Among the many interesting things that came up in my conversation earlier this week with my friend, Eugene, was his recommendation of Chimamanda Negozi Adichie’s wonderful 2009 TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.”
This line summed up the talk beautifully:
I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.
A few things came up for me as I watched. First, Adichie mostly talks about the single stories told by others. I think her premise also applies to the single stories we sometimes tell ourselves. Finding that balance between honoring the truth of our experiences while also recognizing that it is just one experience is really challenging.
Second, Adichie’s complaints about the single stories many Americans have about Africa in general and about Nigeria in particular reminded me of my travels there in 2008, especially this line:
Every time I am home I am confronted with the usual sources of irritation for most Nigerians: our failed infrastructure, our failed government, but also by the incredible resilience of people who thrive despite the government, rather than because of it.
In a blog post about my experiences leading up to the trip, I wrote:
One of my best and oldest friends, Gbenga Ajilore, is Nigerian. So is one of Blue Oxen‘s advisors, Ade Mabogunje. I spoke with both of them before the trip, and they were excited about me coming here. The reaction from other friends and colleagues was quite the opposite. Most of the non-Nigerian Africans I spoke to do not think highly of Nigerians for reasons that I don’t quite understand. Several of my well-traveled friends had horror stories to share, although none of them had actually visited here. Cheryl [Francisconi] is the most fearless and experienced traveler I know, and even she had some scary stories.
I was incredibly fortunate to have many stories about Nigeria going into that trip, as it enabled me to have an open mind. Cheryl told me something else right before the trip. She thought that my week in Nigeria would be one of my most difficult travel experiences, and that I would walk away loving the people there. She was so right on both counts.