Tan’s Thoughts on Africa

Since we are now leaving the continent it’s probably a good idea to think about what I learned while here. What made this place so different that we had to see it, what were the fond memories, what will make us come back? The thing that I think we will remember the most is the friendliness of the people, the community, and the joy of simplicity. I think that most places are memorable for the people but there is something a little more about Africa, something so selfless about it. There are people who are trying to sell you stuff or asking for money, but most people here are just happy to have you here and meet someone from somewhere else. When we were turned away from a border, the people in our cab back actually felt bad for us and understood that it was costing us a lot of money – that we were people too who have troubles as well. While walking the streets in Tanzania people would invite us for dinner or a drink. They had never seen us before, but as we were guests they wanted us to feel welcome. But it goes further than that, when our tour ended our guides and porters didn’t thank us for choosing their company, but thanked us for choosing Africa as it helps their whole community and connects them to the rest of the world. When our computer broke they genuinely tried to help us and went FAR (150KM) out of their way to help fix it without any sort of jealousy or disgust at us having our own computer. But this is the way here as they are a community of communities. People help each other here, there are countless times we saw a bus or taxi pick someone up who didn’t have money, that there are very few retirement homes as the elderly live with their family, that when a truck is overfilled and turns over everyone comes over and helps pick up the pieces, that when village member gets a new phone he shares it with everyone in his village for free.

The other part that we appreciated was the simplicity of it – that options are not always a good thing. When looking for food or in the grocery store there aren’t a lot of options. But that is okay, because there isn’t really a real need for variety. When you have fewer choices there are less stresses. If you go through a western grocery store or look at a western menu you will have tons of options. In Africa not so much, but there is something about not having to stress about choices, and along with the lack of stress just accepting when something is good enough and being happy about it. We actually heard a story from one of our Tanzanian host who went to London, he said that he hated the food. The main problem was that it was too rich! The simple flavor and having nearly the same thing everyday does mean that you get to eat your favorite thing every day and knowing what is coming next.

But like everywhere in the world there are problems and there were a few things we didn’t like seeing that much. Like most places in Africa though it is hard to see the differences between rich and poor, in Swakopmund the houses and streets near the beach were amazing - colorful modern houses and streets which looked straight out of Europe with old buildings and bistros. However, just outside of town there were rows and rows of shanty towns. The same in Kenya, huge mansions with 20 shanties built just outside their walls and the difference doesn’t have to do with laziness. We saw many, many people working very hard. Waking up at sunrise walking 2 hours each way to their job where they do hard manual labor for very low wages in hot heat, whereas I would complain about my comfy train commute if I didn’t get a seat in the first few minutes. But this problem would lead to the other complaint which is it was hard to see the lack of real development. Many of the public schools seemed to be in disarray, with the children mainly playing outside all day long or only learning songs. Or it could be seen that money was being put into something that wouldn’t last, such as a mountain lodge we visited that was horribly managed and possibly exploited others. I think it was also hard to hear from locals who completely understood these problems and hear how they felt helpless to change them – as in the locals completely understand these problems but were powerless to change them due to government problems or lack of wealth.

Following Namibia we didn’t see much more charm, maybe it had something to do with leaving the continent or maybe just our bad experiences with anything South African, but I would say the Africa we fell in love with ended in Namibia. This makes it easier to go on and gets us more excited for a new continent but when we talk about Africa I think we will always remember the people and the life from Nairobi to Windhoek as one of the best parts of our travels and a reason to come back for us. It is where we became independent, where the landscape and animals shocked our eyes, but also where we met some amazing people who taught us a better way to act. If I had to whittle it down to the fondest memory, then I will have to say the joy at being called ‘muzungus’. At first glance might sound wrong for them to call us a name, but we are foreigners - which is what it means, and that their only goal from yelling this at us was to get a wave from us. We will miss Africa and we will be back! (P.S. Festus we will help you find a girl!)