Trip to Africa reveals world
is one human family
supported by a world economy
By Suzanne Dean
Feb. 22, 2018
I recently returned from the biggest trip I’ve ever taken.
I spent two weeks in Africa—in South Africa and in Zimbabwe, which borders South Africa. I traveled with a friend from college who has been to Africa twice before.
Our trip was not a safari. We didn’t see any lions or elephants. Rather, our goal was cultural and political education. We went to many tourist attractions, but equally important, we met and mingled with people, not just Africans but people like us who were visiting from all over the world.
In the process, I learned some things that affect our lives here in Sanpete County, whether we realize it or not, and are certain to have even more impact on us in the future.
First, I learned that the people of the world are one human family, and because of the spread of English as an international language, we are getting closer to each other than ever before.
Everywhere, people I met were focused, as we are in Sanpete County, on their families. Their main reason for working was to support their families. But they were interested in people outside their families, too. They were curious about us, as we were about them. And on a one-to-one basis, race and religion didn’t matter.
We started our trip by boarding a Delta flight that had originated in San Francisco. From Salt Lake City, we flew non-stop to Amsterdam, the capitol of the Netherlands.
Before we took off, I got into a conversation with a man sitting behind us, who looked to be in his 50s. I asked him where he was going. He said “Libya.” The reason for his trip was family, specifically his aging mother.
“She’s not well,” he said. “Every time I talk to her on the phone, she cries and says, ‘I need to see you.’”
The man was obviously a Middle Easterner, and in light of the Trump administration’s immigration policies, I asked him, “Will you be OK getting back into the U.S.?”
“Oh, I’m a citizen,” he said.
“Oh, thank heaven,” I said.
He said he lived in the Sacramento area and had worked driving a truck for Sacramento County for 20 years.
In Amsterdam as we started getting off the plane, I saw a black man an aisle away and asked him where he was headed. He said, “Nigeria” (in northern Africa). He explained he was a Nigerian-based employee for a computer company based in San Diego. He had been in San Diego for company meetings.
“I fly two days, go to meetings for four days and fly two more days,” he said.
“I bet you’ll be glad to get home,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said. “I need to see my wife and kids.” He added that he had two children, a 2-year-old and a new baby.
A couple of days later, we were eating at an upscale restaurant in Cape Town, South Africa. We asked our waiter a little about himself.
Like about three million others, he was a Zimbabwean who had moved to South Africa for better job opportunities. For eight years, he worked in sales and marketing for a coffee company. Then the company ran into financial problems and laid him off. He had been working as a waiter for six months. He said his new job was definitely not as good as his old one.
“But at least I’ve got a job,” he said. “That’s the important thing. I’ve got a wife and child to support.”
The amazing thing was that I could converse with all these people and many others I met in English. In fact, we only met five or six people the whole trip who didn’t speak some English.
The last time I was outside North America was when I took a trip to Germany 45 years ago. At that time, I could find people who spoke English, but I had to search a little. Based on my experience with the Europeans I met in Africa, as well as a day in Amsterdam on the way back, I doubt I would have any trouble today. People switch from their native tongues to English as easily as flipping a switch.
On the final flight back to Salt Lake, we talked with an LDS missionary returning from Norway. She said while on her mission, if she ever had trouble understanding someone, she and the people she was talking to just switched to English and could converse just fine.
The second thing I learned on the trip is that we live in a global economy. People in every country are doing business with people in every other country. And the free market is doing more to lift up poor countries than a century of charity and foreign aid.
We spent three days touring around Cape Town, South Africa. On all three days, we relied on the same cab driver, another Zimbabwean who had immigrated to South Africa, to take us around.
I don’t have space to tell his whole story. But he explained there are no pharmaceutical manufacturing companies in his home country. For 20 years before coming to South Africa, he worked as an accountant and accounting supervisor for a Zimbabwean company that purchased drugs from America, Canada and Europe, and distributed them in Zimbabwe, primarily to government-run hospitals.
The volume of purchases must have been pretty big, because our cab driver said it took 20 people working at the company headquarters in Harare, the largest city in Zimbabwe, plus others in each of the provinces of the country, just to keep track of the inventory.
One of the sights we visited was Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, often listed as one of the seven natural wonder of the world. While touring the falls, we met a couple from Japan who were on their honeymoon.
The husband was half Australian, half Japanese and had grown up in both countries. The wife was Japanese. The husband worked in corporate planning for one of the largest beverage companies in Japan. A big part of his job was acquisitions, including buying American companies. His company already owned a Pepsi bottling plant in North Carolina and was looking to buy other, similar American operations.
But the encounter that had the biggest impact on me on the whole trip happened when we took a boat tour along the Zambezi River, one of the largest rivers in Africa and the river that creates Victoria Falls.
I got into a conversation with a very attractive black man who was in Zimbabwe with two female colleagues. They all worked for a big bank in Cairo, Egypt.
He was originally from Nigeria. He had graduated from a Nigerian University and then received an MBA in Great Britain. His job, assisted by the two Egyptian women who accompanied him, was putting together multi-national consortia to fund big projects. The minimum business loan was $5 million.
“We build hotels, fund mining projects, build manufacturing plants and help airlines buy jets from Boeing,” he said.
And why was he in Zimbabwe? He had put together a consortium of seven banks, including his own, to loan $300 million to a Zimbabwean telecommunications company. Based on the banker’s description, the company was a Zimbabwean equivalent to our own CentraCom Interactive.
The money was going for cell towers, fiber optic lines, cable TV and a whole lot more. He and his colleagues were in Zimbabwe to check out how the Zimbabwean company was doing.
In light of the poverty you can’t help but see when you visit Africa, I was moved by the story. I can imagine how many jobs that $300 million investment will create.
”Is the U.S. involved? I wanted to know.
“Oh yes,” he said. “Citibank is one of the partners.” (Citibank of New York City is the fourth largest bank in America with $1.82 trillion in assets.)
“Thank you,” I told him. “You’re doing more to help Zimbabwe than 20 NGOs. (NGO stands for “non-government organization,” the term used in Africa for aid organizations like Save the Children.)
“We try our best,” he smiled.
I have a retirement account from my time with previous employers. And my retirement funds are invested in mutual funds. It occurred to me that I almost certainly own a little Citibank, so when the Zimbabwean telecommunications company pays the loan, a few pennies of the Zimbabwean payment will come to me. But I hope Citibank will have a sufficient sense of international citizenship to pump most of the payback into other projects in the underdeveloped world.
We live in an amazing and increasingly integrated world. As an African author wrote in a column in the South African Airways magazine, “I look at my children and feel excited about the future they will create, because theirs will be a truly global world. They will embrace diversity, and lead teams and organizations that will tackle the world’s most complex tasks. They can be whoever they want to be.”
That applies in America as much as in Africa.