Saturday, 26 February 2011


Kenya, near Mithini, 70km from Nairobi

‘People go to Africa and confirm what they already have in their heads’, wrote Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe , ‘they fail to see what is there in front of them’.  Perhaps this is what should be printed on the immigration forms for African countries, as a friendly note of advice, even caution.  Better still, replace the words ‘go to Africa’ with simply ‘travel’, and emboss it on the back of all passports, as a mantra that reminds the bearer that unless they open their eyes they may as well turn back home.  Achebe is trying, I think, to be provocative, challenging his reader to prove him wrong, saying ‘yes, I am patronising you, but am I right? Well, am I, you punk? AM I’?

My view is that expectations are the traveler’s (and I use the term loosely) enemy, that a spirit of adventure is not fueled by expectation, but by a lack of expectations, that one should indeed ‘travel in hope rather than expectation’. For example, one of the less pleasant results of internet travel discussion forums, such as Trip Advisor, is that it creates a culture of expectation, of ‘knowing what I’m getting’, an implicit suggestion that one can avoid mistakes by knowing what to expect.  But if you know what to expect from what other people have told you, why bother going at all?  The wisdom of the crowd certainly has its place, it’s the bedrock of democracy after all, but it sits uneasily with the spirit of adventure.  Or as Henry Ford, of motor car fame, put it, ‘if I had asked the people what they wanted they’d have asked for a faster horse, with an iPod connection on the stereo and AC’.   Take away your expectations, stop listening too intently to the crowd, and the world moves from monochrome to technicolour, and you begin to see what is in front of you.

This is an attempt to give a more articulate answer to the question ‘is this what you expected’ on arrival at the orphanage, to the answer I did give, namely ‘er, dunno really’.  I can tell you what is in front of me however, about what day to day life is like as a volunteer, and about how it makes me feel and think.  It might not be what you expect…

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