One of the funniest songs in the musical The Book of Mormon is a tribute to how native the missionary boys have gone when they sing "I am Africa."
I am Africa...I thought of that song the other day while reading an article in The Economist about the sudden death of tourism in east Africa. The article did not need to tell me the reason. Tourists are abandoning their safari trips to shoot elephants -- with either a camera or a rifle. Because of Ebola.
I am Africa.
With the strength of the cheetah,
My native voice will ring...
We are Africa!
We are the heartbeat of Africa!
Or, as the author put it: "Now many safari lodges are closer to extinction than the animals that surround them. Redundant workers might eventually turn to poaching."
The article was accompanied by the map at the top of this essay. It shows the distances between the east Africa tourist centers and the three countries on the far west coast of the continent where Ebola is having its way with the local population and with the minds of the highly excitable and neurotic throughout the world.
That "highly excitable and neurotic" may apply to me. While standing in the immigration line at Heathrow in August (a line that could easily have been used as a stand-in for Ellis Island), I started looking around at my fellow arrivals. And, because I am who I am, I started wondering just how many of these souls had recently waded through the river Styx in LIberia. Or Sierra Leone. Or Guinea.
I felt moderately less paranoid when I talked to a several people on my cruise. They all had the same thoughts. But we still traveled.
And that is why The Economist included this article in its most recent edition. The east Africa tourist areas are as far or further away from the Ebola breakout than European capitals.
Of course, that analysis comes from the meticulously-trained and passion-neutral minds of economists. I suspect that an Italian or German who worries about Ebola popping up in Rome or Berlin is not going to be comforted by the thought that a vacation in Nairobi has a certain spatial advantage over his own capital.
As I read the article, I wondered why the press has not been publishing similar maps of Mexico to show how limited the areas of violence are. (To be fair, The Economist has handled that issue quite rationally. Unlike most other news sources.)
But, as I have learned to my cost, trying to convince people that visiting and living in Mexico is no more dangerous than living in my old neighborhood in Salem, is a fool's mission. There are other issues that need to be addressed here in my newly-adopted country, and I will write about them soon. However, violence for tourists and expatriates is not one of them. Otherwise, I would not have decided to become a landowner.
Maybe because, just like the Mormon missionaries in the musical (and the rebozo-beclad gringas of San Miguel de Allende), I believe I have become one with this land.
To only slightly paraphrase the lyrics:
Mexicans are Mexicans --
But, I am Mexico*
* -- I rather sadly add this note. But past experience has taught me that I need to add some voice interpretations in some of my essays. Those last two paragraphs need to be read as if they came from deep in the kingdom of Sardonia.