First world problems - What we can learn from Africa

Aktualisiert: 11. Dez 2019


Alfie from Abene Senegal. His Mum is the owner of the Ecolodge "The little Baobab".


1. Hakuna Matata - Away with neuroses and mania for cleaning


I never thought that a clean toilet could make me so happy. But after two months in Africa, I jumped like a cheerleader after visiting a public European toilet. "Give me a 'T' ...". The lack of hygiene is a problem in Africa but the ability of the people to ignore odors and garbage that pile everywhere made me think about our own hygiene behavior. Not that I would question clean drinking water, sanitized toilets and waste separation, but you can also overdo it in the other direction. In my country there are people who clean their apartment before the cleaning lady comes or don’t let their children play on the floor, in fear they could swallow dirt. In autumn, the fallen leaves are blown off the curb with an air pressure machine. I mean we could do with a bit more "laissez faire". The same applies to our safety thinking. Of course, I don’t want to do without seat belts, helmets and traffic rules, but we live in one of the safest countries in the world and still anxiety neuroses are blooming everywhere. In Africa, children play football on busy streets and cars are stuffed to the roof with people. When I warned four-year-old Gulliver in Senegal not to go so close to the fire, he looked at me with wide eyes. Only later did I realize that the little bushchildren were able to assess their own strength. They climb trees as soon as they can walk and seemed to be quite independent and fearless from a very early age on. Maybe it would do us good to go back to a little bit more relaxation and confidence.



Straßenmarkt in Bamako Mali

2. Everything belongs to everyone - You have more when you share


On the big round plate was rice with fried spicy onions and on top lay a few pieces of grilled fish. In a second I divided the food by the number of people who sat around the plate - and just got a spoon pressed into their hands - and concluded: Six adults and two children are never ever going to be fed by this sparse menu. Since I was very hungry, my math was followed by greed and that feeling was instantly shamed to the ground by my self-reflection. While I was still busy contemplating my selfishness - which felt very Western by the way - my table neighbor pushed the best fish chunks to my side, which made me feel even worse, but very much welcomed. Confronting a different culture can be confusing sometimes. Everyone ate slowly and little, so that in the end we even had leftovers which were fed to the dogs. I realized that my wealth would allow me a kind of isolation that is not always healthy for me. In Africa more value is given to the community than to the individual. There is no private room, no one has an own plate. You sleep together in one room and eat from the same plate. When someone comes to money, she or he shares the profit with the rest of the family. Family structures replace social security nets. Single mothers are never alone. Of course, this kind of community brings a lot of other problems with it, such as the loss of privacy or financial dependencies. But unlike the people we met in Africa, we have the possibility of shifting our priorities a little. We don’t need so much space, so much clothes, so much stuff. And regarding the rest: We got more, when we share.




Hospitality in Africa - These guys invited us to lunch, when they saw us crossing the street. And they also tried to explain the Ethiopian calendar to us.


3. Hospitality


We were waved in from the street as we looked a bit shyly but curiously into the foyer of a formal ceremony, following the sounds of a kora. A few seconds later, we were seated in the front row next to nicely dressed people offering us snacks. Only when we left the house, an English-speaking guest explained to us that we had just attended a memorial service. The hospitality we received that evening from a grieving family in Ethiopia moved me to tears. Here hospitality means to share not only joy but also pain with absolut strangers. To open the door, even in the most difficult of hours. Just imagine that would happen in our country. At the funeral of a family member, two obviously foreign people would look inquisitively through the door and we would then invite them in, put them in the front row, handing them some food. Unimaginable. Maybe that’s the reason why Ethiopia takes in an above-average number of refugees from the surrounding crisis areas. Although it is one of the poorest countries in Africa, refugees make up to around 10% of the population.




Back to the roots - From time to time it feels good to get rid of time.


4. Back to the roots baby - Don't forget to look at the stars


Actually, we all know how good it feels to spend the whole day out in nature. How calming it is to lie under a wide, dark sky observing the sparkling stars, while the crickets in the background give a chirp concert. When there is no entertainment in the form of televisions, cinemas or books, one is necessarily limited to the most simple things in life. And these simple things bring us back to the core. I sat on a plastic chair by the fire - with some people whose language I didn’t understand - every night for a week. It was the only heat source, so we had to move closer together. On my lap would huddle a sleepy puppy and at my feet would lay a few cats. Sometimes we made music, often we were just looking at the flames pondering. I didn’t miss anything. Neither Netflix nor Facebook. I slept like a baby in the middle of the bush. Africa has shown me where I come from and where I’ll eventually go. Being connected with nature, living amongst animals, made me happy. I became more focused again. Something that is easily lost in the distractions of the big city jungle.



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