Out of Africa
January 14, 2014
By Kaylan Lovrovich
Issaquah family gets the most from their trip —
Many people travel to Africa to sightsee, or to go on safaris. But Issaquah’s Leist family had a different agenda.
The family explored parts of Africa in a Land Cruiser stocked with camping equipment this past summer and focused on the culture and the people.
Scott, Sally, Maggie (15) and Anna (12) Leist, along with some family friends, spent five weeks visiting Johannesburg, South Africa, the coast of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Kenya. About one-third of that time was spent driving from place to place and sleeping in tents on top of their rental car.
“It was interesting to hear people’s questions when we said we were going” to Africa, Scott said. “People would say, ‘Oh my gosh, is it safe? You’re driving through the country?’ But it’s a beautiful part of the world and it’s definitely worth exploring.”
“Someone we ran into along the way said, ‘I hope you’re not just coming to Africa to see the animals,’” Sally said. “The animals are interesting, but we actually were more fascinated by the people.”
One of the more interesting events the Leists got to witness happened July 31 — Election Day in Zimbabwe. People came to their local villages to stand in line and vote. They would dip their hands in red ink afterwards to show that they had voted.
The Leists were actually advised not to travel to Zimbabwe during that time because of the instability of the country.
“Last time there were elections there, there was a lot of violence afterwards,” Scott said. “The people who think their party should have won will fight the other party, and there’s a lot of killings and people going to jail.”
Robert Mugabe, the man who has held control of Zimbabwe since 1980, lost the elections in 2008. Still, he refused to relinquish power and killed many in order to keep his position, Scott said.
Now, according to the Leists, the elections are rigged so that Mugabe will always win. He still wants the international community to believe they are legitimate, so he pressures citizens to vote. When police question whether a citizen has voted, all they need to do is hold up their hand — the red ink serves as proof.
“The people didn’t think the fact that they still held elections was crazy because it gave them hope,” Maggie said. “We talked to a guy we met at a gas station, and he said, ‘I vote because I think there’s hope that it can change.’ He wants his vote to count, and taking part in the election is symbolic of the possibility that one day it might.”
This was not the family’s first time in Africa. The Leists lived in Kenya for a year, when Scott had a job with the International Justice Mission. Maggie and Anna were 11 and 8 years old, respectively, then. This time, the family wanted to see more of the continent and wanted the girls to experience it at an older age.
Anna and Maggie said the African children were captivated by the sheer differences in appearance between them. They wanted to know why the girls’ hair was so long and straight, or why they blushed when they were embarrassed.
“We went into a slum in Kenya and we had hordes of kids around us, touching our hair and poking us to watch our skin change color,” Maggie said. “It was really fun to see those kids and how excited they would be from simple things like us just coming to visit them.”
The Leists were impressed by how happy people seemed to be in general.
“When we look at them as Americans, we go, ‘Oh, you don’t have an iPod, you don’t have a car,’” Scott said. “All this stuff that as Americans we think we need. They don’t have that, but they’re not less happy. In fact, I think they’re probably more content than your average American.”
The family agreed that they would love to return to Africa, and that it would be beneficial for Americans to experience the differences in culture.
Sally reminisced about a moment she found particularly memorable, when she and Anna were watching people in Nairobi, Kenya, sorting through a garbage dump as a way to support their families.
“Anna asked a lot of questions about why people had to do this,” she said. “It was heartbreaking for her, but when she said, ‘Mom, I’m so grateful for my life,’ I knew then that the entire trip was worth it.”
Kaylan Lovrovich is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.