Urbanites need to stop looking down on village life and go home | This is Africa


Urbanites need to stop looking down on village life and go home

Are you an unapologetic urbanite who hates going to your ancestral home? This post is for you.



Visitors to African countries usually experience the rural and urban areas through safe, comfortable and often manufactured forms of mediation. Driving through a slum in an air-conditioned Land Cruiser, staying in a five star hotel, buying local crafts in a shopping mall or taking pictures of villages and village people en route to a game park.  I typically snub many destinations that I would probably enjoy in my own country, Uganda, simply because they are on the obvious tourist trails. Activities and locations that come attached with extortionate price tags or surroundings where I become a minority just don’t appeal to me. Tourism contributes to the national coffers, so I’m not against tourism, but it does put me off exploring beyond the city, and even though I’d like to believe I’ve explored my country, I know I haven’t. It all comes down to comfort: I’m a self-proclaimed urbanite who has spent time, effort and money adjusting my surroundings and environment to achieve my definition of comfortable living. Solutions for power cuts, cable television, heat management and so on. If I were to take a leap and explore Uganda without following a touristy itinerary, I would be quite removed from my comfort zone, one many other urbanites have similarly created – a manicured urban African life.

I recently ventured beyond my comfort zone and spent some time in my village. Rural Africa – the Africa we are programmed to look down on and encouraged to believe is nothing but trouble. Aren’t rural areas where people migrate from because everything of real value lies in the cities? Of course the facts and figures about the higher incidence of HIV infection, the greater likelihood of poverty, the government neglect, the food insecurity, etc. aren’t to be ignored, but that’s one side of the story. There are riches there too, albeit just different to what we are used to.  Hopefully, I’m not romanticising my thoughts as I’m surely still in my post-village life honeymoon period, but I feel like I may be a recent convert to the importance of urbanites stepping outside their respective cities to see the rural parts of their country, to destinations that aren’t Trip Advisor-awarded.

What I am not saying is, go rough it out in the village for a week so that when you go back home you can revel in home comforts and luxuries having had your fill of dust and 5 am cockerel alarms. It isn’t about feeling whole and Zen and appreciating all the things you have and sympathising with how people live on and with so little. Remote living does lend itself to a simpler, more relaxed and stress-free way of life (especially if you are a visiting urbanite), but there is more to experience and more relevance in spending time in a rural area than a change of scenery and some feel-good vibes. It is a great opportunity for urban Africans to see and experience the lifestyle of the many generations that preceded us, with the concessions many villages have made to modernity.  Although it may not be possible for everyone to visit their ancestral homes, it need not be that you trace the footprints of your forefathers, but simply experience traditional life in a more natural and authentic way, and feel your roots.


When I went to a spa in Thailand I was convinced that from the entrance to the swimming pool I was imbedded in Thai culture, but surely that was as naïve as believing a game park represented Ugandan culture. There was nothing spa-like about my village trip, but I was always aware that my experience wasn’t fabricated or novel, a very essential element to the experience. Once I got over the initial shock to my system and my failed frantic mission to get my internet connection working, I got into the rhythm of rural life. It wasn’t about fitting in or scheduled tours, it was just immersing myself in day to day living. It’s more selfless than the city with a very noticeable sense of community, and the pace of life is so much more forgiving that watches become irrelevant – it didn’t take me long to realise just how comfortable this type of living is, at least for me, the visitor.

Family members have often talked about retiring to their village or farm (in the village) when they retire, and it was always something I swore I’d never do. Then again I once swore never to move back to Uganda and here I am. Could it be that one day my to-do-list will include shelling beans and checking on chickens and goats? I grew up hearing childhood stories from aunties and uncles, tales of picking oranges and touch-me-not plants, eating fresh food, the heartache and longing for simpler times. The villages have moved with the times but they still haven’t given up completely on culture. Unlike us urbanites, culture is not merely respected on specific occasions, or a matter of pretence – it’s part of everyday life. Of course, for urbanites, modernity brings obvious and unavoidable changes but so does resistance. Many of us resist tradition because we see it as a step backwards instead of a useful part of the present. Throughout my childhood going to the village felt like a punishment, I suppose that is when my resistance began and it’s been a tough bug to shake off. There must be a reason most Africans express the wish to be buried in their village, to end up where they began, regardless of geography and circumstance. Pride of origin and a sense of belonging seem to become more important as we mature, and certainly in the later stage of our lives. Perhaps this is the stage when we start to think less about sustenance and more about substance.

Am I ready to move to the village? No, far from it. But I want to spend more time there, because what is untouched and relatively pure soil now, might not be in twenty years. My children should know how to humble themselves to culture beyond text books and television, how to practice it and live in it in ways we cannot assimilate into our urban fusion of varied influences and modernity. It may not be important for everybody but it’s an option I had previously resisted. If statistics on rural-urban migration and urban growth are anything to go by, this essential piece of all our cultures may dwindle with the times, at a great loss to urbanites and all our vast knowledge and experience across the continent.




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