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Understanding Africa: Introduction

In the beginning there was doubt

Africa?” they said, “Alone?” they said, “But you’ll be killed by: bandits, terrorists, witch doctors, lions, snakes, Ebola, AIDs, etc.” and while I did encounter the majority of the above, I am still alive to tell the tale, and to top it off, I got a tan!

Last year I travelled from the heart of Rwanda to the tip of South Africa, some 60,000km overland, snaking through the rainforests, mountains, deserts, and island paradises, from the equator to the Cape. Along the way I lived with a dirt-biking Masai in a volcano doomed to become a thermo-power plant, witnessed the corruption and bribery of the Swahili police force, and carved up dead zebra in Zululand. Jackal fishing anyone? From cannibalism and witchcraft, to humping baboons with a fetish for car bonnets, I seemed to become a magnet for strange and hilarious events, but my true effort on this journey was to help dispel some of the harsh stigma surrounding this beautiful place.

Some things you need to know about me

Unlike most people who travel to Africa I am not a journalist, I am not a humanitarian, and I am not an ironic eco-tourist. I am just a nomad with a thirst for the unknown and a good nose for gossip. I can guarantee you some of the stories I heard are not true, but sometimes the lie is more revealing than the truth, because it exposes the motives of the teller, and every story here is straight from the horse’s mouth. I make it my point to ask the difficult questions and talk to the unheard people, who harbour the opinions and motives of the true heart of Africa. I have no scruples asking about religious indoctrination, genocide, or apartheid, and I don’t omit truths because they don’t agree with my views. I also meet the different kinds of people who travel to Africa, and ask them why: the ex-pats, the volunteers and the Dutch colonials.

Some things you didn’t know about Africa

People forget (or just don’t realise) that Africa is made up of some 112 different nations, and that it is massive! You don’t really realise how big Africa is, because when you flatten out the globe into a rectangle (like on most maps), everything in the middle is squished, and everything at the top and bottom is stretched. Looking at a map in this way, you’d probably think that Africa was about the same size as the U.S, and that Greenland was huge, but actually, you could fit the whole of North America, China, and India into Africa, and still have room for Greenland at the bottom. Check it out at Thetruesize.com, it’s super fun!

You also can’t really make any sweeping statements about Africa as a whole, because it contains possibly the biggest diversity of terrain, culture, and wildlife on the planet. It would be like saying that people in Canada eat the same food as Mexicans, Indians have the same hairstyles as Siberians, or that France and Germany have the same football team. Imagine how that would go down in the pub.

And off we go!

To clarify then, I visited the following countries on this trip: Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. I travelled almost exclusively by land routes (Maybe some boats in there), and I was gone for about three months. This is all possible because I’m unemployed and thought “Screw it! Let’s go on an adventure.” You can be unemployed too! I actively encourage it.

My posts will follow in chronological order by country, starting with Rwanda. Here I visited with some ex-pat friends of mine from university, who have been living in Africa for some time now. After sampling the delights of Kigali we went on a cross country road trip, visiting the lakes, mountains and gorillas of this beautiful country, and found out what makes it tick. Check out the next blog “Understanding Africa: Rwanda” for the full story.

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