Sunday, February 05, 2012

How to Write About...

My writer friend Zora tweeted a link to this article yesterday.


It's called "How to Write About the Middle East," and it's based on an important Granta piece called "How to Write About Africa."

These are two places I've lived and worked in, and while I can see why people fall back on easy conventions, it's super-lazy to do so and utterly unrealistic. Do readers really accept that Africa is just lions, disease, and poor people wandering around being noble in their poverty? That the Middle East is all veils and religious zealots? What horse shit. 

I've had my share of citizen-reviews where people have decried my lack of BS about the beauty of the noble savage and the stunning sunsets of Africa. I don't respond, because people who say such things aren't particularly interested in the real as opposed to the fictitious Africa of pop culture and their one safari experience. Did they even realize they had crossed a boundary, paid an admission fee, and entered a national park? 

I owe a debt to the writer of "How to Write About Africa." When I smart from people declaring that my work doesn't cover "the beauty that is Africa," or that my work is mostly about me and not about some animals and sunsets, I read this article again and remind myself that that's what I do, write about myself. That I cannot and should not lie and create some bit of fiction that we tourists or guest workers are actually able to penetrate beyond the superficial in any society, and though this isn't in the article, I honestly believe that all our supposed local experiences we have abroad are limited. I believe that taking the local bus or van is the easiest, fastest way to meet non-tourist-industry locals, but don't be surprised when the citizens of the country you visit are the same as everyone you know at home.

The Middle East article is also apt. When we find ourselves making assumptions based on a bit of sensation, we'd do well to remind ourselves that people abroad as just as diverse, smart or stupid, complicated or simple, religious or secular, clean, dirty, funny, or smart-ass as people at home.

1 comment:

Ed Ward said...

And anyway, you *do* write about animals. You've written about close enccounters of the hippo kind, and hoiw many people would have heard of dik-diks without your help?

You're right, though.

Yours from the land of wine and cheese...