WE ARE THE WOMEN WHO TRAVEL TO AFRICA (9) / by Mariam Harraz

Days were passing by quickly, we spent more time on the truck travelling then we did anywhere else. We kept slipping in and out of sleep. East Africa was immense it was carpeted with lush greenery and higher humidity. Our new group was great, we were now 14 instead of 22, sometimes it felt as though something was missing. 

We crossed the border into Malawi in the afternoon and soon after we were hit with dirt roads, which meant our heads would be whacking the window’s whilst we tried to sleep.

I don’t know what I expected whilst driving through the poorest country in the world, but wherever we went every house and shop was made of what material could be found, heaps and heaps of rubbish pilled up every few kilometres burning away and kids constantly waving at us. 

Malawi is known for their mangoes, luscious green red mangoes falling of almost every tree you see and probably the best I have ever tried. We were driving on the road once and Lulu suddenly stopped by a bunch of tables topped with mangoes, all of a sudden a group of kids ran towards us to sell their mangoes. Colleen came back with 25 mangoes and you know how much they were asking for? 50 cents. I bought three mangoes in Cairo for $7 once. Yes I got ripped off.

Our first campsite on Kande beach which is part of Lake Malawi felt like a sea because it spans across three different countries, we had to ask the employers if they've seen any crocodiles in the past few days so we can swim and not worry about being eaten alive. 

Our tents were up within a few minutes we ran towards the sea, the sand was so soft, no one in sight we jumped in only to realise how shallow the waters were, but it didn't bother us, the water was pure and refreshing.

The next day we headed for a township tour, we did exactly what the locals do and walked from our campsite for 45 minutes in the extreme heat to reach the town, the only difference is: we had water. We visited a school who has 10 teachers for over 1000 students, and a hospital who deals with hundreds of deaths per month just from malaria because of the lack of mosquito nets (which costs $10 and protects a whole family) it was extremely difficult to see and imagine how many hearts have been broken.

We spent two days in Chitimba also on Lake Malawi which was the two most peaceful days of the trip, I took over a couch in the cafe that looked out to the beach and all i did was sleep, read and sleep some more. 

But now we had to wake up earlier then before: 3am we had to leave the campsite. Tanzania was no joke with traffic and distance, the police sitting on plastic chairs enjoying their time on the side of the road stopped us for going over the supposed speed limit by a digit or sometimes just for fun. Of course you can haggle your way through but the stops were endless. 

The Tanzanian border crossing at Kusumulu was a bit of a joke, Colleen and Lulu have mentioned to us that they do the best samosa's and I couldn't wait, we also had to exchange money with a man who would be sitting on the table in the truck and one by one we would go into the truck and exchange money and leave. The whole scenario still makes me laugh. 

We travelled from Chitimba, 500 kilometres all the way to Iringa and went through all the seasons too. Iringa was up in the mountains and going from sea level all the way up meant going from 40 degrees to 15 degrees in the evening. It was one of my favourite campsites everything was so clean it almost felt great until we decided to sleep outside under cover to avoid packing up our tents again. 

The next day driving to Dar al-Salam was the ride from hell yet it was hilarious, we woke up at 2am and literally walked right into the truck in our sleeping bags and fell asleep in there. Till about 5am, we were passing through a valley named “Truckers graveyard” we were warned not to peak out the windows if we cant deal with blood. The definite twisting valley that had just enough space for the truck to turn right and left that costed people’s lives was how it got it’s name, it’s the only way to get to Dar al-Salam from Iringa but also costs lives. 

There was something contradictory about it, as we haltingly drove down the valley every one of us in complete stillness, the sun was rising in the distance behind the mountainous lush greenery, it’s colours glistened so fiercely whilst we were on the brink of death as we drove we passed by trucks that have just toppled over to the side. We sighed when we reached at the bottom of the valley and after witnessing the vast baobab trees we went back to sleep. 

Dar al-Salam was swarming with people, people buying and selling, people yelling, some just relaxing, military men and women exercising, every inch of the road had something going on. Then there was traffic, our worst enemy, we spent 4 hours driving for 30 kilometres, we had to stay away from liquids because there were no toilets so our only option was ice cream and pray to god we don’t faint from the heat. A 16 hour drive later we finally arrived at our campsite by the sea for an appetising dinner.

Zanzibar was awaiting us, the next morning our tuc tuc's plunged through the bustling city to get us to a boat that gets us to the ferry that will get us to Zanzibar. We got to experience the daily routine of workers trying to get across the city on the boat, cramped in a tight space like herds of sheep, and I can now confidently say by 9am in the morning even though we were on the boat it was as if we swam in the sea.

Zanzibar was ruled by a Omani Sultan the culture reflected on the buildings, the precarious streets lead us to vibrant market stalls, cafes, and mosques. I eagerly waited for dinner, we were venturing to the night market and I couldn’t stop dreaming about the Shawarma’s Colleen told us about. I had three, until I could no longer breathe. The morning after we drove to the most beautiful beach I have ever been to: Nungwi beach. The pasty sand stood out amongst the contrasting shades of royal blue and ultramarine, the water was so translucent I could see the sea life clearly. The last few days of tranquility and a bed. 

I went through various moods in one day, one minute I would be like “I don’t want to go home” the next minute I would be like “just put me on a plane back home” and a few minutes later I would be fully and emotionally enjoying myself. I felt mentally I had to constantly battle myself, I was ready to leave but I wanted to stay, I knew all I wanted was just a bit of comfort in the end but I missed eating whenever I could, I missed my belongings, I missed my family and friends, I missed the cold and I missed looking nice. 

But that aside I was ready for the final part of our 40 day trip, we were now back to the wild - literally. Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro crater was our next stop known for the annual migration of over 1.5 million Wildebeest and numerous zebras and this time we were back to sleeping with the wild with no protection whatsoever.

For the Arabic version: 

http://www.huffpostarabi.com/mariam-harraz/-9_1_b_9838990.html