When I was a kid, the winters in upstate New York seemed to never end. Gray, dreary, frigid and snowy, the long black nights meant a lot of time spent indoors. Passing those long hours required a lively imagination, and that I had in abundance. My mind would often venture to far off exotic places I’d heard of. And, one place just about every kid had heard of, was Africa.
Even though much in Africa has changed since I was a boy, it still exerts a powerful grip on the imagination. To be sure, the massive continent has equally massive problems — corruption, war, famine, poverty, pollution, poaching, and now, radical Islamists spreading terror across a broad swath of the continent. But, despite all this, much of Africa can still bring out the kid in you.
Governments and private entities can set aside habitat to save it from exploitation, but they can’t re-write the fundamentals of nature — population growth will continue to put pressure on many species and ecosystems across the continent. Likewise, poaching will continue unless demand for the things that drive it in the first place is ended. And the long-term effects of climate change will undoubtedly impact the continent in ways yet unknown.
Finally, no discussion of Africa is complete without including its people. From the Maasai of the Serengeti, to the Zulus of southern Africa and everyone in between, the people of Africa are astounding in their diversity. Try to think of all the ways that African culture has influenced the world and you begin to get a sense of the magnitude of the African soul that is writ large in its people.
In Rwanda, I met a man whose family was killed during the genocidal madness of 1994. Eight-years-old at the time, he was the only member of his family to survive. Despite losing a leg and an eye, he was one of the most cheerful and caring souls I’d ever come across.
Time and time again, most Africans I met showed an abundance of humor, common-sense wisdom, and kindness to visitors. It’s as if they know what the rest of us have forgotten: that we all have a deep connection to this continent where our ancestors took their first tentative steps over two-million years ago.