Category Archives: adventures

Tanzanian Dust on a Trini’s Travelling Shoes

By Chike Pilgrim

Dust covers my shoes as I walk the city center. The city of Arusha, in northern Tanzania, has its share of high rise buildings, and is well paved, complete with concrete sidewalks. But I’ve walked an hour now, in the cool weather, from Njiro, and that part of Arusha is typical of much of eastern Africa, which means that pedestrians like me are battling dust or mud depending on the time of year.

Dust on my shoes and on the lower part of my jeans immediately classify me as a man without a car, and even without a piki-piki, the name for the motorbikes that buzz around the town like so many enormous flies. My dusty appearance may mean some trouble when I step into a more high-end store, until I open my mouth and speak my halting Kiswahili, effectively identifying myself as a foreigner and therefore someone who can most likely afford to buy the store’s items.

A Maasai, in full traditional clothing, strides past me. He may be on some sort of business. He may be headed to the part of the city where Maasai men gather to examine tanzanite, the extremely rare bluish-purple precious stone that Arusha is famous for. He may be on his way to work as a security guard for one of the wealthy United Nations expatriates that operate in Arusha. These “expats” usually work at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, a UN operation that houses many lawyers and technical staff. He may be selling nuts and cigarettes for all I know.

The Maasai have become part of the everyday experience for me, although in the first few months of my stay in Arusha, I was awe-struck every time I saw Maasai. With staffs, swords, ear-piercings, shaved heads and brightly colored Maasai clothing, Maasai seem to me to be defiant time-travelers from a long lost, Africa I romanticized. However cell-phones and cars mark them as regular inhabitants of the 21st century.

Most Maasai seem to walk though, to prefer walking, as I do. I have heard of those that would walk from Arusha to the neighboring city of Nairobi in Kenya during the period of one week – over one hundred and fifty miles. Their sandals, made from the rubber of used car tires, facilitate these treks, as do their physical endurance and how accustomed they have become to the relatively harsh landscape and the cold.

And Arusha gets cold for a Caribbean man like myself; twenty degrees centigrade in the day, falling even to eight and six degrees at night. Freezing really. Although close to the equator, this area is cold because of its elevation, and that is understandable. In addition, the highest free-standing mountain in the world, Mount Kilimanjaro, is quite close to Arusha.

Kili, as she is affectionately called, hides herself in fog most of the time, and I had to take an hour’s drive just to see her. She’s beautiful and breathtaking, but she is not to be underestimated; attempting to climb her can cost you your life. Even the wind that blows down from her is no joke.

A middle-aged Chinese couple and a young European man with a huge beard pass me on the sidewalk, stopping to buy pineapple slices at the side of the road. Their Kiswahili is not bad. In fact, it’s better than mine. Maybe they took lessons before they left their countries. Maybe they live and work here.

My experience here has taught me that judging people based on appearance is misleading, even harmful. My first guess would be that they are tourists though. Arusha does see more than its share of visitors. Some come to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Some come to visit the Serengeti and watch the animal migrations. Some have come to Olduvai Gorge, one of the oldest archaeological sites in the world, made famous by the Leakys. Some have no clear aim, like myself: kizunguzungu, dizzy voyagers who have come to see “Africa” or for whom Arusha is simply another stop on a global sojourn.

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Chike Pilgrim is a writer and historian from Trinidad and Tobago. He’s recently completed an MPhil at the University of the West Indies St. Augustine entitled “Black Helix: The 1970 Black Power Movement in the light of Pan Africanism.” He’s deeply interested in ancient History, particularly that of East Africa and the ‘Middle East’.

On Voluntourism

by Zahra Dalilah

AKA Affecting Real Change as a Young Brit with No Experience in Development.

The world we live in today is a beautiful place in many ways. It is more diverse and interconnected than ever, giving those who can afford it the privilege of travelling to a vast array of new and exciting horizons to drink in new settings, new cultures and new ways of living.

Freedom some may call it, and it is here for us to enjoy!

But of course, this is not the case everywhere or for everyone.

Ever-so-often we are reminded of the saddening plight of those less fortunate, be it through a charity song at Christmas or just a passing advertisement on daytime television. This of course makes us want to react, to do something about this situation so that we can share the joy and goodness that we see in our own communities every day. Right? Continue reading

Why I Don’t Watch TV in Martinique

I don’t watch TV here.  I used to.  10 years ago I lived on a daily diet of BET and a German cop show I still remember storylines from relatively vividly.  It was called Le Clown in French, and it was awesome.  A standard detective/action hero main character but because it was German the things that people called the police for were different from what I was used to.  The things that a jury would think were important were different.  I found it fascinating to see how another people lived.  That it, like lots of violent cop shows came on at like 8am was also a revelation; we have a ‘watershed’ in the UK, which means that if it’s not suitable viewing for kids it shouldn’t be on TV before 9pm.

It’s probably why I like languages in theory.  I say in theory cos in practice I become more reluctantly bilingual by the day I swear.  When I’m feeling stressed out, suddenly I’m all ‘argh, as if my day wasn’t shitty enough, I have to explain my vex face in french! ARGH!!’  But that happens when you’re a bit homesick.

I used to love French.  When I was in secondary school, I used to translate my favourite RnB tunes into French – for fun!  In my spare time!  And then I’d do my regular French homework!  When I did A levels, I would listen to French radio every morning.  And not the music stations, like news programmes.  I was a proper francophile. Continue reading

Trouble in Paradise? Travelling Through Protests in Martinique, St Lucia and London

I’ve been travelling a lot this summer.  I’ve been magnificently blessed.  I’ve also travelled with my eyes open, and something unusual has caught my attention:  Quite separately from my natural antenna keenly tuned to signs of social upheaval, it seems that every place I’ve visited has been in the throes of a political drama.

Seriously!

I’m not expert in international political analysis, but I swear every stop involved someone explaining that something wasn’t working normally as a result of protests.

Before you write me off as some leftwing fantasist seeing the revolution everywhere I go, here’s what I mean:

1) Martinique:  Petrol Strike.

Firstly there was the question of whether I could leave for my adventures in the first place.  A week before my anticipated departure, there were talks of yet another petrol strike.  Two days later it was confirmed and began.

As usual in Martinique, the petrol stations were blockaded and the island came to a swift, choked standstill.  In a petrol strike, business meetings are postponed, schools lack teachers and pupils or close, services – including health and police – effectively shut down because key personnel can’t get to work. The state doesn’t appear to have reserves in these eventualities/make provisions for ‘key’ staff.  Riots don’t break out because the would-be opportunists/discontented are also conserving whatever petrol they have left.  Thus it was that all movement in the country halted days – hours really – before I hoped to begin the adventure of a lifetime.  ‘Off island,’

C’est pas possible! I fumed.

No one knows how long it will last.  Although the petrol strikes in the last year have always lasted five days or fewer, everyone remembers how it was a ‘mere’ petrol strike that started the historic 40 day national strike/protest of 2009.  The discontent which fuelled that moment remains widespread – particularly the social complaints – so I’ve often heard Martinicans say they expect another such outbreak, with some rather apocalyptic predictions of a violence which will be markedly different from the last period of protest.

On the Friday before I was due to leave, the worst happened.  My ride to the airport phoned me to say she’d run out of petrol; if Coralie couldn’t get some the following day, I’d need to try and find somebody who still had petrol, and who loved me enough to use the little remaining petrol they had on me.  She might be able to take me the 10 mins to the port with what little petrol they had left, but not the 30 min drive to the airport.  Boats and planes had the fuel to get me off Martinique to St Lucia, where a flight would take me to London and my summer adventure would begin.  But could I get to the port or airport to board? Continue reading

Five Reasons to be Ridiculously Excited about Going to Ghana

Personally, I think travel is supposed to be fun.  I therefore also don’t think you have to have a ‘sensible’ reason to go anywhere.  Surely what you choose do in your free time should simply be, as you choose it to be?  For example, I’ve always wanted to go to Sri Lanka cos there’s a city called Kandy.  I found it spinning a globe for fun as a kid and it caught my attention and imagination.  Spelled with a K admittedly, but a city that sounds like a sweet shop sounds like my kinda place!  I haven’t gotten there yet but it’s totes on my list.  I pick places to visit for the randomest of reasons as my DC to DC road trip notes will confirm for you.  As will my unrestrainable excitement ahead of visiting Haiti.  So with no further ado, here’s a list of reasons why I think Ghana in West Africa would make for a fabulous holiday destination! Continue reading

Listening in on Young People in South Africa

I often reference books I like, or which made me think, or which taught me something I think might prove useful to know sooner or later.  Memoirs of a Born Free, about a young woman activist growing up in post-apartheid South Africa, is one of those books.

This review,  on the Steve Biko Foundation’s Frank Talk blog, discusses the book and it’s Eastern Cape launch event in Ginsberg, and sums up why I think it’s a must-read for you.