When I was young, I had assumed that people in the western world wear bed sheets and sandals to work. Can you blame me? Most if not every non-African looking foreigner was always in ridiculously loose-fitting pants, sandals or very dirty sneakers and ragged tops. But I traveled and now I know better, read books and stopped assuming things as I grew older. That said, I would like us to look at some of the things that non-African foreigners need to stop doing in Africa.
Homeless peoples wardrobe
Many people going to Africa have this idea that life will be rugged, dirty, and something of an extended camping trip. This results in a tendency to stuff suitcases with quick dry t-shirts, zip-off pants, and other REI-esque outdoors wear. While some of this can be useful – quick dry clothes are great when you have to hand wash clothes in rainy season – you probably won’t end up wearing any of this on an everyday basis. Especially if you’re in an urban area you’re better off packing regular street clothes. Also, don’t forget that looking good is important in a lot of African cultures, so having a nicer outfit or two will show people that you respect their customs and yourself.
Thinking Africa is the middle-of-nowhere
Similar to the first point, first time travelers to Africa frequently have this misconception that all of Africa is remote, off-the-grid, and essentially the middle of nowhere. While it’s true that some areas are still totally detached from the globalization and the rest of the world, most of the places where students will end up living are more connected than you’d think.
American pop music has infiltrated African nightlife, a growing number of Africans have Facebook and Twitter accounts, and you should be able to buy any personal essentials you need, (which also means don’t over pack by bringing years worth of shampoo – they have shampoo in Africa.)
Assuming it’s hot everywhere in Africa
Even if you do end up in a spot in Africa that actually is hot all the time, many areas are at a higher elevation (Nairobi for example) or at a longitude far from the equator (Cape Town) and get cold enough to need warm clothing. Avoid freezing your butt off and pack a sweater. Being cold is no fun, but being cold with no central heating is worse.
If you have never been faced with overt poverty before, it can be heartbreaking to live somewhere rampant with street children and beggars. Although this ‘mistake’ might be more of a subjective opinion for this one, supporting begging by giving money or candy to people who live on the streets hurts more than it helps. Not only does it encourage reliance on handouts, and therefore is not a sustainable solution to poverty, but it perpetuates the stereotype that all foreigners are rich (which gets us ripped off, robbed, and resented).
What do you think? Please add more on the comments section.