Tuesday, March 16, 2010

This is not my Africa

We went to a travel lecture the other night.  The speaker went on a trip to East Africa several years ago and took 1200 pictures!  Fortunately, she trimmed her photos to 600 for this lecture and slide show.  She is probably a better traveler than photographer, but I enjoyed the photos nonetheless.

Over 40 years ago, I served for two years in the Peace Corps in the Republic of Niger in West Africa.  I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to a handful of countries including Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Upper Volta, Mali, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, Chad, Senegal, Sierra Leone.  (Note:  Some of the names are different today due to political changes since the 60s.)

My experience as a Peace Corps volunteer altered my life in so many ways.  It made me a better human being, better citizen, better wife and mother, better friend.

It also made me quite sensitive to how little the average American knows about this HUGE continent!  So, when the speaker spoke in general terms about "Africa" and "Africans" based on a visit to three countries in East Africa, I was one unhappy camper.  Imagine how we would feel if someone visited New York City and Washington, D.C. and decided that those cities represented all of the United States?  YIKES!  Do travellers who come here to see the magnificence of Yosemite and Yellowstone believe that all of the U.S. looks the same?  Of course not!  So, why do people continue to talk about Africa as though it is only game parks and LandRovers, elephants, gazelles, lions and cheetahs???  This is not my Africa .... this is my Niger.

Look at this map.  It's a very large land mass, isn't it?  Yes, the game parks must be gorgeous and seeing animals in the wild quite a thrill.  But there is also the Sahara Desert, the exotic city of Casablanca, the gorgeous high-rise buildings of the Ivory Coast towering above the shoreline of the Atlantic, the pyramids of Egypt, Lake Tanganyika, Mount Kilamanjaro ..... and on and on and on and on.

We are all Americans, but a New Yorker is not the same as a Texan.  A farmer from Iowa is very different from a casino dealer in Las Vegas.  And a nomad crossing the Sahara is far different from a banker in South Africa.
Okay, off the soap box for tonight.

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