Random thoughts from Africa

By Jonathon Van Maren

Here they are, stream-of-consciousness style.

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At the main market in downtown Kigali, it was easy to see why the locals were so insistent on hurrying us over to their stalls to buy their wares: it was to ensure that we actually beat the massive swarms of black flies that were already helping themselves to the piles of fish and slabs of raw meat. The market was an absolutely seething mass of humanity, from rows of sewing machines, knock-off electronics, thousands of identical yet supposedly hand-carved souvenirs, and the heaps of food that drew in the uninvited insect guests.

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Traveling tip: Always make sure you ask follow-up questions when you’re offered tours at a hostel. The receptionist at Discover Rwanda Hostel asked if we would like to take a “canoe ride to see the gorillas.” We had previously decided we didn’t have time to do a gorilla safari, so we were suspicious. It turned out that the canoe ride to see the gorillas was actually an early-morning canoe ride past the jungle, in which the gorillas would presumably be sleeping in like the wise creatures they are.

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It’s a shame that one of the things the West has exported to Africa is our terrible music. I have managed to successfully avoid hip-hop and other forms of alleged music for quite some time, but every driver took the opportunity of a long ride to blast the dubious lyrics of a wide array of American gangster rap.

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African airport security is extremely thorough. To get into Kigali International Airport, our taxi was stopped at a checkpoint manned by heavily armed guards, who had us unload all of our luggage for drug dogs to paw at for awhile. There was a passport check at the airport entrance, then a security checkpoint, then another passport check, and then a final security check replete with metal detectors just before boarding the plane. After disembarking at Kilimanjaro, there was a boarding pass check, a visa check, another passport check, we were fingerprinted and photographed, and then our luggage was stuffed through another metal detector by a staff member so bored he didn’t even interrupt his conversation with the female co-worker he was flirting with in order to see if we were packing any arms or drugs. He probably figured that if we made it this far with any contraband, we deserved to keep it. Charmaine felt very safe. I felt harassed.

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Selfie-sticks don’t just look stupid, they can actually be rather hazardous. On the tarmac waiting to board our RwandAir flight to Kilimanjaro International Airport—in the dark, I might add—one girl nearly backed into a propeller trying to get the right angle. Considering that there was literally no view to be captured beyond simultaneously bemused and irritated airport workers, it didn’t seem worth the risk.

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There’s something rather jarring about Christmastime in Africa. In Rwanda, the clerks were wearing giant red Santa hats, and a whiter-than-usual plastic Santa greeted people at the entrance of the grocery store. Silent Night was playing in the sticky-hot Kilimanjaro Airport. Walking through the dusty streets near Arusha, Tanzania, the next day, I noticed that among the crowds of people carrying various goods to their shops and stalls (I’ll never stop being impressed at how much they can balance on their heads), one fellow was trundling along the dusty road clutching a large Christmas tree. Particularly funny was the song blasting from one store: “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.”

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While I have been fascinated by everything here—with my dorky notebook and giant sunglasses—much of what I do seems to be wildly amusing to the local populations. There has been much pointing, laughing, and exclamations of “Mzungu!” which Charmaine informs me means “white person.” That being said, everyone is extraordinarily friendly. There is much waving, smiling, and Swahili greetings that I ask Charmaine to translate and of course completely miss the opportunity to respond to. Charmaine and I walked past a very loud outdoor wedding celebration walking through a local village, and the MC utilized the sound system to call over to the path that “Mzungus welcome here!”

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I love the respect that the youth show for older people in Tanzania. Girls and boys greet men and women with the Swahili phrase, “Shicamo,” which means “I am literally at your feet.” The response: “Marahaba,” which means “I don’t hear that every day.” They do, of course, and the culture of respect this fosters is something to be envied.

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The religious sentiment is so overt in Tanzania that the ACLU has clearly not managed to set up a branch here yet. Many of the vehicles feature slogans like “In God We Trust,” and others have prominent denominational affiliations, from photos of popes—I spotted representations of the last three—to evangelicals and Seventh Day Adventists.

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An interesting thought: Throughout university, my professors discussed the cruel colonialism of the white Christian missionaries, who brought their Bibles and robbed the African natives of their traditional pagan beliefs. Yet, what we’re seeing happen in Africa now is a sort of crude cultural colonialism, a reverse evangelism, with Obama and the progressive Western set demanding that African nations give up their own beliefs in favor of the brand new sexual values that have debuted to much fanfare in the West since the invention of the Pill. This is why the schisms in Christian denominations like the Anglican Church see the African bishops holding fast to a traditional Christian understanding of sexuality, while the post-Christian Westerners demand that they get with the times. If I played the progressive game by progressive rules, I might call them racist.

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I chatted for some time with one Tanzanian who works at a humanitarian organization, and it was an illuminating conversation. It is the Western obsession with sex, in her opinion, that makes progressives push so hard for the funding of condoms, birth control, and abortion in African countries. While millions of people are in need of clean water, some Western humanitarians make it want to rain rubbers. Sex is the very epicentre of the culture wars in the West, and as such many humanitarians take their coital mindset with them when they endeavor to do good works in other nations. The blunt fact is that most other nations are simply not very interested in obsessively discussing such things.

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Like millions of other kids, Africa first captured my imagination through the brilliant and beautiful documentaries, magazines, and books of the National Geographic Society. So when, while in Africa for the very first time (Egypt doesn’t really count), National Geographic debuted the cover of its “Gender Issue” featuring a 9-year-old transgender boy, my feeling was almost a tired disgust. Really? The gender ideologues are going to ruin National Geographic, too? I’m not surprised, not really. But the gold-framed magazine was always a treasure trove full of wildlife photography and fascinating insights into cultures around the world, and seeing them cave to the transgender agenda was pretty depressing. For a look at the contrast, check out National Geographic’s Instagram page: Their transgender cover photo is wedged between a photo of African leopards basking in the trees, and a little boy from Tanzania smiling at the camera.

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Something else stuck out at me traveling through Rwanda and Tanzania: All of the “oppression” nonsense spouted off by white progressives in North America is, by very definition, a luxury. Seeing people go about their day, just trying to make a living and feed their families and build and develop their villages and cities made the complaints of entitled university students sniveling about microaggressions and the “privilege” of others and the oppression they “feel” seem utterly ridiculous. The truth is, North American university students are the 1% of the 1%, and the rest of the world is too busy surviving to throw temper tantrums over imaginary injustices conjured up in the imaginations of privileged academics. If the loss of someone’s preferred candidate in an election can literally result in cry-sessions and therapy dogs, one can only imagine what such pathetic children would do in the real world, where no one has time for such frivolity.

 

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4 thoughts on “Random thoughts from Africa

  1. John V H says:

    I am so looking forward to reading your blog during the Christmas break! This is a Christmas present in itself. Keeping writing and I will keep reading and enjoy your travels from comfy Christmas chair in Wallaceburg, ONT. Thanks Jonathon and Merry Christmas.

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