Nelly Tuikong-Park

Women by M. Tiyasaa

“When you are dreaming something, the universe will conspire to get that thing to you.”

One comrade comes to me and asks if I wear clothes when I first arrive in America. “You know, I was basically topless with my tits hanging when I walked out of the plane into Indianapolis International Airport. Americans were so horrified and ran to cover my body with some blanket,” I laugh. Hardly. It is a fun chat.
“Do you live in a tree?” Another guy joins the chat. He looks even more curious compared to the first one.
“Of course, where else could I live? We are here speaking about Africa, right?!” The show is still on.
“Do you have a pet lion?” The group gets bigger as a few more American comrades lean in to listen to this particular discussion. It sounds exotic, I must admit.
“Absolutely! I took them to the river every day. Oh man, it was so beautiful! I miss them so much! They were my guardians that used to stay under the tree I slept in to protect me from African wildlife dangers at night.” At first, I convince myself that those silly questions are a little parody to welcome foreigners in the class. Still, the way they listen with amazement and big enthusiasm totally confuse me. Even though I am shocked, I also feel entertained by this chat. It is either I act too well, or they are too innocent. Is it possible?
The image they have about us Africans sounds like an ancient picture that slightly manifests mockery. Yet, I can’t entirely blame them either. Africa becomes ironically caricatural because of the single narrative that is somehow created by the Western world. Every time people search for news or videos about Africa, tits hanging, or the Western coming to give aid for starving kids, are always appearing on the top page.
In Kaptumo, the village where I come from in western Kenya, the frightening event is never the presence of savage animals in my yard, but boys who aggressively knock on my bedroom windows. They acknowledge the absence of my father at home in the middle of the night. I will never be able to know what their intentions were but I was mostly worried of what they would do if they could get into the house. Rape was at the top of my head. And being raped by these boys is the most fear I hold during my teenage life. The fear that intimidates my whole system.
Does it mean that I don’t live in a tree as said earlier about my bedroom windows? Never and hopefully ever. I don’t have any kind of climbing skills, so living in a tree sounds like a punishment to me. I also have never seen a war either. I, in fact, don’t have any sort of exotic lifestyle they expect me to experience. I never have felt starvation or seen my friends die from malnourishment. At least, not in my home village.
“I must confess that it was a great challenge to complete my education, especially starting from high school. The most common system in Kenya for high school was boarding schools, and its fee wasn’t cheap.” They now get another shock hearing about our boarding high school system.
“Closer to the exam, they kept sending me home because my parents still had to pay off the fee. I got to the point that I wanted to quit. It was devastating to be sent home when all your friends were in school. But, my mom had encouraged me to stay bold, she promised me that she’ll take care of everything. And she did.” I continue the story as I see my comrades’ attention bears with me.
“True that higher education is not the biggest concern of many countries in Africa yet. If we, Kenyans, want to complete our education, parents and kids have to face many challenges, prior to the financial situation in particular. And my mom, as a single fighter in the family, had done her best to raise her three children while my dad kept burying himself into alcohol and debt.” We acknowledge many Americans are struggling to complete their higher education, too. So now the story sounds more typical to them. Higher education, such as University, isn’t really affordable in the US either.
In Africa, there are unfortunate and hungry kids or unsafe zones to visit. Yet, our stories are not one-dimensional. They are all parallel, just like any other place in the world. It seems like the Western world somehow accommodates to make Africa look and sound worse than it actually is.

Before closing the speech, I joke about how shocked I am the first time seeing so many white people in here. “I knew you guys existed, but this many, WOW!!” We all laugh along together. This discussion assures me that many young Americans are mostly eager to acknowledge reality. That moment leads me to the urge to help my home continent to create a fair image.
As an African citizen, the sign my comrades just show me brings me to the responsibility to serve more facts to the table; that Africa has another story to tell besides hungry kids, war, primitive tribes, or uneducated people.
My aspiration to be part of people changing my continent is as strong as my passion for changing Africa’s false narrative. Aid from the Western community provides us so little autonomy and expertise. It seems to me that, in some ways, they are not willing to change Africa. Most of them barely provide opportunities. There are many hidden agendas in the name of foreign policy, diplomacy, or straight-up helping the Africans. I do not want to deny some of the good that has come with it. I don’t want to take away from people who have actually changed people’s lives. Yet, we face the fact that aid, in many ways, kills Africa.

To address people’s narratives in the direction I wish them to evolve, I need to create a thriving, successful industry that is built and grows in Kenya. It is also necessary to use Kenyans as my only source, my employees. It is the territory I embrace to inaugurate my program. I know that my stay in the USA is temporary, and my return to Kenya is definitive. I start to eagerly build my African dream in America. I like how my endeavor sounds.

My cosmetic brand, Pauline Cosmetics, is later built beyond a legacy to myself, my country, and my continent. I relish the opportunity to speak for my home continent while getting invited as the only African make-up brand to the world beauty industry expo in Dubai in 2019. To me, that moment is more than just a business achievement.

That is the time when I have a chance to show the world that African women are fluent in modern beauty, too.

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