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    If LARGE pockets of the world still think we are a land of snake charmers, we are equally guilty of nursing some bizarre notions about Africa. We blithely assume it to be a Tarzan-comic tourist zoo, with well-demarcated areas for giraffes, lions, elephants, pygmies, pirates, ebola, AIDS and cricket.
    Admit it — your knowledge about the second largest continent is not enough. You probably think Afrikaans is the most widely spoken language there (fact: it’s Arabic). You have no idea how big it is (fact: it houses 54 countries). You must be under the impression that sub-Saharan Africa is poorer than the usual notion of poverty, (fact: there are as many people below poverty line in eight states in India).
    There’s a lot you need to learn about Modi’s latest excuse for earning frequent flier points. Africa ain’t all masai mara and mumbo jumbo. It’s a macrocosm full of surprises. Our favourite coffee comes from the Kaffa region in Ethiopia. The story goes that a goat herder named Kaldi discovered it when he noticed his goats jumping with joy after feasting on some berries from a mystery plant.
    Even cola has an African origin. The kola nut is the fruit of the kola tree, which was supposedly first planted in Nigeria. Without kola, we won’t get our soft drinks.
    Sticking with nature, we couldn’t have enjoyed the ladies finger or yam without the generosity of West Africa. The famed peri peri sauce of Nando’s also has the same roots. Piri piri in Swahili means ‘pepper pepper’. Remember the legendary Chevrolet Impala? It derives its name from Africa’s graceful antelope, best known for leaping over nine-foot high obstacles. By the way, Reebok, too, is a nod to the South African antelope, rhebok.
    Likewise, the tote bag has an African connection. They say, the word tote is derived from tuta in Kimbundo, which means ‘to carry’. Jazz, juke, jive, samba, banjo, conga and several other musical and dance forms originate there. And guess what, in big backward Congo, solar-powered aluminium robots direct traffic using surveillance cameras! So the next time you reduce Africa to a cliché, you better go on a discovery trek (another African invention) or in other words, a safari.

    -Anantha Narayan


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