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Understand Organized Chaos – Changing Your Mentality

Organized chaos is difficult for the average westerner to understand because it’s a contradiction of terms. Can anything really be organized and chaotic at the same time?

Is organized chaos like wandering the streets of Manhattan or walking through a crowded shopping mall? No – unless you have traveled in a developing country, you have probably never experienced organized chaos. We live in a society where you, and everyone else, can pick and choose your own environments, the people who you hang out with, if you choose to ride in a bus vs. a vehicle, or even which room in the house you choose to be in. You have access to being isolated or together with other people – you can control it.

Traveling, living, and experiencing Africa is the exact opposite of this – you have no control. Traveling through Africa can and will give you the biggest raw taste of organized chaos you will ever experience – there is no order, method or way to maximize efficiency – yet there is method to the madness, you just can’t control it. If you attempt to subvert or try to control it, it will only beat you down and control you even more. Even if you have a little bit of money and paying a lot of money to safari around Africa, you must adapt yourself to the philosophy of organized chaos. This is a warning and it’s best you heed this advice and mentally start to adapt yourself.

Let’s take a deeper look at organized chaos, or how to travel in Africa, and think about how you should react, not react, manage your time and expectations. Once you get used to the mentality and way of life, it can be quite fun and amusing. The best way to understand organized chaos is to use a typical traveler’s problem in Africa – riding the bus.

We come from a world where time matters. Everything has a special time, and a way of being handled during that time. We go to work, eat dinner, sleep, and meet our friends generally at a certain time. In Africa, you must have no expectation that anything, at any given moment, is going to happen during the time expected. It just doesn’t. Period. No questions asked. A bus that is scheduled to leave at a certain time may or may not leave, even if the driver tells you it will be punctual. For buses, countless problems exist from really bad roads (I mean really bad), not enough riders to make it financially viable (let’s wait until the bus is filled) or corrupt policemen, or villagers, who won’t let the bus pass until they’re paid a bribe/fee. If, for example, the policeman wants a big bribe, this could set off a chain of events that would in essence make you loose more time. The bus driver then will spend a long time talking to the policeman, explaining his problem that he will loose money for the day and hoping the policeman will budge and lower his asking price. This could take a long time – even a long cup of tea. Afterwards, depending upon how much money is left in the bus driver’s pocket, he might have to pick up other passengers on the way. Or even ask the passengers for more money. The point of this long story is that all of this takes up time – and this is just one common example of many problems that exist on a daily bases.

Other problems that relate to time exist. The bus could get a flat tire, and while the drive has a spare, he doesn’t have the tools to repair it. So he must send someone searching for tools, and that could mean hours, upon hours, upon hours.

Much like time, order is another way that somehow doesn’t seem to make sense when traveling in Africa. In the United States, things are placed in appropriate areas where it’s clearly marked for everyone to see, read and understand. You know what to expect. You can find what you’re looking for. The way, for examples, buses are positioned are a product of good engineering before the bus station was developed. People might get off in one section, load in another, and follow a certain path to travel to their next destination.

In parts of Africa, it’s a completely different story. They don’t have the money for this type of infrastructure or engineering. People just have to adapt to the environment around them, which creates less order and chaos. In countless bus stations, there are thousands of buses going in every direction, but it doesn’t seem to make sense. How do you know which bus is going? And where? Usually with no signs, it comes down to asking people, or people asking you, and then being pushed, slammed, crushed, and smashed into a bus, taxi, or donkey cart regardless of how many people are actually in it. If there are 50 seats in a bus, you must fill at least 100, in order to make it profitable. This is no joke – not an exaggeration. Just accept it.

When there is no order, everything seems to get a bit chaotic. People are moving in every direction, buses are trying to fill, people are selling food through the windows, and the bus now seems full and ready to go. But it doesn’t! Why? Because you have to fill the top of the bus, every nook and cranny, and you must even have people standing up or perhaps riding on the bumper. When the bus begins toward the destination, it doesn’t mean that it’s going straight or taking an efficient way. It might have to stop and pick up some people, a few of their animals, furniture – or whatever, and then continue this process through out the whole trip. A trip that normally should take 3 to 4 hours, if you were not stopping, usually takes about double that time – always.

In the end, there is order to the process; it’s just one that the average Westerner can’t seem to see or understand until they have been through it hundreds of times.

How do you adjust without going crazy? It’s really difficult sometimes. When you start to experience organized chaos for the first time, you must learn to change your mentality and adapt to the situation at hand. Don’t judge, laugh or be condescending. Countless travelers get upset, pissed, yell, cry because the process doesn’t seem to have order – and they can’t control the outcome. The best thing to do is the exact opposite – relax and let the world take place around you. Enjoy the chaos and try to find the method in how it works.

I am not making fun of organized chaos, – it’s just part of life. Unfortunately, most people in parts of Africa are very poor and are only trying to survive to make ends meet. The trick is to accept organized chaos and eventually you will accomplish your goal for the day – or get to your final destination. It just takes time, a tremendous amount of patience, and the ability to adapt, adapt, and adapt more, until you’re completely exhausted. Although bus trips in Africa are known for being crazy, this whole mentality of traveling and adapting to organized chaos applies to trivial things, like checking email (electricity could be sporadic), getting money at the bank (machine breaks down for a few weeks), or taking a hot shower (no way to heat the water) which makes it more frustrating in the process.

From independent travelers to expensive safaris, the concept of organized chaos applies to you too. Time and order are out of your control and if you accept this, not only will you have fun but enjoy your trip much more!