I’m not an expert on Africa but whilst I was there for a couple of months travelling from Nairobbery (as my taxi driver affectionately called it when he picked me up from the airport “Thomaaaas, welcome to Nairobbery, trust no-one” and then he drove me to my hotel with his head out of the window because the windscreen was too cracked to see through) to Cape Town I did learn a thing or five about what useful things to bring with you…
Yep, you read it right, I said boobies. Otherwise known as tits, jugs, breasts, bouncallies (as my friend Fre$h J calls them) or melons, these things proved to be terribly useful on more than one occasion – and I suggest you bring some.
If you don’t own any yourself, or if you’d rather not use them as a bargaining tool, then bring along some lads mags that are full of them – such as Nuts Magazine, Zoo Magazine, FHM, Loaded, Maxim, etc.
Just in case you were unfamiliar with what boobs were, see above.
Why? Because the gents manning border controls love them. During my two and a half month trip we got stopped at a border patrol on the middle of nowhere when the ford-like pit that had once contained foot and mouth disinfectant for you to drive through had run dry. We were told that we’d have to wait up to 4 hours (in Africa this translates to more like 7 hours to a day) for replacement disinfectant before we could pass.
Fortunately, perhaps with boobs on the mind, the driver grabbed some of the lads mags from the back of the truck and gave then to the boob hungry guys manning the border control. Moments later, our truck was plucked out of a line and ushered through the border and we were soon on our way. Coincidence perhaps? I doubt it.
2) Pencils & Paper.
Anytime and anywhere that you stop along your route, no matter how remote and desolate, you’ll soon be surrounded by local kids that saw you coming. Sometimes they’re just interested in who you are and what you’re doing, and sometimes they ask for (or demand) money, clothes and more. If you give them money, like I’ve seen and heard lots of Americans do, then it’s likely that it’ll get spent on Africa’s favourite drink: Coca Cola (which was frequently cheaper than bottled water, I kid you not) and hence leading to problems with their teeth.
Kids playing up to the camera at the side of the road.
Rather than money, give them a pencil and a few sheets of paper (which you’ll have brought with you after reading this post) and tell them to take it home and practice their English. You could sit with them there and then and teach them something by writing a sentence such as “Hello, I’m Tom. You should read the Bloggiest Bloggy Blog, it’s really bloggy. No really, it’s so bloggy it’ll make your eyes bleed” on the paper and getting them to copy it. Kids in Africa aren’t like many of the kids in England as they actually want to learn, rather than watching Cartoon Network or making paper aeroplanes like English ones do.
In fact, I even traded pencils for items at market stalls owned by parents. Alternatively, one of your old t-shirts will probably be in considerably better condition than theirs and will make a better gift than money.
3) A football.
After getting lost down a dirt track in Zanzibar, one of the group also managed to break down. Given that we were in the middle of nowhere, with no idea where we were and with fake driving licences (I was middle aged, black and called Matthew), we had no choice but to try and fix it ourselves.
A confused child rolling up someone’s sleeve to see if the skin on their arm is black or not.
Understandably, this was going to take a while. So, in true Musketeers style, we all stuck around rather than leaving part of our group behind.
About an hour later, some young kids appeared from behind some of the trees. They peered through the bushes inquisitively, investigating our every move whilst being wary and cautious too.
As they got less wary and more inquisitive, they came closer where we tried speaking to them in English and terrible Swahili. They didn’t seem to understand us, even with our exaggerated body language, so one of the guys had an idea…
He grabbed a football from the back of the Land Rover and kicked it across the road towards them. This was a language they COULD understand, so we thrashed them about 8 – 2.
Picking teams for our football match against some inquisitive kids whilst we were fixing the bike.
4) Postcards of your home town.
I know that you probably remember what your home town looks like without having postcards of it but they have another use while abroad…
You’ll be meeting a lot of locals who’ll be very interested in you, your travels and where you’re from and postcards are a great tool for making conversation about where you live. I befriended anyone from children asking for change to national park rangers and owners of swanky-balls resorts by using postcards to show and talk about.
When I showed postcards to the owner of a bush camp in the Maasai Mara National Park he asked some genuinely interesting questions that I did not expect. For example…
“What is the most dangerous animal in England?” (My reply was honestly… “Errr… A fox? Or actually maybe it’s a Badger) followed by me trying to explain what a badger is.
A highly venomous snake in our camp – more dangerous than a Fox?
“What types of monkeys do you have?”
A Lioness scanning the horizon for prey in the Serengeti National Park – more dangerous than a Badger?
“Are the Houses of Parliament next to the River Thames so the crocodiles keep invaders out?”
No, not the card game (although cards might help with this thing), I mean you have to have patience. Be prepared to be patient.
Upon arriving in Africa you’ll quickly learn that the pace of life is not quite up to speed with Western countries and not nearly like a city like London. In London people trample others to get on the train first, then they’ll fight you to get off the train first. Then they pretty much sprint down the platform to get through the barriers and buy a tall-skinny-frappe-grande-american- mocha-with-an-extra-shot so they can live life even faster.
In Africa, a taxi driver will tell you the ride will take 20 minutes, but once he’s picked up his laundry, avoided the toll road, leant some money to his mate and dropped his kids off at school on the way then you’ll eventually reach your destination 60 minutes later. Getting the car’s engine fixed will take more like 2 days, rather than the quoted 12 hours. Sending one e-mail home that simply says “Having a great time, wish you were here” will probably take an hour or two. Firstly the computer is probably one of the first ever made, secondly it’s likely the keyboard has letters missing, and lastly there probably won’t be fibre-optic super fast broadband on tap – you’ll be lucky to find dial up, so get used to it!
Workmen filling in hundreds and hundreds of miles of potholes so tourists like you spend less days at the side of the road with flat tyres. As a courtesy, we’d fill up empty water bottles for any of these guys we passed.
You get the point yet? Yeah okay, you get the gist. Things move slowly in Africa. The quicker you get used to and come to terms with that, the more you’ll enjoy yourself. Africa is so freaking amazing it’s unreal, so leave that grande-frappe-capaccino-latte-americano attitude at home and enjoy.