Africa: Where the unexpected is always expected.
Seven years ago I sat on a plane, listening to the Buffalo Springfield song “For What It’s Worth” playing on an archaic CD player as my flight landed in Accra, Ghana. I had spent the weeks before burning songs onto CD’s — a habit that would have been the norm a half decade before, but had since faded in the shadow of the iPod.
But I had opted for a CD player and a case of burned CD’s for fear my iPod would be too flashy, or worse-yet, get stolen somewhere in the heart of darkness. I had all white linen clothes in my bag, enough DEET to last years, and every imaginable iteration of hand sanitizer available on the market.
I was ready for Africa.
I, however, quickly learned maybe Africa was not ready for me. My white linen clothes caked in deep, red dirt were a mockery compared to the skirt suits and high heels of the women of Accra. My CD player didn’t hold up well on the bumpy public bus rides and my playlist often devolved into a series of skips. And my episode getting locked inside the pit latrine was the talk of the town — she did what?
I was that girl and Africa was not ready.
Now — years later — I am again somewhere in Africa, one more aptly known as Kenya. I ditched the linen clothes years back, bought (and then broke) an iPod, and have since locked myself in (or out) of innumerable pit latrines.
But over the last three years as I’ve called East Africa my home, I’ve also written and re-written the narrative I tell about Africa and the narrative Africa tells about me.
The Masaii warrior sporting full garb and toting a spear I met working as a bouncer at a nightclub on Christmas Eve tells one story. The Somali millionaire in my town who started her business by selling charcoal on the road-side of a truck-stop tells another story. And the health worker who delivers a baby at midnight to the light of only one match tells a very different story.
They have helped me weave a narrative where technology and modernity converge with history and tradition. Where the past and the present co-exist and where the unexpected is always expected.
And they have also helped me weave a narrative about myself. One where people take precedence over time and where laughter becomes the antidote to suffering. Where ingenuity is the child of constraints and brilliance is the by-product of circumstance.
I have learned that my own narrative and the narrative I tell about the places I live are ever-evolving. They are dynamic, fluid, and very often confirmed one day and proven wrong the next.
But that’s the beauty of the narrative we try to tell about Africa, we can’t. It’s a place where the unexpected is always expected and where one single story just won’t do.