Importing ants in a backpack


The magnificent trip to Africa was ruthlessly coming to an end. The worst part was yet to come – four flights in a row, two all-nighters, two heavy backpacks, hassling in the checkpoints and last but not least – the temperature decreasing with every flight.
We were freezing to death already in Dubai where the temperature was 20 degrees Celsius, not to mention the overwhelming sleepiness which got me on the carpet of the airport.

We seeked redemption in endless drinks on Emirates. Dizzy from Bailey’s and cold from the toes, we found ourselves in London in the morning. The sterility was shocking. Tidy people and actual streets.
On a train from Gatwick to the city centre, I opened my backpack and… Good-bye, sterility! Hello again, Africa!
The bag was filled with little ants, walking all over my things. Import-ants. Living goods straight from the wild heart of Africa. Now available in the fashion and finance capital of Europe.
Oh well, I closed my bag again lightly startled, for what one cannot witness, does not exist.

A dreadlock in my hair, a drum under my arm, Berit in her slip-ons, tanned under the sun of Africa, we entered a fancy lingerie shop office on Oxford street, to meet a friend. From one extremity to the other, no kidding. If only those office girls would have known what kind of men I had scrabbling in my bag… I could already imagine chicks in stilettos jumping on chairs, hands with fake nails up high.

Before getting on our next flight, I made an ultimatum for the ants – a life on the grass in front of Standsted airport or death on a flight to freezing Estonia. The guys made a smart choice and picked the first one.

The first week in Estonia was devastating to our brain working on hakuna matata mode and body used to the 35-degree heat.
I remember sitting in a lecture on financial management and couldn’t get it – they are talking about divident policy and capital structure when there are lions outside and a herd of cows must be taken home from the savanna by evening. I remember a question arising with every minute that why people choose to live in this poor cold weather.

Until now, I can see pictures of the sunset in Zanzibar when I close my eyes, a wild geyser, the ancient rainforests, a stunning waterfall, the romantic savanna, lizards, cockroaches, elephants, giraffes.
This seems like an amazing dream, yet so real, so full of life in its absolute glory.

No guide, no going anywhere

Our travel is the beginning of the end. We’re back from the beach. Our skin is so red that an old man walking by stops in front of me, scans me through from head to toe, bursts to laugh saying „Lobster!”  and continues his playful walk.

The night is pitch black. The four of us are walking home. Terje, me and two local guys. The streets have no lights of course. There are no cars. No people. Suddenly, we hear tire squeaking just before a van almost hits us. Maffia! Terje shouts when ten armed men jump out of the car and surround us. Life is passing through our eyes when we see the threatening glint of their machine guns, but they start to talk in Swahili to our friends. What’s happening? we ask our friends to translate. But the dispute is intense and the men are furious. At some point, the situation becomes absurd. Why isn’t anyone telling us what’s going on?! Speak in English! When they still won’t listen us, me and Terje get fed up with the maffia and start to walk home.
Where do you think you’re going, Prospa shouts at us. You are why we got into this mess. Finally things start to clear up. The maffia men claim to be police officers, the van a police truck, the jeans and T-shirts a police uniform. They refuse to show their ID-s. But they demand bribe, for the law allows only guides with a paper to prove it to provide guide services. Guide services? These are our friends! The so-called policemen try to convince us that doesn’t count. We don’t know them long enough. So much absurdities come out that we don’t know what to do but laugh:
„How do I get home from a bar in the middle of the night if I don’t have cash for a taxi and it’s dangerous to walk alone on the streets at night?”
„You have to find an official guide from the bar.”

This is when we get really mad. A month in Africa has taught us many things, one being how to not get ripped off by a fraud. We throw our head up high, find our Northern cold core and stick to our terms, telling the men have no choice but to show us their ID-s. One down, others start to retrieve back to their van one by one. The conversation continues in Swahili. Which we don’t understand. But it seems we got away with a warning this time.

(Police officers of Kenya on the picture. Uniformed. With machine guns. But in a similar truck.)

Peace & Love from the Rasta Kid

Having just become a drum owner, I couldn’t resist to join the campfire sessions happening every night. That’s where I met Ras T, a local artist who was willing to tell me all about drums.

Brothas ‘n’ sistas
A bunch of artists live a few hundred meters away from our place, painting pictures of jumping and dancing Masai people for tourists. They sleep on the sand under the reef and spend their days doing great art.

Ras T has white seashells around his neck and dreadlocks, vigorous veins under his black skin and his deep brown eyes seem even frightening at times. The artist explains that rastafari means You and me. We bump fists and tap our chest. Peace and love. I’m his sista, he’s my brotha.
And in the harmonic peace of mind like that, the rastas smoke the stuff day after day since the time Haile Selassie was the king of Etiopia. The Rastas believe that Selassie was the God’s representative on Earth, the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, and the smoke of cannabis was the sacrament for worshiping him.

After an hour of hypnotizing drum beats, he suggested „Hey, sista sista, we can make some good rastas here…” and invited me to his studio for the next day to make some dreadlocks.

Ras T

Officially HIV Negative
On the next day, we went to the artists’ Meka, dizzy from the heat. Topless men with sweaty torsos were mixing paint and tapping nails. A half an hour later, both me and Berit had finished a painting of three Masais, for the sake of pure art. Tourists would buy one of those for 20 dollars.
Ras T made a strand of my hair to a dreadlock and along the way, pulled a paper out of somewhere that affirmed he’s HIV negative.

Things took a strange turn in the evening at a beach party. The rasta kid couldn’t believe that after an hour of chatting and chilling in his studio in the evening, we were not a hot couple and are not going to have sex in his studio. And I couldn’t believe that he would think that with such boldness. It was hard to understand altogether, why white women seem so attractive to black men when the local black women dance to show their skills in bed under our very eyes.

Anyway, I turned Ras T down and didn’t dare to speak to another black man the whole night.

Mister Q

A few days later, Ras T’s colleague Mister Q asked us to come to his studio to get our paintings. We were confronted by a surprise – Berit’s picture was attracting looks among other paintings, but mine was nowhere to find. Then I remembered a bitter glance I got a few nights back, from someone claiming that I had broken his heart and he doesn’t want to know anything about me anymore.

! ! ! W A N T E D ! ! ! :

Luckily, we had a white rasta kid of our own, Georg from Germany, who had wandering around Africa for a half a year now. We asked him to spend a night in our beach hut, and dragged him skinny dipping with us at night. On the daytime, we lounged in the shadow and played bao, the cult game of Zanzibar. In the evenings, our minds strayed in the endless labyrinths of the night sky of Africa.
We could spend hours in the turquoise sea. When you swim thirty meters towards the ocean and look under the water with your swimming goggles, you can see the wonderful world of corals, sea urchins and colorful fish. But that was just the beginning… 

  • A musician who loves Estonia and Georg

In the vortex of Stown Town

While writing this entry, we’re lounging in a hammock installed between two palm trees, watching how marvelously our tanned toes create a contrast with the white sand. The Indian ocean is twenty meters away, rippling to the shore. A million stars twinkle in the sky. More than me and Berit have ever seen.
But to get back to the story, we were on our way from Dar es Salaam where the power had gone out, to the island of Zanzibar, lying on a ferry, worn-out, listening to The Doors from a mp3-player, the last time we had a chance to brush our teeth long forgotten. Go hippies.

The best city on Earth – Stone Town

Our friend the cab driver said finding us good and cheap accommodation in Zanzibar will be hakuna matata (no problem). Of course, the we ended up empty-handed after an hour of trying to find a hotel with the help from random coolies and travel agencies.

Zanzibar is a spectacle. Indian, Arab, African and European cultures cross on this tiny muslim island into a peculiar mix. Officially, the two islands, Unguja and Pemba that Zanzibar consists of, are a part of Tanzania from 1964, but they have maintained a high autonomy.

We crashed right into the vortex of cultures – Stown Town, and old district of Zanzibar where romantic balconies and carved wooden doors are accompanied by sultan palaces and beautiful mosques. Colorful Muslim women, Indian merchants and friendly boys with dreadlocks walk on the narrow streets. The small streets form a labyrinth, crossing one, you end up in another. We wandered around, admiring the refined beauty of every street, which, by the way, has not gone unnoticed by UNESCO.

Somewhere up there the sun is shining, bright and hot. When we found ourselves on a wider street, the heat was unbearable.

Drums

We visited a couple of shops. What did they sell among all other stuff? Of course – drums. I admit my fetish – I have to bring a musical instrument home from every trip. I already have a couple of Indian drums and horns, a Turkish flute, rattles from Cuba and what could be a better souvenir from Africa than a djembe.

I looked at the drums for a while until I encountered a charming young man – Prospa the Drumboy.

I haggled with Prospa a good half an hour until I got myself a djembe. With a bro’s price. Before we left the shop, Prospa’s friends gave me a flyer to a reggae party that me and Berit already were planning to go that night.

Sauti za Busara – Sounds of Wisdom

It was a coincidence that Stone Town was brighter than usual that weekend, for the greatest music festival of East-Africa took place probably in the most idyllic place in the world that year. In the heart of Stone Town, in an old fortress.
We were enchanted by a familiar folk music festival atmosphere – sun, flowers, good music, cold beer, the smell of BBQ in the middle of a Sultan fortress. The most exciting was a performance by African women, a dance to express how an African woman acts in bed. Sexy shaking of the chastity belt. There were other good performers, as well.

Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!

Late in the evening, we went to find our reggae party where people smoke more than drink, as the boys said. The visual aesthetics were not the best of a kind – a concrete floor and plastic chairs, the bar counter behind bars. But people danced with their crazy dreadlocks right under the stars. Berit soon noticed Terje sitting on the stage next to the DJ, rolling something with a bunch of Rastafarians.

The party turned out to be a blast. At 3 AM when Berit was already sleeping (one joint too many?), I was playing pool with Prospa the Drumboy by the sweet voice and beats of Bob Marley. Stoned in Stown Town.

And where was Freddie Mercury born? Exactly.

In the darkness of a Million City

The third most rapidly growing city in the world. The tourism center of continental Tanzania. City of a million. A harbour city. Dar es Salaam. And no electricity in the whole area!
Yeah, it’s gone, the hotel manager shrugs. Lord knowns when it will be back. Tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, hakuna matata.

Why we got stuck in Dar..

In Estonia, you get off the bus, take a cab, drive to the port, go to the ticket office, buy a ticket and get on a ship.
In Tanzania, you barely get off the bus when a bunch of cab drivers strike you, screaming my car! No, get in my car! After five minutes of hassling about whose cab to choose, you pull away in anger and find the most modest cab driver there is. He takes you to the port and advises you to buy a ticket only from a ticket office, otherwise you will get mugged. You enter the office and guess what happens next? Naturally, another bunch of people storm onto you. 35 dollars! 45 dollars! There are no vacancies, not if you pay 100 dollars! Yes, I would like to buy a ticket, but who of you works here?!?! The cab driver pulls one guy out of the bunch and claims him to be the right man. You have to trust him, nothing else to do. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t (which happened big time with Monster, for example).
It seems he was the right person. And because we have no interest in paying 100 dollars and a watch for the ticket, we have no chance but to endure another night out in the city again, before we can enjoy the paradise beach.

Where are we this time?
As said before, in a hotel with no electricity. No water either, therefore. And, therefore, the only thing we can do now, is to drink wine, glass after glass, and despite the unsettling feeling of filthiness, pass out eventually.
We look out the window. The city is dark. Somewhere far, there’s a small light and a roaring sound. We recognize our old friend, power generator in the sound of a jet plane, which was our companion every night in Nairobi. Who could believe that the absence of a flashlight (which I had left in London) was not a problem in the savannas of Kenya and on the foot of Kilimanjaro, but became one in the former capital city of Tanzania. We take a kitchen knife and a pepper spray with us and go on a quest of finding a restaurant.
Not too long from that, a familiar cab driver emerges from somewhere. This time, he gets credit for promising to take us to the only bar with lights in the city. That turned out to be a garage with plastic seats, beams of light shining from one corner every now and then.

And then the night takes another turn
A friend of the cab driver turns up. He trashes a fancy cellphone and car keys on the table and starts to speak clear American English. You want dinner? To go to a club? Both? We learn that Raj is a Brahman textile merchant from Pakistan and studies law. We strengthen our grip on the kitchen knife and agree on driving to the other end of the city with him.
We arrive to the club. A female security guard searches Terje, says hakuna matata and lets her enter with a kitchen knife.
Two floors with a hole in the middle, a couple of seats by the walls. When in Estonia, the majority of the people in clubs are women, then in here, it’s the other way around. Only a few women are among men on the dancefloor, and even they are prostitutes.
Or not! We discover there’s another white woman in the club! For a chance so rare, Raj decides to invite her to join us.
So, where are you from? the stranger asks
Estonia
Australia?
No-no, Estonia!
Aa, mina ka! (Oh, me to!
in Estonian)
As it turned out, on the other side of the equator, in a random city with no power, at an even more random club, the only white woman in addition to us has gone to the same high-school as me and is going now to the same university. 

We spend the rest of the party a bit surprised, but sipping Konyagi and dancing. When the power goes off in that club, too, we couldn’t care less.

When we wake up at seven in the morning, to get going to Zanzibar, our friend cab driver turns up again. Straight from the party. Still drunk. But always there to pick us up.

African dream

We wake up. It must be 3 in the afternoon. We’re lying in a comfy bed under a blanket. The sound of roosters outside. Bodies full of bruises. Headache. A yellow fluff is scurrying through the room. Is it a dream? Or maybe Monster was a dream? Are we alive? If we’re alive, where are we?
We recover eventually. A Dutch hippie comes to our mind, the man who picked us up from the bus station and carried into a strange house.
Terje opens the door when waken up, but closes it again quickly. There are several men in the house, wearing suits and working on graphs and diagrams. We listen. Sounds like a presentation. Eventually we pull ourselves together and exit the room. We’re confronted not by serious businessmen, but by a lanky traveler smoking a joint.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

We’re sitting on a terrace on the rooftop of a house, alcohol in the system, eyes fixed to the sky. There it is. Just emerged from the clouds. In the reddish glow of sunset. Alone and overwhelming. We’re exactly as far from the Kilimanjaro’s top as we were last time when admiring its beauty from a plane. Six kilometers.

Niels tells us the story of his life. Fell in love, traveled, moved away. Took a bunch of computers with him that he’s distributing to the schools of Moshi now. Finally, a sensible charity! For some reason, he tells us how they’re used to sitting on a rooftop of a car in Tanzania.  When we finally experience it, we see why. A shared joint, starry sky and philosophy evolve into the best idea – a trip to Maji Moto the next day.

Idyll

I, for one, cannot believe my eyes, when jumping out of the car I find myself in the middle of an oasis. I make a sound so inhuman that Terje gets concerned. Then she, too, pulls the palm leaves blocking the view away and shouts. Out of happiness, I hope.
We’re in a romantic adventure movie, that’s for sure. We’re standing in front of a volcanic spring so clear that I can tell the species of fish swimming there. The palm leaves fall into water, sun shining through them. When you look closely, you can see rivers descending from the delta. A colorful kingfisher floats across the spring, slides down a bit and catches a yellow fry. We’re surrounded by perfect silence and nature sounds. 

Niels finds a local man fishing in the bushes. He gives him some money and asks him to safeguard us in return. Against thieves, crocodiles and other savages. We strip down light-heartedly and dive into the water. Hot! And so beautiful!
We enjoy our lunch on the waterside today. With exciting alcohol and a smoke. But I don’t think we could be more excited than we already are. Time stops. There are only Terje, Berit and the endless idyll.

When the sun sets, we return to Moshi. The snowy top of Kilimanjaro gleaming between the clouds and Enjoy the Silence by Depeche Mode playing itself straight to our hearts, we’re devoured by unbearable feeling of contentment.

Monster

Berit, how much humanity is there left in you? (with a numb, distressed voice)
Eughuhh… (barely audible groan resounded with Malindi in the background)

Sacrifice for a human experiment 

We were the test group of a human experiment last night. The experiment was to see the human tolerance to physical pain. We were thrown around like Jews in the Second World War.
First, we were forced into a metal box which was constantly shaked back and forth. It was cold, dirty, dusty, there were holes in the floor and the windows were broken. The noise was intolerable.
The people who sold us this “adventure” in the Monster, claimed it was a bus.

The square seats’ mats were snagged. The windows lapsed constantly open so cold wild would blow in. Lots of packages were in the room around us that fell to the ground every now and then. The roof was full of different things no use for us.

I held a tiny chick in my hands, only two days old, who had never hurt a soul in this world but still had to bear 10 hours of the gauntlet of sufferings with us.

Culprits: Monster, the coolies who had sold us the bus tickets, and the roads of Kenya (= a bump after the other).

At first, it seemed funny. Then annoying, then unpleasant, then appalling and in the end, we were in physical pain! Only wish in our jolted minds were this thing to stop. Nothing else mattered. No! This pain has to stop! We would have asked to leave the bus, only if we weren’t in the middle of a remote desert, among hungry lions…

The chick felt sick in a couple of hours. The poor thing was so cold, the only place she would survive the trip to Tanzania was under my arm or bosom. The chick pooped in my hand every 10 minutes. I shaked the poop off and put the little one back where she was, until another dropping.

A coolie who didn’t seem to give a damn, sat next to us at some point, chewing his Khat and glancing at our bags. The pain and poop were joined by fear.

Living ghosts

A moment came, when I didn’t feel human anymore. I became a robot who couldn’t really comprehend what’s happening, what matters in life, who I am and what is my purpose here. I was Winston Smith in 1984 by Orwell, trashed numb. I love you.
I looked out the window – the bushes of the savannah, gray in the moonlight, turned into corals and algae, reaching out towards me vigorously. The mountains projected a black silhouette to the background.
There was only one point where I felt elation in this saga of sufferings – when I saw Big Dipper, hanging above the mountains. Upside down.


To make the situation even more absurd, we were asked for additional payment for the tickets. As it turned out, Monster would take us not farther than the border. What!? We were tortured in this Monster the whole night like Jews in a gas chamber. I wanted to punch those Mombasa coolies, the bus driver and all the other coolies out there. I kicked Monster out of anger! And hit my toe…

When we reached the checkpoint in the morning, we put our foot down. Even if it’s the end of the world, we’re not getting on that Monster anymore. It worked – a coolie fetched us a matatu.

 And then…

Tanzania.
Asphalt!
With a stripe.
A police officer in a clean light blue uniform.
Clean streets.
A doll world, like the 1950′s America.

And, illuminated by the holy light of sunrise through a morning fog, we saw the snowy peak of Africa – giant Kilimanjaro. A divine revelation.

The chick was shocked, shivering and squeaking like a cellphone alarm. It took half a day to get her back to life.

We couldn’t figure out what happened next. A white man in a jeep appeared from somewhere. We were taken to a house where four people were sitting behind their computers in a circle. We couldn’t understand anything. „This is your room” was where we collapsed.
Half dead.