After an absence of more than 5 years, a dear friend has provoked me to pick up the virtual pen, and share some of my experiences from across West Africa.
This particular story starts while travelling for the umpteenth time from London, Heathrow to Abidjan, Houphouet Boigny.
This flight is both loved and hated. This flight that drags one from the comfort of the European existence, towards the vortex of reality and festering celebration of life that is Abidjan.
Leaving London, passing over perfectly manicured homes, gardens and farmland, seeing the landscape as you land in Paris and then again when one departs a few hours later. This European illusion that wants you to know that all is well, everything has structure, all is in order.
The first hint of something different arrives into view, if you are lucky enough for a precursor, catching a glance of one of the Mediterranean islands.
The Balearic Islands stands out in stark contrast to the continent, as if they were ripped from both Africa and Europe, left with their rough mountain peaks making a defiant statement to the flat lethargic seas which surround.
The first glimpse of the African continent is surreal and mysterious. The northern coast line oozing with Arabic history both past and present. One that is so foreign and deeply unknown to the average westerner.
The intense emotional allure of foreign lands and foreign cultures.
This continent, at first appearing bare but habitable, soon gives way to Algerian and Malian Saharan sands. The touch of Harmattan dust visible on every horizon, dunes and sands stretch for miles in every direction.
As an African coming for south of the equator, one is both excited and confused with the uncertainty this brings. Excited to see this beloved continent once again and yet confused, as if exploring an unfamiliar part, of a once familiar lover. This northern part of the continent, with a history stretching back way further in time, and completely dissimilar to those green jungles and savannah’s south of the Sahara.
The checkered past of conquest and counter conquest. Religious revolution and the dominance and tenacity of the desert people. Staring out at this sand, 25’000 feet below, one can feel the heat of this desert reflecting back mercilessly.
As the plane drifts further south, the terrain slowly starts to change and morph. A few green patches emerge, the flash of a river in the distance. Water, the essence of life, changes the personality of this continent. Habitation becomes more prominent. The red granite dust and soil so familiar across ‘our’ Africa begins to emerge, striking cords of recognition across the cortex of the brain.
Down south we say that Africa burns in winter time. For the northern sphere this is true as well. Once the rainy season is over, from up high, one can see fires lighting up across the land, over this pseudo winter that the tropics experience during the primary four months of the year.
As the sun sets, initially painting the land in deep oranges and red, the land steadily moves from deep blues, maroons and slowly edges to black, as if to hide its true identity.
A reminder that one cannot experience Africa from a distance. She cannot be understood from a lofty height.
To experience her, to taste her joy, her pain, to feel her passion you have to draw closer. One has to descend and dwell among her people. Feel their pulse, listen to their beat and watch her bleed to know the true pain that she is experiencing.
I will leave this post with a musical recommendation. Farafina, by Mousa Traore.
His melodious rapping style captures the heart of this part of West African, with its joy, sweat, blood, tears and political corruption. May his desire to see Africa awaken and throw off the cloak of inferiority, become a reality in the coming years.