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Come over here to see that people in Africa don’t walk around naked and do not live in trees!
Tuesday, 13 October 2015 Written by fra Ivica Perić

Kivumu

The continent of Africa is generally unknown to most people. Partly due to lack of knowledge, but also due to prejudice, people’s perception of what life is like in Africa is most often distorted. And all of this is because of all those movies and articles that depict Africans as weirdos. A lot of people desire to come to see for themselves what we do and how we do it, but ignorance gives birth to prejudice, prejudice gives birth to fear, and fear compels people to ask all sorts of questions which often have hardly anything to do with common sense...

Lately a lot of people have been contacting me. They wish to come to our mission as volunteers or visitors. Their curiosity ‘drives’ them; they want to come, and some of them have all but made up their minds to come. And then they start with the questions that literally drive me crazy

And these very questions have opened my eyes. They have served as proof to me about how little people know about Africa. On the one hand Africa is exotic and attractive and their desire to visit the continent is strong, while on the other hand it scares the hell out of them, as if their lives will be in danger every second of their stay here.

Kivumu

People here indeed are poor, uneducated, living in conditions utterly unimaginable for an average European. They are often both hungry and thirsty, but they are not evil! Many people here walk around barefoot but trust me, at least here in Rwanda, people do not walk around naked! Many people here live in tiny houses made of mud bricks. And they will happily invite you in and make you feel welcome. But no, people here do not live in trees!

Many African countries have nature preserves and national parks where you can see lions, elephants, giraffes, leopards, buffalos… But no, those animals will not be waiting for you outside your door if you come to visit us!

Kivumu

Kivumu

From the letters that people write to me I have come to the conclusion that many people think of Africa as a small country. People rarely write to me saying they would like to come to Rwanda. People mostly say they would like to come to Africa, and from their words I gather that they think Africa could be traversed from east to west, from north to south in an hour.

Africa is the second largest continent in size and there are 54 countries in it. If a draught has hit Sudan, this does not mean it is not raining in Rwanda. Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania often gets snowfall, but it does not mean it is cold on Kenyan beaches. If a disease broke out in Sierra Leone it does not mean people in Ethiopia are in danger.

It would be the same as if, due to fear of a terrorist attack on a railroad station in Madrid, you cancel your trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Kivumu

There is another thing I noticed about people who come here to do volunteer work. They want to force the people here to change. And that is a completely wrong approach. We do not want to change people. We want them to stay themselves, original and full of life, laughing. We just provide education to them so that they can have the chance of a better future with the possibility of employment in order to escape poverty.

Rwandans – and I think this applies to most Africans – do not force people to change but allow them to be originals and not copies. They have respect for their fellow human beings and love them as they are. Here is an interesting example: When they hear the rhythm of the drums or any other kind of music they immediately get on their feet to dance. They do not care if someone is watching them. And our people, most often, are embarrassed to get up and dance because they are worried that they cannot dance and that they would look silly.

Kivumu

People also want to know what we eat here. The food is different and we mostly eat beans, polenta, sweet potatoes and other vegetables. Everything is fresh and freshly picked from our garden. Sometimes a food item that can be bought in some of the larger and better-stocked stores ends up on our table. If a visitor wants to eat something that reminds him of home – candy, cheese, smoked meat products – even that can be found in larger stores, but the prices are much, much higher than in European countries.

And speaking about food… For people in Rwanda it is completely normal to eat some types of insects, such as flying ants or locusts. They are very tasty! I suggest you try them!

Maybe this will make your faces frown with disgust, but trust me, Rwandans find it incredible that we eat snails, frogs’ legs and cheese. Cultural differences should be embraced as a challenge. Let us all experience new things!

Kivumu

Kivumu

And when it comes to diseases, many people write to me saying they would be happy to come but that they are afraid of malaria. Malaria is a disease that can be compared to our flu. People die from it only if they don’t get treated. It is uncomfortable, it is exhausting, but if you treat it properly you get over it very quickly.

Africa should serve as an example to all of us! You can feel life with every step here. People here have time for friends and the ‘person’ is the centre of attention - not what that man owns.

But the best way to change your mind and see how people live here is to tear down the walls of your prejudice and come to Africa... to Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania... There are so many beautiful countries here.

Translated by Branimir Mlakić
Edited by Valerie Kae Ken

 
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