Sunday, 22 May 2011

Time’s up

Conclusion of Africa overland trip (Nairobi-Johannesburg) , Maun, Botswana
My stopped watch, and to-do list
My watch stopped at the very moment the overland truck pulled out from the campsite in Maun, Botswana, leaving us with all our worldly possessions gathered at our feet, the cries of ‘keep in touch’ and ‘have fun’ still ringing in the air.  I suspect a few hearts also stopped when our travelling companions, arriving at the Namibian border later that day, realised with that dull ache of acceptance that no, nobody on the truck had the keys to the safe and the luggage lockers, and that no, neither could they cross the border unless they broke into the safe which held all their passports. 
It was the following day that I picked up the keys from the kitchen counter in my brother’s house in Johannesburg and, for just a fleeting moment, thought nothing of it, so used was I to seeing this grubby little shoelace that had been cooperatively shared among the group over the last few weeks. Then the cold trickle of realisation beaded its way down by back, and on through my hungover cranium, in which a caveman equation was taking shape; ‘keys here Johannesburg, truck not here Namibia, bad’.  Without a word I dangled the keys in front of Helen and Natali (who had also finished her trip with the flight from Botswana to Jo’Burg, and was staying overnight with my welcoming brother and sister in law), seeing in their faces the self-same equation taking shape.  Like the three disciples of Shaggy we all declared ‘it wasn’t me’, before reaching a shared consensus that yes, this was bad, and no, we wouldn’t be popular, but yes, it would have been funny to be a fly on the wall at the Namibian border the previous day.  We still don’t know who it was that smuggled the contraband back from Botswana to South Africa, all of us agreeing that it was academic anyway; the end result being the same*.     
*It was Helen.
My watch stopping at the very moment the truck pulled out of the campsite in Maun lent a spooky punctuation to the conclusion of our overland trip, and our time in Africa as a whole, a reminder on my wrist that it was time to move on; an opportunity to look forward with excitement and back with fondness.  With this in mind it seems an appropriate time to mention the overall theme of this blog: you can’t leave your self behind.
I wrote a little about what this theme meant in my first ever post, explaining that my tao of travel revolves around how your ‘self’ reacts to new situations, how travelling is merely a case of placing your self – the beliefs, expectations, assumptions, worries, insecurities, and peculiarities that make you you -  in a different place.  It is not something you can leave behind at the airport, and it is my contention that nobody can enter into a new situation without the starter pack of your ‘self’ already primed.  The reference to the philosophical concept of the ‘self’ is not an accidental one.  In part it’s a reflection on the ideas above, but also it’s a joke, albeit an oblique and cynical one, on the clichéd view that travel is a way ‘to find your self’.  Meet someone who is travelling to find their self and all you will find is blankness. And probably an arsehole to boot.
What I have tried to write about in my posts during our time in Africa is just this: how my self has reacted to the situations we have been presented with.  I’ve thought about writing more of a travelogue, but it simply isn’t me.  Writing of how we did X,Y, and Z in places A,B and C, with beautiful sunsets just doesn’t come naturally to me – the things we’ve done have been amazing, the places awe-inspiring, and the sunsets have been beautiful, but I just don’t know how interesting it would be for you reading it.
So instead, and this is an indulgence for sure, to close the chapter on our time in Africa here is a retrospective on how my ‘self’ reacted to Africa:
…there was a recklessness, a conviction, but also a fear of disappearing for a year, all wound up in the phrase of ‘why the hell not’?
…there was the apprehension of starting what was, in effect, a new job in an utterly different place and being told ‘you’ll be able to handle it better
…there was ‘the handover’ from one life into another
…there was a reflection, in those early days of the new life, on ‘expectations
…there was an explanation of why Bonifus (our favourite child at the orphanage) would be the perfect dinner party guest in ‘the kids are alright
…there was, in what transpires is the most popular posting, some toilet humour in ‘the toilet; a comparative study
…there was my reaction to being sucker-punched by the sheer inhumanity of proper rural poverty, and I still maintain that ‘if you only read one post, make it this one
…there was a step-by-step pictorial guide to self-imposed injury in ‘an idiot’s guide to packing shopping
…there was the strange topic combination of belief and sleep walking in ‘I don’t believe in anything
…there was a water-collection domestic, and the hope for a better future, in ‘Maji Imeisha.  Water – all gone!
…there was some parenting advice in ‘crime and punishment
…there was a heavy dose of vitriol and barely-concealed anger at corruption in ‘mzungu tax
…there was a plea to say thank you, say sorry to heal a rift, tell someone you love that you love them, in ‘opt in
…there was the great escape in ‘I predict a riot
…there was the tricky subject of benevolence in Africa in ‘entitlement and expectation
…there was a piece-by-piece take down of the journalist Mathew Parris and some do’s and don’ts for taking an overland trip in ‘happy clappy claptrap
…and there was the psychedelic combination of dust and sweat in ‘mokoros and mushrooms
So, have I found my self? Course I bloody haven’t.  You can’t leave your self behind, as these posts demonstrate.  What you can do is try to cause a few chuckles, raise a few eyebrows, and maybe even trigger a few tears.  I hope I’ve done all these things. 
Eastward bound, tally ho!


  1. does it say on your hand:
    Buy piles cream & Dispose of organs?

  2. It says:
    - buy piles cream
    - clean gimp suit
    - dispose of Osama's body properly
    - wash pants

    Glad you spotted the joke