African time

I should have kept a regular blog; that’s easy to see in retrospect. But at the time I put it in the too-hard basket. Besides the lack of internet access it required daily self motivation, something I wasn’t feeling a lot of having adjusted slightly too well to the concept of ‘African time’.

Complete immersion in daily life can quickly make you forget just how different things are; sometimes it is hard to imagine that small things you do or see while wandering along could be of any interest to other people, let alone to be published for all to read. But spending a year in the black continent as a solo white woman made for a lot of stories. The usual ideas of barren war zones and sad pot-bellied children were a far cry from the real-life energy that engulfed me upon disembarking crowded minivans in each town.

It’s true, life is not easy in Africa and people do suffer from a lack of basic needs. Many of them have very little and live within a system that allows no hope of getting more. But, to quote author Alexander McCall Smith, they have this wonderful feeling for others. I felt humbled every day by people who would go their whole lives without electricity, clean water, or more than one meal a day, and yet would happily offer me whatever they possibly could.

It was strange at first to hear complete strangers calling each other their brothers and their sisters, but after a while I came to know exactly what it meant. Family is for life. Nobody gets kicked out of home at 18, and there is no such thing as a retirement village. To have both mother and father alive is a privilege not an assumption. If you have good luck and an abundance of food, you find a friend who is struggling and give them the extra. I had come to Africa for some camping and wildlife spotting, and was getting taught the basics of humanity.

While passing through Rwanda I made some friends in the town of Ruhengeri, and they asked me to join their local company Top 5 SAI. Going back there a few months later to work making videos, graphics and music was a great learning experience. I’ll continue to work with them from back in NZ.

As you can imagine, a year spent in such a different environment made me a little apprehensive about returning to my own world where pots have handles and pets get given clothes and dietary plans… I believe there is an official term for it called ‘reverse culture shock’. Well I got it by the bucket-load coming back at Christmas. But each world within our world has its good and bad points, and I’m damn lucky to have had the chance to live in so many of them.

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