Jared Ning


no running in africa


i didn’t notice it at first. normally at home in the US, i wouldn’t think twice about seeing someone in a rude rush running right by me. but after several days in africa, as soon as i saw someone running, it looked odd to me.

there’s a bumper sticker you often see that has an elephant on it that reads “no hurry in africa”. if you’re here long enough, you eventually get used to the fact that very few things happen on time. there aren’t many clocks around. and hardly anybody wears a watch. maybe because they have a clock on their phone, and not everybody has a phone, but you get my point. i’m also a bit biased since i’m in a small town. even in the US, small towns are known for their slower pace. but i get that sense more here. even the walk seems to be at a calm pace.

one of the things i like so much about africa is its simplicity. of course that’s just one person’s perspective, but it’s one of the things i think of first when thinking of africa. thoreau said “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!…Simplify, Simplify… simplicity of life and elevation of purpose”. and occam’s razor states that the simplest answer is usually the correct one. simplicity is a big thing for me.

from a personal perspective, i realized something interesting about myself. why do i like africa’s simplicity so much, but at the same time new york is my favorite place? these 2 places at first glance seem to be quite the polar opposites, figuratively and somewhat geographically. but from certain perspective, they can be similar as well. most new yorkers live in pretty crappy places compared to the very rich. we see it all the time in movies about people moving their lives to new york and ending up in tiny, cramped apartments. in africa, It’s not uncommon for several people to jam into a single bed. also, both places rely on efficient transportation to make their everyday lives work. and there’s definitely a fair amount of walking just to get to forms of public transportation.

the last time i came here, i interviewed a bunch of volunteers on film which I am editing together. they were from all over the world and all from places that are very well off compared to here in moshi, tanzania. one of the questions i asked was “how is africa different from your home?” but i wish so much that i could go back and ask “how is africa THE SAME as your home?” i think this an important question. it’s easy to get caught up in thinking about how things are different, which is completely natural and understandable, esp. when you’re travelling. but i think it’s equally important to also ask how things are the same. in a place like this, i guess it’s more difficult to ask that question since there are so many things that are so obviously and overwhelmingly different. i’m really glad i’m working around a lot of kids. to me kids are the same no matter what part of the world they’re in. the kids I see here are just as eager to have fun as any other kids in the world. they don’t need a lot to be happy. people in general are looking to lead a full life and peace of mind. that’s true for everybody isn’t it?

as a traveller, i’m lucky to have the unique opportunity to see how the variable of geography affects things. my first instinct tells me that i should feel very lucky to come from where i come from compared to what’s here. but should i? there must be plenty of people here that are completely content with what they have, despite knowing that (in a sarcastic tone) “there’s something ‘better’ out there”. but back at home, i know there’s people that are richer than me, more talented than me, more successful than me. and i’ll bet some of these people would look at my life and think the same of me that i think of people here. so why should i be the “lucky” one? what makes me so special? what makes me “more well off” than anybody else? it’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? when i watch movies set a long time ago, one of the first things that comes to mind is, “these guys must be stinky bathing just once a year”. but obviously that was the norm back then. and i’ll bet 50 years from now, someone will think back and ask “how did anyone ever survive without internet?”.

don’t want to get into the whole “what’s the meaning of life” conversation. eventually it gets as pointless to me as “which came first, the chicken or the egg”. but everytime i get tired of thinking “who are we and where are we going”, i feel better when i ask “what’s the hurry?”