"How Africa Changed Me" Chapters · Travel

“How Africa Changed Me” – Chapter 3

Chapter 3

We Arrive

There’s nothing wrong with admitting you need someone. For some reason, in our society it’s a crime to admit you’re human and that you feel things. But yeah, I needed my boyfriend at that moment. Would I have gotten on the plane if he wasn’t there? I can’t know the answer to that. I’d like to think I would, but only god (or whoever) knows that for sure. I needed him, though, and I will forever be grateful for the support he gave me – and still does give me to this day.


I hate society for boxing so many of us up to the point of social isolation, depression, anxiety, inner conflict, and even suicide. Don’t you understand that by telling boys and men that they can’t express their emotions, you are causing them to either seek comfort in other ways – anger, alcoholism, aggression and violence, reckless sex, drugs etc. – or to suppress heavy emotions to the point of a breakdown and even suicide? Society has blood on its hands because I truly believe that if we were more inclusive, honest and real in all forms, then so many people could be spared their suffering. Don’t refuse to progress and stop being so closed-minded, society – yes, I mean you.

Rant over.

I could pretend that getting on the plane meant the hardest part was over – like my mom had promised – but no. In this book, I’ve vowed to be honest and real so I shan’t pretend. No, I sat in my seat in the biggest plane I’d ever seen and cried, even with flight attendants and other passengers giving me the stink-eye – “crazy person alert.” As we took off, I gripped my boyfriend and the armrest like my life depended on it, which it did. My boyfriend instructed me to breathe in and out slowly, and bless his heart, he tried to distract me by listing the in-flight films to no avail. His mom kept asking if I was OK and I didn’t have the strength to lie when it was clear that I wasn’t.

Every now and then, I was OK, though. I managed to slow my heart rate to less than a billion beats per minute enough to laugh, watch a bit of a film, or think about food. I say think about food because I didn’t get around to the actual eating it part. When they came round with dinner, which was a shitty tray of chicken and rice or beef and mash, I panicked. I picked at the sweet mash but every mouthful felt so warm against my empty, unsettled belly that I gagged and gave up.

I pocketed the bread roll, though, in case my appetite returned – it did not.

Through the total of 12 hours on planes and 2 hours in cars, I ate half a bread roll, 2 spoonful’s of mash potato, a small piece of chocolate, and some shared crisps. It was safe to say I hadn’t looked after myself but anyone with anxiety will know that it can be so difficult to eat or function at all when you’re feeling high levels of anxiety. Plus, it’s scientifically proven so…yeah.

Rwanda airport was an interesting place. I got through just fine but Diana and Patrick’s dad’s passports were questioned because they still had Zimbabwean ones, whilst Patrick and his mother had British ones. The airport was tiny so as soon as you got off the plane, you found yourself at security. There were a little waiting area and a few gift shops but no food or beverage stalls – unless that beverage was tax-free alcohol. We made the mistake of going through security and waiting in the small space on the other side far too early. We were waiting in that tiny, packed space for ages, and when we needed the toilet, we had to go back through security! Are you frickin’ kidding me?

The second plane wasn’t as long as the first; it was only for 4 hours and I was so weak from not eating that I slept on and off through it. We arrived in Johannesburg midday, where Patrick’s mom’s brother met us. He brought this Jeep-like, big car that was barely holding together, great… I smiled and pretended I wasn’t deathly aware of being thousands of miles away from home as we stuffed our luggage – remember we had 6 suitcases – into the back of the car.

Patrick’s uncle couldn’t see out the back window and apparently, using your tablet or speaking on the phone whilst speeding was a totally fine thing to do – not from where I was sitting, which was wedged in the middle of Patrick and Diana with no seatbelt on and bags all around me. It was the start of my discomfort, which I didn’t realise would carry across the rest of the trip. It also highlighted the start of another problem that would continue across the trip – I didn’t know nearly enough Shona.

In case you don’t know, Shona is one of the prominent languages spoken in Zimbabwe – no they do not speak African in Africa, silly. Since all of my boyfriend’s family were from Zimbabwe, and I was staying with them for 2 weeks, it probably wasn’t a great idea to know a total of 5 phrases in Shona. Yeah, good one, Siana. The drive was about 2 hours long, as I said before, and all it did was put off the inevitable for a while longer – which I was grateful for, really. However, we finally reached his uncle’s house and oh god…

Oh god.

Oh god.

As we were pulling up to his house, we drove through a neighbourhood filled with those tin-like, little shacks that you see on TV as the “slums” or “ghetto” in places like Africa. I knew I wouldn’t be living in luxury but a shed-like shack? I didn’t think I had the discipline. Experience or not, I just couldn’t do it.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to. It seems his uncle’s house was 1 of 2 houses in the area that was an actual house. Real walls, more than one room and no fire outside. I was glad we lived in that neighbourhood, though. A lot of people could benefit from seeing what we did – not on TV, but in real life. It opens your eyes and by god does it inflate your gratitude. It’s not that I’ve ever been much of an ungrateful person anyway, it’s just that there’s nothing like seeing and experiencing what I did to finally give you a real appreciation for what you have compared. My eyes are truly open.

Anyway, we pulled up to the house and the first thing I noticed was the dog. Yes, the big dog. Erm, why did no one warn me about the big dog? I’m not scared of dogs, except you know those rabid ones with big teeth, but a heads-up would have been nice. Like you tell people that kind thing, right? It didn’t take long for me to realise why the dog didn’t seem like something worth warning us about, though. Because he barely moved.

The reason for this was simple – well “obvious” to my mom and uncle, who had grown up with Jamaican parents – the dog was only fed once a day and lived exclusively outside. To us UK, privileged folk, this was outrageous. “You mean a dog can survive without being fed 3 to 4 times a day, trashing the house, jumping up terrified house guests, getting treats and toys, and going on amazing walks to the park where we throw balls and Frisbees that it’ll inevitably chew up or lose so that we have to get another one? Whaaat?”

The dog was called Spike and he mostly sought shade throughout the day, was annoyed by the kids, and barked at strangers passing by the front garden. For some reason, I found him to be a sweet dog and he provided me with some comfort during my time there, even though I was too much of a snob to actually touch him. What a bitch? I’m sorry, Spike.

The second thing I noticed was the swarm of excitable Africans buzzing out of the house towards the car. Literally, there was so many of them. Did I mention my social anxiety? I did, right? What the hell? Back off, people. But no, they did not back off…not for two whole weeks.

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