Africa is a big place. It contains 54 countries and spans 11.73 million square miles. Describing “Africa” is impossible because each country is so incredibly unique. Even within countries, diverse culture, traditions, languages, landscapes, and people make it difficult to put such a space under any umbrella.
This summer I was able to visit my second African country, Mozambique, and was stunned. From the moment we landed in Maputo the experience felt different and refreshing. Paved roads wound through markets selling exotic fruit. Unfinished buildings left from before independence sat by the numerous art deco structures and sandy beaches. It was more different from Uganda than I could have imagined.
The poverty was different as well. The neighborhoods on the outskirts of Maputo, where I went to meet our new RUFC partners Reencontro and Favela United (more on them in a future post), were comprised of small brick buildings with narrow, sandy paths forming a maze. In Oyam, Uganda, where I had been only hours before, huts are spread out across large swaths of open land. The children at the schools we visited were, no doubt, impoverished, but it was a different kind of poverty. They live in urban poverty and face different challenges than those living hours from Uganda’s nearest city. Over half the population on earth now lives in cities and urban settings breed unique public health issues. That same statement applies to doing camp there. Transport might be easier because of the greater population density, but prices for housing and food would rise in the city. We will face totally different challenges working in Mozambique than in Uganda.
The whole trip was astonishing for me - the beautiful beaches, the amazing food, and the friendly people. Everyone talks about having the African experience. But I realized that doesn't exist. Depending on where you go and what you do while there, my African experience could be entirely different from yours. Yet, in the end I find we will likely come away with the same lessons. We learn to appreciate the beauty of different cultures and countries and grow to love them, and when the opportunity arises to visit a new location, we get to fall in love all over again.