It’s a wrap, we’ve made it! We arrived in the Netherlands after 215 days, driving 34,580km and crossing 24 countries and we feel completely satisfied:we have reached our goal and we have lived our dream! We would like to reflect on our trip with this last blog: a summary of 8 months of travelling, focussing on culture, nature, history, similarities and differences.
The common question
Where-ever we are, and who ever we speak to, the first question we get asked when we tell about our travels through Africa is: “isn’t it dangerous to travel there?”. This story will all be based upon trying to change the Western perspective on “dangerous”, “dry” & “poor” Africa.
To be honest, we started this trip with maybe the same expectations about what we were about to experience. Eventhough we lived and travelled a fair bit in Southern Africa, it was still a stereotypic vision we had about the countries further north.
What many people don’t realise, is the fact that Africa is over 3 times larger than entire Europe. If there is war in one country, it doesn’t mean the entire continent is dangerous. Back in the 90’s there were big issues in the Balkan states in Europe, but did it mean people stopped travelling to Paris or London? Not really.
The same goes for Africa. Africa is a continent, not a country. We strongly advise people to stop assuming, and start exploring. Only in that way you will find out the truth behind the (mostly) stereotypical stories on the internet and in the media. It definitely is one of the best decisions in our lives so far to travel Africa!
About the beauty
Travelling through this beautiful continent has given us so many unexpected wow- moments. Looking back at the trip, it is mainly the sensational nature and amazing people that spring back to mind.
We loved the happiness and hospitality of the people. They are so helpful and kind, and however many of them don’t experience the same wealth as most of us in ‘western’ countries, they always wanted to share whatever they have with us. This definitely stood out most for us!
Besides meeting the people, we loved to drive through the national parks and wilderness areas. Being woken up in our tent by elephants and hippos, scared into our car by lions whilst eating dinner, terrorised by monkeys every morning and greeted by thousands of zebras and wildebeasts whilst driving through the great migration. Impossible to forget!
In Africa people don’t build a fence around animals like we do in a zoo, but fence off their farmland so the elephants can’t eat their crops. Quite the opposite, right?!
It is sensational to see the social life of the animals. We didn’t just watch the animals, but really experienced the way they live: their habits, social structures and emotions. For hours we’ve watched them live their lives. Humanity is so closely related to the way animals live.
We really can’t stop thinking about the spectacular nature we drove and walked through: the Victoria falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe, Vulcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Amboseli National Park with the mighty backdrop of the Kilimanjaro in Kenya, the Danakil Depression (the hottest place on earth) in Ethiopia, the endless plains of the Serengeti with the continuous battle between the predators and prey and the desert with the pyramids in Sudan. Only a tiny selection of the highlights we dream about almost every night!
We drove for thousands of kilometer through thick bushland, deep sand, over mountain ranges and endless savannahs. We tried to avoid asphalt where we could, to travel off the beaten track as much as possible. It was only because of this we experienced Africa the way we did, and had the adventure we were looking for!
A similarity we found in most African cultures, is ‘we’ instead of ‘I’. The Western cultures are more and more based on an individualistic way of living, where it is all about gaining more and more for yourself. Families in western countries quite often break apart when children fly out for study or work. They do visit eachother, but most of the time expect the government and social welfare to take care of dependant parents.
In Africa families live together in a community based system. Children are raised by everyone in the village. If the parents go to the markets, the aunty or neighbour is automatically there to look after the youngsters: no questions asked. Elderly people are respected and can rely on the help of all souls in the community. Nobody asks for the help of external sources when it comes to family.
This is what we have seen, but we don’t want to generalise. We also know there are always exceptions to the rules. The flipside and maybe downside of this system, is that it is mainly the women who carry the burden of running the family.
It is unfortunate that the “we” system, in most countries, is only adopted by the ordinary people living in the countries. Many governments are as corrupt as they can be, and set the wrong example. For these leaders it is so much more important to gain for themselves, instead of sharing the wealth with the country. It is actually this corruption that causes many issues and the hunger in some of the countries.
In some countries we have seen a “social dictature” exists around this “we” system. People who work are forced to share their income with the entire community; with people that don’t work. This, and many other factors of course, lead to the fact that many people don’t see any benefit in working, and start to depend on the help of NGO’s.
NGO’s: good or bad?
Aid: it is what most people know about Africa. This is what we see in the media. Countries rely on foreign help to survive. But how much of this foreign help is actually really needed?
This is a really slippery slope, and we have to tread carefully when speaking about this subject. However, we have seen that so much aid is given in such a wrong way… To directly clarify ourself: we believe that all help comes from a good heart. Foreigners really want to help to create a better life for people in Africa. But, without realising, sometimes they reach the absolute opposite.
There are countless NGO’s present in African countries, and most of them try to deliver the same aid. However, most of the NGO’s don’t understand the village life enough or involve the local communities to really know what is necessary to improve the situation. The aid is run mostly from large hotels and by foreigners who don’t live amongst the people that need the help. Most help is only short term and not sustainable. Because of the misunderstanding of the situation on the ground, the aid (both money and food) ends up in the wrong hands: chiefs, corrupt government officials etc etc.
The risk when running aid campaigns that give products like food, is that people become dependant on it. This obviously is not sustainable, and the feedback we received is that NGO’s should invest more in education about agriculture, to ensure sustainable agriculture can be practised, also in times of extreme drought.
One of the local guys we spoke to even suggested that in many cases there is no need for people to be hungry (a story from Malawi): “People stick too much to their traditional food. They only consider Nshima (pap made of corn flower) as food, whilst other produce like cassava and mango, is not considered as food but only as a snack. The problem is that corn needs an enormous amount of water to grow, where the other produce don’t need much water at all. So if they change their eating habits, food is most likely available year round. However, they sell the cassava and mango on the market to earn money to buy corn flower. But when there is no corn flower around because of the drought, those people might starve…”.
Another example a local farmer gave us when we spoke to him: “I tried to grow a second and a third crop of corn in a year. I created irrigation systems to be able to grow my crop even in the dryest months of the year. However, I stopped doing this since I was unable to sell the harvest. Just after I harvested the corn, a NGO came to our village and distributed free corn to all villagers. Who wants to pay for my produce if they can get it for free…?”. (these examples go for Malawi, and maybe Malawi only).
Almost the same goes for giving items like second hand clothes. It all comes with the best intentions, giving something for a “poor” person in Africa. But when the clothes arrive, they most of the time are sold on markets, instead of given to people who maybe need them. This creates unfair competition for local tailors who make their own clothes to sell and do run a sustainable business. Self sustainable businesses are quite often ruined by this.
Foreign aid should support the local programmes, that are run by people who do understand the culture and day to day life. Foreign NGO’s most often don’t realise the aid given ends up in the wrong hands. “All together, everyone appreciates the help, but because of the short term strategy, the community becomes dependent on them, which is not good”, people we have spoken to tell us.
We don’t state this as facts, but purely as what local people told us, which is in our opinion very valuable information. From our experience, aid and support should be given in the form of supplying knowledge, to make the people responsible for their own duties and income. We however gained this information about NGO’s by travelling through non-war countries and conflict zones. When it comes to refugee camps, where people are in need of all basic supplies, it can be vital to help them with all of the above.
We also realised that the most important aid needed, should support the most vulnerable people: women and children. Locals gave us the feedback that support for these groups is highly appreciated. One of the NGO’s that is highly valued by local people, is UNICEF.
To support the work of UNICEF, Linde will run the New York Marathon this November. With her run she would like to raise funds, to give this organisation the opportunity to continue the work that is so highly valued by local communities. You can support Linde and UNICEF with your donation here…
The position of the female in Africa
The next statement is not a fact, but after travelling the northern African countries, we feel that females in the northern Islamitic countries are treated with more respect, and are given more opportunities (work and education) than in many eastern and Southern African countries. The flipside is that respect for women sometimes goes so far, that the freedom of movement gets reduced because of it. Females are protected against men who do not have self control which to us seems like the world up-side-down.
It is sad to see that in most of the Eastern and Southern African countries, many women are doing most of the hard work. Looking after the kids, laundry, dishes, and even most of the work on the land. Selling produce on the markets is mostly done by women as well. In countries like Zambia we saw many men do not much besides sitting in the shade of a tree, whilst the women are working hard: very hard.
Also this is more balanced in northern African countries like Sudan, which we had never expected. The workload is shared more evenly: women do the work at home whilst the men are responsible for the farm. Higher education is available to women however, in many cases, women are mainly expected to have a degree of some sort to share their knowledge with their children instead of using their expertise in the workfield. This might be influenced by the high unemployment rate in the country after the seperation of north and south Sudan, as most of the countries resources are found in the South.
Another revelation was to see the Sudanese government introducing and supporting many anti female circumcision movements. We’ve seen posters in the hospitals and listened to local people who explained to us why this movement kicked off a few years ago. Fantastic to see and we believe that many other African countries should adopt this movement as well, because it is extreemly sad to see that female circumcision still happens every day in East African countries like Uganda and Kenya.
When slowly making our way north, we noticed how many similarities cultures within different countries actually have. Similarities in food, businesses, way of living, language basics and clothing. All of these are going beyond borders. It actually makes us realise that the countries and borders the way we know them nowadays, are created during colonisation by the west. Before colonisation, and before the shape of the borders the way we know them now, there were over 10,000 chiefdoms in the continent. We nowadays try to fit all those overlapping, but also completely different cultures, in 54 countries. No wonder this created so many issues!
In countries like Rwanda, the colonisers even pushed the people, who lived in harmony, into different ethnical groups: sometimes only based on colour, facial shape or other visible characteristics. All with horrifying results. Quite an eye-opener to find out what preceded the modern issues of the continent.
One of the most beautiful aspects of travelling through Africa, is to be able to see the different tribes live the life they have been living for thousends of years.
The end nearby
After we shipped our car from Egypt to Turkey, we continued our trip through Turkey, balkan countries like Macadonia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and many more. Countries with an inmense and, in some cases, an even more recent history. Driving through these counties added great value to our trip and has put Africa vs Europe into a different perspective for us. There are so many similarities. It has been quite interesting to gain more insight in what happened closer to home, it makes us realise that the world is smaller than we think. Both continents have gone through similar issues and therefore should support eachother where needed.
In the last few weeks travelling through Turkey and Europe and actually up until now, we have been reflecting on our trip and we feel pretty damn lucky we were able to experience what we have experienced and to share our stories with you.
Thanks for reading and responding to our stories! It was great fun to read all your comments!