Friday, November 9, 2007
Home Sweet Home
I'm writing this update from my couch in San Francisco. It's comfortable, but it's not as exotic as some internet cafe in Africa where the electricity can go out at any minute.
Being back has been great - I get to see my friends and family, eat good Mexican food and sleep in my own bed. I do miss Africa, though.
I miss the variety of people and food and landscape. I miss the sense of adventure and possibility that was a part of every day.
But fear not, there is still opportunity for adventure and possibility. Once some of the more mundane tasks are accomplished - laundry, new car battery, 5 day course of antibiotics - I have the rest of my life to figure out.
I've got hours and hours of video footage to look through and figure out how to edit so that I can tell the story I'm trying to tell. I'm hoping that while reviewing the footage I get some clarity on what that story is.
I've got to determine next steps. How do I make this travel show a reality? Who do I talk to? What do I do?
I've got to keep doing my video diaries for the documentary film. A crew will come out to San Francisco at least twice before the year is up. In February, the whole cast goes to San Diego to meet and talk about what we've all done. The adventure of the documentary film is alive and well.
So for now, I'm going to go to the grocery store and reactivate my gym membership and edit my photos to a viewable number. Soon I will start taking the next steps to see this dream become a reality.
Miss K By the Numbers
120 - days spent traveling
10 - countries visited (can you name them all?)
2 - countries visited for less than 24 hours (Zimbabwe and Lesotho, where these photos were taken)
2843 - photos taken (seriously)
300 (or less) - photos you will have to see
24 - hours of video shot
45 - different hotels/campsites/backpackers/houses/trains and busses I spent at least 1 night sleeping in over the course of my travels.
Overall, this trip has been a fantastic experience and I would encourage anyone who is thinking of traveling to Africa, traveling solo or following a dream to stop putting it off and start making it happen.
It's up to you to make you happy.
Thanks for following along on this adventure. Stay tuned for updates on the documentary and updates on the people we met along the way.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
California Here I Come...
Though it's hard to believe it, I'm down to my last few days in Africa!
Spent the last 2 days in the North Drakensberg mountain range. Went on a day trip to Lesotho organized by the backpacker place I was staying (Amphitheater). What a beautiful country! High up in the mountains and a very rugged terrain, we visited a town in the northeast that doesn't get tourists except for those that come on this trip.
Took a hike, chatted with the locals, met a traditional healer and took lots of pictures of the kids - a most excellent way to spend one of my last days. Would upload photos but am at a place with no usb connection. (Sigh)
Am now waiting to meet Sr. Jean, the former high school teacher of my friend Una. I'll spend my last few days with her in Pretoria finding out all about the projects she is working on then Wednesday (Halloween) I'll get on a plane and head home.
For Halloween this year, I will be dressed as an airline passenger. I think it will be my most convincing costume yet.
Looking forward to seeing you all when I'm back in San Francisco. If you're reading this and you're local... call me, we should do lunch!
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
My time in Coffee Bay was filled with nature, culture and rugby. Last Saturday, I went on a 3.5 hour hike along the coast, up hills, over rivers, seeing dolphins, sheep and cows on the beach and eventually ending up at the Hole in the Wall - a rock formation where the sea comes crashing through, yes a hole in a big rock wall. The scenery was amazing, which made a good excuse to stop and rest.Later that night I went with some people to a Xhosa village where we tried some home brewed beer. If you take any beer you may have and add milk and handful of grass from your lawn, that's about what it tasted like. Women in the neighborhood danced in one of the houses and we all joined in at the end - a very fun time. The next night, I spent the night in one of the people's houses. It was fabulous and boring all at once and I spent most of my time singing with the girls in the family.
All that and I met a woman who made wildlife documentaries who thinks that a travel show focused on community tourism and social responsibility type issues is a good idea. Catch the wave while you can.
I fly out a week from today and I can hardly believe it. I've been thinking a lot about recent conversations I've had with people about the impact you have on others when you're following your dreams and especially about an exchange I had with a woman in Cintsa.
On my last morning there, I went for a walk on the beach. In the distance I could see about 5 whales breaching, sticking their tails out of the water and generally having a good time. I saw a couple on the beach who was also watching them and we stopped to talk. I told the woman, I'm not sure what the whales are thinking but to me, they look very happy. She said, "Of course they are, they're doing what God made them to do." Her husband replied, "Shouldn't we all?" Well, yes.
So my message to me and to you is... figure out what you're meant to be doing and do it. It will make you happy and that will have a positive impact on the people around you. I've had a wonderful time chasing this dream of mine around Africa and I'm expecting wonderful things to happen as I start chasing it back to San Francisco.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Two Weeks To Go!!!
I can't believe I'll be home two weeks from today!
I have been running around like crazy trying to fit 3 more months worth of activities and stories into these last two weeks.
Things I Did in Cape Town I Never Thought I Would:
- Snorkel with seals - it was fabulous when I wasn't freaking out
- Drive - on the left side and in a stick shift thank you very much
- Watch rugby - Springboks are in the World Cup finals Sunday... country is going crazy
I'm now in Cintsa at a place called Buccaneers Backpackers, making my way rather quickly towards Pretoria. No photos on this blog as it's not possible from here. Will overwhelm you next time with a picture of me standing where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet.As I meet more people and talk more about what I'm trying to put together, I learn about more and more programs and projects that I just don't have time to visit. Two very worthy ones are listed in brief at the end of the blog. South Africa is full of people taking steps, both big and small, to make a positive impact on other people's lives. I'm doing what I can counteract all the negative information you hear about this country (and all the others I've visited) and spread around a little love.
Two projects I did get to visit in Cape Town were African Angels and Bulugha Farm School.
African Angels is a not-for-profit organization based on the East Coast of South Africa, in a small coastal hamlet called Chintsa. African Angels is dedicated to identifying and distributing sponsorship for the education of needy and disadvantaged African children - our African Angels - so their future, their family's future and their country's future is brighter.
Bulugha is a school (on a farm) that has 3 classrooms, 3 toilets and 193 kids. Every Thursday, the kids perform a concert where they sing their hearts out and the backpackers and travelers that attend leave a donation which is then used to buy food for the breakfast and lunch. It was a wonderful experience and as soon as I can get a short video put together to show you, I will.
I'm heading to Coffee Bay tomorrow (where I will stay through the rugby final although I've just heard there is no tv!) and then to Durban. In Durban, I'll be talking to a filmmaker I met in Cape Town to find out more about how she got started and how it all works.
Future Filming for DREAM
As you know, the Dream team filmed me in Cape Town as I followed up on a story. They will also be coming to Durban to film me as I follow up on this fabulous connection. And where are they after that? Filming my triumphant return to SFO!
If you'd like to be there, let me know and I can get you details. For those of you with Monday-Friday 9-5 jobs... you may need to be sick. Did I just hear you cough?
See many of you very soon!
More Projects in South Africa
Monkeybiz supplies richly coloured glass beads to women in the townships of Cape Town. The 450 women involved in the project are currently producing exquisite hand beaded artworks - each a unique one-off creation. The women are paid for each piece they produce; and since they work from home, can look after their families and avoid transport costs.
We run an HIV/AIDS Wellness Clinic located in the heart of Cape Town, which provides skills training and HIV/AIDS support for low-income HIV+ women. This thriving centre, started in 2003, caters for 60 women once a week, offering them beadwork training, HIV/AIDS counseling, yoga therapy, homeopathic HIV/AIDS treatment and basic nutrition.
Simply put, our biggest project has one objective: to guarantee the fundamental right of children to have access to education in an environment that is both pleasant and favourable to learning.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Leaving Cape Town - Or Else I'll Have to Live Here
Earlier in the week I had my 15 minutes of fame in Cape Town. The crew came to Longstreet Backpackers in the morning and they filmed me packing up my gear in the dorm room and then reenacting a phone call to a woman named Abigail at Heartworks, the store we were going to visit that morning.
The Dream people are checking into the budget to see if they can film me again when I hit Durban. Reason being, I met a woman who is a filmmaker and I've got plans to meet her and find out more about what she does, how she got started, etc. and they're interested in seeing that.
The rest of my time here has really been about being a tourist. Went to see the Cape of Good Hope (the most southwesterly point
On the way, we stopped by the Boulders park to see penguins. They are lovely to look at, though right now, they don't do much besides molt. Tomorrow, I will rent a car with some Irish women from the gang and drive out to do some whale watching and find the point where the oceans meet - the southern most point in Africa. I'm going to have to give driving on the left side of the road a try... though I'm a bit nerviosa.
Have been on a wine tour, am going on a boat ride today and spent some time the other day wandering the Bo-Kaap neighborhood with incredibly bright houses and Cape Malay influences and food. Lovely, delicious, diverse.
Catch up with you in a few more days!
Sunday, October 7, 2007
Cruising in Cape Town
That's the South African equivalent of "how you doin?". While I don't use the local lingo yet, I am starting to understand it. "Lekker" means good and when you tell someone something they can't believe, they do not say "shut up!" or "really?", they say "is it?". The only thing I love more than that is that when you thank someone, instead of saying "you're welcome" people say "pleasure". I doubt that it always is a pleasure for them bringing you a coffee or selling you a postcard, but it sounds nice.
Cape Town reminds me a bit of San Francisco. There is a very touristy waterfront, there is an island off the coast that used to be a prison and there are a ton of funky boutique stores and restaurants for your eating and shopping pleasure. South Africa, of course has Nelson Mandela and the US has, well... enough of this comparison stuff.
In the last few days, now out of my funk and rockin' Cape Town like the Superstar I am, I decided to let events for the day with the film crew unfold and have been playing tourist instead of freaking out (at least not full time).
I took a tram (which they call a cable car and technically, it is a car of sorts traveling on an overhead cable but I can't think of it as a cable car so call it a tram), yes a tram to the top of Table Mountain and took in the stunning views of Cape Town, Camps Bay and the surrounding mountains. Some people abseil down the mountain (basically repel down it on ropes), some people hike down, I took the tram. Did I mention it spins 360 degrees while moving along the cable?
Yesterday I went to Robben Island, a former prison and now a World Heritage site. Full of political prisoners, the most famous being Nelson Mandela, it was opened as a prison in 1963 - the same year Alcatraz closed. The tours are led by former inmates, which is very interesting as they speak from experience. Our guy talked about training in Angola to fight the apartheid system and being caught and arrested. He said he's not bitter about being in prison as all the former inmates realize that reconciliation is the only way to move the country forward. All that and a penguin colony too!
What else, what else... a township tour, a visit to the local aquarium to see the South African marine life and some giant spider crabs from Japan, which were very scary/impressive looking, and divers feeding the sharks.
In Cape Town, I feel more like a tourist, seeing sights in an environment that is not that different from the environment I live in. It's less like the rest of Africa where I felt like I was on a giant adventure and everything was so new/different/fabulous/frustrating.
But I did jump off the beaten path. Went to a place called "The Farm" which is associated with Longstreet Backpackers where I'm staying. Here, a man named Andre raises farm animals and takes in orphaned children. I spent a full day there talking with Andre and the kids while a pig sniffed my ankle and a goose bit my leg (revenge for killing his cousin in Madagascar? perhaps). I gave one of the girls, Asavella, my camera and she ran around taking photos... including this self portrait. I then stayed for dinner and met and interesting group of South Africans who had come over, including a filmmaker from Durban I will try to meet up with as I make my way to Jo'burg. You can read more about what Andre is doing at Hope for the Children.
The film crew is coming tomorrow - I've made arrangements to visit a store that sells crafts made by local artists, much of it from recycled materials. I also have a list of 12 introspective essay questions to consider tonight. "12. From a strictly "life philosophy" perspective please tell us how the time you have spent in Africa has changed you as a person". Oh dear.
Will definitely check in after the shoot tomorrow to let you all know how it goes. I'm thrilled that there will be an interview in a location in Africa and that there will be someone else to worry about the lighting and sound besides me.
All that and there plans among the backpackers for karaoke on Thursday night and I already have a guy who wants to sing "I Got You Babe" with me. Cape Town won't know what hit them.
Until the next installment,
The evil crab says "keep reading".
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Play That Funky Music White Girl
The last few days in Namibia I have been in a bit of a funk about this trip.
I can tell I'm getting more homesick because almost everything now reminds me of people back home and of home itself. The foggy west coast of Swakopmund, Namibia? Just like San Francisco. The outdoor plaza of a shopping mall in Windhoek, Namibia? Just like Oakland City Center (if Oakland had no Asian people). But then, as I was people watching from a restaurant in the mall called "In's Wiener" (what?), a woman walked by in a dress with poofy shoulders and a matching head wrap that came to two points on each side of her head reminding me both of the Flying Nun and a cape buffalo. I suppose I'm not at home after all.
Homesickness and fashion aside, I feel like I'm losing focus on the dream. I haven't filmed anything since the Habitat team in Malawi in early September. I have nothing scheduled to film in Cape Town when a film crew will spend 2 days following me around. I have no idea what I'm going to do with all the footage when I get back. I don't know how in the world I think I can have a show when I don't have the foggiest idea of what you need to do create one. How long will my money last, how will I eat, what will I do? On and on my tale of self pity goes. Are you crying yet?
But then this morning at 3:30am, as I was sitting on another bus filling out the departure card for Namibian immigration, I decided to list something new for my occupation. On the last half dozen cards, I have been putting "filmmaker". This morning in the box marked occupation, I wrote - "superstar". Knowing that I have officially entered South Africa as a superstar has done wonders for my self esteem and motivation. It makes me smile when I think of it.
Favorite Namibian City Names
- Otjiwarongo - where we stayed for 5 hours waiting for our bus to be fixed
- Okahandja - where the wind goes sweeping down the plain
- Gross Barmen - where, what, they spit in your beer?
Am now in Cape Town and, although all I've done so far is have a shower and eat some lunch at a restaurant called Lola's that's like a Haight Street/Castro/East Village/London big, gay disco, I LOVE IT!!
I trust I will come up with something to do with the film crew. I am, after all, a superstar.
Friday, September 28, 2007
Surfing the Sand Dunes of Swakopmund
First off, to those of you who had a mini panic attack when you saw the photos from Vic Falls... it looks scarier than it is (although it is a bit scary) and yes, I am fine and have no plans to hang over or sit near any waterfalls for the rest of the trip.
What became of my tour of Namibia? In the end, I traveled with the Dutch couple for a few days and they were lovely travel companions. We rented a Volkswagen Chico (I hear it's the earliest version of the Golf) and headed towards Sossusvlei (pronounced "saucesfly", which took me days to master) to see the famous red sand dunes.
Before you laugh at our tiny car negotiating the gravel roads... let me tell you at least we didn't flip upside down like the English tourists in the Land Rover. We stopped to help them, but they had flipped hours earlier and were all okay. Our good karma was returned when they stopped for us the next day after Chico blew a tire. Fortunately we had a spare and the Dutch guy, Joost, was able to quickly change it.
Although we were thwarted in our dreams of getting into the park in time to see the sunrise - because the park people don't let you in until they see the sun peak over the mountains - we did see a red full moon set for the evening and still made it to Sossusvlei early in the morning.
The tallest dune is 300 meters high, once again, I must let you all work out the conversion to
feet yourselves. I wish at times like these the public schools in the US helped their citizens get more prepared to navigate through a metric world. But alas, I'm left to stand on the ground, look up and say, "wow, that's pretty tall".
So what does one do when faced with a pretty tall sand dune? Climb it, of course. Even though you try to walk in the footsteps of others, it's pretty slow going to the top but once you get there it's a marvelous view. Then you're left with no choice but to run down the side. I suppose you could take a path, but honestly it's hard not to drop on your side and roll all the way down.
After our moment in the sand, it was time to drive the Chico through a seemingly endless desert to reach the town of Swakopmund. As you're driving through the sand dunes, it appears on the horizon looking like a giant miniature golf course. Oh, that doesn't make much sense does it? It is a German town built at the seaside. Many of the signs are in German, the streets are both orderly and fairly empty. The breakfast menus feature boerewors instead of matoke or ugali. It hardly seems like Africa at all. And it's cold again.
Now that I'm not in it... I miss the chaos that is most of the rest of Africa. Streets full of people and vehicles, everyone driving and walking willy nilly with no concern for rules of the road - if there even are any. Men shouting, whistling and banging cars trying to convince you to jump on their matatu, dala dala or boda boda. Women walking along wearing colorful kangas with a baby strapped to their back and purchases from the market balanced on their heads.
But one must not sit around lamenting the abundance of western style toilets and friendly, attentive people working in the service sector. One must find a way to fling herself down a sand dune trying not to drop the board, which will result in a face full of sand and a wipe out. The people from Desert Sky Backpackers in Swakopmund helped us book a sandboarding trip with Alter Action for the following day so I could do just that.
The weather was beautiful, cool but sunny and the long haul up the sand dune was rewarded with another spectacular view. Once at the top, you get instructions of how to lay on and hold your "high tech piece of equipment", which is in reality a 3 foot board made of some kind of pressed wood so it's a bit pliable.
The scariest part of the whole affair is laying on your stomach at the top of the sand dune looking down and waiting for them to shove you over the edge. Once that's done, you fly down the hill in a blur, come to a relieved halt and then the sad realization that you're going to have to walk back up to the top in order to do it again.
We had 7 runs in all and my top speed was 75 kilometers per hour, which I think is about 50mph. Yikes! It was a very fun day and I'm glad I gave it a try. We all got a DVD with highlights from the morning (actually it's a VCD so I hope it works in my computer) as a memento and then practically everyone bought a shirt. Hey, it's cold here and a long-sleeved shirt is a good investment.
So that's it. I'm trying to make the best of my extra time in Namibia. I've got an overnight bus to Cape Town on Monday - am told I have to try to get my money back from the Intercape HQ there, but suspect the answer will be too bad, so sad.
Tomorrow I may go eco-friendly quad biking, or just sit by the Atlantic Ocean wondering what in the world I am going to do with all the footage I have when I get back home.
Looking forward to seeing many of you live an in person.
Monday, September 24, 2007
To Kill a Springbok
Did I say 18 hour bus ride to Windhoek, Namibia in my last post? I should have said 28.
Around 3:30am, 20 kilometers north of Otjiwarongo, the driver had to quickly decide whether to hit an oncoming car or a springbok.
As the springbok bounced and clattered under the bus carriage it tore up some vital piece of machinery. Four hours later, we were still stranded at the side of the road and when I borrowed a phone to call the tour company I paid to take me to the sand dunes of Sossusvlei and the German town of Swakopmund, they told me they couldn't hold the bus for 3 hours or refund any of my money. Not good.
By 8:30am we made it to the town of Otjiwarongo (we were due in Windhoek at 6:30am) where we were told to wait "one hour" for the bus to be repaired. Five hours later, we got on a new bus while our old bus with the luggage on it followed us (no I don't get it) . Finally made it to Windhoek at 4:30pm.
Am working out alternatives. Have changed my Friday bus ticket to Cape Town to Monday in hopes of fitting in some of these tours. Will return to the bus office again tomorrow to try and get a refund on the ticket. Have been advised getting angry doesn't work but crying might. Will then either try to catch another tour or hook up with a Dutch couple that is talking about renting a car and camping equipment.
Am now fiercely determined to sandboard - especially since I've seen you can do it laying on your stomach like a big sled.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Life on the Edge at Victoria Falls
First off... if you haven't read about the Mazingira Monkey Project, go back one blog and find out what it's all about.
Now back to our regularly scheduled program.
I arrived in Livingstone, Zambia on Tuesday the 18th, checked into Jollyboys and promptly got ready for the sunset cruise with my friend PJ to celebrate her birthday. We saw hippos, elephants and a lovely sunset - which I'm sparing you the picture of because I know you've seen enough.
The next day we got up and went to Zimbabwe - like you do. It's the dry season and the water is low. Can't see too much from the Zambia side, but the main falls on the Zimbabwe side are still pretty spectacular - I'd love to come back and see them in the wet season.
We were met by a guide named Taka, who I had met in Lusaka... sounds like a lot of potential for a limerick in there... he took us to the falls and then exchanged money on the black market so we could get lunch. The notes they use are not actually money but a "bearer cheque" with an expiration date of July 31st, 2007. However, since they've got nothing else to use, people still use these expired cheques. Apparently if you take money out of the ATM you get 250 Zimbabwe dollars for 1 US. On the black market you get 50,000 or so Zim dollars for 1 US. I still don't really get it, but people travel to Zambia, take Zambian Kwacha out of the ATM, exchange it for US dollars in Zambia then go back into Zimbabwe and exchange the US dollars on the black market. Crazy. That and no one calls Mugabe by name, because there are so many undercover police watching what you say... they just refer to him as "Him". I've got more stories but we must get back to the falls.
Yesterday, PJ and I went for high tea on Livingstone Island. Before you have your tea and cakes and gin and tonics, you get to swim at the edge of the falls. Literally. I refused to jump in - the guides were doing flips - but I did crawl down and swim to the edge. I was then persuaded to look over the edge while the guide held my feet. I think some people lean waaaay over. It was all I could do to stick my head over, spread out my hands then say "okay, okay I'm done". It was kind of like climbing to the top of the lighthouse at Alcatraz and touching the top. Although I was scared to do it... if that's the volunteer initiation, I'm not missing it, but I'm going to do it as quickly as possible.
Afterwards, I sat in pool a bit lower down that was like a jacuzzi. You could hold on and stick your head over and watch the water rushing by. It's hard to imagine the water of the Zambezi, which seems so calm if you watch it from the deck of the Royal Livingstone Hotel (which we did after the high tea with a lovely couple we met from the US) turns into the churning mass of water that tumbles 108 meters (yeah, I don't know how many feet that is, 300?) into the gorge below. How do those hippos hold on?
Tomorrow I catch an 18 hour bus (can you stand it? I can't, but I will) to Windhoek, Namibia. When I arrive Monday morning, I'm joining up with a safari to go to the sand dunes on the coast. I may even try sand boarding - then again maybe not. Stay tuned.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Manzingira Monkey Project
I'm currently in Livingstone, Zambia where the focus is Victoria Falls. Sadly for me it's the dry season now so there's less water and when I went to see them (on the Zimbabwe side where the main falls are) my camera battery stopped and the extra battery I brought wasn't charged - but more on that story next time. On to our feature presentation...
Today we visit the Mazingira Monkey Project in Arusha, Tanzania. Mazingira means "environment" in Kiswahili and this project was created in 2002 by Mr. Juma Rahmadani with the aim of ridding Arusha of the used plastic bags that litter the streets.
Every morning, he goes through the streets of Arusha collecting plastic bags, which he then washes with soap and a disinfectant. He hangs them to dry them in the sun among banana trees in his neighborhood, then heads back to his office/home to start making animals with his wife, Asia Ramadhani Juma Kijangwa.
They sew kitenge cloth (a very colorful cloth worn by women all over East Africa) into the shapes of giraffe, elephants and monkeys then stuff them with the cleaned plastic bags. It takes 12 bags to fill a giraffe, 12 for a monkey and 30 for an elephant. Juma estimates he's made over 1000 animals since this project started in 2002, which means somewhere between 12,000 and 30,000 plastic bags are off the streets because of him!
Not only is he helping the environment, Juma uses the street children in Arusha to help him collect the plastic bags and in return buys them food or clothes. He works tirelessly at the Maznigira Monkey Project to support not only himself, his wife and their four children but also the environment and the street children of Arusha.
What can you do to help this project? It's easy... buy a monkey, a giraffe or a herd of elephants!
If you're interested, please let me know via a comment on this site. I'll collect orders and work with Juma directly so he can make one big shipment rather than a bunch of small ones.
As before... please leave any comments here so Juma and Asia can read them.
“Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Goodbye Malawi, Hello Zambia (Country No. 7!)
After a restful week at Mayoka Village in Nkhata Bay, then a shared car down to Lilongwe for few nights at Mabuya Camp, I now have a dorm bed at Chachacha Backpackers in Lusaka, Zambia. I'm staying here through Monday waiting for the Habitat office to open so I can meet with them and then head to Victoria Falls.
Unlike Arusha and Nkhata Bay, Lusaka is a big city (though still most everything is closed on Sunday thwarting my attempt to buy more video tapes) and no one talks to you as you walk down the street. They stare, but that could be the shorts - not hoochie shorts, mind you, but between the sunglasses, shorts and backpack and walking around on my own, I guess I am something of an oddity to behold.
The photos are from Malawi... a fish eagle swooping down to catch a fish in Lake Malawi, some of the boys from Mayoka Village and perhaps my favorite shop of all time.
Below are more random tidbits from the road:
Recent Journal Entry
09/14/07 - 6:10am on the Zambia-Botswana Luxury (ha!) Coach in Lilongwe, Malawi
Over the noise from the bus engine, the rattling windows and the talking I hear the singing. About 25 women from the Reformed Church of Zambia (if the writing on their kangas is to be believed) are spread throughout the bus singing as we drive through a city slowly waking up. An older woman, by the sound of her voice, sings a verse from the back of the bus then the rest of the women join in. Call - response - harmony. It's one of the random travel moments that you can't plan, expect or forget. I love it!
We turn down a dirt road (is this really the road to Zambia?) and see women standing in the street waving tree branches, sweeping the road and calling out to the bus. We stop in front of a church, bells ringing and the singers exit the bus to be greeted with hugs and smiles. So begins the 14 hour journey to Lusaka.
Favorite Malawian Men's Nicknames:
- Chicken Pizza
- Cheese on Toast
- Lemon Squeeze
Favorite Malawian Men's Real Names:
Thursday, September 13, 2007
UniquEco - the (Flipflop) Recycling Co
A marine conservationist by training and a woman who is passionate about the oceans, she started a project while working at the WWF to turn flip flops that washed up on the Kenyan coastline into key chains. After a large key chain order from WWF Switzerland, helped her realize the idea of making things from flip flops using more sophisticated means was possible, Julie and her business partner, Tahreni, set up UniquEco as a business to establish a sustainable solution to both waste and livelihood issues.
UniquEco works with villages adjacent to Kiunga Marine National Reserve, where Julie worked for 6 years with WWF. The villages include Kiwayu, Ndau, Mkokoni, Kiunga and Chandani. They have also stared collecting used flip flops from the slums in Nairobi.
Julie believes that the world's waste is everyone's problem and Africa can provide the solution. The flip-flop is the most basic footwear for so many in the world, yet every day hundreds of these brightly coloured, non-degradable pieces of rubber wash up on beaches around the globe, blighting the coastlines and the lives of local coastal people and the marine and coastal ecology.
The flip-flop initiative is a remarkable solution to this man-made problem. The local women and children have been encouraged to collect the washed up rubbish that arrives from as far a field as Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. The villagers turn this waste into saleable products such as key rings, belts, earrings and bags using human creativity. This provides a sustainable livelihood to those in need.
UniquEco's motto: improving lives and the world with recycled products, is about brightening life with colourful and exciting items made from waste and providing opportunities to marginalized peoples.
This is another example of what a person with some passion and commitment can do to make a positive difference in the world. Now if that doesn't make you want to go online and buy yourself (or someone you love) a flip flop necklace, well then - buy something else!
The website is developing so the best way for you to make a purchase is to send an email to work out the details. UniquEco
As with Boomu, please leave any comments here so Julie can see them and if you order an item because you learned about UniquEco here... be a pal and let them know.
Monday, September 10, 2007
17 Days in the Life of Miss K
You haven't heard much from me lately because I've been on the go. A recent 17 day period in the life of Miss K has included:
- 4 countries (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi)
- 10 different hotels
- 9 bus rides (shortest - 4 hours, longest - 14)
- 1 train ride (24 hours in a compartment with 5 women that spoke only Swahili)
- and filming for 4 different stories
Lordy, it's time for a rest!
So, I've spent the last week at a place called Mayoka Village in Nkhata Bay, Malawi. There's not much to do but go swimming in the lake, play pool, read books and chat with fellow travelers. It's been fabulous. (I'm trying to add some pictures but may have to try again when I can find a better connection - oh it's so slow... here's the view from my $8/night room. You'll have to see the fish eagle another time.)
I wasn't going to go swimming in the lake because I was worried about bilharzia (a scary parasite worm that gets in your bladder and jacks up your insides). Then I learned that the shower water is lake water, so I'd already been in it. Plus, there's some sort of morning after Lake Malawi pill that you can get at the pharmacy here. I'm checking it out.
Heading to Lilongwe, Malawi next to meet with another Habitat team. I promise, the next blog really will be about UniquEco Designs.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
East African Hospitality
For anyone who is considering travel to Africa, especially solo travel, below are a few stories of the hospitality I have encountered to help you decide to say yes!
While staying at Red Chilli Hideaway, another solo traveler and I met Captain Sandy Newman - a 60 year old Ugandan guy who had come to Red Chilli to watch a soccer match.
The three of us got to talking and the next thing you know, he offers to drive us into town. That then becomes showing us a house he is building, taking us on a tour of Kampala and buying us dinner.
He was one of the first black African airline pilots who was sent to flight school in the US in the 60's and now has a soft spot for Americans. He spent the evening telling us stories, including the time he flew Idi Amin and friends and was given $3000 (keep in mind this is the 70's) cash as a thank you.
While doing a day trip from Nairobi, I was talking to the guide about a place some local people recommended I go dancing on Saturday. He said it was full of tourists and prostitutes and I should go with him to a place for locals. Against someone's better judgement, I agreed.
He took me to a country western bar behind a butcher shop that was filled with 250 Kenyans and me. People were dancing to country songs sung in Swahili and Kikuyu - and eventually an English rendition of Kenny Rodgers' "Coward of the County".
I did my best to represent on the dance floor. Being the only mzungu in the joint, a lot of people watched me every time I got up on the floor. I nodded my head and told people the music was nzuri (good), though honestly some of it was hard to take, and felt like I really did experience a local Kenyan Saturday night.
I have spent the last two days with the monkey guy in Arusha - more on him coming soon.
This afternoon, while I was at his house filming him making the monkey toy, his wife cooked us lunch. The kitchen is the 2 foot space on the floor behind the couch. Here she whipped up ugali and a stew with vegetables and small fish. She even found a fork so I could eat the mzungu way as I was no good at scooping up stew with a handful of ugali. It was very lovely.
Finally, last night as I was walking home, a young woman passed me on the street and said "take care". I knew the area I was staying around the market is not so safe at night but I heard before 10pm is okay and it was only 8pm. Her warning freaked me out a bit but I was only 3 blocks from my hotel.
After one block, the woman came up to me, took my hand, introduced herself as Yasmin and said she would walk me back. "You are like my sister, I know my country, don't worry." My sister appeared to be drunk and/or high, which doesn't seem to make for the best escort. "We must stop by and say hello to my friend, don't worry". What, me worry?
Off the street, through two more doors and we come to a room full of women laying around so we can say hello to Josephine. It is now I realize Yasmin, Josephine and everyone else are most likely hookers.
We leave. Yasmin tells me she has a child buy a German guy, that she knows her country, I am her sister and let's jog the last block. When we arrive, she asks for my email - I give it and can't wait for a message - she writes her phone number while swaying, then kisses me on the cheeks and hugs me goodbye.
The hotel clerk asked where I found her... hey, I was found. We agreed that, there were too many numbers in the phone number Yasmin gave me for it to work, she is a hooker and she is drunk and I am lucky to arrive back safely. But arrive back safely I did escorted most of the way.
These things don't happen when you stay home. Get out there and travel.
P.S. If you haven't read my entry about the Boomu Women's Group in Uganda - go back one space. Coming next... UniquEco Designs!
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Boomu Women's Group
I recently stayed at the Boomu Women's Group, in Kigaragara, Uganda to learn more about this community based tourism group and the lives of rural Ugandans. The group was formed in 1999, by Enda Byabali with the aim of fighting poverty in the area by creating economic and social development through raising the incomes of their members.
I'll be putting together a promotional video for Boomu and UCOTA (the Ugandan Community Tourism Association) to use upon my return to the US.
If you're in Uganda, I encourage you to stay at Boomu. The accommodations are some of the most comfortable I've had on my trip so far, the trees are FILLED (!) with weaver birds and their nests, the food is as fresh as the backyard and Edna will gladly teach you all about the surrounding community. Stay for a few days and learn about the local community or stay for a few weeks and volunteer your time.
If you're not planning a trip to Uganda, plan a trip to the website and shop for some crafts. You will be making a direct contribution to support this community that is working to support itself! And for goodness sakes, let them know that you learned about Boomu from Kristian at HeyMissK!
Lastly, please leave any comments about this program here so the people from UCOTA and Boomu can see them too!
Information About the Boomu Women's Group (from their website)
All our members are subsistence farmers meaning that most food that is grown is for domestic consumption and what is left is taken to the market. However in order to raise incomes, some families increase the amount they take to the market leaving themselves hungry. Income from farming, due to the low amount produced and lack of access to markets, rarely cover all the expenses people have: education costs such as secondary school fees, textbooks, and uniforms, soap, paraffin, clothes once a year and occasionally meat. For our members’ there are few alternate livelihoods in particular for women so the group was formed to provide another income stream through weaving baskets.
As the number of baskets sold is very variable, we decided to diversify our activities by setting up a small tourism project. The group brought land in the village of Kigaragara, next to Murchison Falls National Park, using 15% of the income from baskets towards this project. We built accommodation in 2004 with assistance from UCOTA (Ugandan Community Tourism Association). and received further seed funding in 2006 to furnish the bandas.
The objective for this tourism project is for it to be a participatory experience: for our group, the local community and for the visitor. The surrounding community has been involved in the development of the project and would be happy to have people visiting them, seeing their everyday life and their needs such as education that our project is trying to address. Our chairperson will be delighted to share with you everything she knows about local life, history, culture, traditions and the issues that affect us. This means visitors will directly engage with the recipients of their tourism spend and can see exactly what the impact of their stay will be.
As well as bringing economic and social development directly to our members and the local communities - plans include a nursery school for the community - we also wish to create economic development indirectly. We hope that if the project becomes successful we can inspire other people to come together and also work towards economic and social development.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Float Down My Stream of Conscience
A random collection of thoughts from my travel weary mind...
Favorite Ugandan Town Names:
Powers I Wished I Possessed:
- photographic memory and companion color printer, for everything I see out the bus window but don't have my camera ready for (my new favorite being the "Tick Hotel" in Uganda)
- ability to teleport from one location to another so I didn't have to take the bus
Last State I Thought of in My Time Killing Quest to Name All 50 (which I did):
Miss K By the Numbers:
3 - number of times I will pass in and out of Kenya
4 - number of buses I have ridden in the past 5 days
5 - shortest amount of hours spent on said buses
14 - longest amount of hours spent on said buses
27 - number of different hotel rooms, dorm beds, campsites, etc. I have slept in so far
52 - number of consecutive speed bumps placed 30 feet apart, causing the bus driver to speed-break-babump, speed-brake-babump down the road and Kristian to almost snap and jump off the bus
On Transport Cost:
$4.50 gets you a ride on Supa Coach (don't be fooled by the name) from Kampala to Masinda, Uganda. You will have to sit on the bus for 2 (to 3) hours before it leaves and over the course of the 5 hour bus ride, you will have to coordinate shifting your legs with the old woman facing you as there are 16 people in a space designed for 9 and you only fit if you alternate legs (my leg/her leg/my leg/her leg). When the bus stops, you can not get out but you can buy meat on a stick through the window. Choose wisely or like me, you will end up with a stick of grilled intestines and realize you weren't as hungry as you thought.
$30.00 gets you a ride on Akamba from Kampala, Uganda to Nairobi, Kenya. You get your own seat, the bus leaves on time and they give you samosas and juice in the morning. Though the windows don't open for food purchases, you do get a 20-minute stop for lunch and a bathroom break 7 hours into the trip at the halfway point. If your ride is more than 5 hours, I would recommend digging into your wallet for the extra cash.
On Transport Stability:
Those of you who have been in my car know she is low to the ground. An advantage of this is that I never feel like I will tip over. Get run over? Sure. Tip over? Never.
As Supa Coach raced down the road, swerving around slower cars, driving in the shoulder and leaning at what felt like 30 degree angles, I was sure we would tip. Maybe I got the idea from The Simpsons episode where the SUVs took a gentle curve and all rolled over and caught fire. Maybe these thoughts are an effect of the Larium. Maybe it's because I've seen one bus and two trucks on their sides along the roads. In any event, I'm happy to report we stayed upright the whole time.
And just so you know it's not just me. I met a Spanish woman in Masindi who said she spent most of the time on the bus praying because she literally thought she would die. Now she laughs about it. But that's now.
People, love your cars, your public transportation and your roads. You've got it good.
Keep on truckin',
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
"Mama, this is Africa"
What, pray tell, was I doing in a car full of Ugandans, dust and body odor? Bouncing down one of the worst dirt roads in Uganda, listening to Voice of America radio on a 50 mile, 3.5 hour drive trying to make my way to Kisoro, to track gorillas. "But didn't you sign up for a safari that came with a private vehicle", you ask? Why yes, I did.
Long story short (is it really possible with me?), the 4x4 my guide was driving broke down 2 hours into the trip. We had to use a combo of taxis and matatus (14 passenger vans filled with 23 people that regulary smash into each other and kill people in Kenya) and free rides to make it, which we didn't and that left us scrambling for another permit and extending the safari by 2 days. It's been both a drag and a memorable experience.
On a good note, I did get my mzungu in the mist moment - twice!
The first tracking was to Mgahina National Park. 3 hours of hiking to find the family... once we did, we got to spend an hour following them, oohing, aahing and taking photos. As you see in this photo, I obviously didn't clear things with the gorilla's agent before snapping this picture. (the gorilla is the tiny black blob over my right shoulder) On a bit of a gorilla high, our group of 5 started walking back down the mountain - the Virunga volcano range really that is shared between Uganda, Rwanda and Congo.
We didn't even notice the first drops. But then the rain came down in a deluge, a deluge I tell you! For 1.5 hours we walked in the rain. Every time you thought it can't rain any harder, it did. At the end, I was up to my ankles in running brown water, trying to make it to the car. All this for a monkey? Oh yeah.
After a night of drying my shoes by the fire and securing a second permit - having been thrown off schedule by our delay - I was tracking again, this time at Nkuringo in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. This time, we found the gorillas in only 30 minutes - but they were hiding, well really just trying to take a nap, deep in the forest. Despite the name, the forest is penetrable, but it ain't easy. Our guides hacked away at the bushes to reveal Posho, who stared at us while we stared at him.
Not content with spotting only one gorilla (a Dutch group at our guest house had seen a group of 18 the other day - a feat not to be repeated by us) we went searching for the others under the branches and over the vines. No one tells you about the ants. You know they're there when they bite you.
Moving on. We see two silverbacks, Safari and Kisoro. I'm busy trying to take still pictures of them and don't have the video camera on which is a shame because we get charged by another gorilla. In the time it takes me to mumble "oh jesus", hit record and cower by a tree (about 2 seconds) it's over. It was scary hearing the screeching and crashing through the bush coming from the side, but in the end it was all for show - and to show us who is boss. Again the hour goes quickly.
Although it is more expensive to see gorillas in Uganda than neighboring Congo, the Uganda Wildlife Authority really does a good job of working with the local people to recognize that the tourism the gorillas bring can have a positive impact for the surrounding communities.
To those of you thinking about traveling to Uganda, I would encourage you to do it! It's been great and I wish I had more time here but I've got people to see and things to do.
Coming soon... thoughts on transportation and the Boomu Womens' Group!