Cycle Across Africa
Why we Should fear the people of Africa
Africa has a dark reputation when it comes to media coverage and publicity in general. The poverty highlighted by Live Aid in the 1980‘s, the Rwandan Genocide in the 1990‘s and present day political conflict in places like Chad and Sierra Leone to name but a few. I always hoped to avoid being witness to anything like this on the bicycle….Hope.
Co-Exist & Mind Your Own Business
Entering Zambia in high spirits I found myself mesmerized when I came to a troop of Baboons sitting alongside several locals on the border post. The Baboons were grooming each other and literally 5 feet away the locals were also sitting in the shade minding their own business. Neither humans or baboons normally like to be in such close quarters and no wonder, given the centuries they spent in competition for food and survival but now, here they were sitting side by side very accepting of each other. It was so natural and I stood there thinking to myself how iconic it was to see proof of how both species had learnt through hardships to co-exist in peace.
Reality Check – Back to Basics
Having enjoyed good facilities until Zambia, it‘s now a bonus to have running water in Africa for a wash in the morning, never mind it being warm. I caught myself complaining about this early in the week and needed reminding to keep my expectations in line with those around me.
Likewise food became a lot more basic – the most luxurious breakfast I have had in Zambia so far has been bread, peanut butter and beans. On the road I eat bananas, bread and biscuits and for dinner usually a cheap local meal ($2) like chicken and nshima (What is Nshima? It’s a staple food in Africa, like a stiff porridge, mash potato in appearance and o.k with a nice sauce). It strikes me that I now seem to be buying into the simplicity of life in this part of the world myself.
Less is actually more
With luxuries becoming more uncommon and food/water considered just a necessity, it has allowed me to focus on the more simple pleasures and when I do find something nice, it‘s completely appreciated – After passing “Bethlehem bakery“ yesterday, I got it in my head that I simply HAD to have a cream cake and literally felt like a kid eating it.
The cold, the wind and the rain don‘t know, they only seem to come and go away
Hopefully my little gas bottle lasts until Lusaka, it has been overworked this week with having to dry my socks over the stove most mornings. In saying that, I have really enjoyed cycling in the rain and the locals seem to enjoy watching me go past from their roadside shelters – they must think it‘s an emergency of some sort that I keep going. Thankfully the wind hasn‘t been too strong either and I can usually keep pace at 15kmh with or without it blowing right in my face. It seems pointless to fret about the weather when it always seems to go away as quickly as it arrives – To be fair, “Logistically“ the cycle tour of Zambia couldn‘t be better so far.
Cycle Tour Mentality
I still haven’t put my finger on why but this week, anytime something goes wrong, I just laugh and it’s instantly better – maybe it’s part of just taking everything as it comes?!. I‘m not saying it’s all rosy, it‘s not – I still get lonely and often have a self debate about what the hell I‘m doing but it always seems unimportant now. I had also been warned several times by other cyclists that a month or two in, I would start to feel worn down and fed up, well I‘m still waiting on this feeling – yesterday I had no plans to go anywhere but still ended up on the bike to “do a little bit“, I set out on an easy 20km and ended up cycling 100km, stopping only because it was getting dark – maybe that‘s the Forrest Gump in me, some days I just don‘t wanna stop at all.
As I finish this post I am currently in a town called Kafue, an easy days ride short of the Capital of Zambia, Lusaka. That makes it more than 3,000km since I left Cape Town in October.
I get bombarded with questions wherever I go, it‘s quite fun but what has become more and more apparent is, the questions are always the same. It starts out with “where are you going“, then “Why are you cycling africa?“ and the last one is always “Are you afraid?“. On the spot, I always struggle to answer the last one.
One day I stopped on the roadside near Zimba for some fruit and started chatting to a few villagers. I told them where I was going, why I was doing it and that I wasn‘t….really…emmm….afraid. One of the group told me how the people in the next town were dangerous and I should be careful – I thanked them for the chat and went on my way.
Before I reached the next town, I was taking shade when a vehicle pulled over to ask if I was okay. The driver was a relocated white South African farmer and when he heard I planned on staying in Zimba it seemed to send him into a controlled state of panic “Do you know people there???, where will you stay?“ He went on his way satisfied that ginger bearded men are fearless but I began to wonder what sort of monster was waiting in the next town.
Finally arriving in Zimba that evening with all of this in the back of my mind, I felt like a lone cowboy, like John Wayne riding into town except I doubt he had Zebra coloured panniers like mine – every local turned to face me but this was nothing unusual, I stopped to pick up some chicken and chips in a roadside takeaway still wondering what I should be worried about until another flurry of questions interrupted my thoughts:
“Hey how far are you going?“…..Lusaka
“On that bicycle?!“……….Yep
“You are brave, be careful in the next town they will take your money there“
The questions are always the same but they‘re completely natural and to me, suggest that most of us have the same curiosities in common – especially the last one “Are you not afraid?“ It seems to me, more than anything – we fear other people and this is the question they are really asking when they say “are you not afraid“.
Still Fear but not of the unknown
Of course I‘m afraid too but I genuinely believe these particular locals concerns are unfounded, amusingly they both have the same to say about the next town when in reality it‘s more likely to do with them just not knowing much about each other (“They‘re cannibals up there“, “They‘re all witches down there“ -fear of the unknown). I don‘t say this assuming I know everything from merely passing through their villages, I say it because I hear it so often and never once has it seemed likely or been evident.
The reason it‘s not evident is because these fears do not really exist in their neighbouring villages but Africa you are not alone, we ask the very same questions in the Western World “Where are you going“, “Why“ and “are you worried about the people in Africa“. Like some of the villagers, I have also judged people before knowing or sometimes ever meeting them. None of my friends were “Goths“ because I was afraid they were strange people, simply put: they wore black which made them “weird“. If someone was “too smart“ they were uncool. The grumpy old man in the corner house was just that, a grumpy old man – instead of sad and lonely.
“Fear isn’t so difficult to understand. After all, weren’t we all frightened as children? Nothing has changed since Little Red Riding Hood faced the big bad wolf. What frightens us today is exactly the same sort of thing that frightened us yesterday. It’s just a different wolf. This fright complex is rooted in every individual.”
― Alfred Hitchcock
What Really Happens?
The constant feeling of uncertainty over the past ten days was not something to worry about but a reminder how much of an adventure this has been. I had trouble dealing with this sort of feeling in the past but now it seems, I have become so used to being on the road, being alone and not knowing what to expect, that any fear I once had of the unknown seems to be fading like the t-shirt I picked up here in a local market. It has been a great relief to feel this way and be able to write about it on my travel blog which is not something I ever expected: repetition of facing the unknown has allowed me to finally start feeling comfortable with it.
It‘s easy to forge opinions of Africa being a dangerous place according to the news and television in general but it‘s even easier to forget that these tragedies are not confined to Africa – similar has happened on our own doorsteps, in the modern age and as every daily tabloid newspaper will confirm, just as often.
From my bicycle, I can confirm that in all the strange places, towns and people I have encountered in Africa – not everybody wants to kill or eat me. It was disappointing to learn “I‘m just not that important“ but then also good to find out first hand, there is no difference in the people here to the rest of the world, they have priorities too and one of them is to mind their own business. How wrong I was to ever consider Africa is dangerous and especially that African people are dangerous or different to where I come from. It took this trip to see it properly in black and white, we are all the same people, same emotions, same needs, same ideas.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO TRAVEL FREELY
There will always be “fear of the unknown“ but the world genuinely seems a much brighter, more interesting place since I somehow managed to embrace the uncertainty. One thing has become clear, the unknown is good – without it we would already know everything, there would be no excitement for better times, no reason to learn, no interest in what may happen, no surprises, no nothing. “EMBRACE IT DEREK, people do not want to harm you, it’s not human nature and it‘s not the unknown you should fear, it is the amount of influence you allow the concept of fear to have on you“. I personally spent too much of my life fearing the unknown and no longer willing to spend any more time doing it, so this post is the real answer to the question “Are you not Afraid?“
In a nutshell – I’m not really afraid anymore because fearing a possible outcome doesn‘t change it. It‘s especially a waste of time fearing someone we know nothing about and given that we are all the same, there has never been, and there will never be, a reason why we should fear the people of Africa.