Recently I've become more and more fascinated with African culture and the people there. I think it's too easy to see Africa as one big continent full of staving children and AIDS (rude but true?), rather than an incredibly rich and diverse place full of history and potential for growth. I'd really like to travel to South Africa and Botswana one day (one of my only future based aspirations at the moment). My cousin criticised my desire to travel simply for pleasure, but I secretly criticised her naïve belief that spending two weeks in a country can lead to lasting change. Isn't it better to come home with stories of a beautiful nation full of hope than take a few photos with some orphans and make it your display picture on Facebook? Hearing my friends from hospital speak Afrikaans and talk about how they feed their babies Rooibos tea like breast milk meant more to me than stories of sewerage on the street or children with missing limbs. Is it a cop-out to actively avoid pain because my brain already seeks it without my permission? I don't want to live in a world where everything hurts and that pain compounds daily...I want beauty beyond the pain.
At the post traumatic growth conference that I went to a few weeks ago, the guest speaker Dr. Jane Shakespeare-Finch talked about her extensive studies with trauma victims. She said she was shocked to find in a recent study on the rate of PTSD across cultures. People from African countries such as Sudan and Zimbabwe had one of the lowest rates of clinical PTSD compared with countries like Australia. She said when she interviewed domestic violence or sexual assault victims in Australia, their response when talking of their trauma was that it was a terrible thing, but it made them a strong person and more able to deal with life stressors. More than 25% still experienced debilitating symptoms of PTSD such as flashbacks or panic attacks. When she spoke to war victims and refugees from Zimbabwe in particular, they spoke of being strong in the face of adversity because they are African and Africans are inherently strong. They didn't see their experiences as something inflicted upon them; they saw it as a horrific situation which required support from family and friends, but was a challenge they could handle. PTSD symptoms were almost non-existent and the sense of community and morale was much higher. I think these findings are beautiful.
So I am beginning to understand more deeply why my South African friend from hospital only ever watched movies with capable and passionate women of all ethnicities, religions, body shapes and sexual preferences...because we have enough uncertainties within ourselves without worrying about external factors such as societal expectations and norms (the amount of times that I have felt disgusted with myself this week after eating food is probably is the double digits...this both saddens and infuriates me, why do I care so much?!). Perhaps the goal is to a strong, empowered and damaged women navigating a often cruel world; not simply a passive participant who picks and berates the only body she'll own. Maybe the goal is to use intelligence, wit, sensitivity and insight to change the world; whatever form that takes. I think the character Mma Ramotswe (from the TV show The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency) absolutely exemplifies these traits. She is my hero.