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Archive for April, 2010

Matatu

Many places have their unique modes of transportation: yellow cabs in New York, Tuk Tuks in Thailand, rickshaws in India. In East Africa it’s the matatu. A matatu is something that was once a minibus but is now just the remnants of one – a 14 seat vehicle with body rusted and falling apart, seats torn and crooked and a very vroomy engine. What really makes a matatu a matatu though is that it’s rammed full of people.

Some of the matatu vehicles have a “max 14 passengers” sign on the outside. This makes me laugh as most of the matatus we ride in contain an average of 20 people (and occasionally a chicken). Our record so far is 25  people total – very clown-car like indeed!

Now despite the discomfort that comes with riding squished to numbness between sweaty strangers in a decrepit old vehicle on bumpy roads I have to say that these matatus are a very efficient and reliable form of transport. They go absolutely anywhere you need to go at almost any time of day. No matter what small town you’re in and what small town you’d like to end up in you can almost guarantee that a matatu will get you there. I don’t know of any such sure method of transportation in Canada! Now, don’t get me wrong matatus don’t run on a schedule or at a rapid pace or anything. This doesn’t really matter however, anyone who’s been to Africa is familiar with the concept of “Africa time” – there is no such thing as a schedule here. A matatu leaves when it’s full and gets there when it gets there.

My first matatu experience was in Nairobi where matatus are used as local as well as inter city transport. To catch a matatu in Nairobi you go to a designated stop and listen for your destination being yelled as one drives by. The westerners’ favourite is the “B.S., B.S, B.S.!” call. (B.S. being “busastation” of course.)

My matatuest day so far was when my Alanna and I decided to leave Kenya (due to overpriced campgrounds and beer) and head to Uganda.  This consisted of five matatus in a row and took about 12 hours. We were actually two matatu rides short of our destination but it was getting late so we decided to spend the night in Tororo and continue on in the morning.

As for the most dire matatu we’ve been on it was our second one in Uganda. This sad thing had to be pushed to start; its door almost fell of the hinges while being shut; one of its windows stayed in someone’s hand as it was being closed, and two other parts fell off it during the drive (I’m not sure which ones, but I’m guessing hub cap and bumper). Ugandan matatus must surely be the worst of the lot in the region.

In a few days I’ll be leaving Uganda and heading back to Kenya. I’m already looking forward to the “luxury” matatus they have in that (obviously) richer country. Whereas in Uganda one is lucky to have a working radio (and a door that stays on), in Kenya many have TV’s that blast bad Kenyan music videos the entire way! Well, maybe I’m not looking forward to that part, but I am looking forward to seats without springs that stick into your butt and riding on paved roads instead of dirt ones full of potholes, albeit still with 19 other lucky passengers. Off I go.

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My plans

For those who don’t know, here is a brief summary of my plans for the next year or so:

I’m starting my travels in east Africa and hoping to visit Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. For the first six weeks I’ll be travelling with Alanna, another VSO volunteer. I have three months to spend in east Africa (mid April to mid July), after which I head to Namibia to volunteer with VSO for ten months.

Following my volunteer placement I plan to travel around southern Africa, then India, and then maybe east and southeast Asia. That is all very far off into the future though, so who knows what will happen!

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Goodbyes

I spent my last week in Toronto saying goodbye to people and places. It was emotionally taxing, as can be expected. With the stress of getting everything ready and organized for the trip (see last post), dealing with the fact that I’m moving to Africa for at least a year, all those goodbyes made my last week one of the biggest emotional roller coasters of my life.

Goodbyes are never easy and all the ones I said were meaningful and sad, but there were a few that stood out in my mind as the hardest. To Summer – my dear old dog of 15 years. She probably won’t be around when I’m back (although I wouldn’t be completely surprised if she is, she is quite tough and resilient! … and crazy), so that was a real final goodbye.  I’ve had such good times and memories with her, knowing that those might be over is hard to accept. To Evan – a precious little baby that has just entered the world. He will be a walking toddler by the time I get back so I’m sad that I’ll miss his baby years and won’t get to be his aunt through them. To Rock Oasis – my climbing gym, and a place that has changed my life for so much the better, more fun and more exciting over the last two years. It might still be there in Toronto when I come back (or it might not, depending on the land market for downtown condos) but it certainly will not be the same place it is now. Some people will leave, some new ones will join, and the atmosphere will no longer be the familiar one that I’m used to.

So through all this, as I’m sure is natural, the thought “why am I leaving, when my life is so great here?” kept running through my head. Luckily there’s a fairly obvious answer to that: even though my life here really is wonderful it’s the only place I’ve ever really lived in, so it is possible that some other place could make me equally happy, or maybe even more so. If it turns out that there is no better place than Toronto I know that I can always return here. Toronto is my home. It will welcome me back.

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I’m now in the home stretch of planning and getting ready for this trip. The last three weeks have certainly tried my planning and organizational skills. There have been so many things to do and so many people to see, and of course a social life to keep up, that I’m amazed my brain is still intact and hasn’t exploded out through my ears! I’m sure that anyone who’s gone through the process of planning a big trip or a big move, or both simultaneously can relate.

To paint a bit of a picture – it’s been a whirlwind of: shopping for clothing, electronics, medication, toiletries, and MEC stuff, taking care of officialities like travel insurance, visa documents, and banking, writing packing lists, visiting doctors, planning farewell parties, reading Lonely Planets, staring at maps… the list keeps going. All this is of course done while maintaining the flow of my regular busy life (of climbing, biking, dinners, games nights, parties, seeing new babies and other fun stuff). I’ve been carrying around a notebook everywhere I go full of to do lists, done lists, remember to lists, packing lists and various other scribbles. This notebook is constantly being pulled out and updated with the important things that keep popping into my head. I’ve also taken to carrying around a day planner, something I haven’t done since university, to keep straight not just what needs doing but when it can be done.

It’s all a bit crazy and occasionally a bit stressful but things seem to be getting done and accomplished and most of the items on my to do list have now been crossed out. The result of all this madness though is that I’ve hardly had time to be hit with the fact that I’m going to AFRICA, for a YEAR, very SOON! But I know that in just a few days I’ll be able to ceremonially throw that notebook in the garbage bin and turn my brain onto thoughts of the sights and activities that await me in Africa. I can’t wait!

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