There are times when you travel to a new country and you get a culture shock, learn new ways of living and in some cases experience new things that you never know existed. In Africa, people keep saying about African traditions this and that; don’t be fooled, the same things you see in hollywood movies, they are in Africa too.
So, you can understand some of the shocks when the villager in me goes places with narrow mindedness and comes out with an alternative view. Some of the things were alien to me and some are funny experiences due to language barrier.
Here we go:
Meeting transexuals in Africa
When the guy walked into the room, I was attracted, he was handsome and looking hot in locks and was well dressed. It was only that the meeting had already started otherwise I would have whispered to my friend next to me “that guy is hot” as it happens at times.
But you know that people who come late for meetings at times have the agenda of attracting attention.
Anyway, after sometime, the handsome guy came to talk to my neighbor, and I was shocked to see her in close range because it was clear that she was a woman, the locks aside. But when I looked again, her chest was flat; I remember wondering; what happened to the chest?
I worked hard not to stare through out the day but as I came to realize, there are so many people who find themselves with the wrong bodies and the result is hormonal treatment and other ways of rectifying the situation.
People hate and say all they can, but I like talking to people because you learn a lot, and for people open about their status, they are probably the most open even in some of the topics that we are pretentious about.
So, you can imagine the village in me and some of the questions that may be considered offensive but you have to ask, but in the end, you learn that people have experiences that can change your narrow world view.
American food portions
I was young and naive when I went to the US, we were a group of five, so when we checked in to the hotel, we decided to get some food around the corner. I was with a Nigerian guy, who had been to the US before, so he knew his way around.
When we went to the Chinese take away joint, I ordered chicken wings and rice. In my mind, the chicken wings are supposed to be a small meal. You can imagine my shock when I went back to the room and realized that I had five huge drumsticks, I thought I had taken the wrong order!
I called my friend’s room and told him how I thought I had taken his order or something like that, because I had no wings, just huge pieces of chicken that looked like a whole chicken.
He laughed for a minute and then told me “you are so naive”.
There are a couple of other things that I did on that trip that demonstrated my naivety; like it was winter and I went into a cocktail meeting with a jacket and a very small top underneath, that meant I could not take off the jacket because when I was leaving my room, I never thought I would have to take off the jacket. How dense!
Language barrier; Spanish, French, Arabic
Its bad that when English speakers visit other countries, they want the others to at least speak some English and give some directions. You will always get some wrong ones who don’t care.
The funniest experience was in Tunis, when I went into a large shopping mall and after walking around, I wanted to use the ladies, but when I got there, there was this Mama who was holding me back, she was mumbling some words but it was in Arabic and French. Others were coming and going in and wondering why the mama was holding on to me, blocking me from entering.
After some time, the mama showed me a coin, and another tourist told me that I had to pay to get in. she must have seen the confusion on my face. After I paid, we all laughed…
But the best was the shopping experience in Argentina, for many, any black person is from Brazil so I resulted to saying am Brazilian until I met one Brazilian who spoke in Portuguese and I had to own up.
Anyway, there was this shop, looked like a family business because it was a grand ma and two teenagers most likely grandkids. No one in the shop spoke English and I could only mutter a few Spanish words apart from Hola…. gracias..
The grandma was very excited to see me, the kids stayed aside to let the conversation go on….we were haggling and she was showing me stuff and was explaining that I need stuff for my baby sister and brother. The kids were only laughing because it was more gestures and half sentences and she would get me what I need. It was a huge shop and I bought most of my stuff there; forget that communication was more non verbal and full of laughter; especially when we could not get what the other was saying.
There is so much that is said about Arab culture and how they treat women; much of it is true but throughout the brief travel in Arab countries, I have experienced a side of hospitality that is hardly spoke about.
When shopping in the market and demonstrate that you have a few things to buy, you are offered tea, and they will give tea, for as long as you stay there. Even the way they treat you, they are good people.
The Racist bastards
One of the toughest things to withstand is racism, I have witnessed it in various ways; some spoken, others not.
Whether its the airline crew who treat you a certain way just because or the shopkeeper in the west who treats you differently from the person in front of you who was white or tells you to put the money on the counter because God forbid you make contact.
We like to wish it away but once in a while you experience it and its not cool. Some of it is blown out of proportion, but the best thing is to treat people as individuals, don’t assume they will be racist or nice just because they are white or black or in between. Sometimes even black people treat me badly, just because am from another country; the thing is complex.
Best lesson; treat people as individuals and don’t assume anything!
Strangers who became friends
Its always nice when you meet someone and you hit it off, whether you start discussing the weather and end up with football, some of those networks can help if you need it in that country.
In my travels, I have met very good people and we have ended up being very good friends. South Africa is always home because I make several trips there annually and I have people who ensure that I know some of the best places to get entertained. The fact that I look South African has also worked for me, especially when I wander around in some of the places they tell you not to go.
I am sure there are also people who have visited Kenya and surprised us, like this guy I saw taking Ugali and ketchup…when I asked, was told he was a vegeterian …and British.
Someone told me how he hosted two backpackers, where he stays the water is erratic so people shower from basins. After a week, the guy and the chic were asking how to shower from a basin, meaning all that time….. no shower.