Imagine all the people, living life in peace.” John Lennon
IT was her handbag which captured my attention. A beautiful travel tale of tapestry which whispered of a faraway land. I commented on her bag and she glanced at me from under inky black eyes. Her accent was baklava sweet, dripping in Middle Eastern exoticism, of sultry deserts and sticky desserts, piquant shisha pipes and ancient mosques wailing the Muslim call to prayer. “I am from Iran,” she said, smiling, “do you know Iran?” I have never walked in her homeland, but I know her region. Yet another destination. Like loneliness. Since publishing my blog on loneliness last week I have made an effort to walk my talk and try to connect more with my fellow humans, on a day-to-day level. I have been showered with so much love about my blog post, I couldn’t ignore the deluge. And what a torrent it was. I have been overwhelmed by phone calls, messages, emails and comments from friends and strangers from around the world. So today, I thought I’d share some of those responses, to remind you, that we are not alone.
One of my most deliciously surprising messages came in the form of an email, from the Netherlands.
“I stumbled upon your blog, “Only the lonely” and it touched me.
It feels vulnerable, and showing vulnerability is also strength,” the male reader said.
“Although from a slightly different angle, I can relate with your story.
I flew back from Brisbane(!) 2 month ago to the Netherlands after seven months of traveling alone.
“Yes, travelling you meet all kinds of awesome people down the road, but – also yes – it’s easy to miss the deeper connections.
Moreover, I felt a kind of alienated coming home.
“In my case, because I have had so many new and weird experiences to the extent, I have difficulty connecting to “normal” people.”
One of dear friends, who lives in the UK, sent me a message from the midst of their freezing summer.
“Your blog brought a tear to me…people don’t understand loneliness. I can howl for England on my down days,” she wrote.
It seems I made quite a few people cry (sorry), but I’m told in the nicest way.
Closer to home, a friend messaged me with the words “You made me cry with that post this morning. Beautifully written, and a good reminder to us all to be kind to each other,” she said.
Another wrote: “I cried and then smiled as I read your beautiful words and realised how terribly I am disconnected as well.”
And yet another wrote: “Oh, just having a teary in to my coffee. All those lonely days out in the regions coming back to haunt me through your always stunning words.”
Believe me when I say I never expected my two-day cry-fest, which ended in me penning a blog to try and write my way out of it, punch my way out of that painful paper bag, would have such an impact.
Another friend commented “I think we need more honesty to counteract all the bullshit because life is hard and shitty sometimes. By sharing your truth, you give other people permission to be honest…community is how humans have evolved and survived. It’s crazy (and arrogant) to think we don’t need it anymore.”
And this from another “I stopped walking to work months ago now, from the car park 20 mins away….. I have just felt worse and worse and retreated into my shell – over the last few weeks I have slowly started again! It has been great to see the happy Irishman I have gotten to know, and his wife – we always smile and chat quickly, today was in the morning and afternoon! It is always the small things that make us connected.”
Connections. Every person spoke about connections. And so many, many people admitted to being lonely. The issue is so big, that in the UK, they’ve even appointed the first ever Minister for Loneliness. And it got me thinking, is loneliness a First World problem? To some extent, yes, as we tend to have less community or “tribe” than those in Third World countries, but it would be too simplistic to suggest that those in developing nations don’t also struggle with loneliness. When I think back to my travels of the past two years, I think of the Ubuntu women in Kenya, who were ostracised by their communities and husbands, after they gave birth to disabled children; and the survivors of sex trafficking in Nepal, whose parents sold them into the sex trade so that their families could survive. On the other hand, I think about Bhutan, a place I travelled last year to see if it really was, as it claimed, the happiest place on the planet. In my interview with Gross National Happiness Director Sonam Tsoki Tenzin, she spoke about “authentic happiness”, a collective for the whole country and its people.
“I don’t feel sorry for people in the west because you are better educated and have a better lifestyle. But maybe you haven’t used it in the best of your interests,” she says.
“You’ve made it very easy to get things done, but have forgotten to get along with people.”
Back home in Australia, the World Kindness Movement shared my blog, which sparked another stream of conversations among strangers I had never met. I don’t have the answer to loneliness, but I believe it lays somewhere in remembering to be compassionate to yourself and others. Say hello to the exotic woman with the pretty handbag; wave if someone gives you a break in traffic; apologise if you are wrong. It costs nothing to be kind, but the impact you may have on just one person, could make all the difference to their day. Let’s keep this conversation going. In the words of John Lennon, imagine…
IN a basic, barren Kenyan playground, with the odd splashes and sploshes of colour, sits a big toy train emblazoned with the words “the fun starts here.” At first glance, it’s an overly optimistic sign on a thirsty piece of land which trades primarily in dreams. But it’s a story which dates back to 2007 when a group of nine mums with disabled children rented a space in an African town to start a school for their kids. Outcasts, and struggling due to their children’s challenges, one year later, these African mamas started a small factory with the aim of earning a living, many of them single after their husbands abandoned them.
By 2013, they had opened a café, one year later, the factory moved out of town and, like the herb garden they’ve planted outside this flavoursome food stop, the Ubuntu Café and factory is now flourishing. These days, the Ubuntu Café not only serves organic food but its adjacent shop sells canvas shoes, wine bags, leather totes and other items sewn by the women. The next project is to move the school to the land to cater for about 60 kids with special needs.
Join a G Adventures National Geographic Journeys Kenya Safari experience and you can experience exclusive access to the women at the Ubuntu Café. Situated near Mai Mahiu, 45km west of Nairobi, G Adventures’ guests can visit the craft centre and meet some of the original mums behind the project, such as Alice.
“We started without knowing anything about what we are all about, “Alice says.
“We came up with the idea of buying a manual machine. We did not know how to work the machine, we did not make anything because we did not know how to sew.
“Our teacher started showing us how to make small bags. We continued working with the bags so we became perfect. The day we earned money everybody in the community learned about it because never before had we earned money.
“Sometimes we would eat, sometimes we don’t. Nowadays I expect to always eat because I earn money. Now, we are experts.”
On the journey to Ubuntu, G Adventures Chief Experience Officer and my guide, George Njuguna Mwaura, says women have not always fared well under Kenyan laws with three sets of laws ruling the land. There’s African traditional laws, religious laws and statutory laws which override all others. But while female genital mutilation is illegal under statutory laws, it is still considered acceptable under African traditional law.
“If I tell you they didn’t still do it, I would be lying to you. They do it in secret,” George says.
“In Kenya, our law allows more than one wife but you can only have a second wife if the first wife consents to it.
“Only in the in the last 20 years, have Masai women started working in hotels, etc. For a long time, Masai women didn’t have a place in the community, there was a total disregard for women, they were doing everything.”
Paid work is a big issue in Kenya, where unemployment rates sit at a staggering 50 per cent. But George says there’s a bigger problem with terrorism than crime. In January this year, 21 people were killed in the latest terrorism attack in Nairobi when armed militants targeted hotels and shops in the Kenyan capital. G Adventures assesses any potential threats in every country in which it operates tours to ensure it is safe for visitors. At the time of my visit in early April, security was among the highest I have experienced anywhere in the world.
“Our problems with terrorism come from the Somali pirates of the Indian Ocean who hijacked ships and trade routes. These Al Shabab terrorists came back inland and Kenya deployed its defence forces against the Al Shabab militia,” George says.
“We are always on high alert, you never know when they will strike,” he says. We have had some serious attacks.
“Most people who come to Kenya fall in love with the country despite the problems we’ve been having with terrorism.”
And fall in love, I do. In part with its wildlife, but particularly with Kenya’s people. And the daughters of Mother Africa. Back at the Ubuntu workshop, far away from the big issues of the world, there’s almost 40 women sitting behind buzzing Brother sewing machines. Women such as Josephine, who has not only bought a plot of land with her earnings but built a house.
I ask Josephine what Ubuntu means in the Swahili language.
“I am, because you are,” she says, looking me squarely in the eye.
“I cannot make it without you.”
And with that simple phrase, the seeds of hope are sewn as deftly as the craft and optimism in which these women trade every single day.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of G Adventures http://www.gadventures.com
To find out more about this G Adventures National Geographic Journeys Kenya Safari go to https://www.gadventures.com/trips/kenya-safari-experience/DKKNG/
Controversial legislation being touted by Kenya could see this African nation introduce the death penalty for animal poachers. Under current law, poaching attracts a life sentence in prison or a $200,000 fine. But animal activists says this is not enough. The Global Goddess travelled to Kenya with G Adventures in early April, to experience its amazing wildlife, including some of its 34,000 remaining elephants.
WE are bouncing on a lumpy, bumpy road, along a highway of cellulite and scars, past colourful, chaotic markets, travelling west to Kenya’s Masai Mara. Goats, sheep, shacks and shanties of corrugated iron punctuate the scenery, while babies as black as ink hang in slings over the hooked backs of their mothers. I am on an 8-day G Adventures National Geographic Journeys Kenya Safari which takes in the Masai Mara National Reserve, best known for its wildebeest migration; Lake Nakuru National Park, renowned for its rhino; and Amboseli National Park, acclaimed for its elephants.
Shortly after Nairobi we straddle The Rift Valley – a 9600km gash which runs from Jordan to Mozambique – pausing in curious curio shops with jangles of bangles and throaty drums covered in goat skin. Big bottomed baboons cross the road which is framed by the cactus-looking Euphobia tree and Africa’s acclaimed Acacias.
Just after Narok, the last town before the Masai Mara, the blessed bitumen concedes to undying dust, sharp stone chips and cavernous pot holes.
In the Masai Mara National Reserve, they say you can hear the lions roar from five kilometres away. Outside our tents at Fig Tree Camp there’s a croc in the creek and a hungry, hungry hippo, or two.
A late afternoon safari yields gazelle, zebra, buffalo, warthog, baboons and impala. A willy willy, or “Kinbunga” in Swahili dances in the distance around the thirsty earth. We stumble upon a cool school of hippos frolicking in their dirty day spa along the Talek River, while the vultures circle like an aeronautical show and a lone lioness crouches under a bush. A pack of hyenas, suckling their young, display their soft maternal side, while a marabou stork, with the widest wing span of all of Africa’s birds, perches precariously in a tree. There’s even time to spot a leopard, with the same spring in its step as the jolly jumpy up-and-down Masai Mara people, before the flaming sun concedes to a purple marshmallow sunset.
“The Masai happen to be the last group of Africans who are still living their traditional way of life,” G Adventures Chief Experience Officer and our guide George Njuguna Mwaura says.
“They originated from the lower delta of the Nile River around the 18th century. They are pastoralists of semi-nomadic nature.
“They believe all the animals belong to them. Anytime they go raiding they don’t feel guilty. The Masais do not eat game meat.
“The Masais were pushed aside with white settlement and National Parks. Now they live right next to the National Parks because the land originally belonged to them.
“There is a lot of fear that the animals have of the Masai people. They are known as fearsome warriors, even to the lion, the king of the jungle.”
A new dawn ushers in a cool aerial safari in a hot air balloon where in the distance, a roaring lion sounds like a beating African drum. From the air, green shoots of hope are already peeking through the scorched, blackened ground from a controlled burn off, in preparation for the annual migration of wildebeest. Back on the ground, a dazzle of zebra stand top-to-tail to watch each other’s backs while a memory of elephants emerges from a mud bath.
By the time the shocking pink sunset plummets to earth, it’s a day of the jackal.
Cheetahs, known as the “terrorists” of the park, farewell our visit to the Masai Mara as we head towards Lake Nakuru National Park. Colourful churches, spurious shops and pastel pubs adorned with optimistic names line the highway. There’s God’s Victory Pub, Romance Salon and Cosmetics, and the Deliverance Church.
At Lake Nakuru National Park, there’s a sassy secretary bird with its lanky legs, hooked red nose and quills on its head. But don’t be fooled by its amusing appearance of a county court clerk, it can kill even the most venomous snake.
A wake of vultures is feeding on a dead buffalo while a hyena howls in the background. The rare Rothschild giraffe, found only in this park, stands loud and proud in the early morning orange light. Out on the lake, a flock of flamingos, coloured Barbie doll pink from the blue-green algae on which they feast, has gathered to gossip, while further along, a rhino and her calf are grazing on the grass. We head back in the direction of Nairobi, which means “the city under the sun” and past the Kibera Slum, home to 1 million people and the biggest slum in Africa. It is incomprehensible.
But we are not done yet. Before we leave, we have a date with Mount Kilimanjaro and Amboseli National Park. Standing at 5985 metres, Kili is the highest point in Africa and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. “What makes this park really popular is that you are standing in front of the postcard…Kilimanjaro, the elephant, the Acacia tree,” George says.
“Different communities believe their Gods reside on the top of Kilimanjaro. When we are performing our traditional ceremonies, we pray. Even before the colonial people came, Africans believed in God such as the God of Rain.
“Even when we pray we have to face Kilimanjaro or Mount Kenya.”
Out in Amboseli National Park there’s a troupe of yellow baboons, a zebra crossing, and a duo of vultures. There’s ostentatious ostriches teetering on their stilettos, spoonbill stalks and Egyptian geese.
Meanwhile Kili flitters and flirts, at times shrouded in cloud, a mystery to even the Masai who wander her valleys. And somewhere, out in the park, stands Tim, the 48-year-old elephant with the huge tusk, who was once collared by park rangers to track his behaviour.
But Tim had other plans and returned to the front gate, depositing the collar which he had somehow removed without breaking, and dropping it defiantly so it could be found. Tim has forged such a relationship with rangers that he will return to them each time he is injured, before cutting loose on the park to cause more havoc.
And in many ways, this emotional elephant captures the soul of Kenya. Playful, defiant, oozing spirit and soul. Mother Kenya bleeds red. Rusty soil, the crimson cloths of the Masai warriors, the blood of her wildlife kills and her blushing, beating heart. She is simultaneously giving and gritty. Water may be a precious commodity here, but hope, she springs eternal.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of G Adventures http://www.gadventures.com
To find out more about this G Adventures National Geographic Journeys Kenya Safari go to https://www.gadventures.com/trips/kenya-safari-experience/DKKNG/
MARHABI from Morocco where I am currently on assignment. Tomorrow I’ll be heading via camel into the Sahara Desert, 7km from the Algerian border. I’ll be back soon with plenty of travel tales from my Moroccan adventure. In the meantime, check out my photos on Instagram @aglobalgoddess.com
The Global Goddess is travelling in Morocco as a guest of Intrepid Travel https://www.intrepidtravel.com/au/morocco/morocco-uncovered-100927
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it…The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela
A FLOCK of seagulls soars overhead Robben Island and if I unleash my imagination, so too, do the free spirits of former political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela. It’s my last day in South Africa and I’ve caught the ferry from Cape Town across to this tiny sliver of land to pay homage to the former South African president who served 18 years of his 27 year prison sentence here. It’s a rocky old ride out on the ferry across Table Bay, a day for staring out to the horizon with steely focus, but nothing compared to the journey Mandela made from prisoner to president.
Just like the gulls, swarms of tourists flock here in a bid to understand what Mandela and many like him experienced during South Africa’s apartheid years. On the dock, where the smell of boat diesel mixes with the pungent scent of fish, a sign declares “Freedom Cannot Be Manacled”. But most tourists are too busy rushing past to the waiting buses to notice. They’re intent on getting to the jail and meeting Mandela’s ghost.
Today’s guide Jama is a former political prisoner who entered the prison in 1977, when group cells housed 30 people who slept on mats. It wasn’t until 1978 that the Red Cross supplied prisoners with crude bunk beds, their personal belongings bundled into timber boxes nearby. Those who were considered leaders, such as Mandela, were given single cells, and the scrum of tourists lines up to peek into this tiny space which once housed the great man. I’m waiting for some sort of epiphany, as if Mandela’s spirit will magically part the crowds with words of wisdom. But I feel nothing but annoyed. There’s too many tourists and it seems to make a mockery of history.
Originally an island for lepers, Jama tells us there was no hot water in the prison until 1973, and back in the 1960s, the prison would mix both political and criminal inmates. The type, and portions of food you ate depended on the colour of your skin. I don’t have to imagine living in world in which apartheid existed, as it existed right up until 1994. I was 24 when it officially ended, but its legacy lives on. Speak to any South African cab driver and you’ll hear tales of how “coloured” people still live in the in-between world. And how corruption is rife under current President Jacob Zuma.
This corruption has a trickle-down effect, and it’s one I experience on my drive from Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve back into Johannesburg when I am stopped by a police officer who claims I haven’t obeyed a non-existent stop sign. At first, the officer says he is going to fine me $75, but then relents, saying the fine is “too much”. In the next breath he asks me how much it will take for me to “show my appreciation” for his leniency. Unfortunately, for this corrupt cop, I’ve never been in this situation before, so I do nothing. I just sit there, contemplating both my next move and his in this crazy chess game. Eventually he tires of the charade and sends me on my way. South Africans say you haven’t experienced Africa until you’ve been asked to bribe a cop, so I guess I’ve now seen Africa.
Back on Robben Island, the last group of political prisoners walked out of the gate in 1991, and in 1996 it was closed as a jail completely. We take a bus tour of the island where prisoners such as Mandela were forced to work on the lime quarry. Many ended up working there for 13.5 years and left with illnesses associated with the lime dust. In 1995 former prisoners including Mandela returned to the island and placed a pile of stones to commemorate the back-breaking work they endured. Mandela picked up shovel and demonstrated to the media how they made the lime.
“The man rose from the dust of the quarry. He rose from the cell of Robben Island,” our tour guide says.
“Where they started to dig the lime stone represents the triumph of the human spirit.”
I’m still contemplating both the strength and weakness of the human spirit when we make our last stop for the day, at a vantage point looking back across the ocean towards Cape Town. Our bus driver tells us we have only five minutes and advises us to return to our original seats to “avoid fights”. When I board the bus, there’s a woman sitting in my seat and I politely ask her to move, repeating the bus driver’s earlier words. But as she stands to leave, her hands full of backpack and camera gear, I notice she has left her hat on the seat. So I simply place it on her head, saying “you’ve forgotten your hat”. What happens next is incomprehensible. Out of the blue her husband comes flying down the aisle in a rage: “What a bitch you are, you put her hat on her head,” he spits at me. His actions are so at odds with the spirit of this day, and my intent, that I am stunned and I don’t reply. For the second time on my South African trip I simply don’t know what to do, and he turns on his heel, but I suspect we’re not done yet.
Back on the road our tour guide speaks again and talks about humanity before depositing us at the boat. I am waiting back on the dock for a friend just as the angry man walks past me again. “There’s that bitch,” he hisses at me. I try to explain my actions but they are lost in his storm of anger, his fury spiralling out towards the ocean like a giant storm cloud. I think about his words all the way back to Cape Town. And about man’s inhumanity to man. The kind that imprisons one man for 27 years because of his belief that all people should be treated equally. Of corrupt cops and angry men. It was Mandela who once said: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” And this thought becomes my travelling companion all the way back to Australia.
The Global Goddess stayed in Cape Town with the assistance of 318 Africa at the elegant More Quarters. http://www.318africa.com.au; http://www.morequarters.co.za
A TROOP of bombastic baboons is bellowing at each other across this African afternoon, punctuating the sunset with screams. Were I back in Brisbane, I’d guess the sound was a bunch of hapless drunks staggering home from the pub. But out here, where the trees communicate with each other through the wind, it means there’s other wildlife around.
A short-tailed eagle soars through the picture-perfect blue winter sky and a thin layer of dust coats the roof of my mouth. Our safari truck drives past Acacia trees and bush willows and over dry river beds. I’m on safari at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, perched on 6500ha within Sabi Sands where the landscape ranges from bush veld to savannah and is nestled adjacent to South Africa’s Kruger National Park.
We pass bushbuck, wildebeest, waterbuck and a giraffe craning its impossibly long neck to feast on some bushes. There’s hungry, hungry hippos, an elegant eagle and a measly mongoose. That throaty sound in the distance turns out to be a community of impala. We pause for a zebra crossing, before stumbling across a pride of lions with a cub sleeping nearby. The languid lions are full and tired after feeding on last night’s buffalo kill, the remnants of which lay nearby. One lion cub practices its stalking skills on another in the same manner a domesticated cat would toy with its siblings. It’s a day of the jackals.
Day two and we observe rhino and buffalo. Guinea fowl flap about like pantomime characters on London’s West End and a woodpecker hammers in the distance like a Gold Coast tradie. We discover that animals have three modes – flight, fright or fight. And best of all, for this writer at least, we learn the collective nouns of the sights and sounds of safari.
We encounter a trumpet of elephants; a dazzle of zebra; a journey of giraffe; and a crash of rhino. Those garrulous guinea fowl are aptly called a “confusion”; one late afternoon we stumble across a leap of leopards with a baby cat waiting in the fork of a tree; and the impala are as consistent as their “consistency” suggests.
The parched African soil crunches underfoot on a walking safari with Sabi Sabi Ranger Lazarus, a member of the local Shangaan people. Lazarus, whose grandfather was a tracker, reminds us that we are “exposed” as the animals out here are accustomed to vehicles.
“We have to remain silent but we can talk very low and walk in single file. Don’t go ahead of me because I have the rifle. We are here to respect the animals,” he says.
“Being on foot is to learn about the small things that when we are on a drive we don’t talk about, like tracks and grass.”
We see kudu and warthog on the horizon. There’s a millipede blackened by the sun and a spider’s web which belongs to one of the six deadly spiders out here in the African bush. We learn that the lesser baboon spider is more hairy than a baboon itself and that all the deadly spiders are colourful. We pass hippo, rhino and impala tracks. There’s a tortoise shell which has been eaten by a red hornbill and a magic quarry bush used to divine water.
Back in the jeep on our last morning, we stumble across a clan of hyena and a venue of vultures feasting on a hippo believed to have died from natural causes the night before. Call me paranoid but I’m pretty sure there’s a conspiracy of ravens out there somewhere too. But there’s no evidence of a murder of crows.
It’s my first trip to Mother Africa and I am overwhelmed by both her beauty and contradictions. By her vast nothingness, and everything, all rolled into one. From the plane window it looks like the Australian outback but nothing like it, all in the same dusty breath. It’s corn-row braids, black shiny faces and deep, kind eyes. Dutch descendants with piercing blue eyes and fair hair and accents which sound like they’ve been clipped in a barber shop. It’s the cold kisses of a mid-winter morning, and a harsh African sun. As for those collective nouns, my favourite turns out to be the implausibility of wildebeest. For it’s entirely plausible that anything is possible out on safari in Africa. Little wonder the baboons are so excited.
The Global Goddess travelled a guest of 318 Africa – http://www.318africa.com.au and stayed in Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve Bush and Earth Lodges. http://www.sabisabi.com
Today I am heading on assignment to South Africa where I hope to bring you lots of photos like this one above, and also plenty of colourful tales from Mother Africa, from on safari at Sabi Sabi private game reserve to Jo’Burg, Cape Town and the rugged West Coast. (I’ve heard the wine’s pretty good there too). In the meantime, check out my Instagram page where I’ll be posting lots of photos. @aglobalgoddess.com