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21.10.2008 Feature Article

‘Abrokyire’ Palaver: We are ignorant, others are “ignoranter”

I have never pretended to come from a country of knowledge or where people are better informed than some countries in the world. I am therefore not surprised when people pose certain questions about the United States and all that it is supposed to embody.

I remember that one of the first lessons I learnt, officially during school orientation, was that “Americans know nothing beyond their country” so I am not too surprised when even students in an academic institution keep alluding to Africa as one country. When the Kenyan electoral disturbances broke out, I remember some students asking if my family was okay because there was war in Kenya. Hmm nice to be that thoughtful but I do not come from Kenya and Africa is not one country - at least not yet.

I tried to have a sense of this when a student asked where Ghana was and I said “oh it's a string of small islands that border the UK and Nigeria” and then she said oh yes I hear there are some nice islands out there and I hope to visit there one day – welcome to my Ghana island, “ignoranter”.

Then is the question, “where did you learn English from, do you speak English in Africa?” Sometimes I am tempted to 'give it to them' but often my tongue gets glued to my palate because it is just dumbfounding that such questions get asked not by the ordinary person on the street but by university students and it scares me what questions the ordinary person could be asking.

I got my hair braided and met someone who was all over me admiring it and asked if my hair “was done by the Africans”, oh yeah the Africans did my hair. I had heard this referral to Africa as one country so many times I decided to embark on a little class exercise so anytime there is an assignment that allows for free choice of topics, I choose one related to Ghana or Africa and since presentations are a must it offers me a good opportunity to educate the university “ignoranter”.

This week however I was discussing this with a classmate who is a typical American- brutally frank and honest- and he referred me to some Youtube videos which he felt would give me an appreciation of that statement I first heard during orientation. I do not intend in any way to popularize You tube, although I believe it already is, but so that you appreciate at first hand what my concerns are.

Surprising the knowledge level sometimes does not even extend to the same country in which they live.

I have provided the links to two videos and then you will be surprised to know that there are people who do not even know the religion of Buddhist monks, or that a country that starts with a U is Uthiopia (Ethiopia) or Utah, or that the United Kingdom currency is called Queen Elizabeth or how they can be quick to accept someone who poses as John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia and gets such phenomenal response you can begin to understand why 419 always gets some good victims. And the interesting thing is that these are not staged performances.

This other link is interesting because it poses questions about Iraq and I am sure we may expect that having been in this war long enough Americans will necessarily be interested in what is happening aside the fact that they have troops in Iraq.

One thing I keep asking myself is that why do we hold the American to such high expectations? For some reason we think the American is an all-in-all and so we spend all our time watching out for Obama or McCain and spending time listening to them debate each other but fail to hold our own politicians to the zillions of promises they keep making on the campaign trails.

In any case, are we still learning about world history in our schools? How much of our own history do we know as a people? The next time you meet an American and begin to ask all the questions about what is happening in Iraq ask yourself how much you know about your own country Ghana. That may be more helpful to you before the “ignoranter” disappoints you with how little they know about others.

Credit: Dot Asare-Kumah

Email: [email protected]

Dorothy Asare-Kumah
Dorothy Asare-Kumah, © 2008

This author has authored 21 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: DorothyAsareKumah

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