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The Warsaw Voice » Travel » May 31, 2012
TRAVEL:Around the World in a Land Rover or how to go traveling while running a firm effectively (6)
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Black Africa, White Africa
May 31, 2012   
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There is always something special about arriving in a new country. As a traveler, you abandon your habits so you can surrender to the great unknown. You become vulnerable, just like a young bird out of its nest for the first time and taking its first flight to the sky. You need to learn the basics all over again and get your head around one more country and one more culture.

I believe the feeling is well known to our globetrotters who thanks to the Akcja Job company leave to take up temporary jobs in France. For that reason, our local advisors work to create a friendly environment for those people while they are living away from their home countries.

The sense of alienation intensifies as you change continents. We arrived in Dar es Salaam at night. The city lights seemed like a riddle. They flickered and were small and few. Still, we felt like we were taking part in a magic show that grew increasingly beautiful as the end of our flight—and our arrival in an unknown land—drew closer.

We were then greeted by John, the driver of our Swedish friends who worked in Tanzania. “Jambo Jambo, Karibu Karibu,” the driver said, which meant “Hello and welcome.”

Still, the first days were frustrating. Staying with our diplomat friends, we did not get to see “Black Africa” at first; instead we only saw the part of the continent populated by white people. It sure was a very pleasant life. We spent our time going to brunches at the Kempinsky hotel, having exclusive dinners at rich villas in the white man’s district of Oster Bay and lazing about at the Yacht Club in the afternoon.

We saw houses hidden behind high walls and bars with tangled wires at the top. Men who watch the houses 24/7 and are on a hotline with security companies are part and parcel of the lives of white settlers in Dar es Salaam. Ironically, the very people who had gone over the top in making sure their houses were secure kept telling us how Tanzania was an exceptionally peaceful place and we had nothing to worry about.

In places like stores, shopping centers, restaurants, clubs and schools, the interaction between the whites and blacks is limited to the minimum. The relations are based on hierarchy, as in the employer-employee kind of relationship. The sole criterion that keeps the two groups apart is money. The two groups never interact and so they do not really know each other. As a consequence, they are distrustful of each other and there is a fine line between distrust and rejection. As a matter of fact, it is this divide that shapes the perceptions of how Africans live their lives. This calls to mind Dar es Salaam as described by Polish journalist and writer Ryszard Kapu¶ciński half a century ago. In the end, economic segregation has led to what is close to an “ideological apartheid.” While the world keeps moving forward, Africa seems to be standing still.

An endless procession
Africans, in turn, are on the move all the time. Like their parents and grandparents before them, they keep walking back and forth just to stay alive carrying water in cans. Even their bikes are so overloaded that instead of people, they are really used to transport water these days. In the 1960s, Kapu¶ciński enthused about the advent of plastic cans as a revolution that was sweeping Africa. By now water has become a mobile commodity and thus something that native Africans can control. But I must say with regret that this has failed to revolutionize the continent. Fifty years on water is still not delivered to people and instead people have to travel to get water. Most Tanzanians continue to spend most of their days carrying water in plastic cans.As crowds of black people carrying water walked on gravel roads, carefree and affluent white Africans thundered down the same roads sheltered in their Land Cruisers and leaving clouds of dust behind. As we were on our way, we saw smiling children who waved at us. They were marching too.

While European children spend their time playing in sandboxes, their peers in Africa have to cross the savanna on their own. African mothers use calico strips of cloth to carry their children on their backs, put basketfuls of food on their heads, take their older kids by the hand and take a can of water or a third child in the other hand. African women are admired for their beauty, but what gets frequently overlooked is their courage. The anonymous women carry an incredibly heavy burden during the day, bearing the weight of poverty literally on their backs. Graciously, they carry Africa on their shoulders.

Nights on the narrow and difficult roads are incredibly dark. Even though there is not a single light on the horizon, masses of people march and ride bikes in complete darkness to get water. They walk alone and in groups, some carry things and others don’t, but all struggle forward with nothing to light the way before them. Many of them walk barefoot, which can prove deadly with all that danger that lurks in the Savannah, from snakes to wild animals.

Every now and again, these nomads are blinded by the headlights of cars that pass them by. Dazzled, surprised and startled by this sudden brightness, they look like lost and wandering souls. Most of them walk in a single file on both sides of the road. The exhausting procession stretches for dozens of kilometers.

Only a handful of Africans have been lucky enough to achieve success in sports as accomplished marathoners, runners, racewalkers, or soccer players. They have become self-sufficient and proved they are strong enough and good enough to compete with the rest of the world on equal terms.

A few months later, my family and I reached South Africa where preparations for the 2010 soccer World Cup were nearing completion. In South Africa, soccer is considered a black people’s sport while rugby is for white people. One could only hope that a country that has been through such ordeals would unite around soccer in a great sporting celebration in the same way as in 1995 when, during the Rugby World Cup, Nelson Mandela was able to unite Africa around the “Springbok.”
Igor Jeliński
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