Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Lessons from Africa, Part 1

In June I went to Africa for the first time. We attended the TEDGlobal Conference in Arusha Tanzania and then climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. I’m hoping to post my Kilimanjaro journal separately but wanted to start by posting a few of the lessons I learned while in Africa. This is the first (of many).

I'm probably no different than most first time visitors to Africa… I brought lots of stereotypes with me. My first realization of this came on our very first morning. We were having breakfast at our hotel, the Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge in Arusha. Initially there were only three or four people at the table (all non-African) and we were marveling at these huge birds walking around just outside the hotel. We later learned that they were Marabou Storks but at the time, all we knew is that they were huge, bizarre and yet somehow charismatic in their ugliness. As we were all staring out the window, two men from Africa joined us and had the same reaction we did. One of them even said, "what the hell are those?" I was thinking that these two guys being from Africa, should know what kind of bird this was but they had never seen them before. The birds are only found in Sub-Saharan Africa and the two men were from the North and South of Africa. On the plane I had read an article titled, "How to write about Africa." by Binyavanga Wainaina. One of the first satirical recommendations the article made was, "always treat Africa as if it is a single country" (ignoring that it is one of the largest and most diverse continents composed of more than 50 countries). So here I was a mere 12 hours later doing exactly what the article warned not to. I suppose its natural to condense your image of a place you've never been to. At least now I am in the position to know what an amazing place Africa is and how much more of it I have yet to see.

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