I am aware that some of these are stereotypes, but also they have been reported to me by a few other people who had been to Africa as well.
1. You will be proposed to
No matter if you’re a girl or boy, some people will want to marry you, and they will be very open about it. I was just buying a simple pencil when the cashier put down a paper and told me straight to give her my number so she can find a lady for me. I declined, but still got the pencil for free. Second instance, I went out to eat at a restaurant (table with umbrella and gas-fire) with some colleagues. My friend translates that the cook has an eye on me. When I ask him to give her my regards and tell her I don’t have much money, she replies that it wouldn’t matter, because I had white skin.
Best way to escape is to say you’re too young to marry and run away. 😉
2. Your transport will be wrecked or scratched or break down
Taking public transport is a roller coaster ride. Meaning it’s scary, but you will get used to it. Only difference is that roller coasters are safe.
Not a day has passed where I haven’t been nervous when taking transport and I have not been disappointed in that fear so far. Many rides you take have this eerie contrast of chill reagge music interrupted only by shouts and curses directed at other drivers by the chauffeur, paired up with his dismal driving skills and genuine disrespect for traffic rules (traffic wardens are easily bribed). On top of that, the roads are often in need of repair, the bumpholes are numerous and deep enough to break the rusty axle of your bus or at least burst your tire.
Once there is a problem, the driver will tell everyone to wait, the problem will be solved in 10 minutes. This is your hint to hand him the fare and make for a different transport. I stayed once, when our school bus broke down. The driver called his friend. That one failed at analyzing the problem; therefor, he called his other friend. 90 minutes later there were 4 mechanics, and no solution. He admitted that it might be ok if I took a taxi home then.
3. You will celebrate Christmas with drums and dances
We had our school’s Christmas party on Friday! That meant lots of food, ice-cream, dance and presents for the kids. We also played secret santa, only that the santas were not secret. Yeah it was a bit strange. And it’s funny when the kids had picked a person they didn’t like and struggle so much with buying something for that person. But finally, after some threats by other teachers, they comply.
It’s a Christmas Dance! Here you can see the elementary school kids and some of my kids dancing and drumming.
The Kindergarten group dressed up as Joseph and Mary (sitting), angels, three wise men and the shepherds.
Two students (from India) singing their hearts out!
Black Santa with the happy kids after gift giving. Sadly that’s where my camera ran out of battery.
It was strange to see Christmas celebrated in a tropical country, but with central European traditions (and the CocaCola Santa Claus). The big malls have their Christmas lights out, and plastic Christmas trees are sold there. Why on earth would Santa wear a wooly costume if he delivered presents in Africa? And what does that have to do with the meaning of Christmas anyways… well that’s an entirely different story. I don’t think Africa has to develop it’s own style of celebrating Christmas, but merely copying Europe will not blend. It was cool to see a bit of a mix with the drums.
I am happy I could make it to the celebration and say bye to the kids and wish them happy holidays. I almost didn’t make it to the party, because…
4. You will catch Malaria
The entire duration of my stay in Cote d’Ivoire (14 weeks) I never took medication of any kind, including Malaria prevention, and was not sick a single day. As it had to be, I started feeling a bit funny on Thursday. Already in the morning I had a terrible headache. It got worse at school, and round noon I had to cancel and get back home. I was sweating more than usual, so I laid down. I really wanted to go to the Christmas party the day after, so I thought I’d better focus on getting well again.
Thing is, if you are feverish and have a headache, alarm bells are ringing. As I am not so familiar with the disease, I believed what people told me to do. So I went to the pharmacy on Thursday and said I wanted some maloxine. They decided to give me Mephaquin instead, which is the sevenfold price. I’ve been ripped off by a pharmary-nurse. Anyways, fool me once, shame on me. Mephaquin, 4 pills, 5000 CFA. Maloxine, 3 pills, 600 CFA. Coartem 24 pills, 5000 CFA. And then the smear-test: a blood sample is put onto an indicator paper, showing if your blood carries Malaria parasites (plasmodium falciparum). My test was p. falciparum negative. I ask the guy if it’s completely accurate. He says yes, 100%. So I went to the Christmas party, yay! On the party, people I talk to tell me it’s possible that the test was invalid. Checking online later, I see 3 tests are recommended. Why, pharmacy, why do I trust you? I get sweaty and drowsy, go to bed after taking dinner with three Mephaquin pills (“mefloquine is associated with adverse neuropsychiatric outcomes.“).
I could barely sleep that night, mainly because of the effects of the drugs. Serves me right for not reading everything about tropical diseases before going there. Not all side-effects kicked in, but sleeplessness, fever and headache did. The medication package says “It might be difficult to discern between the symptoms of Malaria and the side-effects of Mephaquin”.
I woke up in the morning at 4, feeling quite fine. But as I got up, I started sweating like crazy, my nose starts running and I felt really weak. I laid down, immediately the symptoms vanished again. On/Off – On/Off. (I actually tried it out three times).
I had to head out in the end to catch my flight, so I packed, took a shower, said bye to my amazing host family (shame I don’t have a picture with them! will take one upon return) and took a taxi to the airport for 2000 CFA. We pick up Ouatta on the road. As we arrive, the driver wants 5000 CFA, we give him 3000 and leave.
While I was travelling, I felt weak, but I didn’t sweat; neither did I feel feverish, nor did I have a headache anymore. So I am not sure if I actually had developed Malaria or not. It will remain a mystery…
5. You will experience a culture shock when returning back to your country
My journey went smoothly.
I enjoy flying a lot, it more than literally lifts me up and gives me the time and perspective to reflect. What’s remarkable is that only a few hours flight separate Abidjan from Paris. It’s remarkable in the way that you are 12000 feet above ground in a metal bird, watching a movie, while the most hostile of environments, the Sahara desert, passes underneath you. And while I was looking into the distance, I even detected streets! In the middle of nowhere, there were some villages.
People are amazing!
The desert is huge. It takes ages to cross, even by airplane. I was looking down and saw nothing but sand and rock. The Sahara Desert – the biggest sandbox on earth – actually is inhabited.
Such were my thoughts while the stewardess handed me ice-cream on the airplane, kilometers above ground, listening to Mahler.
Arriving in Vienna, I realise all the differences to Abidjan. When I arrived in Africa at the beginning of September, I was ready for it, there was no shock or anything overwhelming, because I was simply mentally prepared for it. But I was not ready for Vienna. Everything seemed so quiet, gray, dark, and cold – in comparison to Cote d’Ivoire. I felt like a stranger in a foreign country. Fortunately I was picked up by my dad and my sister 🙂 I arrived at my home village, Gaflenz, at round 2 AM.
I took the next two days to reflect. Africa was real. I had stayed there for 14 weeks straight, living, working, enjoying, learning, and getting to know the culture and its people. What seemed surrreal to me was being back in Austria. At least there is only little snow here. So while it’s snowing in Africa (Egypt) and the middle east, here it’s sunny and relatively warm. How strange is that?
Not only the contrast of climate, nature and people hit me, but also how a few hour’s journey away, 40% of the population are in absolute poverty. These places may seem distant when we watch them on TV, but we are basically neighbours.
6. You will go skiing with your dad
To enhance the quality of your culture shock, it’s advisable to engage in national cultural activities, such as Skiing. 🙂
Right after skiing I had our national (soft-)drink, Almdudler, and Wiener Schnitzel with potato-salad. Metamorphosis complete? Not quite…
During my time in Africa, I tried to immerse myself in the prevalent culture. If in Rome, do as the Romans; if in Africa, do as the Africans. But as we know there is a big difference between “do as” and “be as”. I saw that I can never “be African”, whatever that may mean. I can adapt traits, habits, morals, but I cannot say I have been able to fully adapt. What I can do is learn to love the country and it’s people, and for that, I do not have to “be African”, yay!
I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year! When I arrived at Paris, the travellers were welcomed by a choir singing Christmas carols. People from everywhere in the world, coming and leaving, stopped to listen and enjoy. I hope this song can give you a bit of a Christmas feeling.