More and more people have recently started asking me: "Why are you a fan of Africa?". Deep down, I believe that you can't be a fan of a continent with six distinct climatic zones and over 1500 spoken languages and cultures, the same way you are a fan of Michelle Obama or Bruno Mars.
Yet during my three-year stay in different cities across East Africa, I discovered a common lifestyle that I've grown to enjoy tremendously. Despite the occasional lack of hot water in the mornings, power cuts at awkward moments or bumpy roads, there's something in the spirit of the region that was refreshingly different from general Western ways of life.
So, if I really, really had to answer the question "Why are you a fan of Africa?" - here are the 10 things I loved the most:
1. Community spirit
Everything is everybody's business. Yes, it's irritating at times but it's also securing, knowing people around you and their stories. Only after a few days, I would know the names of my neighbours and their life stories (basic or extended). People stop by to say hello, invite you over, give advice and get involved. Any problem can be solved because you have a network and melancholy is never an option. Now, here in London, living in a block of 13 flats and not knowing any names of other 12 occupants is disturbing.
2. Anything is possible
In a good sense. In Europe, whatever avenue you choose, you are often expected to take a predefined path, go through an established process and if you want to innovate, you need to know people who will put their stamp of approval. In Africa, you can wake up in the morning with an idea and have a team within 24h trying to make it happen. It doesn't matter if it fails - you can try something else later. That's why there are so many fresh creative projects emerging from the continent right now.
3. Fruit has taste
As I'm typing this, my tastebuds are experiencing some serious withdrawal syndromes. The variety, the ripeness, the juicy flavours... Everything else you will ever find and eat anywhere else will be just a pale reflection that will leave you profoundly depressed.
4. Bespoke tailoring
Yes, you read it right. It's also affordable and totally accessible, part of the culture, not just #whatwhitepeopledo. The smartest thing you can do when moving to a city, is get a recommendation for a good tailor, make friends with them, go to the market, buy fabrics and start revamping your wardrobe.... Zara will be so last season.
5. People are late
With my Northern European punctuality, I am always on time to meetings. While living in East Africa, I've started practicing what I call meaningful waiting. I had time to think, talk to strangers and connect to my environment. I went through some yoga asanas with a lovely lady at a waiting room of an important Government Minister in Kampala, sang Beatles songs with a moto taxi driver in Kigali, found out about dating culture from a knowledgeable waitress in Goma... This is how I got an idea for one of my most exciting ventures to date. If everyone was on time, it would have never happened.
6. Curvy is good
And it's liberating - the culture of women having shapes. We have forgotten to appreciate the beauty of shape when magazines are full of matchstick girls. I'm not saying fat - I'm saying shape. My tailor told me that European girls starve themselves to fit in clothes and in Africa they fit clothes to beautify the curves.
7. People dance
I remember when we were teenagers - girls would be throwing themselves on the dance floor showing off the latest moves. No man would be seen on the dance floor, they would all be at the bar, searching for courage at the bottom of their beer bottles. Nothing much has changed. Well, in Africa - you better get your twerking right, as it's a whole different story over there.
8. Life has colour
Long time before I went to Africa, a friend from Sierra Leone told me that what he misses the most from Africa is colour. How I understand him now! It's not only about the African prints, it's about the colourful urban landscapes sandwiched between the electric blue of the sky and the terracotta red of the roads. Only then do you realise that you've been living in 50 shades of grey.
Those motorbike taxis are called different names in different countries. They are the saviours on wheels, helping you beat the never ending traffic standstill and get somewhere just one hour late and not three. You can tell a newcomer by how he clings to the boda driver, face pale with fear, from the locals who sit sideways, or sit in groups of three or four!
I left the most obvious to the last. Yet living in sunshine does improve your wellbeing. It's impossible to wake up at 5 am in London yet I would be up and running as soon as the first sun tickles my face through the window curtains. Overall, the vitamin D overdose gives you wings.