Friday, March 05, 2010

Africa: 5 Countries in 4 Weeks

I know most Americans know nothing about Africa and I never even know where to start when trying to share my experiences, but if you have read this far I hope you will read some more and learn about the tremendous variety between regions, nations and cultures. I went to five countries and each one is different. Here are a few things I will miss about them?


The class of the beautiful set of people who have melded the French cultural swish with the great African dignity.

The strong sea breeze.

Mini omelet stands all over and Nescafe carts plying the streets.


The colorful men in traditional dress keeping culture alive. Women often wear traditional dress but seeing men in bright colored patterns was amazing.

The incredible insights it taught me about the slave trade that have spurred many conversations since. I always appreciate a place that is willing to air its dirty secrets in an honest open manner.

The landscape. Long flat dry surfaces with HUGE boulders climbing out from nowhere.

Voodoo… I don’t understand, but I enjoyed seeing its little remnants in homes and on the streets. It just shows that people find their faith in many divergent things and it makes me reach for the things that give me solace and help me make sense of the world.

Burkina Faso

The friendliness shown in the way that you had to say hello to everyone you passed on the road.

The cool expat scene of Ouagadougou. Sitting at the American Rec Center brought me back to an age where the world was simpler and America was simpler. It seemed like we were spreading our easy going style. While listening to live music at huge outdoor cafes, reminded me of the depth of African culture.

The faces of Gorum Gorum Market in the north where I found my travel groove. I’m not sure what it is about cultures like that, but I love nomadic people. They are solid and their smiles come from deep in their soul. As a people person, I get my energy from new faces and sights and I really enjoyed being the consummate American and walking around saying “Bonjour!” to everyone I passed. I know this is sometimes seen as culturally inappropriate, but the way faces lit up was addictive. West Africa is filled with French people and they are quieter travelers. They observe and don’t engage. We have our ways, but in times like these I’m proud to be an American and clumsily interact with new people.


The faces of the HIV+ teens that have been welcomed into the community of the Baylor International Pediatric Aids Initiative. This org has connected them with other kids and shown them that HIV is something they can live with and live well.

The people at the government conference that was happening at my hotel the whole time I was there. They were the faces of a good country that takes care of its people. People who really were working to make things better. Yes, Botswana is a middle income country that has been blessed with diamonds and sound politicians who use the income from diamonds to support its people.

The ironing board in the hall of my hotel. Each morning guests came out to iron their clothes for the day. Love it! That’s how they looked so good every day next to my crumpled self.

Fast food… Yes, as an American fast food is a crucial part of my life. (I have thought a lot this trip about the goods and bads of that reality) In West Africa there are very few fast food options. That means either sitting down for local meals or eating biscuits and bananas from the side of the road. (The fear of fragile stomachs makes sitting down with the locals hard.) But Southern Africa is obsessed with development (that mostly looks like American strip malls) and their streets are filled with fried chicken and burger joints and delicious quick easy meals can be found at Hungry Lion, Chirping Chicken, KFC (they are everywhere!)

The bright satisfied look on our Princeton in Africa’s Fellow’s face when she talked about her experience thus far. I can be sure that I have helped change her life and through her affected countless others on the ground.

South Africa

Steak! I swear they have the best beef in South Africa. I’m not usually a red meat person but heck South Africa could make the strongest vegetarians embrace meat.

The significance of a country that has come so far in 20 years. I visited the Apartheid Museum and it shed more light on the revolting policies that separated people for many years. Now South Africa is a beacon of economic progress and again and place where very diverse cultures live and prosper. I met immigrants from all over Africa and everyone believed the future for South Africa was bright.
A tour of Johannesburg that showed me that it indeed is a big diverse city teeming with life. Often all people talk about is crime and fear of the city, but what I saw was a place coming back to life. I also saw a wonderful variety of architecture and a lot of energy.

The incredible landscapes. Wine country in the Western Cape. Roaring waves on the coast. Bustling, blow you over winds on the top of Table Mountain.

The hip prettiness of Cape Town, which seemed completely removed. When I arrived I missed “Africa” but one just can’t help but be charmed by its energetic, cosmopolitan ways.

Life in the Townships which actually does remind me I’m in “Africa” but lives completely separately from the reality of the people I was visiting there.

No comments: