Small country with a big story - Rwanda

 

After I visited the biggest countries of the East African community, I got to the end to this tiny country, which everybody likes to call the country of thousands hills. When I crossed the border, I suddenly found myself in a different universe. First, I had to get used to the cars driving on the right again, the British didn’t make it all the way here. I was surprised by much more than just driving on the right. Even though, this was not my first visit, I have experienced, learnt and changed a lot in the past three years and so I started noticing different things. It can be the degree I did, the people I met or the way I see the world now, either way, I saw Rwanda in a different light again. (Although I had very similar feeling from my last visit).

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Panomo Panomo - Today, not tomorrow

 

Malawi is so far the smallest country I visited on this expedition. It is also the country where I spent most time traveling. When I looked at the map, without a plan, when crossing the border I thought I would give it about two weeks before heading up to Tanzania. Yet, three weeks later here I am, back in the capital Lilongwe only just getting ready to explore the north.

This little gem in southern Africa is said to be the poorest country in Africa, it also has one of the highest rate of children per women in the world (average is about 5 children per woman) and it is also a country with some of the warmest people.

In the article on ‘How poor are poor countries’ I tried to explain why it is good to treat the statistics and numbers with caution. After all, although the researches try their best at estimating and calculating the statistics for population growth, economy, mortality rates etc. Many of those are still hard to gather, since those numbers are changing fast, are under/over reported or reported with a delay and even definitions or specifications of the cases are often misleading. (In rural areas the cause of death is sometimes just a guess, as it is not always in the doctors’ capacity to check for the cause of death, the definitions of child mortality also differs, from country to country even within European countries…).

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How poor are Africans? part 2: The poorest country in Africa or…

According to the way we measure the size of one’s economy which is comparing countries GDP per capita (gross domestic product), Malawi is the poorest country in Africa.

Yes, it might be to your surprise to learn that the poorest countries in the world are not in Africa.

More than half of the population in Malawi lives below the nation stated poverty line and over 80% live in the countryside and rural areas. Exact numbers are hard to estimate; the population grows fast, and the urbanization rate is also growing. Many families now have relatives which live in town, (mainly young adults) and they are often sending money to their families and younger siblings in villages. However, despite Malawi apparently being the poorest I still managed to send many postcards, buy some things from supermarket, get root canal treatment after my tooth was infected and get some delicious Nepalis curry with garlic naan for dinner. Just because we label something the poorest, it doesn’t mean that you will find starving children on every corner nor does it mean that there must be high crime rates or war going on. None of this you will find in Malawi.

I therefore decided to explain a bit the way in which we measure the size on states ‘economies and why it stigmatizes countries with weak law enforcement or with simply missing structures.  

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How poor are Africans? Part 1: Life in the village

I recently got a question (and I met many people who think the same – hence the reason for starting this expedition); the question was something among the lines: ‘’How is it with the poverty in Africa? Why people don’t work? Why they still have so many children?’’

I decided to write (with time) few articles explaining the ‘poverty phenomenon’ in Africa. By no means I am trying to say that this is how it is. I will try to explain things from my subjective experience with people, books I read, villages I visited and so on. The first part, I would like to focus on the village life - and I mean the proper, rural, poor life in the village. By now, I hope I showed you that there is no ONE Africa, but rather over 50 countries with different level of economical, social and political developments and that even within each country, large differences exist.

For me, the village – rural life is very similar across all the countries. It is also the place where clear majority of the NGOs and charities operate. The second large area of focus are townships (but that maybe later).

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The life in the village – Zambian mud houses with Wi-Fi

Even though I planned to leave Zambia by the end of last week, I could not resist an invitation from a guy who lives in a small mud hut near the border with Malawi. So as is happens, my stay in Zambia has been prolonged by almost another week. The invitation came from nobody else than from a couchsurfer who saw I was passing by and surprisingly was not from a local Zambian but an American Peace Corp volunteer, who lives in the village for nearly two years now.

Sometimes, somewhere the kids actually enjoy doing chores like washing the dishes!

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Western Zambia - Kings and water flooded plains

On Thursday morning, my favourite group of Zambian brothers took me downtown from where the others picked me up. Our international group consisted of one Czech travelled, two Italian volunteers and one Dutch worker. We left early morning as the way to Mongu was long 600 km. On our way we drove through beautiful Kafue National Park, where although we haven’t seen any elephants we spotted many small and big impalas. Long stretches of road were in perfect condition, but one part was full of potholes and so it took us longer to arrive.

Unfortunately, most of the Western province has very sandy soil. This is problem not only for agriculture but also for infrastructure as the roads built on sandy grounds get easily destroyed during the rainy season. Sand gets washed away and heavily loaded trucks just finish the job. We arrived to Mongu just ready for unpacking our stuff and going for a short walk around our hotel to see the sunset over the beautiful flooded plains. The International Women’s day was celebrated all over and so we grab a beer with a sweet man on the street in his little shop and then headed back to continue the celebration with lovely dinner in the hotel.

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Zambie – the country where nothing ever happens?

Zambia is a beautiful country. I travelled here two years ago for few weeks and I truly enjoyed it. However, whenever I meet some traveller, they always just say that Zambia is … kind of boring or just, that there is nothing special. I would start, are Victoria Falls, one of the largest falls in the world nothing? Anyways, last time I visited the copper belt region and North with Livingstone, this time I decided for the Western and Eastern Zambia. At least I can say I walked through four different borders here and visited most of the regions.

Hitchhiking from Harare couldn’t have been better. From my couchsurfer I left after breakfast and walked to the near main road out of town, from where I wanted to hitchhike. Soon a car pulled over, and a puzzled lady asked what I am doing with all the things at this road. After I explained she drove me quite far out of town, where she literally gave me to the local police unit. The policemen were lovely people who couldn’t believe what am I trying to do. However, they excitingly stayed by the side of the road and hitched cars side by side. Very quickly a Zambian truck driver stopped. He was actual going all the way to Democratic Republic of Congo, but I, after all, cannot travel that fast, as I still want to meet people.

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The time flies! Good-bye Zimbabwe

Another week behind me and new country in front of me, After two weeks, it is finally time to get going and discover some new places. If I could I would (stay) but then, I would probably travel forever, so let's keep it not as Good-Bye but See-you-later Zimbabwe!

Zimbabwe was amazing already when I was here first time years ago and it was even better this time. With the resignation of Mugabe and new temporary currency, it looks like the better tomorrows are about to come. Everyone I talked to - be it a farmer, driver or a doctor - mentioned the politics or Mugabe in one way or another. There is hope and there is so much more to come. Although people still love Mugabe as the leader, vast majority agrees that his departure was long overdue. He did some pretty cool things for the country, starting with the independence, but everyone has its time. 

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Great Zimbabwe - the ruins that rewrote the history

Once I reached Masvinga it was not hard to find my way to the Great Zimbabwe. I was dropped of at the bus station, but the driver insisted to take me to place from where the combis (local buses) going my way are leaving. The combi driver then insisted on driving me of his way all the way to the Great Zimbabwe hotel (from where the walk to the ruins start) and saved me walking another 2km in the rain. 

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The first week in Zimbabwe - hello sista!

What a week! actually two... I am a little bit behind but let me try to make up for it. I promised myself that I will get to the routine of adding at least an article every few days about random travel stories and mabye some more. That was the original reason why I decided to stay not two days but the whole week in Bulawayo, where my Couchsurfer (host) left me in his beautiful and huge house, after he left for Botswana. Well, he shouldn't have introduce me to his friends, who took very good care of me and of me not having time to spare. 

So now, I am sitting in an old bus heading to Harare, watching sunset, and thinking where did the week go? So nice to see sunset though, thanks to my spontaneous me, who never plans more than few hours ahead I reached Zimbabwe in the middle of its rainy season. (To be fair, climate change is playing a bit with their rains, it should have been here months ago!). The rain today was also the reason for me taking the bus and not hitch-hiking. Yet just few hours ago I was walking all around the beautiful Great Zimbabwe not minding getting soaked and wet. But one after another. 

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White Chick Solo Traveler: Privilege not a disadvantage

I have been thinking about whether to write this article for a while. It has been on the back of my mind for a bit and as I am getting more and more worrying wishes, where I know that people are very sincere when they wish me ‘Safe travels’ I decided to spill out the beans.

To be completely honest with you, I think, that being a white solo girl hitch-hiker from Europe is not so much a disadvantage when traveling as much as it is an advantage (or more like a privilege). Now, I am not talking about the privilege of having European passport, access to free health care or education (yes, it is kind of free in Czech Republic) and all that money-related matters, because those are things you can secure in most places although I admit it is much harder for some. However, your gender or colour of your skin is not something you work hard to get. You were born with it without really deserving it, no matter what you ‘got’.

I always try to convince my friends from all around the world to either join me or do whatever travel adventure on their own. I honestly believe that being exposed to different cultures, lifestyles and environment while being completely self-dependent and having to take the responsibility for one’s decisions is a great way to learn about ourselves – and it also helps to open the mindsets of people in places where you travel. Although I believe that your attitude makes a big difference on the experiences you have when you travel: being a YES-(wo)man or a detailed planner, trusting people or being overly careful, choosing comfort or choosing fun and new experience… I also realize that all the fun and unbelievable stories that I have so many, I partly experienced for reasons beyond my control.

Your gender and colour of your skin is what people see before you even (try to) make the first contact. Both (gender and colour of your skin) carry certain stereotype and is infused with expectations about you as a person. So, while for some those associations might play into their cards, other have to first prove them wrong before being able express themselves.

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The Unexpected Expedition is ON – first two weeks on the road

Two weeks ago I run out of excuses and decided to (finally) leave Cape Town. So, one day I got a taxi (local minibus) to a petrol station just outside of the city and after 40 min wait got my first car. 8 hours, 2 other lifts and 400 km later I found myself in amazing place called Wilderness where I was convinced by the driver (honestly, I didn’t need much convincing) to stay for the rest of the day.

If that did not prove that hitch-hiking around here is not that bad than the rest of my journey up to Pretoria was the proof. Once a driver turned around as he drove pass me in the opposite direction just to drive me to a better hitch-hiking spot! He ended up driving me for a while as he had so many recommendations for me to do and see. My average waiting time, after that initial 40 min reduced to 1-5 minutes and soon I also learnt that there is no point planning the journey. That stop in Wilderness wasn’t the only unplanned stop and I am sure there are much more to come.

Read more: The Unexpected Expedition is ON – first two weeks on the road