Everyone Wants to Tell You How to Live

Your Story

His cane swept across the sidewalk. Feet sprung up dodging the tip of the stick as it beat against the soles of their shoes. He was a grumpy man, his body shook to the core as he mumbled incoherently through the crowd. He was restless and the construction zone had little mercy for his blindness.

A drunk man reached for him, grabbing his arm.

“Come on, this way!” The drunk man yelled, pulling the blind man away from the crowd.

He tried to pull away but the drunkard held on tighter until he pushed him. His hands shook as he seemed to swap the air with his cane, motioning for the drunk man to walk away.

“Suit yourself!” The drunk man screamed as he let go of his arm, tripping before he could get his footing.

The cane settled back on the sidewalk sweeping between feet, trash and concrete. As he walked past the crowd his cane wandered onto the street and cars halted.

“Can I help you?” I asked. “You’re about to go on the street. There are lots of cars here.”

“Everyone wants to tell you how to live!” He replied, the cane tapping over my boots.

“Can I hold your left arm? Are you trying to get to the bus stop?”

“No! Yes, this is the bus stop!”

“You just passed the bus stop. I can show you were it is if you turn back.”

He took another step, the cars shrieked to a halt, horns blared and cars swerved past him like a stampede of animals being hunted.

“Just-make a left.” I replied.

“These drunk people tried to help me when I got off the train. They should help themselves!” He huffed.

His stumbled back, made a left, his cane reaching far out. The knock of a light pole. The divider. More concrete. People moved away as they were hit. A swipe across the foot. A knock on the left ankle.

The bus came and I gave him instructions until he had entered and settled on a corner seat in the back, where the drunks seemed to disappear as the bus drove away.

Later that weekend I thought of him. It was during a conference on Africa and the role of Africans in the diaspora in the economic development of the continent.

I listened to a high level conversation about the future of Africa, the emergence of mobile technology and the constraints of doing business there. I took note of the progression of certain regions, the resourcefulness of its people, and the progress of women in certain areas. I also listened to the criticism. The wars. The lack of resources and education.

Like the blind man I wanted to yell. As the discussion dragged on I wanted to walk away. As the comparisons were brought up I wanted to argue about the discrepancies.

Why? Because those that spoke of Africa had a limited view of Africa. Because there wasn’t a single African on the panel. Because everyone wanted to tell Africa how to live, but had little to no understanding of what Africans were going through.

I wondered how we too could turn around. How we could run from the push and pull of other countries telling us how to live. How we could find the means of surviving in a world that seemed unwilling or unable to move beyond their own definition of Africa. I wondered, who would guide us? Who would lead us, if not for ourselves? Who would sit on a panel and tell our stories?

Like the blind man I too welcomed the opportunity to find a corner and talk with other Africans. To identify the future we envision for Africa and to implement those changes ourselves. I wanted to give suggestions, to offer advice, to exchange ideas, but found little room to do so.

This was not the first time I had witnessed the discussion of Africa by an all-white panel. In fact it has become a regular occurrence where many of my friends often ask if I’m one of maybe two in the room. Ironically, this time around the room was filled with Africans. Unfortunately, we were forced to sit and listen.

In doing so, I was reminded of the importance of being proactive. I realized the need to tell our stories. To question the ideas non-Africans have of Africa.

Are you an African? What are some of your ideas for the continent and/or the country you come from?

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