Is That In Africa?

After my short time in Aceh so far, I’ve begun to wonder what is being taught in schools here.  Geography and current events seem to have passed the area by.  The racial stereotyping is unbelievable.  They’re nice about it and seem not to mean to be offensive but actions trump intentions every time.

Every single person who has asked me where I’m from has responded with, “Oh, Ja-my-ka!” when I answer them.  Then when I ask if they know where Jamaica is, they either say, “No,” or “Ahhhmm, Africa?”  Yup, they think all Black people come from Africa.

If the person who has asked me is a student or volunteer at the centre, I take them to the huge world map on the wall and show them Indonesia – many of them don’t know where to find Indonesia on the map; they’ll start with, “Where is Indonesia?” when we get to the map so I show them.  Then I show them the African continent then the US then Jamaica.  With others, I’ll ask them to show me where they think Jamaica is on the map and they’ll invariably ask me where Africa is and point to that.  Most of them have heard of Bob Marley so at some point in the conversation, they’ll make the connection and gleefully shout out, “Bob Marley!” to which I’ll usually nod and smile and repeat, “Yes, Bob Marley.”  Don’t be mistaken, though; they don’t actually know any of Bob’s songs.  And not one person here seems to have heard of Usain Bolt.  Uh huh, you read that right.

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Well, 1 person in Aceh has heard of Usain Bolt…whoever painted this mural in Blang Padang park…shock and awe!

I’ve observed my Asian-American colleague, who we’re calling A in this blog, interacting with locals on the street.  She speaks Bahasa Indonesian very well, having been here for 7 months so far, so she converses with them in their own tongue.  Whenever they ask her where she’s from and she says, “America,” they ask her if she’s sure she’s not from China.

That’s not a joke.  They seriously ask her that as a serious question.  Seriously.  I’ve observed that happening more than once.

I have so many questions.

Why do the majority of people here not even know that there is a region called the Caribbean?  Why do they think that all Black people must come from Africa?  How are they unaware that there are whole countries in the world filled with Black people and that those countries are not on the continent of Africa?  Why do they seem to think that only white people come from America, that Asian-American isn’t a real thing?  And why, why are 15, 16, 17 and 18 year old Indonesians unable to show me their own country on a map?

The morning after The Disaster, A and I were walking to the corner coffee shop to charge up our devices and get some work done while we waited for the roofers to come.  As we were walking past the village centre (a.k.a., the village chief’s hang out spot…eye roll), the village chief, who was sitting outside his office with 6 of his friends, called out to A so we went over to them.  After a couple of minutes of curious side eyes and chatter that I didn’t understand, 1 of the men finally looked at me full-on with a big smile and enthusiastically said, “Cameroon?”  I smiled, shook my head and said, “No, not Cameroon, Jamaica,” to which 4 of the 6 men shouted, “Bob Marley!”  I smiled and nodded.

Bet if I had asked them to show me Jamaica on a map, they couldn’t.

7 thoughts on “Is That In Africa?

  1. Oh, Kristine this was great. But if it makes you feel better I have met many “advanced” people who can find us on a map but think that we just live in coconut huts along the beach and lie in hammocks all day and are astonished that we have internet.

    • I hear you, Dani! My sister used to be a flight attendant flying between Jamaica and the US and many Americans asked her such questions about grass skirts and living in huts. This type of thing distresses me whether it’s a 3rd world country or an “advanced” one.


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