Why I Am Grateful for Traveling to Africa

Tanzania 2013

By Jennifer James

November 27, 2013

Also published by Babble


I have written before that only a few short years ago I never wanted to visit Africa because I believed what the media fed me about the continent. I believed that Africa was full of child soldiers and brutal dictators. Ibelieved that diseases were rife across the continent. I believed that every country was full of people living in slums, shantytowns and townships. I believed I would go to Africa and catch something. I believed that I shouldn’t go to Africa because it was too dangerous. In my then narrow mind I never wanted to set foot on the African continent. It wasn’t the place for me. I would go to Europe and Asia and find some culture there, thankyouverymuch. Africa – although my ancestral homeland- was never on my must-visit list. Rather it was on my continents-to-avoid-at-all-costs list.



That was until two years ago when I got the opportunity to visit Kenya and see for myself how lovely Africa is with my own eyes. Before my KLM flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi landed in the dead of night on the sprawling grey tarmac in Kenya’s capital two years ago I was blinded by the stereotypes that cloud the perspectives and opinions many have about Africa. I was simply afraid to visit Africa. I admit it. I believed everything that had been fed to me through the media and I never sought to know anything contrary to the doom and gloom news stories that flood out of every country on the continent. Not even when Oprah built a school for girls in South Africa did I feel the pangs to visit the Motherland. I still shrugged nonchalantly at the continent. I frankly could care less about it. Unfortunately I am sure there are millions of people who are like I was a few years ago. For them a trip to Africa is akin to a trip to another planet; to another world where poverty, death, and disease reign supremely over all else. And yet that simply is not the case.

Mother and son in a Malaria Clinic.


After going to Africa now four times in two years and visiting five countries I cannot believe how ridiculously shortsighted I was about a continent so full of promise, overflowing with gorgeous nature and vast landscapes, and beautiful people. Yes, Africa has its challenges, but what continent full of diverse countries doesn’t?

As I near forty years old I absolutely cannot believe I let my fear of an entire continent scare me away from journeying to the other side of the world to see Africa for myself until recently. Most of all I wholeheartedly cannot believe that I absorbed without hesitation what the reports claimed and the photos showed. I didn’t question. I didn’t think critically about the news I consumed. I didn’t delve further. I just sat there and believed it all.

Art Gallery – Johannesburg, South Africa


Now that I have daughters who are steadily inching their way towards college I have to get them to Africa before they leave the nest. I can’t let them go to college without a full vision of the continent they hail from. They need to see Africa so they can make critical judgments about what they hear about the largest continent on the planet. It’s my duty to share the continent with them. It is also my duty to share with you that Africa is not a continent full of sadness and strife. Africa is teeming with beauty everywhere from the people to nature to a resilient spirit that continuously overcomes. I know that sentence may sound a bit romanticized, but from my perspective it’s true when I try to encapsulate the continent in a single sentence.

I am proud that I have overcome by biases about Africa – albeit far too late. And I am even more proud that in 2014 I will go back. I don’t know when or how, but I’ll be on a plane landing on some tarmac in a capital city in Africa.

Jennifer James reported from Zambia and Tanzania as a new media fellow with the International Reporting Project (IRP).

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