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Africa gets under your skin

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They say that Africa gets under your skin and I can only agree - I have fallen for it hook line and sinker. The element of risk, the excitement, the unknown and the unexpected. It represents so much freedom from the restrictions and conformity of the West. Freedom from drizzling rain and staying indoors.

As soon as you arrive in Africa the game begins. Will your bags arrive? Where are you going? What will Africa be like? No need to wear a seatbelt, no cctv cameras watching, no public signs telling you what to do and how to behave in buses and airports.

The visitor is greeted by the warmest of welcomes, ready smiles and laughter that makes it easy to forget about the petty irritations when systems fail to work and there's no place to plug in your hairdryer. In Kenya there are wild animals skulking in the national parks waiting to be photographed and friendly local guides to tell you about everything you want to know. Visiting the coastline and gazing out over the Indian Ocean framed by palms, dotted with pretty dhows that have remained the same shape for hundreds of years is so irresistably exotic.

Many tourists return home feeling that they want to help the fantastic people they have met locally, those who are so terribly let down by the system and have such a difficult existence. Foreigners feel they would like to do a tiny something, or give something, believing that it might go some way toward making Africa actually work one day. Many go home, raise funds then come back to build schools; give back. Look at Madonna - even with her jet set lifestyle, she's fallen under the spell.

From my point of view, having just had ten days away from Kenya - without worrying about the lack of rain, the famine, news headlines full of fresh corruption scandals and warring Coalition politicians - visiting lots of family in England and being spoiled to death like the proverbial prodigal son I found was the perfect tonic. It was with mixed feelings that I sat on the flight returning to Africa last night. The nagging truth is that the situation in this country continues to be a horrible mess with few signs of getting better. (Please, please correct me if I'm wrong!).

In spite of usually trying to be an eternal optimist over all things East African (especially as it suits me to do so in light of being committed to owning property here) I find it hard when skimming the local news headlines to go on convincing myself that everything will eventually turn out alright. President Obama recently sent out a warning shot to Kenya;- sort out your corruption problem or you certainly will not be seeing any benefits from my special relationship with Kenya.

For my British father in law, who lived in Kenya for fourteen years shortly after Independance working in education, when he visits us he casts his eye around dirty chaotic streets and it's hard for him to see that the situation here has improved at all. To him, it appears to have been down hill all the way and I argue with him saying 'but in spite of how it looks, it is better!'

My own Dad says wisely;
'live there as if you are staying forever - but always be ready to leave tomorrow'
I wish I could tell him he's completely wrong about Africa, but today I don't quite have the conviction.

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