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Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

Have I (Bjørn) experienced culture shock since moving to America?

VickyWhen moving from one place to another, one is bound to experience some sort of culture shock. My first one was probably moving to England and realising that the English have thick, fluffy carpets covering their bathroom floors and that they think it’s ok to wear very short, pink tops no matter your body shape or weather conditions.

However, such culture shocks pale in comparison to those one has to deal with when leaving the poorer world (also known as the “developing world”) and trying to reintegrate into the Western world. Here are some main “shocks” I/we experienced after returning from Malawi and Turkmenistan.

  1. The physical shock. Did you think that the germs and unhygienic kitchens of the poorer countries are going to hurt you? Wrong! Some extra bacteria in your diet might give you a tourist stomach for a couple of days after you arrive in Africa, but overall they are hardly going to harm you at all. Returning from the developing is seriously going to mess up your (digestive) systems though. It took Kim and I weeks to recover from this shock… Why did this happen? Because food in the West/the US is pumped so full of preservatives, artificial flavours and colourants, hormones and steroids that it takes a very well-trained stomach to handle it. The organic and natural produce Kim and I had consumed for years had cleansed our bodies and made us inept at fighting processed foods.
  2. It is not seen as a sign of prosperity and good health to be overweight. In poor countries poor people are skinny (because of a poor diet); in our countries of plenty, poor people are fat (because of a poor diet)…
  3. Time is precious! The bus is going to leave when it is scheduled to leave and not only once every seat is occupied. People are on time, they expect you to be on time and they have a limited amount of time to spend on whatever (perhaps except TV). In the developing world, a wood carver is not going to be too bothered if somebody is offering him two dollars for a carving he spent six hours making. When time is the only thing you have plenty of, it logically becomes less important.
  4. Waking up every day realising that “it is actually very unlikely that I am going to die today…” When living in Africa death is ever-present, almost to the extent that it is part and parcel of everyday life, which in turn means that one cares less about protecting oneself against it. When being back in the Western world it is NOT ok to deal with a strangers’ blood without rubber gloves or to deal with symptoms of illness simply by hoping that they will go away… Here in the West sudden death or any death before the age of 80 is ugly and completely unnatural. Only things that kill you slowly (but surely), such as smoking, eating junk-food, being obese, eating junk (see point 1), pollution etc are ok.

About culture shock, part II

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We have added a new photo section on our website showing some highlights from South Africa, to be found here. We travelled to the southern tip of the continent in December 2006, and would like to share some impressions of one of the most beautiful and diverse countries on the planet.

South Africa flagSouth Africa is hands down the dominant economy in Southern Africa (in fact, it’s the 20th biggest economy in the world), and it also boasts the biggest population of 43 million – although as much as a third of the population is thought to be illegal immigrants from other African countries. There are eleven (!) official languages. Literacy rates are very good at almost 90% and it has 60% of Africa’s phones. However, life expectancy is only 42 years, amongst other things due to high infant mortality rates and HIV/AIDS, and it is stipulated that the country will have 10 million fewer people in 2050 than it does today! GDP per capita is roughly on par with Russia and Croatia, however its income equality is amongst the worst in the world (the richest 10% of the population are 33 times richer than the poorest tenth).

As we arrived in the African city of Cape Town things felt rather surreal as the city does not look or feel anything like the Africa we know… The city is simply very modern and very Westerns in almost every conceivable way. Coming from many consecutive months spent in Malawi, we didn’t even know where to start. Suffice it to say South African cuisine is amazing. Probably more than any other national cuisine it is fusion. All South African dishes are a mix of African, Asian and European flavours!

PenguinWalking amongst African penguins on Boulders Beach was a definite highlight. The penguins were cool as cucumbers and couldn’t care less about all the tourists and camera lenses scattered all over the place. They are not the most gracious of animals on the beach, but apparently they can reach speeeds of 40 km/h in the water! Note the picture of the hyrax – a small herbivorous mammal that only lives in Africa and the Middle East. Bjørn saw and photographed his first hyrax here! Funnily enough, the only mammal it is relatively closely related to is the elephant! They may share an ancestor in the distant past and they do share characteristics such as toenails, excellent hearing, good memory and high brain functions.

We also visited the vineyards in the affluent and beautiful wine districts of the Cape Area. We stayed in the mountainous Franschhoek and had good wine and fantastic food for very reasonable money! Shame about that very special bottle of wine Bjørn bought for his mum and managed to take back to Europe only for it to be confiscated by customs officials in Amsterdam…

Amazingly, Cape Town has a more than 1,000 meter tall mountain within its city borders. We left that hard hike up Table Mountain to our very last day. Nice to walk off some of that lekker South African cuisine!

For Bjørn, the minivan journey from Johannesburg to Maseru, Lesotho, to visit Jesper was a definite highlight too (this happened before Kim arrived). Squeezed in between to African mamas for six hours he was not necessarily very comfortable but he felt a lot safer than one usually does in a pimped 1985 Toyota Hiace with 15 passengers and suitcases stacked up to eye level travelling African roads at 120 km/h.

The world’s eyes will be on South Africa in two years’ time when they host the 2010 World Cup!

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