Travelling in Africa has converted my fears for the future of this world into an optimistic hope. While I was packing for my recent trip, most of my friends and colleagues were experiencing emotional shockwaves from Trump's election victory. My friends' reactions ranged from dread and depression to outright panic. Most of them feel that they will be at a distinct disadvantage in the new vision for America that Trump espoused in his election rhetoric. Many black, brown, indigenous peoples, women, LGBTQIA+ folks, Muslims and immigrants feel their nation is swinging back into the Dark Ages. Even the economic markets were rattled by the news of Trump's victory, and many financial leaders are taking measures to hedge their investments if his policies are enacted.
Visions of an apocalyptic ending to America haunt the dreams of many people I know and love. I did not have time to fret over the possible consequences of the election results. I was preparing for an extended journey across the continent of Africa. I have grave concerns for the loved ones I have left behind; concrete concerns for their safety because of all the news stories of re-empowered bigots heaping verbal and physical violence upon those they feel do not qualify as "true" Americans.
Though perhaps, not in the land of my birthright, this world is greater than what happens merely within the confines of the continental United States. Here are just a few reasons I have a renewed vision of what kind of world is possible for my children and grandchildren. These are the signs of hope I have seen since I peered through the lens of the African context:
1. Entrepreneurship and Hard-Working Small Business People
As I walk the streets of the cities I have visited, daily I see throngs of men and women self-employed as vendors and artisans working for themselves. As a lifelong resident of Los Angeles, I am used to seeing numerous homeless people begging for assistance and low-income neighbourhoods that look like war zones. One in seven children in Los Angeles County goes to sleep hungry. Here, I have not seen those perpetual media images of starving children, refugees or people begging for food and shelter. Here, I have only seen hard-working and well-dressed entrepreneurs who are confidently pursuing a better future for themselves and their families.
2. Self-Sufficiency and Sustainable Living
Many of the people here have gardens where they grow their own food, so abundantly that many women entrepreneurs sell their excess produce at the local markets. I have purchased bags of "locally grown, organic, fresh from the farm" produce for the equivalent of $7 that I would have paid at least $75 for at Whole Foods (aka "Whole Paycheck"). Eggs are from local farms and are cheap and delicious. Most people walk, ride bicycles or take buses rather than drive, conserving energy and the environment. There are virtually no washing machines (which waste precious water), so people handwash and sun-dry their clothes. Most people do not purchase "namebrand" clothes made by slave labour for multinational corporations; they choose the fabrics and have a local seamstress create their garments, which are beautiful. "Hipsters" advocate doing things "DIY" and survivalists espouse "living off the grid". It is far easier to "live off the grid" if the grid has not been built in the first place.
3. Family Values
I see young children cared for by their working parents or elders in the community. I see the elders treated with utmost dignity and respect. Marriage, fidelity and supporting your family and friends are foundational African moral values. You see examples of this everywhere you turn.
4. Religious Tolerance
I have seen Christian and Muslim people of all genders and ages walking and talking with each other as friends in the streets. Children of both religions play together. The Muslim call to prayer is heard every morning in the communities I have stayed in and tenderly awaken people of all faiths. Mosques and churches co-exist in the same communities peacefully. While I am aware that there are exceptions to this in some areas of Africa in recent years, those seem to be rare exceptions rather than the rule.
5. Racial Tolerance
Different tribes and groups of people interact in the cities. While you can sometimes note some linguistic or cultural differences, people are treated with respect regardless of their background, colour or social class. The local police carry batons rather than guns. Black and brown men, women and children are not being shot dead in the streets for no apparent reason by law enforcement. Neither are the minority groups, which in this case happen to be white. As a white male, I am not "kowtowed" to nor disrespected. I walk the streets of African cities oblivious to the fact that I look different than the people around me. And, most Africans appear equally oblivious to my lack of melanin.
The African people of all ages I have encountered exhibit a radical degree of respect, grace and dignity that I have never experienced or seen. I cannot help but think what a great example of honour and pride African people would be to most Americans.
As I continue my journey through various African countries, I am not naïve enough to imagine everything will be as encouraging as what I have seen in my first months. Yet somehow the contrast between what I see going on in my home country and what I see on the African continent is glaring. The evidence is overwhelming enough to persuade a sceptical pessimist like me that there is a bright future for humankind. I see it every day before my own eyes on the continent deemed by most scientists to be the birthplace of humanity. I can only pray that some of this grace, dignity and beauty can rub off on to the land of my birth.
This blog post originally appeared in Blavity.