Elmira’s Twila Erb aims to paint a genuine picture of the storied past of the people of Africa, not the generic horror story you’d often see in the news. After spending two years volunteering, visiting 11 countries and having countless experiences, she has documented the events of the trip in her new book, These Beautiful People, which gets its official launch later this month.
“Their stories are incredible,” said Erb. “People need to hear them. And people only see Africa on the news; it’s not the full picture. Africa is so much more than what you see on the news. And that’s what I want to show people with the book.”
Erb believes that the true picture of Africa has been lost in translation. A study found that Africa tends to account for approximately six to nine per cent of the total amount of international news. Furthermore, 60-70 per cent of this news is focused on conflicts, diseases, disaster and terrorism.
But there is so much more to the continent than these negative headlines, argues Erb.
“I truly hope that my story is going to inspire you, that my story is going to motivate you, and that my story is going to encourage you and give you a new perspective of life,” said Dokta Boaz, a music producer from Kenya featured in the book.
“Every single person has a story,” added Erb. “And it doesn’t have to be wild or dramatic. Everybody’s story is different. The point is, that’s your story. There’s always something somebody can relate to in your story, and they’re probably just waiting for you to share it, so they don’t feel like they’re alone.
“I think there’s something really powerful about that. So they’re from Africa so people say ‘I can’t relate.’ But I say, you can. People are still people. The circumstances are different, and everything’s a little bit different, but right down at the core, people are the same. We have all the same basic needs.”
Erb had not planned on writing a book initially when she first left for Africa in January 2014. But she became deeply moved by the stories of those she encountered and began writing the book about one year into her travels. The finished product was three years in the making.
“There’s so many, but the woman who is pictured on the cover, her story is amazing. She’s from Uganda, and she’s like my mom, basically,” said Erb, on an example of one of the stories in the book ‘From Murderer to Mother.’ “She was part of that whole Kony2012 fiasco.
“That was a very popular hashtag, but nobody really knew what it meant. That was basically the genocide that was happening in Uganda. So this Kony guy and his rebels were capturing women and children and making them soldiers. It was horrendous. So she was captured by them, and taken into the bush. It was just crazy. She was forced to kill five people. So when they captured you, they would give you a gun and make you shoot someone. But she managed to escape,” said Erb.
“So now there’s an organization that opened homes for kids that were abandoned, and they started one in the north, and she was living in the capital city by then, which was way further south. Life was much different for her now; she was married and had five kids.
“She found out somehow about this place because she wanted to get another job. And found out they were looking for a house mom. So every home has eight kids and a mom or whatever, and she said ‘Oh, I could do that.’ Thinking it would be in Kampala, which is the capital. She went in for the interview, and they said ‘Oh, you speak the language of the north.’ And she said yes. So they asked if she would go and be a mom, up there.
“When they’re driving her into the town, she realized that she recognized the place. She had been there before. She when she drove back into the property, she knew it was the same place where she had killed those people all those years back. And now she’s a mom to eight kids on the same property. She’s amazing. God took the whole thing, and just 180’d. And it’s hard to be that strong – she’s unreal.”