I’ve been told that, as an international student, I am an ambassador for my country, an educator if you will. I accept both of these roles graciously, and I am always happy to share information and insights with anyone willing to listen.
However, I’ve been asked too many questions that border on ridiculous and negligent. In an attempt to clear up some of the mystery surrounding my origins (And point and make fun of some of the more ridiculous questions), I will share some of the most common and ludicrous questions I’ve been asked.
Note: These are all real questions I’ve been asked by students in my three years here. Pinky promise.
Did you see lions on the way to school? Given the reputation for animal tourism that countries in Africa have attained, this is completely understandable (Just as I assume that kangaroos roam the streets of Australia, just hopping about). However, lions and other wildlife are often secluded to wild and rural areas. They tend to avoid people and occasionally will come into contact with farmers and their livestock (Cows tend to make delicious and easy prey). Next one.
Did you have a door? What? Firstly, this is so randomly specific I can’t even begin to understand what would lead someone to wonder about this. Maybe this person had their doors removed from their bedroom as some sort of punishment for bad behavior and, in their desolate and self-pitying state, their friends reassured them by telling them that kids in Africa grew up without doors all the time and turned out just fine. I digress, but seriously though, what? Yes, of course we had doors. And windows. And roofs. And EVEN FURNITURE!! Mind blowing, I know.
Are you two from the same tribe? This question was directed to me (Ethiopian) and one of my Nigerian teammates. The response to which was a blank stare and a somewhat gaped jaw. This question was asked in locker room after practice where banter and obscenities are thicker than the air. This question managed to elicit complete and utter silence. Perhaps the rest of them were just wondering the same thing. But alas, no. Our countries are separated by half the continent and thousands of miles.
Did you have an elephant? I’ll take blame when it is deserved. This question stemmed from a rumor that I (In my devious ways) had devised for my own amusement. It started off when I had a picture posted on facebook of me feeding an elephant. Someone then asked me if they ate a lot, and “whew, they must be expensive to feed”. Instead of taking my usual course and explaining some of the stereotypes of Africa aren’t necessarily always true, I decided that some fun was to be had out of this situation. So I named my elephant Rosie and always shared stories of how gentle and friendly she was, how she would always give me rides to far away villages and so on.
Disclaimer: I don’t actually have an elephant, and I didn’t live in a village.
Did you go to school in trees? This person obviously had some pretty weird misconceptions about the schooling system in Africa. I mean how impractical would it be to have to go to school in a tree? Would you have to walk (swing) to other classes? Would each class be on a different branch? If so, how many students could you fit onto a single branch? Logistics, man; there are just too many technical issues to figure out here.
Did you have to kill a lion when you were 13 to prove you were a man? I attribute this question to the commonly told story of the Maasai. The Maasai are a remote tribe in Kenya who are famous for their picturesque dressing and rites of passage. One of these rituals involves boys from the ages of 10-15 grouping up and hunting a male lion with only spears to prove their bravery and fearlessness. Fortunately (for the lion), I never endured such a test of my brittle.
How’d you speak English so good? Went to an international school, listened.
Doesn’t it take long to get home? Yes, two 7 hour flights.
Are you Indian? I’m Ethiopian, but I can understand the confusion. Ethiopians have a distinct set of physical features that are atypical of most of Africa (Barring Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti). These include but are not limited to: fairer complexions, high cheek bones, large foreheads, thin noses and large eyes.