"A good sense of humor goes a long way toward smoothing out tricky situations," says my West Africa guidebook. So I thought I'd do a little pre-trip research by trying to find out what people in West Africa think is funny. That way, when a border guard gives me the stare down, I can say, "Have you heard the one about the monkey?" And I'll tell him a joke, which will make him wheeze with laughter and stamp my passport with flourish, bribe-free.
I came across this post on Yahoo called "More jokes str8 outta west africa." The joke is about a woman who wants to poison her unfaithful husband with cyanide, and so she goes to a pharmacy to get the poison. She eventually gets the pharmacist to agree to help when he discovers the husband is actually sleeping with his wife.
This is not a good sign for the state of West African health care--and not the kind of joke I want to tell a border guard.
I did some more searching for "West African humor" on Google, and I came across quite a few sites from Nigeria, including one that lists 2,224 Nigerian jokes. Infidelity is again a theme. Here's an example:
A man was sitting reading his papers when his wife hit him round the head with a frying pan.
'What was that for?' the man asked.
The wife replied, 'That was for the piece of paper with the name Jenny on it that I found in your pants pocket.'
The man then said, 'When I was at the races last week Jenny was the name of the horse I bet on.'
The wife apologized and went on with the housework.
Three days later the man is watching TV when his wife bashes him on the head with an even bigger frying pan, knocking him unconscious. Upon regaining consciousness the man asked why she had hit again.
The wife replied: 'Your horse phoned!!!'
Humor might be culturally relative; however, a British psychologist named Richard Wiseman devoted a year of research to discovering the world's funniest joke. Maybe I'll give that one a try in West Africa. Also, a recent survey by the social network Badoo.com of 30,000 people across 15 nationalities revealed that Americans are perceived as the funniest people on earth, and Germans were voted the least funny. Given that I'm an American of German ancestry, this might leave me trying to be funny and failing miserably. My guess is that if I can at least laugh at myself, I'll get at least halfway across the border.
Photo courtesy of Josh Pesavento (broma)
Here's something wonderful: baby elephants splashing, rolling each other over in a muddy pond, and running around with what looks like glee.
These elephants, which are part of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Orphans Project, brought me so much hope and happiness last year when I saw them in Kenya's Tsavo East National Park. This is the kind of experience that I would like to share on this blog.
It's true that the elephants are orphans, many the victims of poaching. It's also true that now the elephants--which have names such as Kihari, Ishanga, Tassia, and Melia--have a new home, caretakers, and a chance to be rehabilitated and returned to the wild. Happiness can spring unexpectedly out of sadness. Growing up in Nebraska taught me that--seeing the purple crocus and fragrant hyacinth slowly rise out of the hard ground after a dreary, gray, Midwestern winter. Oie.
On November 10, my husband, Mike Vance, and I are going to begin a trip that we've been saving for and talking about for years. We're going to travel for six months to a year, depending on how long our money and energy lasts. We're planning to spend most of the few first months in West Africa, and then who knows where we'll go from there. The plan is not to plan.
Along the way, whatever way that is, I want to seek out happy people, places, and events. A lot of times when I tell people that I'm headed to Africa, their faces crinkle. They're thinking of the war, poverty, and disease that plagues the continent. They're worried about me. (Thanks for caring so much about me, mom and dad.)
I'm going to be very, very careful on this trip. But I'm also aware that Africa is a gigantic continent. We often only hear about one part of it in the news. The sad, negative part. While I don't expect to find any countries generally as blissed out as Denmark (although surprisingly Nigeria topped a happiness survey in 2003), I do expect I'll find occasions to smile in just about every place I go. I just finished reading Eric Weiner's book The Geography of Bliss, and I really enjoyed it. Weiner was searching for the happiest places on Earth. I'll just be looking for the happiest moments wherever I am. I hope they'll make you feel good, too. Please let me know if they do and share your own happy and humorous travel experiences in the comments section or send me a note.