Our epic African train journey

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October 30th 2006
Published: November 16th 2006
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November 1, 2006

We made it through our sweltering bus ride to Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia, to catch our train - actually to catch our next hot bus to Kapiri Mposhi to catch our train. We were so hot by the time we got to Lusaka that we ended up checking into the Lusaka Hotel right in the center of town on Cairo Road because it had airconditioning. For this luxury our accommodation cost went from $20 for the night to $90 for the night. It's amazing how little a $90 per night hotel gets you in Africa - we didn't even have hot water. It's not that the hotels are expensive here, because they're not, it's because it's impossible to get the things we expect out of $100 hotels - they don't exist here. In Lusaka, especially Cairo Rd, you need to batten down the hatches on everything you own or it will be gone. We were warned of pick pocketers and muggings many times. The key is not to take anything out with you that you can't afford to lose. I still really loved walking the streets of Lusaka - such a trip, for lack of a better phrase. So busy, so many people doing so many different things. So much sensory overload. Again, people lined up on the side of the road selling everything from movies to pineapples, calling at you to come buy from them - they are getting really easy to ignore. You have your businessmen, your beggars, the street children, the roosters, the preachers, the vendors, the fruit sellers, the lepurs, people leading the blind, some people dressed impeccably, some hadn't seen a bathtub in months all against a backdrop of dirty, rundown buildings and palm trees. You have a little bit of absolutely everything. I don't really even notice being the only white person anymore, it doesn't phase me. It's actually a really neat feeling.

After waking up for good at 3:45am due to a horrible nightmare that still makes me sick to my stomach, 7:00 rolled around and we were ready to go catch our bus. What an event - the Lusaka bus terminal. There are buses to everywhere and lots of them. Competition is fierce and there are touts littering the street of the terminal. As we drive in in our taxi we have men sticking limbs and heads in our windows. All we can hear is "Harare, mamma?", "Livingstone, you wanna go to Livingstone? Over here! Over here, lady!" "Malawi, Malawi - you go to Malawi!" Cities from all over Africa being shouted into our window as our taxi driver tried to get past the hoardes of touts. Amongst the 300 or so buses parked at this station, we finally find the section of buses that are going to Kapiri Mposhi - now all we have to do is pick the one that looks like it will actually make it (no easy task). As we drive down the isle we see four foreigners on a bus and that makes it a good option. These people are going to Kapiri to catch the train to Dar Es Salaam as well. As good a bus as any, may as well take our chances here. We buy our tickets and after much chaos end up on the bus. It is hot and overcroweded. Not overcrowded enough because we sit for an extra hour and forty-five minutes after departure time in order to overcrowd it some more. During this time we have men selling ties, other clothing, watches, bananas, cakes - you name it, they are walking the isles of our bus trying to sell it to us. Then a preacher gets on and starts yelling out his sermon at the top of his lungs. This guy means business. He is passionate and he spends the next half hour yelling his passages in Swahili as the spit flies from his lips. Sensory overload again. I don't understand what he is saying but his arms are flailing and reaching up to the sky and all of a sudden I hear the only English words he chooses to speak and they are: "PEOPLE ARE SUFFERING - NOW". In my head I know that it's true but I wonder to myself what the point is in drilling more fear into these people's head. They have enough hardships in life and I am positive they know the negatives of life in Africa - they are living it. All along I could tell by the look on the preachers face that he was talking about suffering and all I could think of was that maybe it was time for a new message - maybe one of hope.

Three hours later we arrive at the Kapiri Mposhi bus stop - chaos again, of course. These bus stops aren't actually any kind of bus terminal, they are just big dirt parking lots that the buses stop at, a lot of buses. There are no buildings, no employees, no security, nothing. Just a bunch of people with different intentions that know the bus stops here, sometimes with foreigners on them - especially on train day. I am stuck in the aisle of the overcrowded bus and out the window I can see the bus driver opening the luggage compartment to take our bags out. Not good. I try to get his attention but in all the chaos it is futile. There are hundreds of people outside the bus. I try to push past the people stretching their legs in the isle and race for our bags before someone walks off with them. By the time I get there, two men are already holding our bags and I start requesting loudly that everyone put our stuff down. I start tugging at our bags but the men just continue to move them towards a taxi. We were lucky that their intention was to steal our business and not our luggage. All of our stuff is in the trunk of the taxi before we know it. Everything is happening so fast, the men are moving around us, talking half in English, half in Swahili and they are pushing me toward the door of the taxi. "Hey" I say trying to stop. "No, no, mamma, it's ok. Just get in." I try to say something else and he dismisses me again. After I shove him back I raise my hands in the air and yell "STOP!!!" " EVERYBODY STOP. BACK UP!"...... with the momentum slowed down a bit I am able to talk to the now three men getting me in the taxi. "How much is this taxi costing me?" I ask. "Don't worry lady, we take you to train" he dismissively says. That's it. "Take my bags out of the trunk, right now" I say. "No, no, mam, we are friends." the tout says. "I don't care what you are, I want my bags out of this taxi right now or tell me how much you are charging me". This is a common scam here, rush you into a taxi before the price is negotiated and then charge you an astronomical rate once you are in motion. If you argue they get aggressive and because there was no confirmed rate, you are obligated to pay it. "Ok, ok" he says...."10,000 kwacha". It is a fair rate so I tell him he can close the trunk. The trunk closes and Jordan and I start to get in the taxi. As we are getting in he adds "This is a per person charge, mam." Now I am angry. I tell him that I have had enough and that I have been in Africa way too long to fall for this crap, get my bags out of this car right now. Really he doesn't want to lose the business and gets now that I know what I am doing. "Ok, ok, mamma, it's ok.........10,000 kwacha then!" he says like I am the most unreasonable person he has ever met. I tell him I don't trust him and that I want to settle payment before we get in. He doesn't really like this so I walk over to the guy actually driving. Until now I was only dealing with the touts that specialize in ripping you off. I hold 10,000 kwacha in my hand and ask the driver if he wants it in return for a ride to the train station for me AND my son. The driver agrees, takes my 10,000 kwacha, I confirm that the bill is paid is full, he agrees that it is and Jordan and I finally get in the taxi. To the train station we go.

We finally arrive at the train station and it is a very relaxing 4 hour wait until our train. A four hour wait flies by really quickly these days - we are really used to it. It is very hot but after what we have been through today I will gladly wait in a hot place if it provides me some peace - which it did. Boarding time came quickly and it was exciting to finally board the train and find our compartment. In Africa, they do not let men and women stay together on the train. Like so many other things, they are segregated. When I went to buy our first class tickets ($5 more for first class than second) (first class only has 4 sleeping compartments with access to a restaurant, second class has 6 compartments, no restaurant and third class is only upright seating) the lady informed me that Jordan could not stay with me in a compartment, he would have to stay in an all male compartment by himself. Over my dead body was he going to be seperated from me on a two night train in the middle of Africa while being put with all foreign men. I express this to the woman who really just rolls her eyes at me and can't understand the problem with it. We have been travelling for 2 1/2 days now and have only just stepped foot on the train. Arranging this from Canada seemed much easier, but not quite as exciting. "Two day train" seems like nothing from the comfort of your living room, you just don't realize yet that it takes you 2 1/2 days to get there........Africa.

We are pulling out of the station on our way to Tanzania and I am really excited to get there. The Serengeti, Ngorongo Crater, Zanzibar, so many places I am looking forward to seeing. In 41 hours we will be in our fifth country - always exciting. As we are pulling out of the station Jordan and I realize that we are going to have the entire compartment to ourselves. They really didn't want to mix male and female so they couldn't put anyone with us - luxury in the form of privacy. The scenery was beautiful as we travelled through the small rural villages of Zambia. I have loved this country very much, they have the most friendly people I have met so far on this trip. I am sad to be leaving but am excited to be heading towards Tanzania. It was an uneventful night full of beautiful scenery and images like those you see in the movies back home. It was so easy to look around and really appreciate where I was at every second. I was in awe of where I was - in the middle of rural Africa........who would have thought.

I was feeling a little motion sickness (again) so I took half a Gravol. I couldn't stay awake anymore and by 8pm neither could Jordan so we went to sleep. At one point in the night I opened my eyes and realized that we were not moving. I was curious about why but I was so tired I just fell back asleep. I had a really good sleep that night and wasn't woken up one time because of the noise of the train which I was really surprised about. Hmmmm......so peacful for a train I thought as I stirred awake. Wait. We aren't moving. I couldn't figure it out and then I remembered opening my eyes in the night and we weren't moving either. I got up to check it out. Turns out the train stopped at 10pm last night and hasn't moved since (it's 6am) - that is why I had such a peacful sleep. There is an old cargo train derailed 30km down the track and they are using our engine to help remove the debris. To make matters worse the train has taken part of the track off with it in its' derailment. How funny is that? We have been gone from the station for 14 hours now. 6 of them we have been moving, but 8 of them we have been at a standstill! So far this is not a good record, we have been sitting here much longer than we have been travelling. HA!

I look outside and see a sign that says "Locomotive resting place" and laughed to myself. I also see another sign that reads "Finkuli". It is the name of the village we have stopped infront of. There are mud huts, roosters, goats and many children walking around, it looks like a magical place. The village is small and well kept - a railway town, it probably does better than most with all the people passing through. Jordan and I leave the train and head on out into the village.

In no time at all we have met and made friends with many of the children of the village. There is this little girl named Gillinda who has befriended us and is very curious about us. Some of these children have never met a white person and most do not get to go to school. They are very very poor and all have jobs either within the home or within the village. Not jobs as we think of them but jobs that ensure their survival. There are sad things I notice physically about the children: the white's of their eyes are yellow, they are very small and malnourished, most have runny noses and their clothes are tattered and torn. At one point I notice the girls' finger nails and think it strange that they are all wearing the same shade of orangy/red - all of them. I thought maybe it is a community thing and with the extent of the poverty maybe they all share the same nailpolish. Maybe it even has a religious meaning. However, as the day went on I noticed it was on the boys' fingernails too and then I looked closer. It was horrible to realize that it was not any sort of nailpolish at all. It was the color the beds under the nails went from malnutrition. It really shook me to realize this and it makes me really sad to think of the disadvantage in their lives. Then my mind goes back to wealth that neighbors so much of the poverty and I have to just let it go again because I will never understand. With that said, the thing I notice the most though is that the children are beautiful, happy, funny and really really personable. As always the language barrier is never a problem with children, they visit and play and draw and Jordan spends the entire day hanging out with them.

At one point we have Gillinda in our compartment - she is fascinated with Jordan. She is climbing the bunks with him, laughing with him, hugging him - even kissing him for a picture. She is having a really good time. At one point I see her picking through Jordan's hair, surprised that there was no lice, and then I see her petting his head, his hair must have felt so strange to her compared to what she is used to. She kept touching him and saying "Nice". It is so strange, that one moment in time where your paths cross for that short moment. Worlds apart but momentarily together. One world. For them, seeing the train stop and seeing the first class compartment of the train is an experience in wealth - luxuries they could never even imagine. For us, stopping and being in their village, we experience something completely opposite. It is an experience in poverty but authenticity. It is to experience gratitude, compassion and sadness. It kind of boggles your mind. We got on this train and saw a run down, third world locomotive, standards so far below what we are used to. They only see luxury. We see a dirty train, they see the cleanest thing they will probably ever come across. We see a lack of options to buy on the train, they see forms of nutrition they could only ever dream of, things that would make their orange fingernail beds go away.

As I wrote in my journal there were many many children of all ages just watching what I was doing through my window with intense curiosity. They would giggle and wave and just watch. I found it striking that the boy named Progerss was very dirty, smelled really badly and was lacking nutrition yet he was wearing a "Guess" shirt. I am not sure exactly what disturbed me so much about that but it did. There is something in that image that makes me ashamed of America.

**15hrs broken down**

It is so amazing.....the children have been sitting outside our window the entire time, just watching us between times that we play with them. They are as mesmerized by us as we are by them.

**17 hours broken down**

We just had a rather large photo session with all the children of Finkuli. "Me next, me next" was all you could hear. Children swarming you to have their picture taken, maybe 70 of them. Jordan is spending his time catching crickets with the boys and putting them on his head. I must admit, at this point it is extremely hot and I am ready to start moving. Let's see if we're gone by tomorrow - hopefully I am just kidding.......we'll see.

**20 hours broken down**

I just pulled through an incidient that could have been serious. Jordan was outside hanging out beside the train and I was lying on my bunk. All of a sudden I had a thought that I couldn't hear Jordan if he needed me so I got up and went to the window to check on him. A lady that had been listening to the conversation of two street kids said "call your boy, don't let him go with those boys" The lady had overheard that they were planning to lure him behind the train and do something mean to him. I am not sure how much violence this would have entailed, if any, but nonetheless Jordan would have been traumatized and this would have left a black mark on our time in Africa.

I am ready to leave

**20 1/2 hours broken down**

I just heard the best sound ever imaginable - a train whistle!!!!!! It would seem our engine is on our way back to us and hopefully we will be on our way very soon - only time will tell. Two of the children just came around selling bread from baskets on their head - what a commodity. People are buying it like it was gold. When your two day train turns into a three day train, food becomes an issue. Bread is good.

We now have an electrical sound coming from the train and our engine is re-attached to us, surely a good sign.

**21 hours broken down**

We are finally on our way. We got a send off like you would never believe from the children. So many waving good-bye and running so hard to keep up with the train in their bare feet as we pulled out. It was very touching.

21 hours broken down in Finkuli, Zambia - I will never forget it.

November 2, 2006 - Day two, Tazara train

Eventful morning. The entire train was woken up at 4am due to stopping and everyone thinking we were at Tanzanian Immigration - we weren't. I couldn't get back to sleep for a very long time and just as I dozed off again I heard a knock at the door. I ignored it, I was sooooooo tired. "Knock, knock" again - desperately trying to ignore it. On the third knock I knew it must be important so I got out of bed and answered the door, it's 6am. To my surprise I found a lady with a broom wanting to sweep the floor of our compartment that is no bigger than your average sized cardboard box..........all I can say is "Africa".

I had just layed back down, trying desperately to go back to sleep when the train stopped again. Immigration. With this stop I hear an accented voice outside my door saying "Change.......change.......change....." and I realize they are selling Tanzanian schillings - I need some. I exchange $50 US into 60,000 schillings. I ask to see the conversion on his calculator and sure enough he has short changed me 6,000 schillings. Get used to it, I am thinking. I get the rest of my money and money changer man goes off on his way, unable to rip me off. About a half hour down the way there is guy selling SIM cards for my cell phone and air time for Tanzania. I buy the package for 10,000 schilling out of the money I exchanged. Good - I am all hooked up.....or at least that's what I think. Another half hour later as I am eating my breakfast, money changer man comes back to my compartment and says my $50 bill has a small head and he needs his money back - these aren't as valuable on the black market. Well, this isn't going to happen, I can't give him his money back because a third of it is gone to the cell phone guy and I tell him so. He plants himself firmly on Jordans' bed and his buddy comes and joins him. They start repeating themselves over and over again thinking I don't understand them because I am not giving their schillings back and I explain to them many times that I have purchased something and don't have all the schillings to return. They have no clue what I am saying and just keep trying to get me to understand that they want their schillings. I tell them I understand, holy crap, I understand all 15 times you have said it! The funny thing is that they are obsessively repeating themselves thinking I am stupid and can't understand the situation when really if they shut up for one second they would realize that they are the ones not getting it. On an on this goes. It is a completlely futile situation and they won't leave my compartment. I finally ask them very assertively to leave and they don't want to. They tell me to give them 10,000 schilling and they will leave - fat chance. Then the one guy suggests I go to Dar Es Salaam (another 19 hours), exchange some money and come back and give it to them. Yeah, I'll get right on that. I have had enough, I motion to go get the conductor and they leave my room. I lock my door. They come back once more only to be greeted by my locked door. They knock and tell me it's the conductor, I tell them not to lie to me and go away. Eventually the guy from the next compartment has to come and get these guys kicked off the train. Good-bye.

The next 24 hours on the train was absolutely mesmerizing. Scenery and a way of life I have never even imagined. Jordan and I looked out the window with our jaws wide open. People greeting the train with baskets of food on their heads to sell to people through the windows, donkeys on the streets, dirt roads everywhere, people carrying chickens. I have been through some of the most remote villages in Africa and I seriously couldn't believe where I was. The people in these villages have no idea what goes on in the outside world and I think they are lucky for that fact. If they had enough to eat & drink and proper medical attention, I think that they would be the winners in this world. All they truly need is family, love and support. They have a pure existence removed from material values, vanity and ego. Away from selfishness and the "out for number one" mentality. Spiritually and emotionally they are way ahead of the game. Unfortunately they lose out physically and, least importantly, materially. I am glad I got the chance to give up my material posessions to experience this. Some say the fire was a tragedy, but I think to have missed out on something so real would have been the real tragedy.

November 3, 2006 Tazara Train: arriving in Dar Es Salaam

It is extemely humid in Tanzania, we woke up this morning with our blankets and skin damp - yuck. We are passing through the Selous game reserve and it is neat to see the giraffe, wildebeasts, warthogs, zebras, elephants, etc. all right outside our window. What an atmosphere, what a sight, what an energy - I love it. As we pull towards Dar Es Salaam IT"S RAINING!!! I am so happy to see the rain and it reminds me of home. As we approach the city the slums are getting bigger, there is more garbage and everything is getting more populated. The energy has shifted and I don't trust it anymore - we have once again entered the energy of a city.

After a two day turned into three day train journey, we finally pull into the Dar Es Salaam train station. What a different world. As we start to disembark the whole getting ready to travel amongst the touts energy is returning and everything starts to become fast and furious. Thank God I have decided to travel with the other foreigners I met on the train. Again everything is chaotic and walking down the platform is a complete blow to the senses. There is a very heavy Islamic dominance here with people everywhere. As a woman I feel out of place. There is no ryme or reason to anything. Every moment you feel like someone is going to rip your belongings right off your back.

Travelling with other foreigners.......good in some ways, hard in others. I felt safer because of them but I was obligated to move at their pace which was FAST. For this reason I felt I missed out on the moment - and I was loving the shock of the moment all right. As we arrived at the exit gates of the train platform, hundreds and hundreds of people all came together at once like a big funnel. They have big metal gates at the exit door that they shut if you cannot produce a receipt of your ticket to prove you have paid . The mixture of funnelling hundreds of people with shutting an exit gate creates mass chaos and mass crowding. I felt like cattle being hearded, squished in a mosh pit of hundreds of people in Islamic dress, speaking a foreign language, foreign smell, foreign everything. The only thing that wasn't foreign to me was Jordan. It was one giant sardine can and Jordan and I were right in the thick of it. I actually found it hard to breathe at times. It was amazing.

We were now at the head of the funnell, so close to the exit gates. I could smell freedom. Things got really tough here, being from Canada we were not used to pushing - it was all so uncivilized. As the moments went on we were getting shoved further and further back from that gate and our freedom. Oh no!!!! I needed to be on the other side of that gate, away from the sacks of potatoes on people's heads and the chickens they were carrying. After being pushed backwards even more I had had enough. Jordan was infront of me and I grabbed ahold of his backpack and pushed him forward like I had never pushed before. RIght through the men with sacks of maize and the women with loads of bananas. I just shut my eyes and kept pushing until we were inches from the gate. So close yet so far as the exit gate closed amongst hundreds of people pushing behind us - it was getting claustrophobic. Someone didn't have their ticket and neither did I. Finally amongst the people squished like sardines the exit gate opened up again and we were right at the front of the mass of people. "Tickets please" I hear in that heavily Islamic accented voice. "No receipt" I say. Dread. I was waiting for the metal gates to close again with us close enough to them to be squished right into them by the 800 people behind me when all of a sudden, a gift. The officer just waved us through. Out into the open and out of the massive swarm of foreign strangers, we entered the parking lot of the Dar Es Salaam train station which was just a different sort of chaos. I am still not sure which is worse, the claustrophobia of the squishing against the metal gates or the touts in the parking lot.

In the sweltering heat and extreme humidity, five of us piled into a daladala and headed out to the airport to exchange money and catch a flight. Your senses are on heightened alert everywhere you go and your awareness is completely maximised. Driving through Dar to get to the airport was an experience all in itself. Finally arriving at the airport, having exchanged money and ready to catch our flight to Zanzibar, the chaotic feeling was subsiding. Taking off in the plane, I left every care behind. After a 20 minute flight we were landing on the island I had been waiting so long for. "Zanzibar International Airport" - those words came with such a feeling of awe and excitement. I was so aware at every second that I was living my dream. I felt like a little kid.

Landing on Zanzibar and driving towards Paje in the pouring rain with all it's streets vendors', donkeys and islamic dress was the feeling that travellers live for. That energy that is so different from anything you have ever known. Pulling up to the resort and seeing that undescribably blue water for the first time - like a dream.

I think I have arrived at the most beautiful place on earth.

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