Once I returned from Ethiopia I wondered why would people talk about Mal d’ Afrique.
In this wonderful country that has opened the doors to sub -Saharan Africa, during the two months when I was traveling, I was just too busy to ponder about this feel.
I had no time and I had too many practical thoughts from which I could not be distracted only to think about the meaning of a trip to Africa, while everything all around was affecting me in such a way that it would upset, (but I did not realized it then), the way in which I had traveled the world up to then.
I was busy trying to find transport back to town, understand how and when to take a bus, uncertain whether it would pass at all, busy taking care of myself in situations that at first did traumatize me to the point that at some point I believed that this “mal d’Afrique” (which I did not call that) was no more than a feeling of helplessness that crushed me into an enterprise much too big than I was and which I might not be able to fulfill.
I was diagnosed with “Mal d’Afrique” a few months ago when with shiny eyes, lost in memories, at dinner I was telling stories of Ethiopia, leaving my fellow diners in silence for one hour. I told about the beautiful, the ugly, the difficult, the painful, the strength and the adventure ( which incidentally in Africa is pretty much assured ) .
And it was that day that I acknowledged what a trip to Africa could have meant to me and the meaning of Mal d’Afrique.
Let’s get back in time, in November 2014 .
One afternoon after finishing my shift in Geche clinic where I worked as an English teacher, together with other volunteers drinking a beer in total silence, there in the middle of nowhere, the sun was setting and one of the doctors says “you see, this is an African sunset . ”
I did not want to sound strange so I did not utter a word, but the truth is that to me that sunset didn’t look anything special.
The African sunsets I had seen in books and postcards pictured flat savannas, red sunsets and possibly outlined on the horizon, giraffes.
Maybe even Mount Kilimanjaro as a backdrop .
There, in front of me, there was nothing of the sort. We were in Africa but I’d seen more beautiful sunsets … even in places less ” exotic ” .
So I thought that Mal D’Afrique was nothing but a fake disease, a saying that anyone visiting this continent at some point claims to suffer.
I was quite puzzled , especially if Africa had to be related to that sunset that had nothing special.
Two months after that conversation the trip to Ethiopia is coming to an end. I go back to Italy. Worn out to the point that I needed a few months to recover.
I take in my hands a diary in which for 60 days I wrote down what happened to me in the land of Ethiopia, I regularly speak with my friends from the tribes that still write me messages on facebook, sometimes just to tell me that the whole the community misses me, and I rethink what happened .
My story begins with those pages that I started writing after long as we often had no electricity.
And the Africa blues started creeping within in a very subtle way. Certainly it was unexpected, given how I had hated in the first few weeks that world too new to me, that I simply could not digest ( In this letter to Lucy I tell about the first two weeks in Ethiopia ) .
Mal d’Afrique happens, it is a personal revolution that everyone lives individually and in a different way, while still calling it with the same name.
For some it is the romantic nostalgia of the spaces, the emptiness and silence. For others it is the lack of comfort and the forced return to the primordial, uncomfortable and genuine.
For others it is the sunsets and animals or the widespread poverty in the face of which you feel the obligation and need to help, to do something.
For me, after changing my mind so many times, it is the utter nudity in front of something that could not be any more different. The feeling and acceptance of being confronted with a change of perspectives that can’t leave you indifferent.
It goes far beyond the sunsets and animals, that at the moment I have not even seen. But it’s poured into the streets, in the crowded buses and in the markets where the days always pass the same as they did before.
Mal d’Afrique is the adventure lived by traveling these lands of which little is known and that are so fearsome, only to be able to discover your own dimension and find a new world every day, still not being able to make plans, because of what tomorrow will bring no one can tell.
Mal d’Afrique is perhaps that desire of the pioneer who longs and who needs to exceed the limit, throwing in the most earthly reality, where the rise can and must come from those around us, because there are not so many tourist movements, especially independent, a journey into the unknown therefore scary … a big question mark .
Mal d’Afrique is getting to say during a dinner: either Africa or nothing. Not really knowing why your said so but having a clear memory of the people that have marked the travel experience that is not directly related to the things I have seen and done, but rather to the journey, and the company, which took me there .
Mal d’Afrique is thinking of flying to Asia and then buying a ticket to Dar Es Salaam .
Because at the beginning it was the Philippines.
But that sweet and mysterious “ache” has won on all levels without really giving me a chance to ponder too long. And that’s why I’m coming back.
Because, as my friend Lucia says, either Africa, or nothing.