When people ask, “How was Africa?” I respond, “Botswana was great!”
As an African-American who cannot trace her roots, I have always wanted to know more about Africa and the many, diverse cultures therein. When I was offered the opportunity to spend my entire summer in Botswana this summer, I was elated! I would finally be given the chance to visit Africa. Many family members have visited Africa before and offered me advice and things to expect from my summer in Botswana. I think this is where I first went wrong. You cannot generalize Africa to one experience, culture, or way of life. Africa is a continent, yet everyone, myself included, expects it to be one way after seeing one region. You cannot go to Mexico and assume Canada will be a similar experience just because they share a landmass. My mother’s experience in Ghana could shed no light on what to expect from Botswana.
While sitting on the plane waiting for landing, I pictured safari drives, sunsets with acacia trees, markets, colorful clothing and everything else depicted by television and movies like The Lion King. What I experienced in actuality was nothing of the sort (except for the safari drives), but was still one of the best summers of my life. My second night in Botswana, I looked up at the sky and saw a sea of stars. It seemed as though I could see the entire galaxy. And as I lay there underneath the stars, I felt humbled. In the city, everything moves so fast that you have no time to sit and reflect. It’s hard to remember how vast the world is. But underneath those stars, my life slowed down in the best way possible.
My favorite part of Batswana culture is the sense of community. Everyone is so connected to one another. There’s such a selfless nature—an environment of giving without thinking first of what you will receive in exchange. Everyone is so kind and giving simply for the sake of being kind and giving. There’s also this huge emphasis on family that I recognize in African-American culture. I always wondered why I have so many “aunties” and “cousins.” In Botswana, if you loved someone, they became your family. I went to junior secondary school (middle school) events and other events where you could feel the familial nature and, most of all, the unapologetic happiness. Proud mothers and aunts would do this scream that bordered on a yodel to express their pride in their children. The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” holds very true here.
There are many misconceptions about the “African” experience. Having an “African” experience is a misnomer and you cannot trivialize the distinct cultures to one general experience. There are forty-seven countries on the African continent. Experts say there are up to 3,000 dialects and languages spoken in Africa. This summer in Botswana taught me that Africa is not all The Lion King or the swollen bellies seen in infomercials. I did not have Simba outside of my window but I did go on many safari drives. I did not learn “African,” I learned Setswana. I did not live in a hut but I did learn many Batswana traditions. Above all, I learned—not just for me but also for my family. When people ask me, “How was Africa?” I will respond, “Botswana was great!”