When I tell people that I am planning a trip to Africa, more often than not they ask, "Why Africa?" My canned response is that my wife and I are going to Africa to have our baby. If Pitt/Jolie can have their baby there, why can't my wife and I? Namibia had its fifteen minutes of fame with the nativity of Shiloh, which incidentally means messiah. Now, I don't know whether the parents merely liked the name or whether their selection was hubris-filled. We will soon know the answer to that question if May 27th becomes a religious holy day like December 25th.
I really don't think that Shiloh's birth warrants all the media hoopla. It seems grossly anachronistic given all the suffering that the world faces on a daily basis. Does anyone in Iraq, Lebanon, the West Bank, Israel, or any other place that is suffering from war, starvation, and disease really care? In addition, one could ask, should any of us care? At least, Namibia benefited from the media attention.
On that note, if another African nation would like to be the beneficiary of massive media hype, let me know. I'll need time to tell my wife that she will be expecting again...after all those years. Boy, will she be excited! Aside from having our child in Africa, there are other reasons for journeying to that fascinating continent.
I want to visit my daughter who is volunteering for a year at God's Golden Acre (GGA) near Durbin, South Africa. GGA is an orphanage for children who have lost parents due to AIDS. She has been there since March of this year. By the time we arrive in December, she will be fluent in both Afrikaans and Zulu and will be a great tour guide for us.
[A note to other travelers: if anyone is considering overseas travel, I'd suggest contacting Vanessa at Save on Travel (800.777.4194). She was great, efficient, and very helpful with the lowest prices that I had found on the Internet.]
In addition, I want to visit the places that I have read about over the past decades in South Africa's fight against apartheid. I want to visit Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent nearly two decades in prison and where he became a symbol of defiant resistance to the minority white government. In addition, I want to see Soweto firsthand, which is a township of Johannesburg. Soweto conjures up struggles like those in Selma, AL in the American South.
I also want to visit with some of those who were involved with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). This commission was set up in 1995 to hear charges of racial violence against blacks. The intriguing aspect is that the TRC gives perpetrators of racism, torture, and other inhumane treatment against blacks the opportunity to ask for amnesty.
While in South Africa, I would also love to meet Desmond Tutu, chairperson of the TRC and former Archbishop of Cape Town. Over the years, I have had some correspondence with Tutu. In addition, I want to meet Nelson Mandela whose hometown isn't far from the orphanage where my daughter, Michelle, is working.
After we leave South Africa, we will do a quick sightseeing junket to Egypt and then off to Dakar, Senegal. I want to visit Gorée Island where many slaves departed for Europe and the Americas on the Middle Passage. Gorée Island and Robben Island are the bookends of a long legacy of slavery...one the beginning of it and the other the last gasp of it.
Then I want to spend a week or so in Mali. In addition to the fabled city of Timbuktu, there are the fascinating cities of Mopti, Djenné, and Dogon Country. I want to see Timbuktu specifically because I am working on an article about Islam and modernity. A millennium ago, Timbuktu was one of the greatest centers of education in the world. In fact, it easily eclipsed educationally anything in Medieval Europe. Why did Islam lose the distinction for being academically a world leader in education? Timbuktu is now known for being far away from everything...including education and knowledge. Today, the sands of the Sahara are ever-encroaching upon Timbuktu in an attempt to erase it from the maps of the world.
We will finish our African tour in Morocco. I have wanted to see the famous market at Marrakesh, the dye vats of Fez, and the many bazaars and souks of Morocco. Finally, we will leave from Casablanca to return to the States. My favorite movie is Casablanca and even though it was filmed in Hollywood, it still would be nice to visit the city that gave its moniker to that film legend. I also wondered what Casablanca offered tourists. Much to my surprise, there is a Rick's Café in present-day Casablanca. Kathy Kriger, a former American diplomat, replicated the café made famous by Rick and Ilsa. Not only will they always have Paris, but the world will now always have Rick's.
Now, if I can only manage to leave at night amid the fog and mystery of Casablanca airport, I will have arrived. Having arrived and now ready to return home to the States, I don't want to hear a baritone voice saying, "And so a torturous, round-about refugee trail sprang up. Paris to Marseilles, across the Mediterranean to Oran [in Algeria], then by train or auto or foot across the rim of Africa to Casablanca in French Morocco. Here the fortunate ones through money or influence or luck might obtain exit visas and scurry to Lisbon, and from Lisbon to the New World. But the others wait in Casablanca, and wait and wait and wait."
After a month of adventure in Africa, I will want to be home...not waiting in Casablanca.