Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The End of Africa


(The end of Africa. Indian Ocean on the right, Atlantic on the left.)

Cape Town, the end of the journey. I'm here. Forgive me if I get a bit nostalgic.
I retired from my illustrious career in aid work on January 1 with the goal of traveling until I either reached Cape Town or ran out of money. On Monday, April 19th I pulled into the city limits of the southernmost city of note on the continent. Three and a half months, nine sovereign nations and roughly 11 thousand kilometers over the road. I spent most of this time not really thinking about the bigger picture of where I'm going or doing any significant planning. The map in head rarely extended much past the next town, and decisions were pretty exclusively made on a day to day basis.

(Cape Town and Table Mountain as seen from the V&A waterfront.)

The one constant, however detached, has been the symbolic destination of Cape Town. It's been my Mecca and I haven't turned away from it many times since I left Uganda. Having made it, I've kind of been at a loss with what to do. I guess I'm done now, whether I really want to be or not. I suppose I could just turn around and go back up to Namibia- like Forrest Gump when he walks across the country, reaches the Pacific and just turns around for the Atlantic because he doesn't know what else to do. As much as I try to live a life in emulation of mentally retarded shrimp boat captains, it just doesn't seem like the right move this time.

So having reached the end of the road and finding that I don't really have much else to do, I booked a ticket back home. So that's it, I set a date and the clock on my life has resumed ticking. Everyone asks me if I'm sad to be leaving and the funny thing is that honestly I'm not. As distasteful as the idea of getting a real job and reentering productive society is, I'm not really scared of it anymore. It's time to be an adult and do adult things.


I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to take a year plus off and take a good look at what kind of life I want to live and what I'm willing to do in order to get it.

(The Cape of Good Hope, so called southernmost point in Africa)

I stepped off a plane over a year ago with my brother in a very third world country in Africa with little more than a couple phone numbers and an expense account. No lifeline, safety catch or do-overs, we had to either build a life and company or fail. It was trial by fire in the best and scariest sense. I was homeless for a day in a town that was basically one big refugee camp not five years earlier. I learned to bargain my ass off for everything from a tomato to rent. I got hoodwinked by a no-good Rasta, and I made some amazing friends that changed my entire perspective on Africa. Just when we established some order and I thought I had things straight, everything got turned upside down.

From the sky fell a staff of volunteers who were eager, hard working, and just as clueless as me. Over the next several months all the things I thought I had figured out were tested as new sets of eyes saw every problem in a new way. I was now a manager attempting to direct a group of coworkers with a combined zero days of relevant experience (myself definitely included) in an organization with few rules, structure or vision. I also became Mr. Police Man- at least on paper- and as the only person who knew my way around had to keep a bunch of party-hungry college students alive in a region of Africa blacklisted by the US State Dept for insecurity. If that weren't hard enough, I had to do this while spending 24 hours a day living with that group of people I was supposed to be bossing around. I was not much of a manager, probably not even for a day, and I lost my grip on things pretty immediately.

Over the next few months as everything spiraled out of my control I became stressed, then depressed and finally completely disillusioned. I gave up trying to control the organization that had done more or less exactly what I wanted for the entire two years of its history and allowed things to just happen. In short I stopped caring and decided to just live my life for me. I ditched out and started wandering. Completing the descent into gypsyhood I pulled up my roots and set off for whatever the world had in store for me. Hitchhiking, buses, whatever; the only constant has been the hot sun and the pack on my back. Since then my life has been one long recess: scrabbling around in the sand with dirt on my knees and chasing girls; I just substituted kickball for drinking.

A few months later it's all coming to an end, it's time for me to get back to the world. I've been thinking of taking it full circle by visiting the University of Pretoria Center for Microfinance and giving them the same silly pitch I made at Makerere University Business School over a year ago. Part of me really wants to, but I just can't seem to get my fingers to write the email. It just seems dangerously close to working, and truth be told I still just don't really care. Luckily, I'm in Cape Town and there's plenty to distract me.

(Africa. Atlantic on the left, Indian on the right.)

No comments:

Post a Comment