What do you see when you imagine Africa? Some may envision cities spreading across the continent, while others may see only villages. Before I moved here, I confess I was, sadly, amongst the latter group.
I was firm in my belief that all Africans spoke French and wore loincloths. Arranged marriages, I believed, were the norm on this continent and–needless to say–being an English-speaking, eight-year-old, I was scared.
I was practically shaking with terror when I boarded the plane for South Africa. In fact, fear struck me so hard I could barely focus on the movies I watched. By the end of the flight, I thought the plane ride was quite a bore, since the only thing that occupied my thoughts throughout was the specter of an arranged marriage at age eight.
In Virginia, a seed had been planted in my mind, leading me to believe the scenes depicted on every single African tribe show aired on TV were the reality I would find in South Africa. I expected to be fetching water from a far away well, killing cattle and drinking its fresh blood, wearing outfits that hardly covered me, and getting married to a fifty-something-year-old guy, who’s wife had either died or disappeared.
I was more than a little surprised when I landed at the airport in Johannesburg and realized none of that would happen. The people in Johannesburg wore “normal” clothes and got food and drinks the way I was used to, from a shop. They evidently didn’t have arranged marriages either, since most couples I saw walking around seemed normal enough and none of the wives looked like children.
I have been living in Africa for five years now and I have to say my life here is pretty similar to life in the US. Sure, we don’t have all the newest gadgets, but life here isn’t the way I pictured it at all.
That’s the great thing about travel. You get to learn about new countries and experience life in a different part of the world for yourself, draw your own conclusions, and (occasionally) defy your own imagination.