My body is home, but my head is still in Africa.
I arrived home yesterday after two plus weeks on the road visiting enterprises in Uganda, Kenya and Ghana striving to build sustainable solutions to poverty. But, honestly, using the phrase on-the-road is a misnomer.
The main roads in Africa’s cities and small towns are paved and jammed with traffic of all sorts, but in the rural villages they are not. Frequently, they are unnamed, non-existent routes trodden by centuries of foot traffic; shaped by the run off of seasonal rains and clouds of dry season dust settling where it may; often off the grid where the starkness and struggle against poverty is self-evident.
This is not to say that urban Africa’s poverty is less compelling. In many ways it is more so; the density and sheer numbers of city dwellers struggling is overwhelming. The Mathare and Kangaware slums of Nairobi are posters for the plight of poverty in urban Africa.
This is not the world on a vacationer’s schedule, but they are mine. And, in a strange way, at least for me, they are magnets for my mind; irresistible, both life threatening and life affirming, pathways to change in me and my perspective of reality. The world of those struggling to survive is not easily forgotten once one has returned to the creature comfort of home and the sheer abundance of America, despite its flaws. Yes, I am home, but my head is not.
Africa is magnificent. The people equally so. I am not foolish enough to dismiss the underbelly of society; those that may wish you harm or seek to take advantage, but this is a minority, no different than home. For the most part the people are kind and warm, curious and engaging with an easy smile, disarming and open. This counter-intuitive character seems pervasive with the poor; people with the strongest reasons for pessimism. Nevertheless, it is true, representative in their willingness to share what little they have regardless of their condition.
There is a strength in those at the bottom of the pyramid, likely necessary to survive day to day. It is incredibly powerful and most visible in the women. There is the same wonder and innocence in children at the bottom of the pyramid, who play in the only world they know in the same way all children do. There is a defiance and attitude in the men that still want control underlined by benign awareness that they are not. The people of Africa are beautiful with all their flaws, with all their grace, on a vast continent rich in resources, both natural and manmade, in a world so different from ours one must go there to truly understand. I hope one day to do so to see the enticing images depicted in the coffee table guide books that seduce vacationers. The African Rift beckons. But, for now, my Africa offers an alternative option, a deep dive into the reality of life for those that struggle the most with a grace and determination rarely witnessed elsewhere. This world is hard to forget. This explains why I say I am home, but my head (and heart) are still there.