Meet Our Woman in Johannesburg

“Meet Our Man in Tehran.”

I was intrigued by the article behind this headline in the New York Times. It sounds a little “John le Carré” to me, suggesting intrigue, spies, and perhaps some exotic food.

It occurred to me right then that “Meet Our Woman in Johannesburg” doesn’t sound all that different, and that this might be a headline I could use to introduce myself. (Well, except for the small part of not actually living in Johannesburg anymore, the alert readers among you will point out.)

Indeed, I saw a lot of parallels between the article in question and my own expat story (except, again, for the part that I am not actually employed by an internationally renowned news organization). For instance, take this passage:

“How, they ask, can one live in a country where angry mobs roam the streets denouncing Westerners, burning flags and shouting “Death to America”? Are you not afraid?

No. I am not.

Iran is more modern, livable and friendly than some portrayals would have you believe.”

Except for the “Death to America” part, the same is true for Johannesburg. Haven’t you been asked similar questions about your life there, or in South Africa in general (in fact, asked them yourself before moving there)? And have you not also struggled to describe why in fact it is not a crime-ridden cesspit of sin and doom at all, or that if it is, there are enough modern, livable, and friendly aspects to your life that they more than make up for it? That you are, in fact, not afraid at all?

Street in Alexandra, South Africa
When I first stood in Alexandra in late 2010 and took this picture, I was very afraid, I won’t deny it.
donating baseball supplies in Alexandra
But then I got to know some wonderful people and Alexandra never looked the same to me afterwards.

After having made your home in South Africa for just a few months, you probably find yourself bristling with outrage at the suggestion by outsiders that it is a place best avoided due to its problems, corruption and crime chief among them. And you are sure that everyone will see it your way, once they have seen for themselves. And yet you yourself, not having lived in Tehran, probably have the exact same fears about that place described above. And just hearing someone tell of how great a place Tehran is may not be enough to sway you to move there, should the opportunity arise. Most likely you’ve formed and are holding on to the same prejudices about life in Iran that most people have about South Africa.

You will, then, probably agree with this:

It’s always that which we don’t know that we’re most afraid of. And, by extension, it’s often that which we’re most afraid of that we allow ourselves to hate.

Which is why we have to strive to get to know “the other” – our neighbors, our political opponents, other countries, other places within our countries, and their people. It makes us less afraid, less prejudiced, and less hateful.

Start today. Get to know the people and places you don’t know. Subscribing to someone’s expat blog is a good first step, and it’s absolutely free. Scroll down and look for “blogroll” in the right sidebar, and you’ll find a sample of some blogs to get started!

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