each other.
The Language of “African”:Of the 54 countries in Africa there are around 2500 languages spoken, and up to 8000 dialects. Aside from the indigenous languages, the English speaking countries all have distinct accents in English; not to mention people that repatriated to those countries from America, Australia, and Europe, and came back with sounds of their own. If there is any common language, it’s the eye language; the common and understood look that two Africans may give while in a room with non-Africans who are finding pleasure in dissing the continent.
The “African” Way:
If you’ve ever visited Africa as a non-African, you may remember things being referred to as “the African way”. That, just means in comparison to your way. If the said speaker were a Burundian speaking to an Ivorian, the said “African way” would quickly become the Burundian way.
Call Me Who I Am:
You may find that when you call a Nigerian something other than a Nigerian, they may look at you like you have something on your lip. If you call an African non-Nigerian a Nigerian, they may look at you like they want to kill you. Although in America groups like the ASA bring Africans together for peaceful fellowship, you may still find that they don’t want to be mistaken for one another.
Ethiopians and Eritreans are other groups that don’t like to be confused as the other, even though they were once the same country. Even further, try calling a Yoruba (Nigerian) person Igbo (Nigerian). They will correct you. Try calling a Vai (Liberian) person Bassa (Liberian). They will correct you.
If you don’t know which country someone is from or what language they speak, ask.
African Crash Course (as written by Melony Ochieng):
It comes as something of a surprise to many Africans to discover that all Africans look the same to non-Africans.
How do you tell a Nigerian from a Kenyan, for example; and I am not talking about passports or clothing? Well the easiest way, of course, is the name: for example Ogunkoye can only be a Nigerian and Njoroge from Kenya.
And so where do the Dunns come from? They are certainly from Liberia or Sierra Leone. Surely, everybody knows that the loud and cocky ones are the West Africans; the brooding and sly ones are the North and South Africans respectively; the East Africans always say yes, even when they disagree with you violently.
To be more specific, the Cameroonians will borrow money from you to buy Champagne; whilst the Ghanaians think they invented politics. The Congolese think they have the best music and the best dancers; the
Nigerians have a thing about clothes; and the Ethiopians believe they have the most beautiful women on God’s earth. Moroccans actually think they’re French, and so do the Burkinabes. Algerians just hate the French; Sierra Leonians simply smile profusely; and Liberians can’t get over America.
All East and South African countries have the same national anthem, but the South Africans sing it the best.
The South Africans have no hair; the Zambians and Kenyans have prominent foreheads; the West Africans have short memories and never learn from their mistakes; the concept of order and discipline must have been invented in East Africa; the words don’t exist in West Africa, especially in Nigeria.
When a cabinet minister is “caught with his hands in the till,” he commits suicide in Southern Africa; in West Africa he’s promoted after the next coup d’etat.
In athletics, the divisions are quite simple: from 800m to the marathon the East Africans hold sway; the West Africans are only good at the sprints; and South Africans can only sing. But when it comes to football(soccer), the North and West Africans dominate the lesser-skilled East and South Africans.