Seven Days of Zim…

I say hi to miners and diamond traders in Manica, Mozambique. (much of it being smuggled, I see libanese and israelis sitting round a table, colleagues, friends ;)

I arrive at the border with my first few words of Shona. ‘Makadini’,I ask the woman who checks my passport and I expect her reply to be ‘Tilibo’ (which is like Tilibwino in Malawi).
But she says ‘Tinofara’. So much for my act. ‘excuse me, what does that mean?’
‘I’m happy’ (big smile)

So that’s how I enter Zimbabwe, with a huge smile. Things are getting quite late with all the banter going on, but before I get a chance to worry about a place to sleep, a car pulls up behind me.
An elderly man gets out of it, carrying a walking-stick. A dutchman who has lived here his whole life. He invites me to come over to his house. So that’s how I get to stay with 80 year old Klaas des Tombes, in the Bvomba mountains. We spend the evening in a classical living room. On the floor next to me is a tiger-rug (from his ‘indonesian period’), in front of me a ball of wool and the dog… And in a lazy chair, legs up, is Klaas (or charles), walking-stick within reach. We’re watching a television screen. Pretty sharp discussions, ‘de wereld draait door’ (the world keeps spinning/goes crazy). you could say that.

For Two days, Charles guides me around the Bvomba mountains. My first Zim experiences are breathtaking. Nature, the mountains, the people. A first introduction to all the beauty, it appears. I have coffee at ‘Tony’s’, the worlds best coffee house, with the best cakes. Tony has just moved to a new location, in the proximity of a restaurant. There’s not a lot of business because few people visit Zimbabwe at the moment. But at least we’re not the only customers.

At Tony’s we get invited for coffee by a happy and energetic Zimbabwan, who believes that Zimbabwe has tremendous potential, and that there need not be obstacles for growth. ‘No need to wait for political change, we might as well just start building right here right now’. His enthousiasm is contageous, his words make me curious. So I’m happy to accept his invitation for lunch, next day. Klaas has to come too. He’s a bit doubtful, but accepts nontheless, which makes our host very happy.
The following day I’m at a remote farm. It’s getting dark and outside there’s a coal fire with a pan in it. Very old-fashioned. I’m sitting at a table with a man, a woman and their son, eating avocado and bread. There’s no electricity and they have to leave the farm in six weeks. They don’t even have money to pay the bus fare to the border.

I’m driving my green tractor through the fields, heading for Harare. I wave at fellow tractor drivers. The police doesn’t stop me, which normally happened in every country I’ve been through so far, mostly out of curiosity. Here there’s just friendly waving. An army truck takes me over, a guy almost falls out of his window. Sticks up his thumb and keeps shaking his arm.

I set up camp at a dishevelled camp site. It’s the bar that makes the money now. It looks quite shabby, except for the cars parked in front. Nice new cars and young men and women.

The following day I’m literally Halfway. ‘Halfway’ is a restaurant/vegetable-/antique-/butcher-shop and hotel in a beautful white building. Everywhere I come and stop over I talk to people. Here I fall from one conversation into the next. I’m being offered green apples for under way, and a wonderful room for the night. This country needs tourists badly. It’s beautiful and the people are really nice!

…including the homeless. On the outskirts of Harare I make camp at a camp site that no longer has a proprietor. It’s like camping in the middle of Central Parc. Not very nice. So I’m happy when three homeless white men (a pretty rare sight on this continent) offer to look after me. I’m cooking.

Harare, world city.
I drove into city centre this morning. I parked the tractor in front of the ‘Herald’ paper building. 90 minutes later I’m saying goodbye. People hanging out of windows, at least 50 people at the door. ‘Are you married?’ a man asks. ‘No, I’m commited to the tractor’, I joke. He walks away in a manner that says: ‘mad as a hatter’, but within minutes he’s back and wants to know more.

That’s all for now. I won’t be able to write much. I’m not expecting to find a lot of internet around here. Everyone I’ve talked to seems to agree on one thing: They all wish things would get better. That things change, that the country can be rebuilt. There’s a lot of hope here. Hope for a chance.


I’m a millionaire!!!!!!!
Who would’ve ever thought…?

Right people, I’m about to enter Zimbabwe, the wind and the support of many people in my back. Everyone keeps saying I should just do it. And so I decided to follow their advice!
It’s a beautiful country, its people are special and friendly, I can’t just go and skip it. I’ve been looking forward to it and now it’s going to happen! yippee! I’ll be going by the best coffee house in the world toward Harare, the capital, and the national newspaper, ‘the Herald’.

you’ll be hearing from me!


The first part of Mozambique is practically uninhabited. On both sides of the road, the bushes have grown so big that it’s impossible to pass through, even on foot (above pic shows one of the few sidetracks).
Not that anyone would want to leave the road here, there’s landmines everywhere! I’m passing through the Tete-corridor. There has been a 30 year war here (up until the 90’s!). In many ways, Mozambique is undiscovered territory. I met a biologist in Blantyre who discovers new species of butterfly by the month. And as I drive around I keep thinking: ‘Good to have the rats here (see the rat de-mining training piece and’
I’m watching the tractor that is aiding the de-mining process. Heavily armed, it attacks the bush. (I’m silently thankful for the existence of these kinds of projects).

My first night I set up camp close to the main road, at a truck stop, along a gravel parking strip. It’s as far as I dare to venture away from the road. Fortunately, the tractor is parked just out of sight behind a tree. When I want to get off the tractor, carrying biba in my arms, my heart jumps. Ahead of me there’s something in the dirt that suspiciously resembles a puffadder!
I climb back up, park the dog in its basket, ignite the headlights and back up the tractorp a few metres. The curled up bundle on the ground doesn’t move. So I look again, and again. It turns out to be a mega-turd! Obviously made by someone in dire need of a toilet!

People in the far north of Mozambique are huddled together in small villages that look as if hewn out bush. In huts made of clay, wood and grass. They look very similar to the refugee camps in the North of Uganda.

Gradually, the world around me becomes more ‘inhabited’, with touches of stone, iron and paint.

Tete City is like an island in this world of rough nature. The river Zambezi, that runs through the town, is a phenomenon in the desert, and it seems to me that it’s the biggest river I’ve ever seen. Biba and I are looking around inamazement as we’re crossing the river (seemingly forever) over the bridge.

I have only about 3 euros of Mozambique currency on me, and I intend to make it on that till I reach the next big stop, 443 km ahead. I’m not filling up on diesel because I need to figure out exactly how far one tank will get me (the reserve jerrycans are topped up tho). It would be bad to overestimate my ‘range’, once I enter Zimbabwe, with its possible Diesel shortages.
So I only stop by a gas station to ‘browse’. Mozambique is a former portuguese co;ony and I’ve been told that this stop has
all kinds of special stuff. There’s frozen ham, squid, european delicacies. I decide to leave it at browsing. Though I do order a cup of coffee, consuming it standing up. For a moment I imagine myself in Europe, in a gas station along the highway. It’s a nice feeling. As if I were at home for a moment!

Again I mount the tractor, stroke the dog and return to the road, back to savage nature. It’s a stupendous contrast. It’s like a sting, because of my wealth, my being a westerner. But I’m not quite ready to trade in these people for the europeans, these people are very real, charming, open, down to earth…

My tractor can run for 700 clicks on a 90 litre tank. I’m pretty proud on the old hunk of junk as I enter Chimoio, one week later.
Chimoio is a town built in ancient colonial Portuguese Architecture. What they say is true, Mozambique is quite incomparable to other countries.
When I’m at the ?Pink Papaya guesthouse?, I’m educated about Biba’s ‘roots’. I already knew that these authenticly african dogs (they look about the same wherever you go) have been given a pedigree-name in England. Biba is an ?African hunting dog?.
As the name implies, they’re mainly being used for hunting by the locals (though they’re mostly laying down, scattered on the streets, like they were stray dogs). Now I’m being told that the dogs’ ancestry goes all the way back to ancient egypt and the time of the pharaos. I look at Biba, look at the ears that transform from floppy to straight-up giga ears while driving in the wind, and I think… true!

My Biba is an ?African Hunting dog?! … of pharaoish ancestry. Cool!
Hmm. Or is it just Jackal lineage? She kinda resembles a small jackal. But she warms hearts whereever she goes. ?She?s so cute!? ?Look at her ears!? ?I wish my legs were slim like her?s!’

And one last dessert. Close to Chimoio, there’s this mountain. The elephant mountain must have ran off with my imagination.
Until later, when I find out that the locals call it the ‘laying man’ too. Kinda pharaoish too, don’t you think?

The Hunger Project

There’s more and more little markets and bustle the closer I get to central Malawi. But it’s still possible to camp in the wild peacefully.
(pic: Behind the woman with the tray of beans: a restaurant where I’ve eaten one afternoon. It’s a happy fuss and women and children all crowd around to hear me speak my first words of Chechewa. They love it. I learned the words ‘good day’ and ‘thank you’ in Chechewa, the most common language here.

‘Muri bwangi?’ (Hello, how are you?)
‘Tili bwino, kaino?’ (Fine, how are you?)
‘Tili bwino!’ (fine!)
‘Zikomo.’ (thanks)
‘Zikomo kwambiri.’ (thank you very much)

It’s a mouthful, but it becomes a habit within days. I’m comparing the malawi words to portuguese (Not that I’m very good at THAT, but it’s the language people speak in neighbouring country Mozambique) and to the kiswahili of Kenia/Tanzania. That sort of works.
In swahili one would call an elderly man or lady ‘Chikamo’. Meaning something like: ‘I kiss the soil on which you walk’, and the answer would be: ‘Maraba’ (well okay then, but hurry up).
These words were introduced by slave traders, their literal meaning have faded to the background now. Whenever I would greet an elderly lady or gentleman in that manner, the answer would be a bright smile and a stretched ma-ra-baaa. I think that Chikamo (Swahili) and Zikomo (Chechewa) have corresponding origins. ‘I kiss the soil on which you walk’ can be applied as either a greeting and a thank you, I reason.
Interesting, analyzing these languages.

I set up my tent at ‘Mabuyo-camp’, a super nice spot near the city. Its English owners are on a trip to England, apparently they’re getting married. Floris and Marieke, two dutch travelers are taking care of the campsite for the time being. They move around in a big truck together with their dogs, Bo and Ducko. Staying in one spot and managing a campsite is a totally new experience to them. It is an opportunity to remain in one place for a longer period for once and make some money. Pretty soon it turns out that the English couldn’t have wished for better caretakers. The camp is cosy and well-run, Floris and Marieke work days and nights, with a smile on their face.
There’s a lot of stuff to take care of in Lilongwe. I need to replace the charger to my laptop, the dog needs more shots and I need to have lots of contact with home base, back in the Netherlands.

Floris, Marieke, Biba and me visit the vet. They’re worried about Bo, which has been acting very quiet and retreated lately. The vet says she can’t do a blood test, so basically it comes down to guessing what’s wrong. She gives Bo a shot against tick fever.
I’m having a bad feeling about this, I don’t know why. At night, Bo comes over to get stroked, after which he lies down in a corner.
A couple of days after that, something happens that throws the three of us off schedule. Marieke gets the message from her mother in Holland, saying that her grandmother has passed away. Their travel insurance will pay for their return, so they can attend to the funeral. But the next day the vet runs a blood test (arranged through a GP), and discovers that Bo has the sleeping disease! Floris wants to stay on in Malawi, looking after Bo. I offer to mind the dog, so they can fly to Holland together and visit their families. They’ve been on the road in Africa for over a year, and I seem to have some leftover nursing needs brought up by the Kosovo situation. And so it happens that I stay on for a few days longer. They are days of value.

Biba made friends with one of the English couples’ dogs: Dash (adopted when still a pup, a starved young dog, sitting on the dashboard of the local liquor store truck). The both of them behave like Kung-Fu masters when playing, everybody at the camp enjoys watching them play.
At night they sleep side by side, occupying the couch in total exhaustion. I’m looking after Bo and Ducko in the truck, worrying about the exhausted big black dog. The day after Floris and Mariekes departure Bo gets his medication, and I have to report back to them while they’re away. I’m very relieved to bring good news on a daily basis! Relieved to see the dog getting better, looking brighter every day. Ducko refuses to sleep in the truck at night, slightly envious of all the attention payed to Bo.
So at night I walk him around the camp on a leash (which makes him proud as hell), before going to sleep.
After those days I return to the road, when Floris, Marieke and the English managers of the camp site have returned and Bo is back on his feet wandering around the camp. I’ve met very special people and have had interesting conversations. Now I’m off to Blantyre and ‘The Hunger Project’.

Billboards by the side of the road. Initially the second one really appealed to me. It looks locally made and says; ‘Aids is real. It’s not witchcraft. Always use a condom and live.’ But on second thought, I’m wondering why it’s done in English. Okay, English is taught here as the second language, but most people here mainly speak the local language. It implies that the message conveys a western opinion, instead of a local reality.

I get comments about the fact that most images the west gets to see are about Africa, are pictures of straw huts and wilderness. It’s is a rather skewed and incomplete view, I agree. So here’s a day-to-day photo: Out for groceries in a village, by the side of the main road (Despite the fact that North Malawi doesn’t really have a lot of these kind of places, that there’s barely any motorized transport, that there’s not a lot of urbanisation. But that is something I experience as a slow traveler. To a ‘wealthy’ tourist in a car, the next city is only 400 clicks ahead).

When I reach Blantyre, I go off looking for the head office of ‘The Hunger Project’. I meet Rowland Kaotcha, its Malawi manager. In front of him on his desk is my book (looking at pictures: it hasn’t been translated to English) and in no time we’re discussing the goals of the organisation, and mine.
We’re pretty much about the same thing. The Hunger Project is about “empowerment’, about letting people develop their own outlook (developing dreams), and about ‘doing’! They only come when invited by a town or a community. They (in cooperation with local experts) councel people in finding ways of ending their hunger problem. They provide micro-credit, teach people to read and write, among other things. But the basic principle is the most important (that’s why I thought it so exciting to get here: this basic principle is what I consider a practical form of aid, so I needed to see if it was really being implemented!).

The basic principle of the Hunger Project is to have people build something for themselves, to guide them through every step of this path to independance. It starts out with the step of a mentality change. A lot of people reason that this (poverty, trouble) is how they were born and raised, so that it inevitably is going to be that way forever. I know of now other examples around here. One is either rich or poor, and those extremes live at planets far removed.
The poor one is easily pressed into a dependant role, begging.
There are many charities in Malawi, the ‘green paradise, warm heart of Africa’, that donate food, dig pumps etc. But that does not bring on changes, often it creates just another form of dependancy or worse. ‘We had a bad harvest, give us food!’
When a pump breaks, they request a new one from a different organisation. It’s a lengthy procedure, but repair is a heavy burden on community funds, so why not just order a ‘free’ new one? Possibly setting back that particular charity for thousands of dollars. Poverty hasn’t been solved and charities will be needed forever.

Rowland Kaotcha and his collegues intend to convince people that there are other ways of doing things, and by now there are more than enough of practical examples to start up such a process. Even though often the beginning is rough. He tells me he recently had a consulting visit with a (new) community.
They had mapped out the situation, had motivated people to change their predicament (a food shortage). People agreed to get to work, picked a date for a follow-up meeting and a plan of action.
When he returned to this village however, nobody bothered to attend the meeting. One day after his last visit, a different charity had passed through the village, informed themselves of the local situation, and sent for bags of ‘food-aid’. He was told that the Hunger Project was no longer needed, since food had arrived. Rowland Kaotcha made an assessment of how long the food-aid would last that community, and returned there after some weeks, when the situation was just as dire as before.
He said: Do you really want to be this depending, or are you finally prepared to alter your circumstances?’
The message started to sink in. A poor man lives day by day, sometimes it’s neccesary to look a bit further than that.

Foto 1: Near Zomba, in the village of Jali, one of the The Hunger Project developments.
Foto 2: Local women pick up womens’ condoms at an Epicenter.

A development starts with the wish of a community.
Together they build an ‘Epicenter’, a community center.
It’s in there that people are trained, are taught to read and write. Novel agricultural techniques can be experimented with on community turf and, when succesful, be implemented on individual farms. The building gets to have a community bank for micro-credit financing and/or savings, a small library, childcare facilities, a community space for meetings that can be rented out when not in use (the day I’m there, its rented out to the local churches’ womens’ group). And there’s a food bank.
Farmers can buy furtilizers at the project and pay with the first bags of their harvest. Those harvests end up in the food bank and are returned to the community whenever shortages occur.
I see food stores for every month of the coming 6 months and a new harvest is coming, the rain season is almost over.
This is the way the organisation helps out: a bit of local fututre planning, the kind that people here find difficult to do.

Water pump, lady of pigs…

The water pump, made possible by THP (sorry, by the local people, just like the epicenter, the basic materials like stone and clay), came with spare parts, and several people in the village learned how to repair it.

In several villages women are educated to become midwives, so pregnant women don’t need to walk 20 clicks to the next medical post, avoiding many deaths of mothers and children!

And then there’s the story of the woman on the right-hand picture above. I was taken to this local woman. I suspected there’d be good story here (why else would we go there?), but I didn’t expect the spontaneous flood of tears running down my face after she was through. After all these stories and thoughts of the kind:’Well this could be handled in an easier, better way’, but never actually seeing any exceptions, this was a big surprise. She looked at me with amazement. ‘why are you crying?’
I said: ‘Wow, it’s so beautiful, showing the possibilities, showing that all you need to do is… do’. ‘yes” she said, putting an arm around my shoulder, ‘all you have to do is… do’!

She picked up a notebook, in which she had written down her story, not wanting to forget the details. Then she told in detail about her life before the development began. How THP enabled her to learn to read and write (there’s a certain pride there: not just her children, but she, a mother was given a chance, was inspired, something to be passed on to her children!).
She read out loud about how she tried to set up a project twice, through THP and micro-credit financing. How it failed both times. How she decided to try it one more time… She was given three pigs, and the assignment to care for them for 8 months.
(Which, all considered, is a pretty tough job. The need to feed them all this food, every day, might very well spawn the idea that maybe eating the pigs is a much better option. But she didn’t.) She took care of the pigs. Within eight months, 3 pigs had turned into 28 pigs. Now, only three years later, she has sold 80 pigs. There’s not a lot of good meat around, especially pork, and her pigs are huge compared to european standards.
Her hut has now been replaced with a stone house. She has television and a satelite dish.
And (!!!!!) she is taking care of 60 local orphans. That’s the point I started crying. She isn’t just taking care of herself, but also cares for the community. It’s obvious that she’s an inspiration to her surroundings, gentle, down to earth, smiling.
Female power and effort! And, something I was happy to see (because it’s often otherwise with strong women), she has a husband. Who is proud of her (not just a drunk, a macho-machoman…). And she has savings.
As I drove off (no need to tell my story here), I noticed her looking, smiling, slightly thoughtful. I wouldn’t be surprised to find her driving a tractor in a year or two.

‘ That’s a way to do it!’

A German tradition I’d never heard of before. Sprung from medieaval times, from the guilds. In order to become a master, one had to leave ones home and travel for three years, going abroad, picking up knowledge and experience. Only after that one would be able to join the guild.

I encounter two young travelers dressed intraditional clothing (apparently, it’s to be found all over Germany: no orange coveralls but traditional clothing on construction workers, very nicely made out of canvas or corduroy). The first one is a bricklayer (grey suit), the other one is a carpenter (black outfit).
They started their world tour three years ago, carrying only these clothes, and a 5 euro budget!
Now they are in the south of Malawi, having been practically everywhere on this planet. They tell me that not all craftsmen in Germany venture off like this, but that at least 10.000 of their colleagues are doing the same thing right now. They offer their professional skills for means to travel on.
Wow. Another thing I didn’t know.
It’s really special, also because these are pretty ordinary construction guys who get flung into the wide world, just like that. Everywhere they went they were offered a permanent job, but one of them really looks forward to his return to Germany, the day after tomorrow (thankful he might be for his experiences, though). It kinda massages your mindset about your purpose in life. I’m pretty convinced I want to be working close to a coast somewhere, in future.

I’m already on my way to Zimbabwe, through Mozambique, where I’ll be waiting for the Zimbabwe election results.
Back in Blantyre, Michel (truck driver and mechanic) offers me the opportunity to come by his workshop to have the tractor overhauled. This is where he and his colleague from Zimbabwe are going to teach me the final stages of tractor maintenance!
For a moment I feel like a little old grandma, clutching her handbag:’well I just thought let’s take the poor creature out for a walk for a bit. All it needs is a sip of diesel on occasion, innit?’
But afterward I’m aware that I’m a lot more familiar with the tractor and its workings.

It’s quite simple, actually. The filters are being replaced. And so I find out what’s wrong with the Diesel I tanked recently (the engine started dying on me again and again, for the first time. quite scary). Instead of kerosene, the diesel contains frying fat from a dirty jerrycan! Fat lumps of fat clog the filter. I’m advised to have the filter system changed, making the whole thing a lot simpeler. The fuel now runs through three filters, directly from the tank, before it reaches the engine (instead of a filter switching system). The first 2 filters (that get the dirtiest) have draining taps now, and I’m carrying spare filters. They also replace the V-belt, about time. The old one can come as a spare. Everything is greased again, and my left front wheel that has come slightly loose is being cleaned and readjusted. Now I’m ready for a couple of possibly rough months in Zimbabwe…

Welcome to Africa!

Tomorrow I’ll be crossing the border.
Into Mozambique.
Toward the Tete-corridor…
And the bush.