Tuesday, August 21, 2007

From the warm heart of Africa, Malawi to the USA.

By Penelope Paliani

The day I left the warm heart of Africa Malawi for the United States of America a month ago, an old Chinese adage that says 'a journey of thousands miles begin with a single step' lingered in my heart.

Living my lifetime American dream was a journey into a thousands miles. The moment I stepped in the plane to participate an International Center for Journalism Exchange Program I knew it I was to discover a lot.

Ever since I was growing up I was meant to believe that the United States of America was place of milk and honey judging by the motion pictures depicted in the Hollywood movies.

Life full of a good fighter or a hero owning a mansion, living in the magnificent beaches of Florida, driving expensive posh cars, bathing in a Jacuzzi and fighting street gangs.

Most young Africans believe that every American is rich, full of machismo and pretty.

My visit to this rich country and coming from the world poorest continent, a remote Southern African nation of Malawi, disorganized newsroom and press is mind-boggling. It is about imaging to reinvent myself into this American dream.

Throughout my flight from Africa to Denver I dreamed about meeting one of the American movie star idolized back home and those greatest reporters.

After going through marathon daily boardroom briefings about a whole range of aspects of life here in the United States, I have come to revisit my perception of America. This is not merely the land of great opportunities, but the land of the free and the brave.

The press is free and is protected by the first amendment no one at all can create rules on how the press should operate.

I feel if the media back home had such freedom there would be chaos. I am mesmerized by the way the press here stick to ethics despite the absolute freedom.
I must say I have been dazzled by the fact that many people including some journalists here in Denver do not know where my country is located. But at the same time it has been a source of pride to me as I
Will be the first person they will always remember from that little Southern African country Malawi.

You know when you grow up in Africa: America pervades your whole being. It is in your dream and your entertainment.

We have American movies and American music. We even get donations from America and they get to dictate our politics. So you can't avoid anything

Here in America people can certainly live out their lives without knowing Malawi, or even meeting anyone from that country. I have had to explain carefully about Malawi and who my neighbors are, hoping that someone will eventually recognize that part of the world.

Some do, eventually. Some don't. In some cases invoking the name of Dr Hasting Kamuzu Banda the dictator who ruled the country for 30 years has helped, but no one wants her country to be remembered by the name of a dictator ten years after his death.

I do know some reasons why an American taxpayer should feel compelled to know about Malawi. Piles of American taxpayers' cash are sent there to redeem AIDS sufferers eradicate polio, fight malaria and keep the government afloat.

There's a fully staffed, state-of-the-art American embassy there, too. And American Peace Corps volunteers are often sent to Malawi where they work teach and help with the ministry of health in hospitals.
Another taste of American life to imbue me the African journalist with an inferiority complex is how big everything is.

The roads are eight times larger than our narrow, pot-holed roads, where people must cross intersections without traffic-control lights.

In Africa, motorists have full right-of-way and do not respect pedestrians.
Allow me to point out without annoying the honorable citizens of this "big" nation, the fact that not only the malls, houses and cars are big but even the people are big too.

There are more fat people in America than in Malawi, at a ratio of 100:1 it seems to me. Americans eat more fatty foods than Malawians, who can barely afford a meal.

While Americans are fighting to lose weight, Malawians struggle to put on some weight for recognition. I noticed too that there is a whole range of choices Americans have to make in their daily lives.

From the choice of food in supermarkets to the choice of television channels, radio stations, choices of cars houses and entertainment.
In Malawi you do not have such choices you just take what is on the table.
It is surprising to note that Americans have worked and still work so hard to earn a living. They work overtime, are always on time, and are overtaxed by the federal, state, county and city governments on every dollar.

In Malawi, we take everything for granted. Malawians with government jobs work fewer hours, take more days in vacation, and have little sense of accountability and responsibility.

When I came here I could not imagine that some people in America are homeless or living on government support.

The United States still battles with ethnicity and racial tensions on the individual and social levels, something one would consider Africans.

Crime I am told is still rampant in most cities of America, as it is in Africa. Drug trafficking and gangs are major causes of insecurity amongst the African-American neighborhoods.

All said I have found the Denver Post and the city unique in other ways. Doors have swung open for me and if I press a dollar in a vending machine a drink of my choice pops out and this has been almost overwhelming. Here in Denver there is a free bus that passes through city from one block to another operated by the city you could never dream of a free
Ride in Malawi.

Above all I have learnt a lot in the newsroom and the tours both inside and around the city. I am hoping to convince my Editor-in-Chief to adopt some of the tricks I have learnt.

Things like serious morning and afternoon meetings where editors discuss a budget of proposed stories for the next issue. I love the teamwork.

I have learnt the tricks of how to write balanced stories without necessarily being biased despite the absolute freedom.

At least the journalists I have talked and chatted with so far have told me the tricks and it feels good.
I have also found more smiles and nods along the way than I encounter back home. And this is what I take away with me when I return to Africa eventually. After all, didn't someone once say that it is first impressions that last?


Penelope Paliani said...

How nice of you to live your american dream yeah yeah!

Belinda said...

Well written. I hope you enjoy your stay in Denver and take home some valuable lessons.