(By Lilian Gaitho)
Culture, unlike other aspects of travel is not purely a spot, sight and site activity; rather it’s magic can only be experienced by allowing oneself to be part of the process. This goes beyond the usual five must visit places to allowing yourself time to be part of the occurrence, the lifestyle and therefore the history. You certainly cannot experience the people by visiting the tallest building in the city, or by diving where the pros swim, or even buy panting up your way in a single round-trip day. Here are a couple of tips from Jumia Travel to help you experience, assimilate and enjoy new cultures every time you travel.
If you are looking to have a cultural experience through your journey, then a cookie-cutter’s itinerary will definitely not work. Reason being, there will be less time to spend on vital cultural aspects and your focus will already be restricted to that one ‘sighting’ that have been named as top priority. You are likely to miss out people in their daily activities, preparing their traditional meals and going through the daily rituals oblivious of the stranger in their territory. Ironically, most places listed down as cultural centers have already mastered the art of putting the best foot forward for the tourist, thereby diluting the whole experience.
Hotels May not Cut it
The problem with lodging in a four or five star with all the super natural lighting and neatly laid out niceties is that you again lose the chance to interact with the locals. Home stays on the other hand is where both locals, residents and visiting foreigners mix without borders or barriers. Ensure you can come up with ways and schemes to get involved in the host family’s way of life and activities. You can offer a few incentives in appreciation such as new language lessons, cook a meal for them or even buy some special gifts for the members. Where privacy is a priority, try furnished apartments; nothing beats the jolly feeling of walking down the street to get smoked tilapia in the suburbs of Nairobi or Dar es Salaam. Similarly, jostling the neighbors at the local kiosk for daily needfuls is a great way to experience people in their comfort zone.
Listen and Learn
There is a lot to learn from the locals, but only if you are willing to tone down on ‘amazing stories from your country’ and listen to them. Remember you are looking to experience and live the culture while here, it’s more relevant to listen and only share your stories where necessary. Also, listening to people subconsciously drives the message that you respect them and value what they are sharing, which will go a long way in endearing you to your host.
Grace and Gratitude
A culture-centered trip is different from any other, because you are primarily looking up to the locals to make your journey worthwhile. It’s therefore important to view it as a two-way traffic; what are you giving back, or how are you going to make your “teachers” feel appreciated. This goes deeper than the receipted charges you are paying for goods and services, to more personalized gifts such as your time, sharing personal experiences and counsel, offering your skills and generally taking people as friends and not just guides. This will definitely attract extra consideration from the residents and will earn you brownies such as new discoveries, less taken routes, invite to local activities, free meals and even protection against perceived or real hostility.
Keep your mind open
Every destination has it’s history and so are the people who inhabit the place. Try to find out as much as possible about the locale and it’s heritage. On top of museum visits, talk to friendly people in the park, coffee houses, trade centers and along the streets. This personal chit-chat may reveal more than is captured in museums. Always bear in mind that the people may have different beliefs, approach to life and governing ethics, but we all belong to the human race. Respect their way of life and desist from sounding as if you are superior or better in your beliefs.
Interaction and Immersion
As renown poet and philosopher, Gilbert K. Chesterton once said, the traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see. As a traveler, you can either decide to take on an outsider’s ‘touristy’ look and settle on being a spectator or choose to fully immerse in the activities and be part of the experience. The latter certainly guarantees satiety and more opportunities to gain insightful knowledge on the local lifestyle.