Naofal Ali: I grew up in Africa. Don’t be sorry for me

by Naofal Ali

To understand this article, two precisions are needed. I was born and have grown up in Benin (a west African Country), and I’m presently living in Paris.

A simple fact makes me write this post. Each time my European colleagues and friends ask me about my life course, I naturally answer them I’m from Benin. It’s my birth country and the place I have grown up in. Then, something incredible always follows: I read pity in their faces.

At that moment, their facial expressions silently shout at me “Oh the poor little guy. How sad and traumatic his childhood should have been”. People feel sorry for me, sorry I was born and have been raised in an African country.

Dear people, henceforth, do not be sorry for me anymore. I’m okay! Actually I’m even fine, and growing up in Africa is still the best thing ever in my life. I’m going to tell you why, with the hope it will make your vision less naive.

“In countries like Africa”

For your information Africa is not a country. It’s a 54 countries continent and each has its own realities. Are North Korea and South Korea the same? Colombia and Brazil? France and Italy? You know they are not. So when will you understand the same goes for us?!

“The war zone”

Even if all you heard about Africa is CNN sad news and safaris, be smarter than that. There are no conflicts all over the continent! Of course we have our own issues, but who doesn’t? You got FARCs in South America, Ukraine issues in Europe, and Palestine in Asia. You see? Problems are everywhere, not only in Africa.

“Poor people”

I know it can sound weird but the notion of poverty is way more complex than you actually think. According to you, is someone with an annual wage of 10 000 euros a year poor? I guess, yes. Actually, with that ‘’low wage’’ in Benin you can live four times better than with the quadruple in Paris. Your house will be better, your food will be better, you’ll have more people to count on, your job and your life will be less stressful, and as bonus you’ll get  tropical weather 7 days a week. Don’t just make currencies’ calculations, it distorts reality. As far as your means allow you to live in comfort where you are, you are not poor, and many of Africans are in that case.

“No social life”

In Africa, family and friendship mean so much to us. No matter the situation you are dealing with, someone always got your back. Our grandparents don’t live in rest houses, our mothers don’t feel concern in who will keep their babies because all their relatives want to. We have the lowest suicide rate in the world, and it shows how much we appreciate life. We do not wait for Facebook to have hundreds of friends, we do not wait for Blablacar to share cars. We do not wait for Airbnb to welcome people in our houses for free. We do not wait for “vizeat” to share our home-cooked meals. In fact, your social revolution is our everyday life. Sharing is not a new business trend in Africa. We got it in our DNA. Values, help, friendship, sharing, and sense of family. That’s what social life is made of in Africa. Not only of stupid images you watch on TV.

“No technolgy”

I confess we have no high speed internet, many electricity issues, no subway, no high speed trains, only few malls, and sometimes, it really turns out to be problematic. But take a step back, and look around you. See the life that we’re living these years in western countries. Parents are afraid of GMO’s in their babies’ food, citizens are afraid of terrorism threats, people are being watched permanently by governments, banks are playing dirty with workers savings, Isis is turning vulnerable teenagers in radical islamists on the internet. So, maybe Western countries have opportunities that we don’t. But the same goes for their problems.

Once again dear non-African reader, don’t be sorry for me. Growing up in Africa is the best thing life ever gave me. Just raise your eyes. The world is larger, and more complex than you might think.

Hi, I’m Naofal. I grew up in Benin and I’m fine.
Nice to meet you.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Naofal Ali is a product manager, who loves FMCG’s Marketing, Design, Entrepreneurship, Africa, and People

This article was first published here

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