Ode to Africa


Today, while driving past the glamorous houses of Camps Bay in Cape Town (the Venice Beach of Cape Town as someone described it) I looked at all of the immense wealth and beautiful coastline and scenery that I was surrounded by and arrived at the fact that I don’t know anything.  What I mean by that is perhaps best exemplified by Socrates who supposedly said “A wise man knows he knows nothing”.  By contrasting the poverty I arrived in in Malawi with the luxury of Cape Town, all of my rationalizing and reasoning could simply not explain how 2 countries separated by a 1000 miles or so could be worlds apart while still existing on the same continent.  I came to the realization that perhaps I never would understand it.

It was a surreal experience, because I think I arrived at the point that so many Africans try to convey to people who visit here.  I’ll never know what it is to be an African or to fully comprehend all the complexities, tragedies, and opportunities that has transformed the birthplace of humanity into the world’s liveliest continent, simply because I could never know given my upbringing and nationality.

Far from being a sad realization it made me appreciate this place and its people even more.  Throughout my time here and during my previous trip I’ve seen stereotypes destroyed and upheld in such a random manner that it would make anyone from the US insane.  For instance last night Chelsea and I along with a few other people who we had met here at the backpackers went out for some drinks on Long Street (Cape Town’s french quarter if you will) and the first place we went to would have been characterized by almost everyone as a no-go place.  But you know what, despite being the only white people in the place we threw caution to the wind and ignored previous warnings and danced and had a great time.  The people there were initially shocked by our presence but soon they were dancing and drinking with us as if we were old friends.  It was a small, small event given the scope of my stay here but I think it best exemplified how wrong stereotypes can be and how destructive they can be.

Malawi and South Africa have given me so much these past two years, by giving me valuable experience as well as helping me grow as a person.  When I returned from Stellenbosch last summer I knew that I was not the same person as when I had left, and I feel the same way now on the verge of my return to the US.  There is just something so magically blessed about this place that could never be fully expressed through my own writing.

Africa is home to some of the worst of humanity (Somalia, Sudan, Eastern Congo, etc.) but is at the same time home to the best of humanity.  The graciousness and hospitality that I have experienced over the past 37 days would be considered unheard of back home.  Too often I was the beneficiary of favors that I did not deserve.  And all of these favors were done with the simple understanding that we’re no different from each other, and that we’d expect the same for ourselves.

It’s such a simple principle that seems to be absent in too many corners of the world.  To me that is perhaps Africa’s greatest attribute.  No matter how serious the problems, or how paradoxical the complexities are, there is an underlying understanding which unites the people here.

It may not be apparent, and I’m sure I’m romanticizing a bit, but come here for yourself and tell me I’m wrong.

So with all of that being said, I’d like to thank everyone who was in Malawi and South Africa with me.  Words cannot express my gratitude for all I have learned from you.  I hope to return with the soonest possible opportunity.


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