At the first day of my internship at World Vision my supervisor Kwenda Paipi took note of the interns (myself and my colleagues) names and commented, “These do not sound like American names! Why?”
It’s true. Flango, Dubois and Skorpenske are not exactly your all-American names. This would be the first (but not the last time) that our supervisor began to ask us questions about America. Through studying here and working with locals I have encountered a lot of questions about the place I call home. I was usually a little nervous during these because I did not want to sound ignorant or give the wrong information, but many of the questions seemed to be about the average American person and their day-to-day life.
continuously ask us about the status of cowboy’s and Indians and if they were still fighting in Texas. At first this struck me as odd because in my own “self-centered American way” I thought that all people knew these kinds of events were in the past and were long over.
Dependence on Movies
I realized that the average Zambian loves movies and in turn, they are exposed to American movies – most of which are older. It dawned on me that the main exposure that Zambians have to Americans are through movies and television shows.
This is both a good and bad thing. When Kwenda realized I was Mexican he said, “Oh yes! Mexicans are very involved in their extended family, I saw it in a movie.” However, in the same breath he also stated, “White-Americans are not…most of their movies only show the husband and wife.”
It was interesting to me how he believed wholeheartedly everything that he saw in the movies as a truthful interpretation of American life. But when asked if he thought Americans were cold to one another he repeatedly said that he just thought they were “hard-working” and “dedicated.” These characteristics are shown in movies that illustrate the struggle for the “American dream” or any action movie that shows a super-hero fighting for good.
Issues with relying on Movies
However, this practice might have a huge downfall. While there are a lot of great classic movies there are also television shows like “Jersey Shore” and movies like “Talladega Nights” in which Americans are portrayed as ignorant, rich, wasteful and “easy.” If a Zambian were to see this and if they truly believed what they saw on their television their perceptions of us would be a lot different and in turn, their actions toward us might change.While this began to worry me, my supervisor assured me that most Zambians see “muzungu’s” or “white people” as a symbol of hope, as someone who is coming to help their country and as a nation that supports them.
Amber Skorpenske is one of 18 Ohio University students studying abroad in Zambia with the Institute for International Journalism over Winter intercession.