I recently returned from my annual marketing trip to the USA. And what a time to visit! The weather was gorgeous, from West coast to East I had timed it perfectly. In fact I only saw rain on my last day in New York. It didn't start out that way I must say:
I arrived into San Diego in early September. As my client collected me from the airport he shared some bad news: He told me that my timing wasn't great as tropical storm Norbert, which was about to be upgraded to hurricane status, was heading up from Mexico and was scheduled to make landfall in San Diego the following day.
Now where I come from, as in Cape Town, at the Southern tip of Africa, we don't get extreme weather. All I have ever seen of hurricanes is on television and the image of this fast approaching hurricane that flashed through my mind was not a pretty one. And it gets worse: On the day I was supposed to collect my rental car in downtown San Diego, the storm was supposed to be at its peak. I had visions of the little roller skate I had rented, being swept off the highway and out into the Pacific Ocean with all hands on deck!
My hotel, The Marriot in La Jolla was one of the taller buildings in the area, so it offered me a great vantage point from which to scout for Norbert. I wondered how safe I was going to be up on the 11th floor with nothing between Norbert and I. I arrived in my room and immediately flicked on the weather channel. It confirmed that Norbert was indeed approaching San Diego! I looked out of my window with its birds eye view of the whole area but all I could see was blue sky in every direction. This I thought, was where the saying came from: the lull before the storm! I kept flicking channels to keep up to date with Norbert's movements.
But as I flicked through the many TV channels, I started to notice something which added to my sense of unease. Yes, all of the weather channels confirmed that Norbert was approaching, but it seemed that a much bigger storm was brewing and this time it was closer to my home.
Small alarm bells started sounding in my ears. As I flicked onto any of the many news channels, two international stories were dominating. The spread of two horrific viruses. One the Ebola virus which had reached epidemic proportions in West Africa and another virus, of a different type, the spread of terror in the form of ISIS like wild fire through parts of the North Africa and the Middle East, but showing signs of making landfall in a number of countries including in all likelihood, the United States.
My phoned beeped. It was 4:30pm and time to get ready. That evening I had been invited by clients who had travelled with us to Africa, to join them at their home for a US style bar-b-que. I had eagerly accepted as apart from them being lovely people, I was also intrigued to see how the American bar-b-que compared with our preferred way of cooking, over hot coals in what we call a "braai"
But now as the evening approached, I wondered if they should have called it off due to the approaching storm? I checked the TV again and it seemed as if all channels were saying that the weather would only change the following day, so I was feeling comfortable that we would at least be safe until then.
It turned out to be a glorious evening. We sat outside as we did with them in Africa and reminisced and bar-b-que'd and drank some wine on a breathless and balmy Southern California evening. Not once did the subject of the approaching storm come up, until eventually, when I couldn't hold back any longer, I dropped the bomb and said: You do know that hurricane Norbert is going to hit San Diego tomorrow..
There was a pause. Then, Katie chuckled, Eugene smiled and the kids carried on sorting through the pictures from the Africa trip. Clearly I was missing something. Katie then explained that warnings of this type were common at this time of year, but that in the 25 years they had lived in the area, that not one of the storms had really affected them. Maybe some wind and rain, but nothing serious and in fact they would love some rain as they had been going through a drought in the area for some time.
So you can imagine how that made me feel. Okay, a bit dumb, but mostly it was relief! What really dawned on me was how easy it is just to accept what the media is saying as reality. I could have cancelled going to the bar-b-que based on what I had seen on television, but I trusted that as locals, that my hosts would have been a few steps ahead of me and that was the truth! The following day, nothing happened.
Being in the travel industry it brought me back to the reality of the current Africa situation and the "what if" people in the US were to judge Africa by what they see on TV? More devastating will be the economic effect on the entire continent if people stop travelling to, trading with, investing in Africa as a result of what they see happening in isolated areas.
The reality is that Africa is vast and the areas that have been affected are tiny.
Here is a map to show the Ebola situation graphically. Mali has been included, but there have only been two deaths there as of the 13th November 2014
We hope and pray for a speedy resolution to the epidemic of Ebola and the disintegration of terror groups like ISIS, but more importantly to the virus that spreads quicker than both which is that of the negative perceptions that are affecting all of Africa’s fragile economies.
Come and visit. We are Edge Travel a locally based tour operator offering tailor made travel solutions to Southern and East Africa
Until next time, safe travels