For as long as I can remember, reminders of my mom’s time in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer have been present in my life- our house is decorated with art, furniture, and musical instruments from Botswana, she has come to do cultural presentations at my school, and her Peace Corps friends are like aunts and uncles to me. The title of this blog post, “Ke Kubugile,” a phrase meaning “I woke with the hippos” in the language of Setswana, is something I grew up hearing. I chose to take my Global Citizen Year in Senegal because my mom has always wanted to take myself and my brother to Africa, a place where she found community and grew as a leader; with my bridge year, I can both understand her experiences better and forge my own path.
With that said, here’s some advice she gives about living in Africa from one generation of travelers to the next:
1. Be prepared for (sometimes brutal) honesty- while it’s not necessarily a bad thing, the African people will be very straightforward with you, whether it’s about your physical appearance, your personality, or anything else.
2. Try everything (food, activities, etc) once, especially if it is what your host family typically does- even if you’re pretty sure you won’t like it. However, also trust your gut as to what feels comfortable to you.
3. Get used to standing out, especially when traveling- there really is no way to be incognito when you look so different and are still getting used to navigating your new environment.
4. People are as curious about and confused by you as you are them, but Africans are incredibly nonjudgemental and accepting of everyone- any initial awkwardness will eventually dissipate.
5. Don’t take the opportunity to see your home country, America or other, from outside eyes lightly- you will understand its flaws and excesses more, but will also learn the importance of not taking anything for granted just because of where you happened to be born.
6. Seriously, don’t forget the sunscreen!
Above: my mom during her time in Botswana as a Peace Corps Volunteer