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The end of a long journey

Wednesday, September 15th, 2004

RSA July 1984
It was nearly five in the morning and I longed for a cell to sleep in. I managed to convince the chief that I was dead tired and was finally taken to a room upstairs. I had slept for an hour when a fresh-looking cop shook me awake. There had been a shift-change. When did I have to get up?
“After sunrise!” I grumbled.
Half an hour later, the guy was back.
Cops take everything literally. As I stumbled into the cold misty air outside the station, the first rays of the morning sun had just appeared above the clouds. I marvelled at the sight of the mountains, their summits covered with a icing-sugar dusting of snow.
[read on]

A night at the precinct

Monday, September 13th, 2004

RSA July 1984
After about a week in Jo’burg I felt alright and ready to continue. It was difficult to find a spot to hitchhike, the highways leading out of town were dangerous.
[read on]

Dying of Embarrassment

Sunday, September 12th, 2004

RSA July 1984
This is perhaps the closest I have come to spending a night in hell. The story is written from memory (my mother never got to know about it) so my recall of the exact locations, names and even the memory of malaria are hazy, but that night is one I won’t forget in a hurry.

I was in a ratty mood. Feeling weak made me cranky. After three quarters of an hour by the side of a hot, dusty road somewhere in Gaborone, I had barely enough strengh left to hold out my thumb. I admitted to myself that I was in a pickle. My thirst for freedom and adventure had been quenched for the moment.
[read on]

Scout Camp

Saturday, September 11th, 2004

Botswana, July 1984
Lusaka was expensive and I soon hit the road again, heading via the Victoria Falls and Zimbabwe (you guessed it, the notes are lost) into Botswana. Hitchiking wasn’t easy here as most vehicles were full to bursting point. I stood in the sweltering heat and watched cars and pick-ups rush past, the drivers signalling that they were full or were local.
[read on]

Visiting a Friend

Thursday, September 9th, 2004

Zambia, July 1984
The journey into the heart of Zambia was completed in another train which waited for us a short way from the border. I shared a compartment with three cheerful Zambians and a man from Zaïre. One of the Zambians spoke French. His mother had been from Zaïre and he had studied there. His other two friends, Aziza and “Fantax” were magicians. Aziza showed me a tiny snake he kept in a cardboard box and Fantax performed a coin-trick: rubbing a coin several times then pressing it against my forearm whereupon it disappeared. “You’ll see,” he said: “in two hours time your arm will start to scratch. If not in two hours, then in four or six — or maybe tomorrow. Then you’ll shake your hand and the coin will fall out!”
Before they disemarked, Aziza magicked the coin back. It did not erupt from my skin, rather he put his hat on my head, ran his hands around it and proffered it in his outstretched fist.
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Wednesday, September 8th, 2004

TAZARA, July 1984
A brief, firm handshake, a heart-felt goodbye and I left Hamed and friends behind. Yet again I experienced this weird turmoil of emotions–choking yet prickly anticipatory–I get when leaving a place and embarking on a new adventure. I had been in Tanzania for 50 days and had grown to love the country and its uncanny friendly people (well, most of them). I had already resolved to return one day.
[read on]

Winding up Business in Dar

Tuesday, September 7th, 2004

Tanzania, July 1984
We landed directly on the beach at Bagamoyo. Perhaps the ship was operated by smugglers.
In the past Bagamoyo, roughly translated as “here I leave my heart behind”, was a harbour from where the Arabs shipped slaves to Zanzibar and Oman.Now it is a gloomy little town with nothing to see. Along with the rest of the passengers, I resolved to get back to Dar immediately. We managed to hire a small van. It wasn’t cheap, prices varied from 60-130 sh each, but I wasn’t left behind when I offered 50.
[read on]

Paradise Island

Monday, September 6th, 2004

Zanzibar, June 1984
Riek and I took a bus to explore the interior of the island. We trundled past coconut groves, banana plantations and green fields of yams, manioc and sugar cane. Big breadfruit trees grew by the roadside. A plethora of tropical fruits and spices are grown on Zanzibar, many brought from Indonesia by missionaires. The cloves for which the island is famous filled the air with their scent
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Id al-Fitr on the Spice Island

Sunday, September 5th, 2004

Tanzania, June 1984
The Indian owner of the ship was a scoundrel who had hopelessly overloaded the vessel. At least he too had been on board. He refunded the price of the tickets and hopefully resolved to be a better person in future. I guess it is too much to hope that he compensated the crew that had saved his life, clad in rags.
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Peril at Sea

Thursday, September 2nd, 2004

(a shorter, edited version of this has appeared as a Boots story)

Tanzania, June 1984
I awoke to the gentle flapping of my tent plane and the rolling of waves on the beach. Still groggy I crawled out onto the sand. The previous evening had been long as I finally met other travellers to talk to. We sat around a crakling campfire until the small hours, smoking a joint rolled from the entire page of a newspaper. It was the biggest reefer I have ever seen, but the grass was rough.
We were joined by an Irish overland group on their way to Kenya. It was the first happy group I had encountered, they sat together all evening talking and laughing.
[read on]