10.03.2020 - 10.04.2020
Africa is very unique, challenging and yet impressive continent. My journey to Africa started unexpectedly. I had no idea I would end up falling in love with Africa, discovering Africa and leaving my heart in Africa. Africa had never been on my bucket list in my childhood years, or even when I left former Soviet Union and moved to the United Sates in 1995. When I was growing up my dream was taking me to Europe. I did not travel to Europe at that time as the Communist regime of Soviet Union controlled every step of its citizens and had a ban on travel to mostly Western European countries. During my high school time in the Republic of Azerbaijan, former member of the Soviet Union, I was fascinated with France, its culture, music, language and dreamt that one day I will live in there. During my study at the University of Turkmenistan, another member of former Soviet Union, I was involved with the project of Austrian company, IP Consulting. Taking German as my second foreign language after English, I put my goal into a plan to make a move to Austria and settle there for good. Unfortunately, this project did not come into fulfillment as I was scheduled for a business trip to the United States. Growing up in the communist regime and being gay created a lot of challenges. I spent my teen years despising communism. I never wanted to be part of it. I had to hide my sexual orientation for a long time to not be criminalized by the Soviet law of imprisonment or, perhaps, confinement into mental hospital as homosexuality was considered as mental disorder at that time. Leaving Soviet Union was not an easy task to accomplish as special permission was required to leave the country. I had to register for a special international passport that would grant me an opportunity to leave the country. Getting a visa was another complicated process that could last longer than needed. When I was assigned the project on behalf of Austrian company and Government of Turkmenistan to go to the United States as a translator, I immediately took the opportunity to escape the former Soviet Union. Where the new rising dictatorship of Turkmenistan is unfortunately where I found myself after the breakup of Soviet Union. Coming to the United States was a big eye opener for me. I found myself in the middle of capitalism, the land of free and opportunity as we used to call it. It took me a long time to adapt to this new environment. I escaped, and left my past behind. Not sure if I can cope with new lifestyle in the United States but I was giving myself sometime to get used to it as part of human nature where you have to adopt yourself to new beginning. It was hard, difficult, emotionally and physically tiring, but I had to do it. It was either freedom or return to lockdown without any possibility for escape. My European sense of belonging did not leave me but stayed strong that I would eventually voyage myself to Europe and resettle there permanently. Time went by and the sense of belonging in Europe faded. When the time came to make a decision either land of free or Europe with its rich history and incredible architecture, the land of intelligentsia that developed the strong countries in the union where human and civil rights, democracy and nationalism, industrialization and free market system, all ushered in a period of change and chance. Little did I know my departure from the United States would be put on hold indefinitely as I found myself to be a stateless man without country. Since the dissolution of former Soviet Union, and holding a passport of USSR, I was banned from the departure from the United States since none of the airlines were willing to accept the passport from the country that no longer existed. I ended up making United States my permanent home. I had to get use to a new reality with harsh conditions. At the time of September 11 in New York I was found to be deportable from the country I had already lived in for some time, but unfortunately all my efforts to leave United States were unsuccessful due to my statelessness situation, something United States government had no idea about. There were not any written laws in United States immigration that could grant residency to those who found themselves “unwanted”. After 6 month of immigration detention confinement, I was released to pursue my life and work with an order of supervision until I will be notified if any country in the world would be willing to accept me so my final order of deportation would be accomplished. After 11 years on the supervision I found myself in another dilemma. I took an unexpected trip to the United States territory in South Pacific, American Samoa. I did not realize the territory is unincorporated within United States and runs its own immigration system, which makes me technically in the United States but politically outside of the United States. That’s where my second nightmare began. I was banned from boarding a flight back home, to the mainland of the United States. American Samoa became my open self-isolated jail for the next year and half until with an efforts from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and news outlets I was allowed to return back and finally be granted permanent residency of the United States. I do not want to talk much about it as there were a lot of articles written about me during my confinement on American Samoa, so I will leave this for readers to look at them, and not judge quickly without understanding the whole concept and story behind it. This past difficulties I retained and keep it to myself since most of us are willing to judge without proper understanding of circumstances that led to the situation I found myself in. But, after things became to normalize and I was given permission to travel that’s where Africa came to the list.
The first trip that I went to outside of the United States after 19 years in the country was Ethiopia. The trip was organized by Roasters Guild of America, and when the opportunity came I decided to jump on it and take advantage. Ethiopia being the birthplace of coffee and the first African nation I would be willing to step my feet on, this was just incredible and a dream come true. When I started with specialty coffee in 2010 and learning all complexities and nuances surrounded around the best cup of coffee you can come across, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe was my first cup. Realizing how complex, define, tasteful, elegant, floral coffee can actually be I turned to specialty coffee business to become a barista and learn anything and everything I can find about cultivation, processing, preparation, extraction, brewing and more. So, the first trip to Africa commenced and ready to go. The trip was filled with a lot of knowledge, cupping, learning, visiting coffee farms, meeting people behind the coffee production, and more. Ethiopian coffee provide an impressive array of flavors and being there, experiencing the whole concept behind the scenes made me to realize how lucky I was to be part of coffee community and share the knowledge I gained. With the help of Ethiopia Commodity Exchange, and in conjunction with USAID, we went across the primary coffee growing regions such as Sidamo, Yirgachefe, and Guji. The trip was overwhelming and worth the opportunity. So, since Ethiopia was my first country I visited in Africa, and I would return to Ethiopia once again in 2019, it was eye opening about lifestyle, conditions people live in, dirty streets, constructions all over in Addis Ababa, safety concern and precautions, I first felt like I entered into the age of past civilization somehow. It did not scare me to be there, on the contrary, I wanted to explore more and understand African continent. Ethiopia made me realized that I have to discover more of Africa to understand the uniqueness of the continent and hidden beauty encompasses the land of Africa. Ethiopia is a landlocked country in the Horn of Africa that runs its own calendar similar to Julian calendar that adds a lip day every four years, and begins the year on August 29 or 30 instead of January 1 like the rest of the world. Based on Ethiopian calendar they are 6 years behind of the Western World meaning what is 2020 now in the rest of the world, it is 2014 in Ethiopia. So, if you want to feel 6 years younger of your age you just need to step back in time to be in Ethiopia. Interesting and fascinating at the same time. Comparing to the rest of Africa that was colonized by Europeans (French, Belgians, Germans, British, Dutch, Portuguese, etc.), Ethiopia with resistant and mobilizing efforts to fight against Italian occupation during the first Italy-Ethiopian war in 1895-1896, and the second Italy-Ethiopian war in 1935-1936, was the only African country that never been colonized as scholars confirmed despite the short Italian occupation that lasted from 1936-1941 without colonial administration, Ethiopia never became a European colony. The other fact to mention is Ethiopia is probably the only African country that uses completely different alphabet and language that is not known elsewhere in Africa, Amharic. Amharic is probably the oldest language in African continent that became the working language of courts, military since the 12th century and until now remains the official language of Ethiopia today. Also, comparing to other African nations, Ethiopians are Orthodox Christians, and in contrast to the rest of Africa, Christianity was introduced to Ethiopia in the 4th century, but the country has a long historical and cultural connection to both, Christianity and Islam where Islam was introduced in the 7th century. Ethiopia is an interesting, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic country where religion is a major influence in their life with 86 known indigenous languages. As a travel destination, Ethiopia is different in many ways from its African neighbors. The painting and crafts are especially unique, and are characterized by the North African and Middle Eastern traditional influences combined with Christian culture. As a birthplace of coffee that began in the 14th century in the Kaffa region, you can experience the most authentic way of traditional ceremonial coffee preparation that is truly unique to Ethiopia. Comparing to religious violence in another part of Africa, Nigeria, where it is dominated by the Boko Haram insurgency, which can be traced back to 1953, Ethiopia is indeed the only country in Africa where different religious live together in peace and harmony, giving a nice example of tolerance.
When my trip to Ethiopia was about to be over I spontaneously made quick change to my itinerary and booked flight to Rwanda. Why Rwanda? After learning about horrific genocide that took place in the country of the Thousands Hills, and watching the film “Hotel Rwanda”, the country and history of the past attracted me a lot and I promised myself that I would visit Rwanda one day. So, having some free time during my Ethiopia trip, I decided not to pass this opportunity while in Africa and fly into Kigali, Rwanda. I would visit Rwanda again in 2018, 2019 and 2020. Rwanda has captured my heart and my soul. Rwanda became part of me, part of my existence and the country I truly call home. After my first initial visit to Rwanda I promised I would return back and I did. Rwanda by far is the most advanced, politically stable, safe, prosperous country in Africa and in the whole East African region. The traumatic history of genocide, the slaughter of Tutsis that took place between April 7 and July 15, 1994 left unprecedented mark on the whole population of Rwanda with estimated 800, 000 that were killed. The savage war left many displaced, refugees piled on the roads trying to escape the slaughter to the neighboring countries, children left orphans, some who survived left with trauma that still hunts them today. It was painful. As Armenian myself, and having the history of genocide against Armenians perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) in 1912 with the systematic mass murder and expulsion of 1.5 million Armenians, the Rwandan genocide is not different. So, the pain I had was mutual. Rwanda is one of the smallest countries on the African mainland, bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, DRC and Burundi. The landscape of Rwanda is fascinating with numerous lakes throughout the country and magnificent lavish mountains and hills. Rwanda is very green, with temperate tropical highland climate, with lower temperatures because of its high elevation. Rwanda, as former colony of Belgium adopted French language that lasted even after the independence in 1962 until 2008. In 2008 the government changed the medium of education from French to English. English is an international language of business and communication, and thanks to President Paul Kagame, and in order to help Rwanda with further advancement, English became as an official working language along with native Kinyarwanda. English helps Rwanda to integrate into the global market of trade, communication and business and holds the future for the young generation of Rwandese. Rwanda is one of the cleanest country in Africa, and the only one comparing to countries I visited in Africa so far. Rwanda is using an investment and innovation to become cleaner and save the environment. Rwanda also introduced “Umuganda”, a community cleanup held on the last Saturday of every month. It's one reason that Rwanda is renowned in Africa for its cleanliness. The roads are empty of cars, and all vehicles and shops are shuttered. It's not a volunteer project. Police monitor the streets and can stop Rwandans who aren't participating and make them clean up on the spot. On 10 August 2008 law was passed in Rwanda. This law spells out the ban on plastic bags in Rwanda. Since then it has been illegal to produce, import, use and sell non-biodegradable plastic bags made from polythene in the country. Rwanda is the most remarkable country in Africa I ever visited with warm, friendly, innovative and welcoming people, delicious food, beautiful culture and mesmerizing landscape. It is a pure paradise with non-stop adventures from hiking, gorilla trekking, relaxing by the shores of incredible and gorgeous Lake Kivu, safari journey into the Akagera National Park, Volcanoes National Park and more. Rwanda is God’s given gem to the world. I have met so many incredible and genuine people in Rwanda. Friendships that I will forever cherish. The affection and tenderness of the people and their willingness to assist you any way they can – is amazing. You never feel bothered in Rwanda that someone will approach to you in every corner begging for money, or feeling unsafe walking around the cities afraid someone will rub you or kill you. It never came to my mind and I never felt that way. Rwanda is absolutely safest country in Africa where security is prioritized and guarded. Comparing to other African nations, same sex sexual activity is legal in Rwanda, and some government officials even expressed support for LGBT community but same sex marriage is not recognized yet. Rwanda operates a universal healthcare system, and is considered to have one of the highest-quality health systems in Africa. Rwanda is one of the countries that produce tea and coffee in Africa. Covering hectares of land are tea, coffee vegetation, rich greenery – plenty of lush green plantations. Rwanda is famous for its quality of tea, coffee along with the natural beauty of the tea garden, coffee plantations and surroundings. Rwandan coffees, typically based on mutations of Bourbon, a coffee variety, tend toward a sweet and full-bodied. The country’s high elevation (all of Rwanda is 3,000 feet above sea level) produces dense beans. Rwanda has moved on from its darkest hours and emerged into the path of new and brighter future. Rwanda has captured my heart and gave me love to the country I knew little about. Rwanda makes me feel to be myself, to be open, to be free, and to appreciate things that most of us take for granted. I love children of Rwanda, their smile, happiness, and free spirit. When I come to Rwanda I always make sure to bring some donations of school supplies for them because I love making them happy, feeling the ignited spirit of love and eagerness to learn and to become the better new generation of the beautiful country, Rwanda.
Rwanda was not the last country I visited in African continent but it was the first country in Africa made me fell in love with Africa in general. There are places you visit and you feel not being yourself there and in some cases you won’t return back, but there are places that capture you and make you to come back, and Rwanda is that place where I keep coming back, the place I call home. After Rwanda and within my 5 years journey around African continent the road would take me to South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Madagascar, Congo-DRC, Benin, Ghana, Togo, Sao Tome and Principe, Mozambique, short trips to Lesotho and Swaziland, than Comoros and Cabo Verde as the last destination where I ended up in nationwide lockdown due to global outbreak of COVID19. I won’t have enough time to describe every single country in Africa I visited and describe every potentials of the continent and my long standing believe that the bright future to Africa is coming. Africa has a huge resources to sustain itself economically and financially, to become the best leader in the developing world to break the chain of its past and fulfill the obligation to its citizens to be self-sustainable. But for this to happen Africa should realize that without proper leadership, without proper understanding the concept of countries' resources and continuous corruption on high rocketed scale among government officials and prolong mismanagement of its land with improper distribution of rich minerals to foreign companies for the sake of self-enrichment, Africa would never advance itself to the world of success and prosperity. DRC-Congo is one of the example I would like to highlight here because DRC needs to reshape itself, remove all those obstacles that keeps country in mute, the country where poverty, decease and unstable political environment cause death to a lot of innocent people who just want to live in harmony, better future and have the opportunity to earn better living like anybody else without sacrificing their lives for survival.
My visit to Democratic Republic of Congo, its capital Kinshasa was not spontaneous. For a long time I was fascinated about story of Patrice Lumumba who led the country from its colonial past to independence. However, the vision of Patrice Lumumba was not realized. Powerful nations like United States and Congo’s former colonial master Belgium tried their best to suppress Lumumba and remove him from the power. This was successful by the dirty games United States government and Belgium officials played to eliminate Lumumba by any cost possible. Eventually leading to his murder which was organized by the United States and Belgium but fulfilled by Gongo’s rising dictator, Joseph Mobuto, whose interests were protected by those allies. It is well known that DRC is a richest country in Africa with the size of Western Europe. Its particular province, Katanga, considered to be a rich mining region. During the road of independence, Katanga was backed by Belgium who reluctantly agreed granting the full independence to Congo, moreover leading to the succession of Katanga. Patrice Lumumba appealed to the United States government and the United Nations for help to suppress the Belgian backed Katanga but it was refused. Seeking all possible measures to keep Congo together and to avoid catastrophic turmoil, Lumumba turned to the Soviet Union for support. That’s when the death to Lumumba was sentenced by the United States government and Belgian authorities. In the 21st century United States government there is a continuous, economic and political relationship with Communist China. Neither imposing any sort of embargo or blockade on trades. A perfect understanding of the mass scale of human rights violation perpetrated by the Chinese authorities, yet still keeping a blind eye on the catastrophic measures occurring in China. A conspiracy of negligence and crime against humanity during the spread of Coronavirus globally. The United States government continues its support of China economically whereas nations like Cuba are still undergoing a complete full embargo and isolation that has lasted since the 1960’s. Lumumba’s despair to stabilize radically devastated situation in Congo which was masterminded by former colonial power Belgium with the approach for help from Soviet Union triggered United States Government to commit a murder of the leader of newly established independent nation in secrecy. We all know that we should learn from history because history tends to repeat itself. That is what happened to Congo. Mobuto was promised financial help, technical support if he could eliminate Lumumba to become the head of states backed by the United States and Western powers. Whatever Belgium did to Congo, Mobutu did to Zaire (the name he chose for the country rather than Congo). Congo drowned into complete dictatorship, military regime and without freedom of any kind for its citizens. Full corruption, lack of infrastructure, first class healthcare, no strong education. Mobuto used all monetary funds that were send to Congo for his own enrichment and luxury lifestyle. He bribed military, police and other government officials to keep himself safe for years to come. According to Business anti-corruption portal "The Penal Code" makes up the country’s anti-corruption legislation, yet the relevant laws are very poorly implemented, and government officials engaged in corruption with total impunity. The dysfunctional institutional framework has contributed to the spread of corruption, as well as inflating the country’s informal economy, further impairing competitiveness. Bribery is widespread, to the extent that businesses consider it a routine when carrying out operations.” Congo turned into an open anarchy.
When I arrived to Congo on March 12, 2019 I was prepared to see worth of it, even though I was told not to visit Congo due to Ebola virus that circulated around the country. Kinshasa, the capital of DRC, had few cases of Ebola. The majority of outbreak occurred mostly in eastern region of Kivu which began on August 1, 2018. Kinshasa is a bustling city, an economic and political power of a country situated alongside the Congo River, directly opposite the city of Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo. It is also the world’s largest Francophone urban area. Kinshasa is a city of sharp contrasts, with affluent residential and commercial areas and three universities. Kinshasa is not a safe place to be apart from the main Avenue of Independence where you can relatively feel safe walking alone as long as you don’t leave the area. Other areas you run the risk of being robbed or taken as a hostage. While in Kinshasa it is recommended to be with someone who is local and knows the area but it is not advisable wander alone due to security measures. Despite all the misery and instability Congo faces, the country is astonishing with possibilities to make itself more advanced, progressive and free from outside world. The rich minerals and resources it stores most countries would be eager to exploit. Having an abundance of gold, tantalum, tungsten, and tin-all minerals used in electronics such as cell phones and laptops. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the second largest country in Africa. It borders nine countries: Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. The people of the DRC represent over 200 ethnic groups, with nearly 250 languages and dialects spoken throughout the country. The oldest national park in Africa is the Congo’s Virunga National Park. It is home to rare mountain gorillas, lions, and elephants. The Democratic Republic of the Congo hosts the United Nations largest peacekeeping mission in the world. Walking around Kinshasa you will be surprised to see how the city mind the one of the world’s deadliest wars found beauty in fashion to create a sense of normalcy over their lives. In Kinshasa people tend to control how they look to be more respectful. Congo is a natural wonder with some of the most spectacular national parks you can ever see that brings Congo to life. More than two-fifths of the population is younger than age 15, with some three-fourths under age 30; on the other hand, only a small fraction of the population is 60 or older. Music is by far the art form for which Congo is best known. Kinshasa is widely regarded as one of the great music centers of the world, and the influence of Congolese music is felt especially throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The most popular indigenous musical style today is a blend of Cuban merengue, Congolese rumba, and West African highlife sounds, reflecting the many influences that meet in Congo today.
Congo was an eye opening trip with first hand learning experience to get to know the country and its culture, to know the past and what future lies beneath. As in all other places in Africa I visited the African continent did not stop to surprise me in my winter adventures across Africa. Africa is unique, beautiful and at the same time incredible with abundance of possibilities that yet to be discovered. Africa is distinctly unique and rich in cultural heritage. A diversity of wealth of natural resources with breathtaking landscape. Africa is the most centrally located continent in the world. We should never forget that the world civilization began in Africa. When I conducted my DNA test from the National Geographic I’ve learned that 2% of my blood is related to Africa where my old ancestors came from. As National Geographic stated "The origin of our species lies in Africa: It’s where humans first evolved, and where our species has spent the majority of its time on Earth. We have since migrated to every corner of the globe, a journey that is written in our DNA.” My maternal and paternal line of ancestors based on my DNA originate in East Africa. From there, members of my maternal and paternal group went in a few different directions. Many stayed on in Africa, dispersing to the west and south. Others kept moving northward, eventually leaving the African continent completely. "When humans left Africa, they migrated across the globe in a web of paths that spread out like the branches of a tree, each limb of migration identifiable by a marker in our DNA.”
I love Africa and its people. Their hospitality, warming welcome, the smile on their faces and happiness like I have never seen anywhere I’ve been to. Even in poverty, in war conflict, malaria striking cases, water shortages where people have to walk an average 3.7 miles daily to fetch water for various uses. Africa goes though terrible difficulties and yet people are always happy and willing to learn and share. People of Africa are the most important element as huge as African landscape. Africa is a tough place to live but that’s where you’ll learn your instinct for survival. As one traveler also noted in her travel blog "But despite the harsh conditions, throughout my travels I have rarely come across anything but warm and friendly people, willing perhaps wanting to tell you of their story. They don’t have many of the trappings of modern life that we take for granted in the ‘developed’ world but they seem to be content with their lot. Of course it could and should be better.”
Africa, you are in my heart. You made me understand the reason for living, the mode of survival and existence. I have a full respect for Africa, to their great people who make Africa truly incredible place on Earth. During the All-African Peoples Conference convened in Accra, Ghana in 1958, Kwame Nkrumah, who had led Ghana to political independence outlined his bold vision, the formation of the United States of Africa. And I hope that one day, perhaps sooner than later, African leaders will understand that strong African Union is a vital point for Africa’s bright future economically and politically without any interference from Western World, self-sustainability, free of corruption, strong education and healthcare system to advance Africa ahead of the rest of the World. Africa, you can do it.