Journey Across Africa

Below you'll find stories of my two year experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the small West African country of The Gambia. After my service I traveled solo, with only a small backpack, across West Africa; reaching N'Djamena, Chad after two months. Visa problems for Libya and Civil unrest in the Darfur region of Western Sudan made Chad my last stop.

Peace Corps Service: Aug. 2003 - July 2005

Journey Across Africa: July 2005 - Sept. 2005

Name:
Location: Boston, MA, United States

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

End of overland

Well, this is the end of my over-land trip. While I didn't make it to my goal of Cairo, I can claim, correctly, that I travelled across all of West Africa. Since crossing into Chad I'm now technically in Central Africa. How does one make that distinction? It helps if your currency says 'West Africa' or 'Central Africa' on it. The same currency is used in most countries in their respective regions.

While in N'Djamena, Chad I've been told it wasn't safe. You see the American Embassay staff members being chauffered to and from work from the Embassy in durable Landrovers This point was further illustrated when, while walking down the main street I've walked down a half-dozen times before in the few days I've been here, a European man honked his horn at me to come to him. He said this to me in English.

"You don't want to be walking on that side of the street. The guards over there, by the military camp, they will beat you or shoot you."

I was surprised to hear that! Not so much because of the threat but because I did cross that military camp just the other day. The guards neither beat me nor shot at me, but firmly (but politely) told me to cross the street. I thanked the European for his advice and continued walking.

For Peace Corps this is their third time in this country, being evacuated three times before. They served from

1966-1979;
1987-1990;
1990-1998;
2003-present

And currently only have 31 volunteers with their first group, since coming back, now just finishing their two-year term. Peace Corps wouldn't be here if it wasn't safe at the grass-roots level. When volunteers, in their village, are unsafe as a whole they evacuate the volunteers out of the country.

There are a few levels of safety advice (This is my personal view, but applicable to most countries)

==

Washington, DC
"Nowhere is safe for an American, except for America and our Allies"

Embassy in the country you are in
"Just stay outside the capital."

Peace Corps Volunteers
"The whole country's safe, except for this neighborhood, or this town, or this region."

Locals
"the whole country's safe, except for this neighborhood, or this town, or this region, at this time of day or week"

==

After a while you begin not to be as afraid of the unknown as Travel Advisory warnings suggest on the government webpage. That isn't to say places aren't safe, but they tend to overexaggerate a bit.

Here everyone carries knives. Why? I even asked that question to a Chadian.

"Why does everyone carry a knife?"
"To protect ourselves from people who carry knives."

I looked up at an akward angle trying to see the contradiction and circularity in that argument. Believe it or not, there is none. The parents WANT their children to carry a knife to school, because if they didn't they would get stabbed if a fight broke out and they DIDN'T have a knife.

Countries even do that principle on a grander scale.

"Why do we have nuclear weapons?"
"To protect ourselves from the countries who have nuclear weapons"

I've walked all over town at all hours of the day, meeting and chatting with the Chadians and looking at their shops and main street. I observed the volunteers rule of not being on that street not at midnight, but in early afternoons of Friday and Saturday. They even get a taxi around town around those times. Friday especially since the street is dead from everyone at the Mosque, and therefore more a potential to get robbed by stragglers (and go unnoticed).

I've been going out to eat with the volunteers, seeing the town, and seeing it's not as dangerous as that one European man said - if you take percautions. (i.e. taxi at night)

What could be a better way of ending your trip in Africa? By almost being arrested! A nice building that I saw, and took a picture of, ended up being the Vice President's second wife's home. People came out of no where and grabbed my camera and bag, yelling for the police. One even ran off to find one to expediate the process. While I tried to talk my way out of it, they held on to my bag until the police would arrived. After five-to-ten minutes of waiting the man who held my camera and bag threw them back at me and with a wave of the hand told me I better run away before the police came. Not wanting anything to make me miss my flight out of here the next day, I took his advise and went back to the Peace Corps Office - and didn't leave until dinner time!



All in all, it was a good trip. I learned a lot, experienced a lot, and am satisfied with what I did accomplished. After spending a few weeks in Athens relaxing I'll be heading home for the first time since leaving for service.

-MIke

3 Comments:

Blogger Jess said...

A legitimate comment? What?! Might I suggest you use the word verification?

Your PC experience has been interesting... It's gotten me really excited for my own adventure, unfortunately not until May, they say. It will be worlds different for me -female, southern Africa, health ed- but I still think reading through all this has been crazy helpful.
In case no one has told you, there is a south-east Michigan RPCV group... They meet for potlucks and stories. Jeri Titus, a recruiter in Chicago, has the info. Sorry I don't!

11/11/2005 06:31:00 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

I think you got all of them! More than I even knew actually...

6/25/2006 05:58:00 PM  
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