THE BLOG

The Mzungu Diaries: 6 Months in Africa

09/06/2013 03:45 pm ET | Updated Nov 06, 2013

"So, how are you finding Africa?" asked the man in the suit next to me as our bus careered around another blind corner, narrowly avoiding a huge lorry laden with bricks in the oncoming lane.

"Wonderful," I answered, ducking the box of live chicks thrown towards me by the force of the turn. "It's nothing like I expected."

He leaned back in his seat, unfazed by the chaos around us, as he reached to extract his buzzing blackberry from his pocket. "You see," he said, grinning, "this isn't the dark continent after all."

I've thought about that comment many times during my first few weeks in southern Africa. Because to be honest, my well-dressed companion was right -- Africa for much of the western world is still very much in the dark.

Nowhere in the world is as laden with cliches. As the Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina brilliantly satirised in his Granta essay "How to Write About Africa," most of us can only think about this continent of over a billion people through the prism of banal stereotypes inherited through the generations.

So it's not surprising that most of my friends were surprised to hear that I -- a 28-year-old white British girl -- planned to spend six months traveling here alone. Their first question, after a look of puzzled disbelief, was normally why. Why on earth would I leave my well-paying job as a reporter in Sydney, my beautiful apartment near Bondi beach, my wonderful friends and cushy lifestyle, to spend half a year wandering around somewhere so, well, difficult?

I'm still not sure quite how to answer that question.

Partly it's a chance to learn about my own roots. Both by blood and by marriage a large part of my family is from South Africa, but it remains a mystery to me in many ways. My grandmother left the country at the tender age of 20, swept off her feet by a dashing pilot in the RAF, but spent many years disowning her links to a country at that time gripped by the increasingly brutal apartheid regime. I grew up with South Africa's influence all around me -- the food, the culture, the language -- yet it is a part of my heritage I know little about.

As a journalist, Africa also holds a particular fascination for me. The World Bank, among others, reckons the continent is home to the world's fastest-growing middle class, with economic growth expected to increase by five percent a year over the next three years. Yet there is much debate as to how much effect this astronomical rise is actually having on the lives of ordinary people.

So, I have decided to come and see for myself what lies behind the cliches. My route has so far taken me through Zambia and Zimbabwe, and soon on to Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, then back to the UK in time for Christmas.

Not that I expect to give any answers. My aim is simply to give some insights on what it's like to travel as a white girl alone in the world's least-visited continent -- and hopefully provide some laughs along the way.