I’m sitting in the airport in Nairobi – a strange feeling of return, since I wrote a blog entry from here when I was first flying to Malawi. I’m now finished my time in “the warm heart of Africa” – at least for now, and I’m heading home.
It will be a strange experience to go back home to Canada after working in Africa for more than two years. I’m bracing for all the emotions that will accompany my reintegration into Canada, and for the inevitable questions I will face. Questions like, “So, how was Africa?”
How to answer that… I have no quick response. Only a flood of memories and feelings and thoughts:
Of the people I know: I’ve met farmers, entrepreneurs, students, the unemployed, housewives, professionals, athletes, artists. I’ve met the desperately poor and the incredibly wealthy; the whole spectrum in this diverse place.
Of my friends: From the group of youths in my neighbourhood in Tamale who “enskinned me” as a chief, to my co-worker Loti in Ntcheu, to all the amazing EWB volunteers and staff I’ve met – I’ve made too many close friends to count.
Of the kindness: I experienced some of the most heart-warming (and sometimes heart-breaking) generosity of my life here. So many times I’ve been invited into people’s homes for a meal of T.Z. or nsima. I’ve slept on the floors of farmers and in the guestrooms of “extended family” members in Accra.
Of the difficult times: I’ve been frustrated by culture shock, frustrated by the slow pace of development, frustrated by inefficient and ineffective development projects, frustrated by the continual low position of women in African society, frustrated by all the external factors that keep a boot on the neck of Africa. I’ve been sick, stomached sometimes strange food, felt like an outsider almost always (while being blown away by people’s acceptance of me).
Of the weather and landscapes: melting in the incredible March heat of Tamale; freezing in the night-time cold of Malawi. The arid, flat and barren landscapes of northern Ghana and the beautiful green jutting mountains of Malawi. The coast in Mozambique, Lake Malawi, Malawian tea plantations, Lake Bosomtwi in Ghana, the desert in Mali. There is too much beauty here to describe.
Of isolation: I’ve spent too many hours on painfully slow internet connections, or on crackly, delay-riddled long-distance phone calls, all in an effort to stay in touch with friends and family in Canada and combat homesickness.
Of sadness: Always recognizing the incredible divide in power that exists between me and the majority of Africans – in terms of financial, cultural and political power. This fundamental injustice exists, and is something we’re born into without choice. Too many times I’ve heard “It’s easy for you to come to our country, but why can’t we visit yours?” The colour of my skin shouldn’t grant me privileges anywhere, but it’s the sad truth that in the developing world, it does.
Of inspiration: I’ve been inspired by the hard work of too many farmers, scrimping and saving to send their children to school. I’ve been moved by the speeches of academics in Burkina Faso, eloquently describing the challenges their country faces; I’ve met Ghanaian development workers who are pushing every day to improve the lot of their people. I’ve met innumerable women who work throughout the day and into the night, running their households and somehow finding time to generate a little bit of money on the side, almost all of which goes towards their families’ well being.
In the end, I know that Africa is a land of immense opportunity – of industrious people, of incredible natural resources, of rich history. But it’s a land with so many challenges that need to be tackled, so many barriers that need to be destroyed. Some of these barriers are within our influence in the West to tackle (see playyourpart.ca). Some of them require significant internal political reform (see Mugabe in Zimbabwe). Some require technological innovations, some the application of existing technologies, some simple behaviour changes. It’s not simple. It never has been, and it never will be.
At the very least, there is hope: there is always hope. I’ve seen hope in all the African countries I’ve visited – in Mozambique, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Togo, Mali, Zambia, Malawi, Kenya. The industriousness and resiliency and dogged determination of the peoples of these countries are testament to the hope that endures despite so many obstacles.
I want to thank everyone who's supported me over the past two years -- my family (I'm indebted to them in many ways for their constant support), the people who sponsor EWB and make work like mine possible, to the dedicated staff and volunteers of EWB, and to the great people I’ve worked with in Ghana and Malawi.
This is only a farewell for me, I’m sure of it. I’ll be starting law at McGill in September, a school known for its strong human rights and international law components. I know I’ll find a way back to this continent some day.
And I know that, when I get back, I’ll be greeted by the same warm welcomes I’ve come to expect from this continent.
Until the next time.