Altruistic Lesson in East Africa
Those who are close to me know Africa was not on my radar when I started planning my 2016 journey. I go to Asia to fulfil my spirituality needs, the energy and culture in many of the Asian countries is conducive to meditation and yoga. I go to Europe to fulfil my desire for history and art. I go to the South Pacific to get in touch with my roots and my family. In North America I find peace in nature. After four months in East Africa, I can say I’ll visit Africa again because of the people – the human connection. In my short time in East Africa I made life-long friends, learned about social entrepreneurship, witnessed the generosity of strangers, explored the natural beauty that can only be found in Africa, learned to appreciate African time, and got my heart broken for the first time in ten years.
I found Rwandans to be resilient, friendly and sophisticated with a bit of seriousness. Ugandans on the other hand are outgoing and care-free. Kenyans are one of the most hardworking and determined society I have encountered. Tanzanians fully embrace the phase Hakuna Matata (watch Lion King if you don’t know what it means). Those are the differences I encountered between the countries I visited. I’m making broad sweeping statements but this is my story and I will tell it from my perspective.
I left Seattle with the attitude that I will travel with an open mind and an open heart, I will trust whoever crosses my path until they give me a reason not to trust them. In the past I’ve travelled with skepticism and it often inhibited me from fully embracing and integrating into the local culture. Repeatedly I was warned to be careful in Africa: “Rwanda is still recovering from the genocide, everyone walks around with a machete”, “You will have to bribe Ugandans”, “Kenyans will rob you”, “Physical safety is an issue in Tanzania”. I come across none of these.
I speak more about Rwanda since I spent almost 3 months in the country working and integrating into the society rather than just traveling. What I did encounter is Rwandans going out of their way to ensure I was safe. I can walk home at 2am alone and no one will harass me. There’s an air of innocence and goodness in Rwanda, rules are always obeyed. A good friend of mine from Spain and I always said Rwanda is a magical land where foreigners are always taken care of – nothing bad happens. The economic growth and culture currently prevalent in Rwanda is the rebuilding of the country after the genocide under the Paul Kagame regime. (http://www.presentlynavigatinglife.com/kigaligenocidememorial/), (https://hbr.org/2013/04/why-president-kagame-runs-rwanda.html)
The cultures in the countries I visited was open, inviting and respectful of differences. Never once did I feel discriminated against or excluded because I was an outsider. The clients I worked with as a business consultant were always interested in sharing their culture, food and thoughts with me. In Uganda I stayed with a local, who went out of her way to ensure I was comfortable and even arranged for a trip to Entebbe. In Kampala, a group of young men were concerned I was by myself at night – they stayed with me until we could locate my friends. In Nairobi, I met a couple women at the local nail salon who were insistent that I have dinner with them and they show me around their city. In Nairobi I also had the honor of staying with a local who took care of me as though I was part of his family. In Zanzibar, a local artist I had corresponded with on Couchsurfing came to pick me up at the airport and dropped me off at my guesthouse, negotiated transportation prices for me to other parts of the island and ensured I ate the best seafood Zanzibar has to offer. Every encounter I had with locals was genuine, there was no ulterior motive, they sincerely wanted me to be safe and fully enjoy what their country had to offer.