My Africanism – by Muni

It’s like standing on a precipice. On the edge of an abyss. The culmination of over fifteen months traveling. Getting here was the point as it is the point. Cape Agulhas – the most southern most tip of the continent of Africa. All the way from Tangier to here, mostly by land and at a rough estimate we have clocked up well over 37,000 kilometres. It feels like an aeon since we stepped onto the Tangier fast ferry. The pace of traveling has been slower than anticipated and felt faster, but, “That’s Africa”.

I remember looking out onto the craggy forbidding cliffs of Morocco and the Rif Mountain silhouettes wondering what lay ahead as we crossed the Mediterranean Sea with the rock of Gibraltar watching on. The immensity of the trip not really hitting home. An undertaking that seemed smaller on a map but bigger when we told people of our plans. “You’re doing what? Going where? But how are you going to get from a to b? There’s no this and that there! Mad Africans with machetes, wild animals, you’ll be boiled alive!” were the worrisome reactions we endured.

Many many people we met on the road asked us why? What’s the inspiration? Initially I was confused by the question. “What do you mean, why? Why not?!” I thought. Africa was boundless it’s borders just an imaginary line that were easily traversed with a public bus or my feet. Wild animals and mad Africans and landscapes beyond comprehension were the reason I was going. It’s nickname: “The Dark Continent”, inspires imagery of jungle drums, red dust, poverty, distended bellies, poaching, plundering and at it’s worst, Ugandan Head Hunters! Not for the faint of heart, Africa is as foreboding as it is immense. But to me, was irresistible.

So, is it dark? I say no, and to quote Bob Geldof, it is “The Luminescent Continent”. This place is so bright it burns your eyes. It renders your sun glasses useless. It exudes colour and vividness almost blinding. Yes, there are those with hearts of darkness that cast shadows here and have done for many years but necessity breeds invention. Africans have been recycling for years. Even some very inventive recycling of funds! If Africans are anything they are inventive. They are masters of social engineering. Getting such a simple thing as a bus can cost an foreigner up to 10 times the local cost unless you know how to play the game and use it against them. For example, our first time in Mali we paid for transport of the luggage. The second time we did not pay whatsoever. Why? Because they realised I was Black, a Tuareg and ultimately Malian! When they saw I knew the game they relented. Let the others pay, I said. And the “tourists” did. We laughed at my new found ethnicity, the local chappies too.

We have endured the Moroccan muezzin’s chant, arrogant police in Western Sahara, dropped our jaws at the cloud of stars on the Senegalese coast, refused to pay a massive bribe leaving The Gambia, immersed ourselves in Malian culture, taught English and Irish in a café in Burkina Faso, watched Green Turtles lay eggs on a Ghanian beach paradise with new found friends, drank Ethiopian coffee after marvelling at the churches of Lalibela, conversed with a new friend and Masai Warrior about Polar Bears in Zanzibar, waited patiently on a Sesse Island beach to take a photo of a Malachite King Fisher in Uganda, sat amongst Gorillas in Parc National de Volcans in Rwanda, left Burundi by a tug boat, came eye to eye with Frodo in Tanzania, saw the best beach of my short life in Praia de Chocas, Mozambique, swam with Chiclids in Lake Malawi, drenched myself in the rain from the Smoke that Thunders on the Zambian side, charged up dry sandy river beds in search of desert Elephants, Namibia, stood at the leg of Table Mountain, South Africa, pony trekked in the Kingdom of the Sky, Lesotho and marvelled at the endless pineapple fields in Swaziland to list quite a few.

To travel such a long way changes a person. Seeing such adversity, disease and poverty forces you to learn humility. Africa made me learn the value of things. Those tangible and intangible. But not necessarily the cost of things. (Sometimes the cost isn’t necessarily the price; at least the price quoted – in Africa) It made me value friendship which, on the road, has been mostly transient. And of course there are those who I will maintain contact with. Those who were just themselves and were a pleasure to be around. Not just the Africans but the fellow travellers. It’s strange, I came to Africa for the landscapes and animals and found myself enjoying the people far more than expected. This is mostly due to Molly. Her get up and go forced us both out and into the fray. The markets, attractions and places where you would find people concentrated and going about their daily life is where we had most fun and, for the most part, was hugely positive. Me being the usual goofy comedian usually broke the ice and launched us into the huge process of buying a mango at local price.

I have taken up reading again – (not just computer manuals!) I am enjoying reading now again for the first time in years. I suppose it was just a case of the right book to get me going, plus the fact that I had a lot of time on my hands. “Geldof in Africa” & “The Long Way Down” by Ewan Mac Gregor and Charlie Boorman perked my interest and Michael Palin’s “Sahara” continued. It was wonderful reading it as we moved through a lot of the same places in Paul Theraux’s “Dark Star Safari” which I found far more pertinent as he did a similar trip via public transport and took a very similar route down the east African coast. Paul’s interaction with people, I found, was quite insightful and a very apologetic traveller. He, in my mind, was way too nice. He seems to have an impending sense of doom worrying that this or that will happen while he is away, either to him or his family. Sometimes I felt the same. I rarely missed home but worried for my Dad.

Most of the time I’m a no nonsense type of guy. At least, I’m a straight talker, sometimes to my detriment. Sometimes foreigners were astounded at the familiarity at which I talked to Africans. This was deliberate and not contemptuous. African life, for the most part, is very public. Ghana is a great example. All over Ghana people are on the streets or on their stoop. The reason for this is simple – electricity. There isn’t any and its very dark inside. It makes sense to be outside as there is light. This has caused all Ghanains to perform every kind mundane everyday tasks out in the open. From going to the bathroom (1’s & 2’s !) to cooking and socialising. This kind of social structure itself breeds familiarity amongst neighbours, neighbourhoods and the wider social elements. I.e. street vendors. The simplest action of buying some fruit can be done all from the door step with a smile and a joke. So, when I met and talked to Africans both Molly and I made a point of asking how they were, how was business, even sometimes how their family was. This creates familiarity and a relaxed setting so when we get down to business we did not, usually, get Mzungu (white man) price.

The advent of taking time to inquire how people were and be genuinely interested in their well being made me realise just how uninterested I was in interacting with my fellow Irishmen on a daily basis before I came to Africa. Just give me the goods and I’ll get on with what I was doing – Thanks! Africa taught me empathy. It is really is hard for me to fathom the simple fact that many Africans live on less than a dollar a day. The poorest of the poor Africans will always be the first to welcome you into their home offer you food and interact as best they can. I’ve witnessed this first hand in Burkina Faso.

So, what does it all mean? What’s changed? Obviously, Africa. It happened to me and Molly. It attracted me like an iron filing and drove me from the north to the south. Strangely Africa has made me see life and myself more simply and made Africa seem more complex. Before it was just a mysterious place, a continent of corruption, poverty, war and hunger. Now, to me, Africa is a place of incredible culture, stunning vistas and most of all spirited welcoming people. This place has touched my heart in a way I never thought possible. I try to be more humble, more considerate, more empathetic, listen to people more and talk less. Oddly, I’ve learned to shut up, bite my tongue more and be more patient. Yes it’s cliché, but our experience has been life changing, for both of us. So, what’s changed? Me, I’ve changed. For how long? Who knows. Maybe when I get home to the fast moving pace of a slow economy I’ll be frustrated, depressed, annoyed and ultimately NOT in Africa. I’ll be trying to fill my days with repetition and constant knock backs from prospective employers

The beauty of this trip is that it is now committed to memory. The “remember when”and the “remember that” is all I need to whisk me back to a tropical place and time when all that mattered was the freshness of a mango and the quality of the Parrot fish just bought from a toothless bare arsed beach bum.

Many Halcyon Africa days with me and my Molly – what more could a man ask for?

So just why have I placed a Google Map of Africa in the post ? So as I can see the immensity of the trip that we’ve just completed and for you to pick a place and go.