"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,

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

African Christmas Carol

Still in the spirit of Christmas good-will and the nostalgic introspection that comes with the beginning of a New Year I have decided to compile a list of all the little acts of selfless kindness and altruism of which I had been a grateful recipient. Without them my journey would have not only been much less pleasant; parts of it would have not happened at all or other, nasty things might have happened.

I was away for 47 days; so here (in 3 instalments and with relevant links) are 47 acts of kindness, friendliness and charity from Africans and Mzungus alike, arranged in no particular order to prove that there is no place like Africa where hospitality is concerned!

1. The pride of place goes to Topol, Marcin and Phil, three lovely boys from Europe, who supported me with books, advice and contacts before I set off. They had made Uganda seem like a friendly and easy place to travel, which indeed it was.

2. Mama Habiba took me under her wing when I was stranded in Selicho, a small village on the shores of Lake Turkana. Her food was delicious and her smile lovely but what I will always remember most vividly were her touching little gestures of hospitality: the time she cleared out her things from the coolest hut during the unbearable midday heat and placed a mattress there for me to lie down or insistently offered me a small tetra-pack of pasteurised milk when she was worried that I was still hungry after the meal she had prepared.

3. Small but very thoughtful and of immense practical value (as those with long hair will understand) was the gesture of a fellow-lady-passenger, who, seeing my failed attempts to tie up my unruly hair with a blade of grass, got out of the matatu, untied one of her braids and handed me a hair-band that supported it. It was unexpected and very touching, as were the frequent attempts of local women to brush my hair away from my face and place them behind my ears!

4. The truck going from Longalani to Lodwar was so packed so full of passengers and dried fish that it was for a long time uncertain if there will be enough place for me even on top of the load. Luckily, just before it set off, I got a come-on from the driver to climb up and perch. Yet, before I did, an elderly man had got out of the driver’s cab and insisted I take his comfortable seat instead (travelling in the cab is usually twice as expensive as the cargo ‘seat’). When I protested and assured him I would be very comfortable sitting on the fish, he cut the discussion short with the sacrosanct and undisputable: “Please, you are our guest.”

5. I am very grateful to all the drivers on all the roads in all the countries who took me (for free or not) in their cars, motorbikes and boats. Special mention needs to be made of a boda-boda driver in Lodwar who offered to take me to a hotel for a few shillings when I alighted from a truck at 2am. When I declined and said I would walk (I don’t even know why I did that, as I had no idea where the hotel was, it was the middle of the night, my rucksack was heavy and the price he quoted was very reasonable) he sighed and told me he’ll take me for free as it is not safe for a girl to walk alone at night.

6. I am of course very grateful to the thieves who stole my phone and camera. Not for the thieving per se but for the fact that when I caught one of them and asked him kindly to give me my things back they came back after twenty minutes and returned my camera. They did not give the phone back but it’s the thought that counts. I am also grateful to the sellers at the stands nearby who gave me a seat while I waited for the pick-pockets to return and who, I am sure, exerted subtle pressure on the rascals to reconsider stealing from guileless mzungu girls.

7. I could not do half the things I did in Uganda if it wasn’t for the advice, contacts and support from Kizito Serumaga, the editor of Ggwanga newspaper. He is a very busy man but took time out of his busy schedule on a number of occasions to patiently explain the intricacies of Ugandan politics to a newcomer that just did not know the first thing about any of it.

8. Andy, who took me on a private boat safari in Murchinson Falls Park, lent me his camera when mine run out of battery and, most amazingly of all, delivered the forgotten, ice-cold beer to my retreat at the top of the Falls, will forever be held in grateful memory, especially on full-moon nights.

9. Without Hakim, the North Kenyan Godfather, and his extensive network of men and trucks, I would have never managed to get to the shores of Lake Turkana. Despite doubts about the sanity of my resolve and the chances of success, he elected to facilitate my search for transport and accommodation en route to Lake Turkana with all the means at his disposal, making it seem like a walk in the park, not a harassing trek though hundreds of miles of wilderness which it would have been without his help.

10. Abdrizzak and Abdoud (pictured with our lunch), were two of these men who on Hakim’s request helped me find transport from North Horr to Lake Turkana. Stranded on its shores without their company I would have been not only more clueless but also much lonelier. They went far beyond their call of duty, I’m certain of that, to make my stay in the North pleasant and interesting.

11. Peter and four other boys I hitched a ride with in Soroti helped me to organise a motorbike in the middle of the night so that I could continue my chase of Beti Kamya. Without their assurance who would have given their prized motorbike to a strange mzungu girl on a vague promise that she will bring it back the next day?

12. Alex from Mbale was unrelenting in his resolve to get my lost luggage back. Admittedly, he was the one who allowed it to be carried away into the unknown by four random Swiss people but his dedication and effort in getting it back have to be commended.

13. It was very nice of an airport staff member who I talked to in Lamu and whose name I cannot remember to indulge my whim and ask the pilot on my behalf to allow me to sit on the second pilot’s seat during the flight to Nairobi. It was nice of the pilot to agree.

14. A nice young student met on a bus helped me to find a hotel in Gulu and bargain the price down even though he was in a hurry to get home.

15. Another nice young student met in a matatu helped me to find my way, buy phone cards and fruit on my very first day in Kampala. And he too was in a hurry.

16. I was treated to lunch by a fellow truck traveller when we arrived in Marsabit. Joseph helped me find an internet café, attempted to organise onward transport and fed me in the nicest restaurant in town only because he knew I knew someone he knew.

17. Paul, a lovely half-Canadian, half-Iranian, half-Scottish (yes I know that does not add up) NGO worker in Torit, Sudan upon hearing that I posses neither a map of Sudan nor a vaguest inkling of its geography promised (and delivered) to print for me some of his maps of Sudan and Juba. And walked all the way to my hotel (twice) to hand them in.

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