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May 16

Written by: Jennifer Kumar, Cultural Adjustment Coach
Monday, May 16, 2011

Where on earth is 'The Real Africa'?

Submitted by Africa Expat Wives Club

by वंपायर @flickrVisitors and foreigners often say how much they enjoyed their visit, however they would still very much like to see ‘the real Kenya’ or indeed ‘the real Africa’. I must admit that once, on a writing course, I alluded to the fact that running through villages with the totally embarrassing Hash House Harriers (eccentric expat phenomenon) I too was privy to a glimpse of the ‘hidden Africa’. (Don’t worry; I am totally wincing when I remember this!! Can’t believe I ever wrote it!). My tutor duly cut me right down to size.

‘Who do you think that this ‘Africa’ is hidden away from? Presumably not the people that live there?’

Anyway – my question today is, what is the ‘Real Africa’, or rather, what do we visitors mean by the term?

Let me guess.

On arrival, tourists are disappointed by unexpected glittering shopping centres in Nairobi filled with shops that look so much like the ones back home, or are dissatisfied by lodges and national parks filled with so many tourists just like them. The Africa they see is just too nice. Not like the images we are used to viewing on the BBC news. Expats who come to live here, to their surprise, find other foreigners are exactly like them are working and living perfectly normal suburban lives, sending their kids to nice (hopefully slightly mixed) schools. I’ve heard the same expression from them. ‘It’s kind of fake isn’t it?’ they say, ‘I was expecting something more real. I only feel like I’m in Africa when I’m on safari.’ (This view is especially true for housewives like me, who are not working but instead might be stuck in the home, school run, gym, coffee circuit. I think that working in an office environment in Nairobi today can be very much ‘real’).

I feel lucky to have lived here in East Africa for a long time now and, like lots of foreigners who have lived here for more than a year or so, I’ve seen quite a few things that might qualify as images from ‘the real Africa’, I’m not sure. I’ve been inside a Masai manyatta, in fact I’ve smelt the smoke and swatted flies right inside a masai hut. I’ve been to Kibera four times now and dodged muddy puddles in the rain, witnessed the sheer grinding poverty of it, been followed by children wanting to touch my white skin (went again this morning – thus the resulting philosophic blog post). I’ve also been lucky enough to interview Kenyan entrepreneurs who keep pushing valiantly forward in the firm belief that their businesses can succeed and take them to places they want to go. Along the way I’ve visited schools and villages, been sung to by children, gone to weddings and funerals, sat in a matatu. I’ve eaten ugali, shopped in second hand markets/mitumba. Smelt the smells. I’ve also been to game parks and watched huge African sunsets and moon rises, sat on white sand Indian Ocean beaches, splashed in warm waves, lived by the sea and lived far from the sea.

For outsiders, I think it is our preconceptions of ‘Africa’ that are badly at fault, skewing our viewpoint so that we can no longer see what is right in front of our face. The experiences I’ve had, especially the brushes with poverty, do not necessarily give me a better impression of what is reality here. Why should 'Africa' be defined only by poverty, whereby signs of wealth or prosperity appear too incongruous to digest, they fail to stack up.  In my opinion the ‘real Africa’ is found when you chat to people you are lucky enough to meet every single day.

It could be the hotel chef who is smiling even at five-thirty in the morning as you head out on your game drive, the knowledgeable safari guide who knows how to read the landscape, the waiter who is patient as you dither over whether to order a cappuccino, or the persistent hawker selling dvds on the street, the guy who sells flowers, the man wearing a suit who runs an NGO in the slum having lived there proudly for thirty years – all the while resisting the temptation to throw in the towel, giving up to sniff glue or take drugs.

I reckon that it is simply within human exchanges that you will find today’s ‘real Africa’. By opening up conversation, you’ll soon hear a ‘real Africa’ story with all the tragedy and resilience, even appeals for help, which are invariably involved. So for those in search of ‘the real Africa’, it can be quite simple, you really don’t have to go very far or feel like you are missing out. Just open your ears.

Kibera Today
To read more about this Africa Expat Wife's recent Kibera trip, click here:

The tragic story of a British honeymoon couple who decided to venture out of Cape Town, SA, in search of the 'real Africa'.


This article was originally posted onNovember 9, 2010 by Africa Expats Wives Club.
Africa Expats Wives Club (bio) Left UK 2 days after wedding. Wound up spending honeymoon being sick in Zanzibar carting worldly possessions around to take to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for four years. Now live in Kenya and have three daughters, (5,7 and 10). Now speak OK swahili and spend time writing in between being a housewife without convenience foods and appliances, but with the convenience of tons lovely of help at home.

AFWC shared more insights about living in Africa (Nairobi, Kenya) in a cross-cultural interview on Alaivani a few years ago.
Click here to read her interview about life in Africa as a foreigner.

Click here to read The Pros and Cons of moving to Nairobi

Click here to read the current articles on Africa Expats Wives Club

Click here to read other articles contributed to Alaivani.


Photo credit: by वंपायर @flickr

Thanks for spending your time on Alaivani.


Copyright ©2010 Jennifer Kumar, CC, Cultural Adjustment Coach


12 comments so far...

Re: Where on earth is 'The Real Africa'?

Its quiet a nice experience of Africa .
Its true Africa safari is well known for diversity of animals .
But for those people which like to see diversity of big cat like me must visit Corbett national park of India .
Its really a pleasant place for the lover of Cats...

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By rahul on   Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Re: Where on earth is 'The Real Africa'?

Hi Jennifer, its a very good article. I have always been a fan of the African jungles and wild life.
Apparently I am a bit shocked to read about the bungee jumping accident that happened there recently but I am glad that the girl survived.

I am looking forward to your articles.

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By Richard on   Thursday, July 05, 2012

Re: Where on earth is 'The Real Africa'?

First, and foremost I would like to say this is a very good post. I would have to say I concurr, the perceptions of what people think Africa should be like, has been built up over time. There has been no stories told about how it is actually a very beautiful country outside the expectations of wild animals roaming around. There is parts of the continent where there is animals raoming, but for the most part it is actually small businesses trying to flourish . It all comes down to traveling and and experiencing it firsthand and being able to tell a story about what you got to experince.


By Mr. Feliciano on   Thursday, July 05, 2012

Re: Where on earth is 'The Real Africa'?

awesome...keep up the good work..

By aman on   Thursday, July 05, 2012

Re: Where on earth is 'The Real Africa'?

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By priyarajan on   Thursday, July 05, 2012

Re: Where on earth is 'The Real Africa'?

I Saw your blog it's interesting. It's really great. I have also started one News blog.I am taking news from different sources. All news are available in my blog, So that no need to visit different sites/blogs to read the news. I would like to invite you in my blog.


By Subhankar on   Thursday, July 05, 2012

Re: Where on earth is 'The Real Africa'?

Thank you, as the blog owner to everyone for your valuable comments and taking time on my website. Have a great day!

By Jayanthi on   Thursday, July 05, 2012

Re: Where on earth is 'The Real Africa'?

the post is so informative........good job..!!

By hariprasad on   Monday, December 03, 2012

Africa and Asia - two examples of stereotypes

Hi Jennifer I felt a sense of deja vi when I read your article. I am one of the best detectives and private investigators in Mumbai, India and I have worked with many expats who have visited India on short and long visits likewise. What they always used to say is that living in Mumbai, Delhi or Bangalore they miss the real India because it is in so many ways similar to their own lifestyle back home in Europe, US or Australia. When I ask them what is the real India that they carry in their mind, their replies are almost always some vague picture that they have carried in their mind's eye since they were children or teenagers. I call it the 'grown-up child syndrome". Its the similar feeling that one gets when one sees a young child after a long time and realises that the child is not a child anymore and you fail to accept or recognise the grown-up child now and instead you find yourself longing for the 'old' version of the child when in fact the child is no longer a child and has changed as does all of nature. So one has to reconcile to the new versions of these great continents and like you say connect with people across all creeds and backgrounds - which is where the real interactions will happen! www.allianceonemumbai.com

By Sunita Banerji on   Monday, December 03, 2012

Re: Where on earth is 'The Real Africa'?

I visited Africa last year in my summer vacations via a college trip. The whole experience was breathtaking ! :)

By Sidhant Chadha on   Sunday, August 24, 2014

Re: Where on earth is 'The Real Africa'?

It's very good article in safari in africa

By Ranveer on   Saturday, June 11, 2016

Re: Where on earth is 'The Real Africa'?

this blog is goog

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