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Weekly Photo Challenge: Renewal

11 Nov

The only thing that can bring things back to life, and restore energy levels in this community, is clean water.

As long as there is water, these young kids can continue to grow, continue to learn, continue to live.

Sand, Smiles and Sore Feet

10 Nov

Sorry I have been missing in action from my blog for a few months now, but I have been VERY busy and still am. I am working full-time for an amazing organization called ‘The Hope Foundation” and have also been working hard to get my Masters thesis finished. I also managed to fit in a weekend away in London and just under a month in Northern Kenya, doing field research.

Here are some photos I took while staying in the town of Lodwar, in Central Turkana, where temperatures reach up to 39’c on a daily basis, the climate is harsh and the landscape is desert like. Water is scarce, sanitation facilities are non existent and Life is all  about survival. When I have more time I will share with you my stories are heart ache, horror, compassion and hope, but for now here are some photos of the amazingly beautiful children I befriended on my journey.

Dear Diary – Merkato Mayhem

13 Jan

Phil emailed me today. Bad news. He made in from Uganda to Kenya but missed the only bus to Ethiopia. He is now planning on hitching a ride with some Somali truckers he met at a camp in Nairobi…sounds seriously dodgy! So I guess I will have to wait here in Addis Ababa until he at least makes it over the border, then I can make my way South.

I got all my money changed in one of the big banks and was a little nervous by the 4 AK7 clad guards who demanded I give them my big backpack to “mind” as I went into the bank. Guess guys with guns is a sight you get used to in Africa, but it still makes me feel quite nervous at times.I got a taxi to Hotel Wutma which seems like a nice little place run by 2 cool rastas, dropped off my bags and decided to check out the Addis Ababa Merkato- The biggest market in AFRICA!!

Attempting to get to the Merkato  is nearly as impossible as maneuvering your way around it. I sat inside the cramped mini bus taxi, with an old grandmother sitting next to me and a child sitting on top of me praying they would soon stop letting more people into the cramped taxi, and that we would soon be on your way. Beggars would come to the door of the taxi in a constant stream banging on the window, staring, pleading. It was a pretty devastating feeling not been able to help them all, but if you start handing out money or food hundreds more people will arrive on the scene.

In Ethiopia beggars can be everyone and anyone; the women, tribal men, the homeless, the shoeless, infants selling packets of tissues or sticks of chewing gum. There is no escaping their pleas -just being there is emotionally shattering as you feel their pain, and wish you could do more to smiles on their faces.

I eventually made it to what I could only guess was the infamous Merkato, with its boundaries as shady as some of its people. The place was hectic. Lorries unloading hundreds of oversized bags of maize as young boys carried it away on their backs resembling struggling ants. A man walks past me with his head bowed due to the weight of the 50 perfectly balanced pillows on his back.

You can walk around for hours weaving your way in and out of all the temporary stalls made of polythene sheets and with aluminium roofs. You need to be careful to avoid the big potholes full of goat shit and dirty water that runs from the mini streams that divide the stalls.

I moved on to the various spice stalls, tasting vanilla and cinnamon before I was pestered by all the flies hanging around. The place was repugnant; piles of flour, peppers, maize, apples, coffee pots and fake flowers lay side by side. Moving on I came across stall after stall of bad quality imported clothes from Indian scarves to Man United jerseys. You can come across stalls with lines of knives, machetes and guns as goats and mules wander by eating whatever waste food they can find amongst the rubbish.

When the sellers spot you they smile, they shout “You, you, you!” as others begin to turn and stare, pointing and laughing. You can block it out and feel rude or you can greet them back and be drawn into a conversation which inevitably ends in them trying to persuade you to by a Sofa or 20 metres of woven carpet! There is no escaping!

Mini Buses fly. Men sit around chewing chat that gets them high as their wives sit around cooking Injera (a flat tangy pancake part of their staple diet). It starts raining and you realise you hungry and lost. Your jeans are wet and brown from the mud and you’re sweating from the humidity. You are now broke from buying useless memorabilia or a quick handed kid has slipped his hand in and out of your pocket faster than you can say “Theif!”

It’s a once in a life time experience, let that be said. But once in a lifetime is enough for me!

Dear Diary- Ethiopian Time Travel

12 Jan

So I have been in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, two days now and I’m happy to say I’m alive and well! It is the 12th August 2007 Western Time, but the 1st of December 1999 Ethiopian time. Confused? Yea, me too! Ethiopia uses the older Coptic Calendar which is 7-8 years behind the Gregorian calendar used by most of the Western World. They also have 13 months, 12 months of 30 days each and a 13th month with 5/6 days depending on whether it’s a leap year or not.

To make thing even MORE confusing they also use a different time. Not just a different time zone, but a different way of telling the time! Unlike the convention in most countries, the start of the day is dawn, rather than midnight. Thus, 7:00 AM in East Africa Time corresponds to 1:00 in daylight hours in local Ethiopian time. This makes thing SERIOUSLY complicated when trying to figure out opening/closing times and trying to book a bus!

Moving on…on arrival all the hotels seemed to be booked out. Dragging my huge, over sized backpack through the narrow, busy streets wasn’t helped by the occasional thunder storms and torrential rains. So much for a warm, hot climate! I flicked through my guidebook trying to locate the address of the various hostels and cheap motels listed but was shit out of luck. There were no street names to be found anywhere so I kept getting lost and walking in circles.

Sick and tired of walking I hailed a taxi. All the taxis are old Ladas and they totally live up to their name. I remember my Dad telling me a joke when I was younger, “What do you call a Lada with 2 exhaust pipes? A SKIP!” Well Dad wasn’t too far off. It took the taximan 15 minutes of revving and jerking the gear stick just to get the car started and when I put my bag in the boot I noticed there was a HUGE hole and also no wind mirrors! Madness!

When I eventually found a place that had a spare room…I discovered it was far from a ‘Hotel’ room I would be getting. I really didn’t care though as long as I could take off my backpack, lie down on my bed and think why on earth I left my awesome summer job teaching English in Ireland for THIS?!

After a well deserved nap, I felt calmer and a little more optimistic so ventured out of my ‘hotel room’ in search of food. I asked the guys sitting outside reception (they were all sitting around on plastic chairs sipping beers and smoking who knows what) if I could get food anywhere near and the conversation went like this;

Me- “Can I get food anywhere near here?”

Guy- “Fish…no food…FISH!”

Me -“You have food, yes?”

Guy – Fish fish, no food..fish!”

Me, “Umm okay fish. Great, do you know where I can get some?”

Guy- “No.”

And he sits down and starts chatting to his friends. Well, that was weird! I went in search again and ended up buying a bag of peanuts off some cute kids on the street corner, went back to my room to hibernate! I ended up watching TV as the countdown to the millenium is on…only 30 days to go! Can’t believe I will get to celebrate the millennium AGAIN! So totally cool. Tomorrow I will be brave and venture a little further in this crazy city, as I need to change all my  money, sort out Malaria tablets (I decided to take a risk and buy them here instead of at home- way cheaper!) and book my bus to Shashemene. Oh and ring my parents…better let them know I made it here!

Bungee cord snaps at Victoria Falls

8 Jan

Okay I just saw a video on the RTE News that made me catch my breath, and not in a good way. The exact bungee jumping experience I blogged about a few days ago, the Victoria Falls Bungee on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, caused mayhem today when the cord snapped and an aussie girl plunged into the crocodile infested waters below. She had to try to swim to safety with her legs tied together with the bungee cord. Thankfully she’s alive, but what an awful experience.

This video is seriously scary stuff. Read my personal experience HERE.

The Road to Sudan

6 Jan

(Taken from my Kenyan Diary which was written 5 years ago…the musings of a somewhat naive  20 year old, with big dreams of someday being a published travel writer! Enjoy!)

Imagine a small cowboy town in northern Kenya, ten hours away from any form of civilization. The atmosphere of this outback town was ecstatic; Turkana tribesmen adorned in animal skins, and hundreds of coloured beads, herding their goats through the narrow dusty streets, the naked man sitting on the street corner. Children playing with old tires and with little toy cars made of used milk cartons while the old ‘gogos’ sit around cooking maize and gossiping with their friends. This entire scene is happening to the beat of booming Congolese tunes played on repeat by the local bad boys. This is Lodwar.

Kerrie, Beth and I had been living here for nearly two months, surviving on goat and small rations of water. Everyday here was an adventure; we never knew what would be waiting for us around the next corner, when we would get our next shower or when and what would be our next meal.

Our crazy weekend away all started at a local disco on the Friday night. We hitched a lift into town on the back of a locals pick-up truck, shaky start to a shaky weekend. We arrived to the scene of 200 local boys breaking it down to Sean Paul and jamming to Bob Marley under the light of a full moon. Our arrival, three strange white girls, caused quite a stir.

Hours later after twisting and shaking to every song under the sun, chewing ‘miraa’ and tasting jungle juice we got talking to some guys dressed in camouflage. It turned out they were troops from the African army on their way to Sudan on a peace-keeping mission. We befriended them quicker then lightning with the intention of bumming a lift to Sudan. After much begging they obliged and told us to meet them at the local prison at 5am-Random!

Our friend Teddy collected us at our little hut inside the missionary compound. To our dismay, he was still drunk so he let Kerrie take control of the taxi!! She flew the car down the bumpy desert road, right across the airstrip, narrowly avoiding a tree and zooming up the hill to the old jail. We’re lucky to still be alive! The guard on duty who had very little English must have thought we were 3 insane ‘mzungos’ when we ran inside and explained why we were there: “Hello we met the soldiers at the disco and they told us if we met them here at 5am they would bring us to Sudan”.

Our soldiers, however, were nowhere to be found. Our lack of sleep caught up on us and while waiting on a wooden bench inside the prison walls we conked only to awake an hour later to the sound of all the prisoners shouting at us and clanging their bars and all the local guards lining up with AK 47s in hand. Time to get out of here…

We walked the three kilometres back into town as the sun was rising only to be met by a huge convoy of UN and Red Cross trucks. Suddenly a huge, white, gold tooth clad Moldovan trucker shouted over to us ‘Oi, White Ladies, truck! Now! Sudan! Go!’ so in we hopped without any hesitation and off we went in what was to become our huge Moldovan mobile disco – starting the most random morning of adventure in our personal histories. Our toothless, bald driver proceeded to complain about every thing he believed wrong about Africa, while he chugged back beer chucking the bottles out the window, while driving!! “In Africa, houses SO SMALL, In Russia, houses BIG, very big!”, he repeatedly told us.

Five hours and two breakdowns later (including one outside Kakuma refugee camp) and a headache from the booming Russian dance tunes, we arrived in Lokichoggio where we felt we had dived into the movie set of ‘The Constant Gardener’. After a long trek to the boarder posts in 40°C heat and further flirting with Immigration officials our luck ran out. It turns out it isn’t that easy to just go have lunch in a country thousands of people are fleeing daily. We spent the night drinking in Loki with all the aid workers and truck drivers who gave us Irish a run for our money.

We had to hitch a lift home to Lodwar early Sunday as we had been invited for dinner with Father John and the Local Nuns. It made for a very conservative evening, in vast contrast with the weekend we had just experienced. We never did make it across the boarder but the journey trying to get there; the road to Sudan was one of the most exciting adventures I have EVER had and which I will never forget.

Falling in Love with Uganda

6 Jan

White water rafting down the mighty Nile, Bungee-jumping the Bujagali falls, tracking Gorillas in the mist…to name just a few of the things we did not do in Uganda!

It was a last minute decision we made to venture west out of Kenya and cross the border into Uganda. A 30 hour bus journey with armed gaurds, some random shooting, and a bus that smelt like vomit and we arrived in Eldoret. We had come from the northern desert so were dressed for the scorching hot sun yet were greeted with heavy downpours. As we dragged our now blackened backpacks from the bus we dashed to find a lift to the Ugandan border. Several lifts later and we reached immigration and were brought through on the back of the bicylce. Next, we hopped on to speedy little mopeds, 2 more mini buses and eventually after days of travelling arrived in the wonder that is Kampala.

Unprepared for the sudden change in weather, change in language and currency switch we could have easily been in a very sticky situation! It was dark and we were in a strange capital city that would not accept our credit cards or travellers cheques and, to make matters worse, our Kenyan mobile decided to die on us! Luckily an old friend I had met in Zanzibar 2 years previously, Philip, came to the rescue, picked us up and brought us to a dingy hotel next to where he was staying with a local family. Never in my life have I been so relieved to see a rat-infested bedroom, leaky bathroom and a squeaky smelly bed! Full of prostitutes and dirty old men knocking on our door all night -but hell, we had a bed at least!

Phil came to collect us in the lovely Hotel chez Johnson the next day and brought us to meet the family he was staying with. Never have I come across a more welcoming family in all my years of travelling. These amazing people welcomed us into their humble abode with open arms and took us in as if we were part of their already large family. Within minutes of meeting them we were fed the most delicious home made Ugandan dinner, which we ate alongside our new brothers and sisters. No matter how many family friends arrived without notice it seemed there was always a little food left for the latest addition.

After dinner our new brothers took us out to experience the much hyped-up Kampala nightlife. We were far from disappointed! Steak Out was an outdoor Disco/bar/club with Funky local tunes such as Chameleons ‘Bamboclass’ and 2Faces ‘African queen’! The atmosphere was wired. Everyone just stood up and danced anywhere and everywhere. At no time was alcohol a huge factor. Whether you were drinking or sober, everyone had an amazing time and the party continued all night long. We were introduced to all of Godfrey, Jordan and José’s friends in no time- all Ugandan basketball players, may I add! Many more days and nights like this were to be had, and our planned 3 day trip to Kampala dragged well into 2 weeks!

Beth and I ventured down to Jinja, on Lake Victoria one day to see the source of the Nile. Getting there, like everywhere in Africa was half the fun. We had to catch a cramped mini bus taxi which banged along a dodgy road at 5 miles an hour to Jinja. Once there we had to bargain hard with the local Boda Boda drivers (Moped taxis) to fit both Beth and I on one bike and bring us to the falls.

It was one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen. Watching all that water gushing over the Bujagali Falls as locals risked their lives by surfing the falls on jerry cans, the hair on the back of my neck stood up and sent a shiver down my spine. It is moments like this that never fade away; Sitting by the water’s edge, drinking a locally brewed Nile special beer, sunset creating an orange somewhat dreamy atmosphere and us with not a worry in the world. A few more crazy nights out in Kampala visiting Rouge with its comfy red velvet couches, Ange-noir where one must avoid the scowling prostitutes as well as a trip back to the Legendary Steak Outs ‘Super Tuesday’ and we were all clubbed out.

We were told about an Island on Lake Victoria not mentioned in Guide books. A secret hideaway one can only visit if recommended by someone who has already been there and few people have. Our instructions from Dominic,Only 1km by 2km, it is owned by Dominic, the eccentric British Kenyan “owner were clear; catch the yellow fishing boat at 5pm and NO mini skirts!

As always we were the only white people, so we drew quite a bit of attention to ourselves. We were too mesmerised by the surroundings to take notice or care. What was so fascinating was the fact that the driver was following the Milky Way all the way to the island. 4 hours later our boat came upon a small island surrounded by glowing lights and candles with a bonfire guiding the boat to safety. This was our stop. 

We were welcomed onshore by a Spanish hippy called Gemma and Dominic, “The Lord of the Island”. Days and nights drifted together into one and to this day I still have no recollection of exactly how long we spent here. Our diet comprised of home grown pineapples, Nile perch caught daily and The Lord of the Islands’ jungle juice (cannabis tea!!!) We talked to Gemma, the other guest on the Island, and questioned her about her trip. When asked how long she had been on the island she replied, “I know I got here in Febrauary… but I don’t know what year!” I guess it’s the type of place you go for a few days, but end up never leaving!

On Beth’s birthday the Lord of the Island offered us magic tea which we gratefully accepted. An hour later as we were in the lake swimming, and my muscles ceased to work. Beth became unbelievably paranoid and we confirmed each other’s nightmares by believing that everyone on the island was trying to kill us. We struggled out of the water and passed out on the beach, only to wake up exactly 24 hours later on the beach sun burnt from head to toe -a very scary experience. We waited days for a boat to come and when one eventually reached us we were happy to be going back to reality!

Back on the mainland, we were again welcomed back into our adopted family who seemingly had missed us just as much as we had missed them. In such a short time I had made amazing friends, I had a family, and I had fallen in love with the true pearls of Africa: its people. These people had shown us more warmth, friendliness, generosity and- most of all- love than we could ever have dreamed of. I recommend anyone planning a trip to Africa to spare a few days, but more likely a few weeks, to visit the Pearl of Africa and let the people touch your heart the same way they touched mine.

Don’t go swimming after magic tea
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