My husband and I moved to Northern Uganda in January of 2014. Technically, we did start a blog then. Here’s what happened.
Me: “Let’s start a blog together.”
Three months later…
Husband: “Hey, did you ever start that blog?”
Me: “The what?”
There are several reasons our first blog failed. But after the first failure, I intentionally didn’t try again for a long time for only one reason:
I am a foreigner in someone else’s culture, and I don’t know what I’m talking about.
It only took a couple of posts for me to realize that I was the only representation of life in Uganda to most of my readers. It became obvious when I noticed comments that were filled with assumptions and misunderstandings I certainly didn’t communicate to them. Suddenly I realized that misplaced sarcasm (my #1 coping abroad method) or a poorly worded statement mixed with readers’ presuppositions could be a destructive mix. Also, what do I actually know about Uganda? I’ve lived here for a small blip of time, how could I possibly understand it well enough to be someone’s only representation of it?
It was a responsibility I decided not to take on, especially in my first couple of years here. And to be completely candid, it’s a responsibility I wish more travel bloggers took seriously. In a way, blogging abroad is like a reader who has never tasted ice cream and reading about it for the first time from someone who doesn’t even know how it’s made. If I really had spent my whole life without trying ice cream, I would be glad someone has taken the time to tell me why their life was made better by trying it, and how mine could be better to. Absolutely. However, if I want to learn about ice cream itself, I would prefer that information come from an ice cream expert (talk about an awesome job!). If someone gets the wrong idea about ice cream, it’s really not that big of a deal (or maybe it is…), but when you’re writing about an entire culture and people, us foreigners need to be humble and very cautious with our words.
The difference between an experiential post and an informative one can sometimes be too subtle for readers or writers to distinguish. If I write a post about how a drunk guy in the street started harassing me, with the point being that everyone nearby came to my aid, I have good intentions to compliment the ones who helped. But if I don’t communicate it well, or if my readers’ presumptions are too strong, I’ve just perpetuated a stereotype that is a gross misrepresentation of another culture. (This is a very real example.)
Just a friendly warning to expat and travel bloggers: Some things are better left unsaid.
But some things should be said, and then said again.
We’ve also realized that not blogging is also not the answer. To have benefited so much from being in another culture learning from people vastly different from us is an honor, and it would be selfish to not at least try to share it. I’m glad I don’t have a collection of posts from when we first arrived here, because it just would’ve meant a LOT of rewrites now. But its time to start sharing, and to do it humbly, carefully, and honestly.
Writers: Do be careful with how you paint a picture of another culture to people who are relying solely on you for it, but don’t let that stop you from sharing your experiences.
Readers: don’t take our stories as fact, and give us some grace as we try to shed light on a new topic.