If I were to write about America…

…see, I’ve just spent about four weeks in the United States of America, and I am not going to write a ‘journalistic’ piece on my visit there because for some reason the story is simply not as interesting as the one in vice-versa.


I mean that if I were an American journalist who’d spent four weeks on holiday in Uganda, I’d be able to subsidise my visit costs by writing and selling a couple of stories from my interactions and observations, and possibly even become a sort-of expert on African – not just Ugandan – affairs thereafter.

I only spent time in Arizona and California – which is like an American coming to Africa and splitting four weeks between Kenya and Uganda, or Tanzania and Zambia.

Vice versa, sobriety aside, I’d be filing a piece on my visit to ‘Africa’ with my observations summing the entire continent up along the lines of Binyavanga Wanaina’s award-winning story, ‘How To Write About Africa‘ (Google it or forever consider yourself ignorant).

As expected, even Americans who aren’t journalists follow the same generalisations we see in foreign media.

“Where are you guys from?” our group kept getting asked.

“Uganda!” we’d proudly respond, always getting back a polite, “Aaah!” or “Wow!” that normally meant nothing, proven when, after a few seconds, some would add, “I’ve been to Mali/Ghana/Senegal/some other African country.”

One or two of them actually told us that they had friends or knew people from other African countries. Cue nonplussed silence.

In my article, much narrative would be provided by the natives and their ignorance of the world outside of their concrete jungles where they hold their daily rituals, forage for food and things in malls, scuttle to and fro sipping at coffee or sodas in paper cups, and munch away at various types and sets of fast food snacks. Americans eat poorly, I’d write, citing the ubiquity of fast food joints to explain why so many Americans are so fat (anti, I was in Arizona – I don’t know about the people of New York or Washington DC, but for me the people I saw were mostly fat so…)

But no, I am not going to write the ‘journalistic’ piece about Americans.

If I did so in vice-versa, I’d find myself writing about how the US President travels with a large convoy of vehicles and blocks off roads and highways when he travels upcountry, much to the chagrin of the wanainchi. In Arizona the other week, parts of the highway and feeder roads were closed to allow Obama’s motorcade to convey him to ‘the Valley’ where he addressed a political rally.

I can swear that if I pushed it I’d be able to say that Obama’s upcountry visits were paving the way for the Democrats campaign for the 2017 (or it it ’18?) elections at which Hilary Clinton, wife of former President Bill Clinton, is supposed to contest. In the reverse setting, I’d probably mention nepotism and point out other family ties in US politics, but as I’ve said that’s not going to happen.

The article would also point to the tactics of the government in handling the media, using the same Obama visit to Arizona to illustrate the point; the last time Obama went to Arizona he had been at political war with Arizona State Governor Janice Brewer, and a photograph of Governor Brewer pointing a stern finger at Obama when she received him on the tarmac went viral, embarrassing the President.

They hadn’t made up by the time he visited this time round, so his handlers positioned ‘the Beast’, the official vehicle of the US President, in front of the media cameras to obscure their view to avoid repeating the embarrassing media publication; the US Secret Service (I’d have to add ‘sinisterly named’ there if tables were flipped) thus created an off-camera meeting by shielding the two as they met.

This bit of the article on government control of the media would take illustration from Fox TV coverage and political satirical shows such as The Daily Show and the Colbert Report that are clearly ‘partisan’. And at one point in the article, I’d mention the recent subpoena by the US Government for Associated Press documents related to a story they were doing and “national security” concerns. 

And, my vice versa article would read, in a country where the economy is doing badly – most recently evidenced by the city of Detroit declaring bankruptcy but that being just icing on the cake of depression and despondency we’ve heard about over the last so many years – it just follows that the government would be tough and hard fisted.

That poverty is in plain sight if you go to the right neighbourhoods to see it, but I wasn’t there for that so I didn’t bother stopping the one time we drove though a neighbourhood with shuttered windows and filthy lawns and grubby people hanging about.

Speaking of which, you know that part of the story where the journalist generally sums up the people of the country in about a paragraph that describes everyone at once? Like where, I could say, Americans are of hispanic origin and tend to be fat; they dress informally, in vests, t-shirts, shorts and sandal slippers, which they call flip-flops; and they all have large tattoos covering their bodies. 

Again, it’s rarely useful background to point out that I only visited Arizona and California, and that during a very hot summer, mostly in holiday-type places where one would not expect to find people wearing business suits. In vice-versa, you KNOW which places the foreign journalist would spend time in when they visit Uganda (read ‘Africa’); which is why the Iraqis we know are THOSE ones, the Africans you read about are, yes, THOSE ones you are thinking about, and yet the Americans that come to mind are those you see on TV.

Including the ones who prove how both violent and racist they are. My article would raise proof of the racism by calling on the ghost of Trayvon Martin, and the reports that protestors at Obama’s visit to ‘the Valley’ chanted, as he was leaving, “Bye Bye, Black Sheep”!

Then I would dwell on my experience one night at a petrol station shop in Orange County (in Los Angeles) when I stopped to buy some snacks and the fellow behind the counter declared quite quickly through the window, “No beer this time!” (sic).

I overcame my surprise and thought that perhaps my hooded jacket and jeans were the uniform for people seeking to buy beer at this hour, and told him in clearer english than he possessed that I was there to buy milk, crisps, peanuts and a large cake of soap to supplement the small bits they give you in a hotel.

He very reluctantly opened up and allowed me to shop, but kept his hands under the counter the whole time, probably fingering his gun or a baseball bat, the Americans are such violent people!

But I am not writing any of that stuff; the last thing we all know I’d want would be to jeopardise my chances of getting a US visa next time round. If I were a foreign journalist writing on Africa, the thought wouldn’t even occur; no, forget about that ka-guy, Taylor Krauss, deported from Uganda a few weeks ago – he was showing off too much. 

But I can bet he’ll be writing his story and perhaps making a movie out of it soon; about his ordeal in ‘Africa’.

4 thoughts on “If I were to write about America…

  1. So, so … sadly … true!
    After the last Kenyan elections, I toyed with the idea of publishing a travel advisory on either the UK or the US of A, but chickened out after remembering that my Mum lives in the US and I haven’t yet made good on a longstanding promise to visit her.


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