This is a blog about my travels. My "regular" life is much too boring to bother blogging about.

Friday, July 11, 2008

London, Ontario

So I made it back without incident. Well, almost. On the morning of my departure, in Maputo, I wasn't looking where I was going and I collided head-on with a big baobab tree. The tree won; I have a big bloody scab on my head now. I also met a Greek lady at breakfast in my hotel, which is remarkable because Greeks - how should I put this? - prefer not to travel in Africa. I didn't know she was Greek at first. She asked me for information about northern Mozambique and Malawi, where she was heading, specifically about the Nampula-Cuamba train. I asked if she could speak Portuguese, as basically nobody speaks English around Cuamba. She responded that she could not, she was from Greece. So we switched to Greek. Her name was Eleni, which is my sister's Greek name. Coincidentally, she has a brother named Vaios, which is my Greek name. She is a professor at the university in Thessaloniki, and was in Africa to research a book about the Greek diaspora on the continent. Evidently, Maputo has a Greek community of 50, though there were more when it was a Portuguese colony. In Blantyre, Malawi, there are about 100 or so. I told her about the Greek community in the Congo, which I know about because they were instrumental in setting up early Congolese record companies. Lesson to be learned from all of this: Greeks are like ants. We are everywhere.

And then it was time to fly on out of Africa. My flight to Lisbon was a final crazy slice of African life. Half of the plane had been claimed by Indian-Mozambicans heading to Lisbon to see a religious guru. They spoke loudly and excitedly and cheered lustily when we landed. The Lisbon airport at 6:00 AM is a lonely, lonely place, but by 7:00 people were beginning to come through security. There was a band heading to Madrid. They took out their accordions and guitars and began to play in their departure gate. Another guy tapped a beat on a plastic chair. This was accompanied by a dark-skinned man, presumably the lead singer, singing the most beautiful songs in Portuguese. I wished I spoke better Portuguese so I could understand what he was saying. I had to leave the band to board my Heathrow-bound flight. A rare cloudless day in London provided a spectacular view of Canary Wharf, the Tower of London, the Thames, Westminster, the London Eye etc., and I realized how much I missed that city. These thoughts were soon lost in familiar Heathrow aggravations - landing late, sprinting to catch my connection, then sitting on the tarmac for an hour waiting for an interminable lineup of planes to take off. Soon I was in Toronto, and three hours later in London.

I am not upset to be back. I'm not one of these travelers, displeased with their life, who hits the road searching for something, or running away from something. Though I often intimate otherwise, I am generally pleased with my life at the moment. I quite like Canada. I like my family and my friends. Being back here certainly is not a bad thing. That being said, I am having unbelievable culture shock. I did not expect this. Aren't you supposed to have culture shock when you arrive in Africa and not when you leave? I am stunned by how different Ontario is to the society I've been living in the past month+. And I'm not even talking about cosmetic differences like the lack of rubbish in London's streets, or how people all the people with black skin have been replaced by people with white skin, how I can pass a police officer without them demanding to see my papers, or how taking a taxi doesn't require ten minutes of bargaining. It's much, much deeper and more complicated than that, and I'm not sure if I can adequately explain it.

At the conference I attended in New York before I left, I met an academic who has now begun to work at Western. He had just finished a four month stint in Uganda. We talked a little about Africa, and about what I could expect. Africa, to him, was "a different universe" than anywhere else he'd ever been, and the guy is very well traveled. I didn't really understand what he meant while I was traveling. I didn't really think that Mozambique and Malawi were that much different from Cuba or Nicaragua; nor were they that much different from Greece in the 1980s or early 1990s. It is only after I have arrived back in Canada that I understand and concur: indeed, Africa is truly a different universe. There was a late 1960s/early 1970s funk band from Kenya called Mombasa. I've heard a couple of their songs, my favourite being a James Brown-style number called "African Hustle". "You better learn the African hustle", the song urges, "you better learn it right now." Most of the tourists I met in Africa had no interest in learning the African hustle. This is why I think I met so many people who loved the African land, the animals, the coast, the rugged terrain, but could never come to grips with African people. I don't think you can understand or appreciate African people unless you learn how to think like an African (I realize that Mozambique and Malawi are hardly "Africa", but Mozambicans and Malawians, most of which had never been outside their own countries, frequently spoke of "Africa" and "Africans" with authority, they certainly believe that there are more shared characteristics than differences). Somewhere along the way, I think I learned how to do that, and I think that was the key to me having such a fulfilling adventure. But it has also made Canada seem completely foreign to me in the interim. I listened to people discuss their lives on the bus today, and I just couldn't wrap my mind around their conversations. There simply isn't any African parallel to the bourgeois North American consumer lifestyle, not even close. It's making my head spin.

I'm explaining this really poorly. I'm not sure there is a way to describe it well.


Post a Comment

<< Home