I sat next to this pretty girl on the bus from Lamu back to Mombasa. 19 years old, already engaged, ready to enroll at a computer school. We started with some small talk:
Me: “Osama bin Laden?”
Her: “I don’t know, but I heard he was a good man.”
…and then she was keen to listen to the music on my MP3 player. If she had been living in Lamu I bet she’d had very little exposure to western music (is that good grammar?), so what should I play? I started easy (“Dancing Queen” by ABBA) then zeroed in on something I knew she would like (“When Will I See You Again” by The Three Degrees) and then—I really shouldn’t have done this, but I thought the empowering female vocal might strike a chord and she’d want to brand pentagrams in each other’s foreheads (a little devil worship between new friends!)—Skunk Anansie’s “I Can Dream”. She was too polite to say anything and she hung in there for a good two minutes before I showed mercy and finished with “Peace Train” and “Moonshadow” by Cat Stevens, lifting one headphone to inform her, “This man is Muslim.”
She looked skeptical. “What is his name?”
She still looked skeptical, but she let it pass, and she got off in Malindi.
My legs weren’t good after that bus ride. If I was finished with the coast I would have found the $50 one-way flights on airkenya.com to Wilson Airport in Nairobi to be very attractive. Cheap one-way flights always attract The Dromomaniac!
That bus ride did provide an example of why traveling makes you stronger, helps you resolve conflicts and teaches you to stick up for yourself. On Lamu island, I was sold a ticket for a seat that didn’t exist. It just so happened that the configuration of this particular bus was different from the diagram where you pick your seat. It was probably an honest mistake, not something I am going to spazz out about. The local guy in Mokowe, a one-man bus station, he tried to get me to take a seat next to where the armed guard always sits. That seat next to the door, it is either the best seat or the worst seat depending on whether there is a barrier in front of my legs. I said I wanted to wait for the bus to arrive and see what it looked like, resisting his subtle pressure to simply accept it.
I know the guy doesn’t care about my welfare, he just wants to solve his problem of where to move the mzungu and he will smile to my face and tell me any combination of lies to accomplish this.
I know this and sometimes I still get bamboozled, but at least I have learned to stay polite and not appear upset or be threatening or do anything negative that will become counterproductive.
So the bus comes and there is that barrier in front, meaning it has the least legroom, and we find another seat and it all works out in the end.
OK, so the story wasn’t as powerful as you had hoped. Can I interest you in a photo of Vijay Optica’s promotional campaign? Yes!!!
Two more practical things about Africa:
If you are doing the classic overland trip, Cape Town to Cairo, like many, many people are doing, I’m surprised and pleased to announce, you should do it the other way around, Cairo to Cape Town, which almost no one is doing. The news doesn’t seem to get around: the problem is that Ethiopia does not give visas to overland travelers in southern Africa. You can get the visa on arrival if you fly in, but no one wants to do that and everyone goes to great, expensive extremes to get around this, namely sending their passport to a European embassy and back, costing hundreds of dollars, much more than a flight.
Don’t sit in an internet cafe and write a long email to someone. Break it up into shorter emails, making them Part 1, Part 2, etc. Better is to keep saving it as a draft. In Africa you never know when the power goes out or the internet has a glitch, and then you have wasted half an hour on something you don’t want to replicate. Every traveler has a horror story about long emails that didn’t get sent. “Horror” is too strong a word, but not at the moment it happens.
I left home exactly four months ago. I celebrated the event by almost buying dental floss. I guess it can wait a few more months. Who cares if my teeth look like David Bowie’s circa 1972?
It’s true everyone, if you have to do an overland trip then Cairo to Cape Town is defintely better!
Better still would be to not do an overland tour! (at least not with other overlanders in one big overland bus!). Grab a crazy friend and do it yourself the hard (read: enriching and exciting) way!
Almost completely off topic, but I met a Canadian guy in India who bought a Auto-Rickshaw and drove himself around the continent for several months. Brilliant.