As our plane descended, I peered through the window and was taken back by the stunning landscape of Africa. The endless hues of copper, bronze, and gold emerging to the surface of the Earth in a kaleidoscope combination I’ve never seen before. When we finally landed, I stepped onto the tarmac at Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek, Namibia, and felt an overwhelming sense of peace and was honored to be in a country with wondrous landscapes, unbelievable beautiful, and people who needed my help.
But, the truth was: Namibia didn’t need me.
“Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Danger of a Single Story
American media spends a lot of time showing disparities of people around the world. American media also spends a lot of time showing images of children starving in Africa. Before moving abroad, I too had the impression, I am embarrassed to admit, that Africa was stunning and all, but her people were suffering. Even if it wasn’t an idea I vocalized, the images I grew up watching only solidified this message. I too made the story of Africa’s suffering the only story. I grew up feeling sorry for people I didn’t know. I pitied children who didn’t have backpacks to carry their books and those who had to walk miles to fetch water. I wrongly thought a lifestyle void of material objects was equivalent to a lifestyle of misfortune and destitute.
Don’t get me wrong, there are people here in Namibia who are suffering. HIV infection rates are among the highest in the world. Children are orphaned from the disease that has taken their parents and guardians. There is an inequitable distribution of income; the haves and the have-nots.
But, this is only part of the story. The incomplete story.
Namibia has the population of roughly 2 million people, but when you choose to believe the story of suffering for an entire nation, you miss the story of innovation.
At the age to 23, Kared Soini, having never stepped foot on an aircraft, built his own airplane. After studying welding at a local vocational center, he realized his passion for mechanics and is doing everything he can to pursue his dream to become an airplane manufacturer.
If you are focused on the story of suffering, you miss the story of bravery.
In 1996, Emma Tuhepha became the first Namibian woman to publicly state that she was HIV-positive. But instead of giving up, she became an activist and went on to co-found Lironga Eparu, which means to survive, to help others like her.
When you only focus on the story of suffering, you miss the story of independence and reconciliation.
A war and the overlooked “first genocide of the twentieth-century” took a terrible toll on the nation of Namibia. Bullets and bombs followed by apartheid rule robbed the nation of a generation. Namibia, a country younger than myself, continues to press forward after hundreds of years being held back.
Selfishly, I had a mindset that people in Namibia needed me. They needed my ideas and services. They needed my giving hand and my knowledge. They needed me.
Each day when I see a child smile just because they can, or a meekulu raise her hands in thanks because the rain falling from the sky means the mahangu will provide food for the year, or when I hear my host family sing hymns and read scripture from a tattered old Bible, because God is still faithful. I realize the reality was…
I needed Namibia.
This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week two: The Danger of a Single Story.