Monday, July 4, 2011

Returning to Africa

For four years we’ve been talking about a trip to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro. I blame my gym for publishing an article about the climb in their monthly magazine. After six months of serious discussions and research, we finally bought tickets to go to Zambia instead. Paying a team to babysit us up the mountain costs double the airfare just to get to Africa. Instead we’re going to relive our Peace Corps days by visiting a volunteer we know in Zambia. In the classic writing style of “threes”, here are the four things I love about traveling to Africa.

I love flying. Particularly long, international flights. I love the little tin-foil wrapped meals they serve, even in coach. Air France is the best – don’t get me started. I love buying the Economist magazine. I can almost read all the articles on an eight-hour flight. I love watching the in-flight movies, especially on those screens built into the seat in front of you. I love navigating new airports in foreign countries, where you never know which languages will be on their signs or if English will be one of them. Most of all, I love holding my wife’s hand on take-off and landing.

The Culture – Hospitality, Language, Food
Africans are friendly and inviting. People are friendly everywhere, but Africans tend to be less hurried, and more inclined to welcome you into their home. It’s fun to kick off your sandals and sit down to a conversation over a beer or shot of moonshine. They’re always eager to talk about American politics, European policies, or soccer.

Languages in Africa fascinate me as well. First there is the official language – usually English or French. Both are spoken with accents that are unique to Africa. I picked up such a distinct African accent to my French that a hotel clerk in Paris said I “spoke like a black man.” Then there are the idiomatic expressions from the indigenous languages that have been translated directly into French or English. For example “It’s been three days” which means “It’s been a while since we saw each other.” (The response is “And one more [day].”) I love picking up as much of the local language as I can. It’s like a puzzle, and I love the looks I get when no one expects the American visitor to know Fon, or Swahili, or Bemba.

I love trying new foods when I travel. I enjoy finding new tastes, textures, and combinations. I also love the customs that go with it, whether it means eating only with your right hand, or eating in a certain order, or sharing from one dish. When the food is completely unusual, like fried termites, I savor the challenge of overcoming my own culinary biases. And I enjoy the pleasure it gives my hosts when I show them that a visitor is willing to try their cuisine.

Peace Corps Volunteers
By Marcus Chance
All Rights Reserved

Volunteers, or PCVs, are an adventurous, idealistic bunch, and they know how to throw great parties on low budgets. They don’t have “happy hours”, they have “happy weekends”.  I know because I was a PCV in Benin, West Africa from 1994-1997. We can spend hours swapping stories about misguided host families, outrageous taxi rides, and confused country directors. It’s a joy watching volunteers converse in the local language with their neighbors, and they can always show you the best eatery, chill-out spot, and nature vista their village has to offer.

By Marcus Chance
All Rights Reserved
Nature Photography
I’m a sucker for sweeping vistas, and I always want to take them home with me. That’s what our Canon Powershot is for. Africa is full of bright colors: deep green forests, rust brown trails, shimmering blue skies, golden savannahs, and aqua rivers. Throw in some wildlife, like elephants, hippos, zebras, or chickens. Extra credit for photos from a rainforest canopy hike or a canoe trip across a lake.

Yes, I’m quite excited about our trip that’s just six months away. Really excited. Extremely excited. Airplanes, languages, food, photography, oh my. We get to spend time with an Austin friend in Zambia. I get to travel with my wife on her first trip to Africa. We’ll go to Victoria falls and either a walking or canoeing safari. And I’ll come back with tons of photos and stories for my blog.

Do you like traveling? Why or why not?

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