The first one to discourage me from going to Africa was Korney Chukovsky. His quirky Soviet whimsy warned little children, by way of a nursery rhyme, about its mean sharks, gorillas, and crocs whose main objective was to beat and bite them. Only Barmaley, a fat, bloodthirsty bandit was worse, and he too was roaming the treacherous continent, ready to catch, fry, and eat any stray toddlers.

Fear is a simple and efficient weapon in any discipliner’s arsenal. My mother, for one, still tries to utilize it now (though, she mostly manages to scare herself), about twenty years after Chukovsky has given up. Yet, as history tends to prove, powerful weapons tend to backfire. In my case, fear mutated into curiosity, and curiosity, in its turn, gave birth to giddy excitement. Slivers of fear remain now only in a form of little lightning bolts that fire up in my brain, like warning signals, every time I venture too far into the lion’s den. The only trouble, fear is a hungry beast, and it feeds on the unknown. Every newscast, every film portraying Africa (Lord of War, Blood Diamonds, and even the good old Gods Must Be Crazy) fires in my brain in a blinding lightning storm. And I’m a kid again, afraid of Barmaley, only now he is poor and angry with his government, his children are bloated with starvation, and his wife has AIDS. An M16 is in his desperate heartless rebel hands, and he will not hesitate to shoot me in the head for my water bottle.

For lack of real information, with only ugly stereotypes to illustrate what I should expect from Africa, I will be stepping onto the Dark Continent hoping its dangers are only all too hyped by mass media just like the piranha of South Amerca. And if life has it, and there will stand a Barmaley in my path, I’ll take a page out of Chukovsky and have a friendly crocodile incarcerate him in its stomach until he is fully rehabilitated and wishes nothing more than to visit Saint Petersburg.