Friday, October 14, 2011

Travels in the Apartheid State (1984)

                                    First impressions of the ‘old’ South Africa
So there I was: in Africa after a two-year hiatus, in the apartheid state no less, and in the arms of my South African girlfriend with a few dollars in my back pocket–what the hell was I thinking. As some wise wag once said—“love is blind” --ain’t it the truth!

Let it be said that I was not planning on retracing some imperial explorer’s route through uncharted waters or following in anyone’s footsteps into Africa—I was making my own footsteps. Africa had been terra incognita when I first travelled overland there the year before in 1982. However, venturing into South Africa would be another story. Apart from those few South Africans I had met on the kibbutz in 1982, I knew of no other South Africans in Canada.[1] As such, there were no points of reference for me to glean information from regarding the upcoming trip. My only connection to the much-vilified racist regime of South Africa was through my South African girlfriend and of course she would only paint a rosy picture of it without all the “western” tarnish. Nevertheless, despite my impending return to Africa for a second time, travelling to South Africa would be venturing into the unknown. For that matter, the minority “white” Republic of South Africa (RSA) was almost totally isolated from the rest of ‘black Africa’ through a heavy barrage of political, sports and economic sanctions against the apartheid regime both from within Africa and the rest of the world.

Naturally, my South African girlfriend Dalene and I had kept in touch by long distance aerogrammes but words did not suffice and we longed for the warm embrace of each other. The question that often cropped in the minds of friends and family when talking about this next trip to South Africa was—why? Why would anyone from the ‘western world’ want to go to visit a country, which had such a bad name—‘the skunk of the free world’?[2] To further aggravate the topic, I had recently read an article in some scholarly quarterly, which lumped South Africa in with such repressive luminaries as Paraguay, North Korea, Iran, and Israel. They were all considered as ‘pariah states’ because they answered to no one, had sanctions (political, economic and sport) imposed and they were an evil unto themselves. As anti-apartheid activist South African exile Peter Hain said—“We were the lepers of the world, the pariahs of the world.[3] South Africa was lumped in with these ‘pariah states’ because of the minority ‘whites’ apartheid policies towards the majority of the population who were Africans. Be that as it may, some friends and other people might condemn for being in love with 'the enemy' as Dalene was an Afrikaner. Nevertheless, I was going to go back to the continent come hell or high water. No doubt, apartheid was a thorny issue but I sure as hell was not going to be able to change that singlehandedly. I just wanted to find out what it was firsthand.

A few comments on “apartheid”.
An attempt at a political cartoon I put in my
travel diary in a later trip through RSA in 1986.
In the 1980s, just mentioning the term ‘apartheid’ was enough to get you into a fight in North America let alone anywhere else in the ‘free world’. ‘Apartheid’ is an Afrikaans term which means “separateness”. In the Republic of South Africa, apartheid was a way of separating the different races in South Africa. In historical terms, the 1948 elections were a watershed for apartheid. In the 1948 elections, “apartheid’ was a policy and platform that the National Party ran with under the guidance of its leader—Daniel Malan. The actual “father of apartheid” was Hendrik Verwoerd who had been the Minister of Native Affairs in Malan’s 1948 government. Verwoerd’s main responsibility was in creating most of the apartheid legislation. Verwoerd was so revered by the Afrikaner populace that even after his death in 1966, it would not be out of place to find his biography on display in any right thinking Afrikaner’s bookshelf. Apartheid was a system of legal separation, which guaranteed and maintained minority rule by the ‘white’ population over the larger ‘non-white’ population. It was also a way to make sure that the white minority stayed in power and to hold back the threat of swart gevaar, or the “black peril” that the richer white society perceived to threaten their cozy way of life.  There had been some form of segregation of the races in South Africa going back to colonial times but “separateness” or apartheid became an official policy in 1948. Accordingly, the various racial groups were broken into four categories: “black” (African), “white” (Afrikaner/English or European), “coloured” (Cape Coloured) and “Indian” (from India or Malay). It was interesting to note that a group of Japanese tourists were granted “honorary white” status on their visitor visas to South Africa during my 1984 trip.

The first cornerstone of the apartheid policies was the Group Areas Act of 1950. Up to that time, most urban areas had been racially diversified. With the new Group Areas Act, each race was told where they could or could not live and this act was also a precursor for the eventual policy of ‘forced removals’. As a result, three million people were forcibly removed from their traditional homes or moved to newly created townships and many more were imprisoned for flaunting any of the apartheid rules.

Not only were people told where they had to reside but the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act (1953) ensured the separateness of the races or apartheid of the state. Under this act there would be separate beaches, hospitals, buses, drinking fountains, washrooms, schools, coffee bars, cashiers at supermarkets…etc. Moreover, signs which designated areas for “Net Blankes’ or “Whites Only” were posted everywhere to remind you of your racial standing and where you were allowed to go and where you were prohibited to enter. In 1956 parliament, Prime Minister Hans Strijdom uttered the now famous line—
Either the white man dominates or the black man takes over.”
In South Africa, the ‘blacks’ easily outnumbered the ‘whites’ in population yet the ‘blacks’ had no voting rights or for that matter— any rights whatsoever. There was a constant drone and fear amongst most South African ‘whites’ that if the Africans got the vote, that they would take over a prosperous economy and ruin the country. A look north of the Limpopo to the once stable 'colonial' economies of Zimbabwe and Zambia would only reinforce any ‘white’ South African’s view of what a one party state might look like under African rule.

Political postcard from Rhino Bookstore, Zimbabwe, 1986.
The second cornerstone of apartheid was the policy of ‘separate development’ of the homeland structure under President Verwoerd in 1958. Taking into account that the ‘black’ population was growing faster than the ‘whites’ and knowing that many of the blacks would work in ‘white areas’, Verwoerd came up with the clever, if not, deceitful policy of a ‘homelands system’. With these new ‘homelands’ outside of designated ‘white areas’, ‘blacks’ would now become citizens of these contrived ‘black homelands’ or Bantustans and would therefore have to forfeit their claims as citizens of the then Union of South Africa.[4] As a result, they would be considered as foreign migrant workers who would travel daily from their ‘homelands’  or Bantustans with temporary work permits to work in the ‘white’ areas. They would be required to carry a pass called the dompass with them when they travelled outside their Bantustans. Over time, there were ten Bantustans, which were allocated according to the various African ethnic groups, i.e. KwaZulu for the Zulus and KwaNebele for the Ndebele tribes. Of these ten, four Bantustans, Transkei (1976), Bophuthatswana (1977), Venda (1979) and Ciskei (1981) became independent but they were never formally recognized internationally by anyone except by the South African government. So this became a bone of contention because the South African government would point to the success of these ‘independent’ homelands that really had no diplomatic relations outside of Republic of South Africa or RSA. On a different front, the casino and Las Vegas style resort of Sun City became a cause célèbre as many international artists and entertainers boycotted playing there, but there were others who flouted the boycott and played there despite the acrimony of fellow artists.[5]

During the course of my travels in RSA[6], one subject that often arose during conversations about apartheid was that Canada and America were no angels on human rights—we also had skeletons in our own closet. South Africans constantly reminded me of Canada’s own shortcomings in the form of our relationship with Quebec’s separatist aspirations and more so with our own indigenous native Canadians. How could any North American pronounce moral judgment on South Africa when we had committed our own form of racism and 'ethnic cleansing' against our aboriginal brothers? This contradiction was pointed out in a 1977 phone interview between Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) show host Barbara Frum and the then South African Foreign Minister “Pik” Relouf Botha:
(Botha) “…all we are asking for is a little place on god’s earth where we can all survive and live.  If we cannot do that or survive then should we [South Africa] try to please the whole world?”
(Frum) “13% of the land set aside for 70% of the people. Are those numbers wrong?”
(Botha) “…a lot of black territories already have become independent…of course, naturally what would be left is actually for the whites which then in proportion be larger…we have not stolen land from anyone, we have not taken land from anyone—far less than the Canadians have taken lands from their indigenous people…”
(Frum) “On this point, you are absolutely right! I did not think that any honest Canadian can
 argue with you on that point. You try to rationalize it whereas we just feel guilty.”[7]
Regardless of your religious, moral or political position on apartheid, what was obvious was that the ruling minority of ‘white’ South Africans did not want to be told how to run their country or their internal affairs especially by some self-righteous foreigner. To quote Prime Minister P. W. Botha a few years later--"South Africans problems will be solved by South Africans and not by foreigners!"

Despite all the hoopla, negative press and personal ridicule, I thought it was a legitimate plan to fly one way to RSA as I thought I would live with Dalene and possibly stay there. Or, if need be, or should the opportunity arise, go overland north to Kenya and then try to retrace my steps through Sudan to Egypt. However, I needed to first organize a visa for South Africa. Going to RSA would be tricky because of sanctions and restrictions for anyone going to this pariah state. In 1984, this was one of the few instances in which Canadian citizens were allowed to have two passports: one specifically for South Africa and another one for the rest of the world. The potential problem would be trying to convince border guards north of the Limpopo River that I had not stepped foot inside RSA. If border guards or immigration officers caught you with anything that mentioned or was stamped that implicated your being in RSA, then you would be, regardless of your nationality, sent back to RSA border or to the last border where you had exited out of RSA. In truth, I figured that I would be staying in RSA for a long time, if not forever with my girlfriend, so I never gave this much consideration. Little did I know what lay ahead of me? 

If for some reason I did leave RSA then I would have to mail my RSA-only passport back to Canada so that it was not on my person going through northern border points. Moreover, not to mention that it was illegal to be caught with two passports as you might be suspected of being a mercenary and that was definitely a no no in Africa. This was especially true in 1981 as South African saboteurs had conspired with white Zimbabweans (former Rhodesians) to bomb Zimbabwe African National Union or ZANU-PF headquarters in Harare and in 1982, and on another occasion had destroyed most of Zimbabwe’s older air force. Having two passports and dressed like some grubby old hippie with an English accent might be just the tonic for some uppity junior sergeant of an African army looking to raise his rank.

Despite all the bad press about South Africa, I went ahead and sought out the Republic of South Africa trade commission that was located on University Avenue in Toronto, Canada. It was not hard to find as there were always some form of petition and anti-apartheid rally being held outside its gates. Once inside their confines, I sat down on the plush leather seats, naturally the staff was all white.
I waited—“I’ll be with you just now” said one of the staff
Ja, how can I help you” he inquired politely.
I am going to South Africa,” I said.
Very good sir. Business or pleasure?” he asked in a thick Afrikaner accent
I’m going to see my girlfriend, but there’s just one problem” I added.
Yes, I’m thinking of flying one way from UK.
Is it?” he said.
Is what?” I countered somewhat dumbstruck.
Ja that is a problem man.” He continued.
Oh, how so?” he had caught my surprise.
Why not get a return ticket to UK?” he asked.
It seemed a reasonable request but I had other plans.
Well, I would like to travel overland from South Africa if need be.” I replied.
Looking at me rather oddly, he continued—
Then in that case, you will be obliged to leave a deposit upon entering RSA.”
Oh” I answered not expecting this twist of fate.
Ja that is the condition for you entering on a one way ticket, I’m afraid.
And pray, how much would that be?
Ja let me check.”
He went to consult with someone higher up as this was probably an unusual request.
You will have to leave a deposit of $500 US.”
Crikey! Why so much?
They are afraid you might want to stay in South Africa.”
As if there were great hordes of people wanting to immigrate into RSA at this time: the reverse was quite true—out of Africa as I was to find out later. Well I could live with leaving $500 US cash at the airport customs.

I eventually got to London and stayed at the Kensington Youth Hostel and decided to find a one-way ticket to RSA at one of the many ‘bucket shops’, which was a generic name for travel agents who dealt in cheap tickets for cheap backpackers like myself. The weather in London was decidedly miserable so I was just as happy to find a warm shop to nip into. Inside I was greeted by a mousy, yet attractive young blonde waiting to serve me.
I’ll be with you just now.” She said with what I perceived as a South African accent.
I was not used to this phrase but would soon become rather acquainted with it on this trip. I was not sure exactly when she would attend to me by the phrase “just now”: is that now or later—I found out it was the latter.
How may I help you?” she said in a cheerful voice.
I could not help but notice she had a clipped accent—not at all British.
Are you from South Africa?” I asked.
No. I’m originally from Rhodesia.”
Not missing a beat, I queried—
You didn’t move to South Africa after Rhodesia?
No. My family had already moved once from a beautiful country.”
So why didn’t you move to South Africa then.”
 She smiled sweetly at my naiveté and said—
We didn’t want to go through that ordeal again in South Africa so we just moved straight to the UK.
In a way I felt sad for her and others who experience being uprooted. One thing I have had to come to grips with is—these ‘white’s living in Africa all their life, know no other life except in the warm bosom of “Mother Africa”. Maybe their “white” ancestors were Huguenot, Walloon, Dutch, British or whatever, but after a few hundred years of living in Africa—can they not now be considered “African”. I felt somewhat sympathetic to their plight. It is as if the North American First Nations were to come up to me and tell me and my family to go back to Ireland or England. What the hell would I know about such places when my whole life had been lived in Canada—I’m Canadian after all? I guess this Rhodesian gal had resigned herself that RSA would eventually go the way of ‘black rule’ as had her former country Rhodesia.
I see. Okay I want a one way ticket from London to South Africa.” I said breaking the monotony.
Postcard I made up for friends in UK made from
newspaper clippings from RSA, 1986. The news-
papers wouldn't show Mugabe's pic only a drawing
We chatted a bit about her family, her growing up in Rhodesia, my South African girlfriend and my going back to Africa—again! I looked out the window at a bleak mid-winter sky and dampness that was London.
My god but how can you stand living here.” I asked her.
What do you mean?” she looked up from her airline printout.
It’s dreadfully cold here. Don’t you miss the African sun?” I added.
Everyday” was her sad reply.
I can’t imagine giving up sunny Africa for this dreary, damp land of my ancestors—she was welcome to it.
On further talk, she too thought that I should get a ‘return ticket’ back to London. However, I told her that I had already travelled overland from Nairobi to Cairo on my previous trip and would like to try Capetown to Cairo if the circumstance presented itself. I felt a tad sorry for her and her family in that she had to leave the beautiful continent and live in dreary old blighty but such is the life of old colonials. We concluded our business and I wished her luck and she gave me what was to become a standard southern African business reply—

The cheapest flight was with the Spanish carrier Iberia who flew through Madrid to Johannesburg or as they call it Joburg. Upon boarding the flight there had been mention by the boarding party that I only had a one-way ticket but I assured the ground staff that I had been given the okay by the South African trade commission in Toronto and that I would leave a deposit at Jan Smuts Airport.

The realities of South Africa
In South Africa the worst never happens
(popular saying)
 Mandela and his empty seat with ANC.
Because RSA was considered a racist state by the rest of Africa and a pariah by much of the world, any airline flying to Joburg was not allowed to fly over African airspace so we had to fly around the western part of the continent. This made for a rather hellishly long flight instead of cutting through the heart of the continent albeit the black heart. The flight took more than 12 hours to fly and I think we refueled in the Canary Islands. By the time I arrived at Jan Smuts International Airport it felt like I had flown from Canada. Naturally, I had to go through customs before collecting my bags. As I approached the customs officer I noticed he was a no nonsense old Afrikaner who reminded me of the world famous South African actor—Athol Fugard.
I handed over my travel documents with my Iberia ticket tucked inside the passport.
He scrutinized my passport for a visa, then asked—
Vat is the purpose of you trip—business or pleasure
Pleasure” I answered.
Where vill you be staying?
With my girlfriend in Johannesburg.”
Very good.”
Then a very dour face followed as is in disbelief.
Ach man where’s your return ticket?
I don’t have one.”
“Why not?” He was curious.
I was told by your trade commission in Toronto, that I could leave a deposit here at the airport instead.” I continued.
Is it?” He said which caught me off guard.
Is what?” I replied somewhat scurrilously. Then I realized this was one of those quaint Afrikaans expressions.
Aha. Yes you can do that.”
But, you vill have to leave a deposit of 2000 South African rand then.” He said cheerfully.
Now the jet lag had kicked in and I was suddenly feeling quite out of it. Crikey—I thought to myself and tried to calculate this amount because at this time the SA rand was stronger than the US dollar.
But that’s over $2000 US dollars.” I was speechless if not incredulous.
Bearing in mind, this was a time when the South African rand was worth more in value than the US dollar.
Jah maneer! That is right.”
But your trade commission in Toronto specifically told me that I would only need to deposit $500 US dollars not 2000 South African rand.” I implored him.
Vat the hell do they know?” was his reply.
Jeezuz. They’re your bloody trade commission.” I stammered.
Look here my china. Either you pay that amount or you vill be put back on this Iberia flight at your own expense.”
That was not the option I was looking for. It was just a bit of an ominous beginning to what might be a life-changing trip. Moreover, this was taking a lot longer than I had contemplated and I was already the last passenger off the plane and the last one in the custom’s hall. I could imagine what was going through my girlfriend Dalene’s mind: I had missed the flight or not come at all as she was waiting for me on the other side of the frosted glass. As it turned out she knew I was on the flight as she watched my lone black MEC travel bag go round and round on the baggage carousel just pass the customs—it was the only unclaimed piece of luggage left.
I hummed and hawed as I had no cash, only traveller’s cheques in US dollars no less.
Do you accept American Express traveller’s cheques?” I asked.
Ja, why not?
So I was told to head to the forex inside the custom’s area, hand over the traveller’s cheques to the tune of 2000 South African rand. The customs guy would not stamp my passport to enter into his country until I showed him a receipt from the cashier saying I had cashed the said amount. What struck me as odd was the fact that he did not check how much I actually had left to spend in RSA after this transaction. The truth be told, I only had a couple of hundred dollars in traveller’s cheques left to my name—hardly enough to survive on for the duration of my stay. Well this was a fine mess and an ominous way to begin a trip. I suppose the custom’s officer reckoned that since I was a white “westerner” plus staying with an employed Afrikaner girlfriend that I might not need any extra cash. What a relief when I finally got through customs and into the warm embrace of my beloved girlfriend.
Pops—what took you so long?” She murmured wrapping her arms around me and giving me a German peck.
Unclutching myself from her warm embrace and burning lips—
They wanted me to leave a deposit.”
Why do you need to leave a deposit?” she seemed perplexed.
Because I only bought a one-way ticket here from London.”
How much?” she asked.
2000 rand—can you believe it!” I was slightly exasperated.
For PETE’S sake!” she screamed.
Luckily I am staying with you as I don’t have much money left now.”
 It was not the first time she was heard to mutter—
So much for Afrikaner hospitality.”

[1] This was before the great migration of many “whites” from South Africa and Rhodesia that started before South Africa released Mandela in the late 1980s.
[2] A later quote from Nelson Mandela.
[3] From a BBC video series called—“Have you heard from Johannesburg?”
[4] The Union of South Africa only became the Republic of South Africa or RSA in 1961. It
    subsequently was expelled from the British Commonwealth because of RSA’s continuing policies
    on apartheid. During that time, the English South Africans had to make a choice between British and
    South African nationality. There were many who resented the choice and some who still believe they
    should be accorded British citizenry.
[5] In 1985, a group of international artists formed the “Artists United Against Apartheid” and produced
    an album called “Sun City” in which they talked about not performing in Sun City.
[6]  I travelled through South Africa again in 1986 en route to Lesotho and Swaziland.
[7] <http//>

Saturday, October 8, 2011

India: In your face trip. 1988

Here are some excerpts that were part of a letter sent to Mark Holmes and Valentina McLeod who are en route to Lisbon. This is from my Indian diary that I kept during my 1998 trip to the Indian subcontinent.

New Delhi, February 21st, 1998.
Hello, I just got back from a whirlwind tour of the deserty Rajasthan India-type place. Boy but what a disappointment the capital city New Delhi has become in the interregnum since my last trip in 1982. Long time—lots of changes—perhaps, for the worse?
It appears that India has regressed since my last visit. Is it possible? I asked myself this and then enquired of other travellers if they felt the same way. Most of them hadn’t been to India before and those who had stayed on were in no shape to offer any insights. Funny how time changes one’s perspective and shrinks the reality of what little memory or bytes we already have or had? On first glance, it appears that New Delhi has shrunk or that it has become overcrowded—maybe a bit of both. However, I fear that the latter is true: too many people, too little space, too many cars and subsequently, too little oxygen.
In the old days, they use to call this phenomenon—the ‘carrying capacity’ of the land.

In layman’s terms, ‘carrying capacity’ means that a certain number of people and animals could be supported on a finite area of land; hence, the land has a certain ‘carrying capacity’. Perhaps, this needs to be revalued in regards to the overpopulation of urban areas. There must also be a ‘carrying capacity’ for large cities, to the point where they are unmanageable. A metropolis will only be able to handle a certain number of people and then after that it is anarchy. The introduction of automobiles in urban areas should be factored into this formula. As such, the ozone factor is a new crinkle in the formula in determining the ‘carrying capacity’. In New Delhi, there are just too many people, animals, cars, smog, concrete and not enough arable land to support either this combination.

Back to New Delhi, the air was putrid if not downright nasty to my sensitive sinuses. It didn’t help matters that people had little, if any, regard for pollution control apparatus. This is especially true on their diesel-laden Indian-made Padmini cars and Maruti taxis or tuk-tuk scooters, which crowd every conceivable niche in Delhi. Downright rude would be the description of New Delhi and probably any other large Indian cities in the supposedly largest democracy and second most populous place on the planet. In Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, the city fathers and mothers had the audacity to put up endless billboards, which had the moniker- “Green Agra-Clean Agra”. They could start cleaning Agra by reducing the amount of signage and indeed, one might be able to see a “Green Agra”.

My first impression of New Delhi ranged from negative to abysmal. I got into Indira’s airport at the lovely hour of 2 am. It’s the only airport that I’ve been in, where you had to duck your head upon entering into the “Customs Area”—the place must have been built by midgets. I changed about $200 US at the Thomas C[r]ook Money Exchange and I thought I was a millionaire, ok, a thousandaire. I never had this many Indian Rupees the last time I was here in 1982. I proceeded about my business, making sure to duck my head as I left the terminal.
Outside, there were touts galore and other tourist pirate highjackers who hid in the shadows, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting world travellers—“there otta be a law” as Mark Holmes would say. I had been told at the ‘Tourist desk’ inside, that I should take the E.A.T.S. bus to Connaught Circle in New Delhi. So, being the world traveller and an old Indian hand, or thinking as such, I opted for a local taxi.

Did I make a wrong turn or what? I thought I was en route to the Ringo Hotel in Connaught Circle, but it was not to be. I was abducted by one lout who drove me at breakneck speed (that is for a diesel Padmini), about 40 kms/hr around darkened fog-enshrouded streets of Delhi. It didn’t help matters that the taxi had rear and side windows tinted—so it was much like wearing Foster Grants at midnight. It reminded me of Corey Hart’s song—“I wear my sunglasses at night”. To make matters worse, I was transferred to an open tuk-tuk, which caromed all over the show. For those of you who are not familiar with the dreaded tuk-tuk, it is a cross between a Vespa scooter (with the heart of a Harley) and an open rickshaw, but it is built with a tacky cover. The tuk-tuk driver likened himself to Michael Schumacher but drove like Freddy Flintstone—his brakes were non-existent. The tuk-tuk is only big enough for one hearty westerner and his pack, but it is normally accessible to 9 or 10 Indians, all clinging for dear life to the landau roofing with their asses hanging aloft. I got the distinct feeling that I was getting the ‘Delhi go-round’—how could they?
We passed by dark shadows huddled in lumps around stinky bonfires made of plastic containers and styrofoam boxes—basically, anything they could light that would provide heat. Can you imagine the stench? It literally brought tears to my eyes. It looked like the aftermath of a ‘nuclear winter’ with a grey blue moon looming overhead. It wasn’t a Mannerist setting. It was, in fact, a living hell and I guess there are between three to four million souls living this daily existence in Delhi. Packs of pariah dogs roamed the streets, scavenging for a free midnight meal or trying to pick a scrap with other rogue dogs that ran through the dimly lit streets of Delhi.  A few brave souls, cloaked in their own mystery, drifted into this ‘twilight zone’ and they appeared like zombies out a scene in Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”—‘werewolves of Delhi, oww-oooo!’.

We clobbered a speed bump and that promptly awoke me out of my gloom. I was starting to get sick of this misadventure and told the driver that I wanted to go to bed, as it was approaching 4:30 am. By now, I was thoroughly frozen to the bone and my teeth started chattering as teeth are wont to do. The outside temperature was hovering around minus zero and my chintzy Dubai fleece and open-faced Teva sandals were doing precious little to keep me warm. I was starting to fade back into unconsciousness and the cabbie offered me a beedie to warm up. I bundled around the lighter to eke out a little bit of warmth. I was taken to a place that was called the “Official Tourist Information Bureau”. It seemed funny that a place would be still open at this ungodly hour. It was just a front for more rip-offs by cheesy Kashmiri swindlers who offered sickly sweet chai and hyena smiles. Among them were a bunch of neo-hippies who were enjoying the charade, either that or trying to score some skanky weed. I’d had enough of their shenanigans and told my driver that I wanted to find a hotel as quickly as possible.
On our way again, we had difficulty getting to Pahar Gang as there was some bloody curfew, which didn’t allow taxis, or rickshaws access to certain streets—which just happened to be the streets that we needed. The ruse involved pulling up to a supposed closed street and one man asking a policeman if the street was open. Undoubtedly, the answer was ‘no’ and we would end up hurtling down another street in search of the elusive route. I was then taken to numerous hotels around Connaught Circle, but they were full or at least that is what the managers said or were told to say. We went to the Bright Hotel (which it wasn’t nor was the concierge):
Are there any rooms available?” I asked.
No, sir everything is full.” he countered
You must be careful, there are dangerous people around” he told me.
Yah no kidding. And there are dangerous drivers too.” I added.
It seemed very strange that a manager would be waiting around outside a hotel at four in the morning? I felt like I was an extra on a gloomy set of either “The Village of the Damned” or “Strange Days”. I had really wanted to get to the New Delhi train station where I thought I could get a bed in one of the dormitories. At least, there I could hang out in the ‘waiting room’ until morning and take the first train south to Jaipur but it was not to be.
We stopped at what was suppose to be the New Delhi train station—funny, but I don’t remember it being in a forested area? On that matter, there are hardly any forests in New Delhi city proper. Nevertheless, there was someone standing in the shadows, so I enquired—
Where is Pahar Ganj?
This was met by dead silence—this was not a good sign.
 You know the main bazaar-Pahar Ganj”, I finally croaked.
The shady character lurched out of the shadows.
It is very dangerous to be out at this time of night, especially in this area”.
You know, there is a curfew now in New Delhi
Somewhat taken aback, I barked:
What curfew!” I yelled “and, where the hell are we anyways—this isn’t the New Delhi train station?
There is a curfew because of the upcoming election”, he countered.
By this time I had woken out of my daze and I continued to question the blaggart.
Is this a city or a jail?” I was starting to lose it.
He replied, taunting me—“Are you crazy?
Yes, I am feeling a little crazy and I’m getting sick of this fucking bullshit about a curfew for an election.”
It is rather odd that there had never been any prior mention made of a curfew in Delhi in any of the UAE newspaper prior to my leaving. Something smelt rotten and I wasn’t in Denmark. It was a ruse, a way of getting you to go to the hotel of their choice. Some dosshouse I guess, where the taxi or rickshaw wallah would get a big fat commission for depositing the unsuspecting traveller at a hotel doorstep.
This tout thought that he could scare me but I was ready to throttle the bugger.
Fuck you and let me out of this goddamn tuk-tuk”. I muttered stepping out of the cramped tuk-tuk.
It was a good excuse to stretch my legs and kick him in his balls (which I didn’t do but felt like it just the same). After we exchanged hostilities, we cruised on down the highway to the next roadside attraction. By this time ice was forming on my nose and I needed a place to warm up at any cost. Either that, or crawl under one of those ratty blankets and warm my teva socked feet around a cozy Styrofoam fire. I was tired, cold and it was late. I chose to go to a hotel of the driver’s choice—my resolve was fading.
The driver found some dump in the middle of a wooded area in the suburbs—the Crystal Hotel where we woke up all the guards and the Tibetan night clerk. The staff slept with the same ratty looking woolen blankets pulled up over their heads. The Tibetan night clerk quoted me a price of 1200 rupees or the equivalent of $35 to $40 US/night. I was stunned by now and utterly tired, I could care less and handed over the loot. I stumbled up the marble stairs to my cubicle. My bed consisted of a plywood sheet, a cement bag for a pillow and a ragged woolen blanket, which reeked of mothballs. The room had the charm of an abattoir. Everything was gerry-rigged with wires strung helter skelter and a grimy fluorescent overhead light, which provided the ambience. I set my alarm and crashed—fully clothed! I could care less about brushing my teeth, as I feared they might shatter from all the arctic blasts that I had subjected them to since getting off the plane.

At 9am, I was rudely awakened by the night clerk who told me that he was going off duty and that I owed him an additional 300 rupees—I blew him off, especially after such a hellish night. As I went downstairs, the night clerk informed me that there was a phone call for me. It turns out that it was one of those buffoons at the ‘Tourist Information’, wanting to know if I had decided where to go in India. I told him where I was going and also told him where to go and it wasn’t in India. I didn’t doddle too long outside the hotel and I eventually hailed an auto rickshaw.
Do you know where the New Delhi train station is?
Yes I am knowing.” He answered
You know the one near Pahar Ganj?” I prodded halfheartedly.
He just wagged his head from side to side and that was enough for me—I was satisfied.

Driving in a New Delhi morning traffic jam is quite an experience—especially, if you survive to tell about it! This morning trip was an epic and I did survive it. The drivers seem to be suicidal: they are either manic-depressive types or just plain maniacs. It was very much like a scene out of a rolling movie, filmed across a sea of humanity and humility. Everywhere I looked was like a photograph: every scene imitated a live video and every frame had a story of its own to tell. The traffic congestion was unbelievable, as if I was re-entering some kind of hallucinatory dream-state. On the contrary, I was not on drugs, in actual fact; I suffered from sleep deprivation as I only caught three hours sleep.

Riding along in the tuk-tuk, I visualized an amazing kaleidoscope of the ‘great unwashed’; colours, smells, activities and light. A virtual video of my minds eye was broadcast through me. There were overpowering, fleeting images of reality in the fast lane of this burgeoning world power. Pedal rickshaws bobbed to and fro with olive-skinned schoolgirls in pairs of threes and fours replete with uniforms of red dresses and white ties. The pedal rickshaws tried their best to fight for space alongside overloaded auto rickshaws that contained some rather serious-looking businessmen in frayed tweeds, who clutched nervously to their battered faux leather attaché cases. They had an air of self-importance but maybe they were only carrying a toothbrush, tea cup, a small package of betel nut and a comb or brush inside their satchel. Amidst the cacophony, raven-hair brave maidens were oblivious to the fact that their long flowing, carmine saris were hanging dangerously close to the bike’s gears. Nevertheless, they clung desperately to their boyfriend’s thigh as they guided their under-powered Vespas in and out of traffic much like a Spanish matador does at a bull-fight. It was a free for all—an Indian version of the Road Warrior.

Did I mention cacophony? It was more like a symphony of car horns, toots, bike bells, cow mooings and the odd curse muttered aloud by the various combatants. Occasionally, an old sacred Brahma cow would decide to cross the busy road and this caused no end of excitement and ensuing panic on behalf of the drivers. If you were to hit one of these prized bovines, you’d most likely be killed by the throngs, and this would certainly mean an end to any kind of earthly favours in the next life—bad kharma, bubba!
Moreover, the traffic had its own kind of hypnosis but there was an entirely separate existence on the periphery of my eyesight. The sidewalk was starting to erupt with Italian sculptor Giacometti’s skeletal figures shaking their limbs after a night on the cruel and unbending, cold pavement. Old flea-bitten, woolen blankets were being tossed aside and equally rough looking characters were emerging from under them. Some older men men propped up their tired bones on discarded cardboard boxes while others leaned back against crimson fire hydrants and puffed furiously on some old beedie that had been tossed away by some wayward stranger. Others found solace in the form of a nearby chai wallah, who warmed them with a steaming hot glass of chai masala or in our parlance—spice tea. The image of a hot tumbler of spicy chai and a crispy pakora was starting to make me feel a tad peckish myself but we beetled on through the morning din.

We halted at one of the many traffic circles in New Delhi and I noticed a group of scantily clad men in their native raiment, the cotton doti, who were washing themselves in the cold, bracing water of an open main. You could see the steam rising off their supposed warm bodies—it looked cold, it feels cold and hell, and it is cold! The rest of the traffic was oblivious to their predicament and I felt that I was the only one who was the recipient of their bewildered stare. A little further along, we drove by men who were still sleeping on the concrete median that separates the two busy roads. They slept whilst diesel and dust billowed over them, like a sort of diaphanous blanket. We slowly wended our way out of the chaos of downtown Delhi, past a flotilla of Independence Day floats which comprised the pantheon of usual Hindu deities: oversized elephants, grotesque monkey gods and supersized grotesque plaster busts of its newest members to the pantheon—Gandhi, Nehru and Patel.

Since I was last in India, two Prime Ministers named Gandhi had perished at the hands of assassins. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards who were seeking retribution for her part in the bloody takeover of the Golden Temple in Amritsar by the Indian Army. In 1991, her son and PM at the time, Rajiv Gandhi was the victim of a deadly bomb blast by the Tamil Tigers or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) while attending a political rally in Sriperumbudur, southern India. Now, there is a new generation of Gandhis who are fighting to restore the power and credibility of India’s oldest political party—the Congress Party (Cong-I) which was initiated by their grandfather Pandit Nehru. Much of the ballyhoo in this upcoming election revolves around the emergence of grandson Rajiv Gandhi’s widow—Sonya. Many in the opposition are against her role in the election because she is not a native-born Indian, she is Italian. However, by virtue of her marriage to Rajiv and her devotion to India--she is every bit an Indian. She has a son and daughter who are Indian and they have accompanied Sonya on the hustings. It is curious that at the end of the last century, most Indians were trying to get rid of a colonial foreigner who controlled their destiny—the British. Yet now, it will be an odd twist of fate if it takes a ‘foreigner’ to steer India through recent troubled times and into the next millennium.

It is true that India is sometimes a place that can easily get under your skin, but it is always a difficult place to forget. Yes, I was indeed back in the Indian sub-continent after a 15 year absence but as my good Indian friend, Jag Bhatia from Jaisalmer used to tell me—
In India, anything is possible!
Ain’t it the truth!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Overland Trip to Sudan, 1982.

Somewhere Sudan: ‘no-man’s land’
Up here in the in-between world of northwestern Kenya and south-eastern part of Sudan, there is no real border: no gate that indicates you are crossing from one frontier to the next, no demarcation line with a line cut in the bush that drifts off in the distance or up a hill, no border guards waiting to search your passport for appropriate documents and visas and thankfully no shakedown. Furthermore, it would be hard to tell where one country ended and another country began—it was all the same scrubland desert. This was the real East African hinterland. There was no “Welcome to Sudan “sign or “You are leaving Kenya” post or even the ubiquitous “Last chance for duty free liquor” sign. Travel writer Paul Theroux reflects on his many travels through Africa regarding borders—
“…a person who has not crossed an African border on foot has not really entered the country, for the airport in the capital is no more than a confidence trick.” For the most part, this resonates with me as I think quite often those travelers who are jettisoned into a country get short-changed from the total “African experience” of passing physically through an actual border. Having said that, most of our administrative work had been done in the last Kenyan outpost town of Lokichoggio and then after that we were on your own and would be obliged to check into the first police station in Sudan—Napotpot. This area between northwestern Kenya and southeastern Sudan really was an unadministered area—terra incognita. We didn’t actually walk across the border as we drove by in our MAN overland vehicles. Since leaving Lake Turkana we had been in a ‘no-man’s land’ between the Kenyan frontier town of Lokichoggio and the southeastern frontier towns of Sudan.
Journal (Tuesday May 11th, 1982)
“…the Place-somewhere Sudan the heat unrelenting in the 80s…thunderclouds cluster on the far distant horizon…the cow’s skull looms leeringly up out of the desert floor beside the recent gutted river of mud…a flat tire bogs us down and the wait is on, the heat is on and the race is on—the race to Juba. It was never meant to be a race but now it is, it is a race against time, against the elements and so far we are winning.”
Prior to our departure back in Nairobi, some traveller at the hostel had told me that each person would need at least half a dozen jerry cans for carrying drinking water through the Sudan. I was able to find said jerry cans albeit cheap plastic ones at a hardware store in downtown Nairobi. The only problem with them was once they filled up, they leaked—the seal was not very good. I had to improvise and put plastic wrap around the tops. I was also told to put chlorine tablets in to purify the water but after the first taste of the chlorinated water—I knew I couldn't handle it. There’s nothing like trying to quench your thirst with water that tastes like you are drinking out of a swimming pool. During the first few days in Sudan and after a week and a half of drinking this ‘safe’ water, I remember getting sick of the foul-tasting chlorine water and wanting to toss my full plastic jerry cans out of the truck. One of the drivers told me that rather than toss the plastic containers, I should give them to needy Africans along our route. It just so happened that we did run into a group of Sudanese stragglers at Kapoeta who were collecting water at a bore well where we had just stopped. These ‘stragglers’ may have, in fact, been the remnants of the Toposa people who are cattle herders and there was a group of young girls in brightly coloured, sackcloth dresses that had come to collect water. Most of the young girls were struggling with cheap plastic barrels that they had hacked the tops off. I’m sure they would spill quite a bit of water on their return route to their tukul or bomba. As per usual, the young African girls are required to fetch the water and walk the mandatory 10-15kms with their barrel gracefully balanced on their head.
Letter to parents (May 19, 1982)
“Apparently, one of the towns we drove through Kapoeta has a serious food shortage—actually there are people starving to death and no wonder there is absolutely no rain this year or for the past 2 years. The tribe there [Topasa’s?] had cattle and were nomads travelling from one watering hole or grazing area to the next. But, all their cattle died off in the drought.”
Village girls collecting water, Kapoeta.
After handing out a couple of the jugs a full-scale brawl almost ensued amongst the young girls as to who would get which jerry can. The prize being that at least with my cans you could screw the lid on and not lose any water. They treated this as newfound wealth as villagers on either side of the drought-ridden border were always in search of water containers and I had just given them a lifeline.
Letter to parents (May19th, 1982)
“Most of the locals are interested in trying their bit of English on you or just coming up and touching you as they don’t see so many strange characters and the white women attract most of the attention, especially a flaming red haired wench with a hard to understand Aussie accent.”
On our second day into the Sudan we realized there were thunderstorms on the horizon, but we didn't think it would affect us as we were at least a sixty miles away from the distant hills that were continually shrouded in thunderheads. We were now in the Eastern Equatoria province and these mountains that were to the south of us were the Imatong Mountains, which formed Sudan’s southern, border with neighbouring Uganda[1]. At some point we realized that entering Sudan was something we were neither prepared for but it was the experience of a lifetime and the trials and tribulations of it brought us closer together as a group and for me as a traveller. Little did I know that this was a trip that very few would make as most overlanders usually take the standard Morocco or Algeria route down through the Sahara to Nigeria and then follow the Congo River over to Kenya? My eventual route that followed down the Nile from Nairobi was unusual as most travellers go up the Nile and not down like I had intended to do.

Between the Turkana and Topasa pastoralist border tribes, flash floods, poverty, famine, scrubland and searing desert winds, these were all new experiences for us. More importantly, these would form part of our collective “African experience”. There was neither accommodation nor facilities of any kind in this barren part of the continent and we were lucky just to find a flat space where we could pitch a tent or spread a foamie with a mosquito net holstered onto the side of the truck. Food was grim if not scarce and thank god Jos and Henk had some leftover dried goods and canned food from their original overland trip from Holland other wise we might have been begging at the side of the road.

As we hurtled on to Juba across the furnace blasted desert, tunes from U2's October LP reverberated through my brain. These were the days when the Walkman was just a new accessory and actually none of my companions had one. Hence, there was a more convivial and social atmosphere to the place with a lot of friendly banter going on between members of the British Commonwealth rather than seeking isolation and tuning out with the headphones.

On an earlier part of this world trip, I had managed to pick up a Toshiba mini recorder in Japan. I had decided to do some ‘field recordings’ much the same way that British musician Brian Eno had done for his “Ambient“ series in the early 80‘s. Initially I was intrigued by the Islamic call to prayer and had started recording a small collection of recordings from different mosque callers or muezzins on this trip. So far I had collected the calls from the Swahili coast, in particular, the Lamu muezzins on the eastern coast of Kenya. Plus, I recorded a Swahili pre-wedding procession in Lamu and their victorious soccer team, which had paraded and serenaded through the narrow streets accompanied by an overzealous mizmar or horn player.

Quite often the one Sudanese member of our troupe, Judallah and I would talk about Sudanese politics and found that we had a mutual love of poetry. We often recited our offerings to each other over the din that was outside our little open part of our M.A.N. truck. It was Judallah’s ambition to get to Sudan and then eventually to Italy as we wanted to study poetry and English at an Italian university. Unfortunately, I lost contact with Judallah after he moved to study in Italy and would have liked to know what happened to him. He was educated and quite refined like other Sudanese that I met but I wondered if he was rounded up as part of an Islamic crackdown in Khartoum years later when Islamic fundamentalism took route.

Somewhere southern Sudan.
As we drifted along on the bouncing road it was easy to drift off in our own travel dreamscape, which in my case meant some kind of music banging around in my head. As a result, quite often there was never a need to use the Walkman as I had my own soundtrack playing in my head. It was track number four from U2’s “October album called-”Rejoice” whose ending had booming drums in it with Edge's looping infinite guitar as the music seemed to be heading for a crescendo. There was a brilliant if not memorable line which went—“I can’t change the world, but I can change the world in me.”  This line spoke volumes for this trip as my world was changing everyday and my internal perceptions of the world as well. At the end of it I had to scream out with joy as this was the most rapturous time of my life and I could scream out here in the Sudanese wilderness because there was nothing but wind in my face and dust in my eyes—I was howling into the wind.

Moreover, this was some of the best traveling I ever did in Africa and perhaps because we were quite literally travelling on the edge. Maybe it was because it was my first real taste of Africa and I was savouring every bite.

Somewhere southern Sudan.
Somewhere in southern Sudan, we were tooling along at a great clip and were bombing through a village, when we all got the unmistakable whiff of fresh baked bread. We all got excited, as we hadn’t had fresh bread since leaving Kitale, which was over a week ago. We eventually persuaded our drivers to stop while we jumped out and went in search for fresh bread. The prospect of finding a bakery in the southern Sudan was quite amazing to say the least, the idea of eating fresh bread was tantalizing. The weather outside was tortuously hot and when we went into the bakery it was like a damn steam oven. The heat outside was unbearable and yet, there were Sudanese men somehow making bread inside. Once our eyes adjusted to the gloom inside the bakery, it revealed a kind of mud tanour with faggots of wood scattered around to fuel the oven. It looked very much like a pizza oven. We couldn’t resist and eagerly bought a few steaming, hot loaves and started devouring them like we had never eaten bread before. Back in the truck, in all the excitement and gob smacking, someone remarked out loud about the bread—
Wow this is whole wheat!
I tasted a bit and remarked on the crunchiness—
No it’s cracked wheat!
Terri tore the bread apart and started laughing.
What the hell is so funny?” one of the Kiwis asked.
It’s not cracked wheat, ya wankers but baked weevils.” She barked at us.
This cut us off guard and we all stopped eating to examine the hot bread rolls.
Jeezuz, she’s roight!” yelled Aussie Mark,
On closer examination, we found that Terri was indeed right and that the weevils must have got caught in the flour in the milling process and got fried inside the bread. It tasted good whatever it was and the weevils added to the crunchiness of the bread. Besides, a little extra protein never hurt anyone especially in our recently emaciated condition.

“The land of the shiftahs”
In travelling through this autonomous region, it was difficult to see any outward signs of the on-going civil war in southern Sudan between the northern Sudanese government forces and the breakaway Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army or (SPLA) led by John Garang.  However, we had our own little brand of excitement in the form of a confrontation with the notorious "shiftas" bandits. The ‘shiftas’ are a rag tag bunch of desperadoes who may be some kind of rogue gang of Somali army types or just bold-faced brigands. At any rate, the ‘shiftas’ tried to rob us in the “no-man’s-land” between Lokichokio in northwestern Kenyan and the Sudanese border outpost of Kapoeta. Normally the “shiftas” ranged along the Tana River area of eastern Kenya. These guys came out of the nothingness that is the scrub wasteland of the Sudan/Kenyan border clad in their native raiment of just a loincloth. Some scantily clad African guys jumping out of the bush to surprise you is one thing, brandishing shiny AK-47s is quite another. There was absolutely nothing around us for hundreds of miles and one wondered what the hell they were doing here and how they survived. We had just come around a blind curve when we noticed that the first truck with Wolfgang, Canuck Mark and Henk was stopped just ahead of us. The two Kiwis, Aussie Mark, Ben, Terri and I were in the second vehicle with Jos.
One of the Aussies yelled—“What the hell are we stopped for?
Then we saw some guys off to the side of the road with nothing but shiny AK-47s.
Jeezuz mate, they’ve got guns!” screamed Terri.
Christ now what?
The gunmen hadn’t really seen us yet so we were able to hunker down and whisper amongst ourselves as our truck tried to sneak by the ‘shiftas’.
Better hide your money.”
Are we being robbed?” muffled someone else.
Fuckin hell!
Should I take a picture?” asked Craig.
Bugger that, they might shoot you”, offered Phil.
The rest of us, including myself, were too frightened to take any pictures more out of shock of being carjacked lest we arouse their interest in our cameras. At this juncture, a picture would have been worth a thousand words.
                                                                                                    Letter to family (May19th, 1982)
Mark, Wolfgang and driver Henk.
“We also ran into some ‘shiftas’ or more plainly ‘bandits’ from Somalia, about 15 of them armed with M16 or AK-47’s who were looking for food or water. The lead truck got stopped first and there were these ‘bandits’ up talking to the driver, we pulled up behind and kept going because to stop might have been bad. We roared by and the ‘bandits’ raised their rifles at us, it was a bit hairy as we weren’t sure what would happen. They have a lot of problems with ‘shiftas’ at this border of Kenya, Sudan & Uganda so there are police stops at every little town which gets to be a pain in the ass but is necessary and we can get off for a hot cup of chai or beans & chapatti.”
Nevertheless, the ’shiftas’ were a noble sight if not frightening sight and as it turned out they only wanted food as we were miles from anywhere that would take cash. Money in the middle of nowhere is of absolutely no value to owner or thief. Unless these chaps could have eaten our bills it was absolutely of no use to them. We were fortunate to have our own Sudanese ambassador on board in the form of Jadallah who could talk to them and he was also able to allay our fears. The 'shiftas' were the only military types that I saw in the Sudan and they belonged to no organized army but were just a rag tag bunch of deserters looking for a meal.

Land of flash floods (between Kapoeta and Torit)
Ben waiting for the flash flood to subside.
Further along, we passed through what on the surface appeared as a string of harmless meandering streams. It seemed strange as we were in quite an arid area and could not see where the water originated from, as it was dense brush land on either side of our dirt track. The climate was a tad muggy so perhaps there was rain in the air as we could make out puffy thunderhead on the immediate horizon. No sooner had we continued our journey along the abandoned dirt track when all of a sudden Henk’s M.A.N. truck came to an abrupt stop. Our first thoughts were that there were more ‘shiftas’ on the road and we were held up again. A raging river confronted us, in fact, it was a 'flash flood' and the drivers wanted to wait till the river subsided—which might be tomorrow morning. The sky was clear and it wasn’t raining on us but it obviously had been raining further south in the Didinga Hills.  Being old African overland hands, Henk and Jos knew it was better to wait until the next morning rather than risk getting both trucks stuck in the raging torrent and ensuing mud. Besides, there was only one winch between these two behemoth vehicles and we needed to plan carefully what our next moves would be. We were, after all, in the middle of nowhere and there would be very little chance of someone pulling us out, as there is no AAA over here or any callbox to phone for one. Besides, we were on “African time” and there was no rush to get to Juba, except to sell the vehicles.
Journal (Wednesday May12th, 1982)
“We are waiting for the river to go down today as it is roaring by and flooding about 100 meters either side. We dug ourselves in for a couple of hours or days until it dies down. But looking at the thunderheads in the distant horizon we could be here for years and look like the bleached bones on the ground beside me here. Mud mud glorious mud.”
We ended up setting up camp for the night beside the river. Someone set up a camp cot and laid out all the foodstuffs for dinner plus enamel cups and plates. Most of fresh food/fruit had either been given away in the Turkana villages we passed, to the ‘shiftas’ or had been chucked because it had gone off. Luckily, Jos and Henk still had quite a bit of their canned goods provisions from previous overland trip so we feasted on that. We still had a few veggies left, some rice and curry so we had a communal curry dinner with bully beef thrown in. We still had some packets of instant soup so we cooked that up too. That night we had a communal meal which wasn't half bad but everything was from a can and bully beef was becoming rather passé. There were no Macdonald’s or KFC nearby so you had to make do what the chefs cooked up or go hungry. There were no chairs so most of time we ate standing up or crouched down on the dirt track. Terri often used her white beat-up tent to camp out at night as she was freaked out about scorpions and snakes. I could care less as long as I had my mosquito net tucked under my foamie I was all right. We also had to be careful with our water as we hadn’t seen any potable water along the route. The water that we thought we could get at Lake Turkana proved to be brackish and unpalatable. Luckily, we had stocked up with jerry cans and Jos/Henk had brought five gallon metal water cans to haul our water from Nairobi. We were just lucky that the weather was clear and no rain to dampen our outdoor fete. In the morning our usual fare was quick oats, some sugar, tea and dreaded instant coffee which would have to tide us over till we got to a place with food or barring that—Juba.

Being winched through the flash flood.
The following morning, the sky had a few clouds but nothing to indicate a downpour. The river had gone down somewhat but it was still high enough to cause trouble lest we get stuck. There was no way around it—we would have to drive through it if we were ever going to get to Juba. After some discussion, it was decided that Jos would go through first since he had the winch that might have to pull us out. The far laterite shore beckoned us, but it was about 100-200 meters away. Ben stood at the edge of the receding river and watched the first truck go across the river. This seemed like a good time to take some action shots of the extreme driving scene so I waded out and in the four foot-high raging river to take photos of the sequence. I didn't care if I or the camera got wet for that matter as I had an underwater Nikonos camera and the water wouldn‘t affect the camera only me. The camera was a bit of a dog on this trip as everything had to be manually controlled from exposure to focal length which took away from the candid aspect. Nevertheless, it was perfect for this, because who cares if the camera gets wet. After the first truck went through it turned around and winched the other truck through the muck and moil. Terri, Craig, Mark and Simon stood up while the truck laboured through the swill. It was all exciting as Ben was in the cab smiling like a mad Ahab as the truck created a wave that soaked me up to my waist. Since I was already wet, I helped Jos unwind the winch and then hook it up to Henk’s truck. I was a bit of an old hand concerning working with winches since three months previous I had to do the same thing by myself in the winter wilds of Canada. Henk and Jos had to wait for me as I had to clean off all the muck that covered me and it was one of the lighter moments of the trip. After a brief chit chat and laugh, we were off and running again.
Driving through the flash flood.
Letter to my parents (May 19, 1982)—“...the desert and boggy sections, sometimes we were tilted at a 45 degree angle and it felt like being on a ship  more than anything. The area that we drove through was desert mixed with swamp and it would get up into the 90s and 100s F during the day and would be raining cats and dogs all around us. We would stop off at any little town along the way for chai (tea) as that was all they could offer. There are people starving all along the route and whenever we finished eating (either oatmeal, bread or jam, or corned beef, noodles and rice for dinner) we would give the poor beggars the plates, pots & pans to scrape any morsel s off-and believe me they didn’t leave anything. But it was interesting to watch how they shared the food with each other as they would take turns having a mouthful. ”
The initial encounter with the “shiftas” was a bit worrisome just the same as I could envision the 'shiftas' trotting after us to gain further compensation.
Letter to parents (May 19th, 1982)
“We also gave lifts to policemen who were going on to other posts so that made us feel safer in case we ran into some other ‘bandits’…and this was just one ‘bandit’ with an AK-47 and his mates, he showed us the rifle and tried to wave us down, but like before, we drove right past. What we didn’t know was that we had to cross a deep river ahead (a couple actually) and the ‘bandits’ knew this and ran after us. We had to go slow over the river (as they had swept a couple of lorries over) and by the time we got over, I looked back and I could see these ‘shiftas’ running at full speed to catch us. So we got the hell out of there fast as these characters would run miles just to get a loaf of bread, and besides the truck drivers didn’t feel like meeting them over dinner.”
Apart from the “shiftas” and the policeman we saw very little humanity on this route. Villages were few and far between. Even though the weather was cloudy for the most part; very little rain actually fell on us. This was not the kind of place you would want to break down. At one of our frequent stops at a swollen river, I looked back and saw a troop of baboons following us down the muddy track. For some strange reason it sent an eerie chill down my spine like something from “The Exorcist“.  I think it was a primal response to something that is human nature—wanting to be a ‘hunter’ and not the ‘hunted‘.
Eventually we got out of this “no-man’s-land” and most of us breathed a sigh of relief to be out in the open savannah. The tune “Fire” by U2 came to mind, “Falling, falling the sun is burning black, it’s beating on my back with a fire.”
Between Torit and Juba we had six-seven patrol roadblocks where we had to report to the Sudanese police with annoying questions like—
How long do you plan on staying here?
Where are you going?
Do you have a Sudanese visa?
What a crock of shit.” I thought to myself.
Quite often we would use these police stops to grab a plate of beans, eat freshly made chapattis and drink copious amounts of sweetened chai or tea if it was available. I think the bumpy ride on the corduroy roads in our MAN trucks was starting to take its toll on us, on me for sure as I recorded in my travel diary—
Journal (Friday May 15th, 1982)
“…what a ratty joint, noisy, clanking, banging, bumping, being thrown around, being checked, hassled, haggled, no showers, ugali for breakfast with pineapples, chai, Marie biscuits and nuts.”
We finally arrived at the anything but palatial Africa Hotel in Juba the following afternoon and collapsed in heaps on nasty bedsprings that we would call home for the next couple of weeks.

[1] This is the area where the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by the self-proclaimed modern-day prophet—Joseph Kony who has been terrorizing the local villagers and forcing many children to fight for their cause and raping young village girls.