Saturday, 24 November 2012

An American Navy Man’s Experience of Africa’s Sights and Sounds

Cole Adam, who is serving with the American Navy, shares his experience of Africa when he had the opportunity of being on the continent, working for three months and visiting seven countries.

Cole Adam
Elmina beach Ghana, a former slavery outpost
Africa has been faced with challenges of civil wars and poverty .The African continent is considered as a place still ‘developing’ and where most of the nations are the mark of widespread colonialism.
Even with its tragic past and current struggles, it is a place of beauty and enchantment.  I was blessed with the opportunity to spend three months on the continent, in seven countries. My time was spent mostly engaging with other navies, but I also got the chance to travel to beaches, hike through a gorge, and venture to other out-of the way spots that displayed the wonder of this continent.
I admire Africa for its environmental splendour and the people’s resilience in striving for something better despite the inherent challenges. Below are my observations and best attempt to capture the combined heartbeat of a multitude of countries on the West African coast.

There is a rhythm here. A flow that seems contrary to the normal order of patterned society. It is as if people are carrying out life to the beat of tribal drums; everything just going, going, with no linear direction, yet still music.
Africa is a continent that beats with that tribal sound; a continent where order emerges out of chaos; that chaos, which often can be a thorn to systematic progress, is its own artistic symphony.
A few interesting nuances of Africa: traffic flows without an overabundance of signage and lights; time is never of the essence; and services are usually acquired through a handshake and verbal means.
 I came to Africa’s West Coast on a partnership building effort with seven different nations, most of which directly bordered the Gulf of Guinea. The journey began in French-speaking Gabon, and then went further south to another French country, Republic of Congo. Next was a group of Gulf of Guinea countries, Nigeria, Ghana, and Benin. The Gambia, our final stop, was a silver of a country inside of Senegal, bordering a river that bares its name.

While each country is unique, there is a universal culture which permeates through each one based on a shared identity. That identity is primarily tribal in nature, with people clinging to ethnic lineages that trace back to distant ancestry. It is apparent in language and dress; for example, though modern clothing commonplace in everyday attire, it is not out of the ordinary to see someone show up to a business meeting or a formal occasion wearing an African tunic.
As a continent, Africa bears the mark of domination, of what was a colonization-driven “land grab” by European powers and then ensuing slave trade. There are several points on Africa’s West Coast—Gorree Island in Senegal and Elmina in Ghana, for example—that were used as major hubs within the extensive slave trade system.
African Tribal Masks
Passing through this tragic history is unsettling; especially knowing your homeland played a part in it all. But there is no way to change the past; however it is important to recognize the past so we don’t repeat it.
On Gorree Island, at what was a doorway to the beach where millions were cast off into the Atlantic bound for slave markets, I dialogued with God, praying for forgiveness for humanity’s evil and asking Him to work in the hearts of humanity so we don’t repeat the same atrocities.
Door of no return.
Sadly, Africa’s present is still far from rosy. It suffers from widespread  civil war, political coups, corrupt governments, heavy foreign business investment ( often to the level of exploitation), and widespread sanitation issues( in most places, water from the tap is unsafe to drink).
A care giver in an African orphanage
Africa and its people triumphed over slavery and European dominance and it is with that spirit that the people continue to drive for something better —a life without so many ills.  There are great minds and big hearts here, people who want to make a difference, and they are changing things in small and big ways. They want a life without looming corruption, where the streets and sea lanes are safe for commerce, and where opportunities exist for all. It is a noble pursuit; I applaud those determined to see it through.
 Stepping back into the order that is America, there is a part of me that misses the chaos, the tribal beat of life. I miss the markets most, where commerce was a person-to-person transaction. The personal touch of everyday life is special, and makes Africa and its people remain in the heart.






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