Dear G & B
Dear G & B
Dear G and B
Yesterday I was back on Nigerian roads for a nine hour journey after vowing to myself 4 years ago that I would never risk it again.
My last experience of highways in this country was the 6 hour hair-raising journey from Abuja (the capital in the centre) to Kano in the north. The bus ride was in place of a Virgin Nigeria flight that had been cancelled due to serious dust storms and was organised at the last minute. It started out fine with good spirits in the minibus and lots to see out the windows – the raw humanity of life in rural Nigeria. The landscape started to change from lush green jungle to dusty plains and the peoples’ dress also altered to Islamic as the majority. The dust storm was now around us and it was starting to go dark. Along the road were lots of small black plastic bags; thousands upon thousands of them carpeting the first 20 metres of roadside. I asked a local girl I was with what they were. “The lorry drivers do not have toilets,” was her reply. A carpet of plastic wrapped poo.
I started to watch the driver in his mirror as he was swerving a little bit and I could see that his eyes were closing and he was lolling with tiredness. After some shouting we substituted in a fresh driver much to the original’s embarrassment. It was now dark and there was no lighting on the road, with the added treachery of the dust to hinder our vision. We were now pretty scared of dying in a mangled bus as the driver was going dangerously fast, many of the cars coming the other way did not have lights on and the road itself was a potholed assault course. At one point I tied a scarf around my head as protection from the imminent crash. We finally pulled into Kano with a collective sigh of relief only to see the lights of a plane landing at the airport. It was our original Virgin Nigeria flight!
The trip yesterday was not as perilous as we made sure we wouldn’t be anywhere rural in the dark, but there were still plenty of interesting distractions. Apparently,the state we visited (Osun) is well known for human sacrifice. I joked with my colleague that I was bringing her there to sell her for top dollar to the witch doctors. Some of the overtaking manoeuvres were verging on suicidal and I don’t think I’ve had adrenaline in my blood for such a long period of time before. 4 hours out, 5 hours back, including a one hour traffic jam and we were both absolutely desperate for the toilet for a good sixty percent of the journey.
The Nigerians we have mentioned it to since thought we were crazy for taking such a risk and that they avoid the interstate highways at all costs. Stupid tourists.
I’m writing this in the business lounge at Accra airport, Ghana after 9 days away and looking forward to seeing you both tomorrow morning. G is currently obsessed with making things from favourite TV programme Mr Maker. I look forward to a house full of pipe cleaners and cut up paper plates.
Today was one that I’ll remember forever. I went Rhino tracking in the bush just outside Gaborone (pronounced Hab-or-own-eh) in a game park called Molokodi. I have to say that whilst getting dressed at 6am this morning that I was dubious of how good the park would be and my expectations weren’t high. I arrived at about 7:15 and set off with one English speaking guide and one tracker who carried a rifle.
We started in a typical safari truck and followed some trails, scanning the sand for Rhino prints. In the meantime I saw a large male giraffe, some impala, an ostrich, some warthogs and their piglets, a kudu and a fluttering of brightly coloured bird species. The weather was perfect: not too hot and really crisp and sunny. We found some tracks after about 45 minutes and set off on foot throught the bush to follow them.
The tracker knew it was a female and calf and showed me how he identified where they had been – prints, rocks turned over, recent tree damage, etc. We came across some warm Rhino poo after about 45 minutes and I knew that we couldn’t be far away. It was really exciting. The tracker crouched down and pointed. Around 50 yards away through the trees we saw them weaving in amongst the scrub. The baby heard us (or could smell us) and bolted off, so we had to follow them both on foot again. We got slightly closer for a few more seconds and then they ran again. This went on a few more times until we manoeuvred downwind from them. They watched us closely but let us get much nearer. Scarily near. My heart was racing, but eventually they seemed pretty comfortable that we weren’t a threat and settled down. At one point they even lay down in the sun, probably tired from the chase.
I took hundreds of photos, and it was a really magical experience. After a while they started to move off and we didn’t bother them this time. Instead we trekked back through the scrub trying not to get caught up in the huge spiders webs that hang everywhere with terrifying-looking spiders in the middle of each. We saw some more birdlife then made our way back to the truck which took us to see a tame cheetah in an enclosure. His parents died when he was young so never learnt how to hunt. You can even stroke him, which is pretty scary. Amazing growling purr that he makes and such a beautiful animal.
We had lunch by a very scenic lake and then headed back to the hotel where I had to get changed and do a bit more work. I was on a total high. A great experience.
Botswana is a new country for me and I couldn’t wait to see what it was like. Landing in the early morning on the tiny strip that serves as an international airport I looked up at that huge African sky once more and felt a warm feeling. Your granny is South African and so when I was growing up we spent a lot of time in this part of the world. The colours, the smells, the flora and the pace of life are very similar and it rekindles childhood feelings of holidays and family.
Batswana (the collective noun for a group of people from Botswana) are incredibly laid back and jovial. It is a country with relatively few problems compared to many of its neighbours – a high GDP, no civil unrest, good (and improving) infrastructure funded by the money from diamonds – but they do have the continent’s current epidemic, HIV. It is a problem here as it is in many African countries, but the government manages to pay for 80% of treatment and looks to be doing a great job of educating the population too, a sure sign that things will improve.
I’m staying in the Gaborone Sun hotel and Casino, which is great and yesterday it felt more like I was on holiday than on a business trip. I sat around the pool in the afternoon, swam, went to the gym and managed to get sunburn on my shoulders. Work has started today, but is still at a leisurely pace and in a nice setting. The flights in and out of the country are not too regular, so I have to stay one extra day, which I think I will use to look around the city and maybe go around one of the game parks, although I am assured that they are no better than the safari parks in the UK, so might just be depressing.
The people here are incredibly friendly and there is a general feeling of happiness when you are out and about. When I booked my hotel from the UK I spoke to a woman called Pearl who had me laughing out loud. We were haggling over the price with her telling me that I sounded as if I could afford to pay the full price and me telling her I was very poor. Eventually she agreed to give me the room for half price if I brought her some chocolates from England. I saw her today and gave her a box of Cadburys and she was so happy. It made my day. Small gestures that mean a lot to people and make you feel warm inside.