Cycle Across Africa
Confession of an Introvert: It just doesn’t go away
I never liked the phrase “just be yourself”, not because it sounds dumb but because it’s a lame attempt at giving advice to somebody who needs it. Better to be honest, better to tell someone what you really think – I loved Malawi for the people – positive and up front. No messing around, they called me Jesus and told me I really needed to shave my beard. Time I learned from them and had a bit more honesty with myself.
Having crossed into Malawi the route toward the capital, Lillongwe, looked straight forward and I resented this – even without map or gps, it just seemed too easy. So I did what any normal person would do and turned off to the less travelled route where I had no idea what to expect. No big deal but not something I would have done in the past either – choose the hard way, that is. It seems I can no longer do without the uncertainty of adventure, whether it makes life harder or not is irrelevant – it‘s exciting.
Malawi is known for being heavily populated with tourists/volunteers so it‘s no coincidence it has also been the worst for cries of “give me money“, “give me pen“ etc. Who can blame them but the demands are quite literally draining after a while. The difference off the beaten track was obvious in this sense, people just seemed happy to see a white person, no demands, no guilt trips, just “How are you and welcome to Malawi“. I‘d seen it on television but never in person, literally fifty kids with bloated malnourished tummies chasing the bike, screaming with excitement. It should have been sad but there was no time for feeling that way– I had entered a children’s marathon to the next town…or perhaps not, as I spotted some adults joining in behind them…..“maybe I am Forrest Gump?“ It was a confusing time, for all of us.
I‘m not sure if it was humidity or imagination but as with previous weeks physically, it was still getting harder by the day. I started dumping even more gear, stripping away absolutely anything to make the bike lighter – at one stage I remember throwing away a sock, I mean what sort of idiot throws away a single sock because it‘s too much to bear on a 60Kg load? Later that week it felt even more ridiculous when I came across it‘s pair…..and threw that away too. Shouldn‘t be long now till I‘m cycling in just a pair of shoes…sorry about the visual.
The Lake, a Rant & a Phonecall
Much of life in Malawi revolves around the lake, I won’t go into detail – you can find that on Wikipedia but just know, it’s really big, they fish in it and there’s tonnes of boats. Arriving at it felt like reaching the ocean, a milestone of the journey and waking up to the sound of waves hitting the rocks each morning was paradise.
Volunteers and backpackers crowded one or two resorts along the way, namely Nkhata bay – it was a nice change but to be honest I’m guilty for feeling fed up that so many of them (mostly volunteers) seemed only interested in talking about how to save Africa rather than have a good time, it sounded fake, self righteous and by the end of it – I felt drained. They usually sat around in big groups together which was the problem – I had a laugh with them individually but talking in such a large group was tedious. It was a good time and a few cool people but I wound up cycling away wondering if the trip was turning me into some sort of miserable bore – that was until one of my closest friends from home called unexpectedly, it was the first time in six months to hear a familiar voice and little did he know, the phonecall resumed my sanity – I’d simply been hanging out with the wrong people and enduring the wrong conversations. Best of luck “saving Africa” if any of you read this.
A Tiny Spec On The Lake of Stars
Midnight, head tilted back, floating, star-fished on moonlit waters. Alone in darkness, mesmerised by the milkyway above, one hundred and eighty degrees of stars in the middle of Africa and I‘m floating hundreds of miles below in Lake Malawi – wondering what else is out there, surely an infinte amount to be discovered, how amazing the reflection of the lake would look from up there, what a tiny spec I really am, how short is my time, where will this journey lead….
So there I was…right where I wanted to be. Twenty metres away, a tent and entire worth of possessions lie in four pannier bags attached to a thirteen year old machine with two wheels. Soon it will be time to leave again, for somewhere new but life is simple – no traffic, no fuel, no television, no appointments, no obligations, no phonecalls, no nothing. I figure I enjoy being alone sometimes as much as i do with people I love.
One thing you get used to on a cycle tour is attention. I suppose it would look a little bizarre anywhere in the world but a white man riding a bicycle full of bags through a little African village seems to stir up that bit more interest. In fact this level of interest makes sure that pretty much all day, every day – people stare at you.
The Burglar & T.I.A (This Is Africa)
My room was burlged one night at 3am, I woke to a scratching sound and after staring for a few seconds it was unmistakeable – a dark figure had just forced the window and was reaching in to open the door.
I shouted “Heeyyyy“ but honestly, it sounded more like a scream – he froze (probably wondering whether to ignore the little girl inside) so to avoid confusion I jumped up roaring like a raging bull and ran straight into the balcony door – He was gone by the time I picked myself up.
The burglary however was nothing – not compared to what happened a couple of days later. I hate them but it was so quick passing in front of the bike I had no choice to be so close. It took up half the road and was crossing ten feet directly in front when I managed to stop. A cold shiver down my spine – Africa‘s deadliest, the Black Mamba – excuse the lack of seriousness but my thought at that very moment was “what a shitty way to go, bitten by snake while riding a bicycle“.
If all of that wasn’t enough, I was taking a video of the lake that same day when a big angry male baboon started thundering down the road toward me – I hate to admit it but after videoing it for a few seconds, he had me scrambling onto the bicycle and waiting until the gap widened on a downhill before flexing the muscles and taunting him like the macho man I am.
Welcome to the Jungle
Cycling across a rural part of inland Malawi and on the edge of a tiny village, it was impossible to ignore.
“Come, my friend I have something truly amazing you need to see……this way……”
While riding a bicycle through the middle of deepest Africa you’re faced with many decisions – what happens when a stranger asks you to follow him into the overgrowth? do you stop or keep going? what’s even down there? How did he know to use the word “truly”, that was MY word? …….I just had to follow him
I turned back and dragged the bike after this colourful character down a bumpy track..
The bridge was one hundred years old and there for obvious means but maybe not for the same reasons as most other bridges. A long time ago “the swimmers“ would earn a living by taking tribes-people on their back across the river each day but it was sometimes too fast and often too dangerous due to the amount of Hippos, so they erected the bridge. I‘m fascinated by (scared to death of) Hippo‘s so was excited when he candidly explained how only two days previous, a ranger was called to shoot a troublesome Hippo just metres from where we were standing. The local villages would be enjoying tasty meals for the rest of the week – apparently “It tastes like PEEG“.
The moment felt special for it’s simplicity, it was just me and this family. After, they took me to their house which was full of musicial instruments and ancestral tools. I sat there surrounded by kids, blown away by the welcome and listened as this character explained his family history. I loved the entire exchange but when he took out a “saxophone” and began playing, I couldn‘t help but burst out laughing. Things spiralled from there – I laughed at him, he laughed at me – it went on so long, the two of us were sweating. Hysterical for no reason –I still have no idea what we were talking about from that point on but I literally had to leave because I couldn’t stop.
After picking up the bicycle (still laughing), I handed him what to me seemed like a small amount of money in local Kwacha ($5) – his reaction was not only genuine but tearful and I cycled away thinking the money was nothing compared to the experience he had given me…..it was truly amazing.
People of a Mysterious Land
Malawi is known for several reasons – the Lake and Madonna‘s adopted child come to mind but so too does the fact that it‘s is one of the poorest Countries in the world. At first it was astounding to see very little evidence of the people being poor but it wasn‘t long either until I realised their attitude and positivity was a distraction from the ragged clothing and bare feet. Why do these people invite me home and offer their food? how can they be so positive in poor conditions? How is it they laugh so much when it appears there‘s little to be happy about?
Adventure has opened my eyes in ways that nothing else can and brought change way beyond any expectations. Seeing new places is wonderful but the experience of witnessing different cultures, understanding them and meeting the locals has left me inspired. The people of Malawi were the reason I overstayed the thirty day visa – their kind, positive nature was infectious, bringing out my best side and willing me to address some long standing personal issues of my own.
The Root of Anxieties – Bad Habits
My memory of school is less that of an academic learning centre and more a learning process as a whole. Unfortunately for some, the habits formed during this time don‘t just go away. For example: I used to sit at the back of English class next to someone who got bullied quite a lot for being “weird“, of course there was nothing weird about my friend, he was quiet and intelligent but the sometimes cruel nature of growing up meant he was made to feel different – that there was something wrong with him. With hindsight it‘s easy to explain why children can react in such an ignorantly innocent way but that doesn‘t make it any easier for the quiet person to get over it, maybe twenty years later my friend still feels there is something wrong with him?
I say this because I‘m acutely aware that almost all of my own anxieties of today stem from childhood and in particular the experience of school. Although I managed to avoid the most serious bullying, it still completely sucked to be labelled quiet and shy all the time – I was ignored mostly but even this left me feeling insignificant, left out and eventually different. It would have been too embarrassing to accept or understand it back then but what I didn‘t realise was another reason for this quiet behaviour – it was part of me, part of my personality.
I am an Introvert.
Even as an adult, I didn‘t want to admit it. You see, I always hoped to be someone interesting in some way and wanted so badly to shake off the shackles of school days so it felt like “they were right all along“ when I finally admitted what a close friend suggested some time ago – I am an introvert.
Ironically and stupidly I was worrying about something I didn‘t even understand – the actual meaning of the English word “Introvert“. Turns out, I quite like it. My understanding and fear of being an introvert was because I thought it defined someone as being shy. I also worried my will to be alone so often was, by itself, a sign of depression and that being an introvert would somehow mean any social skills I had been displaying until now had been an act….I was way off base, completely wrong.
“ Contrary to what most people think, an introvert is not simply a person who is shy. In fact, being shy has little to do with being an introvert. Shyness has an element of apprehension, nervousness and anxiety, and while an introvert may also be shy, introversion itself is not shyness. Introverts are more concerned with the inner world of the mind. They enjoy thinking, exploring their thoughts and feelings. They often avoid social situations because being around people drains their energy. This is true even if they have good social skills. After being with people for any length of time, such as at a party, they need time alone to “recharge.”
About.com (Carol bainbridge)
Not the happiest but definitely worthwhile
My mother always told me how schooldays would be the happiest of my life – she was wrong but something as simple as finding the meaning of the word Introvert brought great reason for enduring them at least. Schoolkids and young adolescents can probably be excused for thinking the quiet, weird and strange ones will never amount to very much in life but obviously that‘s not the case. Today it‘s unsurprising to see my English classmate be successful and surrounded by good people, just the same way I see the best creative concepts coming from the many Introvert friends I know.
The real catalyst behind Malawi seeming like the happiest place on the planet was coming to terms with the reason it all happened the way it did. There was never anything wrong with me or my classmate but the experience of school has a way of making some people think that way…it may feel embarrassing to admit to still being affected by schooldays ,even as a grown adult, but better to be completely honest with yourself and move on, rather than live a lie.
The odd one out
There are apparently five personality traits and they say Extroverts outnumber Introverts 3:1. It matters not which one anyone is but undoubtedly the introvert is so often the one who is misunderstood. We all say “it doesn‘t bother me“ but I suspect my classmate, like myself, genuinely worried too much about being the odd one out. There was no need – in reality, there are millions of introverts who feel this way.
The Reality for Introverts In English
We have something in common – we take time and think about what we want to say. We find small talk completely tedious and conversations of travel to be far more interesting than television. We avoid group discussions, maybe you do too? We like to be alone without feeling lonely, we are not needy or desperate and instead work hard on how to become self sufficient. We might be quiet growing up but during this time we learn an admirable trait – to listen. We are mindful, we sympathize and at least try to understand why everything happens.
I know it can be very hard for an introvert growing up but unlike fear and anxiety, it’s not something to overcome – it’s a gift and one that stands out from the crowd. We may be shy, weird and quiet but the same reason for enduring being “different” in school, is what makes life more interesting today.
We are lucky it just doesn’t go away. We are Introverts.