The Single Story

I think my favorite blogger right now is a woman named Rachel Pieh Jones, writing at Djibouti Jones. I don't know her, but I resonate with her, struggling with expatriate issues and acculturation with deep authenticity. She has a great post called, When Rich Westerners Don't Know They are Being Rich Westerners that every cross-cultural worker and every short-term mission team should read as a pre-visa requirement!

I read that blog while on Stateside, and somehow with it I also discovered an amazing TED Talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie  regarding the Dangers of a Single Story. It's worth every one of the 17 minutes to listen to her!

Both hit me in the gut, at a time we were regularly telling the story of our past 4 years in Malawi and Kenya to churches and small groups and the few individuals who asked and then actually stayed around to hear the answer to "What was it like..." I immediately went back to our slide-show and watched it through my new lens. Was I telling only one story? Was I selling Africa short by continuing the single-narrative of poverty and ignorance and tragedy? By showing all we had done to "save" it? I removed a few slides, added a few others, edited what I said. Became, in general, more aware of telling the full story. The victories of our Kenyan friends along with their challenges. The strengths of our Malawian friends, not just their obstacles. This was an issue I had always struggled with, these very thoughts nagging from the back of my brain since my days as an kid in Ethiopia, but never able to be coherently expressed. These women nailed it.

We've been back in Kenya for just over a year. Now that the issue has moved from the primal but unspoken brain into the forefront, I notice more often when people are telling a single story. And I realize it deeper when I'm suddenly faced with my own 1-dimensional biases.

I have always felt incredibly blessed to have been born an American. Through no merit of my own, I was born in a rural, run-down hospital; brought into the world on a cold metal gurney in a place with no back-up generator, nursing call-lights, or any sort of neonatal care, like the majority of the world. And yet I thrived, and I was awarded a blue passport, like the minority. It was my duty, it seemed, to be grateful for this gift. And I took up that duty with zealous compassion and humility--so much opportunity. So much responsibility.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I ran into a series of old friends from my days in Kenyan boarding school. Kenyans and Ethiopians, mind you. And I heard them tell their stories since high school...of world travel, of top-notch higher education. Of International awards, and earth-changing innovations. Of their estates and their staff and their vacations. And I realized, all along I had thought of myself as the lucky one, even next to them. Because I had the American passport. Yet I assure's not them with the envy!

And again, our church announced a fund-raising effort to fix the leaking roof and pave the parking lot and help with local ministries. It's a good-sized community, with a great mix of social classes and few expats. The pastor challenged us to think of what we could give above and beyond our tithe, and I found myself just a little bit proud that I thought we could donate 80,000KSH (roughly $1000) from funds we've set aside to use to help. I didn't mean to feel proud, but it was there anyway, an uninvited and mostly invisible guest until the pastor went on to announce that one church member had pledged to give 1,000,000KSH. Before some of you glaze over the numbers, or others bring up your calculators, let me help. That's $12,500. Twelve.thousand.five.hundred.dollars. And since I know the other 2 expat families in the church, I know for a fact it was none of us!!!! No, that was a Kenyan family, pledging to give the church $12,500 over the next year, and I identified that unwanted guest called pride when it was thrown back in my face.

I've also been trying to keep up with world news better, trying to pray through each 'top story' each day. But I'm in Kenya, so I'm international enough to get my news through Al-Jazeera, and American enough to have felt a little weird about that at first! But it's opening my eyes to bigger pictures, to fuller stories. And I'd like to think I'm better for it.

Not perfect, but faster to see my prejudices and my biases; faster to repent for believing a single story could ever sum up a people or a position. So I challenge you to look for the full stories; among the 55 different countries of Africa, among the suffering of Muslims at the hands of Jihadists, among the political parties of America, within the vaccine war. It takes more time, sure. You might have to think more. But aren't we as people, as ALL of us equally created in the image of God, worth it?


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