Africa is a continent, not one country or one people, but I find this to be something hard for many to truly grasp as they sit across an ocean from this grand continent. Although I understand where this misconception comes from, it makes me want to ask a Boston native about soul cooking and an LA resident why they donâ€™t have a Jersey accent. Most of the time I refrain as I remind myself that they have not had the same privileges of travel with which I have been blessed. And, when they ask how Africa was, I tell them a word or two about the specific country from which I have just returned.
My new job puts the question, â€œHow was Africa?â€ in a new context. On this trip I have visited South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique, and Kenya. Within several of these countries I have visited locations that are as diverse as Chicago and Chattanooga and Charlotte. In October I will return to visit Uganda, Rwanda, and likely Ghana.
â€œHow was Africa?â€
On this trip, the diversity and differences found within Africa seem particularly vivid. This being my first trip to Mozambique, it was fun to find the Portuguese and Brazilian influence on the country everywhere I turned. Homes are painted bright colors, music is tinted with Latin flavors, driving is relaxed, and conversation is filled with the smooth tones of Portuguese. Each country, each region is unique, but this was a new flavor for me. Kind of like traveling across America and suddenly landing oneself in Texas.
Completely distinct from the rest of this trip was Marsabit, a town and region in Northern Kenya. This is the desert region just south of Ethiopia that is largely forgotten by Kenya. The landscape is filled with igneous rocks, and desert trees and scrubs which provide little protection from the harsh sun. The main road to Ethiopia is a bumpy, dusty dirt road; it is by far the best around. Here herds of animals are life, water trips take days, women wear bright scarves, and homes are moved on camelsâ€™ back. Sort of like being time warped to a 100 years ago to visit ranchers in Montana.
When I say â€˜kind ofâ€™ or â€˜sort ofâ€™ like such and such, I am trying to make the differences and the vitality of life in Africa a bit more real, but I often wonder if it works. How does one take a National Geographic special that is what I have just experienced and make it anything but the two dimensional image of my photographs? Maybe if I told you stories as I unpacked my suitcase so that you could experience the mingling smells of the fresh coffee beans I bring back and laundry dirtied in the villages or if we talked as we bounced along in a four wheeler or if we sat in the hot autumn sun with music taped at villages and schools serenading us in the background, these images, these rich and vibrant cultures, would become real. Yet it is so much more complex to try and communicate an image, an understanding, stuck in my head that is constantly changing and growing. How can I blame someone for seeing Africa as one place when I, who have traveled much, struggle to make even the most simple of stories real to friends I love?
I feel as if each place I visit in Africa adds a color or a layer to an oil painting. With each visit my painting of Africa becomes more detailed, increasingly complex, and ever richer. Somehow the diversity that I experience and try to share with others fits onto one wild canvas. Yet, as I continue to add to this painting, I doubt it will ever be complete. One canvas, one painting, so many parts, sections, colors, and textures.
Maybe as my painting of Africa continues to grow in my head and in my heart, my response to the question, â€œHow was Africa?â€ will change. Maybe I will simply say, â€œShe is good.â€