I’ve just come from Bamako, Mali, which gets an average of TEN hours of sunshine a day. Ten hours!! Sometimes, we’re lucky to get that much in a week back home.
2. Nice tropical fruit
Succulent pineapples, tasty bananas, juicy mangos – they never taste as good back home. When my mother visited Africa, she didn’t like the taste of the bananas. That’s because she’d eaten nothing but bland, almost tasteless British imports, so when she finally experienced the REAL banana taste, it was too much!
Oh, and the ‘large mangos’ in Tesco are not large – not by African standards at least 🙂
3. Cheap public transport
The other day I made the two mile journey into town for the equivalent of 21 pence. Sure, we were crammed into a dented, rusty minibus with no door on the side but, hey, the ventilation was good, and the journey exciting!
I know they’re not African, but there are great Lebanese chwarma restaurants throughout francophone West Africa. For those who haven’t sampled their delights, a chwarma is a bit like a doner kebab, but soooo much nicer.
5. Being able to chat to anyone, anywhere
If you try to engage in conversation with a stranger back home, you might get funny looks, or even be ignored (unless, of course, you’re asking for directions or you live in Yorkshire). In Africa, I’ll walk through the Market and warmly greet anyone, asking how their family and work are doing, and wishing a blessing upon them. In fact, so many folk say ‘hello’ to me in the market, that I have to ignore some, or I’d never get anywhere. I wish Brits would talk to each other more (it really doesn’t hurt, honest!)
6. Dramatic thunder storms
Occasionally – very occasionally – Britain has a huge thunder storm. Think of one of those, then double it. I LOVE African thunder storms: so loud, so dramatic, so exciting.
One time, in Cote d’Ivoire, lightning struck a friend’s house and the strip light fell from the ceiling and smashed on the floor below. And in Cotonou once, a palm tree spontaneously caught fire when a thunder bolt hit it. Scary, but so exciting!
7. Being able to wear brightly-coloured clothes all the time
In Britain, if you wear anything brighter than brown, black, navy or grey, it’s rather out of the ordinary. So, when I turn up at church there in my red, yellow and green shirt depicting giraffes and lions, people cannot help but make lighthearted – but nevertheless critical – comments. “Turn that down mate!” “Are you going to Hawaii?!” “Do you think you’re still in Africa?” Answer: no, because if I were in Africa, nobody would make these cutting comments. There, I’ve walked down the street in what look like pyjamas and it’s completely normal. How you dress is of minuscule importance compared with who you are (and how you treat others).
8. The ex-pat sub-culture
For some reason, you make friends more quickly ‘on the field’. You also become good friends more often than not, and remain in contact even after you’ve left. I think it’s partly due to the ‘all in the same boat’ syndrome, as everyone’s away from their home culture. Also, some embassy staff only do two years in one place, so you can hardly wait six months before inviting them round! Whatever the reason, some – nay most – of my best friends have lived overseas at some point. It gives you a different outlook on life and, I think, a more balanced world view.
9. Being able to speak African languages
Because they’re fun! Lots of interesting sounds like ‘gb’ and ‘kp’, fascinating greetings and interesting vocabulary. In one language, the word for ‘bike’ means ‘metal horse’. Another has 15 words for ‘banana’ and only one for all vehicles. Such fun!
10. Hand shakes
Apart from the very first time you meet someone, we don’t tend to shake hands in Britain much. In Africa, you shake hands every day when you meet – I like that. And there are some funky variations too including the ‘finger click handshake’ on the W African coast.
Rob’s Book, “Adventures in Music and Culture” is available on Amazon in the UK and the USA, and globally in Kindle format. Find out more here.