Learning in Africa

We spent most of the month of July in Namibia, Zambia and Tanzania with family.  Here are a few things I learned.

1. Washing clothes by hand cleans your fingernails and stretches your hamstrings.  Sometimes, while traveling, washing machines are available.  Sometimes they are not.  In Africa, it seems Westerners are often content to wear the same clothes day in and day out without washing them.  After all, this is Africa and isn’t everything dirty already?  No, my friend.  It might be the hipster thing to wear the same pair of jeans for 7.5 months without washing them, but most inhabitants of the large continent take pride in wearing clean clothes when they are out in public (ie not working in a field or doing other manual labor), even if those clothes are heavily stained or not in perfect condition.  If you choose to go grunge, you actually don’t ‘fit right in.’  Most people wash their clothes by hand and lay them out on a bush or a sagging clothesline.

One day last month, after the pile of clothes became overwhelming, I had no choice but to do clothes by hand.  We were having a family reunion, so several other family members brought their clothes to the communal basins and we squatted and stretched over the soggy clothes and murky water – sloshing, wringing, scrubbing, splashing, laughing, groaning.  An hour later, seven adults and nine children had clean clothes on the line.  The 11-year-old even had the gall to say ‘This is fun!  We should do this at home!’  


This young baboon moved in for a closer look at our baby carrier drying on the roof of the van after our excursion through the mist of the falls.
This young baboon moved in for a closer look at our baby carrier drying on the roof of the van after our excursion through the mist of the falls.

2. You’ve heard of animal behaviorists, people who study animal behavior.  Did you know that baboons are human behaviorists?  I learned first hand this month that those monkeys are pretty astute observers of human activity, and they have no prime directive not to interfere with humans.   The baboons at the entrance to Victoria Falls National Park on the Zambia side of the falls are of particular note.  They roam the paths and walkways, stealing food from cars with open windows, rushing into restaurants to steal food off plates and dumpster diving the trash cans every time a human has deposited something.  Knowing humans often keep snack food in their safari pants pocket, one baboon even attempted pulling the pants off a woman walking alone on a trail.  She screamed, her boyfriend came rushing back up the trail and from then on we knew to carry a big stick to ward off the aggressive human behaviorists.  

3. You can boil coffee.  I’m a coffee person.  I roast my own beans because it’s economical and tastes better.  Last week in Tanzania we were privileged to visit a family that grows and harvests coffee on their property on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. Under the important shade of the banana trees, Oscar and his family and friends demonstrated how coffee is harvested, processed and how it ultimately ends up in a cup.  A minimalist would happily note that no electronic gadget, temperature or pressure gauge, or other fancy item was in sight.  Roasted, husked, and ground by hand, a generous amount of powder (fine grind) was poured into a simmering pot of water over a fire.  Brought to a boil, it generated froth and was stirred for a minute before removing from the fire and straining into coffee-stained thermoses.  Simple as that.  Coffee is prepared this way across Africa and the Middle East, so don’t let a little boil scare you away from a good cup of coffee.

4. Speaking of coffee, Starbucks puts stickers on cups with your order!  What?!  No more Sharpie?  When did that happen? Perhaps this change happened months ago, but we’ve been living abroad (where, when we can, we try to seek out local coffee establishments).  When there is a Starbucks, the Sharpie is still standard.

5. Most Africa trips involve lots of driving.  Thinking of going on safari?  Keep in mind that you may have to drive hours (unless, of course, you’ve chartered a jet) to reach a game park.  In-car activities are essential. In our search for audiobooks for the drive (we prefer audio over screens, which tend to keep kids’ eyes inside the car instead noticing what’s outside), my husband discovered Librivox.  Librivox records classics that are already in the public domain – think Beatrix Potter stories, The Secret Garden or Huckleberry Finn.  The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin saved us on the long, flat drive across Namibia’s Okavango panhandle (aka, the Caprivi Strip).  

11 thoughts on “Learning in Africa

    1. The baboons were quite memorable. They know where to find food and they don’t hesitate to go after it. The lady that worked at the restaurant stood guard at the door with a stick while people were eating to keep the baboons from running in. When she wasn’t guarding, a baboon ran in and spilled a basket of potato chips from the counter onto the floor. Puts a whole new perspective on the children’s book ‘Curious George.’

  1. Thank-you for the information on LIbrivox!! I am Janet Jones’s niece living in southern Indiana. I work as an educational consultant to Indiana homeschoolers with children who have learning struggles like dyslexia. I am always looking for ways to help our one-income families find free or inexpensive resources. I love your blogs and you have educated me, stretched my small world, and blessed me. Thank-you! Heidi Jasper

    1. What a blessing to have a resource person like you to assist families who want to homeschool but don’t have the resources to spend on expensive curriculums. There are so many free, high quality resources for families who home educate. Thank you for what you do! Glad to be able to contribute to your list of resources.

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