Have You Ever been to Africa?

Anyone that knows me might agree I’m slightly neurotic about travel, and even though I end up spending my last pennies on a trip I shouldn’t be able to afford, I still decided going to Antarctica at the start of this year was a great idea. I justified the trip to be able to say I’d visited all the continents, but then this question ‘Have you ever been to Africa?’ somehow made me feel as though I was cheating. Before this summer, I had only ever been to Egypt, and although it’s on the African Continent, culturally and historically it ties much closer to the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures nearby, so technically I had never really experienced African tourism… until now.

No matter how cultured or well-travelled you are, it seems like Africa should be somewhat predictable from all the stereotypes and generalizations one draws from movies, media, documentaries, and especially development fund campaigns (we’ve all seen World Vision Advertisements). Yes there was poverty, underdevelopment and a lot of little black faces, but there was also blatant affluence, globalization and a lot of white faces. People still wear brand names, buy their internationally imported foods at big supermarkets, goods are all labeled ‘Made in China’, and Alicia Keys & Jay Z’s New York song could be heard almost anywhere. But, as soon as you got out of town into the wilderness, the Disney movie Lion King came alive with Timone, Pumba, Simba, and Wazoo all visible in a day’s game drive.

While this holds true for a lot of southern Africa, South Africa is in its own country genre, since it often resembles Australia or Europe more than the rest of Africa. It is extremely developed in certain aspects – highways and traffic infrastructure, education systems, debatably health care, – and a vibrant cultural arts scene. However, this type of modernity doesn’t exist in all parts of South Africa, and even though English and Afrikaans are widely used, 11 official languages in one nation gives you some idea of how diverse and complicated different areas of the country are.

I never actually realized that Afrikaans was basically a derivative of Deutsch; I always thought it was some conglomerate contact language the colonials and locals developed to communicate, but really it is no different than any other colonial country in the sense that their language was introduced into the area, into the education system, and slowly evolved to become one of the most widely used and official languages. It sounded really strange to me because I just heard a bunch of tourists speaking some German-like European language, and the locals speaking some sort of Creole or local tongue, but I finally figured out they’re all South Africans just speaking Afrikaans with different accents.

The diversity of faces, languages and general multiculturalism was still more than I expected; Cape Town struck me as a very culturally rich, ethnically diverse place, and the super colourful flag of South Africa is a perfect representation of this socially complex place. I’m not sure if this is too much of a leap, but besides personal safety concerns that I still thought were over-rated, I also thought Cape Town to be one of the most livable cities I’ve ever visited, with good weather and amazing biodiversity edging it ahead of other obvious candidates like Vancouver, Canada.

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