When Nigerian author Chimimanda Adichie began to write as a child, her stories were about characters like the characters in the books she read. They were white. They played in the snow. They ate apples. They talked about how lovely it was that the sun came out.
Adichie had never been outside of Nigeria. She had never seen snow. She ate mangoes. And no one she knew talked about the weather, because it never changed. Adichie remarks that it shows how impressionable we are in the face of the stories we hear, especially as children. For her, it resulted in the fact that she had no idea that people like her could be characters in literature.
When she was 19, Adichie began college in the United States. Her roommate was shocked that she could speak English. She assumed that Adichie didn’t know how to use a stove. She had never heard of someone from Africa who belonged to the middle class.
The only story Adichie’s roommate had heard about Africa was that it was a continent of war, of disease, and of poverty. She began the relationship with an assumption that those from Africa deserved pity and needed help from white foreigners. An unintended consequence of this mindset was that it prevented the roommates from connecting as equals.
There is more than one story. There is always more than one story.
One of the benefits of travel, is that it gives us the opportunity to learn more than the one story.
Tomorrow I leave for El Salvador with a dozen people from our MetroDC synod. At this point, despite my reading, I have a rather limited understanding of the country. I have a story about immigration. I have a story about civil war. I have a story about the drug trade. I have a story about youths who have crossed the border into the United States.
There is always more than one story.
(To see Chimimanda Adichie’s TED Talk entitled, The Danger of a Single Story, check the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church Facebook Page or the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg )