Tuesday 25 September 2012

"Did you love Africa?"

Someone asked me that the today.

As casual as, "Wasn't that dinner fabulous?"  

In one word...


Did I have some wonderful & life altering experiences there?

Yes, of course.

You would be surprised as to how much I get that question or similar variations.  "Oh I want to visit Africa so badly" or "I'd love to go and live there for a year or two" or "I've heard Africa is amazing."  I think a lot of people say these things with no idea as to what that actually encompasses.  I know I did.

Africa is hard.  Really hard.  It finds ways to challenge you beyond ways you've ever been challenged. It beats you down and just when you've dusted yourself off and picked yourself up, it finds another way.  It's not easy to love.

Had my 2.5 weeks in South Africa been my only African experience, I might utter those same words, "Oh, Africa is amazing."  Perhaps even somewhere in my honeymoon phase in Gabon I might have said the same thing but then the water goes out for days on end and you can't flush the toilet and then you're robbed and you don't feel safe and then the police harass you on the road and there's no way getting around paying a bribe and then it's not so amazing anymore. 

I don't say all of this to deter anyone from going or to say that you will only have an awful experience if you do but I do say it to be realistic.  Africa is a MASSIVE continent that's landscapes and people are diverse.  There are beautiful places and beautiful people but it's also coupled with poverty, corruption, lack of infrastructure, disease, political instability and a barrage of other problems.

My 2 years in Africa were filled with adventure, excitement and uncertainty and I don't regret our choice to move there for an instant but can I say that I loved it like I loved my last trip to Spain?

It's not quite so simple.

{As always, these are my experiences and my opinions only.  Certainly, others will differ.}


  1. Wonderfully written! Thank you for sharing your story and experience! :)

  2. you said it-it is a massive continent. the question is a bit like-'do you like food'-well kind of... a word 'no'. that is a shame.
    my in a word would be - absolutlyfriggingyes! even with the trials and tribulations of living there.

  3. I can honestly say I loved Africa...or at least I loved Tanzania and the small part of Kenya that I saw. But I agree with your last statement. I loved Africa in a completely unique and different way than I love other places I've been.

  4. Love this, I studied abroad in SA for 6 months and while it is a beautiful country, I found the experience as draining as it was rewarding. You rarely feel safe/secure, there is a lot of tumultuous history and socio-economic factors to understand, and because much of that history is fairly recent, the emotions are very raw. It has always bothered me when people say I've always wanted to go to Africa or I love Africa because just as you said, it is a massive, massive continent with many different landscapes, languages, people, religions, laws, etc. I did end up loving my experience in my part of Africa, but it's not as easy to generalize Africa as many people think.

  5. It's so true what you say... Africa is a massive continent and peoples' experiences will vary greatly. Heck, I've met several people who didn't enjoy a year or two spent living in Europe. It just depends on the context with which you're in the country as well as the type of person you are and the people you're with.

    If you're doing an organised 6 month study abroad programme in Rwanda with lots of other study abroad students and organised housing and activities, I think there's a better chance you'll love the experience than if you're living there on your own for work purposes for two years.

    Overall I've loved my experience in South Africa so far... but like you said South Africa is unique to most other african countries.

    I also loved Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Tanzania, but wasn't a huge fan of Zambia. I guess it just depends :)

    Thanks for sharing this!


  6. i completely understand. places are not meant for everyone. and everyone's experiences differ...that is what makes traveling so much fun. when i first visited oslo back last september i HATED it. it was ugly, not charming, lacked personality. but i moved there this past march for a job (which obviously didnt work out so well) and fell in love within a day. you probably had the opposite experience in gabon...could have been an okay travel experience if you had just been there a few weeks, but living there was not the easiest thing to do.

    i think it is important to never deter someone from visiting a place, but it is our job to be honest and give our experience(s) if someone asks :) its good you're about to do that with gabon. and eventually you'll be able to do it with just may have left a different impression at the end of this all than gabon did :)

  7. @ROBYN - I think it's more of a "Did you love your experience there?" In a word, it's most definitely a No. I'm grateful for it and there are most definitely moments that I LOVED but it's not so simple to say that I loved the entire thing. My husband and I were jumping with joy when we found out we were moving and I think that's a sign.

    But - that is my experience in Gabon which is definitely different than your experience in another African country.

    I just find that a lot of people have this romantic notion of Africa similar to a notion they have about Paris - an oh I want to go there and help and it'll be so awesome and it is in certain aspects but it isn't in others.

    @ECH AND WILL - Exactly.

    I can honestly say that I loved South Africa but I spent a limited amount of time there and really only saw it at it's best. I hope I'd still love it after living it but who knows?

    @SARAH - That was exactly the point I was getting at - the answer is not cut and dry. Thanks for reading!

    @MEGAN - Thank you so much Megan... I was bracing myself for a lot of negativity after pushing publish.

    I believe that both love and hate are fairly strong words and I can't sum up my experiences in Gabon with either of them. There were times when I loved it, there were times when I hated it but the entire experience is so complicated and "Did you love Africa?" is such a loaded question!

    @JENNA - Thanks Jenna!

    I was bracing myself for a lot of negativity with this post but I felt that I finally needed to address it! Usually Joe and I respond with "It was ok" or "It was interesting" of which it was but the question is so loaded. There were times I loved it and there were times I hated it but I can't just sum it up easily in a yes or a no answer!

    I loved SA when we were there but we spent such a limited amount of time that it doesn't really qualify as a comparison to Gabon. Who knows how I would feel after years there - I would hope to continue to love it but only time would tell!

  8. Hey Jay. I just stumbled upon your blog and was so intrigued by this post.

    So, are you still there? Or have you made your way home?

    I have people in my life who visit Africa frequently and they come back saying the same exact thing. It's easy to love the people there, but it's hard to love the whole experience....because it's dangerous and hard. Thanks for the honesty!

  9. Sensitively and eloquently put, as always :)

  10. As another commenter pointed out it really depends on the person and the situation. I could write an almost identical post about living in Europe.

    At times I love London and many other times I absolutely hate it. There is a blog I read infrequently and this woman has made it her life mission to move to London. I on the other hand could leave tomorrow and I'd be very happy. There are many amazing things about living here but equally some really crappy things about it too.

  11. this must have taken such courage to admit to yourself, let alone to publish! people who have never been expats only see the adventure and excitement and glamour of living elsewhere - they don't see the realities of daily life. there's nothing wrong with not loving your time in Africa, and you can admit that while appreciating that you had valuable experiences. I'm really glad you shared this.

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  13. I came across your blog from Oneika the Traveller's and I enjoy your musings. This post rang true especially because - like you - I deal with the "didn't you love that place?!" query quite often. Every city/country will resonate differently with different people. Case in point: I have friends who loved Copenhagen so much they made a life for themselves there, while I couldn't have gotten out of there fast enough. Three years was far too long in my books. Does that make me a jerk for not liking a place that others gush madly about? I don't think so.

    As for "Africa," having lived Rwanda and now Egypt I get the "don't you love Africa?" question frequently. I approach my response with a bit more understanding and humour these days since it people have big dreams, expectations and ideas of what a certain place is like and a lot of their world view is crafted by their social situation/circles, education and the media. People tend to forget Africa is a continent with 57 countries that are wildly different. The south is nowhere close to being the same as the Great Lakes Region, which is as culturally and socially disparate from the countries in the west. West Africa is markedly diverse from Central Africa which is nothing like the horn and North of the continent that hosts countries(as I have learned) that have a whole different socio-political dynamic on their own. To add to that, the end of the day regardless of what you may love about one country, there are sure to be things that set you off in one form or another.

    Ultimately it boils down to: have I enjoyed living and travelling abroad? Yes. Have I taken pleasure in learning more about the world and getting outside my comfort zone. Yes. Have I had cringe worthy experiences that I'd rather not repeat. Yes. Are there countries I'd prefer not to return to for whatever reason. Hell yes. And FYI, these countries are not only in "Africa."

  14. I totally get this. I've lived in Tanzania for 6 months now. Some days are AMAZING and probably what everyone dreams of what a visit to Africa would be like... but most days are HARD. Most days I want to go home. But the "amazing" days do just enough to make up for it, for the most part. I'm happy for the opportunity to live here, but I don't know how much I'll miss life here when I'm gone.

  15. I get you. I really get you.

    But for me Africa. more precisely, Tanzania is in my heart and soul and will not let me go. It is HARD and the knocks it hands you in life can be horrific, challenges are immense but overcoming them fills me with an indescribable sense of energy and life.

    I have been to other parts of Africa and they too fill my bucket of love for Africa. I have to say though....nothing is simple there not even a love for the place. Even that will be challenged and kicked in the teeth. Yet like a bloody moth and a lamp...I cannot leave the place alone.

    Africa has my soul and heart. And boy do I feel blessed to be able to say that!

  16. Me again! I forgot to say, I was born in Africa so I think I have more of the stuff needed to live there (whatever that is) ? That said, Africa...Kenya actually has taken a lot from me and I feel like I have accomplished something by being able to just still be here. I also wanted to say that I love your honesty with yourself and your bravery to be honest with others.


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