3 Reasons Why Africa: Volunteering, Charity & Safari

There are three main reasons why people travel to Africa: volunteering, charity, and safari.

Genuine And Cool Safari Photo

We spent two months in Eastern and Southern Africa visiting Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. Travelling was exciting as always, but all the countries we visited had a serious problem with the services and products—very little value for the money spent—and an attitude problem towards white people, mzungus. We were puzzled: Why so many travellers had recommended the area to us?

After two months’ touring we understood that travelling, working and living in Africa is motivated by three things: it is a way to relieve guilt, an opportunity to gaze at wild animals or to get kudos as a seasoned traveller.

The possible dangers of travelling in Africa were discussed every time when we saw other travellers and locals. Here and there you will be mugged, might get malaria, or meet natives practicing cannibalism. When returning from Africa, these same fearsome travellers become heroes in the eyes of others.

You Have Everything—We Have Nothing

One of most vexing things for us in the East and South Africa was the relationship between white and black people, or the rich and the poor. A common presumption is that all whites are wealthy and they come to Africa just to share their money with locals. This mentality applies to all interaction including begging, selling, renting, transportation, and robbing. According to African logic, the rich should have a bad conscience for having materially so much more than the poor. Besides, white people belong to the bad Colonialist race and must pay for their heritage. If you resist, things get complicated, and even if you give something to locals, you mustn’t expect any gratitude. You are just doing what you are supposed to do, fulfilling your part of the deal.

We encountered racism towards white people and tourists for the first time in Brazil in the beginning of our trip. Beggars approached us demanding a cigarette or some money on the grounds of our race and status as travellers. We didn’t give them anything nor did we do any spontaneous charity or volunteering in Africa. We are not compassionate enough to be thankful for being hassled.

The mentality was ever present and annoying. When getting approached by a gang of bad-smelling and dirty hawkers trying to touch us and staring at us angrily, someone less courageous might have interpreted their marketing effort to be a threatening situation or even a robbery, and given up his or her valuables to avoid further inconvenience. This was a very common situation in the areas where we travelled. People were more aggressive in the touristy places which always attract fortune-seekers. South Africa and the capital of Botswana were a bit different because they are more developed, but on the other hand the price level was even higher than in the neighbouring countries and value lower. In a world-wide scale, Africa is the low-value-leader while Asia is its high-value opposite.

If you don’t have riches or a guilty conscience, you might feel sick and tired after travelling a while in Africa. The greed and open exploitation was far more prominent in East Africa than in any other country we have visited. But for the sake of fairness, it is important to realize that it is—to some extent—part of the tourist scene everywhere in the world.

Volunteers, Charities And Missionaries

Many people travel to Africa to show off how great and caring they are. They become volunteers or start a charity to help and spread the Western gospel of consumerism to ignorant natives just like missionaries did in the old days. Having a nice car and a mobile phone seem to be strict necessities for Africans even if they live in a house build from cow dung and without running water. Polluting is in today’s world a privilege and it defines your value as a human being. The more you buy, the better person you become.

Donating to the poor relieves guilt. It works the same way as giving money to a church. If you sin, you pay, and after the remission you are free to sin again. However, it is far cheaper and less polluting to get rid of your sins by going to a local church or to get an appointment with a psychologist than travelling to Africa.

Volunteering and charities continue the traditions of colonialism and slavery. Westerners think that as we come from the civilised world, we know everything better and must educate ignorant locals. It is also called patronising. In its worst form it makes locals objects and positions them as children who must listen quietly and obey. A curious detail is that the majority of travellers we saw were white women. Is the reason nurturing instinct?

Pestering Animals in Safari

Animal watching is another popular reason for a trip to Africa. Having photos with wild beasts on the background proves that you are not afraid. Travellers are naturally happy to pay safari organizers a lot to make sure that they are not in real danger because in fact they are afraid. Isn’t this a strange way to demonstrate courage? We managed to see many wild animals just walking around and travelling by bus. We spotted monkeys, crocodiles, camels, zebras, rhinos, a giraffe and many other animals without chasing them.

If you really want to pester animals, you can do it easier in a local zoo. There the pitiful means of money-making are stuffed into small cells so that tourists can easily take photos. In Africa, you need to hire a driver to pursue the poor animals and corner them for photo shooting. For us, game parks, national parks and reserves are nothing but zoos, and Africans proved to be passionate animal-lovers only when they were making money. We saw many times locals throwing stones at stray dogs just for fun.

No Thanks To The Guilt And Zoo

Our original thought was to stop on the way and rent a flat for finishing our newest manuscript. We tried and failed. After that, we didn’t find any suitable place with necessary facilities and at affordable price. For us mzungus, Africa is surprisingly dear, even more expensive than Europe except that we don’t get any value for our money. What good is air-conditioning, hot water, fridge and TV if you don’t have electricity?

After two months’ touring, we were relieved of the puzzle of the fascination of Africa and also the compulsion to stay around any longer. We took a turn to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to ponder our experiences, finish writing the manuscript and enjoy life. We might return to Africa later to explore the West and the North about which we have heard—once again—so many good things.

Key words: Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zambia, South Africa, guilt, church, charity, poor, mzungu, white, whites, safari, East Africa, Southern Africa, Eastern Africa, missionary, mission, consumerism, consumption, western ideals, car, mobile phone, shit house, running water, poverty.


Milla said…
Quite sad you found nothing else in Africa. Why give so much thoughts for the disappointments, though there are things around like you said, but like you didn't notice anything good. Well, I hope you will never write a book about Africa by this experience, get some more with more time and you will be surprised what is there. And I speak from "being mzungu in Zambia" experience.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Milla.

We noticed a lot of good as we wrote, but it just not suitable for us. Someone else might well enjoy volunteering, charity, missionary work and participating in safaris.

It would be interesting to know, how long did you stayed in Zambia, why did you travelled there and what did you do there.

Happy travels,

Päivi & Santeri
AlaskaDave said…
Good writing - I enjoyed it. I saw a comment on Facebook made my by friend Rety about your blog which is how I found it. Having just returned from a truck safari through the game parks of Kenya and Tanzania, and on to Malawi, Zambia and Vic Falls I must admit I experienced many of the same sentiments you express. I found the street touts offensive, the game parks to be large zoos, and the prevailing attitude often to be: you have plenty of money - give me some of it. I traveled with a group of tourists in a large truck that kept us insulated from the worst and the best of what Africa had to offer so my experience was quite a bit different from yours.

Rety posted a link to my blog in her FB comment about yours in which I discuss my trip more fully.

I haven't yet posted the last article covering my Africa trip but in it I will say that while the tour was a good experience I will probably never return to Africa.

Happy Trails,
Bangkok, Thailand
Thanks, Dave.

Rety gave us the link to your blog and we read it with great interest. We are eagerly waiting for your last article about Africa.

Many travellers are afraid of sharing negative experiences. When travelling, everything is supposed to be fine or otherwise one should shut up.

These overly positive travel stories are elevating everybody's expectations and leading to further disappointments which does not benefit anyone.

We perceive Africa as an excellent destination for those enjoying volunteering, charities and safaris, but we must admit that we are not fond of those things.


Päivi & Santeri

The most popular posts this week

Tips for Travelling and Surviving in the Balkans as a Vegan

Looking For All-You-Can-Eat Buffets in Santo Domingo

Trapani: A Taste of Laid-back Sicilian Life

Mediterranean Albania Would Be Wonderful For Long-stay

Finn-Savotta Challenge: The Conclusion