Monday, July 19, 2010

You just can't describe Africa. . .

I've been told that my many people. You just have to be there to smell the red dirt. You just have to spend time there to understand it. Africa is different. People usually describe it as a positive trait, it is special. The people that tell me usually roll their eyes back "oh my gosh" in this , it was so amazing face. Some friends have lived there for a few years as a Peace Corps Volunteers, others friends for 6 months with 4H. They all have educated opinions.

So, when I arrived I was really stoked to see if I would tap into this vibe that is so beyond words that all my educated friends can't seem to share it verbally. I was only there for 3 weeks. I only visited two countries of East Africa: Uganda and Ethiopia. Therefore my opinion is rather near sighted, but I do want to put in to writing the vibe that I sensed.

I'm about as Irish as I am black. Really. If you have seen me before you would know that the only dark skin I have is called a freckle. If you haven't, here is me:We (United States People) like to refer back to our "roots". We like to say yes I'm Irish. Yet we have never been to the island and don't know why they are fighting in the North. We like to say, I'm 1/4 German, 1/4 English and 1/2 French because we can. On my first trip to Europe, I went to Italy. I saw a sculpture that is 5X older than our country. I saw ruins that were even older than that. Our desire to have roots pushes us to refer all the way back to our Pre-British colony roots. I know that my mom's family can be traced back to the Mayflower and through that, I'm related to George Washington. And yet, when people ask me about the red hairs on my chin and pale skin, I say, "I'm 1/2 Irish, 1/4 English, 1/4 German".

In our individualist society, in the USA we love to pride ourselves in how each one of us is exceptional. And we are. Everyone is. Our search for our tribe is what, I think, drives us to look way back into our genealogical history to find our origin.

In Uganda, there are about 20 tribes and about 25 million people. Each tribe has its own language, customs and culture. Seeing as how there are Muslims and Christians living there in more or less unity leads me to believe it can be done here in the USA. But the fact that they are a country is more a recognition of the need for a political boarder to manage the rich resources, than a unifying bond behind the 20 different tribes. When I was in Kasese, Uganda I towered over most of the local men. It was a nice change. But that is a tribe known for being small.

Ethiopia has about 84 tribes and about 80 million people. It seemed to be similar. As we drove from the Oromia region, where the only nice buildings between the huts and shacks were Mosques, it was clear this was a Muslim state. The terrain changed and we crossed a river into Kaffa, now there were more women showing hair and much fewer Mosques. There were Orthodox Churches and Protestant Churches everywhere. When one crosses that river the language, culture, religion and terrain changed noticeably.

What did I find common in both countries? OUR roots. Really. What struck me when looking at the faces of Ugandan and Ethiopian people was that I saw myself. Remember I'm white. But something about the unspoken of human structure of society and how it plays out into different tribes fighting over certain resources and sometimes over nothing. Now we are all fancy an call them countries but really we are just tribes. So many people seemed to say with their faces, we've seen this before. And even the designs of logos, and buildings struck me as so classic and timeless. See the match box below and the Tonic Water above. Those are from big companies but even the small companies often had beautiful logos that could last centuries.

When leaving Kaffa, I was thinking that if people knew their history here they might actually know it for a few hundred, if not, thousand years. Working the same plot as their fathers. Dealing with the same challenges. Probably the same neighbors too. Some scientists say Ethiopia was the birth place of humanity. Where we decided to stand up and grow opposable thumbs.

In my near sighted view, this vibe that we sense in Africa is us resonating with ourselves, our true roots. Maybe its been 10,000 years since us whities headed north from Ethiopia, but I'm sure it happened. It was enlightening to see it again.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Love this Byron,

Miss you.