The Final Footage

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 Not having anywhere to drive has been a huge challenge for me, and I haven’t coped very well. In fact, I haven’t coped at all, I went into total denial and threw myself into sifting through hours of footage. I resent waking up in a comfortable bed and not in my smelly tent, I find three course meals ridiculous and I miss eating only rice and tomatoes.

 

Trying to give friends and family a picture of our day to day life as well as illustrating our (subjectively) amazing stories has been really tough. How do you describe waking up with zebra outside your tent or in the middle of a desert? How do you describe washing out of a bucket in the pouring rain or drinking 9 litres of water a day in a near sand-storm? Driving 22 hours in a row without a meal? Breaking down in weird and wonderful places? Playing with a baby elephant?

 

Almost a month after the end of the adventure of a lifetime, I sit huddled by the fire with 3 jumpers on, back to where I first started picturing Lindikhaya.

Now I can offer something a little more tangible, here it is:

20,000km, 11 countries, 4 months, countless memories.

 

 

I hope this puts images to the words of this blog, and that it convinces the last of you still waiting to donate. We are so close to the £2000 mark and I hope this video is shared far and wide for the sake of Tusk and Corner of Hope.

Over and Out.

TFD

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Safe and Almost Sorry in South Africa




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Passing the Zimbabwean side of the border was hassle free, leaving us plenty of extra emotional space to be excited about returning home (for one half of the party) and meeting up with family. Crossing the South African side of the border was never going to be simple, I had in fact been quietly dreading it. Just a quick recap for those who don’t know, after elections last year in South Africa new immigration laws were put in place. This was done in true inefficient African style. A blanket law was passed with Home Affairs staff not understanding the who, why or what let alone being told how to implement it. My visa extension application got lost in the process meaning I flew back to the UK having being told ‘you are an undesirable person and unless you appeal you are not allowed back into the country for 5 years’. This as you can imagine ended with lots of train travel between Scotland and London to make sure that the appeal went through. Which it did thank goodness… It read:

 

   Dear Sir (Interesting way to address a woman)

Your undesirable status has been waivered as of immediate effect for passport number *******  date of birth 09/06/90 (incorrect date of birth but correct passport number which is what counts).

 

Back to the border

 

Tristan queued happily feeling very proud of his South African passport, getting stamped with absolutely no bother. I joined the EXTENSIVE line of non South-Africans which felt like a herd of cattle going to slaughter. After 3 hours of watching the most disgusting treatment from human to human I have ever seen, I reached the front only to be told:

 

‘You aren’t allowed in’

 

‘I am’ – I’m not sure why on earth I expected that to change their minds.

 

‘You are a registered undesirable person’

 

The systems, of course, had not been updated. They asked me to go back to Zimbabwe (this is commonly said in a bid to just lump off troubles to someone else) which I refused and said was not possible. There we stayed until Head Office opened the following day in Pretoria. To try to create a little understanding of where we stayed I would like you to imagine camping in the middle of a motorway, not only of cars but of people.

 

Beitbridge border is open 24hrs a day, which is made even worse by the fact that all of South Africa’s work force is Zimbabwean and they are desperately trying to go home for Christmas with their families and overloaded cars. The staff at the border were without doubt the rudest people we have met on the whole journey, not only rude but cruel.

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sundowners at Beitbridge

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Definitely not the first to camp at Beitbridge

 

“If you want me to show you nasty I’ll show you nasty” Said the Head of Operations as he pushed a lady off the step.

 

They mocked men, women and children making life as difficult as possible for everyone. They were understaffed, unmotivated yet desperately power hungry. So there we were left camping in the car park, waiting nearly 20 hours in total mulling over all the options of what to do if they just say NO.

 

At midnight the shift changed and we had a whole new group of unfriendly staff to deal with,

 

“Go home, we are not a hotel”

 

You DON’T say!

 

Finally the morning arrived after what felt like a very long wait, and Head Office picked up their phone. They had made a mistake, I was allowed in. No ‘sorry’ of course, common courtesies are not to be expected.  With a sigh of relief we made a quick dash to get out of that awful place as quickly as possible before they changed their mind. They can’t however promise me that the same problem won’t happen again…

 

We were in, and I definitely needed to fall back in love with South Africa as I was feeling thoroughly unimpressed with what is supposed to be the shining beacon of Africa. This of course happened very quickly, as it tends to around here.

 

The engine fell off the car for the 3rd time. This is a little bit of an exaggeration, it was only the alternator, but for the non-car people among us it is attached to the engine and ours wasn’t. AGAIN. A wonderful man appeared like an apparition, stuck a wooden brush in to hold it back together and took us to the best garage in Mesina. They told us it was a no go for them i.e. ‘you are too broken’ and sent us to some engineers. And then it happened, for probably the 20th time on the trip. A total stranger invited us into his home to have a bed, shower, enormous supper and plenty of hysterical conversations. It has forever surprised me how hospitable people are and it is something I would really like to reciprocate back at home, no strings attached kindness. Feeling much stronger we went with new energy back to the engineers who stuck us back together, gave us some new pipes and off we went. We decided to just drive all the way to Johannesburg rather than spend another night in our tent which was definitely losing its appeal. ‘NEXT time we will have a proper roof tent!’

 

Christmas came and went too fast as usual, filled with lots of special family moments and it was a wonderful way to slowly ease us back into ‘normal life’. We also borrowed a computer and watched some of the videos we had taken over the last 4 months which was a real treat. So we did what I feel we might be doing for the rest of our lives, joyfully reliving little snippets of our adventure.

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Emailed to us by our fans!

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Can’t get away from the paparazzi

 

On the 26th we left Johannesburg for the 2 final days of driving to get us to Cape Town. A beautiful and excessively hot day of driving ended with a Mulungu special. A breakdown – luckily in Colesburg, the town we had chosen to stay. Here we found a fantastic mechanic after an online discussion with another of this trip’s revelations: car enthusiasts. Online car forums are a total saviour (when there is internet) no matter what time of day or night there are always people to lend a hand! Our mechanic was a little surprised when we told him that we HAD to be in Cape Town the following day to receive our family off planes from Europe. There was a time limit. Yet it was absolutely not an option to arrive on a recovery vehicle.

 

The next morning we arrived at the best equipped garage we had seen in a long time and handed over our poor bruised and battered Land Rover. Tristan cooked breakfast in the boot whilst 3 men pulled apart then welded back together the engine. 3 hours later the mechanics were finished and to celebrate our last fire extinguisher exploded in the boot covering everything in a film of sneeze making white dust. We laughed a lot, left the empty extinguisher and drove on all the way to Cape Town.

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Last night on Mulungu

 

It has taken 105 days, we have crossed 11 countries and we managed to arrive on the exact day we whipped out of mid air all the way back in July. Just 5 hours late. And that was it. Finished, finito, fini. Miraculously we had all made it in one piece, including the car … well he had a few new pieces but he was whole!

 

This isn’t our last post so there is no need to get too emotional we do have a few more things including some video footage! So don’t sign out yet. Please stay with us and for anyone who said at the beginning ‘I will just wait to see if they finish the trip before I donate.’ We did finish and so now you can donate!

ESS

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Leaving for Cape Point

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Almost at Cape Point

 

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Zig-zagging Zam and Zim

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Lusaka was glumly described at the beginning of last century as a far-west like cowboy town, with tumbleweeds and dust devils the best entertainment one could hope for. The dust devils and tumbleweeds still abound, but there seems to be a vibrant dynamicity to the capital. We didn’t study the topic for too long though, growing an acute aversion to shopping malls with shiny tinsel and blaring carols, in stark contrast to life outside, and swiftly moved on to Livingstone.

 

The capital of old, Livingstone feels far more like the sleepy colonial town that it was, with tourists being the new shorter term invaders. The rains don’t seem to have quite started upstream yet, as the Zambezi waters were all but absent on the Zambian side of the Victoria Falls. I was 8 last time I visited the famous waterfall, and my memories were of a mighty roar soaking you to the bone; the little trickle we saw was obviously disappointing for us both.

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Narrow Zambezi

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Don’t go to Victoria Falls in Zambia in the dry season…

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Praying to NiamiNiami for no flash floods

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That’s more like it

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Picnic on the edge of the gorge at dry Vic Falls

 

Not one tour operator could persuade Emma to take part in the white water rafting or the bungee jumping – surprisingly – so we packed our picnic, crossed the Vic Falls bridge with a little thought for Rhode’s Cape to Cairo railway dream, and paid another $30 to see the waterfall from Zimbabwe. Now that was more like it, the spray, the sound, the smells, it was all as I remembered, and all the better to find a nice spot to pop a cork of not-champagne on the edge of the gorge with the best view in the world.

 

The Zimbabwean border officers had been absolutely charming and had confirmed my idea of a nation with impeccable manners. Old Bob for all his faults had seemingly kept the education standards high, but that we realised didn’t extend to the traffic police. Out of the blue (I’d asked at the border), we needed a red strip all along the boot door and this and that, and we got away with it once but not twice, they were merciless.

 

Mulungu was left to his own devices as we enjoyed a break on the stunning Kariba dam, where my reputation as the world’s worst fisherman preceded me and was confirmed by my shameful catch of a tortoise. Emma’s scottishness of course shined through when it came to gutting and filleting the day’s catch for dinner, having caught a lot of the bream herself! There was speculation as to how fast we’d be siphoned into Mozambique if the dam wall finally gave up the ghost, or even if one of the many monster crocodiles would get us first. Hopefully Niaminiami – the snakelike river god who tries his best to destroy this man-made hubris-driven  monstrosity of a barrage – will stop sapping the wall and be content for a while longer with the huge amount of fish and the breathtaking sunsets over the submerged forest  of dead trees.

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Can’t help but to do some driving, even on Kariba

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Out fishing on Kariba

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Submerged Mopane forests on Lake Kariba, 50 years on

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Pretending it’s his catch

 

 

Frustration and hope are the two strong under-currents in a Zimbabwean’s discourse. Frustration at the helplessness of local politics, at the height from which the country fell (GDP was level with South Korea’s in the 60’s, it is now 10% of Samsung’s turnover), at all the foregone futures people are missing out on, ‘if only’ opens many a sentence. Hope is for a power vacuum leaving the people to get on with their lives unrestricted the day Old Bob pops his clogs, as Zimbabweans of all colours vow to return full time given the slightest opportunity. It is a country loved by all, except its leaders it seems.

 

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Great Zimbabwe ruins

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14th century dry masonry

 

Mulungu was very pleased to see us upon our return to Harare and was kind enough not to break down in front of the presidential palace and the scary camouflaged guards there. We headed for Masvingo to see where it all started, at the ruins of Great Zimbabwe where with great gusto and not much preparation, we started climbing the hill complex of the ruins; Emma laughed at how Scottish this holiday was becoming when it started raining. Laughter gave place to nervous giggles when the downpour hadn’t stopped half an hour later and the tree we’d hidden under no longer kept us dry… Soaked to the bone, we put a rain check on the visit until that afternoon but were later not disappointed with yet another stunning African sunset over the historical site.

 

Great Zimbabwe was our last touristy stop over on our way from Cairo to Cape Town and proved a perfect architectural euphemism. It is a vestige of former greatness with no real explanation as to the how or why of it all, a higgledy piggledy maize of misunderstood hierarchy and structure. Mud huts to stone castle, back to mud huts, stories of potential and misused richness. Leaving Zimbabwe means almost reaching a goal, nearly being home, but also ending a story and finishing our travels. Lindikhaya isn’t over yet, but Zimbabwe was the last unexplored country on the itinerary, and did not disappoint, it showed us that Africa has its own way that we don’t necessarily understand, that it can bite as well as purr.

 

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Just another day at the office

 

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Zambian Droughts and Draughts

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Hot. Zambia is hot. The Luangwa river – the only perennial water point in South Luangwa National Park – was very low and the hippos were struggling to find deep enough pools. Our campsite up the sandbanks seemed to be an elephant highway, where you were strongly advised to lock your food away in case it was sniffed by a long trunk… And then searched for by tusks!

 

We sadly never found the time to meet the South Luangwa Conservation Society team – supported by Tusk – but nevertheless made the best of the stunning park by treating ourselves to a game walk, following spoor to find out about the previous night’s activities.

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Sunset over the Luangwa River

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Locals crossing the river

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Just another day at the office

 

Having read Christina Lamb’s The Africa House, we were desperate to reach the Great North Road, but a detour via Lusaka was out of the question. Having paid for the park fee now made it cheap enough to drive through the park, however we were told “it is not advisable to drive through the park in December. The rains may have started and if you get stuck, no one can help. Some Germans were stuck for 3 days some time.” Yes, well the park is dry as a bone, and we would just turn back if the rivers further north were in flood. We promised them we’d radio in from the other side, and went off on our little adventure.

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Well deserved breakfast after our walk

 

It was a beautiful drive, with the ever astonishing trees turning red and dropping their leaves in the ‘spring’. The further we went from the river, the less habituated the game was. From being skittish, the game became altogether absent, there really was no water. But that was good for us! We crossed a few very sandy 200m wide river beds, hoping rain hadn’t fallen upstream. It was risk well worth taking, but we didn’t know that the adventure was only just starting…

 

Having missed the rains and crossed the park, we still had to get up the Muchinga Escarpment, a climb we had somewhat underestimated. First gear, low range, slipping, sliding, bouncing, we got half way to the top. Then bend number 15 got the better of Mulungu, there was no way around the rocks, and the sand provided no grip. Out of solutions and with the sun fast disappearing, I called it a day, hoping we’d see the problem in a different light the next morning. We parked on a flat-ish bit of the ‘road’, put up the tent and boiled water for pasta. Just when the adrenalin dropped and Emma had finished exploring all the possible worst case scenari, we heard an engine. It was coming from the top, we could see the beam of lights and hear the voices. If other cars could make it down, we could make it up! I waved them down and was relieved to see the Frankfurt Zoological Society logo on the side of the 4×4, we were on the same team. Some four rangers, a lady with a questionable profession and the driver all greeted us and offered their help with glee. The driver claimed to go up the escarpment twice a week and offered to drive our up for us, ‘your car can do it, but you are a poor driver’. Thanks.

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Struggling up the Muchinga Escarpment

 

We packed up again, put dinner in tupperwares, and got into the car. How was he going to deal with this treacherous bend? Simply by flooring it. Never have I ever witnessed an overloaded Land Rover go so fast over rocks in such low gear, hanging on to the dashboard for my life and Emma not even daring to open her eyes in the back. Through sheer momentum, our guardian angel carried the car over the biggest boulders it had ever seen. 45 minutes later we had reached the summit, not quite sure if we still owned a complete car or just bits of it…

After profusely thanking our driver and seeing him and his armed friends walk back down the hill, Emma and I looked at each other in disbelief. Mulungu was intact, we were out of harm’s way, we didn’t have to pay to cross the park again and risk the rains. In an ironic twist of fate, we sat down to eat, physically exhausted and mentally drained, when the heavens opened. The rainy season was finally here! In absolute hysterics, we scrambled onto the roof to put our tent up and eventually got back into the car to eat our pasta, soaked to the bone. Had we stayed the night half way up the hill and the rains started, we would never have been able to make it up the next day, and even less cross back through the park in full flood. We would have been stuck for months!

 

After possibly the best night’s sleep we’ve ever had (with a river flowing under our car), we were back onto normal roads again. Heading north, we reached Shiwa N’gandu in just a few hours and stayed at the magical Kapishya Hot Springs for a very restful three days. The legendary English manor house in the middle of the African bush was worth the detour, if only to gain more of a feeling as to why Stewart Gore-Brown fell in love with the place.

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Shiwa Ngandu – The Africa House

 

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Two years drive from Ndola to Shiwa Ngandu through the forest

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stingless bees

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Kapishya Hot Springs

 

I could have stayed in the hot springs forever listening to Mark’s stories about his grandfather SGB, but Emma heard about the bats. Off we went to Kasanka National Park, not really knowing much about the fruit bat migration. At 5.30pm sharp, we were up a tree, waiting. The sunset provided a spectacular warm up show for what was to come. At 6.10pm on the dot, a bat flew out of the trees to our right. At 6.11pm, the sky was black with wings and the stream of bats pouring out of their roosting place didn’t slow down for half an hour. It is possibly one of the most underrated wildlife happenings with over 8 MILLION big furry fruit bats going through this whole process twice a day every year at the beginning of the rainy season. The gentle swoosh of wings overhead and as far as the eye can see is magical, stopping as suddenly as it started. The moment had gone, it was almost dark, only Venus was visible in the sky and the full moon rose bright red behind us.

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Kasanka Fruit Bats

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8 Million Kasanka Fruit Bats

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Emma hadn’t done laundry in a long time and our car was getting pretty smelly, when eventually we correlated the stink with the mouse-traps not going off anymore… Was Jack The Mouse dead? Following the stench, we unpacked the car, almost taking all the seats off before finding the source… Jack The Mouse is dead, our car smells better now, and our food doesn’t get eaten anymore. However, it turns out Jack was not a mouse… but a rat. After hitching from Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia, he must have got too fat and thirsty in Zimbabwe. RIP Jack.

 

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Just a happy frog

 

 

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Malawian Mouse-traps and Money Changers

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We have realised that 24hours in one place gives you just enough time to put down your things before you set off again, therefore leaving you feeling not very rested. Wherever possible we try to stay at least 2 nights so the packing and unpacking of our humble abode doesn’t get too frustrating. From one paradise, we set off to what we hoped would be another. Beginning our day’s driving with going through a national park puts us both in a very good mood. This was swiped relatively quickly from our mindset as we found ourselves on a corrugated road for most of the afternoon in search of Pangani, on the Northern Coastline of Tanzania. Having handed over the driving to Tristan (to save us all from my wrath … ‘don’t bait the bear’ as some might say) we arrived in thank god, another paradise.

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Pangani – Peponi

 

An enormous long beach along the Indian Ocean is where Peponi Resort sits. Here we ate overindulgent amounts of seafood costing us peanuts, drank coconuts under the very palms they grew from and lay in hammocks watching the dhows sail by. To make the world feel comfortably smaller it turned out we had met the daughter of the owners back in the UK!

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Boots on the beach

 

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Indian Ocean

 

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Dhows in the storm

 

As it turned out Mulungu needed that stop as much as we did. Within 20km of leaving, we found ourselves with another mechanic under his bonnet wondering how we had made it that far, this time outside someone’s home not in a garage. Marcel had found us on the street and offered the help of his family’s mechanic, this turned out not to be a quick problem but an overnight stop with an incredibly hospitable family. We wiled away the hours chatting endlessly exchanging stories, whilst our limping donkey was turned back into a sturdy steed. African hospitality really never fails! Thank you Paul, Dolly and Marcel!

Two more uneventful night stopovers took us through to the border with Malawi. The EASIEST border so far! Through within 45 minutes and without spending a penny! Of course it included my favourite part of border crossings, the money changing.

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(Perfectly legal) money changing

 

From a mile off you are honed in on by a large group of men each waving wodges of cash in front of your face saying ‘we give you best deals’. As with most things over here this needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. They give their rate from one currency to another, you listen carefully to the explanation and then… give them your closer to the truth rate, backed up by the currency converter on our phone (a godsend) usually cuts to the chase and stops the bargaining in its tracks. This however, is only the beginning. Each money exchanger has a plus-one who carries more money and another calculator. So out comes the cash you wish to exchange which is counted by you, verified by the exchanger and then verified again by the plus one. The amount is then pressed into the calculator by 3 people (Tristan included) who simultaneously turn their calculations around to show how much of the next currency will be given to you. Usually there is one person who needs to recalculate as theirs seems to be an anomaly. When everyone has a matching number the process goes the same the other way, the changer brings out the money for the neighbouring country, it is counted and verified by 2 more people until finally this ‘quick’ and easy transaction is completed all under the watchful eye of the policeman. Everyone leaves pleased with what they got. Tristan has got ripped off half as badly as he should have done and the money changer of course, made lots more than he should have done too.

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Roadside African markets

 

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Too much driving for some

 

Malawi was everything we had hoped for. For the sake of less driving we decided to stay only in the north and enjoy working our way really slowly down to Lilongwe before crossing into Zambia. Driving through, it is easy to see why it has got the reputation for being the friendliest African country. Lots of smiles and waves from the villages as you pass through and when stopped at a check point by the police, we were asked if we possibly have a magazine they could have to read! A nice change from being asked for your passport and driving license! It is clear to see though that there is very little money trickling down through society, sadly due to the high levels of corruption and poor leadership, an age-old problem on this continent (and others!) I was however astonished to hear that 90% of all energy comes from renewable sources. The devil’s advocate of course pointed out that most people don’t have any electricity, so it then becomes less of a staggering fact.

The further south we go, the more tourists we find and the harder it is to get off the well trodden path. Malawi has the most beautiful beaches and of course weather and plenty of bars, making it a perfect combination for many people. This we realised on our first night having been for a walk on the beach to come back to find 10 tents pitched ever so carefully exactly in front of ours, rather changing our view of the lake. It can only be … Overlanders. This phenomenon is quite something. You buy your ticket from A to B, anywhere between Cape Town and Nairobi, and hop on the converted lorry as it drives through all the major tourist destinations on the map. Each truck can take up to 20 people, has a driver, cook and leader meaning you can just sit back and watch as Africa whizzes past your window. For some it is the perfect way to meet other people from all around the world and have a party for a couple of weeks. This was the first of many trucks we have found ourselves next to!

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Being a man and fixing stuff

 

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Chitimba Beach

 

Having had enough of seeing people (I’m struggling to adapt…) we headed up the escarpment towards Livingstonia, named after a very famous Scot. Here we stayed in Lukwe Eco Camp. Having been lured in by word on the street telling us you could eat ‘proper salad’, we were amazed by what we found. Endless views over the lake and mountains and the most incredible permaculture garden. Started 18 years ago the garden has grown and grown and now provides all the fruit and vegetables for the camp despite it being on an area of soil which most Malawians will tell you doesn’t grow a thing. For those of you like me who don’t know about permaculture, here are a few very basic principles. Meaning ‘permanent agriculture’, its practitioners have returned to how nature does it by cutting out pesticides, fertilisers and all other chemicals. This is a movement with very little impact on the surroundings where beds are planted and replanted with all the vegetation needed to put nutrients back in the soil and by using particular species as insect deterrents for example, this method really does work incredibly well. Everything is recycled and used in whatever way possible. Lukwe runs permaculture courses for people from the surrounding villages and all the way from Europe too! Aleck the Gardener is such a wonderful teacher and spent the morning helping us to understand the basics, leaving us with so much to think about and both of us with plenty of ideas on how we could incorporate it into what we do or would like to do!

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Permaculture-ing with Aleck

 

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Trying to remember Aleck’s 10 Permaculture Principles

 

The food was delicious and there really were PROPER salads! From the camp you can wander your way around to the tallest waterfall in Malawi. This we did at 6 in the morning, getting back to the camp to be asked why we were up so early. A little surprised by this, we checked our clocks to say it wasn’t that early, it was 7.30. A big laugh followed with the answer, “no it isn’t, it’s 6.30”. We had – we think – since the beginning of Tanzania, been an hour ahead of ourselves. Whoops. We did wonder why we had been seeing so many sunrises!

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Lake Malawi from the Rift Valley escarpment – again

 

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Lukwe Waterfall at 6am – or 5am – not too sure

 

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The days flew by in Malawi staying in beautiful place after beautiful place, never without a view on the lake and smiles all round. What a treat it was to be in such an easy and relaxing country! Next is our 9th country, Zambia, for which I have very little knowledge or preconceived ideas. Hopefully that will make for another wonderful week or so!

To finish off this post I will leave you with the news that we have gained a passenger that has become quite a challenge. Whilst we sipped our coconuts on the beach in Tanzania a little mouse who has been named Jack, decided to join us. He has found himself on an all inclusive holiday package deal, where he is supplied with more than he could possibly wish to imagine. We have found him to be rather partial to bread, sweet potato, Land Rover seats and loo roll. I have a feeling that he may butt heads with the other male on this trip, which might cut his journey a bit short…

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One last one for the road

 

 

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Mkomazi Magic

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Tanzanian internet is not at its best this time of year it seems, apologies for the delay in updating.

The further south we go, the more of a burden Emma becomes… On a South African passport, I’m crossing borders for free whereas Emma still has to pay $50! It was an easy enough drive from Lake Kivu to the border with Tanzania, although it took us a little longer than planned, and it was another smooth border crossing, it was a little too late for my liking once through. At 5pm, the sun starts going down and suddenly all the little things that you cope with easily in daylight become a worry. Emma had been complaining about Mulungu’s steering, and the fan belts started squeaking. The road obviously got awful as the sun went down, and there was only pot holes and bush all around, the nearest town a couple of hours away.

 

Having not broken an axle or resorted to camp on the side of the road with the truckers, we got to the ‘town’. At the checkpoint, we asked the kind policeman if he knew of a campsite. He thought long and hard, asking all of his colleagues where this Mzungu might be able to spend the night in peace, and eventually pointed us to the ‘Paris Lodge’. Well the only similarity it bore with the French capital was the smell of sewers… After some expert sign language communication, we were allowed to camp in their car park, and woke up to quite a crowd. The fan belts were crying for legitimate reasons, part of our engine had broken off… Nothing a couple of bolts of brackets can’t fix though! As good as new, off we went again!

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Tanzania started getting a little more populated after Nyakanazi, and 8 more hours drive got us to Nzega. Tourist accommodation being limited, I thought we should try out asking for hospitality in the church grounds – an overlanding classic. That worked too well, the fathers were too generous and offered us dinner and a bed for the night. I suspect that an unmarried couple sharing a tent by the Catholic church wouldn’t have gone down too well though, but it did lead to some very interesting debates around the Church’s role in Africa.

 

The third day in Tanzania took us back to the Rift Valley, smiling Maasai pop out of the bush, tiny boys herd the family’s wealth, women sell red bananas and tourist watch them jump. We couldn’t quite see Lake Manyara’s flamingos from the top of the escarpment but the Valley wall and volcanoes are a spectacle in their own right. Had it not been on the map though, we would never have known that we drove past Kilimanjaro the next day, as it was very rainy.

 

After four days of driving 8 hours a day to get to Mkomazi National Park on time to meet the Fitzjohns, we arrived in Same to realise that a huge miscommunication meant that our hosts wouldn’t actually be there. African hospitality shone through however and we were told to be there early the next morning was 5kg of carrots and we’d be shown how our fundraising for Tusk helps them.

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Tusk and Mkomazi

Off the Northern Tanzanian circuit, Mkomazi is part of the greater Tsavo ecosystem and it was a huge privilege to be invited there. Plagued with charcoal pits, illegal grazing and worst of all poaching, the game was rather depleted before Tony Fitzjohn got to Mkomazi. Hard work, vital support from Tusk and smart outreach campaigns have resulted in a blooming conservation area. Unlike the teeming planes of the Serengeti, the mountainous region bordering Tanzania and Kenya is somewhat harder to monitor, and local support is essential. A smart commercial truck was converted into a people carrier with a Tusk logo on its door, to collect children from the local schools and bring them to the bush school. Elisaria – Mkomazi’s number 2 – teaches them about the bugs living in the dead wood lying on the ground, the snakes and lizards living off the bugs, the birds living off the lizard. He explains how the smallest bush is food for the smallest buck as well as the mightiest elephant bull, and how they in turn feed predator population, rounding it all up into the beautiful life cycles of the bush. Their questions are pertinent, yet their surprise is total. When told that the last rhino was killed decades ago, they are appalled and ask who it was.

 

‘Your grandfathers’

 

Silence.

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When the elders are invited, their distress is even greater as they had no idea that the game they were killing for meat or money wasn’t sustainable, and could be so beautiful and such a source of renewable income through tourism. One particular chief broke down into tears and on Elisaria’s questioning said:

 

‘I know who killed that last rhino. That man is still poor and his family still goes hungry. What good was it?’

 

Ignoring all academic naysayers, Tony Fitzjohn also initiated a Wild Dog breeding program to bring them back into the East African parks. Universities said that hand reared pups would never rehabilitate into the wild and that the project was doomed. Empirical evidence shows otherwise, as tens of dogs were reintroduced into the wild and were hunting within hours of their release. Although gruesome hunters (disembowelling their prey on the run), they are fascinating creatures. Nothing will ever tame them. Captured as nearly weened puppies, they are brought into the bomas and divided up into breeding packs, each with their own Alpha female, the only animal allowed to breed in the very strict hierarchy. Even habituated to humans that young, they try and eat their carer most days.

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Visiting the Wild Dogs

 

Mkomazi is a very special place, and we would have loved to stay there longer. Elisaria was a magnificent host, and we felt extremely grateful to Tusk (and John Rendall) for facilitating the visit; I suppose it could only have been better if we had met the legendary T. Fitzjohn. Unfortunately, he still has to fly the world over to fundraise at the age of nearly 70, in order to finance the war against rhino poaching. Mkomazi is a war front, and support is always needed; Tusk supports a project taking their work very seriously. Good to see.

 

Why did we have to bring carrots? For Mr Tembo! Elisaria had a wicked look on his face when he asked Mr Tembo to join us over the short-wave radio, and Emma’s face was priceless when Mr Tembo came around the corner. Who knew that baby elephants loved carrots so much… Emma’s childhood dream was granted at Mkomazi, as we blew into his trunk and scratched behind his ears and let his long nose grip our fingers and sniff our faces.

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Rapid Rwanda

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Leaving Bwindi felt like waking up from a dream, and I expected it to be more like falling out of my bed. Rwandan authorities are notorious for almost strip-searching you looking for plastic bags (illegal in the country), forcing you to unpack everything you own. Ahead of the game, I’d put all of them into our bin, ready to drop it all off outside the boundaries of the national park and make friends with Rwandan officials for being such a good boy.

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It was an uneventful drive retracing our steps to Kabale from where we followed trucks with Rwandan number plates to Katuna. And Congolese plates! Clearing Ugandan formalities was easy as pie, same old, immigration, police clearance in three different offices to be allowed to drive the car over the rope, customs where the carnet was duly stamped and off we went into no-man’s land. Well I walked as Emma thought it was an appropriate moment to pull the age old trick of driving off as I reached for the door. I proceeded to walking at stalling pace in front of Mulungu preventing her from speeding through the border. We were really looking forward to saving some dollars as UK and SA citizens don’t have to pay for a visa in Rwanda, or so we thought. Mug’s Law predicted that the rule changed 6 days before we got there! Nonetheless, all was going smoothly and before we knew it we were handing our ‘Gate Pass’ to the policeman at the barrier asking if our luggage had been checked… Here it comes, I thought. And I’ve still got the bin!

‘No? Ah. They should have checked you, but I trust you, welcome to Rwanda!’ Off we went with our kilo of plastic bags!

 

The Genocide Memorial is a stern place. Beautiful gardens at the top of one of Kigali’s hills surround the building, where detailed explanations on the causes and consequences of the ’94 massacres are given. Although I tasted a bitter political flavour in the explanatory texts, the mix of global and local symbolism and proverbs offers a peaceful resting place to the thousands of people buried there, still being brought in to this day.

 

We had a chance encounter with Julien, a young Rwandan educated in Canada who’s come back to be part of the rebuilding of his country. He claims that the diaspora has kept strong links with home and families all speak kiyarwanda abroad; the government now offers tax breaks to whomever would like to return. Kagame is no flawless leader, but upon taking over the country he had no natural resources and no tourism industry to pick the country back up. All was bet on human resources Julien claims, and today Kigali is a buzzing capital with a certain financial and diplomatic leadership in the region. Having ditched French in 2008, they’re slowly back-pedalling as their markets reach into francophone Africa and specifically their huge Congolese neighbour.

 

We’d seen the gorillas, and Rwanda doesn’t have a huge amount else to offer, but we couldn’t just leave! Off we went to Lake Kivu on a stunning road winding through impeccably terraced hills – the country of a Thousand Hills should definitely be that of a Million Hills. Kibuye isn’t on the tourist map due to its particularly dark history during the days of the genocide, but it is a stunning place. Shooting stars flying through half your field of vision, whilst over Mordor (Democratic Republic of the Congo) lighting never stopped, flashing through the night. We had a real rest day, reading, writing, eating, doing old fashioned laundry scrubbing, a real treat. Little did we know that would be our last real rest for a while…

 

 

TFD

(aka Tuff, no one can pronounce my name around here)

PS: Erratic internet is proving a barrier to uploading more photos, will try and put them up somehow soon!
PPS: Can you believe we’ve raised 1400GBP?! Follow the links below to make it to 2000!

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Getting back in the Groove with the Gorillas

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It’s amazing how easy it is to become complacent when you travel for long periods of time, particularly when you get ‘out of your groove’. Having stayed with family in Kampala we found ourselves slipping back into European ways; a restaurant for lunch followed by popcorn and the cinema. Pierce Brosnan even makes it to Kampala! This, although really VERY welcoming at first soon begins to create a block in your mind. What on earth are we doing?!

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Ugandan family

‘I think we have got a bit complacent’ – WHAM. Yes, and it was time to move on, feeling enormously grateful for the western comforts and therefore, the reality check that we didn’t come all the way to Africa to watch Pierce Brosnan wooing a beautiful woman.

Once we had realised this simple little fact we booked our spot for Gorilla Tracking in 2 days time and left Kampala. The first night we stayed in beautiful Mburo Lake, here we found a tiny little community run campsite where we slept back in our comfy tent in the bush listening to the noises around us. I happily spouted the name of the animal to match the noise heard:

“That is a warthog” – ESS

“No, that is an impala” – TFD

“Ok that is an impala too” – ESS

“No … that is a zebra” – TFD

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Fine Scot at Lake Mburo (the whisky)

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Other local animals: Anchole cattle

This left me feeling thoroughly un-bush-educated! The next morning we opened up the tent to see all the noisy culprits (including Zebra) from the night before surrounding us. The following night we spent on the dreamlike Lake Bunyoni. This meant paddling our way in a dugout canoe to one of its 29 islands, Itambera. On the way we took shelter at one of the many tiny jetties so as not to be engulfed by the waves under the torrential rains. Our ‘Geodome’ hut was open fronted and made of thatch, this made for the most STUNNING morning wake up which included more self identification of birds, this as you can imagine was very successful. However the open-frontedness did not help with warming up after the coldest shower you can imagine. Pay more for a hot shower…? NOPE I’m a Scot.

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Not standing on the branch you’re sawing

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Bilharzia free Bunyony

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John’s very fresh crayfish for cheap

Now for Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the gorillas. It is hard to explain the excitement that we felt. When you enter the park having driven up into the mountains you cross over a very definite border; one side small subsistence farming patchwork fields, the other (with no fence in between) thick tropical rainforest. Before people this rainforest spread from Lake Edward to Tanganyika, now it has been cut back into much smaller individual forests. On the day scheduled you arrive at the registration office at 7.30 am to sign in and be split into groups for the briefing and then your journey into the forest. Each group consists of no more than 8 paying customers, 2 armed guards (for the unfriendly wild animals they say), a guide, ours named Augustine, and the 2 trackers you meet later. Our motley crew was driven for 20 minutes, there we parked and climbed over the edge of the road and began our descent down the side of a very steep mountain. Your feet often slip from beneath you and you find yourself sliding on your bum until you can catch yourself on a hanging vine, which hopefully does not have thorns in. The forest is filled with all the stereotypes you imagine, humid, damp, sweet smelling, the earth below made up with layers of decaying plants and trees from above that didn’t make it up to find the light. This makes for spongy, slippy, hot walking! Some people have to walk up to 5 hours to find the gorillas, we found them within just 15 minutes, a bit of a relief for some…

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Unfenced but Impenetrable

We were sent to find a family of 22 gorillas, including 2 silverbacks and 4 babies known as the Oruzogo Group. For one hour you observe quietly the goings on of what feels like very private family time. Toddlers playing together as they hang upside down in the tree, silverbacks watching quietly over the group grunting noises of disapproval when someone steps out of line or irritates them. Mothers sitting peacefully watching their babies play, whilst they nibble on plants and us less hairy gorillas gaze in awe. Technically the guides will not let you get closer than 7 metres, this seems to be forgotten straight away as you could, if you wanted, put out your hand and touch the Mumma walking past you. The guide and wonderful trackers push and pull you further into the group until you are literally right in the middle. The size of the frighteningly human group is surprising. The babies are roughly the same as humans but the silverbacks shoulderwidth gets up to around a meter. Pretty much like us, the mothers are pregnant for 8 and a half months then breastfeeding their little ones until they slowly begin to wean them on to plants. The constant communication between the group and then also with us was incredible, the trackers replying with what needed to be heard clearly, as there was never anything more than a bit of chest thumping and grunting.

Sitting with this extended family was such a treat and it will definitely be a highlight of the entire trip. I couldn’t believe it when the guide told us we had only 7 minutes left, I would have loved nothing more than to sit as an observer in that family all day. Then return again the next day. As it stands they believe there to be about 800 mountain gorillas which can be found in only 2 places, Bwindi in Uganda and the Vuringa mountains shared between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Amazingly the gorillas are one of the only endangered species to be increasing in numbers, so much so that they believe that if it continues the way it is they are going to have to start replanting more forest as there will not be enough space for them all. What a happy change it is to hear that!

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Wowed

Now we are back in our campsite on the edge of the park, getting ready for leaving and crossing the border into Rwanda tomorrow. We have just done all our washing, hung it up and surprise surprise the rains have started. Nothing however, not even rain filled laundry, will make me feel miserable today. We saw the gorillas and if you ever have the chance you must go too!

P.S. We have now raised over £1000, thank you to everyone who has donated… I wonder if we will make it to £2000?!

P.P.S. Tristan can now tie his hair up…

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Lively Minds

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Our border crossing day was one of those uneventful ones with only minor incidents too easily forgotten such as Emma locking the keys in the car… And subsequently finding out how easy it is to get back inside with the help of the local ‘mechanic’ (with dodgy hobbies). Of the two land border posts, we were closest to Busia, which happens to be the busiest one. An interminable line of trucks supplying the whole great lakes region with goods from Mombasa queues up for days at a time before being let through. We thought Mulungu was a big vehicle, but he felt positively minute amongst those crowds! Soon enough, the wazungu (us whites) are spotted by some ‘official international clearing recognised customs clearing agent’ who will help us if we buy him lunch… The paperwork was no big deal, we’re almost getting good at it now, but we must admit we would never have found our way through the traffic as he shouted at truckers to make a tiny path for us to the government buildings!

 

Uganda was never a colony, only a protectorate, maybe a reason for the inane African sense of hospitality flagrant once across the border. We felt hugely welcome. Within a couple of hours we had reached Jinja, where we camped by the Nile which we had last seen a few thousand kilometres ago! No time for bungee jumping or white water rafting to Emma’s dismay as we had a morning appointment at the Lively Minds Uganda HQ.

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Lively Minds Team

 

The Ultimate Travel Company – our generous sponsor – supports this charity here, focusing on early childhood education and thus falling directly in our own awareness goals. Josh and Grace, two of the eight members of the organisation, were going to take us to visit one of their new centres that afternoon.

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The Ultimate Travel Company sponsored play centre

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Half the group plays outside…

 

Just another charity building schools in Africa I hear you say? Get out. Lively Minds goes deep into rural areas, at the request of local chiefs, and sets up voluntary teams of women holding play groups once a week with children under the age of 5. Fifty children out of their mothers’ hair, playing (weirdly Montessori-like) educational games, getting their young minds going at that age when all skills are sponged up!

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… while the other half works hard

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Five groups of four

 

Community spirit takes on a whole new dimension in these relatively unspoilt African villages, greetings have far more importance than in the West. They aren’t vague polite enquiries, no one will take offence if you don’t enquire about the whole family, but these mothers will certainly want to know that you are well, that the weather has treated you well and that you have eaten well. No one is ever welcomed with bad news either, only good news can be given when meeting someone, and when addressing a group, these age-old exchanges are sung communally, punctuated with those wonderful deep African hums.

 

Having observed the gentle way these women have with others’ children, how they ever so softly guide them towards the solution to a game or to the next workshop, Grace and Josh took over. The children went to chase the chickens in the maize crops while the grace and courtesies were performed. With the same gentle manners expected for the children, Grace gave constructive feedback on the running of the day – we had no idea it had only been their second time in charge! As a teacher, Emma’s praise was even more appreciated – countless ‘ASANTE SANAS’ and shrieked blessing were given in chorus after that! They probably thought we were The Ultimate Travel Company and had funded their centre and it was hard to explain that we were actually also recipients of TUTC’s generosity but their humility was touching.

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Uganda

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Spectators

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Whilst others have other duties

 

What that day showed me is how a little goes a long way, how easy it is to get the small things right and make a difference. A smile and a caring enquiry will show respect, giving an afternoon to these play centres has given women a voice and dignity, Lively Minds has given time to training them and see rewarding results and The Ultimate Travel Company shared their resources to enable such projects to take place. Weirdly we have also benefited from this, but we are learning to do the same in exchange. Keep an eye out for Lively Minds, and support our own cause for similar ends.

 

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Volunteer mothers sponsored by The Ultimate Travel Company

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and trained by Lively Minds

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The writer on a well deserved retreat

TFD

PS: We have raised over £1000 everyone, thank you so much. Please keep donating on the link below to continue supporting the amazing work we are witnessing and sharing with you, can we get to £2000?

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Corner of Hope

 

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Our time has come to an end in Kenya. We have stayed in the most wonderful places, with thanks to the Henleys, Andrews and Brooks for allowing us to be part of their lives and see sunsets in different and beautiful places. Not only have we seen incredible sunsets, we have sat and observed snippets of life from the animal kingdom. Elephants bathing in dust, buffalo grazing, giraffes picking the best leaves from the acacia trees and most excitingly so far, a leopard on his way to find supper. What a treat it has been to experience this example of Kenyan life.

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Climbing Mount Longonot

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Longonot Crater, highest point in the Rift Valley.

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Colobus Monkey at Naivasha

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Tea plantations near the Aberdares

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El Karama Ranch Waterfall

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… with the leeches!

 

Before we left there was another example of life we went to visit. Corner of Hope Montessori. Situated in ‘Pipeline’ Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp on the outskirts of Nakuru is a community of 600 families. Having left their homes after the troubles of the 2007 general elections, they have begun creating a new life. The families have formed a co-operative and now own their land inside ‘Pipeline’, visiting small patches of farmland every now and again to try to create a small amount of food for themselves and possibly to sell with the hope of being able to earn a modest income. Too frightened to return back to where they belong in fear of more ethnic violence, the 600 families have made this new camp home. Many of the children, and certainly the 120 we met, have grown up thinking of ‘Pipeline’ as home.

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From the age of two and a half until they reach about 7 they are welcomed into a very special community. A place where they long to come to school, somewhere they care more about – possibly – than most of us care about our homes. It is amazing to see the difference in children who have none of the usual toys or TV’s when it comes to how much they want to be there, compared to the average child in the West. The day starts as early as 7, as the first child comes to the gate. They take part in the dusting and cleaning, taking great pride in making sure the 6 classrooms and the surrounding area is ready for the day to begin. From there, slowly the classes fill up until all 120 pupils are there by 8.30.

I’ve explained the basics of Montessori before here for those still confused (CLICK HERE).

To the children however, it is clearly very easy to comprehend. The room has a calmness you would find in most yoga studios with the addition of an underlying air of busyness. Lots of little people, doing their own work, with what seems to be a total understanding of where they are going next. Some were so enthralled with a particular piece of maths, for example, they didn’t even notice us walk in. The children here, help each other, rush back to pick up something they accidentally knocked over, become absorbed in an activity for long periods of time and take enormous amounts of care with everything they lay their hands on. Tristan, having never been in a Montessori school, could not believe his eyes and sat grinning like the Cheshire Cat. I am extremely lucky to have witnessed this Montessori phenomenon before, HOWEVER to see this level of understanding of Montessori in the setting of an IDP camp was pretty unbelievable to me too.

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Milcah and Emma

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Maths before 6

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… and loving it!

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Working together

The women who work there are supported and trained by Association Montessori Internationale (AMI). Over 2 years they grapple with the theory, read books, write out essays and all the hundreds of presentations and make every single piece of material needed in a classroom, by hand. This is all done in English, and for most of the women, English is probably their 3rd language. In London we make 4 of the hundreds of pieces of material needed and we find that challenging enough! The 60 women training this year will then take what they have learned and their prized, premade classrooms to their local communities and set up shop, as they say. Mentorship continues with the help of wonderful Sister Veronica, who trained with me, to make sure that the women feel supported and the children are getting the best possible Montessori practise.

This is a project that supports and empowers whole communities. Steps are being put in place to give the families of the children at Corner of Hope opportunities to earn a living. Using the skills they learnt and put in practise when building the school for their own children, they will look forward to creating and selling crafts. This will therefore give them back a chance to be able to support their families once again.

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Sister V welcoming us at the training college

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The next generation of teachers making their own material to bring to the schools where they will work

I asked Sister V – as she was known at college – what happens when the children have to leave the school when they have become too old.

“It’s hard, they join a government school and get very frustrated because they are being taught things they learnt years before”

For exactly that reason it has been decided to begin the Montessori teacher training for 6 – 12 year olds. The next step being, to look at opening a school for 6 – 12s in January 2016 with the first set of newly trained teachers. Forward thinking and working towards solving the challenges that continue to present themselves, is what comes to mind.

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Hoping for a Montessori elementary

So this is the point where I say to you, please do donate a small amount of your money to help support this charity. They really are self sufficient, using AMI money only to get them to the next step and then continuing to do a large amount themselves. This is not a project that is ‘sponging’ off foreign aid. They care, the staff care, the children care, it is part of their life and they definitely don’t want to lose it or compromise on the quality. Go on, give up a fiver to help them continue to support women going back into the community giving back to their own children and villages.

(click on the Virgin Money Giving link below to donate)

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