Africa burns a hole in you. That hole may heal but there’ll always be a scar. There isn’t any way to prevent this, except maybe to return to Africa. Of course, then the scar gets ripped open, to have the salve of being home and the acid that is the tragedy and breathlessness of Africa poured over the wound in equal measure.
Africa unwinds the Western mind. Things that should work—clean water, jobs done on time, electricity, roads—don’t. And the things that don’t work in the West—family, time for friends, quiet evenings, healing of the deepest parts of the human soul— do.
I once read that Africa offers the West humanity. It’s true. Even in all the evil of its terrible wars, there is no forgetting that even these proceedings are terribly, fundamentally human. There are no computer-assisted drone attacks in Africa. But it is in Africa, not in the West, where you’ll be asked how you slept last night. It’s in Africa where your neighbor will say his day is only so-so, just in case your day isn’t going as well as his is. It’s in Africa where a friend won’t open your gift to her in front of of you, just in case she’s not perfectly happy with the gift and you’d happen to spot a hint of disappointment in her face.
Africa may not always be humane, but it is always human.