1.19.2012

You Love Africa...but WHY?!

I sat, for hours, and just stared at this.
To be more accurate, the title should say "I love Sierra Leone...", since that is currently my only experience with Africa (outside of various airports and accidentally briefly illegally entering Ghana) and we all know that Africa isn't a country and can't be generalized. But I didn't want to be verbose.

Anyways, for my International Relations class I'm reading a selection of writings by the cultural theorist Paul Virilio. To be honest, I understand about 1% of what I read, but I know there is something mind-blowing hidden somewhere deep within his ramblings. But today, thanks to my professor, I was able to take just a little bit away from what I thought were Virilio's seemly nonsensical ramblings, which hit a note for me and helped to explain just one of the many reasons why I love Africa Sierra Leone.

Allow me to digress for a minute. My generation, as I am constantly reminded by my mother, moves too fast. We have constant connection to the internet, we hold five conversations while texting, and we are always doing something. We don't (can't?) disconnect ourselves from everything and focus on just one single thing. We can't sit in silence and do nothing. It's impossible. 

Another pitfall of my generation is that we are always mentally moving on to the next thing, whatever that may be. This, I know for a fact, I am a victim of. In high school I counted the days until I entered college. Now, as I near the end of college (a year early because I didn't want to spend 4 years in one place), I count the days until I can hopefully get my dream job. I'm always counting down the days until my next trip out of the country, because to me, that incentivizes me to do what I've got to get done now. Once I'm on that trip, I start to think of the next possibility I have for a trip. I'm always 'counting down' until the next something - always living one step ahead of the present. I know it's not just me, it's everyone that has grown up in the late twentieth century.

Back to Paul Virilio. He has this theory of 'dromology' which in basic terms involves that which is 'fast' overtaking/overpowering that which is 'slow'. Virilio illustrates this in our own society. We have advanced from a horse and carriage, to trains, to cars, to planes, to high-speed internet which now doesn't even require us to move in order to be 'transported' instantaneously somewhere else in the world or even to the completely non-worldly cyberspace. Virilio is far more political than what I'm trying to get at right now, but basically he shows how we as a society are always moving, speeding up to reach "the next (fastest) thing", with no end goal in mind. Once we reach what we've been aiming for, we don't realize it because our mind is already on the next thing.

When I was thinking about all of this, I realized, I think that this whole concept of speed and technology in the Western world is one of the many reasons I love Sierra Leone so much. In the U.S. I'm always going on Twitter to read the news (most of which is depressing), or aimlessly going on Facebook and then wondering why I'm even there in the first place. There is constant connection, constant to-do lists, constant speed and bombardment. My professor pointed out to us that we can't just sit and enjoy the moment. We can't listen to a song all the way through, much less an entire album start to finish. 

Being Stranded on a Mountain for 4 Hours Wasn't Bad After All
Then it hit me. In Sierra Leone I am completely disconnected. And by disconnected, I mean really disconnected. I have no internet, no phone, and often no charge on my laptop or iPod. There's nothing connecting me to the 'outside' world and nothing to distract me from the present. I remember one day towards the middle of my trip when I went onto the balcony of the house I was staying at and sat there...for hours! No music, no technology, nothing really at all to distract me. I just sat there in silence and enjoyed the smells of the kitchen that were drifting toward me, listened to the animals and the cooks in the kitchen, and watched the sun cross the sky and the shine different shades of light on the palm trees. It was the first time in a long time that I just sat - no distractions, no obligations, and truly living in the moment. 

I did this a lot in Sierra Leone, sitting and doing nothing. It was peaceful (ironically not a word that you often think of when you hear 'Africa'). Although at times it was frustrating (and not to mention difficult) for me not to be doing anything, but now looking back I realize how much of a blessing that really is. Now I want nothing more than to have that back. People always ask me why I like Africa because it's, well...Africa! I never have an answer. It's always inexplicable, but now I think I've discovered one of the many reasons for my love.

That's the whole concept around 'African time' anyways, right? The past is done, the future is yet unknown, so all there is to think about is the present. Time is not important because the here and now is all that matters. Although completely unnerving to most Westerners I know (myself included at first), it now makes sense. It's not just an excuse for being late; it's sort of like, well, a way of life. I think the West needs more 'African time'.

I have no idea how to really formulate how to express what I'm feeling and what I realized today thanks to my professor, but I hope I did it just a bit of justice. Sorry this was a bit out of the ordinary from my usual self, but this is where I'm mentally at right now. My cynical, sarcastic, and less thoughtful/philosophical self will be back momentarily. 

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