After 4 months on this continent, I’m not sick of it yet. In fact, I’ve fallen in love with it. The people, the landscape, the cultures and the languages; everything about it. I’ve visited eight countries and realise now that I could have easily spent my whole year travelling Africa rather than the world. So here’s a list of everything I loved about Africa, or grew to love anyway. A lot of these are also the most frustrating and annoying things about travelling in Africa but they’re also the things I know I’ll miss the most.
Hakuna matada (no worries) – Even though this is Swahili, it is a commonality in all the African countries I visited. Everything is ‘no worries’ and ‘be free’. There’s a stress less atmosphere here that you can’t beat which also leads into my next point…
African time – African time means add an hour or two every time we tell you a time of departure, time of arrival or meeting time. It means things will happen eventually (eventually, being the key word here!). Whether it be a bus leaving an hour after the ticket says, a taxi driver arriving half an hour after your arranged time, a train delayed for 7 hours, it is normal. In fact, if I ever asked what the estimated travel time of a bus journey was I often heard “anywhere between 8 and 10 hours”, at least they were honest in not giving an exact time! Ahhh African time, you have to learn to embrace it otherwise you’d go insane.
Minivan taxis – Matatus (Kenya), dalla-dallas (Tanzania) or minibus taxis. Whatever their name, they are everywhere and I mean EVERYWHERE. In the big cities like Johannesburg and Nairobi there was just a sea of white minivans with people hanging out the sides yelling out its destination. They are the preferred mode of transport by the locals and much cheaper than a taxi so they became my preference as well. They were always loaded with people to the point where the driver would have four people squashed in with him, people sitting on the floor and people squatting at the door. The best part being that you’re always guaranteed to get on because they never say no, there’s always room for more… Even when there isn’t.
Once I hit Tanzania and Kenya, the white vans also became a blank canvas for the owners to express their beliefs or their creativity. They all had graffiti artwork, stickers and names plastered on the sides. There were the not so original or creative ones like Safari Express and Kilimanjaro Express, there were a lot of religious related ones like Fear God, God Save Us and King David and there were others like Luminous, Like a Boss and The Missing Link which made me laugh. But my personal favourite was Slum Dunk!
Mizungu or faranji (white person) – When I heard that word I would smile and wave, “yes I know you’re talking about me”. Some tourists find it offensive, I just accepted it.
Red earth – That red dust gets in your eyes, into your pores and under your nails. When you wash your clothes and your hair the water runs a reddy-brown colour and often requires rinsing three or four times to get rid of it. It always makes you feel and look dirty but it reminds you of where you are and also means you have an excuse for always looking like a grub.
Maize – Ugali (Tanzania and Kenya), nshima (Zambia) and pap (South Africa). It’s the staple crop for most of the countries I visited and is cooked into a thick dough. Served with any stew it is delicious, although most other tourists I met didn’t think so.
Sister – I was everyone’s sister. It’s an African thing to call everyone, even strangers, their sister or brother but it just proves how friendly they are. In all the countries I visited I was met by the friendliest people I’ve ever met, many going out of their way to help me. I was never afraid of being stuck anywhere, I knew someone would always help me out.
Traffic – The traffic in the cities can be overwhelming, frustrating and loud. Most of the time it is quicker to walk than take a taxi. In Cairo I was told by many locals that the best way to get across the road is to just close your eyes and walk because if you wait for a gap in the traffic you’ll never get across. It also means that the fumes fill the air with pollution, so much so that I think my lungs will probably look like I’ve been a long term smoker only after four months here!
Markets and bus stations – These two are the most chaotic, insane, interesting and fun (sometimes) places in each city I went to. They both carry a warning for tourists not to go, it’s either too dirty and unpleasant or you’re most likely going to get hassled or your bag snatched, but if you want to see where all the locals hang out and get a glimpse of the crazy life in many African countries then this is the place! No museum or temple can beat this experience..
So the bottom line is I love this continent and am already feeling the depression sinking in now that I have left. Other travellers have said to me, ‘you’ll be so happy to get to Europe and to find clean cities, reliable transport and constant luxuries like hot showers and electricity 24/7,’ but I don’t know about that. I think I’m weirdly going to miss power blackouts in the middle of cooking dinner, bus journeys that have a massive difference in the minimum and maximum estimated travel time and not having to worry about being clean and pretty all the time. But that’s okay because I know for a fact that this will not be my last time in Africa. I’ve already promised a few people I’ll be back and I’m not going to renege on that. In fact I’m already planning my return trip!