Pictures of Our Ugliness! (My Story)
Make sure you take lots of interesting pictures. That was what my boss requested of me when I sought his permission for a leave of absence to attend my sister’s wedding in Ghana. It seemed like an innocent request, so I gladly obliged. I was going to take pictures anyway, he didn’t really have to ask. Two days before my departure, however, my boss repeated his request, this time with exact descriptions of what he expected to see – pot-holes, pot-bellied children, mud huts and village people. This was the Africa he knew. This was the Africa he had seen and heard about in the news. This was the Africa he saw when he looked at me, his capable assistant. If I was surprised and offended, I did not show it. After all, he was paying my salary; and he could not possibly mean those things in all seriousness.
Nevertheless, four days later, I found myself taking pictures of the very nature of which my boss requested. I saw the beauty right before my eyes in this place I called home, and yet there I was snapping away in shameless betrayal at every uncovered drain that spewed rubbish. In a part of the city where I accompanied my sister to get her dress hemmed, I found myself taking pictures of slum children. They were my boss’s exact description, and they gladly posed for my lenses. It was not all bad, however. I also found time to take pictures of much of our beauty, including the church where my sister got married, and the beautiful hotel garden where she held her reception.
A few days before my departure to the United States, we were going through the pictures when my mother asked, “Why are there so many pictures of “our ugliness?” I felt unquestionable shame. This was my home, and I had taken pictures that would help feed my boss’s ignorance of a country he knew nothing about. I was enforcing a stereotype I knew he must have of me too, and by feeding this stereotype I was degrading myself, and the country I love.
Those pictures never made it across the ocean.
Back at the office, I proudly showed off the pictures of my beautiful country. I was also inspired by this experience to educate people like my boss. I started Afrikan Goddess Online, a publication for African women. The publication focuses on our beauty, not our ugliness.