Africa changes you forever

Africa changes you forever

MY TURN - Karen Davila (The Philippine Star) - August 12, 2018 - 12:00am

Africa will show you that you have all you need. You leave feeling grateful. Africa, in its unique magic, will touch your spirit and tell you, ‘Nope, you don’t need screaming branded clothes to make you feel special.’ It redefines beauty and, to a degree, what’s truly worth your attention.

I first experienced Africa in 2004, as a journalist, not as a tourist. No grand safari, no expensive lodges but pure immersion with the people and culture of Kenya, through the eyes of a brilliant Filipino doctor whose main job was to help stop the spread of AIDS. Amid the poverty and hardship in the hospitals and rural areas we visited, all I remember was the beauty of Africa — the warmth of the people, especially children, radiating with their thousand-watt smiles; the vast green fields we drove by that were for tea exports; hundreds of pink flamingoes flying in unison and elephants crossing the rough roads. There was no WiFi then, not even a television where we stayed, so lying down on the grass at night remains in my memory. I asked myself why does the sky seem clearer out here, the colors more pronounced and the stars feel like they’re so close?

When I came back home to write our documentary for The Correspondents, on the cultural challenges that women and children were trying to break in Kenya, I came back a changed person, somewhat defined by what I love now about Africa — an appreciation on the true luxuries of life.

So trust me when I tell you, the famous rings true: “Africa changes you forever like nowhere else on earth.” One can never visit Africa without being entranced by its magic. I’ve been back twice since then, now as a tourist, with my husband DJ and two boys, David and Lucas.

Our first was a 10-day trip in South Africa in 2016 that covered Capetown and a safari at Limpopo. Our most recent was this summer of 2018 where we went back to Capetown, marveled at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe then flew in a four-seater plane and disappeared off the grid in Hwange cavorting with the elephant super herds.

Let me share with you in the simplest of terms why Africa is more than just a destination.

First, Africa as a continent is good for the soul. Depending on which country you choose to visit, shopping is not the primary activity. I’ve gotten sick and tired of going to places where no matter how beautiful they are, you end up buying too much of things you do not need. There’s nothing more numbing to the soul than feeling the excitement of flying 10,000 miles away from home just to hunt for outlet stores or overspend because you’re surrounded with malls. And no judgment here; I can talk about it because I’ve been there. What I love about being on safari in Africa is no matter how much you want to shop, you can’t! Now, don’t get me wrong, of course there’s shopping in the cities, like Capetown for example, but it won’t jack up your consumerist juices like other cities, believe me.

Second, Africa reorients your concept of what is real luxury. Nature is the true luxury. It’s nature 2.0 over there, with the sunsets painted in bright orange, black and yellow. Of course, they’re known for their 5- to 6-star lodges, but if you’re able to see the real gem of Africa, you know that’s not what I mean. Where on earth would you see animals running in the wild, walking past you at times by the hundreds, hunting for food, taking care of their young — the very cycle of life, with the least possible human intervention but protection available? And they’re quite blessed with weather, too. At the height of summer, sure, you can complain of the heat, but it’s never too humid because of its protected forest cover and the soft breeze coming from the ocean. When it’s winter, on the other hand, mornings can be freezing at zero degrees — but the sun is up!

Third, Africa will humble you and show you that you are NOT the center of the universe — frankly, the elephants are! Or this is debatable, of course, with lions being the Kings of the Jungle. I’m kidding. But my point is, there is just something you won’t know, something that will astonish you. It’s shocking to find out there are over 1,100 species of mammals living on that continent and over 2,600 species of birds. It’s the creation story right in front of your very eyes, oftentimes answering existential questions on the creation of the universe.

I can imagine the truth in Ernest Hemingway’s famous quote, “I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up and was not happy.” And you know why? Africa takes you back to a simplicity that, in today’s life of excess, is really genuine luxury. And for me, it brings you back to a purity, of something that brings an endless high.

Africa will show you that you have all you need. You leave feeling grateful. Africa, in its unique magic, will touch your spirit and tell you, “Nope, you don’t need screaming branded clothes to make you feel special.” “Those extra pairs of shoes won’t make you happier” and “All you need is sunscreen, no makeup.” It redefines beauty and, to a degree, what’s truly worth your attention.

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All photos of Karen Davila with husband DJ Sta. Ana and sons David and Lucas were taken in South Africa 2016 and Zimbabwe 2018

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