More than anything, one is struck by the light. Light everywhere. Brightness everywhere. Everywhere, the sun. … Air travel tears us violently out of snow and cold and hurls us that very same day into the blaze of the tropics. Suddenly, still rubbing our eyes, we find ourselves in a humid inferno. We immediately start to sweat. If we’ve come from Europe in the wintertime, we discard overcoats, peel off our sweaters. It’s the first gesture of initiation we, the people of the North, perform upon arrival in Africa.
The opening passages of Ryszard Kapuscinski’s account of his travels around Africa keep stirring around my mind as I’m getting ready to leave behind the cold North. People keep saying I’m brave to be heading off on my own, far from family and friends. But my main concerns are a bit more physical than that: how is my winter-proof, pale body going to deal with the heat? How will my poor skin and respiratory system deal with all the mosquito repellent I’ll be spraying around in desperation? How much is my whiteness going to stand out? How am I ever going to adjust my usual speed-walking pace – that even European friends can’t keep up with – to a contented African amble?