Mathers examines the experiences of young Americans travelling to South Africa and back as students, vacationers, and political tourists between 1999 and 2002. The aim of the author is to evaluate and examine the power of travel to change conceptions held about Africa. In her observations, she discovers that travel to South Africa did little to dismantle the conceptions and images of the continent as homogeneous, barbaric and in need of salvage.
After carefully interviewing, observing and reading materials of travelers, Mathers states that travelers managed their experiences in Africa to fulfill their desires, expectations and reestablish familiar images about the continent. Away from South Africa’s tarmacked and paved roads, they found the true Africa on safaris (Mathers 41-44). During this time, they witnessed Africans with cameras replacing guns in hunting. Biases and ignorance limited them from giving in to their experiences that conflicted with their perceptions of social and gender roles. In addition, class structure and race limited their interaction with the locals. The author argues that even after their trip abroad, Americans seemed to look at Africa as a single entity. For majority of travelers, the author argues, their internal geography was more interesting than the one in Africa.
Mathers (58-62) states that what travelers found or discovered in Africa was America. Whether they were African Americans, Hispanic Americans or working class at home, they were Americans who had gone abroad. They noticed that they belonged to a nation that held a privileged position on world map. This awareness according to Mathers was heightened by the September 11, 2001 attack, which took place at a time when Mathers was in the field doing her work and in turn, made Americans to question their role in the world.