Africa!

by @edent | # # # # | 15 comments | Read ~153 times.

Well, it's official. In a month I'll be flying down to Cape Town, South Africa.
Then on to Johannesburg.
Then up to Nairobi.
Then west to Lagos.

Four cities, three countries, two weeks, one massive continent. Africa.

I'm flying down with InMobi, my employers (this blog post is personal and doesn't reflect company policy etc).
We'll be visiting all the local mobile developers and researchers and seeing how we can help them. I'll be posting work related stuff on the official InMobi blog - but I'll be posting on shkspr.mobi any personal thoughts, reflections, and fears.

FEAR!

Yes, I have the fear. I'm fairly well travelled, but I've never been to Africa. I'm excited, full of wanderlust, and a tiny bit terrified!
Perhaps, gentle reader, you can help put my mind to rest over some of the concerns I have.

Vegetarian Food

Even in Western Europe and the USA, I can't always be guaranteed of getting a vegetarian meal in a restaurant. What's the situation like in South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria for vegetarians?
I've been advised not to eat salads because they're often washed in tap water - should I just surrender my principles and eat a bit of meat while I'm out there?

Mobile Technology

All the countries I'm visiting have good GSM coverage - that's partly why I'm going!
I'll be taking along my Android phone, and probably a backup device. But what about roaming costs?
Should I buy a local SIM while I'm out there - or will I get better rates with Truphone or Maxroam?
I'm only going to be a few days in each country - are there any pan-African solutions?
Solar chargers and emergency batteries are also a good idea - any tips on which ones are good?

Health

I've just received all the vaccines I'll need, plus anti-maleria tablets. Any recommendations for lotions, potions, or pills to prevent getting sick while I'm out there?

Anything Else?

Like I said, this will be my first time in Africa. Are there any other bits of advice you can give this nervous traveller?

15 thoughts on “Africa!

  1. Steve says:

    From a South African only perspective:

    FEAR:
    Ye, probably smart to err on the side of caution and be a little afraid. Be careful of being alone in strange places late at night and stopping at traffic lights in your car late at night (paticularly in JHB) - lock the doors.

    Vegetarian:
    Tap water in South Africa is drinkable. Far better than the swill that spills out of these London taps. Vegetarian food will be no problem in SA.
    You should surrender your principles regardless though, and feast on African game.

    Mobile:
    In SA you wont be able to buy a SIM card anyway. A new regulation (intended to curb organised crime apparently - the RICA act) requires all SIM cards to be registered to an address and individual person. Unless you have a local friend who can help out, you're stuck with the roaming option. Can't speak for the rest of Africa though.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulation_of_Interception_of_Communications_and_Provision_of_Communication-Related_Information_Act

    Health:
    Sun cream - even though it's not summer.

    Have fun

    1. Cheers Steve. Good to know about SIM cards. Looks like I'll be stuck paying extortionate roaming rates.
      I'll be getting the strongest sun cream with extra DEET in it. None of those little buggers are going to bite me!

  2. rik says:

    Ah, you've finally let slip some information - you're a vegetarian because of beliefs. The question really lies with how much discomfort are you willing to go through for your beliefs? If you were in London then it's easy - you sit through a meal with nearly nothing because another meal is readily available Somewhere Else and in the end it's just one meal. This trip is for two weeks. Can you deal with two weeks of nearly no food, in the worst case, for your principles?

    I think, in your position, I'd be tempted to go down one of two lines. Either I'd stick to my princples as best I can - politely decline the meat-parts of dishes but eat the rest, or I'd go the whole hog (pardon the expression) and put aside the princples for two weeks to enjoy whatever the culture provides you to eat, knowing that when you come back you will be picking up your principles.

    The first path there has some obvious questions to go with it - do you eat "things that aren't meat, but have been cooked with it?" for one. I don't know where you fit on this scale but that's a decision for you, and if things are going badly, would you consider changing this for ease of having a meal? Another question would be that if you were presented with a meat and vegetable stew, would eating the vegetables upset your stomach because of the meat presence?

    Going down the second route may give you more exposure to the culture's food, and it's certainyl the path of least resistence since you wouldn't need to find people ahead of time and warn them that you don't eat meat and risk offending them and not being seen to take part, and it does involve leaving your princples at Heathrow ready for your return. Is that something you could do with a clear conscience?

    It's an easy choice for me, because I'll happily try any meal twice - once to see if it's weird and once to see if I like it anyway. Two weeks of hospitality is unlikely to yield the same dish over and over. But that's me, and I don't know what your princples are, or how stringly you want to stick to them. That you're even posting the question actually strikes me as interesting.

    Of course, it's worth bearing in mind that you can change your mind while you're there, and it may also be worth asking your new boss this question - to see if they're already making arrangements on your behalf.

    I'd like to know what you're going to try to do, once you've made your decision, and I'd also like to know whether you succeed or not, and why. I'm hoping that you stick to your principles, and that you report back that there were a couple of awkward moments, and amybe you weren't completely satisfied once or twice, but you stuck to your principles and made it through a trip to Africa.

    1. I do love new experiences, and a part of me i slightly disappointed that I'll be cutting myself off from the experience of (some) African cuisine.

      As for eating meat... it's a tricky one. I will usually just pick out the veggies and eat those. Occasionally, I don't ask too if something is cooked in or with meat.
      Having accidentally eaten meat a few times in the past, it has left me queasy - but not ill. Although I don't know if my churning stomach was just psychosomatic.

      Looking around that Internet that they have nowadays, it looks like being a veggie isn't impossible in the cities I'm going to. What worries me, culturally, is the risk of offending people and the perception of arrogance if I leave half a meal because it had some fish near it.

      I'll certainly be blogging about the food - for now, I'm planning on sticking to my principles. I'm sure after a week of eating nothing but yam I'll be tearing down walls for a Big Mac!

  3. My tip (never having been and thus full of envy): take time to see some wildlife; carry some good, compact binoculars.

    And don't concentrate solely on big game; even the small birds and butterflies are very different to those here.

    1. I'll mostly be in the cities - but I certainly will see what I can get up to on the weekends.

      1. Hence my comment about small birds and butterflies - plenty of those (and more) in cities; in gardens and parks. And outside offices - never sit with your back to the window! 😉

  4. Paul Lenz says:

    Hi there

    For Kenya you can pick up a Safaricom SIM for 100 shillings (less than £1) and PAYG top up vouchers readily - this can be done at Nairobi airport and some hotels have handy shops that can also do this. Veggie food should be fine - though a lot of pizza/pasta type choices for veggies. Safety point, don't walk in Nairobi after dark, take taxis.

    Enjoy!

    P.

  5. Paul Lenz says:

    Oh, I should have added, lots of newsagents/general stores also have SIMs and credit, and there are a number of central Safaricom shops - e.g. http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?client=safari&rls=en&oe=UTF-8&redir_esc=&um=1&ie=UTF-8&q=safaricom+nairobi&fb=1&gl=uk&hq=safaricom&hnear=0x182f1172d84d49a7:0xf7cf0254b297924c,Nairobi,+Kenya&ei=CBYgTrqvM4G2hQeSv5m4Aw&sa=X&oi=local_group&ct=image&ved=0CAQQtgM - though weirdly they had run out of SIMs last time I was in there.

    1. Thanks Paul - good info.

  6. Big difference between SA and the other countries - Im sure you can get any type of food you want in Cape Town or Joburg.

    Sounds like an amazing trip - lucky you!

  7. Gabe says:

    I never been to that part of Africa (only Madagascar & Morocco, so this is maybe pointless), but I've been to loads of other places as a vegetarian. It's generally not a problem... apart from you have to communicate you don't eat meat, or eggs, or whatever. That part can be difficult. But everywhere has rice, veg, and pulses.

    I wouldn't worry about offending people either. People might think you're strange, but won't be offended.

    I reckon you'll get toasted on roaming fees, though.

  8. John Collins says:

    Hi Terry.

    This must be one of the most epic business trips ever! I am hugely impressed you managed to organise this and look forward to seeing some cracking photos when you return.

    This advice is provided from myself as a regular visit to South Africa and from my wife, who as you know grew up there:

    If you have any spare time in Jo'burg and you want to get a sense of how things feel from the township perspective, visit Soweto. There are lots of official tours available and several interesting sites to see, including the World Cup stadium, one of Madela's old homes, the apartheid museum and the Hector Pietersen musuem. I found it to be an enlightening and positive place and one that shows the visitor a totally different side of SA. This can all be done in about half a day (at a push). If you have more spare time then get out of town and find a game reserve.

    As it is winter in SA you may need to wrap up warm on some days. Frosts are not uncommon in Jo'burg at this time of the year and Cape Town can get quite wet.

    Steve is absolutely right about security - but try not to let it get to you. It's all common sense really: seek local advice, keep your flashy phones out of sight (preferably locked away in the hotel), avoid public transport and do not drive at night in central Jo'burg or Pretoria. I am advised that Cape Town is more laid back and some of this advice may not apply there.

    Have a great trip and stay safe!

  9. ND says:

    As a fellow vegetarian originally from Nairobi, I'd say don't worry too much about causing offense; Nairobi's population is largely made up of East Indians, many of whom follow strict vegetarian diets. So, a good rule of thumb in the city would be to pick a place that serves Indian or Chinese as you will be sure to find authentic vegetarian food.

    Its best to stick to bottled water while you're in Nairobi.

    Although a generally friendly place, Nairobi is still a big city and caution is necessary. While in the city (day or night), keep your personal effects safely with you at all times and try to maintain an awareness of what's going in your immediate radius.

    Enjoy your trip!

  10. Frank says:

    Terence, in all three countries you will get vegetarian fare, decent high speed mobile broadband, prepaid SIMs you can toss out at the airport and good access to healthcare. South Africa is wealthiest so its easy to find these things anywhere you are in the country (except the townships), Nairobi, Kenya is also relatively modern so its also easy to get these things there as well. Nigeria is modern only at its fringes so you need a guide. There are western hotels, restaurants and shopping malls in Lekki, Ikoyi and Victoria Island where you can find decent vegetarian fare and mobile equipment, healthcare you need to visit Reddington hospital in Victoria Island.

    I have lived in all three places and can guarantee you that you will have a great time comparing and contrasting. Just like Europe, no two African cities are the same and they all have their pluses and minuses. But if I were to generalize I would say that South Africa has the edge on infrastructure, Kenya on the friendliness of its people and Nigeria on raw drive and energy. You will also love the pristine environment you will find close to all three cities. For example, visit Lion Park in South Africa if you are in the Johannesburg area, visit Nairobi National Park or the giraffe center if you are in Kenya and Lekki beach in Lagos.

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