I guess what I think I may have left out of my blog over the last months is the day to day life, that became completely normal for me and is completely normal for those living in rural Africa, but I guess (?) might help you all form an image of what it’s like here. In Eastern Africa, it became slightly harder to find places to camp, especially from Burundi through to Kenya. There were much fewer remote spots, and no tourist campsites. This was no real problem for me as there are hundreds of ‘Guesthouses’ or ‘Inns’ in any centre (village/town, short for trading centre) with more than a few people. They are a good example of daily life.
Almost all had swarms of mosquitoes fizzing in my ears as I went to sleep and munching their way through the night. Almost none had mosquito nets.
Almost all were super cheap, some were sickeningly overpriced.
Many had massive cockroaches that scuttled around the floor (once you’re used to the sound its fine!), that you could hear hissing away. Only a few had running water.
Every single one had squatting toilets. Every single one had power cuts.
Showers were a bucket of cold water along with a smaller bucket. Appropriately dubbed the ‘Sploosh’ by WJR.
Water, if there was a tap, always tastes grim. (Having said that, I complain about the difference in taste between upstairs and downstairs taps at home. Perhaps I am too picky....?)
In almost every village I passed through, there would be queues of people at the well or pump, all waiting with their big plastic containers to fill up and carry home on their heads. Usually women or children.
Other general aspects
I ate with my hands for months (Why does India get the hand eating and squatting loos rep?? In Africa it is much more obvious!),
African food is not very tasty. My/their diet tended to be Ugali/Nsima (white stuff) with chicken or goat (if you can afford meat). This chicken I am certain was usually prize winning cock fighting cockerel. So tough and chewy, mindblowingly so! Always ate it all. (For the amount of fruit and veg on the roadside remarkably little on the plates!)
There is noise everywhere. Always. In Africa, the awake take priority over the sleeping. If you wake up at 5, you can chat and make as much noise as you like. You’re awake. It’s your right. You can also play music as loud as you want as late as you want, in every village and town, one thing people invest in are speakers. There is always a boombox, or a few tinny mobile phones playing barely discernible melodies.
Cockerels in the morning, traffic in the day, music at night. Always noise! Which for me was no problem either, I’d pass out at night, and needed the wake up calls.
I am always sweating.
Drink (ATTENTION: THIS IS BIG GENERALISATION. ABSOLUTELY NOT ALWAYS THE CASE).
Unfortunately a very unattractive side of society here is the drink. Universally, booze cause problems. We all know that, be it through alcoholism or be it through getting too pissed and confessing your love to someone you would actually rather never see again. It’s troublesome. Sadly in many parts of Africa, that trouble is found everywhere. The men start drinking in the morning , spirits (home brewed or uber cheap – unnamed “spirit”), Chibuku, moonshine, imported or locally brewed. Doesn’t matter. A large proportion of the poor unemployed men tend to be pissed most of the time. The women working in the fields and the shops. During my entire trip, the only times I felt a little nervy was when I started being surrounded by alcohol stinking guys. All wanting to chat and touch me and lady love. It was quite intimidating. Pubs and bars are usually found attached to guesthouses... A real shame, but with little else to do, hitting the drink is about their only option (that or working, like their wives. Who are doing all this, with a rucksack baby on board.)
All these little aspects, the lack of water, the mosquitoes-often malarial, the powercuts, the lack of any diet variation, the booze and the toil is day to day life for a huge amount Africans, you become so used to it and it is so normal that you don’t blink, but thinking back, it isn’t really surprising how slowly life rolls on. Black out.
Ive had many conversations
A few more amusing/demonstrative conversations typical of my days on the road:
Africans have a deep pride, a pride within themselves and also a strong nationalistic pride. They very rarely (never?) admit that they are wrong and will never let on that they don’t know the answer to something; it is always “yes” even if the real answer should be “I don’t even understand what you’re saying mate”.
Here are two are a good example of this:
Mzungu: Jambo! Do you have any biscuits??
Shopkeeper: Jambo! Which type?
Shopkeeper: Which type?
Mzungu: Any! Chocolate creams, glucose, nice. Any.
Shopkeeper: No, we have none of those.
Mzungu: You don’t have any do you?
Mzungu: Right. Thanks. Very helpful.
Zimbabwean Policeman: Stop! Stop!
Sweaty Ivan: Hello! What is the problem?
Zimbabwean Policeman: You like Zimbabwe?
Sweaty Ivan: Yes! Very much, I love it here, beautiful scenery, amazing wildlife, friendly people.
Zimbabwean Policeman: Goooood. It’s very good isn’t it?
Sweaty Ivan: Oh yes.
Zimbabwean Policeman: What about Zambia? What did you think of Zambia?
Sweaty Ivan: I loved it there, such friendly people. Everyone seemed very happy. Just great.
Zimbabwean Policeman: Oh no no no no. No no no. Zambia is very smelly, very dirty. Don’t you agree?
Sweaty Ivan: Oh! Yes of course. Very smelly, very smelly indeed. Zimbabwe is much better.
Zimbabwean Policeman: Yes it is. Goodbye.
It is also interesting (I hope...) to point out that in Africa, you tend to do something only if it will benefit you, charity was, to many, an alien concept. The word agenda cropped up over and over.
“What is your agenda? What do you get out of this? How much are you being paid?” Etc.
Or equally often, one that I never quite understood and made me feel awkward that came from pretty well
“You can’t be doing this for free. No way. A black man could/would never do that.”
This is partially true, not because of the colour of his skin, but because of the lack of money, opportunity and resource I have been so blessed with.
Ive got very few photos of people
As some of you may have noticed from the photo albums I have taken very few photographs of people. Now this is a real shame I know, but I find something very awkward and wrong about snapping away at people they’re aliens. It, I think, only encourages this zoo mentality I came across along the way. The “we’re so different”, the “me” and the “you”. How could I get tetchy when treated like an animal, if I was rolling along taking photos of the people there, I feel like it puts a barrier between us. I am more than sure they would have obliged (in fact a few pockets through Rwanda the children no longer said money or chocolate, but “Cam-er-a! Cam-er-a!!). Also, when you are trying to stay inconspicuous it draws attention, and I really don’t think it’s really fair to be flashing around a piece of kit that the people there could barely even dream of.
Ive got more camping tips. For the lads. (Source: Opta)
Duct tape is phenemoenal. Sticky.
Cable ties are even better. Handy.
When low on water and brushing teeth, spit the water you use to swill onto the head of toothbrush to clean it. Resourceful.
Where there are people there is water. Quenched.
Two sides to a pillow, sit constantly on one side, saves sleeping face first in a pile of dust. Comfortable.
When your cap is so saturated with sweat that a stream is running off the peak, flip reverse it, use the back as a sweat band and by the time you have saturated the back a little of the front will be dry again. Reverse procedure. Repeat.
When your hands are so covered in grease and dirt, and normal soap won’t work. Open that sugar tin (this is from my marqueeing days). A spoonful of sugar helps the mud go down the sink (there are no sinks.) Sweet.