Thursday, 6 December 2007

Beautiful Africa

Saturday 24th November 2007
After the adventures from the past few days, I didn’t think much more would fit into our journey. How wrong I was!

While cycling across Kenya and discovering most of the roads were in reasonable condition we agreed it would be OK to take the bus to Tanga (Tanzania) via Mombasa. I am also very aware of my carbon footprint and try to minimise pollution/emission where possible. And besides, as a rule of thumb with all my projects, I immerse myself in the culture. In this instance, I felt it was important to travel like a local, eat, watch, socialise with the locals as much as possible. If you fly, you miss it all! With all this in mind, it seemed the perfect way to gain first hand experience of what Kenya is truly like.

We left Nairobi at 10pm Friday night. It wasn’t even 3 minutes into the journey we were already questioning our decision. The roads were terrible. Sitting in the middle of the back seat I was being thrown around like a rag doll. I wasn’t sure what was worse; having my neck and back jarred by potholes; watching the bus we were on overtake other buses and trucks whilst playing chicken with oncoming traffic; not being able to breathe from the dust flying in through the open windows, trying to quench my dry dusty throat but not wanting to take the lid off my water bottle in case I threw water over people three seats in front of me or not knowing if or when the road would smooth out. On top of all this (and I am sure every girl will squirm at this) I was right in the middle of those crucial 2 days every month brings; the ones you just want to stay home and curl up under the duvet.

This was a better time than ever to plug myself in and listen to some calm, relaxing music (again).

Three hours later and still being thrown about, we reached sealed roads. For the next four hours I managed to get some broken sleep. A pothole, again thrown up off my seat and pulled back down by my seatbelt, awoke me. I landed half on top of a local, half on Fran. With a blink of the eyes, and hint of sarcasm I shouted over the engine’s groan ‘morning, sleep well love?’ For the remaining two hours I admired the views out the window as the sun came up over the horizon and the landscape changed from thick lush greenery to palm trees and white sand. Hurray, we were heading to Tanzania.

By 7.00am Fran and I were at Mombasa’s local bus terminal waiting for another bus to Tanga. This bus was crossing the Kenyan/Tanzania boarder. We were offered seats on the 8am bus after having first hand experience at knowing how the Kenyans and Tanzanian’s keep time we thought it would be safer to get the 7.30am bus. This way if there were breakdowns, or hold-ups, we would be sure to get our connecting flight at 2pm.

Phoning a ‘reliable’ Kenyan source we queried if this bus company was OK to use. They assured us it was so we booked the last two seats to Tanga. When we boarded, we realised our seats were at the back of the bus - again. Great!

Walking down the isle we waited for the people in front of us to settle. When it was our turn to organise our baggage a young Kenyan girl came up behind me and pushed herself into where I was standing. Turning around, I questioned - using my limited Swahili - which seat was hers. It was in directly in front of mine. Shocked by her attitude at 7.20am I moved to the side to let her pass. Scrunched faced she sat with a thud, glared back at me and then turned to face the window. Excellent!

Within 40 minutes into the journey our overland travel experience took a new twist. We came to a ferry crossing where all passengers disembarked to walk onto the awaiting barge, with the exception of 6 people. A little confused by the split group, Fran and I weren’t comfortable leaving our baggage alone on the bus. We turned around and re-boarded with the approval of the driver.

As we walked toward our back seats, we noticed a lady sitting near our bags with her handbag open. Immediately my defences were alarmed and I became protective of our belongings. Good cop, bad cop, Fran politely smiled and spoke to her while my eyes searched her covered face and body language for clues. I couldn’t put my finger on it.

We finally regained our seats when I looked up curious to see where the overwhelming smell of freshly cut pot was coming from… Two of the boys who had stayed on the bus were reaching into a massive sack pulling out wrapped up packages of drugs. They were stashing it under every seat in the bus. I couldn’t believe it. My stomach dropped. But then when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, 7 smaller packages came out from another sack. These were more square in shape and firmer. It was coke. Now every seat and overhead luggage compartment was riddled with drugs. Fran and I were smack in the middle of a drug trafficking bus about to cross the boarder. Shit!

Intuitively I knew we had to leave a track in case this situation went horribly wrong. I reached for my not-so-reliable mobile to phone home. I phoned one of my dearest friends in the UK to inform him of our whereabouts. No answer so we left a message, perhaps stronger evidence in court I thought.

I then proceeded to text the same friend and two others, stating our whereabouts and concerns, as a precaution for our safety. I informed them I would text again when safe.

For the next hour my eyes jotted between the inside of the bus to the beautiful surrounding landscape. My face was motionless, eyes as sharp as a hawk.

Questions started flooding through my head; do we get off? Stay on? What were our options? If we stopped the bus we would give reason to cause alarm, particularly as we had already bought our ticket to Tanga.
Would we then risk getting mugged, we have so much valuable equipment. Who knows where we would be left to rot, not an option. If we stayed on, got to the boarder and the bus was searched, would be caught up in this deal too? I think so, another dead-end option.

If we stayed on and none of the above occurred but other dealers intercepted us once over the boarder, we would be in the middle of a massive massacre, there was no question. Which then raised another question in my active imagination; where were the guns on this bus? Was I sitting on one? My head started to sound like a James Bond movie. I closed my eyes and prayed.

Not sure of the best solution to the situation I turned to face Fran for some wise words of wisdom. Mouth open and eyes shut, he was happily snoring to pass the time! Nothing an elbow didn’t fix!

Now awake, we agreed our only realistic option was to pray the bus wouldn’t get searched and to stay put for now. As we watched what was unfolding around us we realised just how many passengers were involved; the arrogant girl in front of me, the young boy to her left, another young boy who we had only just picked up, and three others scattered throughout the bus. I then calculated a street value in London of over £10 million of drugs on board. I am sure there would be a bigger army than this bus somewhere near by, awaiting our arrival.

Throughout my entire life I have always found adventure or it has found me. It is as if I am a magnet for these situations, there is never a dull moment in my life. Friends have even described walking to the local Tesco with me as an adventure. But with every adventure I have always felt I have a guardian angel that takes care of me. And in situations like these, I knew she was there.

Pulling into the Tanzania boarder I received a text from Vodacom. How I now love Vodacom! It welcomed me to Tanzania and uncannily provided me with the number for the UK High Commission! Perfect timing. With the given situation I copied and pasted the number, then called it to have ease of access in my recently dialled numbers, should we need it.

Getting off the bus for the last time, we approached the immigration desk. Greeted by an elderly official finishing his last swig of Redbull, he requested our passport, flicked through and then ordered us to follow him to another department within the building. He sat us down and informed us of the following; despite the Kenyan Immigration department ensuring we would only need 1 visa for Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and only needing to pay a one off fee of $50 USD we now needed to apply for another visa and pay $100 USD each to enter Tanzania. He confirmed this by his hand-written and personally stamped piece of paper blue-tacked to the wall (which apparently is his official right to charge us the new rate). Great, so we were now being screwed for another visa, more money and potentially a bus full of drugs just waiting to be raided.

The immigration officer’s temper was short and with little words from Fran and I he was determined to not let us cross the boarder without abiding by these rules. He walked away in power.

Immediately I phoned the High Commission. An answer phone! Ahhhh! But wait, a message with a mobile number…

We phoned the mobile, explained the situation and the on duty officer phoned us straight back. The wheels were beginning to turn.

Returning to see us on the phone the aggravated immigration officer questioned our delay and whom we were phoning. When he found out we were speaking to our UK High Commission, he walked away in exasperation (there’s a surprise!). We eventually managed to pass the phone to the officer to speak to our High Commission.

As this scenario unfolded, our trusty drug lords had managed to get the bus across the boarder. Realising the tourists were holding up their deal (and understandably not wanting to hang around any longer) they began to unload our entire luggage. It was here when I lost it!

The bus was leaving without us, the officials still arguing over our visas and money, we were in the middle of nowhere and looking as if we weren’t getting anywhere fast. The waterworks turned on and I just wanted to be anywhere else but there!

We finally regained my phone and I quietly felt the need to inform the calming voice on the other end of the phone of the drug bus! He couldn’t believe what he was hearing and informed me to keep them on our side. He stressed not to aggravate them, annoy them and to get off the bus as soon as possible.

While this was happening a light bulb switched on in Fran’s head as he ran to the bus and demanded he informed the 8am coach (just now pulling into the boarder) drove us the rest of the way, no extra fee. It worked. Thankfully the drug bus left us behind and it was at this point I realised the power hungry official had potentially just saved our lives. Having worked the fee down to the standard $50 USD we boarded the 8am bus which…surprise, surprise, had very few passengers.

The rest of our afternoon was quite tame compared to the morning. We arrived safely to Tanga, were mobbed by fighting locals who were arguing over who would get our fare, drove around the city trying to find an ATM that worked before heading to the world’s smallest airport 4 hours early to hide from the world! We arrived safely on Pemba where we are now shooting the second half of the exhibition.

Friday 23rd November 2007
Today was a frustrating day. The constant challenges I faced as an outsider were wearing me down and I was beginning to feel irritated. I also felt deflated, as it seemed as though everything we were trying to do for this country didn’t matter and no one cared. From here on I have altered the names to protect those involved.

Let me set the scene; the triangle; El Moron Tour Company, the Kenyan Inn Hotel and myself & Fran. The situation; Fran and myself needing to leave Nairobi (1 night) early as we had now become time sensitive due to the Nanyuki trip. We need to be reimbursed 1 night’s accommodation that had been paid in advance to the tour company.

The problem; The Kenyan Inn would not reimbursed money directly to us as it was booked through a tour company. They would offer us a credit note to be used at a later date (likely chance!) to ourselves. The Kenyan Inn also offered a credit note to El Moron. El Moron; would not refund our money as they had already paid for the room. They would not accept a credit note to be used at a later date as they had used this hotel “once in the past five years”.

Our view; 24 hours notice given; a Friday evening room to fill (easy); we are raising money for their people, their country, the least they should be able to do is think outside the box and let us use this money to continue to bring goodness to their country.

Fran and I made numerous trips between El Moron’s office and the hotel’s reception from 10am until 6.30pm to ensure progress was being made. The day was getting on and it wasn’t until our last visit we met with Richard, the Director of El Moron. He promised to visit the hotel by 5pm, after he had finalised the remainder of his work before the weekend.

The plot thickened throughout the day; when speaking with the hotels General Manager, El Moron apparently used the Kenyan Inn Hotel often, once a month at least. Mysteriously, this later changed when the GM and the Director of El Moron met prior to our group meeting (dodge!). Hmmm.

Late afternoon we finally all came together. We went back and forth for at least half an hour. The last I remember the Director of El Moron was standing at the door (behind me) listening to what was being said. Within 10 minutes of explaining the situation, he had taken three sideway steps and quietly left the building for the weekend. He left with our money and with no intentions of refunding it. After working with this company for nearly two weeks, dining together, sharing stories, building a relationship and much more I find it difficult to digest how one-sided the relationship was.

The final outcome of the situation; the GM kindly offered us a complimentary dinner, drinks and internet use as compensation (drinks were later questioned and internet cut to half an hour only!). We were glad to leave!

It was nearly 12 hours later when Fran and I left the Kenyan Inn Hotel and headed to the bus station to wait for our overnight bus to Mombasa.

Thursday 22nd November 2007
I love leading a simple life. It reminds me of home (Australia); the great outdoors, fresh fruit and vegetables, living as close to the land as possible. Without sounding too much like a hippie – it’s almost like you are at one with the universe. But slowly over the years I have unknowingly become accustomed to my conventional world. I love to fully indulge in luxuries. Not spoilt, I just like to take a shower, grab some breakfast and be out the door within half an hour, not 2! Fran and I were both looking forward to returning to the city.

In Kenya, when you board a matatu you must wait for it to be full until it leaves. It is a bit of a numbers game. This could take 20 minutes if you’re lucky or it could take the better part of half a day! Leaving the shamber by 9.30am we waited patiently as morning became noon. We finally left 2 ½ hours later.

Our matatu driver was obviously time sensitive, as he seemed to make up for lost hours by flattening his foot to the floor. The rain never slowed him down, nor the dysfunctional windscreen wipers that seemed to not be working at all. I tightened my belt, plugged myself into my ipod (again) and hummed while watching the scenery pass by. It seems I do a lot of this of late!

Back in Nairobi, for the first time since being in Kenya, it felt like the people had some serious speed in their steps. They were moving fast, but to where?

The city was hot, dusty, polluted and noisy. People were moving in all directions as were the cars while tooting their horns and driving on what appeared to be an ‘anything goes’ road-rule affair.

Chickens ran across the road amongst goats and cattle, all equally confused by the hustle. It was madness. Maybe I was just highly sensitised to urban living after my slower-paced country experience. But we knew we could not wait to leave.

Still in the matatu, Fran and I soon realised this city wouldn’t keep in-line with what we wanted to shoot. With so much valuable equipment we agreed there was a very high chance of us being seen as an open invitation to being mugged if we were to shoot in the street as planned. Not really what either of us felt like encountering.

Exhausted from little sleep the night before we did the bare essentials after unpacking at our hotel; visited our tour company to express our need to leave Nairobi on Friday (and not Saturday as originally discussed) and would therefore be needing a refund from Friday nights accommodation; visited the Kenyan Beauty Salon to inform them Nairobi didn’t offer the backdrop previously discussed it might and would not be shooting there on Friday; ate; showered and went to bed!

Monday 19th– Thursday 22nd November 2007

First thing Monday morning Fran, Patrick (our tour guide) and myself headed 150km north of Nairobi to Nanyuki. We were on route to Patrick’s family shamber (farm) where we would be residing for the duration of a four day home stay. This was the second leg of our journey and our first real chance to begin shooting for our exhibition next year.

It is difficult to explain the importance of this part of the journey to most but particularly to another culture. Just how much preparation, time and work has already been spent prior to even reaching this point is one thing, it is another to bring this vision to life. Like most things foreign, I think this somehow gets ‘lost in translation’.

As a Photographer I have had many people undermine the difficulty in creating that perfect moment. Most question such skill by stating, “surely it’s just a click of the finger, not that difficult… is it?” In the village of Nanyuki I am confronted with this misunderstanding alongside the lack of knowledge of not knowing how to protect their own rights as a person. In brief; when shooting, the Photographer is legally required to have written consent from the subject (model or property). Forms need to be signed in order for a photograph to be commercially used or exhibited. It is a law used to protect the subject, which aims to reduce exploitation amongst many other factors. It is ethically correct to follow this procedure, the foundations of all of my work.

Working with these morals and many more firmly in place, creates fear and uncertainty in Nanyuki. The people are scared by the formality. They have barely seen a mzungu (white person) before not to mention official forms of consent. Understandably, this was our first barrier.

When someone finally agreed to be photographed they demanded a substantial payment upfront! The ripple effect flowed through the community and what began as a project to make a brighter future for all quickly changed into becoming a get rich quick, moneymaking scheme. The beauty of this project was being gobbled up right before my eyes. I didn’t understand.

We explained the money would be brought back into the community when images were sold, but they needed to sell first. Without the consent forms signed, the images couldn’t sell and the project was a complete waste of time. A full circle scenario, one factor heavily relying on another to succeed. It was time to tackle this from another direction. I was determined not to let this golden opportunity slip threw their fingers without them also being able to visualise its potential.

Obstacle after obstacle I expressed my concerns to our personal guide. Time was ticking and nothing had been shot. It was at this point our guide began to realise the tone in my voice had changed. To this day I feel he still does not realise the foundations of this project but he got the message nevertheless. Our guide made a few calls and arranged to speak with the local schools’ Headmaster for advice and approval of our project.

In the village the Headmaster’s word is worth its weight in gold, a valuable resource at this crucial point. Realising the opportunity for new money to be introduced to his community, the Headmaster kindly spoke to several people in the village and informed them that our intentions are positive and they should willingly do as much as possible to be involved. Forever thankful, we later returned to show our appreciation with gifts for the school. The Headmaster had arranged a colleague to take me on a tour of the land. Short of daylight, I still agreed so I could show my appreciation.

As we walked about the grounds I was surprised to hear the motivation in this gentleman’s voice. It was a complete turnaround to what I was use to so I questioned more. It was on our return walk the gentleman outwardly asked me; “so when do you think you can start sending us money?”. Err, pardon? I was startled. Did I just hear correctly? Unfortunately yes, I did.

I spent the next hour and a half speaking to this gentleman, the Headmaster and 3 other men expressing my concerns: Yes, I am a foreigner. I am a slightly different foreigner, one with more of a vision for this country than the traditional traveller. But as an outsider I did not come to Kenya to just give out money for nothing in return. If I was to hand over money, there is an exchange that must take place. The exchange should be in the form of an experience, a service or a programme in which we work on together, for the future. If we were to just hand over money, it will have a far more detrimental effect on the community than imaginable. I also stressed the point mzunga’s should no longer be viewed in the eyes of Kenyans as mobile cash machines, but more, as partners working together as one for a brighter future. Life is not about free handouts.

I continued to explain the importance of investment, a concept obviously quite difficult to digest given the screwed up faces glaring back at me. I expressed the importance of income generation projects, investing into your children’s lives, their future, the land. I explained the reason for not sponsoring a child at this early stage and how my approach is different and would benefit far more in the long run. I expressed how an immediate solution would impact on their future, reminded them how real this problem is, how long it has already been around and how long it will continue to stay if it is not dealt with properly. Faces looked confused, excuses were thrown back at me as I replied with positive solutions. The outcome; use what you have to build your future, and start today.

I toyed with many ideas with all 5 listeners. I imagine it was difficult at first to hear such solutions coming from a female and I am not sure how effective the conversation was. There is potential for these people to grow, poverty to be eradicated the nation as a whole to be given another chance. It is whether these people choose to continue to sit back and accept what is happening or become proactive and do something about their future that will make the difference. Only time will tell.

Between the gaps of these hurdles the rest of our week was spent living with no power, showering from a bucket with fire-boiled hot water, using a long drop for a toilet and being woken by the natural alarm clock of a rooster (what felt like) right next to my head! Our home stay was certainly an experience to remember. We were taught how to make traditional chapatti, pancakes, chai (tea), and some typical Swahili food. We sampled the local produce, porridge and were slaughtered a chicken on arrival for our first evenings dinner (being the adventurous country girl I am, I chose to stay inside for this celebration, plugged into my ipod, once again humming away to my tunes until the deed was complete). In return we also shared recipes, furthered their English and gave them ideas and support for their future. A healthy exchange and one we will never forget.

Friday 16th November 2007

Not many words will ever describe today. But two that were heard repeatedly throughout the duration of the day was; Asante sana: thank you very much.

Today was an emotional day. Quite possible one of the most emotionally moving days I have experienced in Africa to date. One I will certainly never forget.

Today we visited the Child Protection and Community Centre in Mumias, Western Kenya, an opportunity to personally see the project where the monies raised from our bike ride were going.

We were still on the bus when we were overwhelmed by the welcoming ceremony of over 400 kids from the project. Both the children and the adults sung songs of gratitude, clapped to the beat of the drums and held hand-made signs reading how grateful they all are for our support. It was truly something else to experience this energy and emotion.

We hadn’t even stopped the bus when the lump in my throat turned to tears. I couldn’t hold them back nor get off of the bus! Dabbling around in my camera bag I bought some time as I tried to pull myself together. I’ve even got a tear in my eye now as I relive the experience.

Within 5 minutes of being there several kids had adopted each one of us. We were eagerly guided by hand to their shelter where we were greeted with more singing, dancing and smiling faces. Their faces, courage, war wounds of survival and spirit for life broke my heart. My sunglasses were my best friend!

The Kenyan project aims to ‘improve quality of life for orphans and vulnerable children suffering from extreme poverty, disease, abuse and neglect’. When the centre is complete it will ‘provide a counselling room, safe rooms where abused girls can be rehabilitated; a vocational training centre, community training facilities, dining room, washrooms, a classroom, kitchen, laundry room, store room and administration block will be provided too. This will provide protection and support to 500 children per year’*.


Thursday 15th November 2007
My word for the day: hongera, meaning congratulations!

Today was our last day of riding. A day of mixed emotions knowing what we had all been training for for so long was coming to an end but equally, excited to know our aching injuries would finally get a rest!

Despite the numerous potholes constantly dodged for the majority of the journey, we were lucky enough that the cycle thus far had been mostly sealed roads. Not bad for a third world country. It wasn’t until after lunch today the road conditions changed. I was later explained technically the road is referred to as broken-asphalt. But I’m not always technically minded and prefer to call it shit!

So on the last day my thighs, calves, butt, shoulders, lower back and blistering sunburn seemed minimal compared to the now aching wrists, ankles and arms. It would be nice to believe one ache may cancel another out in a situation like this, the ying and the yang theory, but perhaps I had a little too much sun or time to philosophise and daydream on my bike!

Having to keep a firm grip on my handlebars and eyes glued to the road I still managed to shout a warm jambo to the over-excited locals who waved frantically and shouted hello as we rode by. It still amazed me at just how sincere they were to be acknowledged by us foreigners, a concept I will never quite grasp. Perhaps a similarity to being famous, only none of them knew my name!

Arriving at our last destination everyone road together gloating in the glory of completing the 420km, 5-day challenge. Jumping off our bikes to exchange a hongera hug, a fellow rider noticed the hotels outdoor swimming pool around the corner. With a cheeky smile and a knowing wink one by one we decided to celebrate our victory by jumping fully clothed into the pool. As each of us clapped and cheered one another we dived, bombed and collapsed into the water. Needless to say the night is much of a blur as the Tusker beers began to flow…

Wednesday 14th November 2007
Today the song “Ain’t no mountain high enough” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell (or Jimmy Barnes for those Australians amongst us) played on repeat through my head as I pushed my pedals up the Kenyan mountains…

Err, did I just write about the challenge I faced of cycling a 2km and 4km ‘incline’ respectively over the past two days? Hmmm, I thought so! Today we faced a 18km continual, steep ascent of over 1km vertical! It nearly broke me (and the rest of the team!).

Patiently sitting on the bus at wee hours of the morning we transferred through the beautiful Rift Valley to our next starting point. There was a mixed feeling of excitement and nerves. The view was nothing short of stunning, some of the best scenery we had seen thus far. But stomachs began to turn at the realisation of just how demanding today would be.

A little background on the Rift Valley; it is the result of Mother Nature trying to divide Africa in half over eight million years ago. Failing, what remains is a home to some of the most wonderful wildlife, picturesque plains and lakes. The Rift Valley runs from the Dead Sea in the Middle East all the way to Mozambique; an impressive 6000km long.

Enjoying a coasting ride down the mountain we regrouped 27km later to refuel with our daily staple diet of bananas, biscuits, peanuts, crisps, glucose powder and water. Once on the road again it wasn’t even 800 metres into the ride when I stopped to see the beauty of what I had already climbed (a good excuse to catch my breath!).

At 37oC it wasn’t long after my first stop my body started to feel weak. With each pedal my confidence in making it to the top weakened, as did I. My heartbeat raced far too fast and I knew I would never make it at this pace. It wasn’t until Francis (my partner in crime) rode beside me and regulated my cadence (measure of turnings per minute), slowed my riding and heartbeat down, that I knew I had a strong chance of finishing. Polé polé we rode together, enjoying the challenge, turning each corner and high-fiving at our achievement (or mine anyway!).

It took just over four hours of relentless cycling to reach the glorious white tents (our mobile, al fresco restaurant, Kenyan style). Everyone showed their encouragement by cheering and applauding as we rode the last 20 metres to our resting point. It was an amazing feeling, one, which gave me goose bumps all over. It’s days like today you realise you are capable of anything you set your mind to.

The rest of the afternoon consisted of slip streams and peletons! A refreshing change most of our thighs and calves welcomed.

Tuesday 13th November 2007
I’m learning a new word every day in Africa. Today’s word: polé polé; slowly slowly...

After yesterday’s minor accident I was determined to get back on my bike and not be defeated. I rode at my own comfortable pace: polé polé.

My first real challenge, a 4km uphill ride. Now, rereading back, this doesn’t really sound like much. And nor does the 2km incline from yesterday. So let me put this in context for you.

Imagine sitting at the gym on a bike, perhaps even in the sauna. The sun is shining and you can feel it bite (or it is pelting down with rain – take your pick!). You are on a constant incline going at 6kms an hour (I know this as I have a geeky computer my lovely other half bought me!). By doing the math, you can see you are sitting in your saddle, constantly pedalling for approximately 40 minutes straight. Not a bad challenge, and that is only one hill of the day!
With so much spare time on my hands I have time to think. Today I am questioning my surroundings. Like all places, there are pros and cons. I have found a con I feel uncomfortable about. Africa is beautiful. It has amazing landscapes and potential as a nation but the environment is being destroyed. Tiny villages not knowing how to dispose of their rubbish. I imagine recycling is a foreign concept. As you ride through the picturesque mountains, the moment is forgotten as passing vehicles emit thick black smoke that leave you gasping for air. But the locals don’t budge and carry on as normal. It almost knocks me off my bike.

Many of our roadside stops along our journey have involved children wanting to come see and play. Many of them curious at what we are doing but also hoping for some sort of treat. I feel it is respectful if you ask something of another, in return you must pay your way. In this case, if you take a photo of someone, you pay them in pens, paper or of the likes.

It is when this exchange is misinterpreted that preconceptions occur. As I ride through the villages many of the children see white people and immediately hold their hand out for money. Understandable in many ways, but I feel not acceptable and certainly not comfortable knowing ‘we’ have contributed to this factor. How is this corrected?

My thoughts: education in both instances. The environment needs to be respected and the conception of white people in Africa, interpreted correctly. Perhaps this is my next project…

On a lighter note, I currently have the most ‘chav’ tan lines you could imagine. Sleeve marks from my cycling top, my shorts, socks, knee warmers, gloves, ipod and now a bandage mark from my most recent war wound yesterday, hilarious! I am a different shade of red all over. But I am healthy, well and have a smile on my face (except when going up those hills). Kenya to me is a very special.

Monday 12th November 2007
My newly learnt phrase for the day: “there’s never a free hill in Kenya”.

We faced some of the toughest terrain today, quite possibly one of my most physically and mentally challenging days I’ve ever experienced. Declines but not without a substantial incline. Just when you thought you had come to the top, you would peek around the corner to find the hill continue, become steeper, some lasting more than 2kms.

It rained, poured and even hailed. When the wind blew, every part of my body froze.
It was difficult to see and attempting to blink the water away didn’t work. It became even worse as the morning’s moisturizer ran into my eyes. I lost visibility of the mountains either side of me as the clouds moved in.

Thoughts of a hot bath and warm towels frequently passed through my mind. Fifty-five km’s in and just before lunch I descended into a little village. The roads were wet, slippery and had pairs of invisible speed humps built to slow people down (if you could see them!). A fellow rider in front of me went over the first speed hump but then skidded and as his back wheel slid out from beneath him. Guess who rode directly over the top of the bike? Me! I flew over the handlebars using my left elbow and coccyx to break the fall. Quite the show for a small village! Luckily I was wearing a long sleeve waterproof and my feet were clicked into my pedals: I came out with no grazes and didn’t fly too far forward. I ended up with only minor bruising; it could have been a fatal incident.

Our support crew and doctor were there immediately. Much to my disappointment the verdict was I had to retire for the rest of the afternoon on the support bus. Surely there was an easier way to get out of riding those hills!

My newfound friend is arnica: a homeopathic cure for all bruises and swellings. But things don’t really seem so bad as I lay here under my mosquito net listening to the open fire roaring in my room. Oh bliss!

Sunday 11th November 2007

I learnt a new saying today; kuna matata – there is a problem. And there is!

Today was our easy ride. A mere 61km to ease us in to what lie ahead. At an altitude of 2000 metres on the flat roads I felt the breathlessness we were warned of. But I was not alone. Everyone I expressed my experiences with, completely agreed.

Our first stop was only 3 km’s back to the equator. Before we had even reached this destination I had learnt another new word and have used it more times than total km’s ridden in the day: jambo, Swahili for hello. Every village, matatu stopping (taxi) or small street we travelled children, adults and the elderly greeted us with a hello, a wave, smile or approving nod of acknowledgment. It created a warm feeling one of those warm and fuzzy feelings inside we all love, something that aided me to make it to the top of those hills.

To my right I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful mountains. 50kms later we turned right and headed straight for them. We soon stopped for lunch where my thoughts were confirmed: this was tomorrow’s destination… errr, oh dear!

We reached the Green Hills Hotel by 3.30pm to enjoy a group stretch, unpack and some leisurely free time. I caught up on some much needed zzzz’s (passed out) only to wake to another rumbling stomach. I think I have turned into an eating machine. All this exercise and fresh air is burning those calories, (yah), a subconscious thought of excitement.

*Photos to follow once a working internet connection is found. And this I hope, will be before we return to London ;) This message has been uploaded by the beloved Blackberry!

Saturday 10th November 2007
I am sometimes surprised by my ability to sleep on the ‘head of a pin’. After travelling from London for almost 24 hours straight, we arrive at the Sportsmans Arms Hotel in Nanyuki. I no longer take this quirk for granted. Having managed a bare 3 hours of broken sleep, more than most, I arrived feeling like I had already completed the challenge.

Exhausted, I showered in a desperate bid to freshen up before kitting out our bikes, followed by the promise of free time to relax, indulge in a swim or go wandering. Of course it never quite went that way. At 5 o’clock the heavens decided to pour down before we were even close to finishing. What I hoped would be an hour or so of spare time to take my camera exploring, turned out to be an indoor drying session. The rain even “interfered” with the internet connection, or so I was told.

It was at this point I decided to head for the undercover, outdoor bar to relax by the open fire and listen to the sounds of the local band (imagine Slim Dusty meets Africa) before dinner. Not such a bad alternate but a rewarding indulgence I felt should have been experienced mid-week after a few days riding. It was just what was needed.

Driving in to Nanyuki we crossed the equator (my first time) and travelled some of the roads we would be riding tomorrow. I think I’m scared… the roads seemed quite bumpy by bus, not so shock absorbent on a mountain bike with road tyres. To ease my thoughts I had to laugh when I compared the locals attire to ours: long pants and jumper’s, shoes and jackets to almost all 38 of us dressed in either flip-flops, short sleeve shirts or a combination of both. We couldn’t believe our luck at how warm it was, even at 6.45am.

From the little time I have been in Kenya there is one common foundation that truly shines through: the Kenyans are beautiful people. It is in their eyes, their smiles. Inquisitive, creative, happy and not fazed by much. It is easy to see why by the surrounding landscape. I am even reassured by the first Swahili word I am taught; hakuna matata - no problem. And here, ironically it feels like nothing is.

Friday 9th November 2007
It doesn’t feel like 18 months ago since I answered the advert in the Big Issue* looking for volunteers to cycle across Kenya for charity. I remember the local homeless man I passed daily on my way home from the tube, always waiting with a toothless smile to see me and forever asking for just one kiss, as if I didn’t remember his question the last 30 times! Still, I do admire his persistence.

And now the London to Brighton bike ride challenge in 2006 seems a mere stroll in the park to what lies ahead. Fran (my partner in crime) and I have been using this same track to warm-up and train for what most people refer to as our ‘slightly bonkers’ challenge; a 420km, five-day cycle in the Kenyan mountains at 2,000m. Why are we doing this? To raise money for child poverty, income regeneration projects, educational programme for the International Childcare Trust (ICT).

Six needles later, a first aid kit bigger than my average holiday shoe allowance and what now appear to be thighs of steel, we are ready (as we will ever be) for this expedition. I am staring at my overly packed bags filling my hallway as we await patiently for our taxi to arrive. Armed with my Canon D5, lights and passport I’m off to Kenya to photograph it’s hidden beauty. Watch this space.

*The Big Issue is a magazine in the United Kingdom that is edited by professional journalists and sold by homeless people.

1 comment:

greenhorse said...

Very best of luck on your adventure!