Today then, I will try and break everything down and just give some sort of bullet point style observations I have made over the last couple of months. Obviously some parts are ‘general’isations and don’t apply to other areas. But a lot of these things are common to many parts of the Africas I have travelled through. Prepare for some serious sub-titleage. Fortunately thanks to this subtitelage, you can drop it and come back to it whenever, quite long.
You cannot cycle through Africa and not notice or comment on Religion. Having studied it I should, technically, be in a position of prior understanding. Unfortunately my memory is crap and I remember barely anything from our ‘African Christianity’ module. So I am as freshly blind as anyone else.
The time I noticed a change was when I entered Zambia from Botswana. I was suddenly in Christian country, the kind of Christian crazy Africa you read about or that I saw in Ghana.
The shops/busses/taxis/‘combis’(Combis are the most common type of (public) transport and are all over Africa. Little mini vans that shoot along the roads like rockets). Suddenly changed from having slogans across the windscreen that said “trust me” with a picture of Ashley Cole in an Arsenal shirt, (one of the most untrustworthy sights on earth) in Namibia and Botswana, to “God is Great”, “Trust in God”, “Driven by God” (love that one), “Bit by Bit”, “God Protected”, “One more Try”, “Joy”, “Keep Going”, “Hard times don’t last”, “Blessings”, “it hurts from laughing”, to name just a tiny few of the hundreds and hundreds of names I have seen (I have kept an eye out for a stenciling shop. I need to get Lady Love printed on. We fit in so well!).
Now, whether this change in religion and attitude demonstrated by the combis, from trusting “me” to trusting “God” was the reason that everyone from Zambia, through Zim, Moz, Malawi, (You will see the difference in Tanzania in a minute…) were all so much friendlier than those in Namibia and Botswana I am not sure. But I suspect that there must be a strong link.
Now, I don’t want to get into an argument about the positive effects and damaging ones of missionary work etc in Africa, and fortunately I don’t have to because I am on my own in an internet café. But, I do think that religious countries, Islamic and Christian, (yes, perhaps damaged/different/ ‘ruined’ to how they may have been without imposed foreign religion) have tended to me much more welcoming and friendly. Let’s drop it now. I feel like I’m writing an essay.
Despite having my phone, I rarely know what day of the week it is. There is only one clue that I ever get. It is so obvious when it’s a Sunday, as I’m cycling along the roads are full of people dressed to the nines, as opposed to the scraggly t-shirts/football shirts they may otherwise be wearing. Walking, walking, walking, - to their church.
There are so many different denominations and churches here, and that denomination is very very important. As I struggle to explain to new friends, that “surely it doesn’t matter which church I belong to if I believe in Jesus?” Falls on deaf ears. “Yes. But what church do you belong to?”
The other thing that I have noticed about churches, and this comes from cycling past them (there are SO many. Some, great big stone buildings surrounded by mudhuts, other whitewashed giants amongst thatched houses, others just mud huts themselves. Every size, shape, budget, and name. “The living waters” Church is a fave of mine.) whilst the service is in full flow – the congregation are so expressive and celebratory. Everyone is boogying on down. Once, I saw three people just dancing in front of the congregation. Everyone sitting patiently and watching. Can you imagine the alter boys in Ampleforth Abbey, breaking it down infront of 800 people?! (‘God’ that would be funny) It is something so unique to Africans this expressiveness. (Just as I cycled here this morning I went past a running race in a park. Once one guy-unbelievably rapid- had won the race and his supporters went wild. But instead of storming the track like us Zungus would, they all started doing different dances (Think Smash Williams more than Daniel Sturridge) and all sorts of different whoopps and noises. Hilarious and so great. N.B. Burundi is the first place I have seen people jogging for exercise. Curious.
Wow, that was meant to be a bullet point. I’ll stop now. Islam and Tanzanian Combis and trucks will be covered next week. What joy for you all.
Style is immensely important over here. Tribesmen look incredible in their Masai get up, Church going ladies look amazing with their ridiculous (fake) hairstyles, the lads look pretty cool just hanging around, in Burundi the rock sunglasses.
However. Lack of money and the poverty that is found all across many parts of Africa, means that there are only a few options to work with. These mainly consist of sloganned T shirts (NO BATTERIES REQUIRED! Back off, I make my own rules! I’m the boss around here! Etc.), donated t-shirts (Real men think pink! Fight Breast Cancer. Leinster GAA. Etc.), and football shirts (mainly Arsenal, Chelsea, Utd, Liverpool, Real and Barca. Surprisingly and refreshingly not so many City shirts yet. Predictably and depressingly only 2 Spurs shirts so far. I have hugged both of them. They didn’t even realize they were wearing a Tottenham shit.)
My favourite guys are those wearing Father Christmas hats! Hilarious. I also always laugh when I see a big Momma of a family (these women work SO unbelievably hard, constantly with what I have dubbed ‘Rucksack Babes’-always comatose-strapped onto their backs.) ‘, otherwise immaculately dressed with a beautiful sarong or jewellery wearing a Wayne Rooney Manchester United Shirt along with a Chelsea beanie hat.
The assortment of caps are incredible, some really well sun faded ones (anyone a wearer of caps like me, knows the value of a decent fitting, faded cap. I have picked up quite a nice High School Musical one, although sadly - not quite big enough and the wind blows it off when I am cycling.)
My favourite shirt was worn by another Big Momma in Mozambique. She was, when I saw her, bossing someone – barking some order at a daughter. On her T – Shirt it said “Wanna go twos on a Bastard?” What this means, I will never know. I have spent hours (I have time) trying to work it out chuckling away, and although I have come up with a few of options. They only fit at a stretch (pun intended).
I have tried my hardest to try absolutely everything along the road in terms of food. Every day or two the main crop or thing for sale will change, depending on the area, often changing many times within a day. I wanted to list everything but just started doing it and it would be too long and too bloody boring. My favourite things though are Mandasi – which are little deepfried dough balls (doughnuts essentially), in Malawi I was working through about 12 a day. I put on weight. I am now snacking along on Chai and Chappatti, sugar cane (which you chew and suck, then spit out – delish), bananas, avocados the size of ostrich eggs (I keep my salt and teaspoon at the top of my bag, at the ready), bananas, greens (not vegetables but what I have nicknamed greens = green oranges that are definitely not limes). My favourite lunchtime snacks are my African Fajitas = Chapatti and Avo, and Banana Pancakes = Chapatti and bananna.
I have also tried every single local Lager I have found. A bit like Gavin and Smithy, I have (mentally) graded every single one. I think next week, I might publish my review… Mentally, it is hilarious. On paper (screen?), probably less so. So far the Namibian Windhoek my favourite. So. Damn. Tasty.
Drugs and Bugs
I did 71 days sans (I’m just so linguistic) injury or illness. Unforyuinately within 5 days of each other both struck. Badly. The good thing about being ill is that you get to moan and attention seek. It sucks when you’re on your own.
Having boasted to you all about tap water, Tanzania has not been so easy, so I have bought a lot of bottled water here, so it must have been one of three Chipsi (chip omlette, another fave) that I had had that day. Let’s leave it at - I was very unwell (my chance to moan and attention seek. Very unwell.), cycling not fun. Had to dash to bushes a few times. Thank God unpopulated area. Had to hitch as too sore and dangerous. Hitching on a bumpy road. Not good. Day off. Antibiotics. better.
A few days before that my knee went. Now pedaling with a limp (which must be funny to see), my poor right leg is taking on a lot more exercise than it expected. With a few exercises emailed through to me from my Sis, and Ibuprofen things are feeling a bit better – I think though, I will be carrying this injury for the final two weeks. Quadriceps Tendonitis, “comes from repetitive use” ah yes, repetitive use.
Otherwise, physically I have been pretty sound- the distances has have definitely become easier, I go faster, and I am not so stiff. What I still struggle with, despite being very happy and finally used to everything else (injuries,. Breakages, etc. etc.) is the fact that time is always so precious. Very little time to relax. If I have a puncture when I wake up and lose an hour, I lose 20km. The fact that an hour equals 20ks is actually quite a lot.
In terms of cycling conditions it is like a daily game of rock paper scissors (or as this spellchecker would have me write – Rock, Paper, Stone. Eugh). Gravity, Wind, Road. (Energy is an occasional extra variable). Each having their different powers and in different combinations can prove bliss, or fatal. Wind being the most powerful, however if you’re on a hilly day it’s not so evil (I’m shielded on the way up the hill, gravity helping me on the way down). Gravity is great, uphills are hard work but worth it for the beautiful views and the even more beautiful downhills, but if the road is bad up and down become hell. Wind on the flat very difficult, but at least it doesn’t matter what the road is like so much. Etc. Etc. Etc.
My average speed is 20kmph. On a really good day is around 23km/h, on a bad day around 17km/h, occasionally (2 days ago) as low as 14 – A Rahzel - road and gravity and wind – AT THE SAME TIME. Thankfully no longer as I don’t need him any more (sorry Jez), in the early slow days – on Namibian dirt roads - if I was ever setting a pace above 20 and getting over excited at the prospect of a good day, I had Jeremy floating along beside me keeping me calm. “Always sub 20 Mate, always sub 20.” As inevitably I would turn a corner and the road would become more of a geographical rock phenomenon than man made path. Poor poor Ivan.
I think it very important to comment on the language. I have tried my hardest to learn the languages, (well, hellos and thank yous) and when I have managed it really pays dividends. However it has been pretty hard in some places, mainly because I’m very unlinguistic (lol), because you can pass through 3 dialects in a day, because I have about a million different similar sounding place names plus the previous 7 countries hellos and thank yous whirring round my head. I didn’t manage to get it at all for Mozambique and struggled in Malawi. But my Swahili is pretty top notch, my favourite trait is the 'i' (pronounced ee) they throw on the end of everything. Makes everything sound so cute. Massive cudos in Burundi, they love that I can say, Amahorro (hello) and uracozé (thank you), remembered by me as I’m a horror and you’re a cozy (tea?). I have loved speaking French in Burundi, if anyone wants to practice their French come here! No judgment from people on my accent or lack of vocab, we are all as bad as each other! The perfect place to practice.
A couple of other words I have picked up:
Ewieh: YOU! (Malawi, Tanzania, Burundi) Ocsecnarf should appreciate that.
Zuuuuungooooooo: White Man. (Malawi onwards)
Pila: Money. (Kiswahili)
As a sub category of the sub category of language; conversations.
People love to watch. I wouldn’t call it staring, its definitely watching. Theres a Zungyu eating a banana. Lets watch him. Theres a Zungu, checking his brakes. Lets watch him. Theres a Zunbgu having a pee. Lets watch him. I have very very little privacy.
There are also certain typical conversations I can now predict what I am about to have every time I am stopped for a chat (if I sounded grumpy last blog, I have never once ignored someone when they ask me to stop, which is A LOT, I am very polite and friendly, even if I am a little big exasperated.)
If I manage to explain what I am doing, or how far I have come and it is understood, (this is rare), I am met with a eeeeeeeeeeahhh. Ooooaaaahheeee. Yeeeeeach. I can do a very good impression of this Africaniversal exclamation of surprise/shock/disbelief – I really want to try it out but don’t want to risk offending anyone.
Most of the time however people don’t understand me or don’t believe me:
“Yes but where are you?”
“I am here, but if you mean where am I going. I go Nairobi.”
“No on Bicycle” (pronounced in Swahili, Bye - sea – Ceilidh)
“No – byeseaceilidh”
M-Zuuungooo:“Do you know how many kilometers to next town?” (never EVER trust, let yourself hope, or even for a second believe the answer. Can lead to extreme demoralisation and is never right. I just use it as a conversation continuer)
Friend 1: “2”
M-Zuuungooo : “Really? I’m sure.”
A crowd has now gathered, all watching.
Friend 2 : “6”
Friend 3: “My friend, my friend, where you come to?”
M-Zuuungooo: “Today or in life?”
Friend 3: “Yes, I am fine.”
Friend 2: “6. MZungu - how are fine?”
M-Zuuungooo: “Well, as I was just telling your friend who is standing right next to us (I actually say thing like this) I’m good, how are you?”
Friend 2: “Fine and you?”
M-Zuuungooo : “Well, as I mentioned before I’m good.”
Friend 2: “Fine, and you?”
And so on. As friend 4 takes up the reigns.
Camping tips. For the lads.
When making coffee (essential to my day) in the morning use extra (if available) water to use to wash up porridge.
Take out tent (where possible) at lunch to dry off dew.
2 pots are better than 1.
Stainless steel (NJRM) bends into any container.
Leg razors on the face don’t give you a rash like overpriced fusion. Texted twice. Think this could reenergize my shaving career.
Sleep with head at top of the slope.
Pillow cases are important.
Don’t get into tent whilst head torch still on. Bugs and mosquitoes will follow the leader leader..
If you have made it this far – WELL DONE!
I just want to finish by saying a massive congratulations to the Sierra Leone marathon runners! The WYCF team absolutely bossed it and you should definitely consider donating!! Although, they have raised way more money than I have so “gimme money” first. AWESOME GUYS!
Secondly I want to say a big big thank you to Henry’s Shoes. They have provided me with massive support the whole way through my trip, sending me hilarious emails constantly (he also has time.) and financially supporting me as well. Please check out their website, for those of you who started your own businesses, you know how important the first few months can be. Although Hen and I disagree on many things (everything), especially fashion. Finally we have something we can both really like.
Post Swift: Again, any missing Us or rogue Zs instead of Ss. - American auto correct. Je n’aime pas.