Saturday, 23 October 2010


Back in the day ('the day' being any given Sunday in the 1997 to 2002ish span), we used to tease these two brothers in my church youth group about being from 'Africa.' Not actual Africa, we (my church and all of the members of its congregation) were WAY to P.C. for that. These brothers lived in Russell, Ontario... which you have never heard of. (Don't lie, you've never heard of it.)

Russell is a tiny little town outside of Metcalfe (which you've also never heard of) off Highway 417 in the Eastern Townships (ditto above), which is itself southeast of Gloucester (which, admit it, you've ALSO never heard of, unless you're a massive Dan Boyle fan) and is mostly farm-type land that does not do much of anything but buffer Ottawa from those crazies down in Upstate New York. That, and produce milk and maple syrup.

Thing is, we teased these boys and we called Russell "Africa" because it was FAR away -so far that I never went to their house in the 6 or so years I knew them- but also because it kind of scared us to go there.

A couple of weeks ago, my prof used the following map in class when we were talking about media coverage of wars in Africa. The map is 100% to scale.

A little scary how many countries (BIG countries) fit inside the continent, isn't it?

I think sometimes people forget just how huge Africa is, and how many people live there. I think it's easy to forget (or to deliberately not think about it) because when you actually try to wrap your head around it, it ends up hurting a little from having to stretch so much. Africa is still a big mystery to most of us. I've been wanting to go there for 20 years (literally, since I was seven years old). I've traveled quite a bit, so what's stopping me from going to Africa?

Money, for one: plane tickets to Tanzania are WAY more expensive than tickets to Toronto. Malaria medication (and all the other shots you have to get). Visas. And... as reluctant I am to admit this, fear. Africa (like Russell) is a long way from home. I'm good with new places, but I'm not sure I could parachute into a given country in Africa and just wing it the way I tend to do when I travel. In intimidating places, planning is my fallback which, if you know me well at all, you know is not my forte. But mostly it's fear. I think most of it is simply a fear of the unknown: of not knowing what may go wrong.

A few years ago in London, I got pick-pocketed (in Westminster Abbey of all places). I was pissed off, but I wasn't ever scared. I knew the language. I had my train ticket back to Brighton. I knew where I was sleeping that night. And I knew that I had a friend whose parents would bail me out if I was in really serious trouble. Maybe that's the trick: most of the places I travel, I know people. I don't know anyone in Africa. Which shouldn't stop me from going there, but probably has at least a little. If something went wrong, I'd be a long way from home with no one close by to give me advice or to help me out if I got myself into trouble (and let's be realistic, I am MORE than capable of getting myself into the strangest situations *coughnearlydrowningintheNorthSeacough*).

That map, however, gave some validity to my worries about traveling to (and in) Africa. It's a huge continent, just huge, and even if I knew someone in one country, it wouldn't necessarily be much help. Flying home to Ottawa from Vancouver is a heck of a trip, one I tend to avoid because I lose a day of travel going there. Flying from Cote d'Ivoire to South Africa would be no less daunting. Probably more so.

The strange thing is that, sitting in my chair in the library at school, I'm no less determined to go at some point. The map simply made me realize that this will have to be planned -well planned- and that my extensive talents using Hotwire and CheapTickets will be of absolutely no use.

So... on that note, who wants to go to Africa? In, say, early 2012? Anyone?


lauren said...

Getting off the plane in Entebbe was one of the hardest I've ever done. Africa, as a concept, is terrifying and overwhelming. Africa, as a place, is still terrifying and overwhelming- but also ancient and beautiful and vibrant. I would LOVE to go back. I'm rather desperately hoping that more of my friends are accepted as a Peace Corps Volunteers so I can go visit more places with some ind of connection- as it is I would love to visit my friends that are in Mali.

Let's just take a few years off from reality and go everywhere. :-)

Jess said...

You can come with me when I go back. I've started a fund for it and everything :D

If Johannesburg is your first experience of Africa, I think you'd get a false impression of the continent.

Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique are all amazing. Namibia is on my hit list. I don't think you'd ever get by in Africa without planning though.

I always forget that I've been to Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt and that they're also in Africa. Sub Sahara has a very different feel to it.

I am the most scaredy person in the world, but I encountered nothing but positivity and a very warm welcome in Africa.

My last trip to South Africa was one of the most positive, life affirming things I've ever done. [There's an album for it on my Facebook - it's probably the only 'good' thing I've ever done(!)]

Africa: two thumbs up!

Oh and Mer, re: the North Sea, do you now glow in the dark?! So toxic!