Tuesday, July 18, 2006

ROAD WISDOM

As we were getting ready to leave Africa, I was searching for a single image that would serve as a metaphor for our time here. I think I finally found it, during the journey through the Drakensbergs, back from Okhahlamba to Johannesburg, on the day we were to start our journey home.

As we were zipping along the road at 120 KPH (don't even ask me what that translates to in MPH, I still have no idea), casually observing the large number of pedestrians walking along the roadside even in a remote wilderness area such as this, we saw one pedestrian who really gave us pause. She was wearing what appeared to be a huge, flourescent orange witch's hat atop her head! It made her look for all the world like some sort of brightly festooned and macabre sorceress.

It took me a moment to get images of Halloween out of my head, but then I quickly realized what I was really seeing. There were a number of road cones here and there along the way, where road construction was occurring. (Road construction seems forever to be occurring here in Africa.) She had simply picked one of these up and placed it proudly atop her noggin.

Why? My best guess is it made her more visible, as a pedestrian, walking along a high speed road. Very creative!

Such resourcefulness, I think, will forever stay with me as my primary impression of the Africans I have met. They seem to have the ability to make so much out of so little.

Sure, Africa has its problems, and it is very hard for us Westerners to figure out why on earth (from our perspective) they don't seem to plan and execute self-improvement or development projects more effectively. But Africans know how to live life "in the moment." Conversely, many we met seemed to have difficulty doing any sort of strategic planning that would help them make long-term improvements to their lives and those of their family, community, and country.

I am convinced much of this is just a way of life, the impact of the culture. They are used to living much more slowly, and exhibit a great deal of patience about things that typically frustrate us Westerners in short order.

I wanted to snap a photo, but Mandy (the photographer) insisted that it's best not to be a "tourist," to hang out of the window of the car with your camera and snap photos (without permission) of people as you whiz by, as if they were animals in a zoo. I gnashed my teeth, but she won out in the end. I am learning to respect the dignity of Africa.

So, what I will do is provide you with a photo of the scenery that we saw, during this beautiful drive ... and ask you to simply imagine an elegant and stately African woman, walking alongside this lonely road, with a bright orange construction warning cone atop her head!

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