There are actually a couple special kinds of feelings I want to look at in this one. They are both related to travel however.
The first is the feeling I get of being in a new country.
The pattern is remarkably similar for each new country where I am a kiddy in a candy store for the first three days with sensory overload but a continuous beaming smile on my face. After the first few days, and usually some long walks creating my own motion animation or documentary of the new people and place that I am a part of, I settle into the details. It is then a fun discovery of listening, learning, observing, guessing and trying to tap into the beats of daily life (sometimes easier in some places like Liberia where the beats are loud and very public through huge speakers!). The next phase after a week or two is taking ownership on the experience and being able to predict some of the ways of thinking and doing and most importantly prices so the fear of being ripped off dissipates. Then for those of us (actually rarely me) who can stay beyond a couple of weeks a new life and lifestyle emerges and opens up of walking in step with the locals but always being slightly out of step at the same time – sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse.
Depending on how different the culture, way of life and environment is from your own brought up set of lenses it is a continuous journey of loving the good parts of that place and complaining about the parts that you know could be different from either your own culture or another you might have seen in the past.
I’ve now had this special feeling in 90 different countries as my Liberian passport marks the 90th country I’ve been extremely privileged to experience and also pursued myself, to have that feeling of being in a new place with new people.
The second special feeling is the feeling of being back in Africa. It is my first time to be in Liberia and West Africa but there are some feelings and realities of being in West Africa that remind me of my fortunate years and experiences in east Africa: a year in rural Ethiopia, 6 months in Uganda, 5 months in South Sudan and shorter visits to numerous countries in eastern and southern Africa.
Before I talk about the wonderful ways of Africa and in admiration of the noble savages (I won’t be doing that) there are some very harsh realities faced in this continent that can be seen easier and more en masse than in most other continents. Life is tough in Africa for most Africans. There is a huge variety in the 54 countries that make up the continent of Africa but there are many similarities for many of those countries that I’ve been fortunate to learn from so allow me to generalise on those countries and call it an African experience, or at least my African experience…
- Africa is loud. I’m writing this blog being powered by a generator that sounds like I am either riding on a tractor or have one inches away from my ears, and the generator is not always the loudest sound in the room which may be outdone by the blaring TV in the room next door, pumping speakers from a church / political party / electronics shop near or far away, teaming rain on the tin roof or people generally shouting just to communicate.
- The smells of Africa range from raw sewerage, dead animals, fragrant markets and most commonly heavy perfumes of petrol and vehicle emissions from crappy quality petrol.
- People take care of themselves but love taking care of you. I admire the resiliency of so many people on this continent. The complaints I have and know in the west are SO trivial in comparison to people in Africa and even then the people of Africa rarely complain because complaining won’t do anything anyway. Then taking care of you, the people of Africa are so quick to adopt a stranger and not with reverence or pampering but in a seamless matter-of-fact way making you feel like you were born into their family.
- Time is fluid and not a social contract. This can be a point of massive frustration (if you are someone organising trainings, logistics and the like) but settling into that way of conceiving time is a skill the whole world could do with a little dose of (I know the Latin Americans and other places have this pretty fluid sense of time too).
To me it feels a more raw and slightly more pure form of life where there are less distractions, less social norms of individualism and where you have to interact with humans at their most human with less built up, and I would call artificial, surroundings. I’m not here to put this way of life on a pedestal or glorify the abject poverty and lack of infrastructure and services that almost every African would dearly appreciate but as a visitor (who can easily leave and have access to that infrastructure and services) what I do love about being in Africa is the way the place ticks. Not a better tick but a different one and one that I appreciate of being louder, smellier, timeless and with a huge amount of resilience and few expectations.
90 countries doesn’t even get me to half of the 193 countries in the world and only around 10 of the 54 African countries so I’m sure there will be more opportunities to experience new places with new people in the future!