For six months we have been together and then I left you in a hurry. Earlier than planned and later than I sometimes thought possible. I'm writing you this letter to let you know it has nothing to do with you. I know from experience that when someone says that to me, I always have the conviction that it has to do with me, but you have to believe me. I would have loved to have stayed with you longer. It's better for both our health and safety that our paths do not cross for the time being.
I won't forget the six months we did spend together. It certainly wasn't love at first sight; we both know that all too well. I needed time to get to know you. What I struggled with was that everything could only be done your way. I was used in my world that if I wanted something, I could realize it as long as I tried hard enough. And so I really tried to change you. But you didn't give a shrink. I thought you were ruthless, but you called it ‘fair’. The only space you left me was to adapt my desire to your reality. I was allowed to get to know you, but only according to your laws and rules.
You caught me sitting on the edge of my bed, desperate and with tears in my eyes, no longer knowing what to do with you.
I wanted to leave you several times, but then there was always that question you asked me with your seductive smile: 'Do you really give up so quickly?
Step by step I got to know you and I learned to live according to your laws and rules. You taught me that it's not about 'me', but it's about 'us'. It's not about what I want, but about what is possible in the given situation. You taught me not to be bitter when something didn't work, but to be happy when something did work. I have to admit, it took a while before I understood you and it took a little longer before I had mastered that. But when I got there, you became kind to me.
Suddenly I saw your smile and your white teeth everywhere. When I understood the questions I could ask you, I invariably got that one sentence back: 'Yes my friend, that is very possible'. You don't know half how much that meant to me.
And when I learned to keep my mouth shut and listen to you, you opened my eyes. You called my world 'artificial' and yours 'natural'. The undertone you used left little to guess. You didn't think our artificial world was 'life'. As I learned at home, I went against you; I told you that you saw it wrong. But the longer I stayed by your side, the quieter I became. And now I realize that there is absolutely a grain of truth hidden in your words.
Prior to our journey, I thought I knew you. I knew exactly what was good and bad for you, Africa. But now I realize I knew only the two extremes of you. On the one hand the extremes I came across in travel brochures: impressive safari trips with lodges that can almost be called ‘royal’. On the other hand the extremes I saw on TV: famines, refugee camps and extreme poverty. But after six months of cycling, so many faces, so many customs further on, I realise I know you less than ever. The 95% that's in between, we never see on TV here and we never read about it in our glossy travel magazines. These are people like me who just make a living, without hunger, extreme poverty and who are happy in the environment in which they live.
And besides that, I've come to realize that you, 'Africa', only exists because it consists of 54 countries with in each country often dozens of 'tribes', each with their own culture, habits, customs and often language. In short, so many differences and besides that, you are almost three times as big as 'my' Europe, where I draw the line at the Caspian Sea. You are home to almost twice as many people as 'my' Europe. And then I could put you in one word?
According to our economic laws, little is right about you, but with you cattle is more important than money. According to our logic, little is right about you, but with you it is more about spirituality than logic. According to our individualism little is right about you, but with you it is more about the community than about the individual. Many of my people want to help you; myself included. But I now realize that this can only be done in your way, while we do it our way. Our ego is caressed when we have helped, but are you really waiting for our help?
I hardly dare to tell you, but sometimes I wonder if you have really been helped with our help. After all, I think you can do it very well yourself; the energy I've seen along the way is impressive. I'm convinced that a very large part of our help can be stopped, if we trade fairly with you, if our Dutch tomatoes on your market are not cheaper than your locally produced tomatoes due to subsidies. In short, if we treat you the way we would like to be treated ourselves. Sometimes I think that's where the problem lies. At least, we see you as a 'problem', but I wonder if you also see yourself as a 'problem'.
But enough about that. You've definitely won a place in my heart and you've taught me new life lessons. Your sense of community, your simplicity, your happiness and your creativity. Your ingenuity and your resilience. Not some law that offers a solution, but just you and me looking for a solution; a solution that works for both of us and in which we can both find ourselves.
I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for who you are. How beautiful you were once I really got to know you. Always that smile, the waving or your thumb raised. Your hospitality and your helpfulness are indescribable. But also the choice of words you use. Where we say ‘goodbye’ when we leave, you say ‘welcome again!’. I want to carry that hospitality with me forever.
Thank you for being such a watchful eye for us. Thank you for your people we've met. We've never felt unsafe with them. In fact, they always made us feel safe. Thank you for your animals we've been allowed to see. Elephants, giraffes, lions, monkeys, zebras, antelopes and other species of deer. We only knew them from behind thick bars. It was impressive to be able to share the road with them now, in complete freedom, although we had to grow in there in the beginning as well.
Finally, I would like to give you some advice. Although you are seen by many as the weakest link of the continents, and many want to help you, I would like to ask you most of all not to let yourself change too easily. In fact, I would like to ask you to stand up straight and add your story to our planet. After all, you have a lot to tell and you can add interesting insights to our 'artificial' world.
Africa, how beautiful you are!