On ludditerobot's rec, I've been watching National Geographic's Africa from 2001. (Thank you, Netflix!)
The immediate thought that jumps out at me: Were the Angel writers high when they tossed out the bon mot that Xander was in Africa in 'Damage'? The Sahara alone is the size of the United States. The entire continent is the size of three United States. Oh, yeah. Xander's working that all by himself. Not a chance.
Still, it's a pretty good series for exploding misconceptions. As I mentioned to ludditerobot, calling Africa a war-torn continent isn't 100% correct. It's like calling Europe a war-torn continent based on World War I and World War II and the Balkins. Sure, there are some real shithole countires (right, Sudan?), but there are plenty of peaceful ones, too. Nairobi in Kenya is a very mordern city and the streets don't look that much different than your generic Western center of commerce. The towns within a few days' travel look like they could be in freakin' Iowa, except with more trees and way fewer white people.
Best comment of all: The documentary showed the animals on the Serengetti and pointed out that this is what most people think of when they think Africa (when they're not thinking "Danger, Will Robinson!"). Then it pointed out that most people in Afirca who live in the cities would be watching Serengetti nature docs as raptly as we are because it's as far away from their world as it is ours.
Most awesome scene so far: A mother and her son are in Nairobi and watching television. What's on the tube? Mr. Bean. I shit you not. The little kid , just like every little kid on the planet, is laughing his ass off and miming Mr. Bean's antics for his mum. Then when they go on a trip to her hometown (the Iowa-looking town, I might add), what does the kid pack? His basketball, his Gameboy, and his Matchbox cars.
Like I said: Awesome!
Another good scene: A woman who owns a hair salon in Nairobi is talking about her upcoming trip to her hometown to one of her customers. She's joking that she has to make sure all her bills are paid before she leaves because she's such a Kikuyu (one of the ethnic groups in Kenya). Her customer jokes back that she'd let them sit until she got back because she's such a Masai (another ethnic group in Kenya). It's sort of like people in the United States saying, "God! I'm such Mick!" or "I'm such a Polak!" or "I'm such a Wop!" (I've used at least one of these exclamations more than a few times in my life.) Considering how we keep hearing about inter-tribal warfare from some of the shithole countries (right, Rawanda?) it was so wonderfully familiar to hear the exchange.
Okay. I'll stop blathering now. I just finished the first disc. Aside from the cliche exploding aspects, I was grateful they had a second episode on the Sahara. I've seen the desert oustide of Vegas and I was having a hard time picturing the Sahara being as desolote as I had read. I figured there was something green outside of the oasis. You know, a desert only looks like desert if you're more familiar with greener pastures. That sort of thing.
Not so much.
The Sahara really is that desolate. I mean, people who are familiar with it like the Touareg approach it with healthy caution. I can only imagine how someone seeing it for the first time react. I'm thinking out-and-out, "No chance in hell am I crossing that without help!" Which works out for me in my Africander story set in Algeria.
Yet, even here, there was something familiar about the Touareg's approach to the Sahara. New England whaling ships at the turn of the century viewed the ocean in much the same way. Not with fear, exactly, but with a healthy respect. They went out into it because it was necessary to earn a living, but all things being equal, if they didn't have to go they wouldn't go because, damn, it's skeeery out there and it's very easy to get lost and it's very easy to die.
Hell, there are fishermen in modern-day Gloucester (Massachusetts) who still view the northern Atlantic like that.
It's wonderful and startling to see just how familiar people really are and that, despite language and geographic barriers, some things translate so easily to our own experience.
Another good resources (also recced by ludditerobot) is the Lonely Planet guides. The West African one is especially good. It gets into nitty gritty details like whether there are banks, post offices, phone service, Ineternet services, etc. in a given city or town. It also spells out what modes of transportation exist to get between cities or towns and how those modes of transportation operate. Who'd think that this minutiae would be so useful? And yet, it's really, really useful.
And I would be remiss if I didn't give big props to the Waltham Public Library and the awesomeness of it's own stacks and multimedia resources. Holy crap! I love this city. And inter-library loan. Can't forget that.
So, I'd like to thank ludditerobot for thinking of the Africander fic-a-thon, if only because of the enjoyable research I'm doing. It's already helped flavor one story.
Now, I've got a to-do list as long as my arm. So no more writing or research for me until I spring-clean at least 3/4ths of my apartment.