You might be thinking it’s time to visit ‘Africa’, the place of wonder. If it’s your first trip to this continent, naturally you’ll begin by researching where to go, what to do, and what to eat. But before you set out on your journey, here’s a handy guide. You will find in the corners of the internet, many articles about the dangers of stereotyping and floundering into tropes, but sometimes all that brilliant satire might not drive the point home. After all, how to distinguish between satire and truth, news and false news, if you know nothing about this part of the African continent? So here are ten handy tips that will guarantee you a delightful experience when visiting this place I call home. Not only that, you will be able to look smug next to your other friends who might have visited and done exactly what I advise not to – what is better than looking woke?
1. Note the Diversity
Begin by not referring to that one African country, that one place you went to volunteer, went on your honeymoon, went on your gap year, went to follow your Safari dreams, went to find a cure to your midlife sexual crisis, went to take pictures with snotty poor Africans or some animal who didn’t ask you, as AFRICA. Not only are there fifty-four recognised countries in AFRICA but guess what, many of the people living in those countries are radically different. They have different cultures, traditions, religions, values, languages and even skin tone! I can’t tell you how many times, I have had random people run up to me to excitedly tell me they have just been to Africa like I give a crap. Only to find out they went to a tiny Pulaar village in Senegal. Or that they didn’t visit Africa but really went to Papua New Guinea. Yes that country is in the Pacific, not Guinea Conakry in West Africa. You know what? Just name that African country.
2. White Guilt
Next time you are in said African country, do go and confront the history of the Atlantic slavery. That should be your number one must-see sight to visit. Too often the impact of slavery and colonialism is poorly acknowledged and discussed. It was only 400 years ago that the first ships arrived in Africa to capture, beat, rape and enslave Africans to the Americas and other places. It was only fifty, forty and even thirty years ago that some countries gained independence. To understand the monumental impact these two legacies had on the African continent, one needs to walk through the many slave castles scattered on the West African Coast. To enter the tiny dark spaces where thousands were kept, unable to stand with dignity, in their own faeces, without water or food for days. To feel in those walls, the desperate scratching, trying to count the days, to walk through the door of No Return, where slaves left never to return home, you realise the unspeakable. What you must not do, is make the visit about yourself. The constant twisting your hands as you move through the Elmina Castle tour, trying to muster a tear whilst looking to meet the eyes of Africans just to let them know you are sorry. We don’t want your pity. Just wallow in your white guilt and leave African people alone to mourn. If you really feel that bad, don’t bother buying flowers to leave in the slave dungeons, we are happy to take contributions for reparations.
3. Don’t do anything you would not do at home
You might have saved all your money to take the trip of a lifetime to drink Amarula with giraffes on the Serengeti, but please, going to Africa does not mean a free-for-all. First off, stop hugging the locals because you think Africans are welcoming. They do not like it. Would you run up to people on Oxford Street? Second, stop taking pictures of yourself surrounded by kids covered in dust and snot. Why? It’s so cute! No it’s not, you have not sought their parents’ consent and I am pretty sure back home you would be arrested for taking pictures of kids in parks. Once upon a time, a well-meaning German tourist tried to take a picture of me and my cousins whilst on a boat to Gorée Island in Senegal. What did my father do? Respectfully told him not to. The tourist sneaked up on us and still took a picture. My father grabbed his camera and threatened to smash it. The man promptly ran away as my father got the police involved. So what have we learned? Your tourist privilege won’t shield you when you do nonsense that you wouldn’t even think of doing at home. And if you must insist, just remember that those kids posing in your pictures are probably laughing at you as they collect your meagre dollars, waiting for another idiot tourist that desperately wants one for the gram. #LoveAfrica
4. Love makes us do crazy things
Africa might be a place of great mystery and exoticism for you. All those books of white saviours rushing through dusty red roads in their 4x4s, for meetings in clubs called Tropicana where cannibal-eating soldiers, African nouveau riche, and Russian or Chinese gangsters convene, musters a delightful action-packed fantasy. White saviours always have a tryst with their Herculean gardener who oozes coconut oil (true story) or are seduced by an African woman invariably described as slim with big buttocks (not always a true story) dressed in a skimpy tight red dress by the bar. Don’t do it. Just don’t be that guy who went to Africa to sleep around and woke up the next morning, his credit cards gone, his pockets empty and no telephone. Or that middle-aged woman who left her husband for a cab driver, only to find out she was one of many girlfriends paying for his other kids. I still think about this poor French girl who went to volunteer in Burkina Faso and met who she thought was a loving dreadlocked rasta man at a beach. Clearly she did not follow rule number three, do not do anything you wouldn’t do at home including dating people you wouldn’t at home. She came back and told me that they were planning to move to the UK together in the coming year. In the meantime they were long distance, with her doing most of the calling, spending on flights to see him in Burkina Faso, sending money when he had fallen on hard times. Thankfully it lasted only three months – it ended when she found out that the boyfriend was actually dating not just her, but all five other friends who had gone to volunteer with her. They were all calling, seeing him, and sending money whilst he promised fidelity and marriage. Yikes.
5. ‘Do you speak African?’
Issa no. Read point number one. Speak English, French or Portuguese, after all that’s the legacy of our ex-colonial powers so might as well use it. Don’t flick through your apps or dictionaries, trying to comically speak Pidjin or Twi, we have things to do. I did not do this on my first visit to Ghana, and strolled in to greet my family with a proud ‘Akwaaba!’. Turns out no one in Ghana says Akwaaba, only white people. They use ‘Eti sen’ to greet people. Or the other time when I said ‘Jambo’ in Kenya. Yes, Disney lied to us, not everything is Hakuna Matata, especially when it comes to African languages. Also, under no circumstances should you correct an African’s pronunciation, just because you took Yoruba at SOAS. It won’t end well for you.
6. Strictly (no) Dancing
I don’t know where this obsession stems from. Why must foreigners always try to dance in Africa. Resist the urge to dance. Even when Africans invite you to the dance floor. You don’t have it in you, the jingle, the sauce, the flavour, the sway. Maybe you took classes back home, a bit of dancehall, kizomba, zouk and afrobeats to spice it up. Your teacher has complimented you plenty, when you go out you are the first person to bust moves on the dance floor and people circle around you, you might even be part of an award winning crew, or youroneAfrican homie told you you got this. I believe you, but your teacher, friends and that one African friend you are proud to have, are being nice because they care about you. Maybe you are actually decent but let those that were born in the rhythm, do what they do best and you just stay seated. You saw Theresa May tried it in South Africa. If you look closer, you can see she really believed she could pull this dancing business off. Suffice to say it did not end well. Unless you want to be a meme, do not dance.
7. ‘Is it dangerous?’
I mean at any point in time in the United States, there are twenty-five to fifity serial killers on the loose. This is the same country that averaged at least one deadly mass shooting a month in 2018. And where do I start with the UK –have you seen Brexit? A prime minister incapable of negotiating a deal, held hostage by other EU leaders, and her own parliament as well as a party always ready to attempt a coup? Meanwhile there are cuts to the NHS, more and more people living on the streets, unable to afford basic living necessities such as housing and education, and almost every day a knife crime victim. Of course with this Brexit mess, I can’t even cross over to France, although they are not faring any better with gilet jaune protests. If it sounds like a hot mess, that’s because it is. I mean I have survived civil war three times, once in Guinea-Bissau and two times in Ivory Coast, but at least that was simple, all you had to do is run, in the West you might just die a slow death in front of the TV.
You might be asking, how am I a dick by volunteering in Africa? Oh friend, if only you knew. Maybe you woke up one day, fed up with your placid void of a life, looking for a meaning in your existence, watched the news to see ads of starving children that brought you to tears at the injustice of the world, broke up with your boyfriend/girlfriend after they cheated on you, and decided you would take all of your emotional shit to Africa. No baby, what are you doing? Africa has enough problems, we don’t need more lost foreigners trying to find themselves at the expense of poor people, just to make themselves feel better for doing absolutely nothing. Why don’t you stay home and volunteer in your local communities? I know nothing feels better than being a white saviour, but you would not just do Africa a favour, but a huge service to your community. Your country needs you, not Africa.
9. Pack the essentials
I know you eat peri-peri chicken at Nando’s but bruv, African food is another territory. If you have a bit of melanin you might survive it, but if you are the other kind that colonised half of the world for spices and doesn’t use any in their kitchen, I am looking at you Sally with the unseasoned chicken, you better carry Imodium and probiotics. If you get caught out here in these African streets, you will be praying even if you are not religious. First of all there are not many public toilets and in any case I would not recommend using them. Maybe you will be lucky to find a restaurant around, but if you are picky like me, jumping in a taxi to go home will be your best bet. Just pray the maddening traffic of West African cities won’t be at its peak. Take it from someone with experience, I am from Guinea-Bissau but I learnt my lesson in Ghana when I decided to be adventurous and eat bushmeat. I was staying at my future mother-in-law’s, and boy oh boy it was brutal. It was so bad I was convinced I had worms but thankfully no, but I did spend months on probiotics.
10. So now you’ve been to AFRICA
You read through this list and managed not to be a dick there. Congratulations! You went to [name of African country] and you confronted your ignorance or white guilt. You sensibly did not do anything you wouldn’t dream of doing back home, including dating for the sake of having an ill exotic fling. You did not dance or even attempt to speak the language or ask any stupid questions. No, you took your probiotics and Imodium and minded your own business instead of volunteering where you are not needed, now your skin is glowing honey! One last piece of advice, when you are back home please consider not being a dick about your trip. What I mean is, when you meet an African person, you don’t need to show them you’ve been to the continent, or burst into random facts or quote Mandela (first of all he is not West African) or worst say: ‘When I was in….’ just carry these lessons back home but without the dashiki you bought at the market. It just makes you look too keen.