Tuesday, March 15, 2011

This Is Africa

The other day I went and saw a Pulitzer-prize winning play entitled "Ruined," which is set during the Civil War of the Congo.  Then I was watching Blood Diamond, with Leonardo DiCaprio, which takes place during the Sierra Leone Civil War.

I was looking into watching Hotel Rwanda or possibly The Last King of Scotland and that's about when I heard about the Somalian Pirates hijacking more tourist boats off the coast of Oman.  Meanwhile, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are going through the biggest political upheavals in recent history.

And then all of a sudden I felt very, very American.

Ig. No. Rant.
As a child of the Bay Area Bubble I felt absolutely utterly at a loss as to where in the world ANY of these things were happening.

I knew they were happening somewhere "out there" over in Yonder African Continent, but the geography, the layout, and the physical cultures that I hear about in wisps of hollywood movies, or strands of NY Times articles kind of blur together.

So, this week I decided to review my geography and the latest bits of history that are connected to what I do know (pop culture and buzz words) and finally placing them visually on a map to help me understand more.

My understanding of Africa's history is limited.  Even after researching for several days straight, I am still very ignorant.  So, I want to make it clear:  I am not trying to say only bad things happen in Africa.  I am also highly aware of the fact that the majority of the bad things that are occurring in Africa right now and for the past hundred yeas are due to colonization; i.e., this discussion is not meant to "blame the victim" of a land that's been wrenched apart by the greed of others.

However, this is not a post about the history of colonization in Africa. There just isn't enough room to cover It All in one week, let alone one blog.  So, all I am aiming to do is to give a visual of where exactly so many of these things I hear about day in and day out are happening, if not for me then for anyone else that needs a review but feels silly asking for one.  

All clear?

First, Africa Is Big. Like. REALLY Big.
Ok, so it's no wonder that everything became a blur in my head.  There are a lot of countries in Africa.  I know it's a cheap shot, but I think the mere size of some of these countries is what makes me, the average American, just get glaze-eyed.  It gets too big to comprehend.

So, I googled "Africa Big" and got this:

Yea, it's big.  Bigger than big.  I thought Texas was big.  I thought Denny's Breakfast Slams were big.  I was wrong.

Africa is big.

What's strange is the paradoxical nature of my ignorance; I still have this image of a "3rd World" Africa, in which everything is less developed, smaller, insignificant, etc.  Yet, paradoxically Africa's entire landmass is so huge, so vastly changeable.  It's made up of sovereign state countries, island nations and the territories left over from the Scramble For Africa.  It is one of the largest masses of land in the world, seconded only by the entire Asian continent, both in population and regional size.

Second, I Really Love Maps. 

As a kid I loved maps and loved to practice basic geography; one of my favorite games was trying to use as few colors as possible in my coloring map books to fill in all the states of the US or the nations of Europe.  Anyway, it seemed appropriate that the best way to re-educate myself on Africa was to draw it.  So, here goes.

Africa is officially split up into four regions in general; North, West, East, South and Middle.

I want to say I live in Middle California from now on.

Each area is filled with its own countries, territories and island nations.

Btws, drawing different Africas using MS Paint = a completely understandable hobby, and not at all obsessive. I'm not going to say how long it took to find these flags, but I will say that Wikipedia Portal: Africa had a huge part in my research this week. 

But that's just it.  HOW many flags do you see on there?  And how fast are your eyes already glazing over?

Too bad.  Your eyes are going to have to get readjusted.  Because it's now time for

Rapid Fire African Pop Culture History Lesson!

I mentioned a few mainstream titles previously.  Here's a handy-dandy map to get you up to speed on where those things are taking place: 

You  might have noticed most of those movies aren't doing the happy-color-schemes of soft blues, dreamy eyed lovers and high-flying hilarity.  No, no.  Those images and fonts all say the same thing:  blood.  pain.  strife.  struggle through absolutely dehumanizing and debilitating odds.  hope through having found love that there will be a way out.  monstrous people who prey on the powerless. no way out.  

Well, except for The Gods Must Be Crazy.  That movie is the black sheep of the African Films Family, I guess.  But, it was made in the 1980's.  For some reason, that feels like a good explanation.

So Where Does All The Stuff I Hear About Happen?

There is so much happening in the countries that make up Africa.  All the information I have held in my head are buzz words and they aren't good ones:  rape, genital mutilation, genocide, HIV/AIDS, children soldiers, conflict diamonds, slave trade, apartheid, poachers, colonization,  civil war, starvation, malnutrition, etc.

But, this is what occurred to me over the weekend after reading the billionth article on the muslim uprisings in Northern Africa:  If Libya is about to implode on itself due to the people rebelling against a ridiculous dictator I really DO want to know whether its close to Egypt or if it's closer to the Sudan.  I don't want these places to become meaningless blobs in my head (I almost wrote "meaningless blogs"--Freudian slip, right there). 

To all those other ignorant average Americans out there, does this help?



  1. Best way to learn the countries in Africa: http://www.sporcle.com/games/africa.php

  2. Thanks Moon!

    Amy, I failed the quiz. I only got 40/53. I missed Cape Verde, The Gambia, Tunisia (oi vey that one hurt), Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Ghana, Sao Tome and Principe, Equatorial Guinea, Burundi, Malawi, Comoros (also annoyed about that one), Mauritius and Seychelles.

    I will keep practicing. One day...one day soon...

  3. It took a night I'll never have back but I have now officially memorized all countries/territories of africa thanks to that quiz, Amy. Thank you!

  4. I think Woo should have lead this trip around Africa to point out all the places her people (English) colonized...lol

  5. Beryl, now tackle the WORLD MAP. Amy says she's proud of you.