Everything is “hakuna matata” in Africa, or at least the handful of countries we’ve visited thus far. It means “no worries” - well, actually, it’s swahili for “there are no problems here.”
But guess what, friends: there are definitely problems here. This is going to be a post about travel stress and how we’ve come to deal with it. It’s not as if Africa is our first foreign trip. We lived in Japan for two years and have therefore been around a lot of Asia. In college, we backpacked Europe, and we’ve been to multiple developing countries in the Caribbean.
All that to say - Africa is the most stressful continent we’ve traveled in. Here’s what we’ve noticed: a lot of the countries in Africa are replicating what they see taking place in the west in regards to security. They have metal detectors, baggage scanners, and policies in place to make sure there is red tape here and there. The problem lies within the execution. It’s as if the thought process of why metal detectors exist has not been explored. We’ve been through security checks at airports in which hundreds of passengers walk through a metal detector that is constantly flashing red and beeping, indicating every single person has something metal on their person.
As these hundreds of people manage to bring ‘something’ past the security checkpoint, their luggage is going through a scanner and a very non-attentive security employee is playing a game on their phone rather than watching the monitor to see what is actually inside of the bags.
I’ve successfully been through over a dozen airports across Africa and have not removed my laptop, ipad, or 4 cameras from my bag. Nor have I been asked to remove them after I attempted to pass the bag through the scanner. The only exception would be Uganda, where very specifically trained security watch for drones coming in due to their use as a tool for terrorism (I had to leave it with customs at the airport).
It’s pertinent to explain all of this because every travel experience has been different. Arriving 3 to 4 hours early for your flight actually may not be enough time, depending on the country, which policies they decide to enforce, or how slow they intend to move on that day.
“You just go, don’t wait for me at immigration, just get to the gate.”
“Okay, I’ll just run and hold the plane somehow.”
“It’s gate 19. Let me confirm on the board...yep, gate 19.”
“Alright - I’ll meet you at the gate!” Maggie said as she sprinted away from the immigration counter, turned a corner up the stairs and was out of my sight.
Moments later, I was past the counter, and hot on her heels. The signs above my head indicating which gates were where seem to be intentionally placed in a confusing manner, so I ran 200 yards down one terminal hall, stopped, re-assessed where I was, turned around, and started running the opposite direction. As I’m jogging, weaving through the crowd, I heard a panicked Maggie shout behind me “Jimmy! WHAT GATE IS IT!?”
“Nineteen! It’s nineteen!” I didn’t even wait for her response, or really even determine where in the crowd behind me she actually was, I just started sprinting. As I approached the gate that was very nearly being shut, with beads of sweat forming on my forehead, a panting and flustered Maggie jogged up behind me. And so I asked,
“I said gate nineteen, didn’t I? I thought I said it twice.”
“I don’t KNOW. I thought you said thirteen. I went to thirteen and it said ‘Paris’ so I was like, what the f**k I’m not going to Paris and then I saw you standing there, and then you turned around and ran the opposite direction, so I said f**k it I’m just going to follow him because I don’t know where to go!” Maggie explained, in a quivering voice, and then began to shed a few tears and start a mini post-stress panic attack.
This is just one example of many that illustrates the type of stress traveling in Africa can bring.
But we’ve gotten better. We consider travel days to be entire day events, and show up to airports 4+ hours early if we can. We just let a lot of things go, whether it be aggravating cultural behaviors, apathy, incompetence, or just poor execution of logistics and policies. This is Africa (TIA) is a phrase we use a lot, along with another phrase (take a guess), and we default to ‘hakuna matata’ because the locals actually use the phrase quite often.
And although traveling from location to location can be stressful - once we arrive in whatever country/city we’ve decided to call home for a week or so, we are 100% taken aback at the beauty and magic of this continent.
You see, life in Africa is very slow paced. It’s ‘pole pole’ (pronounce poley like roley poley), which is Swahili for ‘slowly’ and is also seen and heard all over the place. And we’ve had to adopt that frame of mind. It’s a very simple life as well, it truly doesn’t seem like anyone we’ve encountered is stressed out about much of anything. We find that to be pretty beautiful, honestly.
And if they aren’t stressed out, why should we be stressed out?
So we plainly decide not to be stressed out. We now start each day wondering what we’ll learn, what differences in culture we’ll encounter, and how patient we’ll have to be. We actually assume there will be miscommunications, and we assume that we’ll see something that will make us say, “Wow, that’s so awesome.”
I’m writing this now in the Kasane airport in Botswana. We’re about to travel to Maun and hopefully somehow arrange someone to take us in a boat through the delta. We were a little held up on the taxi ride here because an elephant was standing in the road. Not to mention two taxis showed up, because our hotel host assumed we wanted him to arrange one when we asked 4 days ago if he knew of any options for an airport transfer. When we arrived to the airport an hour ago, and the cab driver opened the back hatch of the van, my bag tumbled out onto the parking lot pavement. He said, “Oops, sorry” but made no attempt to pick it up. Literally just now, as I was typing that last sentence, Maggie said, “Africa” sarcastically under her breath, because we were told we could check in at the counter at 9:30, but they just decided to make it 10:00 AM instead. There is also a grasshopper or cricket or something crawling around the airport lobby and it keeps coming at me. I’m generally not afraid of grasshoppers but TIA and this thing is the size of my iPhone and I just really don’t want to have an encounter with it.
Since it’s a travel day, we’ll just stick with “Hakuna Matata” and keep our good attitudes with us.