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Why are you so black? And other funny things

Popularity 16Viewed 7340 times 2014-2-19 17:09 |Personal category:Culture shock|System category:Life| theworld, Chinese, without, loving, things

Six months in China now, loving it...especially the culinary variety. Its bliss.

But more interesting to me is the fact that some Chinese people have been smuggled to 2014 without understanding the variety of race that the world offers. I don’t know how this happened but some Chinese people can’t seem to draw lessons from the fact that just like their wide range of food and cooking styles, the world was cooked up in the same way.

On Sunday I went I  ice skating in Jinan…it went badly, never done it before, but as I was struggling with balancing my 85 Kilograms on the ice, most people could not believe that I was human, or so I believe…I got all the attention on offer, which I liked, but still it underlined the alienation.

In my country, where the food on the average plate does not change much for the rest of the year, if a Chinese or Indian person was walking down the streets, not a head would turn…but here, in a city so big, it can accommodate the whole of my country, an Ethiopian (Because I don’t use the word ‘black’ to refer to any human) was turning heads?

Back on the Ice, one kid could not hold it; she came right up to me and asked, honestly… ‘Why are you so black?’

I gasped, but I think am intelligent because I quickly gave her an answer that will live with her forever, I said, ‘Honey, in my country, we don’t have milk.’

She beamed with surprise and glided away, she was later to offer me some lessons that made me good on the ice.

But she was just a kid, sheer naivety and funny as hell. But what if the questions the kid had lingers in most of the people that see me?

How much does China know about Africa? And how much more does it not know. I met a girl in one of my flirting sprees on Wechat, she is a Masters student as well, and pretty like a girl should be…she asks for a picture of yours truly, I wire her one of me in a jacket and she freaks out with concern.

She asked: ‘How come you are wearing a jacket in Africa? Is it not too hot since Africa is in the tropics?’

I told her that actually where I grew up, the temperature never goes past 30 Degrees Celsius and thus Jinan is hotter…she didn't believe me.

I didn't want to even try to explain that not all of Africa is in the tropics.

And it concerns me how some people gasp when I meet them in closed spaces, I sometimes fear one of these days I may cause someone to jump into a cardiac arrest. We surely need more people to people interaction, so that most of these bad things we see should go into oblivion.

I asked one of my friends to list just five things she knows about Africa and the list was exactly as I feared… Hunger; Disease, War, Heat…She didn't complete it, ah, yes, she did…the last one was Mandela.

Now, I am not a fan of folly in Africa, the continent is messed up bad, and some places in Africa are hot and yes, diseases thrive in the African air, insects and human bodies, but if it’s all one can list of Africa, then we have a big problem…she of course blamed on the mass media which she said only showed the bad of Africa.

I agreed. Mass Media.

But it’s not only the Chinese audience that needs to learn to let go of the stereotypes, when I arrived in China I caught myself asking many of my new friends if they practiced Kung Fu…none of them said yes and one of them said; ‘You know, Bright, It’s like asking every African if they know how to dance and rap.’

That chastised me. And my people, back in Africa need to learn to let go of the stereotypes about China, the two sides funnily seem to be caught up in a war of ignorance.

My roommate from Rwanda also reports the same thing as me, when we send pictures to our loved ones back home of us eating, people respond with comments like: ‘Is that a frog or snake?’ 

We usually just play along and agree that its actually python and dog pizza…but I have not seen a dog being eaten and even if it did get eaten, I have never found reason to see if it’s bad. I remind people that in Africa, like in my country, some people like monkey meat, some people would detest that…

One’s meat is another’s poison, they say.

That said,

Top on the list is the question I got from a professor I met in one of my travels here in China, he asked to confirm if what he heard from his friend in Africa is true.

 'My friend works in Africa and he said Africans are lazy, is it true?’

 I wondered if that friend has been all over Africa gauging productivity levels and measuring work outputs. I wondered if the question should have even risen, but in my classic Socratic irony, I agreed with him and added that Africans just love to party and dance.

And though my country has never fought a war and is not hot as hell and has so much milk, I will pretend that we have no milk to explain my colour of my skin to the kids and that we have war to explain my being original Africanness. I will hide the fact that I have never been inside a hospital unless for a dental check up to agree with the ubiquity of disease that haunts Africa.

In reality, I have not even seen an Elephant or any of the famous ‘big five or big 30’ animals; I live in a city and not in a jungle.

And disease? Well, I didn’t even know how to answer that.

As for the colour of my skin, well, I was born like that and it was not because I wasn’t born the other colour, I have nothing to prove to anyone and if anything, anyone wondering why I don’t look like them should first why they don’t look like me…

We need more people to people interaction.

Can use more milk? Me on the Ice (Picture by Craig Watson)

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Comment Comment (26 comments)

Reply Report snowipine 2014-2-19 20:31
Heart to heart, can, bridge the gap.
Wish you have a happy experience in China!
Reply Report Judy_Zhu 2014-2-20 04:26
I think what you can do here on the forum is to introduce more about your homeland as well as Africa. There are so many things to distract us common people in our daily life, thus we hardly have time to learn something about the continent far away. If you can do something to help circulating your culture, it will be great. Wish you a happy time in China!
Reply Report 小米1972 2014-2-20 11:54
Well written!
Reply Report huaren2323 2014-2-20 22:40
Well written wonderful article Mutafire. I emphatise with you. I go along with Judy and snowipine, tell us more about your country and we try to bridge the gap. My son is on a Medical and community service mission again to Kenya next month. He had been building watershed/artesan wells to conserve water for agriculture. Doing vaccination for children and track HIV victims. He had learned from the herders and farmers there more than the books can teach him. I am sure with the vast continent as Africa there are much more variety and realities that people need to see and hear about. I am humbled with your sory of how little I know about your continent. Tell us more...By the way, I will archive your story as this may well be what overseas Chinese experienced when we first landed in other countries. While some overseas chinese are in restaurant and laundry business, many are professionals now. Gosh we went through what you are going thru with this experience. Help us better understand. what does muta means? and a suffix fire? muta- fire? hope you are not on fire ?
Reply Report voice_cd 2014-2-21 13:43
Thanks for sharing your story here! We have highlighted your story to the homepage.
Reply Report mutafire 2014-2-21 16:33
huaren2323: Well written wonderful article Mutafire. I emphatise with you. I go along with Judy and snowipine, tell us more about your country and we try to bridg ...
Thanks, you will definitely hear more from me, and i have been checking your works too... 'Muta' is an extract from a Rwandan word 'Mutabaruka' which means someone you cannot defeat...i got it from a Jamaican poet, Allan Hope.
Reply Report RonJaDa 2014-2-22 03:46
Well written mutafire.  My experiences are only mild compared to yours,.  Even my friend who went to China to teach English 11 years ago had different reaction.  He went to a more remote community to teach as he wanted an experience.  When he got there e had several surprises that he had not anticipated..  He was the first foreigner to live in that town (at least first Caucasian foreigner for a while)  I have enjoyed him retelling me stories of how great an experience he had there even though he knew no Chinese.  I myself growing up in rural Canada had never met a non-caucasian until I was 17 cnd I now celebrate Toronto's multicultural culture.
Reply Report KIyer 2014-2-22 10:37
Good article! Brings back memories of learning what some little kids think of dark-skinned people in the USA, looking at me, then recently from India. It was quite en'lighten'ing.. so to speak.
I am originally very dark, have become a few shades lighter living in cold climates for a long time now.
Reply Report tedbrent 2014-2-22 23:16
You mean to say you are a foreign expat living in Jinan?
Reply Report tedbrent 2014-2-22 23:54
Dude, Jinan is a back-water place culturally, not an International city like Shanghai or Beijing. So if you find  some city-dwellers  asking you some weirdo questions related to your race, marriage  or even your political views  , don't get worked up.   They have no ulterior motives or other bad intentions; it's just de rigueur for some  local  inhabitants to  poke their noses into each other's private matters . It's called 豪爽 in Shangdong,   where chivalrous, outspoken foreign  lads have no trouble  finding friends in Jinan, which is part of Shandong.

  If you are loth to answer some questions posed by them, just be evasive. You really don't have to take the trouble to answer all the questions. I think some of them will still take you as friend once you decide to swat away the most mortifying questions.

Just remember that two things count lots  in Shandong culture: loud speaking and and wine-drinking. You will have more local friends by acting like them or accepting local cultural habits.

  Have a nice stay in China.
Reply Report mutafire 2014-2-23 02:41
tedbrent: Dude, Jinan is a back-water place culturally, not an International city like Shanghai or Beijing. So if you find  some city-dwellers  asking you some  ...
Right on, champ...it is back-water, and apart from a few weird stuff, the place is cool indeed...would not pass it for Shanghai or GZ where life is expensive and foreign culture is as dominant as local...

I mean, you cannot even get laid without having to speak of marriage...hahaha
Reply Report chessgame 2014-2-23 20:48
WOW!that explains my whole life too in china.lucky enough to be here for six months before answering a question like that.brace for more senseless questions. a no reply will be the best answer.don't boil up with unfriendly questions.educate them if your heart tells you to, if not,walk away and get yourself busy with what ever brought  you here.welcome bro.like the article.
Reply Report mutafire 2014-2-25 17:29
chessgame: WOW!that explains my whole life too in china.lucky enough to be here for six months before answering a question like that.brace for more senseless que ...
Thanks, buddy, i think in a 100 year's time the world will be very mixed and people will not be as uninformed as at now...that is if we don't have WW III in between.
Reply Report mutafire 2014-2-25 17:30
tedbrent: You mean to say you are a foreign expat living in Jinan?
Yes, I sure am
Reply Report mutafire 2014-2-25 17:32
RonJaDa: Well written mutafire.  My experiences are only mild compared to yours,.  Even my friend who went to China to teach English 11 years ago had different ...
Yes, even the first Caucasians to hit Africa caused a stir...but that was in the 1890's now...nobody cares  and that is what this part of the globe needs to start doing.
Reply Report mutafire 2014-2-25 17:33
KIyer: Good article! Brings back memories of learning what some little kids think of dark-skinned people in the USA, looking at me, then recently from India. ...
Indeed, but its good that you are here, the next one that looks like you will be more natural to the population...
Reply Report chessgame 2014-2-25 19:18
hi.can i be abit personal?are you a paysan?mutafire sounds like the names paysans would like.hahahhaa
Reply Report mutafire 2014-2-26 04:23
chessgame: hi.can i be abit personal?are you a paysan?mutafire sounds like the names paysans would like.hahahhaa
Paysan? I will have to Google that, i have no idea...
Reply Report Fishsign 2014-2-27 18:18
Great article.  Cross cultural experiences should be a requirement for everyone in the human race.  After 2.5 years in a smaller City in China, my wife and I still have "rock star" status.  Sometimes that means exuberant young people wanting to know you and be your friend and on occasion we're met with disdain and unfriendliness.  Although, I should qualify that and say that we are an older Caucasian couple; and, I'm the one who is treated with disdain while my wife is catered to.  Overall, the people here have been very nice.
Reply Report mutafire 2014-2-27 19:25
Fishsign: Great article.  Cross cultural experiences should be a requirement for everyone in the human race.  After 2.5 years in a smaller City in China, my wif ...
nice is the word, someone paid for my bill at the local Mcdonalds and called his wife who knows English and i had to speak to an excited wife and a husband who didnt know a word...its a big experience, i like it...very much

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  • For Your Travel Orgasm, Ask Jinan 2014-11-16 21:45

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful words   As a gril grow up in Jinan, I haven't reached that specific loving feeling towards the town as you do. Your vivid words make me feel that it is so lucky to call Jinan HOME.

  • A Shower a Day …In Your Dreams 2014-11-10 05:39

    I was sharing the same feelings with you until......... "I could understand the boys; I used to have those days when showers and I were enemies. But this school has girls, some of menstruating age and they all have to go a week or two without a shower."

    I can't see the connection between menstruation and showers at all. Adolescent women are disgusting and dirty so that they're in a higher need for taking a shower?! Why is it more acceptable for boys to skip taking shower? Well, let me confess something. I hated taking shower as a child, and as a menstruating girl as well. I wasn't that good with water, especially in winter taking showers meant torture to me.

    And to offer a different view; in Muslim societies it would be young men who are supposed to need taking shower more frequently. And after masturbation one has to take shower, that's why you can hear boys joking about having to take a shower a few times a day. Of course women are not supposed to have any sexual urges at all, so their religious necessity to take shower is once a month (when their period ends).

    And I'm so surprised that you are an adult (even impregnated a woman) and still think menstruating girls need to take shower more often? Speechless.

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