The Africa is A Country Syndrome

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I could write another blogpost about how job-hunting is depressive; however, I just wanted to rant about an issue I have been facing while living  in a Western society. It is the “Africa-is-a-country-syndrome.” This syndrome that infects the minds of numerous people in non-African societies, consists of reducing a continent of 54 countries with extremely heterogeneous cultures into one ambiguous blob of a country.  These poor souls truly suffer a case of immappancy — meaning insufficient geographical knowledge.

Please, let us start by considering that when we are talking about the continent of Africa, we are talking about this:

Africa is bigger than the US, China, India and Europe combined!

Now, this is a serious problem. Remember that Rick Ross tweeted that he landed in the country of Africa. And then of course, there is this mess. Paul Romer is an economist suggesting highly sensitive policies –that in my opinion, are very reminiscent of colonialism– and he can’t have the decency to acknowledge that Africa is composed of countries!

Another thing, that we need to consider if that we are talking about FIFTY-FOUR COUNTRIES, then nothing warrants cultural similarities. I, myself, have grown up in five countries– Burundi, my home country, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and Zimbabwe. Therefore, my knowledge of cultures around the continent tends to be broad but superficial. Yet, with my faulty knowledge, I can still tell you that each country has vast differences in foods, clothing, languages, the politics of culture and the number of ethnicities/nations within the country. Take, for example, Burundi and Kenya. Both are in the East African Economic Region, they share some of the same economic products (namely tea) and they are both democracies. On the one hand, in Burundi, there are three ethnicities– the Hutus, Tutsis, and Twas– who share the same language (Kirundi) , wear the same traditional clothes and eat similar food. Meanwhile, in Kenya, there are nine different ethnicities each with their mother tongue, their own customs and their, well I suppose, own clothing.  This is to say, in one country you can find an extremely heterogeneous, diverse society where people of different socio-economic backgrounds intermingle. This does not necessarily hold true for the next country.

Which is why it frustrates me so much when I hear people make comments such as “Oh I love African fashion. The clothes are so colorful!” I actually had a fashion student tell me that, and I was perplexed. I thought about my own invutano and I could not fathom how you could describe as colorful.

Linda Ikeji’s blog, which admittedly is not a perfect resource, pointed that there are all these traditional dresses in Nigeria. The singular country of Nigeria!

Nigeria
Please click here because there were even more traditional dresses.

In Senegal, the traditional dress is called a boubou or the m’boubou when worn by women:

  

And then of course, we have our dear invutano, the “Sunday Best” in Burundi and Rwanda.

Invutano

How can anyone make a sweeping comment about African fashion when you are confronted with such diversity in clothing? That is why I believe that there is no such thing as “African fashion” or “African food.” There are simply too many differences and different type. Sure from time to time , a dish– such as foufou— will pop up and you will think “Hey I eat that too!” Nonetheless, it is likely, as is the case with foufou, that the preparation and base ingredients change from country to country. It is like saying “We eat rice too!”

I feel that there is so much more that can be said on the topic; however, I want to touch base on why this ‘syndrome’ is problematic in the first place. It is problematic because it is foreigners whom make international development decisions, often made with little regards to the input of the citizens of the concerned country. These decisions are more often than not blanket, one size fits all programmes.  It can also result in policies such as the Millennium Development Goals which in spite of its good intentions sets up countries for failure.  African Studies classes talk about theories without applying them to specific case studies leaving people who have actually lived in the continent flustered at the cheap talk. Sometimes newspapers get one correspondent to cover the entire continent.

It is further problematic that people amalgamate these 50+ heterogeneous countries because there is, through the process of amalgamation, a loss of sense of individuality and humanity. My experiences and stories stop being specific to my origins and the obstacles that I have to face and instead become commonplace. I guess I am talking about tokenism. For example,  suddenly you are asked to represent the ideas of a Malagasi when you are Burundian because you are the only African person in the room . People expect your life to be representative of the typical life of the hundreds of thousands of people who live in various conditions throughout the continent. When your experiences don’t fit within their expectations on how an African is meant to live, they will try to undermine your authority. Combined with the image that the continent has in the media, it can lead to dehumanization of African peoples.

Africans themselves are by no means guilt-free. The other day I posted a quote from an article about Spaniards that stated that:

“Anyone who has ever been in a group of Spaniards knows that there’s no such thing as waiting for someone else to finish speaking before speaking themselves. If there are four Spaniards in a group, there are four people talking. And, as they talk, the volume increases as they each try to make themselves heard above the others. Actually, this doesn’t really piss Spaniards off, that nobody is listening. It’s just the way it is. It will piss you off a lot more than them.” (Read more at http://matadornetwork.com/abroad/how-to-piss-off-a-spaniard/#LEzepX8C8oseOUKY.99“)

and then a Senegalese answered that this was also the case with Africans. To which a Burundian answered that talking over someone else and interrupting people is considered extremely rude in their culture.   In a final example, this reminds me of when  Senegal was eliminated from the African Cup of Nations in October 2012 for riots which broke out after losing to Ivory Coast  and a fan had this to say “We had to save our lives. We didn’t understand what was going on – we’re all African, and we’re all brothers.” France and Germany (and their allies) waged two World Wars, dragging all their colonies into the battle and their animosity resulted in the direct creation of the European Union. And they are right next to each other! I am not saying to condone violence or to condone further divisions between different African citizens. Rather, I wish to make the point that it is okay if disagreements occur between people of different nationalities. We are not all the same; we will not react the same way to certain events.

In the end,  I know people will blame the “Africa-is-a-country-syndrome” on ignorance: “But in the media, they only show us images of the poor starving African children!” This is bullshit. In Canada, and so many other places, they have electricity 24/7, internet is broadly available, libraries and bookstores are well-stocked and there is a diverse population with people originally from African countries. In spite of this wealth of resources available to them, I still get comments such as “Oh where is South Africa?” I think it is time that we take a look at ourselves and question how much effort are we making to combat faulty geography lessons.

I left a map here (you can click on it to make it bigger) just in case you need a point of reference throughout the article.

Map of Africa

I’m back :)

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Ok, I have been gone for a minute; well not literally, because it is just another expression to say that I have not written in a while.  So where was I?

First off, I would like to apologize. There is a part of me that feels this crippling guilt for not updating this blog more frequently- not in fear that I was disappointing readers, but rather because I really want to use this blog as a platform to push my writing, and to a certain extent, my creativity, in a certain direction. Yet, there was this other part of me, the perfectionist me, that was afraid of uploading a post with less than perfect grammar. That was afraid that updating my blog meant putting less time into job-hunting and so that was afraid of so many more things.

Therefore, I am going to treat this blog as my personal challenge to become a better content creator, to un-learn the stodgy rules of academic papers and to rant about my ‘feels’ for unemployment. And I want to start by cleaning up the blog– posting the posts that I promised I would, learning to customize the design, learning the backend of the blogosphere, and most importantly, scheduling my posts.

In the past month, I have started yet another contract position, to explore the industry of agriculture (if confused, please check this post out). The first two weeks went well with me appreciating certain aspects of the job and disliking others. Somehow, this descended into a strong dislike for the position, and a persistent questioning of where I stand vis-a-vis my ambitious goals: “Look at X, Y, Z they got jobs in reputable places, doing reputable things while I am still stuck typing in data for this agriculture firm. What do I want to do with my life? Why am I not finding a permanent job? I need to push harder.”

After getting four of my wisdom teeth extracted last Thursday– oh yeah, that happened– and getting two sick days off, this Sunday evening I am toying with the idea of asking for yet another day off. Thoughts of Monday rolling around fill me with anxiety, a stress for too little time to wrap up random errands, and a dread for going back and punching numbers. I now realize that it may not be smart to talk about this publicly on the internets; thus, I shall stop there.

Of course, I want to mention that there are some things that I appreciate at my position, which is more adequately put in a list form:

  • I appreciate that I get paid the equivalent of an entry level marketing assistant’s yearly salary… for punching in numbers.
  • I appreciate the sorta-egalitarian treatment of the workers. Of course, as a contractor, taking personal time off, means catching up every single hour that was meant to be worked (like why!?!) BUT
  • Unlike organizations where I have previously worked, every worker had a security access card to the building that worked after-hours. Everyone has a work email and access to the programs that they need for free. You, as the worker, are provided with a work computer (yes, some organizations with big budgets don’t provide that). You are given the same swag as everyone else. You have an hour long lunch (I live for lunch breaks). Oh and you are paid.  Yes, I am talking about unpaid interns.

So that is it for me. I am saying good-bye to that attitude that kept me away from blogging. I think the last bullet point would make a good blogpost. What do you reckon?

Love, S.

inCOnSistEncY

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Hey blogosphere,

So, I haven’t written in a really long time. Yeah, [insert awkwardness here]. Anyways, I have been working on some blog posts– including one on my first impressions of Canada which could take a while before it is posted. However, in the meanwhile, I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer and I, instead, wanted to talk about communicating what you are looking for.

Recently, I completed a three month research contract for Company A which left me, as we say in French, déboussolée.  I guess the term would roughly translate to desoriented but the difference is that déboussolé etymologically has the root word boussole, which means compass. Therefore, for me, it conveys losing the path that was set by the compass.

Anyways, prior to the position at Company A, I had completed all the exercises in What Colour is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles and I felt that I knew what types of jobs I wanted. Nonetheless I feel that I have changed ever since taking this position and that most of my self-reflection may no longer be accurate– leading to a problem of people perceiving me as inconsistent.

How is it that one minute, I state that I want “business development, marketing or market research positions” and the next I apply for a job in a seemingly random industry– agriculture? Okay, I didn’t apply for an agriculture position, but, you need to understand that I have to keep this blog as anonymous as possible; hence, I will not mention the actual industry where I sent in an application.

How is it that I am considering doing a Masters in Management but that I am working all over the place? Where is the consistent narrative in my past work experience? Why the lack of directions? If I really want to be a management consultant, why don’t I just apply for that?

I find this perceived bias incredibly frustrating– even more so than the stupid questions, students ask recent graduates. There are two ways, I could explain this : first, I could backtrack and explain my randomness or I could explain why the idea of inconsistency is frustrating.

Stick with me here and I will explain both.

My dream job is as a management consultant for Firm X. However, finding an entry level position in consulting is incredibly difficult, not only, because they want you to have experience from renown companies, but also because if you do get extended an offer, your application will not be evaluated for two years. That’s right! You are basically black-listed for TWO years. Let’s be honest. It freaks me out that I could accidentally lock myself out from my dream job for the next two years. Therefore, I never applied.

Moving onto the Masters thing. A Masters in Management is not equivalent to a Masters in Business Administration (MBA); the former is a one year program that students from non-business backgrounds can use to strengthen their business acumen and add prestige to their resume. Considering that such a program offers both practical, hands on business knowledge and networking opportunities, I think that it is an attractive option if I want to go into my dream job.

Then where did the biz dev, marketing and research come from? Until I get myself together to apply for either the Masters program or the consulting positions, each of these options present an alternative, and, dare I say, more accessible entry level career. As a Political Science graduate, I have been trained to be an analytical, problem-solving, kick ass communicator. Marketing is about connecting brands with consumers and biz dev is connecting firms with future markets (ie for consumers).  During my  undergrad, I conducted original research and sat through a boring seminar about methodology. I actually want to learn stats and I have an interest in it.

Meanwhile, the agriculture position all started because I feel in love with a firm that offered a Recent Graduate Rotation program wherein, the graduate would work in a variety of arenas while being prepared for a position that is analytical by nature.

To summarize, I am a people-oriented communicator who enjoys work that is analytical (includes problem-solving) and non-repetitive.

Most of all, this consistency issue annoys me because it essentializes humans. As an avid reader and a social sciences student, I know that humans are complex and that their behaviours do not always fall within the good/bad dichotomy. We all wish we were “good;” however, we know that facing situations of great adversity we may do shitty things. I find that economy as a discipline, often reduces humans to a set of simple maxims. It is perfectly normal that, as complex creatures, we have diverse interests and that we do not necessarily breathe solely for one type of industry. So yep, I may seem inconsistent but from where I am standing, I am damn proud of my complexity.

xox, S.

The graduate | student divide

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So, I hesitated to write a post relating to this question. When I asked around my social group on whether I should post this or not, I got very mixed responses. I know this is a controversial topic and maybe I just took other people’s comments/questions too seriously. However, I feel that maybe there are other people out there who are facing the exact same issue.

Is there really a gap between recent graduates’ and students’ perceptions of employment? On the one hand, I feel that the answer should be no; we are from the same generation and we face the same problems of high expectations during university, unpaid internships, and more elusive entry-level opportunities . Furthermore, the majority of my friends are still completing their degrees and they have been really supportive while I am job-hunting.

On the other hand, personal experiences points to great differences between being a university student and an (un)employed (recent) graduate. Now, once again, I have friends who are still university students that they were extremely supportive. Nonetheless, I had many acquaintances/friends who really had a lot bitchassness. Yeah, I’m salty! And I want to write about this because I know I used to be one of those bitchass people when I met recent graduates.

Here are some sample bitchassery questions:

  1. Did you find a job yet?
  2. Have you applied to any jobs? Where? How many jobs have you applied to?
  3. What do you do all day? So you do nothing?
  4. I found a survival job in two weeks. What is taking you so long?
  5. Uhm, I don’t know. Network?
  6. Oh why don’t I try to talk to you about job opportunities that you have no interest in but never ask you what you actually want to do. (There is a difference between this and actually giving advice)

First, unemployment is a purgatory an experience that one needs to live through in order to understand. The implications of not finding a job are not the same when you are in university (no money, no money for tuition, nothing to put on resume, nothing to keep me busy for this period of 4 months) and when you have graduated (really nothing to keep me busy, bills, bills, loans, parents breathing down my neck about expenses, lower self-esteem).  So, unless you have witness, been through or are going through prolonged unemployment, it may be hard to make judgement calls.

As I mentioned before– and if I haven’t, I meant to mention this– I used to have a lot of bitchassness in me when speaking to recent graduates. Here are some tips to cure the bitchassness.

  • Don’t ask, “Have you found a job yet?” right before or right after “How are you?” In fact, don’t ask it at all.
  • Instead ask, “What have you been up to?” or “How are you?” Finding a job is very stressful and sometimes people are getting traction in their job searches but it is not manifesting as job offers. Or the simple fact that people are not defined by their jobs. Whether or not this person is currently employed, they still have a lot to contribute to your life and others’ communities. If you are looking to catch up, it may be better to ask open-ended questions and let them volunteer the information.
  • Unemployment is not equal to laziness. Some people think it is okay to ask you what you do all day– that’s rude. It is just rude. Often, people can’t find jobs not because, they are lazy or not trying hard enough; but because, their search has not yielded anything or they feel emotionally unmotivated.
  • Do take them out to do something. If this person is your friend, then now is the time to go take them out to do activities. It will probably allow the two of you to release tension from life. And of course, catch up!
  • Don’t give advice if you haven’t used it. Most of all, don’t be self-righteous about it. The guy who suggested that I did nothing while unemployed and that I should network, on the same night mind you, would probably struggle with networking. There are so many books written about networking and yet most people– even those, who are working– really dislike it. It is a struggle to understand how to make networking work for oneself. Don’t remind people of this lady.
  • Do listen. Let the person vent and take the time to understand their perspective. You don’t want to fall in the Bitchassery #6 category.
  • It is most likely that the graduate has applied to jobs online. Applying to jobs online has a low success rate and it is most of the times the first thing people do. So asking that question is, in my opinion, stupid.
  • Remember, people will always remember how you make them feel.

Ok, invisible readers, I think this blogpost is getting way too long but I hope that together we can stop the bitchassness pandemic and save relationships in the way.  Once again, this is not meant for everyone but rather for some people who do make people feel this way. I put plenty of links on the page, with information that will complement or contextualize the post. Hopefully, the comments don’t go crazy with hate/troll comments– but then who am I kidding? Almost no-one reads this blog. Shout out to my Japanese reader K <3.

That’s it from me. xox, S.

 

Edit: I wanted to add another do. Do connect people with other recent graduates or resources. Post-university life can strangely feel isolating and it is therefore, good to meet people facing the same challenges as you.