Are the passionate drawn to Africa, or does ..
Trip Start Aug 30, 2006
25Trip End Nov 10, 2006
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The last few days of my trip were great, a mix of things. I totally relaxed.
I burnt my legs. Really badly. Like swollen ankles, live off of pain killers badly. But the painkillers worked. When I had them, I took them, and still had a stupendous time.
I must say that at the end of this trip I believe I'm entitled to make some observations about East Africa and what it is like to travel as a solo, white, female in this part of the world.
I'm still quite convinced that most of the "dangers" we associate with Africa are merely perceived by us, and don't actually exist.
Not to say that any part of this trip was easy. I can honestly say, not even a moment was. There were times that I was in very uncomfortable situations.
But it is true that people, are just people - everywhere you go.
When you're a single female wandering through a very conservative muslim society, and you're so lost you've forgotten your left from your right. You ask for directions.
Intelligently, to the right person, and you follow your instincts. But you ask because they're the same as you, they just have different customs, different skin colors.
Being uncomfortable, and being in danger are two very different things. Having to discern the difference is probably the most exhausting part of travelling here. It's a level of awareness that needs to be heightened and consistent. Especially because our perceptions of what is culturally 'normal' are crossing - sometimes even opposing each other.
Every situation is manageable. I firmly believe that.
When I found myself in a situation where locals thought I might be freaking out ( happened often enough) I would often hear a comment like, "you look so calm", or someone would ask how long I'd been traveling in Africa.
Keeping calm comes from remembering that there are always options. I will always have a choice in how I respond to a situation. Therefore all situations can be managed.
Having said that, there were certain situations that I personally found extraordinarily taxing, and repeatedly occurred. Like, how many times a day does a white girl have to turn down a local African buddy? How is it that these brothers either have such a deluded and arrogant view of themselves, or such a distorted perception of white ladies - that it's difficult, it's actually difficult for them to understand that someone like myself could be so entirely and thoroughly un-attracted to them?
How did our views of each others races, or genders bring us here? It doesn't matter what your status at home is. All they want to know is if you have a 'africa boyfriend.'
And politely and effectively rejecting someone here is an entirely different experience. I virtually have to deliver blunt force trauma to a brother, in order for him to get the message.
I'm now certain that it is entirely impossible to maintain a platonic friendship with a local African male. None of them really want a friend. And I find that it has to do with their perception of women. Women here are objects for sex, ask me about it, I have stories.
So for example, what I expect from a glass is that it holds my beverage, right? That's all that I expect it to do.
It doesn't even enter my mind that it might toast my bread. Furthermore, if it did toast my bread, I'd be seriously surprised. Right? I'd also most likely believe it was the exception to the rule.
This conceptual view of women- this understanding, was never something that wasn't mentally taxing for me.
Although I managed to make it less trying, less offensive. Part way through the trip I started to have a marvelous time leaving amorous young men somewhat shell shocked. I'd say something that would catch them by surprise, or do something that I felt would challenge their view of women. Never being rude (well, not in my view anyway) just pointed and challenging.
Cultural clash? I think so.
Also, as for the sob story that every last soul here has - I wouldn't dare to doubt the authenticity of them.
But it is so absolutely imperative to the success and enjoyment of any trip that one is not drawn into everyone's impoverished life. To be able to be kind and genuine and compassionate, let an experience resonate deeply, but to also know how to respond. To react and do what you can as you have already predetermined to.
I think Africa is a marvelous place for a human being to go. Any human being. I do believe it is a humanity boot camp for the abstract relativistic western soul.
To a society where special effects win awards, reality can be breathtaking
And if you're someone who is struggling with difficult questions, going to Africa is a good thing.
What a marvelous place to be when you're facing a crisis. This whole continent is facing a crisis. You fit right in.
What is equality; what are its values, its flaws?
What of the allotment of suffering?
Does the acquisition of things really lead to more happiness?
What is happiness?
Does evil exist?
What is necessary to sustain life?
What is social responsibility, and when does is apply?
These are literally just the scrapings off the top of the questions one is faced with. These are just the first ones that came to my mind while writing this.
And the exciting thing is that you are face to face with these questions everyday. Well, its exhausting, and its exciting. It's you facing truths all day every day, and there is the sense that you're going through these emotional, mental growing pains. It feels like clearing away cobwebs in life. But it's more difficult then that, so it's more like machete-ing a path through a forest. Either you do it, you stick with it and figure it out - or you jump on the next airplane home.
Probably forever labeling Africa as the Dark Continent, the mysterious place in the corner of your mind you dare not go.
At the end of the day, how much better is it all when you find another foreigner to compare notes with, stretch your soul with a yawn, and have a cold beer?
Anyway, all that to say; Africa traveled independently - is an invaluable experience. If only for each individual's growth as a person. It's priceless.
I'm going to end this log, because it's already long enough. But really I've only written shavings here.
I wouldn't underestimate the power of a rural african experience.
You leave Africa, but it doesn't leave you.