22.000 kilometres behind me!

‘It’s a celebration!’
The tractor loves rain water!
I wish I could say the same thing, my protective clothes are not holding out all that well and somehow it’s always the underpants that get soaked first. Nice!

It took me over two months to track down an internet connection. Southern Tanzania and Malawi, up to the capital Lilongwe were pretty much impossible on that front (when driving a slow tractor), so I’ll be starting this story back in the past…

Daan, a colleague from theatre school, has been traveling with me for a month. He helped me out filming for my documentary, and by taking pictures.
It’s kind of totally impossible to catch yourself and tractor in one picture when traveling on your own. For example: driving through beautiful landscapes, or cities. And to have a fellow actor and director coming along with you generates a tremendous boost and inspiration, creatively speaking. We had fun, and made good stuff. About which I’m not going to tell you anything, you can go watch it… when the documentary is done. (hehheh that’l take a while yet).
Daan got subsidized by the Internationalsation Fund of the AHK (Amserdamse Hogeschool voor de Kunsten).
Incredible, and I’m very grateful!

So back in time we go:
On his first days Daan gets baptized by fire instantly. Still far removed from the next “big city”, driving through the Tanzanian landscape, lunch in small villages, getting soaked by heavy rains and sleeping out on the plains.

At new year’s eve, we’re both so tired that we go to bed at 9 in the evening. We wake up at 4 at night, we smoke a ‘dutch’ cigar while thinking of friends and family in holland.

In Mbeya, a town in Rift Valley (southern Tanzania) we find our first official camp site, theUtengule Cofee-lodge.
It’s there that we’re being offered to stay over at the estate for a few days (by Francis and Fiona), so we can do some filming in peace and quiet.

1st pic: what is it you see?
A view from the house of Francis & Fiona. Fiona asked: ‘What do you see?
I saw a mountain.
She said: ‘Look again, I’m seeing an elephant’. And lo and behold, I felt like The Little Prince:
– An elephant that looks over the mountain tops (from the front: eyes, a bit of trunk, ears)
– An elephant’s back, moving from left to right, from behind the first mountain tops.

Our last days on the estate, and there’s a swiss woman in the lodge. She’s a world champion in the art of making ‘Coffee-Art’, in other words: creating drawings in coffee-foam.
She creates hearts, edelweiss, the Taj Mahal, and get’s me all teary-eyed by serving me a coffee with a snowman on it. ‘Good luck on your way to the south pole’ she says.
And she tells me about her dream. Ever since she was young she dreams of owning her own coffee house, serving nice coffee, biscuits, cakes.

She realized that dream, for a number of years she ran a succesful business in Zürich. ‘But’ she told me, ‘after a few years this dream of mine started to show some flaws. It had become real, which was good. But the reality of having your own business is basically, that you’re spending most of your time with records, accounts and order sheets’. She missed being behind the counter and the satisfaction of serving good coffee.
She decided to quit her business and go ‘study’ coffee (!?!), and to follow courses in Coffee-Art. And all this with the same enthousiasm and vigour with which she had started the coffee-house. In no time, she was competing in competitions (became world champion), and for a number of years she gives demonstrations and teaches courses…

Even though there aren’t many people who know this, I’ve declared before starting this journey: ‘If there’s one reason to stop doing this, it’ll be the moment I run out of coffee!’
Coffee-freak. Cuppa coffee under the Eiffel Tower. Building a snowman on the south pole, carrying the ‘dreams of the world’ in its tummy, cuppa coffee and home we go.
The coffee bit might sound like a joke, and of course it is.
But it also represents the feeling, the enjoying of the journey.
Something like English people and tea…

Francis and Fiona donate 6 huge gold-coloured bags of coffee for the trip. And a tin of ‘special coffee for antarctica’
Suddenly I appear to be the richest woman in the world, coffeewise… from Rift Valley.

Three months old and she eyes the vet curiously… until she feels the syringe! Biba is having her Rabies-update in Mbeya.

Off we go again, into the rain. Daan brought along a giant sheet of orange plastic, because my tent is still toughly resisting any effort of water-proofing. The plastic turns out to be quite handy against the occasional daytime flood too.
One afternoon Daan, Biba and I are sheltering from the rain behind the tractor. The orange sheet has been pulled from the tent on the back. It won’t stop pouring. Gradually, the road turns into a river, currents and all. We’re knee-high in water. I open the top hatch of the case on the back and put Biba on it. She’s asleep in minutes. I pick up my knitting-work and continue making my southpole-snowman-scarf (yup, getting closer all the time). It’s made with wool from the various countries I’ve passed through, the first colours being a fluorescent yellow and sky-blue. I’d like to add all kind of stuff from diverse countries: masai beads, a shell I picked up from the Dar sea, Lucky beans…

I have made a request to Emmy (a friend and co-designer of this website & artist), wether she would like to sew felt figures onto it, and she said yes. (she makes lovely stuff)
She was on television in a documentary series ‘over mijn lijk’ (over my dead body). I think she’s one of the most inspiring women that I know.

In short: When I was in Ethiopia, I got the message that she has cancer, totally out of the blue. Far too young, too alive, f*cking cancer, what the hell is this…
She’s on her own journey now, the kind nobody is asking for. But she’s making the best of it. She took control of her own life, only doing stuff she enjoys. At the moment she’s going through a rather heavy chemo therapy.
You can read her blog here:


(and there’s good pictures too)

It stopped raining and from under the improvised tent I see kids’ feet. Neighbourhood children are wondering what it is we’re doing out here, hidden under plastic behind a tractor.
Getting from under there and putting away the gear is turning out to be a performance in itself, they laugh at the dog and our bungling. Toot-toot, and we’re off again… One of the boys is wearing a worn out ski suit.

Entering Malawi. Biba on the left mudguard, ears flapping in the wind. As if she can smell a new country, different smells: ‘This is what I wanted all my life, adventure!’. She wiggles her tail. On the right side, Daan, holding a camera. I’m in the middle.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. I’m trying to visualize the extent of poverty here. The countryside itself is many times more ‘rich’ than that of Tanzania and Kenya that I’ve seen, which is telling. A small, long country along the length of ‘Lake Malawi’. Hills and mountains shooting up from the lake toward the borders. Mountains and lake mean an abundance of water, which in turn means furtile soil. Both being a blessing. One can live of this earth. No real need to import foodsuffs.

In various parts of Malawi people grow rice crops. We pass a tea plantation… (local/cooperation or owned by a westerner? don’t know).

So what’s with the poverty, then? Would it be correct to call this a poor country? Pretty soon I find out that there’s no such thing as big cities in Malawi, the first ‘big town’ Karonga turns out to be a village underneath the trees, with a bank.

thought #1: Is a nations’ prosperity measured by its Gross National Product?
If that’s the main factor, it’s easy to understand why Malawi has a pretty low score. No cities, no Industries, a majority of farmers and tiny tiny shops, people selling fish and tomatoes in the street. So is this poverty? I hardly know anything about this country yet, so I’m looking around.

Rubber trees on a rubber plantation. Attached to the trees are receptacles, collecting a white dripping fluid. Local boys are selling balls of white rubber by the side of the road, leftover threads that remain after the process is done. Those balls bounce higher than anything I’ve ever held in my hands before.
Rubber and tobacco are the main export products of Malawi.

Later on,I discover that the nation does have it’s problems, as it was explained to me. The previous president appears to have had the intention of keeping his people dependent (in short). He convinced everyone that working the land would not be viable without the use of pesticides, which are expensive to the common man. people were forced to culture corn and tobacco, and it still shows when you pass the stalls throughout the country. The stalls are almost empty compared to any other country I’ve been (why, in this green country?). Only after about 380 kilometres into the country, it’s possible to purchase anything different from fish, nsima-flour or tomatoes.

Singular Agriculture degenerates the soil, but in their poverty, people are afraid to switch crops. (a bad season can cost you half your family). Furthermore, because it has been inhibited for such a long period, tales of sorcery and witchcraft crop up whenever someone succesfully manages to culture different fruits and vegetables.
The potential of the lake is not being used, for instance for irrigation purposes. Anyone taking a trip down to the lake with a bucket on a daily basis, succesfully irrigating his crop, runs the risk of being rumoured to ‘fertilize his crop with the blood of his children’
As a concequence, there aren’t that many people who dare to chance that. They wait for rain and fail to take control for themselves (a reoccuring issue in most of the countries I pass through).
It’s the cynical westerners that keep telling me that people here are lazy. I try to find better explanations. Religion, for instance. The belief that everything will be alright (rainwise), praying the rain will come this season.
Someone comes with a different intriguing argument: singular nourishment/ a lack of vitamins tends to make people lethargic.
Yeah well, that’s kind of hard to estimate. The goods for sale in the street aren’t necessarily the foods people eat at home (and it’s dead certain that your hosts are bound to make you something special,when your visiting). Sometimes the street food is better than what one might eat at home, but often it’s pretty fast stuff, like fries…

Day in day out one can see people plodding on or next to their bike, which is overloaded with lumber, coal or other cargo. People working the land, all together. It’s Rain season now, so it’s all or nothing, now’s the time for agriculture.
during (European) summer, everything is barren, barren, barren.
In onze (Europeesche) zomer is het hier droog, droog, droog. (and so like our winters, it’s impossible to cultivate anything)

My apologies, a website with short reports isn’t supposed to go on like this, but I can’t seem to help myself.
As a matter of fact, many of the conversations I’m having, with Daan, and the local people (all ‘foreigners’), are attempts at understanding of local situations, the people. Most of these talks turn in something political and/or ‘concerned’.

Opposed to Holland, where it’s custom to talk toward some kind of middle ground, there’s so much going on here that every observation raises more questions, creating new topical discussions again and again. (among people who’ve seen otherwise… It makes you wonder if our way of thinking isn’t better… or would that just be plain arrogance? Daan replied: ‘I keep thinking I’m a filthy rich bastard compared to these poor people, but who am I to define all this as ‘poverty’? I see a lot more smiling people on the street here, than I’ve ever seen in Amsterdam’.)

On a mountain near Livingstonia (yes, founded by ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume’) Daan and I set out to find a giant waterfall. We can’t find it. A local guy volunteers to guide us. It turns into a jungle trek worthy of Livingstone himself. At times I have to pick up Biba because of slippery roads close to steep ravines, or because there’s climbing to be done. After about half an hour of climbing we reach the mega-huge waterfall, and our guy sits down in the grotto behind it.
The picture reminds me of an ancient image: This is one of those places people fled to to get away from slave hunters. Daan asks him ‘So your ancestors were slaves?’ ‘No’ I say, ‘they were the people that got away’.

Okay, this amount of water at once is what causes erosion. The past ten years, Malawi appears to have progressed. But deforestation is a major issue. Wood is for cooking. The exponentially growing population is creating a new problem. The forests on the Malawi hills have been degrading… There’s plenty of green still, a lot, fortunately. But apparently it’s only a fraction of what there used to be.

So I’m telling of all these complicated matters in Malawi and I totally fail to mention the first thing you notice when crossing the border: The people, the incredibly friendly people!
The Malawians might be the kindest folk I’ve encountered on my journey so far. (though I’m still a big fan of the Kenian straightforewardness and sense of humor). On nights when we’re camping in the wild, there’s an atmosphere of peace and calm that’s overwhelmingly relaxed. Malawi is paradise on earth.

At camp sites people approach me: ‘We have been expecting you!’
‘For about a year now…’
Suddenly it dawns on me how ‘the tractor girl story’ has raced out before me. And since my arrival in Malawi, I’m seeing loads of tourists, more than ever before (It’s back-pack heaven).
At Kande Beach (by the lake, something one can’t just skip by)
people jump from bars with open arms: ‘There you are!’
‘Good gracious girl, come here, have a beer!’
They ask questions untill my head starts spinning! These are fun people!

The following morning, worries about Biba begin to occur. She has been vomiting for two days now. At first I just thought she was missing the other dogs from Mzuzu. That she had to adjust to travel, and to making farewells to friends met on the way? This morning I’m watching her and decide to keep an eye on her poop-habits (oh well… things you do when traveling…).
Behind her there’s a tiny puddle of milky transparent goo, with bits of pink in it. Watery diarrhea and blood?
It scares the hell out of me. This is not good!
I’m trying to find the number of a vet in the capital (the Mzuzu vet won’t touch the dog). I send a text message (it’s sunday) explaining the situation, hoping to get an estimate on the gravity of this. She replies telling me to call her back immediately and to keep the vaccination-booklet close to hand.
Within five minutes she’s raging at me. ‘Your dog didn’t get a boost on her Parvo/distemper 5in1 vaccination, I’m practically certain it’s Parvo! If she isn’t put on an IV drip soon, she’ll only live for another few days…’ (subcontext: what kind of dog owner are you?)

Fellow travelers on the road, a lot faster though
A tiny piece of Holland in Mzuzu, Malawi!

My heart skips a beat, I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I stammer. And I’ve been so careful to find out what to do, back in Dar. I don’t want to lose another dog this soon! Biba is a sweatheart. A little Kung Fu fighter when playing with the other (bigger) dogs, following me around wiggling her tail, sleeping at my feet. In no time (and after many phone calls) I’m in a car on my way to Lilongwe, the capital. Together with Daan. He gets it.
Around about half past eight at night we arrive (as we said we would). The vet says she’s tired and wants to go to bed. When we’re getting out of the car she says:’Oh, the dogs looks healthy enough to me’. My knees are about to buckle on me. At first I’m the worst woman on earth for not looking after my dog, I was to come over immediately, and when I’ve arrived (after a four and a half hour ride), it isn’t all that bad. (previously, she thought it ridiculous when I told her Kosovo had the sleeping disease. ‘Whoever told you a dog can contract the sleeping disease?’
I told her Kosovo had died of it.) This wasn’t exactly getting off on the right foot.

‘A dog on a drip’

We enter her practice.
The cab driver joins us. Biba is put on the table. All of a sudden, the vet declares that the dog isn’t doing to well after all. Some of her leg hair is clipped, and in goes the drip. Even though I pity Biba, I have to giggle silently: I got a dog on a drip! But it’s also a bit weird. I can’t help being proud of myself though, to be taking care of this dog, that I’m not sitting on my hands when knowing the signs are serious. My one real fellow traveler. A love on four legs.
The vet explains to us that Biba has Parvo (she can’t do a blood test, but seems to be 99% sure). Parvo is the most serious, lethal disease that a young dog can contract. The drip is very important, she has lost a lot of fluids and needs to overcome the disease by strengthening her resistance, there’s no medicine against it.

We’re leaving for Mabuya Camp with the dog in my lap. At our arrival it turns out the drip needle has moved, biba’s leg starts swelling. I take it out and call the vet. She won’t let me come back, she wants to sleep. I stammer. This is important, I came all the way down here to give Biba the best chances. She sighs and says no, she really needs to sleep. The campsite people sympathize. A human-doctor on holiday says he’ll take a shot with the needle, but it doesn’t work. Everybody is thinking hard and worrying. Nobody understands this vet and the ‘emergency’ situation. But somewhere inside a little voice tells me it might not be all that bad, but that this woman will never ever admit to it.
After three (long) days Biba starts drinking again. The following day she even wants to play with the other dogs, and she’s eating again. We return to the tractor.

Next morning I have my first tractorrace since this journey started. With the man from Kande horses, a tractor-freak who actually had the plan of meeting me on the way while I was travelling South. Unfortunatly on the day he heard I was nearby, his engine broke down.
And also as a first in the history of my tractorjourney (2years and 8months), I actually overtook another tractor! (with my maximum speed of 20 km’s per hour;)

I never before managed to do a similar thing. My tractor turned out to be the sturdiest, but also the slowest tractor in the world. Wherever I traveled, however bad local tractors appeared (engine-blocks on wheels) they allways overtook me! Sometimes I get gestures saying: ‘do you want to trade your tractor for mine?’ And then I would reply, gesturing, ‘Yes, yours is much faster!’ But this allways only brings only laughter. People overtaking me with a big smile, a wave, thumps up.

Daan’s last day has arrived. Tomorrow morning he?s flying back to Holland. But because of Biba?s illness we won?t manage to arrive in Lilongwe. We make the decision to find a touristy camp-site and find Daan a taxi from there. The sign at the side of the road is promising. It even says ?overlanders welcome? (these trucks are always full of big groups of tourists). We follow a dirtroad, the sun is setting. The road seems endlessly long. We?re starting to get nervous. We pay entrance fee to a ?wild parc?. ?What the..??

In the darkness we stand. Between trees on a strech of land that is called campsite. Under the trees a few small and empty huts. Looking at nature around me, I know we can expect ‘some’ wild animals here. This truly is a wild parc. I quickly tie Biba to a leash.

A man in a white pick-up arrives. He introduces himself as the owner, a Greek that has lived here for most his life. He campsite isa coöperation with the local community. A way to preserve the wildlife, and, to generate income for the lcal community.
The man offers Daan a ride, he has to travel to Lilongwe tomorrow morning anyway.
I had just proposed to Daan to make a thermos with coffee and drive all night. ?I?ll drop you of at the airport, no probs!? To me it feels weird to be left alone on this completely deserted campsite. Maybe a bit to lonely for starters..
But. We?re both tired of the long day driving. Daan decides it?s alright this way, he?ll accept the ride. The man opens one of the huts for us. He thinks it?s super to have such a ?special visitor?. Daan finds it super to find out there are lot?s of zebra?s and giraffes all around us.
(until they keep us awake all night, chewing on things, making you shiver to the bones to hear ?wild? so nearby, even though they are ?only? zebra?s. Hum, I just heard they can kill a lion with their hooves..)

A little while later we?re sitting on the open veranda of the hut, beside an oillamp. Eating our ?last supper?. Daan says: ?the man reminds me very much of my grandfather!? Biba?s sleeping peacefully and completely rolled up between us.

Next morning Daan and all his luggage is picked up by the white pick-up of the Greek with his Malawian daughter. I wave a long time.

?Zebra-reindeers? close to the tractor at the deserted camp…
A last interview Daan made…

In the afternoon I sit in front of the hut, on the veranda, bare feet in the sand. I?m knitting the scarf of the snowman on the Antarctics. I see an airplane at the horizon en tell Biba: ?Look, this is how Daan is flying now, also high in the sky.? (she follows my armgesture with her eyes) ?He?s probably already above Kenya. He?s going all the way to the Netherlands, a country you haven?t seen yet. But one day, I?ll take you there. Home. Then I?ll introducé you to my family, to my father and mother. And to Nienke, my little niece of one and a halve years old. She is really sweet and playfull. I?m sure you are going to like her!?
Biba looks at me seriously, her head held sideways. It?s such a theatrical dog, all frowning and understanding. You would think she really understands.

And there we go again, at a snail?s pace.. on our way to the South Pole.

Thanks Daan! It was really nice you came over to help!