Africa


I like maps. I especially like old maps. And I spend a lot of time in Africa. Combine all of these things, and you get this:

Mapping Africa

A very interesting BBC audio slide show that shows how old maps can chronicle the the history of the continent. Check it out.

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I’ve been cleaning out my inbox (filled with many old emails that I haven’t replied to because they got buried… oops) and came across this gem of a statement in an email a friend wrote me from the DRC:

“As long as you don’t mind the ridiculous levels of theft, dishonesty, laziness, and general inability to do anything at all, DRC isn’t a bad place.”

Very appropriately timed, given that I have now been in the northern hemisphere since mid-June and have been officially living in England for one week, and I’m beginning to miss Africa.

I admit I’m not the biggest football fan (as with most sports, I prefer playing over watching and I don’t follow any teams), but the energy on this continent – and especially in South Africa – today is palpable. I only wish I wasn’t flying out in two days.

Watch the full dance here:

And then join the rhythm.

This is the fence that protects Jodie and Daniel’s house in Arusha, Tanzania. No gate. No guard. Just a wooden fence and a door with two locks.

Jodie and Daniel are wazungu, but they choose to live modestly. Their place has one bedroom, one living room, half a room for the kitchen, and a toilet. They’re located in a more rural area on the outskirts of town that has a village-like feel to it. They shop at the local shops, they eat at the local restaurants. They are currently earning Tanzanian salaries.

Jodie and Daniel feel safe in their house. I did, too, when I lived with them for three weeks.

Before Jodie rented this house, she was warned by a friend that it wasn’t safe enough. She needed a gate and a guard. She must constantly watch out for thieves. We’ve all heard stories of foreigners being shot for US$100. Those are some pretty unsettling stories, and they scared us. Did we really need that much protection? Our friend was adamant: yes.

By getting a fancy house with a gate and a guard, though, we immediately segregate ourselves from the locals. Our skin color already does that enough. One of the nice things about this house in Arusha is that we live just like everyone else. We suffer from the same power and water shortages.

But we’re not just like everyone else. We don’t flaunt our wealth, but everyone knows that we have laptops. If they wanted to steal them, that wooden fence is not going to help much.

Balancing safety and reality in African can be difficult. I want to be safe, but the more Western precautions I take, the more I separate myself from reality. As a foreigner, I know that I am an immediate target. Even if I have nothing of value on me, people assume I am rich because I am white. My skin will always make me a target, but my actions can help alleviate those assumptions. The more I live like a local, the more people treat me like one, and the safer I feel. People watch out for their peers.

Sometimes I wonder if having a gate and a guard increases your safety, or makes you more of a target.

A box filled with all my winter clothes was shipped from the US to Belgium on December 9, 2009. It made it to the New Jersey International Dispatch Center on December 23, 2009. That’s the last available update I have.

I’ve shipped packages to Africa faster than this.

The past few days have been rather challenging. I could have had my passport taken away. I could have been forced to pay a bribe. I could have been put in jail.

Luckily, none of those things happened. I was worried. I was stupid. I have myself to blame for getting myself into such a situation, and friends to thank for getting me out. I am filled with overwhelming gratitude for those who helped and supported me, and the strong, strong feeling that I should never do anything to attract the attention of any immigration office in Africa again.

If I was an African animal, I would like to live in Ngorongoro Crater.

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