Sunday, May 22, 2011

Bad impressions from the "promised land"

Before I tell you about an interesting discussion I had this morning with some Chadian locals, let me just put the record straight on something I said in my previous post about unfriendly people and the countries where they reside. When I travel in Africa, one of the things that is quite striking is the difference in treatment you get when you arrive at an airport, the hotel, shops, whatever. It really differs from country to country, from feeling like a welcomed guess to a unwelcomed intruder. Even in the countries where I get bad treatment at any kind of reception I still work with and meet locals and many times they are not nearly comparable with some of the people I've dealt with. Like here in Chad. Arriving at the airport is not fun, but some of the people I have met are really interesting and friendly blokes. This brings me to the story I want to tell...

I have been here for a few days giving training to some locals. Because the company I work for send the French speaking employees to Cape Town for English Language Training, many that I do meet on my travels have been to Cape Town before. They usually stay about 3 months for the training and I have to admit, if I could've mastered French like they've mastered English I probably would've lived in the Seychelles by now teaching sexy French ladies how to kitesurf ...or something in that line. One thing I ALWAYS hear from my colleaques is how beautiful Cape Town is and that they would love to return one day. I think they see South Africa as the Promised Land and basically treat me as a prophet coming to visit his flock, with a lot of respect of course. Especially now with my hair that's longer than usual....

This morning however I was chatting to some locals when one guy out of the blue asked me: "Do you smoke?" I said no, why are you asking? They looked surprised, just as much as I was, and another guy repeated sceptically, "You don't smoke"? Curious as to why they would want to know if I smoke, I eventually got the story. One of the things they have noticed in South Africa, or Cape Town where they spend most of their time, is that so many people smoke. So much that it actually made an impression on them, a bad one I should add immediately. According to them nearly everyone in Caspe Town smokes, and what surprized them most is that so many children and women smoke as well. Living there I never actually noticed it myself. With the new smoking legislation prohibiting people from smoking in public places, it is even more difficult to see I guess. But these guys picked that up and it stayed with them as one of their "memories" about Cape Town. They all think it is "very unhealthy". When I told them that I don't smoke, have never smoked before and have no intention of starting either, they were even more impressed with me. After my long explanation about my dad that smoked and his heart attack and the dangers of smoking, etc, etc, one guy said: "That is so good, you are an angel then". Well, I come from the "Promised Land" don't I? I'm just wondering what the smokers are doing there then?

I learned a lesson this morning. Not only do I have first impressions of other countries, but so do people that visit South Africa, and they are not always good. It is a pity that our unhealthy smoking habits should be one of the things they remember about Cape Town. We might live in some "promised land", but we mess up our lungs and pollute the environment and it paints a bad picture of South Africans. Sad isn't it?

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