“Africa is just one big place.”
Africa is often thought of as a single place in the media and pop culture, like when Australia’s shadow foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek referred to Africa as a country. But the continent contains 54 countries, thousands of cultures, an estimated 2,000 languages, and widely divergent landscapes. Africa is home to the largest desert on earth (the Sahara) and the highest free-standing mountain in the world (Kilimanjaro). More than 600 new species have been discovered in Madagascar in just the last decade.
“Africa is dangerous.”
Recent terrorist attacks in Kenya by the extremist group Al-Shabab, the ongoing conflict with Boko Haram in Nigeria, the difficulty establishing a solid government in Somalia, civil war in South Sudan, and the whole Kony 2012 movement hasn’t helped Africa’s image. Combined with our cultural memory of “blood diamonds,” the Rwandan genocide, and Black Hawk Down, most people’s mental image of Africa is that of a place teeming with conflict and danger at every corner.
“Traveling in Africa is only for voluntourism or safaris.”
I remember sitting in a restaurant in Namibia with some locals when one of them asked cheekily, “So what are you here to save?” After all, Africa sees a large number of voluntourists who come to save something and try to do good (though often do the opposite). 47% of Peace Corps volunteers serve in Africa and, in 2014, South Africa alone welcomed 2.2 million volunteers!
“You need a lot of money to travel through Africa.”
Since most people assume they have to go on a safari, they think it’s expensive to travel in Africa. But Africa doesn’t have to be the land of safaris that cost several thousand dollars per day and beach hotels with private butlers.
“Africa is dirty and underdeveloped.”
As I drove into Rwanda, I couldn’t believe how clean everything was, with almost zero trash on the side of the road. I was equally amazed by the sprawling mansions I saw upon entering the capital, Kigali. Since the mid-’90s, Rwanda has pulled over one million people out of poverty and maintained peace, as well as involving more women in politics (64% of people in parliament are women) than any other country in the world.
“Africa is full of diseases.”
The Ebola scare a couple of years ago prompted my friends to worry that heading to South Africa might put me in danger. The reality was that Europe, where I was living at the time, was actually closer geographically to the epidemic than South Africa. (Again, people are geographically challenged when it comes to this continent.)
“Traveling alone there, especially as a woman, is a terrible idea.”
Tell anyone that you plan to travel alone to Africa and you might be met with horrified reactions, due to all of the perceptions listed above. I was admittedly a little bit afraid to travel solo in Mozambique, mostly because I couldn’t find much information about it that was positive, but I went anyway and came out of the experience with tons of new friends and wonderful memories.