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Published: September 30th 2017
Geo: -17.9422, 25.8412
There really is a tourist bubble that exists here in Africa, with a different set of rules for us compared to the locals. Even something as simple as crossing the border is eyeopening, as we saw entering into Botswana and Zimbabwe. Sometimes it's blatant, where there is a dedicated lineup for tourists and VIPs, and other times it's somewhat unofficial, where taxi drivers or tour guides shuffle tourists to the front of the line, avoiding the hour-long wait that locals must endure. It's extremely unfair for locals, but it illustrates the true nature of people - if you could, wouldn't you take advantage of a situation, even if it meant stepping over your fellow man? I felt bad jumping to the front of the line, but did I refuse, and instead wait forever like the rest of the people? Nope ...
The gap between the rich and the poor here is enormous, and perhaps the best example we saw of it was the Royal Livingstone Hotel in Zambia. It probably costs close to $500 per night for one of their more basic rooms, roughly 600 times the cost of a loaf of bread in town. The cost of other simple
items in Livingstone is off the charts, shockingly expensive, even for things like soap and suntan lotion. Having to replenish our supply of toiletries the other day after our backpacks were delayed, we couldn't believe that many of these items cost double what you would pay for them in Canada. Chapstick? $4. Suntan lotion? $20. How does a local afford to live here?
We've encountered nothing but friendly people in Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. While it may be easy to assume that it's because we are viewed as nothing more than money, there seems to be a genuine quality about the people here. Vendors are always trying to sell you something, but are nowhere near as pushy as those you would find in Mexican resorts, or even worse, the souks of Morocco. Once they realize you won't buy anything, they will still have a nice chat with you, trying to learn something about you and where you are from.
It's surprising that locals don't harbour any resentment toward tourists - sure, we bring in money, and therefore jobs, to the people. But I would think if our roles were reversed, I would hate tourists and what they represent. We come here and
stay in fancy resorts, take expensive tours, and wine and dine on imported goods, spending in a week an amount that may sustain a local family for several months. We spend and we waste, while villagers can't even afford to buy their children paper and pens to do their homework, instead relying on donations from foreigners. It's a testament to the character of the people here that they can still be so gracious and welcoming to tourists.
While I was out buying groceries for dinner tonight, I came across a vendor we had chatted with the other day, and of course, he tried to sell me something, once again. But in a moment of honesty, he confessed that he just wanted some money to buy some bread for his family, but rather than ask for 5000 Kwacha, the equivalent of $1 CAD, he'd prefer that he give me a trinket for that amount. I told him that I really didn't want anything, but that if he really needed it, I'd buy him a loaf of bread.
Who knows if that bread ever made it to his family's dinner table, as I noticed that he was carefully checking the prices of
... they say it's better on the Zimbabwe side, but we found a visit to the Zambian side to also be worthwhile.
all the loaves in the bakery, trying to select the most expensive one - it's entirely possible that his intent was to sell the loaf of bread and take the money. I'd like to believe that didn't happen, that it really did go toward helping his family, in some small way. In the grand scheme of things, it was the tiniest of gestures, but still, it's comforting to know that I stepped outside that tourist bubble, even if it was only for a short moment, and returned the kindness that has been extended to us throughout the past few days.
Visiting Africa underscores the triviality of the worries in First World Nations, highlighting how lucky we are, and how good we have it. Economic and political stability, easy access to health care, clean water, the ability to provide food and shelter for ours families - these are all things we take for granted. Here in Africa, the majority of people can only dream of a World where all that is possible, and probably spend a great deal of time worrying about trying to achieve things on that list.
Perhaps our most grim reminder of the challenges of African life was
found in Botswana, which has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the World. In the bathroom of the Chobe Marina Lodge, one of the fancier resorts in the country, we found a free condom dispenser, part of the government's approach to combating the problem. Even our short drive from the Zambian border featured numerous billboards imploring people to practice safe sex, and even for mothers to have their babies tested for HIV. Imagine if this approach was needed in North America? Thankfully, it isn't required, since our little tourist bubble extends outside of Africa, giving us all a safe place to hide in.
Africa has it all for the tourist, yet many are afraid to come visit this incredible continent. Sure, much of its reputation is deserved, and there are places that should be avoided completely, and even in the safe areas, your guard should never be let down. Amazing experiences, amazing sights, and amazing people - these are some of the biggest reasons that make Africa such a worthwhile destination. But perhaps one reason trumps them all - the opportunity for us tourists to help our fellow citizens of the World obtain a better life. Don't
think of it as a handout - that dollar you spend here could end up paying for a child's healthcare, and those pens and pads you donated to the local school could provide the promise of a better life, through better education. Don't the people here deserve to be sheltered within our little tourist bubble?
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