Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Addenda

Here are a few general observations that I didn't get around to noting while I was on the road:

Termite Mounds - They're not really mounds; they're fluted and steep sided like chimneys, are weirdly shaped like Bryce Canyon, and vary between five and ten feet tall. They're also all over the place in East Africa. The wonder is this: Sometimes they're right next to each other, sometimes they're about one per acre, and sometimes they don't exist for miles. Yet the soil and vegetation and rainfall seem to be always the same.

Hair Salons - By far the largest number of small businesses in West Africa are 'hair stylists', both male and female, each with its own weirdly painted sign. This despite the fact that virtually every African woman wears a hair covering and virtually every African man cuts his hair to within a millimeter of his scalp.

Religion: North - Almost all the places I visited were Muslim. That's kind of obvious for Morocco or Mauritania, but perhaps surprising for most of the black African countries. And black Africans certainly don't look like you would probably expect Muslims to look: bright, colorful clothing, an in your face vibrancy to the street life, etc. But Muslim they are, even if in a much milder form than the rest of the world. And it must be said that the societies there are incredibly sober and well behaved.
I've generally noticed this in the rest of the Islamic world: They're the safest and most law abiding places there are. I've read the Koran and I didn't find much in it, but if you judge a tree by its fruits...
Not to mention that just outlawing alcohol certainly cuts down on the crime and mayhem.

Religion: South - Sierra Leone, Ghana, Togo and Benin were the only countries with a strong Christian influence. And the most noteworthy feature of those places was how every other business had names like 'God Will Provide Printers' and 'Heavenly Grace Hair Salon'. Not only that, but there was such a profusion of sects that they almost seemed to outnumber people. Even the Christian Scientists were represented. And in Togo I even saw signs for those New Age stalwarts Eckankar and Yogi Bhajan' 3HO.

Thus Religion was palpable throughout, but no one was ever so impolite as to bring it up in discussion. And everywhere where Christians and Muslims shared a country there was absolutely no sense of religious conflict.

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