|Kruger National Park, South Africa|
Sally Struthers, "Tarzan," the media, and films such as "Blood Diamonds" have done a disservice to the perceptions of Africa and Africans. For anyone planning a trip to Africa, feeling afraid to visit Africa, or desiring to visit Africa, here are the facts on a couple of common misperceptions about Africa.
1) It will be “Africa hot!”: I am writing this post from my room in South Africa, while sitting under three blankets, one of which is an electric blanket. Right now, it is winter in South Africa and where I live, at night, its 37°F or 3°C. It snows in Lesotho and you can go skiing in Morocco. So yes there are some countries that get “Africa hot,” but even they have a rainy or windy season where it gets "chilly."
2) As a person of African descent, I will be welcomed back to the motherland by my brothers and sisters: This is what I like to refer to as a “Roots” experience. You know, we conjure up images similar to the last scene of the “Roots” mini-series where Alex Haley is welcomed back to Africa with big hugs from his distant African relatives. Sorry to tell you that won’t happen. Even if you go to Juffreh, the Gambian village where Kunta Kinte hails from, you won’t have a “Roots Experience.”
In fact, you will probably quickly realize how American (or insert other nationality here) you are. If you are lighter skinned like I am, you will also have to come to grips with being called, white or mixed. Even if you are the exact same shade as the locals in the country you visit, you will still stand out as a foreigner and be treated as such.
However, you will feel a connection and see the cultural similarities. You may be able to have experiences that non-Black people are not afforded. And I still do recommend that every person of African descent visit Africa.
3) There will be animals everywhere: Lions, Tigers, and Bears oh my! Unless you are in a protected wildlife park like Kruger National Park in Southern Africa or the Serengeti in Tanzania you will probably not see wild animals. I have seen the occasional pack of monkeys while traveling in South Africa and there were hippos, which were rarely seen, in the river near my home in Benin.
|Donkey "Racing," Dogon Country, Mali|
What are more common to see? Farm animals. In more rural areas, you will see donkeys, chickens, goats, pigs and cows, roaming and grazing freely. BTW if you are driving and hit one of these animals you will be required to compensate the farmer!
4) All of is Africa is a village: Yes, there are a lot of non-developed, rural areas in Africa where you can still find people living in mud huts. At the same time though, visiting Accra, Johannesburg, Abidjan, or Nairobi, feels like you are in Europe or the United States. There is a booming middle class in Africa that live comparable to their Western counterparts. We won’t even mention the wealthy upper class, but let’s just say they are living large, even from a Western perspective.
|Rooftop Bar, Johannesburg, South Africa|
5) You are helping to alleviate poverty by giving away money: I understand the sentiment behind giving away money, candy, and whatever other small tokens you were able to stash in your luggage to beggars and children. And I get over tipping or over paying because you can’t imagine only paying ___ when you would usually pay ___ at home. However, what you don’t realize is that you perpetuate the myth that all foreigners are wealthy, normalize begging as a means of income, and establish a handout mentality. Plus, for those of us that live here, we are then constantly harassed to give people everything from money to the shoes on our feet.
If you would like to help, I recommend funneling your donations thru a local religious institution, school, or non-profit or supporting local artisans and small businesses. Staying at a small, local hotel instead of Sofitel and trying street food instead of 5-star dining it every night has a stronger, more sustainable impact on economic development.
|Ndebele Women, Cultural Village, South Africa|
8) Traveling in Africa isn’t safe. So yes, there are some countries in Africa that have political unrest, but the majority of Africa has had stable democracies for decades. And yes, there are men walking around with machetes, but they are farmers. And the only people with guns I have seen have been the police. Coming from an American city like Philadelphia where the murder rate is pretty high, in some ways I feel safer here then I did at home. I have even hitched hiked multiple times here, while I would never do this in the U.S. Like any place, there are the muggers and pickpocketers that prey on tourists but a little street smarts and common sense can keep you from falling into their traps.
7) Africans don’t speak English. The English colonized a large percentage of Africa. Former British colonies, like Nigeria, will have English as on one of their national languages along with several traditional languages. And even where English isn’t one of the national languages, English is taught in school. So you may actually meet people in Africa that not only speak better English than you, but more languages than you!
|Zulu Men Dancing, Cultural Village, South Africa|
8) All Africans are Black. Colonization brought people from all over the world to settle in Africa. There are people of Indian, Asian, and European descent that have lived in Africa for several generations and consider themselves just as African as their black brethren.