"Ex Africa semper aliquid novi", quoth Pliny the Elder. There is some debate about what he really meant, but most likely he meant trouble. In this sense has the phrase been used most often since but I hope to reverse the trend and on these pages bring you the exciting, novel and curious out of Africa.

And wherever I am I hope to remain,
Ex Africa Semper Yours,

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

African Christmas Carol II

The list of selfless, kind acts bestowed upon me by Africans and Mzungus alike continues:

18. A very special mention needs to be made of Chris in Juba, a manager of one of the campsites. The campsites in Juba are not actually for camping as it turns out (but for self-contained permanent tents), so it was only thanks to him bending the rules that I could stay there for a fraction of the usual price (which is extortionate) in my own tent. Not only that, for the 5 days I was there he shared his food with me (matooke!), bought me sodas, allowed me to drive his car (admittedly he just did not like to drive himself and had to) and showed me the town. He treated me more like a daughter and a friend than a paying guest and I hope we will remain friends for a long time.

19. Juba
is full of friendly people and another such couple were the charming Ethiopians who were working in a stone quarry at the foot of the Juba J’bel. When I wandered onto their yard trying to find the way up the mountain they not only opened the locked back door for me to shorten my way but also invited me to tea should I make it back from the top in one piece. I did, and the tea, hot and sweet, was a much appreciated gift. As was their company and stories of Juba they shared.

20. To get to the said quarry I had to walk a rather long way from the edge of Juba in blistering sun. I thought I did not mind the walk until I felt quite dizzy and light-headed. Luckily, in the very same moment a car pulled up and a busines-like looking Egyptian enquired with bewilderment and disbelief as to the purpose of my ambling on the side of the road. Although he could not believe I just want to climb a mountain, and especially in that heat, he offered me a lift to the foot of it – even though he was much more convinced I should be going back to where I came from (and that means my hotel not Europe).

21. Thanks to another small but very touching gesture I obtained a pillow from a fellow-traveller. Hamish (his hat pictured), a New Zealander, was leaving for his green island; his tent disappeared from the Mombasa backpackers silently in the middle of the night and all that was left of Hamish was a pillow carefully balanced on the top of my tent. It served me faithfully for over 5 weeks!

22. In a matatu in Juba a lady who I smiled at apologetically (I was very dirty for climbing from the hill and was afraid I will get her spick and span clothes soiled) paid the fare for me before I could realise and protest. She too told me it is silly and of no practical value to hike up the hill.

23. Even thought I have already made an aggregated mention of those nice people who gave me lifts in their means of transport, Khalid and Saddam need to be mentioned separately. They have not only given me a lift, but also, as I recount in the previous post, paid for my hotel, fed me in a local restaurant and then went on a detour to put me safely on a boat to Lamu. And all that while telling me lots of interesting things about Kenya and its construction business.

24. On the very same matatu that saw me fighting with my hair I was given, by a different lady, a bottle of water. She was buying one for herself and only thought it natural to buy one for me too.

25. and 26. Food sharing is a strong social obligation in East Africa. I was told a story of a big man who was rich and powerful but who was one day seen eating at a restaurant on his own – he did not invite those passing by to come and eat with him and from that day on lost his influence and his riches dwindled as he was no longer a trusted businessman. In Africa one either eats surreptitiously in one’s own hut or out in the open but then communally. Yet the prevalence of this social convention does not belittle the niceness of the many sharing gestures. Two instances are most vivid in my mind; the first was the sharing-game I played with a lady sitting next to me on a bus from Kabale to Kampala. I offered her a packet of biscuits, then she bought me a maize, I offered to buy her soda and she shared her peanuts. Then she bought a packet of fried locusts, which I shared only symbolically, claiming after two of the crunchy-munchies that I am already absolutely stuffed.
The second kind gesture occurred when I was lying half-dead from heat-exhaustion on a mattress in Soricho. A young, obviously very poor, couple came into my hut to also seek shade and sat down to lunch. On seeing that I am awake they edged closer shyily and laid the black plastic bag from which they were eating out in front of me. It is hard to describe how meagre both in quantity (hardly enough for the two of them) and in quality (crumbles of injera bread with few stringy pieces of goat-meat mixed in) their lunch was but they shared it with a glad heart nevertheless. I did not want to offend them by declining to part-take; I ate just a couple of mouthfuls and offered them biscuits I found in my pocket as my contribution.

27. I was often beckoned to sit down with people eating in local street-side kitchens but I usually declined. In Mbale however, I accepted an invitation to join a group of local men drinking at a big table. I would normally avoid such gatherings but I had just bought some food at the stalls and was looking in vain for a place to sit with my prized chicken and fries. Theirs was the only option. I naturally offered them my food but they declined. Instead they ordered me a drink and then another and then yet another and then insisted these are on them. They were admittedly quite drunk and eager to have a listener who wants to hear more about their views on local politics but this does not make their gift of beer any less kind-hearted.

29. Bill, a walking embodiment of traditional American values and dreams and a true son of the North-West Coast, brought a smile to my face when he expressed his sincere concern about my access to washing facilities. Convinced that as a backpacker I probably have to go around covered with mud due to lack of any decent showers (while I was walking around covered in mud out of my own free will) he offered me the use of the Serena Hotel luxury amenities (swimming pool!) after my Murchinson Falls trek. He also treated me to dinner in a lovely restaurant of the like I had no idea existed in Kampala and made sure I go back to my lavatorily-challenged backpackers hostel in a taxi rather than a boda-boda; alighting from a huge, black, shiny BMW with tinted windows and crawling into my tiny, muddy tent felt surreal and incongruent but I was touched by Bill’s, only slightly excessive, concern.

1 comment:

  1. A wonderful idea and touching stories. Looking forward to Christmas Carol III.