So I have been on and off the road with the guys for a month now, travelling from Nairobi to south-western Uganda. It has been a month packed with new experiences for me, for instance I never knew that camping was a spectator-sport. No matter how deserted an area appears, within fifteen minutes of us parking, a crowd will gather. They welcome us warmly, and promptly settle in to spend the rest of the evening commenting on our every move. A fumble, stumble or strange-looking object will release waves of luxurious laughter, and I am slowly getting accustomed to having twenty curious spectators peaking over my shoulder as I brush, floss and attempt to sneak off for some private time in the bushes.
This is the thing about Africa: you are always seen. Love it or hate it, you will never go unnoticed. People will stop and take their time to greet you and inquire about whom you are and what you are doing. They will shake and hold on to your hand while they lock eyes with you for a small eternity. This is not a social formality, but a genuine recognition of you as a fellow human being worthy of attention. Ujamaa (Swahili) and ubuntu (Zulu) denotes how one acquires personhood through one’s relations to others. You exist as a person because you relate to others. Thus many Africans are experts on building and maintaining social relationships, and are ready to make new friends under any circumstances. Even people with whom I share no common language mimes persistently until I give them my phone-number (making for some rather awkward attempts at conversation). In a continent with a great wealth of social capital no traveller is ever lonely (or alone).