“How we met was the most romantic story of all” Maria said with such contagious joy that you had to share her happiness too. Maria and her boyfriend, Cesar worked as environmentalists for a well-renowned school in the deep south of the U.S. International students from Honduras, every experience outside of where they grew up felt exciting and they appreciated it all. Maria had a dream, a dream to live and work in Kenya.
Cesar and Maria had just finished having dinner one evening when Cesar knelt down on one knee, “Maria, I know your dream is to live in Kenya. I asked my department if I can be transferred to Kenya and I got approved. Would you be my wife so we can move to Kenya together?” Tears welled up in her eyes “Yes, Yes, a thousand times, Yes”. It was hard not to tear up to such a beautiful story.
I couldn’t help but ask Maria why Kenya in particular. “I have always wanted to help the poor villagers there.” She said and then continued “My goodness!, living in Kenya made me grateful for what I have” My heart dropped as she breathlessly explained her reason. It was just like she had read the African fly script verbatim. “Is that what Africa is good for? Saving?” I wondered. Honduras has been going through its own challenges and I thought that Maria of all people would understand. To add salt to injury, Maria added the most cliche and overstated line in the history of mankind, “Despite these Kenyans being poor they were still happy!”
People like Maria are all over social media and in real life, they parrot and internalize what they have been fed from the Media. As a Nigerian American, I was always bothered by the images portrayed of African countries. These stories didn’t reflect the lives of my parents to my great grandparents or the friends I knew back in Nigeria. Of course, poverty exists in African countries but there are also skyscrapers, advanced dams, high tech bridges, average houses, top schools, and lovely parks. Yet people choose to ignore these facts in a desperate attempt to showcase what has been advertised. “But Nairobi, Kenya has developed infrastructures, didn’t you see that there?” Maria brushed my question off with an “I wanted to see Africa raw, the real Africa”. Noted.
As I meet people from all walks of life, I am beginning to realize that for some, visiting Africa is an ego-stroking experience in the guise of benevolence. It’s to make one “feel” better about his/her life. The mentality of “no matter how bad my life is, at least it isn’t as bad as it is for Africans” is rampant. It’s also to show the world that you are so caring that you ignore the poverty in your country and fly thousands of miles across the world to help those poor Africans.
What was once a single narrative controlled by million-dollar non-profit organizations is challenged by plural stories streamed through social media from the locals. Yet the indoctrinated images of Africa equals poverty ingrained in the minds of individuals around the world, make them seek poverty in the richness of Africa.
In this era, of being aware, individuals who genuinely want to know how to travel responsibly ask questions like, “how can we be better?” This article is for those who truly want to learn.
This informative guide is provided by African locals hailing from the East, West, and Southern areas of the continent who have expert knowledge of their respective regions.
How to Travel Responsibly in an African Country
Expat Panda, South Africa
Don’t: Make comparisons with other African countries
Each country on the continent of Africa is very unique. The culture in each destination depends on which greedy European colonizers ruled them, which tribes live in these areas, the landscapes, religions and social norms. What is acceptable in the metropolis of Lagos, Nigeria is not necessarily acceptable in the small town of Kabale, Uganda. Don’t go to your destination with the expectation that all African countries are the same. And don’t make endless comparisons between the two places you may visit before. For example, “Why are the roads so bad here in Bulawayo? They were so well developed in Cape Town!”. (That is like comparing apples to goats). Do your research and don’t go with any preconceived notions.
Do: Have patience and understanding
Africa as a continent is still very much developing and recovers from the atrocities it suffered in the past. Things may not be as efficient or convenient in an African country as they are in your home country. Traffic may crawl, you may have to pass through military checkpoints, stores may not open on time and airports can be hard to navigate. Did the electricity not come on or the water just stop running? Well, these things happen. Complaining loudly and losing your temper is not appropriate as African people generally have a lot of self-control and will not lose their cool in public. Embrace the expression TIA, which means ‘This Is Africa’. It basically means, expects the unexpected, this is Africa and anything can happen. Be flexible, be patient. Your calm acceptance of things beyond your control will help you to have a far better holiday than allowing small things to rile you up!
South African by nationality and Asian by ethnicity, Expat Panda is a fierce and fearless woman who discusses with young cubs issues regarding culture, race, relationships, & travels with an unprivileged passport. Follow her journey here.
No White Savior, Uganda
Do: Visit a country for what it has and not what it lacks
Often referred to as the pearl of Africa, Uganda houses the continent’s most diverse wildlife and impressive landscapes. The country is well known for its mountain gorillas found in the Ruwenzori mountains. Nature conservation is of topmost priority in Uganda because the country faces the threat of deforestation. As a result for every tree cut down, 3 more trees most be planted (source).
Talk to the locals. Ugandans are hospitable people and they speak English, their official language. In fact, English is spoken in 24 African countries. Other common languages spoken in Africa are French, Arabic, Spanish, and Portuguese. Better yet, learn some of the tribal languages conversed in the country you plan on visiting.
Try scrumptious national dishes like ugali, chapati, and peanut sauce. Visit the second largest mosque in Africa and other tourist attractions. Check out the country’s official pages for more information.
Don’t humiliate the locals
We look forward to the day when individuals, influencers, and non-profit organizations like Unicef stop using victimizing images of African locals to get money. Do you over stop to think for a moment how these locals feel when their images are exploited?
The ads promoted and the visuals spread, does more harm than good to Africans. It paints a broad and misguided message that Africa is poverty. Aide communities need to know what they are actually solving. In order to do so, people need to first understand what poverty is.
Ugandans can have thousands of acres of land but lack the capital to turn it into resources. Whereas an American can have thousands of dollars in debt, will use his/her credit card for a trip, and will want to solve problems in African countries. This is because the U.S. is seen as a wealthy country by association.
No White Saviors is an advocacy campaign lead by a majority female, majority African team of professionals based in Kampala, Uganda. The team’s collective experience in the development & aid sectors has lead them to a deep commitment to seeing things change in a more equitable & anti-racist direction. Follow their journey and support their cause here.
Don’t pick up brown babies and take photos or film yourself doing “good”.
Good deeds do not need to be broadcast. Poor African children should not validate you or make you appreciate your life of privilege. There is no need to document yourself as a hero in your own story. Instead, meet locals and try new foods.
Do: Embrace the rising Africa that is the status quo.
What do I mean? If you are only traveling for a safari or to visit an orphanage, rethink your visit. The beauty of Africa lies in the diversity of the land, people and cultures. To visit Africa is to see the second-largest and second-most-populous continent in the world. With 54 countries, thousands of languages and tribes, there are no two places in Africa that are alike. Take in every part as its own unique experience. Do not take away one experience as the entire continent. Explore Africa with an open mind and a humble spirit.
Zuleka is a free-spirited educator and storyteller that identifies as a Liberian-American. Zuleka strongly believes Africans need to tell their own stories in order to change the images and narratives of the public. She uses her platform to educate people about Liberia and counter the helpless African narrative. Zuleka plans to return to Liberia where she lived and work prior to pursuing her studies in the Fall of 2019. She can be seen spotting a headwrap and smiling on Instagram under the handle Zuleka_ or you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
This was a very important guide to write and I hope you learned something new. Travel is becoming accessible to more people. As always, travelers are curious about Africa. With countries like Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, etc being the hot spots, it’s necessary for us to be reminded of these facts.
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