Things Africa taught me

I’ve now arrived in India and am getting settled and spending a little time with family in Pune. I’ve also been coming up with a list of lessons learned from seven weeks in Africa. In no particular order, here goes:

  • French, that language I really thought was useless, is so not useless. Especially if you’re in Madagascar in non-tourist towns, trying to report and the only people you meet competent enough in English to be a translator are either employees of the company you’re writing about or  activists in the community.
  • mudReef flip flops are awesome. Seriously. Reef. Write it down. Best sandal I’ve ever worn. Damn near the best thing I’ve ever put on my foot. For example, when I accidentally stepped into two and a half feet of quick mud and lost a flip flop (again, thanks Sara from London, for a great laugh), I immediately paid the local who pulled me out another 500 shillings (a little more than $7, probably his weekly wage) to get back in the mud and retrieve my flip flop. (Dear Reef, I’m hoping for an endorsement deal. “Backpack journalist in Third World swears by Reef sandals.” Sounds good, no?)
  • I like parentheses.
  • Eat bananas. Leg cramps suck.
  • Save some bananas for the lemurs.
  • Duct tape (patching window screens) and a sewing kit (patching ripped shorts) both proved extremely handy.
  • In Kenya, the phrase “pole, pole” (pronounced POH-lay, POH-lay) means “slowly, slowly” or “we’re in no hurry.” This applies to many situations — traffic, when the staff doesn’t have your meal ready, when the train is late, when the bureaucrat takes a three hour lunch – except when you are on safari and there’s a leopard spotting. In that particular case, you would be well advised, if your driver is worth his salt, to sit down and hold on to your ass.
  • I need an editor. The entire operation — even blogging — works better.
  • I miss good beer. I once had something claiming to be a porter. I would laugh at it back home (even Michelob would crush it in a contest) but in Nairobi is was like heaven.
  • I like Twitter. I admit. I like it a lot. I like it even more so when I can twitter from the middle of African savanna.
  • cigarI also like cigars. And zebu steak topped with foie gras. Together and a lot.
  • Bloody Marys really do need either steak sauce or Guinness. Preferably both. Nairobi bars and all airlines, you’re on notice. And Qatar Airways, please get olives. If anyone visits me in Delhi, I’ll do my best to pour you a proper one.
  • Guinness in Kenya is not Guinness. Stop pretending. It’s really unfortunate.
  • Hostels smell. Also, don’t hook up with the staff (a fellow traveler demonstrated this; I didn’t learn this first-hand) because it leads to them getting fired.
  • I really want to kick an old white man in the nuts some day as he hits on an underage prostitute. This will be a lifelong dream.
  • I can’t drink like I used to.
  • McDonald’s, to my complete surprise, isn’t in Nairobi.
  • All cell phones should have a flashlight. Mine is really cool.
  • Backpacking men sometimes have more testosterone than necessary. Especially 35-year-old backpacking men.
  • My feet get really dirty. Especially when I spend several days walking through slums with open sewers .
  • smellypeople Soap is not, according to much of the world, requisite when showering. Hell, showering is not requisite. This is especially noticeable when you spend hours in cramped minibuses.
  • Also, you’d be surprised how long it takes to rid your nostrils of the smell of fish guts once you’ve been at an awesome-raw-disgusting market.
  • Kenyan coffee is good. Really good. I’m not sure I’m gonna be able to drink machine-made crap back home.
  • Panasonic is getting its ass kicked by Sony and Fuji in sales in Kenya. Seriously, Panasonic, your consumer digital cameras are better so get on it. (While you’re at it, please send me this. I’ll gladly pay. Because you apparently don’t sell it here in India either.)
  • It’s spelled Maasai.
  • highlands If I spoke French, I would retire to the Malagasy highlands, have a little hermitage, read, fly fish, milk a cow, and churn butter that I would spread on baguettes. Seriously.
  • I overuse the word “seriously.”
  • Bribing works. 200 shillings pressed into the right hand saved me $144 in excess baggage fees at the Nairobi airport. “Oh, well, don’t worry about it, because I’ll have to get the credit card machine and fill out the paperwork and you need to catch your flight, and oops, your bag has already gone down the conveyor belt,” he said to me.
  • When all else fails in bargaining, act like you’re incredibly offended that someone thinks you’re such a Mzungu and walk away. Prove you’re not bluffing just once at night, and the regular guys at the taxi stand will respect you and quote you better prices.
  • French keyboards suck. WTF. Who thought it was a good idea to require a computer user to hit Shift for a period and all numbers? I’d like to meet that genius.
  • It would be super swell to have a partner or two along for these shenanigans in the future. You know who you are. Show up.
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3 Responses to “Things Africa taught me”

  1. Sara Says:
    October 27th, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    Just call me your personal copy editor. Or annoyance. Whichever you prefer.

  2. Anna Says:
    October 27th, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    This is fab. If my child is relatively (or at least more) self-sufficient by the time you do this next time (or the next time, or the next time) I would love to go on adventure with you. I wouldn’t have said that five years ago. Also, just f.y.i., kicking some select white men in the nuts is a lifelong dream of mine as well. We could tag team.

  3. Shannon Says:
    October 28th, 2009 at 2:59 am

    Your best post yet. Loved it. Was so wonderful to catch up with you. Let’s talk about Christmas. I hear the Hindus really whoop it up for the baby Jesus.


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