Monday, June 17, 2013

Chuck 'em Where?

"Chuck 'em in the middle of Africa, they won't survive long…"

…said the guest on the BBC Radio talk show.  I was driving through Accra traffic and only had the station on for a short snippet, just enough to know the radio folks were talking about how we humans modify our environment to fit our requirements instead of adapting to survive whatever the surroundings.  How we are so fragile without our comforts.

It caught my attention, this reference to 'Africa.'  How the "middle of the continent" was somehow the de facto place on the planet where it would be hardest for us less hardiest of beasts to survive.

I suppose the guest didn't mean his comment to be derisive, but I took it that way.  I'll stop short of saying I was "appalled and disgusted" at the negative stereotyping.  It at least made me sad.

Never mind that the "middle of Africa" isn't a real place.  The continent is too varied - in both shape and culture - to have a middle.

What hit me the most was that there was no qualification of the use of Africa as the prototypical fearsome wilds.  The guest didn't say, "Chuck 'em in a jungle in the middle of Africa…," or "Chuck 'em in the middle of the Sahara…"  He simply assumed the whole place was so inhospitable and disease-ridden, so full of beasts of prey that no human, left to themselves, could survive.  Anywhere.

Now it's very true that there are a lot of wild places in Africa, places that, left to myself, I certainly wouldn't survive in for very long.  But when people talk about the continent's dangerous places I want there to be a specific qualifier, a discrete area, in the conversation.

If you don't know enough about this land to name a specific treacherous place, don't lump the whole shebang into the primeval heap.  (I do love mixed cliches.)

I recently walked through an example of survival here in the West African country of Ghana.  A kind of basic adaptability that the dude who said "chuck 'em in Africa…" probably wouldn't be able to pull off himself.

The used clothing market in Accra Central burned down barely a month ago.  But when I went through there last week, the place was already back to functionality.  In place of the wooden stalls with their corrugated tin roofs I saw a sea of umbrellas sheltering the traders, their goods piled on pallets to keep them off the mud.

Now that's a place I'd like to see the BBC commentator chucked.  See how long he'd survive.