Lost in Translation

Dear Kordei,

I hope this letter finds you alive and well. How is your event business going? Well I have been meaning to write about the weird and stereotypical questions I get all the time. Some are funny and some are just downright rude. The problem of stereotypes is everywhere, from within ethnic groups to nationalities. Some people I believe don’t think their questions are offensive, I call them ‘’lost in translation’’ questions. Because when translating to English, you probably did not think everything through.

Apart from being a victim of stereotype, I guess I have also being a perpetrator but life is about learning and unlearning. I have learnt so much. Recently I spoke to a woman from Costa Rica who told me how some people only talk about South America and forget Central America. Costa Rica is a country in Central America and not south. It is in the little things.

Some people in Ghana too ask me some stereotypical questions or pass certain comments. When One person heard I was in Germany, the first comment he passed was ‘’the racists’’. So far, in Bremen I have encountered the loveliest of people, from the kindness of strangers to the warmth of work colleagues and friends. I have also meant few mean people. They are just reserved.

Well people have asked me and other volunteers and friends very weird questions, some funny, others offensive. The ones I find funny are from the children. I don’t blame them, they are just being plain curious.

One woman once asked me ‘’is it easy to be rich in your home country?’’ I really don’t think it is easy to be rich anywhere or? If it was, we will not have something like top 1%.  I just smiled and said no, and asked her if it was easy to be rich in Germany. She smiled and said no. Probably realised how silly her question was.

My Togolese counterpart was also asked if Togo was a big forest. Another too was asked if they have an airport. He laughed and answered yes. Thank God, I wasn’t asked the same question. I would have been sarcastic and said, ‘’no I swang on trees from Togo to Germany’’. I met a student too in Hamburg who was asked if he came through the Mediterranean. The person was trying to insinuate that is the only means of transport known by most Africans. These questions are pardoned when children ask them but educated adults!  Come on, it is 2020. Use the internet sometimes please. Once again, it is just a small percentage that experience this. Another question I am asked a lot is ‘’Do you want to go back to Ghana?’’ I don’t have a problem with this question at all but the reaction from some people after my answer is the issue. When I say ‘yes’ with so much excitement, some are surprised. Yes, I do want to go back, I come from a home. I love my country’s weather plus the love in the community. I really do miss my family and my best friend.

Let me not spoil your mood with these questions. The ones that make me laugh are form the children. With their cute faces and serious looks. One asked me if I see snakes often in Ghana. I mean where I live in Accra, I do not see snakes. Another asked if I had to walk for miles to get water, I said no. She was a bit surprised and told me she had a book that said people in Africa walk for miles to get water. I don’t blame her, most of the story books from my continent here are filled with pictures of safaris, desert and villages. I then had to explain to her that the book was just a partial representation. I don’t think she really understood because my German at that time was terrible. The recent one was from one sweet kid in the kindergarten. I rubbed some hand cream on my hands; she looked and asked ‘’why are your hands so black? ‘’. I was told to expect questions like this but for months now, none of the kids asked. I just burst into laughter and told her to repeat the question to her kindergarten teacher. I felt so bad for laughing initially because she was sad that I laughed at her question. I just could not help it but that was bad on my part.

I told her my whole body is the same colour and that is how it is. She didn’t seem convinced but I guess I tried.

Well, I hope to write more about these experiences. I also hope to learn from other cultures and nationalities and to not ask weird , stereotypical or “lost in translation“questions.

Have a blessed week.


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