Happy belated Africa Day! Although we didn’t have the 25th of May – the day when the OAU was founded – as a public holiday here in South Africa, it was widely celebrated. Radio stations played music from all over the continent, discussions forums were held on various platforms and people dressed the part, including yours truly. It was a day to take stock of how far we’ve come in our quest for unity as a continent and how are far we are yet to go. I reflected on my travels across the continent and some of those memories made me smile. This blog is a quick reflection of 7 places I’ve visited (in Africa except for one) which made me go hmm. I don’t mean that negatively; some where pleasantly surprising and others seemed a little odd.
1. Sirte & Tripoli, Libya
Several years back, I had the honour of attending an African Union meeting in Libya. In true Gaddafi style, he sponsored the entire event, meaning all delegates (thousands of people) had free food and accommodation. It was a very generous gesture but one that made people sightly uncomfortable given his known agenda to be the “King of Africa”. The event was held outside of Tripoli, in a lovely city called Sirte, where Gaddafi was born and also tragically killed. Huge posters supposed to inspire African unity read “Death to the enemies of Africa”. Yikes. It was a little too extra! The best part of my visit was after the conference when I had a little down time to check out Tripoli with some of my colleagues. We stumbled upon a music shop that was playing reggae and discovered that reggae is big in Libya. I bought a few CDs of Libyan artists jamming in Arabic. I still listen to it. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn about an underground reggae club scene.
2. St Francis Bay, South Africa
I’ve blogged about this place before but its worth repeating. This little known coastal town in the Eastern Cape is the playground of the filthy rich. It is probably South Africa’s best kept secret. I was road tripping with my mum a few years ago and stumbled upon it. 90 percent of the residents don’t actually live there. Its a second or third… maybe fifth holiday home. So, it’s quite a sleepy town most of the year. It’s a fairly small community, small dainty shops and restaurants, beautiful white houses (which are subjected to strict architectural guidelines), boats and yachts idly floating on the water… And its 99.9% white in demographic in my subjective view. In fact, the only non white people we saw were staff who lived on the rugged outskirts. The experience was at best awkward.
3. Kokrobite, Ghana
Some 13 years ago, I’d never heard about Kokrobite until a Canadian friend, visiting Ghana, found it in a travel guide and dragged me there. We stayed in a little resort right on the beach, run by a Dutch (I think) couple. What I especially liked about the place was how inclusive it seemed as opposed to exclusive. There were some fishing activities and vendors selling their crafts at the resort but largely it was quiet and the beaches were clean and inviting. But, I was the only Ghanaian staying at the resort, which made me uncomfortable. Adding to that, the resort owners, wanting to give visitors an “authentic Ghanaian experience” did not have proper bathrooms. We had to draw water from a well and take a shower in an outdoor closed off area. Hmm, ok. Other than that, it was pretty cool. The highlight though, was a pizzeria nearby that served the best pizza ever! A surprise find for a little fishing village.
4. Tunis, Tunisia
My North African experiences (Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria) have always been very mixed. Tunis is probably my favourite of the three as I’ve had more time there to explore the beaches, ancient ruins, markets etc. My one market experience rocked me to the core. I considered buying a bag but changed my mind. The seller thought it was because of the price and so kept bringing it down. Finally, as I am walking away, he yells at me saying I should just take it for free and that his children will not eat, etc. Seriously?? I kept walking. You are not going to guilt-trip me into buying stuff I don’t want. Sit down, sir.
5. Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
I haven’t spent too much time in this country that borders my own (Ghana). Even though we share a border, the two countries are soooo different. I remember thinking how Ouaga was way more baddass than Accra because of the women riding bikes. I remember going out for dinner because my Ghanaian colleagues couldn’t handle the European style hotel food anymore and wanted something local and peppery. We ordered “fufu” but were told that it is called “foutou” in Burkina Faso. We said ok – thinking “foutou” is just “french” for “fufu”. What we got looked just like fufu – something pounded and drowned in soup….only this was sweet…. we were like whaaat? They used semi ripe plantain to make their fufu instead of the unripe ones?! But a few more bites and we loving it. What an awesome surprise.
6. Qacha’s Nek, Lesotho
They don’t call Lesotho the Mountain Kingdom for nothing. It is mountains for days! I believe it was a bus trip to either Qacha’s Nek or Qutheng, when I stared death in the eyes. The bus was right at the edge of the mountain. Few inches and it would be over! I tried not to look out the window but I peeked now and then and prayed. The driver, obviously experienced just smiled at the sounds of gasps and prayers. Well, we made it alive but never again. At least, not sober.
7. Tortola, British Virgin Islands
It was my first trip to the Caribbean. I first went to the US Virgin Islands to visit family, then took a ferry to the British Virgin Islands, where I met up with a good friend from university. The Virgin Islands were everything I imagined and more. Pristine beaches looking like they are photo-shopped and very hilly rugged terrain. Some of those huge reptiles reminded me of Jurassic park. I loved it. But, I was also noticed an abundance of 3 things: 1. wild chickens everywhere; in town, on the beaches, on the streets… 2. Banks everywhere for the obvious reasons. My friend warned me about calling it a tax haven. She didn’t appreciate that. She said what else are they supposed to do if they don’t have gold, diamonds, oil, etc. Fair point. I really shouldn’t judge. 3. Churches at every corner. But no single university in the BVI except for one community college. I thought it was quite odd, but perhaps for a population of under 30,000 people, its financially feasible for the government to send students overseas?? hmm.
What are some the places you’ve been to that made you go “hmm, I totally didn’t expect that”?….
Peace and Love
Photo credits: Tourist Destinations, Travel butlers Ltd, abc Burkina, the Seattle times, Wikipedia, Roupen Baker, Central Pass Newspaper