Tag Archives: Overlanding

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’.

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Dream to Reality : A Black Brit Plans An African Roadtrip

The trip I’ve planned traversing the African continent should contain just enough adventure to be considered an appropriate remedy to an extraordinarily long summer break. I’m not complaining, you understand, I just want it to be clear that I’m not skiving off normal life.  On the contrary, I’m trying to live it to the fullest!  In case you’re still undecided on what to do this summer and in need of some inspiration, here’s how I prepared my summer adventure.

What I hope to do:

It’s always best I find to start the adventure with a daydream.  What do you think would be a single awesome thing to be able to say at the end?  Before my epic adventure is complete I’ll have dipped my toes from North to South Africa and from East to West.  I’ll have gotten a little acquainted with some incredible capital cities, taken in awesome landscapes to set my heart a flutter, and then at peace all over again.  I’ll have sampled unimaginable amounts of scrumptious African cuisine, decimated (okay dented, I still have to eat when I get home) my savings in AfroChic, and caught up with some beautiful people I have the honour to call friends.  I’ll also get to see the hometowns they recalled so vividly and lovingly when we were young people in the UK together.

Why Africa?

thingfallapart

Warning: this book will make your life better

Caramel

An awesome film about sisterhood, Beirut and a beauty shop…I’ve been desperate to visit Lebanon ever since.

Where in the world excites your imagination and why?  Is there someplace that you’ve always wanted to go for a really random reason?  Or because of a book you read once?  A scene in a film?  Act on that impulse! Continue reading

A Black Brit Goes to Haiti

You may recall that a couple of months ago I was bursting with excitement about going to Haiti.  If you were following closely, you may have noticed that I wrote very little about that trip.  If not, well, now you know.  The truth is, as holidays go, it was an extremely intense, thought-provoking experience.  I couldn’t write in part because I didn’t know what to say.  There was so much to say! But I also had A LOT of questions.  Last night I saw a film, The Agronomist, which provided a lot of answers.

A Film For You

indexThe film highlighted the quest of Haitians to secure participative democracy in the twentieth century.  The documentary examines the life’s work of Jean Dominique, a journalist, broadcaster and Haitian activist over four decades and exiled twice.  Fearless, hope-filled, passionate and patriotic, under him Radio Haiti was the first station to broadcast in Kréyol, the first language of 90% of Haitians.

I won’t lie, it was a Hotel Rwanda moment for me.  Perhaps because I had such beautiful recent memories, the flagrantly deliberate man-made suffering of one people just broke my heart.  I had never quite got my head round this Aristide chap who seemed to pop in and out of power in Haiti.  Never felt the full fear inspired by the Tonton Macoutes, never understood why the UN are still in Haiti.   Now it all makes horrifying, chilling sense.

I’m not talking heartbreak based on pity.  It’s the weeping that comes after the rage.  Made by American film-maker Jonathan Demme (Silence of The Lambs, The Crying Game, Philadelphia), I watched it as part of an event called Voir Haiti Autrement (See Haiti Differently) organised by a community organisation here called Jamais Deux Sans Trois.   You should DEFINITELY see The Agronomist.  Whether you’re slightly sceptical about the sincerity of American foreign policy and its commitment to democracy, are into inspiring social justice-themed documentaries, or just enjoy a good story, it’s for you.  If you’re in Martinique, you should definitely check out the association.  C’était une soirée géniale. Continue reading

Three Guianas in Thirteen Days: Overlanding in South America

A pirogue, my ride from Guyana to Brazil

A pirogue, my ride from Guyana to Brazil

I am a reluctant air traveller.  Between being concerned about climate change and not enjoying being treated like a criminal every time I go to the airport, I avoid it wherever possible.  Perhaps it’s my coming of age on London transport, but the way I see it, trains, boats and buses tend to depart and arrive from/in city centres, have better and/or amazing views, are cheaper and simply more convenient and relaxing modes of transport.  Obviously over long distances overland travel is much slower, but personally I subscribe to the notion that the journey is the destination; a measured pace makes for plentiful opportunities for immersion and absorption in the travel experience.  Thus it was that I departed St Lucia for a whirlwind view of the South American continent. Continue reading