DO YOU HAVE A PET LION?

“I have something to tell you, I don’t know how you are going to take it” she said as she took a deep breath. My mother looked so nervous, what could she possibly be trying to tell me?

“Just tell me mom! You’re making me nervous!” I yelled.

“Okay, I know you have your friends and our family here but we’re moving to New York…don’t be mad, but we have to, my job just stationed me there.” She gave me a sheepish smile and shrugged.

I couldn’t understand why my mother was so nervous to tell me that we were going to be living in the concrete jungle. In that moment, I wasn’t thinking about the family or friends that I would leave behind in Zimbabwe, all I could think about was how excited I was by the prospect of meeting Beyoncé in the streets of New York!

As a young girl living in southern Africa, I always thought living in New York would be a breeze, I envisioned myself walking past celebrities on the daily, going to concerts every weekend, and even becoming an artist myself! After all, America is the land of dreams, I thought to myself. Well, it is safe the say that I was in for a shock.

In all my excitement I forgot that going to America actually meant travelling, which meant a whole 24 hours of flying. As annoying long flights are, that didn’t bring me down. If anything, it just built up my excitement. They do say that good things come to those who wait!

I quickly learned that my expectations of life in New York did not match reality. I enrolled in high school in a city called New Rochelle just 30 minutes outside of Manhattan, and this is when I realized that everything is not always as it seems. I definitely did not walk the streets to find celebrities walking beside me, as I had expected, and I definitely had not seen any music producers waiting at subway stops to scout talent. I quickly learned that the New York presented on television and in movies was not an accurate representation of what my life in New York would be like. With time, I got to know the real New York, and learned to love this bustling, quirky city for what it really is.

I wasn’t the only one that had unrealistic expectations, and preconceived notions of another culture. The American children seemed to have expected something different from me as well! When I introduced myself in school and mentioned that I was from Africa, I immediately became a fan favorite. People were so intrigued by my country of origin. The fact that I was from Africa was beyond them.

“You’re from Africa? So you have lions in your backyard?” said one of my classmates. This shocked me. I was perplexed that someone could  believe such a thing! “So do you have television in Africa? Did you watch cartoons too in Africa?” The questions kept rolling in, and I couldn’t understand why they were asking me such silly questions. Were they trying to be rude or funny? I didn’t get it. Did they really know that little about Africa?

Being someone who had lived in Africa my whole life, I knew what it was actually like. I knew people in my community did not have any pets besides the dog and cat that I knew even Americans had, and I hadn’t even heard of anyone in my country that had a pet lion or even zebra. I had only seen a lion at a safari or a wildlife reserve, and those were hundreds of kilometers from where I lived. Africa was very different from what the American children expected, and again, my experiences only reflect what life is like in Zimbabwe. Africa is a vastly diverse continent, with lots to offer beyond what is captured in World Vision commercials.

When you’ve never been somewhere, you create your own idea of what that place is like.. Often, our expectations are shaped by the media. I soon realized that media images of Africa often featured malnourished children, wild animals, or some combination of the two.  This may be the case for some countries, but certainly not all of Africa.  Not all African countries have wild animals roaming the streets, just like how celebrities are not left, right and center all over America!

This story looks at two different countries, and explores how your background and experiences can shape how you perceive another country. Someone that has visited Manhattan, New York may have still believe that they might meet a celebrity one day, but Manhattan is not New York. Manhattan is a part of New York, and there are so many greats part of New York that unfortunately do not get enough attention!  Similarly, there is so much more to Africa than just wildlife reserves. There are some places that are very developed!

There is so much about another location that can only be truly understood through experience. As soon as you immerse yourself in a different culture, you begin to understand that perhaps the ideas that you had about that place while still in your home country were wrong. You begin to see that sometimes, the media misrepresents places. There is so much more to a place than what is captured on TV. Travel, and not just going to the main tourist attractions, but authentic travel, where you connect with locals, is a great way to see beyond you preconceived notions, and truly understand a new place.

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