You know you’re in Africa when your rice has rocks in it and you have to pick through the beans to make sure you didn’t get any crunchy ones. You also know you’re in Africa when you munch on fried ants and decide they taste kinda like popcorn, or when you devour ten mangoes at a sitting and call it a meal, and then hours later you discover mango strings hanging from your teeth. You know you’re in Africa when you ask people what their favorite thing to eat is, and they insist that it is ugali, which is cornmeal mush. In fact, if an African doesn’t eat ugali with a meal, they will tell you that they are not full. Yet, I find it beautiful that people here have so much joy eating their everyday, commonplace food.
You know you’re in Africa when your feet are getting pecked by a chicken while riding the oh-too-crowded bus and you stuff your head in your armpit in effort to avoid the wafts of rank B.O. smell. You then realize that your armpit covers your ear, which is good because it dampens the incessantly peppy African music that is always on and always turned up way too loud in every single vehicle. You know you’re in Africa when you add hours to your projected bus ride time because nearly every bus has a flat tire and brakes that go out. But then you remember the number good conversations you have had and the wonderful people you have met in transit in Africa – moments that you wouldn’t change for anything.
You know you’re in Africa when it’s an expectation for Sunday church to last at least three hours or when you stand up for praise & worship a dozen times in one morning. Yes, people are really that hungry for God here – there is nowhere else they would rather be. You know you’re in Africa when nearly every store name references Christ in the title and there are more Jesus stickers than you have ever seen in your life. You know you’re in Africa when you can talk about demons and people don’t think you’re crazy, and nearly everyone has an answer to the question, “What miracles have you seen?” Yet, it breaks your heart when you discover that only one in a dozen Christians own a bible – and many pastors are pastoring with little theological training. You know you’re in Africa when worship at church means jumping and dancing and ends with a conga line, followed by melodic gospel choruses which surround the room and fill your entire being, rich with a depth that comes from a relationship with God that has been tried and true. I know that I am really going to miss they way they worship God here.
You know you’re in Africa when you lay down at night and are immediately faced with a dilemma: window open or window closed. Each one means death: window closed means sweaty smelly heat and insomnia; while window open is an invitation for malarial infested mosquitos to incessantly buzz around every square inch of your body, especially your ears, it seems. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter which you choose, because either way your mind plays tricks on you, pinpricks on your skin or just plain old dirt convincing you that there are bugs where there are not. How satisfying it is to itch…but when you scratch, the bumps get itchier, and when you itch they get scratchier. Crazy how that works. Yet when you go outside to pee in the cockroach-infested outhouse, you have to pass by the family who is sleeping on the cold ground outside on a woven mat. They have completely moved out of the home in order that you have somewhere to lay your head and keep your things. Yes, God always seems to find a way to show you how thankful you are for what you have.
You know you’re in Africa when you climb the tallest free-standing mountain in the world by going slowly, or when you can run with giraffes through the field or gawk at a male and female lion doing what only they do. You know you’re in Africa when running water and electricity are considered luxuries, not necessities, and the most shocking thing that happened today was that the power didn’t go out. You know you’re in Africa when you rejoice when you see a porcelain toilet, and you’re one of the only people you know who uses toilet paper. You know you’re in Africa when you see more bugs inside the house than outside, or when a huge rat leaps across your feet during a team meeting and you think nothing of it. You also know you’re in Africa when the showers don’t have ceilings, allowing you to gaze at the countless pinpricks of light pierce through the dark velvet African night sky; the moon reflects on the splashes of water from the bucket and you sigh deeply, knowing that this is the best bath you have had in your life.
You know you’re in Africa when people greet you by the color of your skin: “Mzungu! Mzungu!” rather than hello. Children stare at you, and follow you around, and you feel like you are a safari but you are the ones being observed. Only in Africa can you go on a jog and within a few minutes have dozens of feet pattering behind you, or you pass by a school and every single child sprints outside to greet you. You know you’re in Africa when the only English that children know how to say is, “Give me money,” holey clothes are acceptable to wear in public and fists are exchanged in the fight to have the job of driving your team somewhere. You know you’re in Africa when your heart breaks for the teary-eyed men who are not able to provide food on the table for their family…isn’t there anything more you can do to help?
You know you’re in Africa when women balance more weight on their head than you can carry on your back. Not only this, but you see young African children working in the fields at a young age – tilling cracked soil and harvesting maize…could the video game-addicted children of America make it even one day here? You know you’re in Africa when you can breastfeed your child anytime, anywhere, but showing your knees is scandalous. You know you’re in Africa when relationships are central and business is secondary – it’s humbling when you stop by a stranger’s home and they drop whatever they are doing to talk to you and listen to what you have to share. Here in Africa, it’s actually acceptable to be late to a meeting because the neighbor stopped by…you have all the time in the world to get everything you need done. My schedule-driven; time-focused American mind can learn a lot from this way of life.
These past three months haven’t been easy, but when I think back on it, I’ve learned so much about myself, about life, and about the world…Thank you, God, for the experiences that you have allowed me to have here in Africa!
Here’s a video that my dear friend Carmen made about one particular eventful African bus ride: