Questions & Answers about Africa
Questions from 7th grade world cultures class at Wendover Middle School in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, USA. Answered by Steve Curtis, 47, Therese Picado, 44, Peter Picado-Curtis, 13, Paul Picado-Curtis, 12, Carrol Curtis, grandmother, 69, and Marcia Hafner, friend from church, 65)
For more information, please also see our travelogs, Steve's travel notes, trivia questions and trip highlights.
Beyond the medical precautions discussed on your website, has Africa presented any other medical problems?
Are cell phones and other high-tech items becoming more available in Africa?
How do people in Africa view Americans?
Has your trip been fun for the entire family?
Has your impressions of African people changed since your arrival?
- Where have you stayed in Africa?
- What food have you eaten?
Would you return to Africa and if so, which place?
- How do people in Africa view Americans?
Marcia, Peter: rich, we have money, want our money, we have everything we need.
Carrol: once they got to know us and we became volunteers, like at Enoosaen and Kabale, we were seen as resources—generous, helpful, knowledgeable. As tourists, however, seen as targets for tourist agents. In our personal relationships, we were seen as resources to get to America to access educational and other opportunities in the U.S.
Therese: In Enoosaen and Kabale, people had the notion that Americans were always busy and didn’t always stop to greet acquaintances and shake hands (might just pass with a wave) and didn’t make the time to invite visitors in for tea and some food, as they always do in these small villages.
We also had a very interesting conversation about parenting styles in the different cultures. Their view is that our parenting style is more lax, and, although we practice a more democratic and participatory model of parenting, we explained that there are many different ways of parenting in the U.S. and there are many parents that practice a style that more closely resembles what most parents in Africa practice, a more authoritarian model of parenting.
I think for the most part we’re seen as very privileged, entitled. When we expressed interest in their culture, tried to learn their language and rode local transportation, I think we were able to debunk this image and gain a measure of respect from the local people.
They were curious about the vastness of our country. Many children have studied and are therefore familiar with the geography and natural resources of the U.S. and are curious about what it’s like to live in the land of milk and honey!
Steve: There was very little conversation about how Africans view Americans. We spent most of our time getting to know them. What I heard consistently was that there was a lack of Americans that visit east Africa and they were wondering why. Other than that, we were viewed as having abundant wealth. In tourism, we were viewed as a way to make money, as are all tourists.
One elder in Enoosaen, Matthew, was interested in the great disparity between Africans and Americans (infrastructure, ability to make capital) and how could Kenya get to that status.
They believed that the education was better in the U.S. Our friend, Johnson, in Kabale thought that the fact that there is poverty in the U.S. was inhumane given our resources.
We talked to a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania about this and he said that Americans are one of Tanzanians’ favorite foreigners because we have the reputation of being the best educated and advanced of the western world. They derive their positive impressions mainly from the TV because not many Americans travel in east Africa and Tanzanians wonder why and wish more would travel in their country. They particularly don’t like the Italians because they tend to dress scantily, especially in Zanzibar which is predominantly conservative Muslim.
Paul: In Kabale, Uganda and Enoosaen, Kenya, when they got to know us, we were seen as knowledgeable, technologically advanced (we had a big conversation about Bill Gates with young people in Enoosaen). Their main view of us: they thought we knew everything, had everything and had availability to everything.
Their views of Americans are based on New York, Las Vegas, California, and what they see on the television, read in magazines or hear on the radio. Though we have more resources than they can imagine, there are families who would spent at least twice the amount of money as we did on a comparable trip.
Peter: In Africa, if you’re white, you or your ancestors are probably responsible for having colonized country/countries in Africa. Basically, that makes us responsible for killing or subjugating peoples in Africa. So, sometimes especially in big cities, there are people that could take that against you, maybe we don’t feel as secure. Whereas in smaller villages, there’s more of a tendency to treat you as a person, rather than to see you as a government or country.
Basically, they think that we know everything, have everything and that we can do anything. They viewed us as having wealth of resources, schooling, etc. They think we have wealth in everything. It all comes back to wealth. I also think that they think that with out wealth, everyone should be excelling. But, unfortunately that is not the case because in many cases that wealth is not being used wisely, like for example, for education and health care for all.
Marcia: In our volunteer experiences, we were viewed as helpful, generous. With others, I’m not sure, except that they think that we have all the opportunities and resources of money, education, etc. and they admire that, are envious of that. We were seen as a resource to send people to train in the U.S.
I think they view as abundant. They can barely afford to educate one child. They were surprised that there was a lot of poverty in the U.S.
One time, our hosts were concerned that we demonstrated bad manners because we didn’t stop to say hello when passing on the path which is customary in this rural village.
- Has your trip been fun for the entire family?
Paul: For Peter and me, what was fun on safari was different than for my grandmother. For example, Peter and I wanted to go camping, grandma said no way, I’m not going camping. Another thing: with accommodations, some of us would have preferred budget accommodations, others wanted better accommodations.
Marcia: It’s been fun because we all do some give and take, sit down and sort things out, aire difficulties if they came up in a reasonable manner. We’ve all been flexible. Like when we were on the local bus here in Zanzibar and more and more people kept getting in and the bus started getting seriously crowded, Peter and Paul just accepted the situation without any sign of criticism or discontent. Everybody was observing the situation and each other to see how we might react and we just went with the flow.
Also, when at home, we’re busy with our own lives. Here, we’re removed from our regular pattern, we learned to work together in a civilized manner for the most part!
Carrol: All the quality time with the family all the time has been fund. Also, all the different things we’ve seen, people we’ve met—I never expected to see and meet—All of it has been an overwhelmingly wonderful experience. This trip has made me more flexible as I’ve learned to appreciate other cultures, living with people in other cultures.
Peter: It’s been cool because we got to see a bunch of animals that most people only dream about and exist in a semi reality.
Steve: I find travel very enjoyable, meeting different people, seeing amazing sights.
Therese: Our trip has been an amazing experience for all of us. We are continually marveling at our experiences, how incredibly and richly we have been blessed throughout our travels, the tremendous growth we have all experienced, the wondrous people we have met and places and sights we have seen, and all that we have learned. It is hard to even describe what a growth-filled experience it has been. As a family, we have, as you can imagine, grown closer than we could have imagined possible. We have had to problem-solve, budget, decide on itineraries, rely on each other, and work together in new and amazing ways. We have also seen individual interests and gifts emerge on this trip that has been very inspiring and gratifying. For instance, Paul, who turned 12 in Kenya, has developed a passion for wildlife and conservation biology and would like to be a zoologist when he grows up. He became a first-rate guide on safari and was able to spot wildlife like a seasoned guide. He is keeping a spreadsheet on all the wildlife we have seen on the trip. Peter, who has expressed interest in law, would like to be an environmental attorney and specialize in the protection of endangered species. He is doing a PowerPoint research project on the endangered rhino. He is also writing a full-scale science fiction novel that addresses cross-cultural issues and international conflict resolution. Steve and I are hoping to start a not-for-profit international organization that will help fund grassroots, sustainable development projects in developing countries (beginning with the two projects we were worked on on this trip—safe drinking water project in Enoosaen and community gardens in Kabale) and consult with communities in our areas of expertise—land-use planning, public, community and media relations, and conflict resolution and group/community facilitation. Carrol initiated projects with the catholic church in Enoosaen, including a sister church project with her church in southern Indiana, and also developed an interest in the wildlife of the region. My friend, Marcia, who is a master gardener and is a long-term volunteer at a community grassroots garden in Eugene, hopes to continue to work with our friends in Kabale and Enoosaen on the community gardens project and the possibility of building cobb houses in these communities (a project based out of a community just south of Eugene).
In addition, we have all learned so much about different cultures, peoples, places, languages, history, the impact of colonialism in the developing world, current affairs, world religions, geography, etc. I am constantly amazed at how fluent Peter and Paul are in geography. They rattle off exotic places across the globe now without hesitation. It’s amazing. And it’s not only the kids. We adults have learned just as much!
- Has your impressions of African people changed since your arrival?
Marcia: We were welcomed as tourists, broke through barriers. Even not working with them, as on safari, and certainly when we did live with them as in Enoosaen and Kabale, my impressions of African people are very lovely, family-like. Here on the beach in Zanzibar, it’s not as personal.
Carrol: I have a greater appreciation for the struggles and challenges that villagers have in the process to being more developed. Like the ladies carrying water for their families; they are very strong, not only strong physically but mentally. I have a lot of respect for the people in the smaller villages.
Also, I’m usually so focused on time. In Africa, however, people come first, and I have a greater appreciation for the adage, “People are more important than time.”
Paul: For me, I don’t know how they can be so spiritual. If I was a kid in one of these poor villages and met a family from America, I might have thought, “They’re so much more privileged than I am. Why couldn’t I have been born to those circumstances? Why didn’t God give me a chance to be born in America? But instead they take what they have and thank God that they even have that, even though it’s much less than what we have.
Therese: This is not a people that have fallen into disillusionment or apathy despite the immense challenges they face in building a new society. Instead, these are a resilient, hardworking people full of hopefulness as they literally help transform their societies day by day.
With the impact of colonialism, I wondered how receptive that Africans would be to white people. However, as with the people of developing countries across the world, we were always treated with hospitality and kindness and open-mindedness. We were also given the opportunity to express our views and judged by the integrity of our own character, rather than by the actions of our government.
Steve: Through my research, I had already formed an impression that was fairly accurate—this was a friendly outgoing, caring people in all of east Africa. Still, I am impressed that they say hello and, beyond that, their ability to acknowledge people consistently as individuals, i.e. shake hands, want to know how the kids are, etc. I didn’t know how their friendliness would come across, but I am very impressed with their acknowledgement of a person, it’s much more than just saying hello.
I came to Africa for the wildlife and it was the people that impressed me the most. This is the first that I’ve ever been completely integrated into a black community. It was rare that I felt fearful of being a minority. Somebody in Kampala said threateningly, “Hey muzungu, how’s your family?” But this was during a tense time right before the national elections. You feel as though you’re outnumbered. However that sentiment dissipates when you get rural. There is a distinction between rural and urban environments, like Kampala and Nairobi.
Kenya doesn’t deserve its high warning status from the U.S. state department because of the bombings that occurred in 2001.
Also, the people’s Christian spirituality is way more than I thought it would be.
Peter: When I came here, I seriously thought that everyone goes out shooting zebras, cheetahs and other wild animals and that’s what they eat. Now I know the real Africa with all its complexities. You really have to experience it to understand what it’s all about.
Paul: Before we arrived in Africa, my concern was about safety because of all the reports I had heard about Nairobi. I wasn’t going to go out of our hotel because I thought I’d be shot or robbed. But, even in Nairobi, I felt really safe, in fact I felt more safe than I did in India (I didn’t feel that safe, like I didn’t enjoy walking around Kolkata, maybe because it was so different than Southeast Asia). I felt perfectly safe in Africa. And, actually while we were in Kampala, we didn’t feel as safe because of the national elections. But it’s actually one of the better capitals, and I think we just hit it at the wrong time. Even after we got robbed in Nairobi, I still feel safe because I thought getting robbed meant getting punched and knocked out and that didn’t happen.
- Where have you stayed in Africa?
(in chronological order)
Ø Nairobi (arrived on January 26)
Ø on safari:
Ø Samburu National Park
Ø Nakuru National Park (town of Nakuru)
Ø Masai Mara National Park (Masai camp outside park)
Ø Enoosaen, Kenya (small village on western frontier of Masai Mara, volunteered on water project, 2 weeks)
Ø Mbale, Uganda
Ø Fort Portal
Ø Kibale Forest National Park (stayed in a tree house in the national park)
Ø Lake Bunyonyi (just outside of Kabale)
Ø Kabale (small town in southern Uganda where we spent a week working on a community gardens volunteer project)
Ø Arusha (traveled through the day and overnight by bus from Kabale, Uganda to Arusha, Tanzania)
Ø Ngorongoro Crater (camped in a town outside of conservation area)
Ø Lushoto (rural village in mountains)
Ø Daresalam (capital of Tanzania)
Ø Zanzibar (ferry to island, part of Tanzania)
Ø Stone Town, Zanzibar island, Tanzania
Ø Kendwa Beach, Zanzibar island
Ø Overnight ferry to Daresalam
Ø All day bus to Nairobi
Ø Depart from Nairobi March 25 for Istanbul, Turkey, mediteranean Europe
- What food have you eaten?
Ø Ugale, looks like mashed potatoes, made from maize flour, cooked over an open fire with water.
Ø Skuma wiki—spinach dish, oftentimes eaten with ugale
Ø Meat: Goat, beef
Ø Pilau: chopped beef with cardamom, served over rice with vegetables
Ø Chapati, Indian flat bread
Ø Fresh g-nuts (peanuts), roasted
Ø Sodas: Krest (bitter lemon), Stoney (ginger), various local beers
Ø Fish: snapper, king kabobs
Ø Vegetables: carrots, green beans, avocado, spinach, etc.
Ø Vegetables, rice and ugale with masala sauce
Ø Lack of sweets
Ø Boiled eggs
Ø Instant African coffee
Ø Hot milk with tea
Ø African tea (milk and tea)
Ø Sautéed vegetables
Ø Masala sauce
Ø Grilled and fried chicken and French fries (chips)
Ø Roasted maize on the cob
Ø Roasted maize stripped from the cob, like corn nuts
Ø Plantain (cooked banana)
Ø Fruits: bananas, mangoes, pineapple, papaya, watermelon
Fast food restaurants are generally found in main cities. There’s a McDonald’s in Nairobi, Kampala, and Daresalam, as well as other types of fast foods, like a chicken fast food like our KFC.
- Beyond the medical precautions discussed on your site, has Africa presented any other medical problems?
All: We have been extraordinarily healthy during out stay in Africa. We have also had the least concerns about health during our trip in Africa. For instance, we haven’t thought about the purity of the water since we’ve been here, whereas on the beginning of the trip, we were always conscious about the purity of the water. I’m not sure if this is because we’re now in our 8th month of travel and our immune system is now well fortified against the diseases of the developing world or because we just came from India where most of us got really sick.
Of course, we take a malarial prophylactic daily and will take it for a month after we leave Africa to prevent contracting malaria. Much of Africa is riddled with malaria. HIV/AIDS is also widespread and is a major social/public health issue; many children are orphaned, as well as afflicted with the disease, straining the social safety net even more than it already is. When we were in Kabale, Uganda, there were many organizations who were devoted to combating issues related to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and HIV/AIDS education is a subject in all schools in Africa, including the primary level.
We have had a few minor bouts of diarrhea, colds, and cuts. All these ailments were treated with our trip first aid kit, which contains traditional (over the counter and prescription) medications, as well as homeopathic remedies and nutritional supplements. Emergen C, a fizzy vitamin enriched drink (comes in light-weight packets) has been very useful in warding off colds and bolstering sagging immune systems.
Carrol and Marcia: We take a multi-purpose vitamin and aspirin daily and other medications as needed, including osteoporosis medication.
- Are cell phones and other high-tech items becoming more available in Africa?
All: Cell phones are widespread in Africa. Most people own one. This phenomenon, prevalent in the developing world, is called jump technology. The way it works is that the developing world, precisely because it is behind the developed world, can jump to new and better technologies, like cellular phone satellite communications, instead of cable communications technologies that require intensive infrastructure, something that developing countries can’t afford anyway. In the end, they actually have a preferable and more efficient communications system.
Also, we have experienced that electricity is intermittent in all east African countries. There is at least on power outage per day. Many businesses must support a generator for auxiliary power.
TV is fairly rare, especially in rural areas. For instance in Kabale, there are only print and radio media outlets. We find that if our rooms come with TV, we no longer turn it on anymore, whereas in the beginning of the trip TV used to be a more coveted commodity.
Peter and Paul have I-pods. In some parts of Southeast Asia, I-pods were common but in most developing countries, including Africa, they are rare. As a result, Peter and Paul do not use them so as not to attract negative attention or tempt the possibility of theft. Because Peter and Paul have significant writing requirements on this trip, we are now wondering if a PDA would have been a better purchase; there has been quite a backlog on our one family laptop.
In Enoosaen, a small Maasai village in southwestern Kenya, Internet is slated for 5 years from now. Our friends were very interested in how to acquire Internet connectivity for and establish an Internet café in the community. They were very interested in knowing more about how to do this.
Carrol: I purchased an international cell phone for the trip but, in general, I have only been able to use it in large cities because the reception has been very limited. Recently, I found out that you can buy relatively inexpensive sim cards in-country. These sim cards allow you to plug into the local communications company and expand your areas of reception significantly.
- Would you return to Africa and if so, which place?
Peter: Yes, I would return to East Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. I’d visit Masai Mara national park in Kenya, Ngorongoro Crater and Zanzibar in Tanzania and Enoosaen, the village we stayed at in Kenya for two weeks, again. I’d also visit Tsavo east and west and Amboseli in Kenya, Parc national des Volcans in Rwanda (to see the gorillas) and Bwindi National Park in Uganda (to see the gorillas as well). I’d also go the Serengeti in Tanzania, especially during the famous wildebeest migration in July/August. In addition and in other parts of Africa, I’d like to see Lake Victoria, Victoria Falls, Sahara Desert, the pyramids of Egypt, parks and wildlife in South Africa, Ethiopia, Morocco and West Africa. Where specifically I would go would depend on the safety in these areas.
Carrol: I’d return to Kenya. I’d like to go on a long safari to all the national parks in Kenya, especially Masai Mara, Samburu and Tsavo. I also very much hope to return to Enoosaen to follow-up on projects I started there, a nursery school at the catholic church, the building of a home for a priest and an orphanage.
I would also like to Parc national des volcans in Rwanda to see the gorillas (I’d also like to work on a gorilla research project if possible) and the Serengeti in Tanzania during the migration of the wildebeests. I also would like to see about the possibility of working on a Christian volunteer project I heard about in Malawi or other countries in Africa.
Steve: I hope to return to Enoosaen and Kabale to continue to work in those villages and to build the partnerships we have begun. I’d also like to visit:
Ø Serengeti, Tanzania,
Ø ferry down Lake Tanganyika and see Gombe Stream (where Jane Goodall’s chimpanzee research center is) and visit south Tanzania parks.
Ø Zanzibar island
Ø Victoria Falls, Zambia (and South Luangwa national park)
Ø Deserts of Namibia
Ø Beaches of Mozambique
Ø Wildlife of Madagascar
Ø Seychelle islands & Mauritius island
Ø Kruger national park in South Africa
Marcia: I’d like to return to the two projects we volunteered at, the community gardens in Kabale, Uganda, and the water project and catholic church in Enoosaen, Kenya. I’d also like to return to Samburu, Nakuru and Masai Mara national parks, as well as visit the Serengeti during the migration of the wildebeests.
Paul: If I could I would spend a year and a month on an extended safari in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda, researching and observing wildlife. I would camp when possible.
In Kenya, I’d go to:
Ø Masai Mara
Ø Tsavo, east and west
Ø Hell’s Gate
Ø Lake Bogoria
Ø Saiwa Swamp
Ø Ngorongoro Crater & conservation area
Ø Serengeti (during the migration)
Ø Selous game reserve (one of the best places to see hunting dogs)
Ø Kilimanjaro (I’d like to climb Kilimanjaro!)
Ø Gombe Stream (Here, I’d like to do a volunteer research project with the chimpanzees with Jane Goodall’s research center.)
Ø Mahale mountain
Ø Semliki Valley
Ø Murchison Falls
Ø Kibale Forest national park
Ø Queen Elizabeth NP
Ø Mt. Elgon
Ø Kidepo Valley
Ø Parc national de L’Akagera
Ø Parc national des Volcans (see gorillas, do volunteer research project)
Ø Ferry down Lake Tanganyika and go across into Tanzania
Therese: Yes, absolutely! We have loved Africa. It is an amazing place with abundant resources and unparalleled wildlife, but by far it’s most precious resource is its people and, though I would most definitely like to see more of its wildlife and natural areas, I really want to return to see and work again with our friends in Enoosaen and Kabale and other communities in Africa interested in grassroots, sustainable projects (see my answer to question #2 to find out more about long-term ventures with Africa we’d like to initiate).