Good holidays folks! So I have been asked to expanciate on what I experienced traveling African countries and specifically in relation to how people perceived me. A tough challenge indeed! But none the less I will try to summarize some of the best tips I used with success to make my stay smooth and enjoyable.
First of all before throwing ourselves into the challenge, lets look at some basics. The African continent consists of not less than 54 countries and the covers a vast area which makes it the second largest in the world. For an eye-opening experience take a glimpse at the illustration below – and make sure to close your jaw afterwards!
These 54 countries are frequently mentioned as the most diverse in regards to culture, in the whole world that is. Just to give an example of diversity, in Uganda not less than 33 different languages are spoken by the population. Some of which of course are similar in accents like Norwegian and Swedish, but most not. In other words it is a trap in itself to try to generalise Africa as a whole.
Now, let me share some shortcuts I have developed from my experiences, it has helped me to navigate the path forward, to connect with similarities and bridge differences during a total of nine months spent in Tanzania, Ghana, Togo, Ivory Coast and lastly Uganda. This is not to say that I forgot who I am or where I come from, but just being aware of some initial customs opened up a path to the most interesting aspects of my travel experiences.
When it comes to traveling I believe there are many ways to go about it. Some travel to see places and learn about historical sights, some to experience breath-taking nature, some to observe rare animals in their natural habitat and others to let the days pass by while chatting about life over a drink with locals, at the coffee shops. At the risk of sounding very precocious: I believe you will just have to figure out which way suits you best, as traveling can be as much an outer or inner journey.
My first advise is to take time with people and cherish your relationships with them:
- Always and always ask people how they are before stumbling into any other matters of concern! This goes for everyone you will interact with regardless of them being heirs of ancient kingdoms or barefooted street vendors. To skip this step will make you come-across in words as extremely rude. Moreover it will limit you from having interesting conversations and for sure severely limit your bargaining skills.
- Learn some few phrases of native language preferable basic greetings. I would say few things which takes little effort to learn are so rewarding. It is indeed a shortcut to making people smile and appreciate your company. On the street-smart side it will indicate that you have been around for a while and decreases prices as well as the chances of unpleasant gossip behind your back.
- If you don't know the person in front of you be humble and make sure you are on common ground before sharing concerns. This is because the person next to you might not reveal to you at once that they perhaps spent the whole night looking after someone at hospital or that the family is under constant threat of eviction. Be especially careful in regards to expenses, if something is cheap to you it might cost half of a months income for someone else. Also be mindful and curious when it comes to religion.
- Dress properly! If adequate washing facilities in African countries in general are harder to access than in Scandinavia it does not mean you can dress accordingly. Actually quite the opposite! People put lots of meaning to the way you dress. If someone goes to office in dirty stained shoes or miss matched socks it might become a topic for discussion the whole day. Totally no-no are dirty or sweaty, un-ironed or ripped clothes in general and very exposing shorts or tops (in daylight that is). Actually to take it to the next level loose hippie-style kind of dressing is not so appreciated by the general public either. Be free and creative but think about the setting. Dress smart that is!
- Share what you have! With great pleasure you will be invited to share meals, cookies and tea- or coffee sessions. My experience is that you will never go hungry as long as there are people around! So to get back to the first advise to cherish your relationship with people share what they are going to consume. It is a guaranteed nice gesture and can impact peoples impression about you more than you will even be aware of.
- Mzungu, gringa, obruni, yavoo! Whatever your new street title, bare in mind that it is hard to get the status of being a guest or expat the environment you are in. Respect the fact that you might not understand everything that is going on and that some things are kept out of your information. This said over to the last advise.
- Take everything with a grain of salt!
This goes for time, directions as for your own appearance. As anywhere in the world people who really put an effort to getting to know you will also put in an effort to understand you when your behavior puzzles them. Also when reading guidebooks you can spend hours reading about 1.000 things you are not suppose to do and equally many bugs and insects your suppose to watch out for and places. Again, be street smart! Areas where many people move look out and don't cary valuables and be careful moving outside while dark.
That said, challenge yourself gradually: Take a local transport, laugh with kids, sample street food at the market and most of all accept invitations to go church, mosque, have dinner at peoples homes – and enjoy!
Article by Sanna Ström
In picture: Omar Mohammed & Sanna Ström
Picture by Kai Krause
Skandik Afrik ( email@example.com )