Exactly six months ago I had a picnic with a good friend by the Victoria falls in Zimbabwe. It was my 24th birthday, the day bright and hot. We saw a triple rainbow and ran through the warm splash from the falls. I was a little tired but the day was still good. The day before we had been on a rhino-walk on the savannah in Zambia.

One week later I was admitted to the hospital in Bloemfontein, South Africa. The nurse told me I had malaria and the doctor said the infection wasn’t overwhelming and they would save my life. With a extra big and extra strong dose of antibiotics, “because there’s some really heavy stuff out there,” he said talking about the parts of Africa where I had just been.

I just realised how important it is to live life to the fullest every day. It can be ripped away from you at any point in your life. Sitting there by the waterfall with melon, bread and wine we had no idea I had parasites inside my body preparing to strike my organs. Preparing to kill. It is something that left deep wounds in me and I am still trying to heal. Life can be ripped away so easily. So quickly.


African border crossings

Corruption, bribes, hassle… hitch-hiking, bus, walking. There are many ways to cross a border in Africa, here is a small guide from my own experiences.

Morocco – Mauritania
You have to organize a visa at the embassy in Rabat, it takes 24 hours and cost 350 dirham, cash only. It is not allowed to walk across this border due to it being an old mine field, if you don’t have a car you need to organise a ride in Dakhla (about 400 dirham) or hitch-hike.

After two days of driving through the Western Sahara my mind was as relaxed as it could be, but still a small sting of nervousness hit me as we stopped by the ghost town (built by the Moroccan government for the Western Saharians who doesn’t want it) closest to the border. I was hitch-hiking with Viktor from Holland and he had done the crossing many times before. But still, my visa wasn’t valid yet.

To get the good bye stamp in Morocco was easy and without any hassle, then we had to drive across no mans land on a non marked out road, avoiding the soft sand which would get us stuck and causing a storm of people rushing to help us in exchange for money. What all those people were doing there between the borders? Viktor said they are luck-seekers and thieves, too lazy to work. One man waived at a car, pointed on some tracks asking the car to choose that way. The driver did. Two minutes later he was stuck in deep sand reaching the doors, and seven people ran up to help them dig after some hard negotiations on the price.

We drove through with no problems. Once on the Mauritanian side of the border the difficulties started. If Viktor wasn’t there with me I would have no clue where to go. He gave a man a bottle of perfume, another one some chocolate and water. He took me with him into a room with two officers, talked and smiled a lot, pointed out that they had nice computers while the Moroccan officers had only pens and paper. The men smiled back, stamped our passports and we were in.
If I had done that crossing myself, I imagine it would have been the worst experience ever. Be prepared if you go there with a car, have all your papers ready and be prepared to go through many doors, talking to lots of people and getting very confused before you can take your car with you. And practice both your French and your Arabic.

Mauritania – Senegal
Europeans don’t need to get a visa before hand and it’s free at the border.
I came with a taxi from Nouakchott, had no idea where to go but a guy from the Gambia took me under his wings and showed the way. It’s pretty close to where the taxis stop, and the exit is clearly marked. Once in the border-area walk to your right and a small office will be discretely marked out on your right hand side. Getting the stamp is without hassle and then all you have to do is wait for the free boat across the channel to pull in. Or pay a small fortune for one of the banana boats to take you across.

Once on the Senegalese side it’s easy to get through, though I had to wait a long time for the immigration officer to get to the office and a lot of people tried to push themselves in front of me in the line. By then my elbows had become pretty sharp though and I’ve learned how to keep my spot in line. Don’t be afraid to push, everyone else does it and so can you.
Just outside the border area some guys are selling sim cards and there is an office where you can buy air time. People with horses and carriages, taxis and bikers are all willing to get you a ride to the bus- and taxi station for a small amount of money.

Europeans don’t have to organize a visa before getting there, but it cost 50 US dollars and is only payable in cash.
Organization is not my strong side. I came by airplane and I did look it up, read that “Swedish citizens do not need a visa” but totally missed the paragraph saying you still had to pay for it before entering. I only had Senegalese CFA and my bank card, they accepted none of it. “You can come back tomorrow.” the one officer told me. “Tomorrow? I should sleep here tonight?” I said, pointed at the floor. The two officers looked at each other, shook their heads. “No, it’s not good.” the other one said. They would actually let me get into the country and come back the next day to pay, but I didn’t want to. I know myself, I wouldn’t come back and pay and I would have problems when getting out of the country.
Solution? My friend waiting outside came in and paid the fine.

Tanzania – Malawi
Free for Europeans, no need to get a visa in advance.
My favorite border crossing. From the taxi I paid a guy with a bike to take me to the border, we went fast down the hill and he pointed at the office where I would get my good bye-stamp. I walked inside the gates, got the stamp, went to the exchange bureau to exchange my money and then walked across the bridge. It was a nice walk, about 100 meters, under the bridge a wide brown river flowed and I felt a strong sense of freedom.
At the Malawian side it was just as easy to get my passport stamped. The only difficulty was to find a ride to Karonga, there was a bus leaving for Lilongwe and thinking about it now the bus probably made a stop in Karonga. Anyway, I paid for hitch-hiking and fell in love with the country and its rice plantations, green hills, bikes, bikes, bikes and lovely people.

Malawi – Zambia
Cost 50 US dollars, only payable in cash. No need to organize the visa in advance.
I was on a bus this time, and although I KNEW that I would need 50 US dollars to cross, did I have them? Of course not. I exchanged my Malawian money at the black market, borrowed some dollars from the friends I traveled with at the moment and eventually I had scraped the 50 dollars together. Yet another example of how I never learn.
This crossing is very easy, the bus stopped just by the offices on both sides of the border, there were people selling fruits and vegetables and drinks. In total it was a very peaceful and pleasant crossing.

Zambia – Zimbabwe
The visa is supposed to be free, but you still have to pay 50 dollars to get through. Only payable in cash.
This one is the easiest. I was with Alex by the Victoria falls and after the sunset we simply walked up to the office, got our stamps out of Zambia and walked towards Zimbabwe. It was about a kilometer to walk I believe, maybe longer, and we were told later on that one should never walk there at night since the monkeys can be pretty aggressive. We had no problems with animals though.
By the immigration office in Zimbabwe we had to pay for our visas, the officers were nice and happy (probably because we were too, although I nearly let a comment about African corruption slip through my mouth as we had to pay). We got our stamps with no fuss and caught a taxi to the hostel in the town of Victoria Falls.

Zimbabwe – South Africa
Free and easy.
In Zimbabwe our CS-host told us this is a Real African border crossing. He had never been to West Africa, obviously. Sure the ques were really long and it did take a very long time to get through, but it was very easy. All we had to do was to stand in line (except for Alex who had to prove that he’s from South Korea and not north) and get our passports stamped.

Conclusion: if you want an exciting border crossing, go to north west Africa. If you prefer it easy and smooth, go to southern Africa.

The fourth note.

There was a moment at the hospital when I promised myself never ever to return to Africa again. I knew as I thought it that it wasn’t true, that as soon as I’m well again I will want to go back. (Now remember, South Africa isn’t Africa, that country was never involved in those thoughts) It was very true, a week later I longed for Malawi again and my friend and I are already planning our trip to Mauritania next year.

Every morning at twenty past five the woman from the kitchen would turn on the lights in my room and ask “coffee or tea?” I wanted to tell her ‘sleep’ but said “tea” instead. She gave me rooibos and a cup with what I thought was milk. The first morning I put some in the tea but it tasted to strange that the second morning I decided to drink the milk separately. As the white liquid filled my mouth and got swallowed I could feel the thick taste of cream filling every taste-bud. That’s why the tea was so strange, the cup was filled with pure cream and now so was I. It’s a moment that I will remember for a long time, and something I will tell my grankids one day.

The hospital bill did not end at 17 000 rand as I thought, my insurance company just sent me a reminder to show proof that I was really there and that I was really being treated. Apparently the bill ended on 41 148 Rand, and they are not too keen on paying it without being entirely sure that it’s actually true. I must say I owe my mother a big thank you, I would never have paid for a travel insurance because it is just a big waste of money. From now on, I will always add those extra kronor because I do not want to end up dying because I can’t pay the hospital.

That week at the hospital I lost 6 kg, it’s comparable to my friend who lost 10 kg while walking that long Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. But while he was working up his muscles, my whole body was weakened. So from this week, the exercise has once again started. Though the gym changed their schedule, so when we came to do our yoga session today we found out they only to yoga once a week from now; Wednesdays. “Because people always start to exercise outside when the summer comes,” they said. But why remove three days of yoga because people start running outside? Yes, I am upset about it.

Recognizable mumbling

I am used to hearing all this mumble in a language that I do not understand. Suddenly, all this mumble is in Swedish and i understand every word. It’s a feeling I can not get used to. And still when I see a sign with Swedish text on it, I want to scream out loud “hey! That is My language!”.
I arrived in Sweden three days ago, after a very long flight from Johannesburg. The first eight hours were ok, I listened to music, watched movies and talked to the Swedish air hostess who gave me that goodie bag. The next flight was worse. When the screen showed three more hours until landing I woke up the guy next to me and went to the bathroom. When I came back he was still awake, so why not keep from falling back asleep? I thought and asked if he had been staying in Abu Dhabi or just connected from another flight like me.
It turned out he’s from Australia and we had a really good chat for the last hours, and arriving at Heathrow the que to the immigration was the shortest ever and it just took a couple of minutes to get through.

The first thing I did in Sweden was to visit my old friend and her family, and my God-daughter. She has grown so much and she talked like a maniac, though only a very few words were understandable. The rest was like “blablagobla”. We had a lot of fun playing and hugging. Yesterday I arrived in Sundsvall again and realized as I sat on the train that I have really gotten used to this. Eight hours seemed like nothing compared to the trips in Africa, seventeen hours on a bus there, eleven hours there, three days there… anyway now I am with my old girlfriends again and life is amazing. Emma and I spent the whole day shopping for the perfect outfit for their photo exhibition on the 31st of may in Stockholm, where I will go next. When to see my family? I don’t know, I am still living with the same backpack, the same clothes and the same things as in January, though the surroundings has changed drastically from five days ago.

Missing a flight.

I knew it would happen sooner or later, but I never thought it would be with 24 hours. “I can’t find your name m’am. Are you sure you are on this flight?” the man behind the counter asked me as I tried to check in at the air port. “Yes, I’m sure.” I said. He asked to see my ticket, and then told me “ma’am, you were on the flight that left yesterday.” Was that destiny giving a hint that I should stay in SA? Or was it just my feeling that I Will miss a flight this spring that came true? Anyway they re-booked my ticket, paid a crazy fee and I left the same evening.

The flight wasn’t too bad, but still I couldn’t sleep. I listened to music, watched downton abbey, a week with marilyn, more music… the girl next to me was going to Thailand, she slept in the chair lying like a ball during almost the whole flight.
I was going to Abu Dhabi to change flight, and when we had an hour left of flying one of the flight attendants came up to me. “Are you Swedish?” he asked. “I went through the passenger list, and your name, it has to be Swedish so I thought I’d better get here and say hi.” We talked for a while, and he asked if I wanted a bottle of water. Five minutes later he came back with a bag filled with nice chocolate, water, crisps and cookies. All from business class. What can I say? Sometimes it pays to be Swedish. “You have a long flight ahead of you, you’ll need it.” he said as we said good bye. Thank you Mathias!

Now I’m in London, haven’t slept for 32 hours and keep thinking I must stay awake until the evening, otherwise I’ll never sleep tonight. Tomorrow I am arriving in Sweden after four months in Africa. Home sweet home. Right?

Tip of Africa.

It should have been that overwhelming feeling of being on the edge of the world, and I could feel it. It was dangeling in the air, I just could not grab it. My head was still dizzy from the lack of patassium (as my doctor put it) and possibly the medicines and the malaria still lingering inside of me. This was my first day out of hospital, we had driven all the way down from Bloemfontein to the most southern tip of Africa. We couldn’t get any further, that was it.

And I could feel it, somewhere inside of me. Trembeling. The sun had already set, the light house spread its white light around us, lightening up white strokes of the sea and the cliffs I could not climb onto, spinning around in the air. The stars and the thin slice of moon were all over us. The ocean gently threw its waves towards the shore and I breathed in. I could only take small breaths still, and not even the fresh air made me feel any better.

I had to leave, go back to the car, but how? I stumbled up onto the road again and Alex lit his torch, lightening up the steps in front of me. We spent the night at the Art Guest house, a really fancy place and thanks to us coming very late, and leaving very early, the owner gave us a good discount on the room that exceeded our budget just a little bit. Thank you so much for that, looking for another guest house at that hour would have been a horror story.

South or North?

“You have to prove that you’re from South Korea.” the officer told my friend. We were obtaining out visas at the border from Zimbabwe to South Africa, and they didn’t believe him. “If you’re from North you pay, if you’re from South you don’t. We need to know that you really are from South Korea.” Alex looked through his passport, no where did it state he was actually from the south, why should it? It already stated their official name.

I waitied with him for a long while, then I sneaked out to the bathrooms and walked to check that the bus was still waiting for us. As I started walking back into the authority-controlled area I suddenly remembered what was in my bag. The big knife I bought in Dar Es Salaam to cut the avos, and that small bag of white moringa powder I bought in the charity shop in Bulawayo.
I looked at the police men and their guns. No, I’d better stay with the bus.

It took about half an hour, then Alex came out with passport in his hand, he got the stamp and we can go on. But that’s a note for you travelling from south Korean, carry some sort of proof with you that you’re from the South. Because the people at the immigration are not That educated. And remember to keep your knife and possible powders in some other bag than your hand bag, because it might be a bad idea.