Monthly Archives: May 2012

Reverse culture shock


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Back in London for a short visit. It certainly feels that way round, a visit – looking forward to returning home to Cape Town. Of course it is wonderful to catch up with friends and family but it does feel a little strange being here – it’s all so familiar and yet I feel a bit detached, unconnected, alien.

Small things irritate me disproportionately – especially conspicuous consumption and waste. I find it hard to explain to people what I am doing in South Africa and what it is about the place that is so special. Fortunately many of my friends have been and do understand, but still, it is not easy.

“People had warned me about the culture shock of going to Africa. Nothing prepared me for the culture shock of coming the other way. No matter how much I talked no-one understood what I was saying.”
Richard Dowden from his book ‘Africa: Altered States and Ordinary Miracles’


Africa – feeling more alive


I have received the book ‘Africa: Altered States and Ordinary Miracles’ by Richard Dowden as a gift from my father. It looks excellent and I am looking forward to getting into it. He’s a journalist that has spent much of his life travelling to different African nations: observing, listening and enquiring.

One quote from his book really struck a cord with me. It’s a beautiful description of how I feel about living in South Africa.

“Westerners arriving in Africa for the first time are always struck by its beauty and size–even the sky seems higher. And they often find themselves suddenly cracked open. They lose inhibitions, feel more alive, more themselves, and they begin to understand why, until then, they have only half lived. In Africa the essentials of existence–light, earth, water, food, birth, family, love, sickness, death–are more immediate, more intense. Visitors suddenly realize what life is for. To risk a huge generalization: [In the West], amid our wasteful wealth and time-pressed lives we have lost human values that still abound in Africa.”
Richard Dowden

It’s true, when I am there I feel more alive, more myself… with less inhibitions. Life does seem more immediate and intense and certainly everything seems bigger, especially the sky.

Africa is so huge, it is always dangerous to make generalisations. People often aren’t aware of how big Africa truely is. I came across this diagram which might give you an idea… As the Goons used to put it, “Africa is a very big place,” … “well don’t stand so close to me then!”

More details about ‘Africa: Altered States and Ordinary Miracles’ by Richard Dowden:


After a lifetime’s close observation of the continent, one of the world’s finest Africa correspondents has penned a landmark book on life and death in modern Africa. In captivating prose, Dowden spins tales of cults and commerce in Senegal and traditional spirituality in Sierra Leone; analyzes the impact of oil and the internet on Nigeria and aid on Sudan; and examines what has gone so badly wrong in Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Congo. From the individual stories of failure and success comes a surprising portrait of a new Africa emerging–an Africa that, Dowden argues, can only be developed by its own people. Dowden’s master work is an attempt to explain why Africa is the way it is and calls for a re-examination of the perception of Africa as “the dark continent.” He reveals it as a place of inspiration and tremendous humanity.