When I clinched a one-month assignment in four Southern African countries, it swooshed on me like a windfall. I never felt it was about work.
24.06.2011 -15 °C
"We think we control this place, but this place controls us" - Kuki Gallmann, I Dreamed of Africa
I staggered from sleeplessness squinting into a chilly, dark Nairobi skyline. Eyes-wide-shut. But a different kind of excitement was brewing inside me. Finally, I am in Africa - for an assignment I have been dreaming of for years. It doesn't matter if the work schedule was hectic. It felt like a grand holiday to me.
My itinerary said I would be spending over a week each in Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Malawi and Kenya - with brief stopovers in Johannesburg, South Africa. Well, I thought of a real blast - nothing less. In-between project visits, I managed to squeeze wonderful opportunities to enjoy the absolutely stunning landscapes of each country - golden brown at dusk, with lots of friendly, wide smiles at any time of day. Simply unforgettable, I vowed to go back (even half-way through the assignment!).
Despite my overflowing interview notes, I managed to make a list of things I learned along the way. Here goes the [bTop 5[/b] I picked up and stored in my mind like precious stones. Some made me smile, the others made me blush (in embarrassment). There's more but the rest would best be divided for future blogs. You can wait, can't you?
1) Patience is a necessity. Make it double. We lined up for check-in @ the counter of my flight to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe an hour before departure. After an hour of standing, we're still there listlessly lined up, without anyone coming over to check us in - or to explain what's going on.
Even the neighboring counters just blankly mouthed a "no clue" at the getting-angrier passengers. Not worth the temper. After almost two hours, we were able to get checked-in and boarded. I asked a seat mate why the delay. He just shrugged and said, "Welcome to Africa!". I heard this several times in the course of my trip. Patience, I ticked - top priority! I got to store enough to get me through for a month.
[img=http://photos.travellerspoint.com/355456/DSC_0057.jpg caption=The week-long splurge on steak gave me my first-ever heartburn experience.
2) Don't assume. Check again. It was a Sunday, so I decided I should venture and go to a church in Nairobi. The friendly staff in Jacaranda Hotel where I stayed told me distinctly, that at the far-end of the road I need to get to an overpass on the left and cross. The church is across the road and can't be missed. But when I got there, as soon as I saw a cross jutting out, I entered. Mass was starting. Maybe the guy got it wrong? No need for an overpass at all. As the church service went along, I wondered why it seemed similar but different.
When a colleague and I passed the church again I told him I went there for Sunday's worship. He asked, "I thought you are Catholic? That's an Anglican Church." Ah, ok. Then we both doubled over laughing. Anyway, I loved the service and it was one of my most memorable moments in Kenya. The church was lovely, too, and parishioners warmly welcoming. There was only I time when I got puzzled why the priest - garbed in a vestment - was talking about his wife and children. That got answered at least.
[img=http://photos.travellerspoint.com/355456/DSC_0375.jpg caption=Huge, ripe tomatoes sold along the roads in Bulawayo.
3) Enjoy the worrying surprises. They don't last. As soon as it was my turn at the immigration line in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, I was told Filipinos are on a no-visa-no-entry status. Gosh! A searing worry crossed over me. The officer was quite stern-looking. I stared at my accompanying colleague waiting for his advise on what will be next but all I got was a wry smile. Then, in a blink, I was advised to pay for the entry visa. Whew!
When I reached for my bag I asked him why he didn't look worried. He said: :"If they're not giving you a visa, they would make the plane wait and get you on board fast." There's only one flight daily. Uh-huh. I sat relieved at the back of a huge pick-up car and enjoyed the yellowing trees ready for winter. Finally, Zimbabwe!
[img=http://photos.travellerspoint.com/355456/DSC_0042.jpg caption=The lush streets of Bulawayo at the onset of wintertime.
4) Don't put valuables and important documents in your checked-in luggage. If you do, be prepared of the consequence (this principle applies in all trips although some airports could be more notorious). When we arrived Maseru, Lesotho, 4 luggages were ripped open. I am glad I used a worn-out one nobody took interest. But come to think of it - if you just lugged your travel documents and lost your bag, sharp headaches will surely haunt you.
And don't forget to put a pair or two of clothes in your hand-carry. Just in case you don't like wearing the same wrinkled clothes and you have no time to shop after losing a luggage.
[img=http://photos.travellerspoint.com/355456/DSC_0141.jpg caption=Locals waiting for a bus along the highway of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
5) Elephants are not cute most of the time. When we passed an herd in Mombasa, Kenya, I requested the driver to stop for some pictures. A staff who accompanied me argued and never allowed me out of the car. He said a lot of rogue elephants roam around this part of the country and they can go wild for no reason, especially if it just lost a turf to another elephant. Huh, sounds very human. So, I put my photography skills on hold that day.
[img=http://photos.travellerspoint.com/355456/DSC_0406.jpg caption=Tiger clubs in Zimbabwe's Wildlife Orphanage once supported and visited by Princess Diana.
Our last argument that I won't forget in wrinkled irony was when I hardheadedly insisted: "I can always run when they come charging. They're heavy and slow". He answered me in a non-budging monotone: "They are slow. But they hardly get tired when they are after of something - or someone." He did not add, I am in-charge of your safe passage here, but I heard it loud and clear.
Sixth lesson learned, locals know better. Don't insist. It's for your own good.
[img=http://photos.travellerspoint.com/355456/DSC_0040.jpg caption=A homestead in a rural African village
[img=http://photos.travellerspoint.com/355456/zim_profile.jpg caption=Of course, the donkeys and me in Zimbabwe.
"Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Others stay awhile, make footprints on our hearts and we are never, ever the same". - I Dreamed of Africa