Letter from a Gabonese lady in Spain

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Letter from a Gabonese lady in Spain

I have had an experience recently that needs to be told to an “African woman” such as myself. You jokingly told Fêmi and me in Madrid that you now considered yourself to be like an African woman after collaborating for so long with us. Look; on Friday we had an excursion and went to a primary school to see how the Spanish education system works at primary school level. During the tour, we went into classrooms to see how the classes were being taught and get to know the staff and little children a bit. It was very interesting. We were all delighted. The children were always curious and kind, little darlings...everything was going fine for me until I walked into a music class. The teacher asked the pupils to try to guess by looking at the different students which countries they came from. They immediately recognized the Chinese, Americans and mentioned other European countries. “And what other countries?” asked the teacher. Then, referring to me and another black student from the Bahamas, a girl said “Africa”. Almost everyone was about to accept her answer as correct, and it was then that I had to tell the girl with a forced smile: “Africa is not a country.” And they laughed. I wanted to explain further to the children that Africa is a continent of more than fifty countries with very different cultures and customs. But this was not the time and they interrupted me by asking what country I was from. It saddened me to see that we are so ignored on other continents.

Indeed, on thinking and asking about it since then, I began to realize that children are not the only ones who think that Africa is simply one country. Today in class we talked about stereotypes and I took the opportunity to mention the idea. It broke my heart when I realized that even the Americans (there are three in my class) and many Europeans, among whom there were the Spanish of course, imagine us as black people in loincloths who live in the jungle or in a world that looks like the safaris they see in the movies, with just one culture (the Maasai) and other nonsense of this sort. Moreover, all of the foreign students acknowledged that they had never studied even the geography of Africa, so they do not know it has about 55 countries; they reduce it to one country. Nor do they know of the importance of this wonderful continent in European, American and Latin American civilization. In my university course, I have had to study countries in all continents and sometimes their capitals. In Spanish philology, we studied the Spanish, Latin American and Hispanic African civilization. For this reason I am aware of the great role played by Africa throughout the history of these three continents since the Middle Ages until today. Spain in particular experienced a significant boom in trade and economy thanks to its African territories (in which it carried out its businesses of all kinds), which made it, as Charles V said, “the empire where the sun never set” as of the sixteenth century.

Thanks to Africa, many European countries became world powers. The Americas would not be what they are today without Africa. Nevertheless, they do not even place sufficient importance on it for it to be studied as a continent at school. Is this not unfair? After all it has done for Europe and America, after all it has suffered for them and for what they are to blame (I will not go into details though I am sure you know what I am referring to), Africa is not important enough to them for it to be recognized as a continent and studied as such in their schools. Is this not ungrateful? It makes me want to go into a school and ask the head to let me show children how marvellous Africa is, with its culture, its history, its beauty...why not make the matter of “African civilization” a subject in school textbooks? I believe that if Europeans and Americans were aware of everything that Africa has experienced, done and achieved for them, they would respect it more. Furthermore, they would enrich their general knowledge.

I have much to say on this matter. I am sad and disappointed, but do not want to burden you with it.

I simply needed to vent so as not to feel angry.

Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to benefit from this scholarship. At least I can help some Europeans and Americans who are ignorant of our mother Africa yet who always wish to learn about my culture and are curious to know what we are truly like, to get their stereotypes of Africa out of their minds. It is not much; I would like to do more, but it’s something. Perhaps in my course I will have the opportunity to do more in this respect. I thank the Women for Africa Foundation for what it is doing for us. And I thank you.

I send you a warm embrace. 

Sally Estelle Mekame, a scholarship student from Gabon at the University of La Rioja

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