Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Saying goodbye to paradise

Carlos left yesterday.
We spent his last 4 days in Africa together as luckily he missed his flight home on Friday. Convincing himself that his flight was at 3.45 pm rather than 2.15 , he came to work with me at Kenyatta hospital on Fri am. When he finally arrived at the airport at 2 pm, his flight had left and there was nothing left to do but stay with me 4 more days.
I am reminded of a book called "a woman's world", edited by the great Irish travel writer Dervila Murphy, who wrote about the relationships women encounter when they travel alone on their journey.
First of all, women share relationships with local women due to common bonds of children, and family. Often I been invited to a family home by a woman in a shared taxi or in the back of a horse drawn cart. Passing through markets, I brush arms with other women looking for the best deal on clothes or vegetables.
An invite from a woman is less threatening and for the most part, I accept as I get a rare glimpse into the household of a local family. Usually I offer to cook, but I am often ushered into a reception room as a guest and not allowed to help. I haven't a clue how to cook Ugali or chapati anyway and would make a mess.
Then there are the relationships with children. This I love most of all.
Today, I spent the morning in a Special Unit for children with intellectual disabilities in Nairobi. I was touched by one affectionate child, who hugged me every few minutes, proclaiming I was his new rafiki (friend) and when snack time came around, he shared every bite of food he had with me. First mandazi (donut), then chapati... he wasn't the only one. Every child in the room naturally shared their food with the child sitting beside him.
I couldn't help comparing them to the spoilt brats I have worked with in the past, who have tantrums when asked to share their toys.
As for the relationships with men, these are the most complicated for women travelling alone. Often I find though, men in otherwise hostile terrain, view a lone western woman as vulnerable and go out of their way to assist and help in a rather macho but welcoming manner. In Pakistan I have experienced a barrage of questions about why my father or brother allow me to travel in such a manner but usually this is accompanied by an invite to their home to meet their wives or children. Women in Pakistan are usually accompanied by males even to the market and are never out alone.
There are always unwanted advances as one would encounter at home. Travel has taught me to be alert and friendly where ever possible as even a hostile situation can be defused with patience and compassion. If someone says "hello", I reply, even if he wants me to buy a pair of socks I don't need or an expensive Dhow trip that I cant afford. Friendliness doesn't cost anything and creates a better atmosphere when travelling alone. Plus you can glean very useful information about the region with a quick exchange on the side of a street, information you will not find in any "Lonely Planet"
The worst thing about travel is the goodbyes. I have had more intense 4 or 9 day relationships than 9 year relationships. Days spent with travel buddies amount to weeks or months at home as we fit our friends and family in at weekends and around busy schedules. You can get to know someone very well on the back of a 10 hour bus, bumping along unpaved roads, with a chicken on your lap, laughing or enduring loss or theft as is the case in Africa also.
Everything is intensified and maybe thats why I travel so much. I need to intensify my life, to put a frame around my life and say this is it. I only get one chance and I am going to enjoy all of it.
The goodbyes are still hard but I have learned to mellow with travel. I have learned that you must let people go and not hold on to them.
So as the swans come to drink at your palm, they must also be allowed to fly away again (woman's world ref)
You say goodbye often and hello even more times. Eventually it balances itself out and the result is an interesting mix of friends from all over the world, many on facebook.
Hello to all of you I have met on the road
till we meet again...
As for you women out there who comment that you would love to travel as I do but do not have the courage to travel, its 2010 afterall. Decades of feminism and still I hear this.
Would you ever hear a man say " I dont have the courage to do x, y or z". Rather "I want to go to x,y or z, what is the best way..."
Get off the couch girls, take out the lonely planet, rucksack, antimalarials and get travelling. Escape the recession!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hotel Cliff beach villas

Well just returned from paradise, Zanzibar island, where I spent 12 amazing days. Most days were spent on the beach rusting my skin as Kenyan children would say. I rusted so much, I turned pink, then purple patches and now parts of me are white again.

I headed to Zanzibar alone on the 18th as I couldn't wait for the other volunteers who were traveling overland ooch on the 22nd. I flew with fly540 only to be greeted by customs who insisted that Irish citizens should pay 100 dollars for the visa. I didn't have such currency on me so luckily a chap from the dive centre at Kendwa beach helped me out. I still made a scene if only for the drama of it. I do like confrontations

I met Jose Carlos, a Spanish beach boy, on my second day. Like the local beach boys, he spent his days hanging out, chatting, laughing and making sure he had a good time.

Me alegre que verte Carlos. Hasta pronto en Nairobi

I have been practising my Spanish ever since. Swahili is taking longer

Christmas eve and day were spent on the beach and nights in Kendwa rocks and Sunset dancing till 3. How the locals dance here. Dancing just for the pure enjoyment of it. No self consious behaviour. Pure rhythm and lots of practice.

Beach boys work out on the beach everyday. Some of them are bursting out of their own bodies in muscle. Its too much for my delicate sensibilities. Little hassle here, a welcome relief from the constant hussle and hastle of Nairobi

Then it was time to leave for Tiwi beach, Kenya
Thats where we checked into Cliff Beach villas and then the drama really began
I managed to get bitten by a stone fish on the first night followed by bed bugs on the second night! Great way to ring in the new year!

I also discovered that I left some of my clothes in Zanzibar, only my favourite ones of course. A fiasco with the laundry in Malindi guesthouse, Stonetown caused this as well as my own carelessness when rushed and under pressure to move.

Its very difficult to rush when one has turned into a beach girl not that I was ever known for my punctuality

Here is a poem written by the hilarious Racheal Tuckley, a VSO volunteer, about our 4 day New Years experience at Cliff beach villas:

Hotel Cant Afford Ya

On a long matatu highway,
hot wind in my hair
Warm smell of old tilapia
up through the air
At the end of a long bumpy road,
I finally saw lightsI was looking forward to chilling out,
We were due to stay 4 nights

There we stood in the doorway;
We heard warning bells,
We were thinking to ourselves,
This could be heaven or this could be hell
She asked for my valuables and,
told us her family way,
Don’t you trust me, she said,
and we thought…It’s only for a few days…

Welcome to the hotel cliff beach villa
Such a dodgy place
Such a potential space
Plenty of scope at the hotel cliff beach villa
But you can’t be cool - no water in the pool

Her mind seems definitely twisted,
has she got the paranoid bends?
She got a few masaai and askari boys,
weirdly don’t wanna be friends
How we laid in our bedrooms,
trying not to sweat.
Most days to remember,
every night to forget

So we talked to the captain,
she said, ‘I don’t want to shout…
Please don’t bad mouth me…
I should have thrown you all out’
How does she hear our talking from so so far away???
Flooding wakes you up in the middle of the night
How much longer shall we stay?

Welcome to the hotel cliff beach villa
Over-priced food
Will put you in a mood
Breaking into your room at the hotel cliff beach villa
What a nice surprise,
if your towel arrives

No water in the toilet,
No champagne, or ice,
And we thought we are all just visitors here,
of our own device
And in various mattresses
Bed bugs gathered for a feast,
We don’t know who last slept in these beds,
Maybe they were deceased?!!!

Last thing I remember,
we were Squirming to our cab
And trying to negotiate fairly
Without feeling too
We destroyed our financial details…
And she shouted as we leave…
“Please don’t destroy my property”…
and“Were you talking about me?”

Now I'm relaxing in another paradise.
How much fun can one woman have?

Donkeys are the mode of trasnport here.
I walk to the beach everyday, passing a maze of narrow streets, lined with pink flowers and coral stones. Kids yell out "jambo, jambo" beach boys "do you want a boat ride" or :wannw ride a donkey today?No hastle if you dont want anything. I walk right on by.

Ninjas warriors and Massai watch me stroll the streets,
wondering where I have come from and how much money I have

I feel slightly underdressed when walking alongside muslim women in their black veils or Bui Bui

So thats all the news of Christmas.
I hope you all had a wonderful time and hope to see you soon.
My friends are in my thoughts as always