Is this really Africa?


Even when I mentally say the word I have an image of Tevye immediately appear in my head. What now strikes me as impressive is the portrayal of someone in the middle of change actually recognizing the world as he knew it sliding away.

Traditions are so often entrenched in many societies that they are not even recognized by those immersed in that culture. They can form so much of the framework of daily life and activities that what is bizarre to outsiders can be experienced as completely normal for that time and place. And, as such, they are not questioned but assumed as as the natural order of the world especially by those who are the main beneficiaries of those traditions. Why would you question your way of life, policies, procedures, social pecking order when you are “king of the heap?”

Admittedly, my experience in [Sub-Saharan] Africa to this point are limited to time spent in semi-rural Kenya in 2000 and these last days of whirlwind through South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Reading, let us not forget reading and lectures by various Docs from this region that I have attended within the last 12 months. I acknowledge this is an extremely limited sample and experience. What is more; all of these countries are former British Colonies. A people well known for their love of social order, class structure and extensive litany of expected behaviors.

Add in that this area of Africa was fertile grounds for the Arab slave traders for hundreds of years aided and abetted by tribes routinely sold each other out; one might say in order to keep their own tribe free of those same traders. I am a bit less charitable. It was an extremely practical and effective way to dispose of enemies.

What triggered off this rant was not my tour group leader. Lloyd was knowledgable, frank and honest about tribal and family traditions in the countries we visited. A well educated man, I note that he may speak fondly of rural life but doesn’t live there. Nor did the desultory performance of the men working at the one camp with a woman manager irritate me enough to put fingers to keyboard. I even kept it together this morning at breakfast. I watched in amazement as this woman literally served her husband his breakfast making multiple trips to the buffet till he was satisfied before getting her own breakfast.

What torqued me off were the smiles and nods that one man received as he moved through the check-in area at Tombo International (Joberg, SA). Picture in your mind this woman in her 40s. The luggage cart she is pushing has four massive suitcases stacked neatly on it. She is straining to maneuver it through the crowded area. Where is he? Sitting on top of the luggage.

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2 Responses to Is this really Africa?

  1. AlisonH says:

    If you heard that gasp after that last sentence, well, there was certainly one from me.

    And then I think, maybe he has some major thing physically wrong with him, broken bones, rheumatoid arthritis that we don’t know about…

    …Quickly followed by the thought of, naaah. I’m letting him off too easy. And I appreciate the kindness in your run-up to this moment by saying sometimes we don’t even see that it’s mindless tradition rather than a thought-out choice of how we should be living.

    • Holly says:

      George was very calming and kept me from doing anything death provoking…. And no, there were no signs that the man was mobility impaired…

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