«       »
December 27th 2007 by Aaron & Tina
Reflections on Africa

Posted under South Africa

After three short months exploring eastern and southern Africa, we’ve seen so much but most of the Dark Continent remains unexplored. We fell in love with Africa and her people, some of the most warm-hearted on earth. Frustrating and inspiring, informative and confusing, hot and cold; our brief visit left me tired and weary, yet not truly ready to leave. From the comforts of home during our brief stay in Iowa, I reflect on Africa; her grandeur, her beauty, and her immeasurable potential so often suffocated by primitive tribal culture.

Africa is expensive. For as poor as most of her residents are, Africa is incredibly expensive for visitors. After staying in more than thirty different hostels in nearly as many nights, we’ve discovered that the rooms are almost all uniformly basic and barely clean, but it still costs a local resident’s monthly wages for a single night stay. On average we spent about $35-40 per night for these Spartan accommodations, always staying in private double bedrooms but often sharing a bathroom with our fellow travelers. Western staples such as food items in supermarkets and meals at restaurants are often priced on par with similar offerings in the US. Transportation, even when traveling on the same buses and shared taxis as the locals do, is often more expensive than one would think because of the dual price structure; one price for the locals, a different, higher price for the mzungus. On many routes, there are very few (insert mode of transport here) traveling to the destination you want around the time you want so you are at the mercy of the conductor/ticket seller and the prices they charge.

Everything will take longer and be more complicated than it should be. Very few things in our experience were done quickly or efficiently or delivered exactly as we expected. Sometimes this seemed to be caused by the incompetence of our local hosts, or an obvious lack of motivation, and other times by a clear language barrier. This Is Africa. Enough said.

The landscapes truly are breathtaking. From the plains of the Serengeti in Kenya and Tanzania to the white sand beaches of Zanzibar to the majestic green mountains of South Africa’s Wild Coast, Africa delivers. Even the most uncomfortable, sensory assaulting bus rides are redeemed by the views afforded along the way. We could have taken a hundred pictures each day (but who wants to look at that many landscape pictures?) and still not been able to capture her beauty. Africa must be experienced to be appreciated. No National Geographic photo spread or Discovery Channel documentary can fully capture the diversity and scale or the unadulterated beauty of these surroundings.

The value of human life is different. Malaria. HIV/AIDS. Hunger. Auto Accidents. Murder. You don’t have to travel far in Africa to find a family whose loved ones have died by one or more of these tragic events. For many of the local people that we met or merely exchanged glances with, each day is a struggle for survival. HIV is a devastating epidemic, but Malaria still kills many more people, over a million, each year. Many Africans only eat one meal each day and it almost never includes a meat dish. Some people are unable or unwilling to work and they rely on the generosity of an able-bodied relative or kind-hearted stranger for their survival. The disrepair of most “road worthy” vehicles and the narrow, potholed roads combine with aggressive African driving to result in commonplace auto accident fatalities. Others are victims of sexual abuse or inexplicable violence that leave them irreparably damaged. These are life and death realities so far from most western minds that it is still difficult for us to fully grasp the magnitude of their impact. In the US, we all expect to live to a ripe old age, dying sometime in our eighties, most likely from “natural causes.” In Africa, just surviving childhood is a divine gift and most men and women will never celebrate a fiftieth birthday.

Our African adventure has changed us in immeasurable ways. We have witnessed the desperation of the struggle for survival. We have seen overpopulation, lack of education, illiteracy, lack of employment opportunities, laziness, oppression of women, children conditioned to panhandle, squalid living conditions and a society where stealing is a means of survival. We have also seen kindness, hope, faith, sense of community, expressions of beauty through music and art, political awareness, and a desperate desire to improve quality of life. As we head for India we know that new adventures await but we can’t help pondering our next trip to Africa. Africa is wild, raw and primitive in comparison to our Western standards but that is precisely what makes it so intriguing.

Comments Off on Reflections on Africa

Comments are closed.