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A Journey to Africa

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This week’s Valley Café gave us a small, literal taste of African culture. However, on such a large continent there is so much to learn and explore.

My younger sister, Hilary, recently spent a month in Africa as part of her semester abroad. Her adventures can add insight to The Valley Café’s celebration of African heritage this week.

Her first stop was Morocco, a country with very strict cultural guidelines. The students had to dress conservatively, women weren’t allowed to go out after sunset without a man and it was important to avoid using your left hand. The culture shock may have been strong, but Hilary also described Morocco as the country with the most stimulating environment. “The smells from all the spices, the color of the mosaics, the noises of monkeys and snake charmers and insane amounts of traffic. It all kind of puts you on overload but in the greatest way possible. The best way to experience their culture was by going to the Medina (the markets) because you just become lost in the epicenter of their entire way of life.”

Marrakech, Morocco

Next, she traveled south down the continent to Ghana. She decided to explore more rural areas of the country by volunteering in the village of Dekpor where it was upwards of 90 degrees every day, the terrain was dusty and dirty and spiders crawled up the walls of the homes with straw beds. Even though the community did not have much to offer, they were overjoyed to have guests and Hilary and her friends fell in love with the village. “The Ghanaian people were some of the most wonderful, gracious, selfless, happy people I’ve met in my entire life. They may not have much food, or fancy homes, or closets full of clothes but they just continue to smile and laugh and to prove to us that material things don’t make us happy.”

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The final stop was South Africa, a country whose culture can feel very familiar to modern society. Adventure tourism is a massive contributor to the country’s culture and economy…and Hilary couldn’t resist. She went skydiving over the beautiful African landscape, with the perfect birds eye view of the land and water.  “Cape Town was the most stunning place we visited, not just in Africa but throughout our whole voyage. You have Table Mountain that backdrops the entire city and fields of wild flowers coming up to white, sandy beaches. It was just absolutely breath taking.”

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“I loved Africa because it challenged me. It challenged me to step outside my comfort zone, more so than the European countries did. Whether those steps were into the Moroccan Medina, or walking into teach a class at Dekpor, or stepping off the edge of a plane and plummeting towards the South African coastline….I never thought I would be able to say I’ve been to Africa and I’ve seen these sights and tasted these foods and done these wild, foreign, slightly scary things.”

“A lot of people treat Africa as if it were a single country where everything is exactly the same throughout. When, in fact, Africa is one of the most diverse continents, made up of 53 countries and 2,000 different languages. Now that I’ve been to three different countries in Africa, that variety has never been more clear and all the stereotypes of Africa have been demolished.”

My sister and I challenge you to experience new cultures like Africa and learn about the many amazing places that make up our world. Until then, continue to taste the various cuisines from around the world at The Valley Café.

(Photo credit: Hilary Baksa)