Saturday, 31 December 2011

I am an African
Not because I was born there
But because my heart beats with Africa’s
I am an African
Because my mind is engaged by Africa
I am an African
Not because I live on its soil
But because my soul is at home in Africa….
When Africa weeps for her children
My cheeks are stained with tears
When Africa honours her elders
My head is bowed in respect
When Africa mourns for her victims
My hands are joined in prayer
When Africa celebrates her triumphs
My feet are alive with dancing.
I am an African
For her blue skies take my breath away
And my hope for the future is bright
I am an African
For her people greet me as family
And teach me the meaning of community
I am an African
For her wildness quenches my spirit
And brings me closer to the source of life
When the music of Africa beats n the wind
My blood pulses to its rhythm
And I become the essence of sound
When the colours of Africa dazzle in the sun
My senses drink in its rainbow
And I become the palette of nature
When the stories of Africa echo around the fire
My feet walk in its pathways
And I become the footprints of history
I am an African
Because she is the cradle of our birth
And nurtures an ancient wisdom
I am an African
Because she lives in the world’s shadow
And bursts with a radiant luminosity
I am an African
Because she is the land of tomorrow
And I recognize her gifts as sacred.

Friday, 30 December 2011

The desert didn't stop at the border and continued for some considerable time.  I have to say that Mauritanian roads are not the best and in some places non on earth Steve managed to find his way without road signs is credit to his abilities as a driver.

I noted for the first time that the heat and brightness of the sun seemed more intense since the previous day and it was as though we had crossed some invisible line where sun was one side and none the other.  Mosquitoes were to be a problem from now as we progressed further into Mauritania and we had all started our Malaria prophylaxis.

We stopped for lunch alongside a railway and were told not to wander far due to the very real possibility of landmines being in the area.  These were being cleared by bulldozers but a lot still remained and apparently it was felt to be safe if we stayed where the tyre tracks where.  I had to question how sensible it was then to prepare lunch as most people's inquisitive nature and calls of nature ensured that they wandered off and I had to wonder just how efficiently the landmines had been cleared.  When a two mile freight train came along most of the group wandered well off the track to take photographs.  However, for me it was a stark reminder just how unsafe African countries could be and was pleased when we got on the 'road' again.

Sand, sand and more sand

Wild camels or dromedaries - one hump only

There was a definite difference in the lifestyles of the Mauritanians from the Moroccans.  They were clearly much poorer and lived more simply in straw and mud huts and  a lot of tents.  One 'village' looked for all the world like an allotment with sheds but no produce being grown.

Village in Mauritanian desert

It was not until we reached Nouadibou our first stop in Mauritania that we would see housing as such.  However, the roads are sand and no paths exist as pedestrians and cars, horses, goats etc mix in with pedestrians.  Nouadibou was very sleepy but we were still advised to go out in groups of five or more.  We all found that this actually had the effect of drawing attention to us rather than allowing us to blend in so most started going out in lesser numbers.  On the whole the feel of the place was friendly and things were ridiculously cheap. We managed to buy more prophylaxis here and I was able to buy 'puff puff'.  I bought lots and found it very useful for giving to people when stopping and speaking to them.  Nouadibou had a market but in the main no one bothered you and got on with their daily lives.  

We went to dinner with two rather interesting french guys who were travelling across Africa on motorbikes following the same route as us.  It was really interesting as they were heading to Ghana where they would try and sell their bikes as they had no where to store them.  In the event they were unsuccessful we offered them the opportunity to store these in Nigeria as it transpired they were to return and pick up where they left off.  We exchanged emails so who knows we may be seeing them again.  In any event we wished them  a bon voyage!

We moved on the following day to Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania where we were to spend several days awaiting visas for our Australian and Kiwi members of the group.

First view of  Nouakchott the capital
Noukachott was vast...a crazy place where anything went, that said we found it to be hassle free.  Those vendors that did approach you if waved off didn't continue to bother you, a stark contrast to Morocco.  People were friendly and helpful and didn't look for tips or money which was a pleasant surprise.   We tried different places to eat each night and enjoyed a happy hour watching the locals wandering by and interacting with them. We left a tip for a waiter and we were a fair way down the street when he chased after us to give us our money we had left thinking we had left it in error...I was impressed but there was a refreshing change in attitude. 

We returned to the same cafe for our last night to try out the Shishas...I don't smoke so I didn't find it particularly enjoyable and just made me cough...although the group were funny taking turns.  An interesting pastime sitting there with a large glass vessle with water in it and hot charcoal of varying flavours glowing away.  Every so often the waiter would appear and give us some more coals.  I decided to stick to the rather nice milkshakes instead and laugh at the rest of the group.

We managed to buy a mosquito net after one night as I heard my first mossie whizzing past my ear in the night. The helpful owner of the Auberge popped out and obtained a mossie net for me gladly. I would liked to have spent more time in Mauritania as I felt it may have had more to offer but alas after three days we moved on.

Camels in Nouakchott

After another night of bush camping in the desert.  This time under our newly acquired mossie net we slept under a clear sky under the stars in the desert.  An amazing experience if you can do it.  However, it does get extremely cold but if you are well wrapped up then it's very enjoyable.  The next day we were up and packed ready to go on our way to the border we were to pass through a nature reserve and at times at 45 degree angle, traversing these roads was akin to being locked in a sweetie tin and being shaken up.  The roads were non existent and as we bumped along we tried to see the various animals in the reserve and take photographs. It was a shame we were not allowed time to get off except for a toilet stop and have a look around but it was really being used as a route to the border away from the main road.

Flamingoes at Mauritanian national park

Birds in flight at Nationaal Park

Once out of the National Park we were back on the main road again...bumping our way along and stopping every few miles for police checks.  Not sure what purpose these served as they never seemed to check us in the back as such and occasionally wandered around the outside of the vehicle and then let on our way.  These are not the jedi's you are looking for - move along   sprang to mind.

Eventually we reached the border between Senegal and another border crossing....

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Well as our tour of Morocco comes to an end it has been an amazing experience.  My experiences in Morocco are none of the things I was expecting so it has overwritten my views on the place and the people. Overall Morocco is a fun place to be and the people are friendly and helpful.

Mosque at La Plage, Rabat
We started and ended our tour in Rabat the capital of Morocco. Our first visit here was to obtain visas as most of the Consultates are conveniently located in a square mile making it painless enough to drop off and pick up for each visa applications.

Medina at Rabat

View of rooftops and skyline in Marrakech with snow capped Atlas mountains in background
Fez City


Rabat is a good start for the uninitiated into Moroccan lifestyle and far less daunting than say Marrakech.  I personally would not recommend planning a visit for more than two or three days to Marrakech as it is so draining.  Marrakech is vast and  you are being encouraged to buy, eat or whatever every step of the way.  It's cheap enough but after a day doing the Souks you feel completely drained.  Afterall how many stores can you buy freshly squeezed orange juice from?  You would think they would be spread out but no they are all clustered together which is a bit odd really.  The Medina is a maze of thousands of streets and all too easily you can get lost or turn down a dead end as we did on a couple of occasions.  Bizzarely mixed in amongst the pedestrians are bicycles, electric bicycles, mopeds and motorbikes dodging around you as they go...mix in the donkey's and people pulling carts and it makes it a surreal place to navigate.  At night Marrakech is jumping with snake charmers and all sorts of other types of entertainment, it can be a blur of activity and makes you need to solice in a cafe or restaurant for respite from the craziness.  Rabat on the other hand is more laid back but still with the various vehicles mingling in but at least you can wander the Medina without being hassled the same as you are in Marrakech by vendors and you can walk the streets without hassle.  There are plenty of eateries in the Medina and Cafe does not mean food.  In the absence of bars Cafe's are really places to sit and drink coffee or mint tea and catch up and are frequented by males.  Females are allowed but it seems to be the preserve of the males, no doubt the females are too busy shopping and looking after the family to spend precious time drinking tea.

As Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country mosques are everywhere and stand tall against the skyline. However, non-muslims are not allowed entry.  Calls for prayers five times per day starting at 5am.  Each mosque makes their calls so it's an echo of chanting across the towns and cities.  Hammams are a way of life in Morocco and for a small fee you can partake of the ritual cleansing enjoyed by muslims all over.  Hammams are basically steam baths, which is a fun and relaxing experience, although it does have its own rules of etiquette.  Hubby and I managed to take a private Hammam so we were able to do ours together but most Hammams have separate times for men and women.  However, we found it not only to be a cleansing experience but healing for the body and soul as you come out feeling completely refreshed, de-stressed and relaxed.

Fez was a nice place to visit but the Medina is massive and quite overwhelming, I did have an uneasy sense of feeling watched  here but thankfully we had a guide and that helped to reduce the hassle somewhat.  That said we tended to get hassled less in any event as hubby was often taken for being Moroccan.

Surfers on Essouira beach
After all the hustle and bustle of Marrakech, Essouira is a welcome respite. Being a beach resort the temperatures are somewhat cooler than Marrakech but the change of pace was welcome. Here you can partake of surfing, kite surfing, windsurfing, horse riding, camel riding and quad biking. There is a medina but it's much smaller and easier to negotiate and without the hassle of Marrakech.

We struggled with the food in Morocco in that whilst meat is plentiful beef is cooked rare even when well done.  Chicken was a better option, however, you never saw pork on the menu and oh boy I dooo miss my bacon in the mornings.  All foods come with riz or frites (rice or chips).  If vegetables are mentioned then you need to ensure you mention these when you order as you will receive exactly what you ordered.  There were a few places we had amazing meals but in the main unless you were eating couscous some may struggle.  Most menus are carbon copies so when you move to the coast you have the added option of fresh seafood.

Todra Gorge
Todra Gorge was beautiful but as it was winter and in the high Atlas mountains tended to be cold when the sun disappeared.  We soon learnt to plan our day around where the sun would disappeared at one end of the gorge hours before the other end.  However, the village seemed to be in sun for much longer.   I did manage to do a bit of washing in the river, hubby and I with our buckets and washing we walked the length of the gorge.  On the sandy beach the inevitable happened as I was collecting our things together...I slipped in the wet sandy soil wearing flip flops.    Although I tried to get a grip anyone who has ever worn flip flops knows practical they may be but in the wet they don't have much grip so sploosh into the river I went.  Covered in sand and wet...the locals watching us thought this was funny.  Later when walking along the gorge a local cycled by and shouted...'very good swimmer'! No doubt this was the talk of the village.  After I had dried off we went for a coffee and to try some local dishes.  We got talking to a local man and  he told us he was born in the caves where people still live. His parent's apparently still live in the caves.  He told us how cold they were to live in.  It was weird seeing little steps carved into the holes in in the rock face and to think that people still lived there.

The next day during a foray for postcards we found ourselves having mint tea with a local shop owner discussing politics and religion.  He was happy to answer questions about his faith.  We were invited to tea with his family but unfortunately as the light was fading we had to decline and head back to the gorge.

Bushcamp in the Desert
I have to say the most fun in Morocco was had taking a taxi.  These are ridiculously cheap to use and you never know what condition the cars will be in and each day's highlight is seeing just how bad they can get.  Unlike the UK they do stop and pick up other passengers if there is a spare seat up to a maximum of 3 passengers and they seem to stick religiously to this.  Watching the traffic it seems scary but funnily enough from the back of a taxi it makes more sense and is less frightening.

Road along the Atlantic through Western Sahara
After four weeks in Morocco we were all ready and pleased to be moving on to the Western Sahara which turned out  to be not what I expected but starkly beautiful.  I was delighted to be able to bushcamp amongst the  sand dunes and spend some time exploring the dunes.  My first surprise was the sheer size of these dunes, apparently they have a maximum height that they can achieve dependent on the size of the grains of sand.  

At night without light pollution of built up areas the milky way is crisp and clear above you, the stars look bigger and brighter.  I did attempt some night time photography but as I hadn't prepared for this I wasn't successful. 

Vegetation in Sahara
In the morning we were packing up I  wandered off and had it not been for the big yellow truck acting as a marker I would not have found my way back.  The tents blended into the landscape and when I looked around there was definitely no  point of reference and the vastness was eerie.  I could see how people could become disorientated quickly and easily.  As we packed the tent away we were very careful to look for scorpions who could find their way under the tents at night....thankfully there were none.

Certainly the Western Sahara is something you will never forget and something that can only be experienced.  The heat, dust and vastness are overwhelming.  The vegetation is sparse and yet dromedaries wander wild and people live here.

With Morocco now behind us, we enter soon as we cross the border the change is immediate so now we start another adventure.

They really are huge and continually moving

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Gibralter...the rock. A strange outcrop at the end of Spain jutting into the med which has been in British Territory since 1704 having  been ceded to Britain by Spain in the Treaty of Utrecht...and forever an annoyance that they let go so much so that Franco closed the border for number of years. A short distance from the concrete jungle called Costa del Sol, Gibralter stands apart with it's history preserved in this small friendly British territory located on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsular.

Gibralter is a quirky, funny place with a Spanish influence and all speak Spanish but with the iconic sites of Mother England.  The Airport is a built on this flat area with the Eastern side is made up of sheer cliffs which means that the precarious approach to the runway is from the sea and due to the lack of land area the main road cuts straight through the middle of the main road across the island, so everytime a flight comes into land they close the road.  An eerie experience crossing the road to get from the Spanish border to the main shopping centre.

As we were camping in Spain we only had one full day to explore the rock but to be honest this was enough. There are plenty of taxis willing to take you up the rock to see the 'apes' and relieve you of your cash. The 'apes' are in reality tail-less monkey's found roaming wild in Algeria and Morocco but those on the 'Rock' are the only free ranging ones. However, we decided we would venture into town and see what the locals got up to. We found a good range of shops selling UK, Spanish and some Moroccan style goods.  Much cheaper than the UK though, and better climate.  We sat for a good part in the square eating and drinking with a view of the famous Rock before buying some last minute purchases and sending off postcards. Not an unpleasant afternoon I have to be said...but was a tad disappointed that we were unable to get Spanish food as the square is invaded by those horrible 'English Fish and Chips' signs and English breakfasts.  If you like British food though and want some heat then it's ideal for you.

The currency is Sterling, with notes issued by the Government of Gibralter.  UK notes are accepted as are Euros by most shops but not by the Post Office for some reason.   Euros I found to be more useful as if you plan to cross to the Spanish side which most do they are accepted by both whereas the Gibralter pound is not valid outside of Gibralter.  We tried to change money for Dirham as we were travelling to Morocco but found this difficult as they seem to stock limited amounts, so if you require these for visas etc in Spanish Morocco obtain these before travelling so you don't have to dash around beforehand.

The Cradle of History Monument in the shape of the rock, depicts Gibraltar's important location throughout history.  It shows the first skull of Neanderthal Man, which was found in Gibralter, although not identified as such until later, as well as one of the pillars of Hercules, and other images which represent many civilisations that form part of  Gibralter's history.

A day whizzed by and we were soon back on Spanish soil in our tent ready to set off the following day for the ferry from Gibralter to Morocco.


Sunday, 20 November 2011

From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, Going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will divesting myself of the holds that would hold me. 
— Walt Whitman, "Song of the Open Road"

Today marks the official start of our new life of travel!  The unknown road -  no place like it!

Taking extended time-out from your normal life to travel the world on your own terms looking for adventure in normal life, and normal life within adventure. It is about time and how we choose to use it.

I  left my 'good' job after 20 years and decided that we do not live forever.  I consider the  9 - 5 to be more deadly than any desert that I will traverse.  So today Hubby and I fly to Gibralter and then on the ferry to Morocco to start our overland trip to Nigeria.

I'm alive, not only alive and kicking, but alive and kicking butt.  Life is good!

Ignore the naysayers and negative types - don't ever stop dreaming and follow your dreams!

Monday, 1 August 2011

In the beginning was the word, but now the word has come to an end, in all kinds of different ways. Young people have stopped talking. Instead they email and text.

When it comes to national languages, the loss of diversity is already alarming. What matters, however, is that Igbo is already giving way to English in key, highly prestigious fields of discourse – such as in science and academia and in the social domain.

In Nigeria, in particular, the elite is drifting away from its mother tongue. Children are being raised in English with a view to enrolling them in a global aristocracy. This hugely reduces the standing of Igbo, with far-reaching consequences, also at “lower” levels.

So why learn Igbo?

Language is a core aspect of every culture. Without language, there will be no heart-to-heart connection between species of any kind. The Igbo language is a cultural legacy our forefathers transmitted to us through the annals of time and space. This is an identity that we must keep. The day the Igbo language dies is the day the word 'Igbo' will be no more. Many Igbos are working hard to keep this prophetic 'dying day' from coming to pass; and we hope it never comes. This is important because of the spiritual (social) connection between a language and the people who speak it are inseparable. The Igbo language will survive so long as the Igbo people survive and continue to proudly speak and use their language as their means of daily communication. The survival of the Igbo language will depend on the survival of only those Igbo people who are proud of the language and truly speak the language as a core tool for interaction. That is why there is need for the Igbo to promote Igbo.

So for the past two years I have been attempting to learn Igbo. I have been like a language junkie...seeking out anyone and anything who can feed my addiction.

I started with the usual Kedu (Hell0), Dalu/Imeela (thankyou), Biko (Please). Soon though that wasn't enough. My favourite phrase for a while was I bola chi just because I liked the way it rolled off the tongue and no matter it wasn't morning! Of course, it would never do without developing the African accent not easy in the UK.

So my quest continued, I bought CD's, Dictionary and studied short courses, eavesdropped into conversations and read every poster I could. The more I learnt the more I wanted to learn. Eventually reading and writing better than being able to speak and this is where I am now..having reached a plateau my personal goal is to be able to speak reasonably well and be understood before I leave Nigeria! Then at least I will be able to say that I am bilingual and can speak Igbo with pride....but more importantly I will have done my little bit to hold onto more than a language but a culture passed down from father to son; mother to daughter. May be one day the good Lord will allow me to continue in the same tradition...and when someone says 'I na asu Igbo?' I will be able to reply with pride 'Ana m asu Igbo!'

Sunday, 17 July 2011

So my hubby was going home! His first homecoming for fifteen years and he was both excited and nervous at the same time! It would have changed for him.

Amongst the Igbo's are strong bonds of kinship and brotherhood as evidenced in the maintenance of cultural groups, town unions and community development associations in distant lands wherever they are. Though Igbo's may be widely travelled, they do have a strong home coming mentality. Many towns where Igbo's stay in Diaspora usually feel homesick during the festive periods of Christmas when they all go home to their various villages to celebrate with family and friends. Some communities observe a mandatory mass return every three years. This is a chance for the people to take stock, get to know each other again and, of course, receive the blessings of their ancestors for the coming year‟s challenges

The village of Nteje in Anambra State is my husband's 'village'. Now don't get me wrong when I say village. An African village is a very different thing to the UK village it is made up of some 10,000 people. That does not include those in Diaspora. Therefore, whilst I am in Nigeria I am under the protective custody of every Igbo person there as is their way. So I should be very safe indeed.

You see in Igbo culture I have not just married my husband but his family and the whole community. I am, therefore, known as 'our wife'. The more I come into contact with indiginous Igbo's the more I come to fully appreciate my husband's upbringing. They say it takes a whole village to raise a child and that is true whether in the homeland or in Diaspora for an African. To think that so many people want only the best for you is difficult to comprehend for a simple Oyibo (white person) like me. I once asked my husband what does it feel like to be surrounded by so much love? His answer; very reassuring and comforting.

Occasionally I get glimpses of this in the way I have been welcomed and accepted into the culture, for all intents and purposes I am now Igbo and Nigerian to boot and known as 'our wife'. I hear the cries of horror from my Oyibo sisters as they automatically think that I will become second class or have to walk 10 steps behind my put your mind at ease the Igbo's worship their women and treat them with the utmost respect. Wives and mothers play a very important part in the Igbo culture and are not only equal in status but revered. Igbo men are very generous and loving and the family is everything to him. He will pay very close attention to his role within the family and is very hands on. The average age seems to be about 30-35 for an Igbo man to find a bride. He takes the task of finding a bride very seriously indeed and will take his time finding the right person to settle down with. Not surprising then that divorce is rare in Igbo society as once he has married he concentrates on providing for his wife and family and this becomes his raison d'etre.

A girl could do a lot worse than choosing an Igbo man but be prepared to get to grips with the culture and make frequent trips to his homeland.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Before we can get to all that lovely travelling there is the preparing to do....and boy oh boy is there a lot.

Vaccinations alone are an issue. I think we have to have every shot bar one and that including Rabies. Best be safe than sorry though! Hubby isn't too impressed as he's not keen on having shot as he has a needle phobia. Hey ho...he'll thank me for it when he's bitten by a leopard or some wild animal!

On top of that we have to think about sunscreen. I've bought shed loads of Factor 50 and Factor 30 deciding that the Factor 50 should be ok and when I take a tan that Factor 30 is a must for the time we are out there. I've also bought plenty of Deet bug spray to protect us from the nasty mossie's and an additional mossie net to be sure. The tents will have them but I'm not sure what condition they will be in so i'd rather have double protection thank you.

Next on my list is a decent hat...noooo not the type you wear on Blackpool beach but something robust and that will let the air flow through and can be dampend down for added cooling in the harsh desert sun. I have also invested in a scarf that looks like a tube as this will be useful for protecting my head and shoulders from the sun and for when we are in Muslim areas I can cover up out of respect.

Shoes are a big problem. I can't carry shoes for every occasion boohoo. So i've decided to take a pair of walking sandals which are practical but not the nicest looking things. I can then buy things as we travel.

Any clothes that we take need to be easy to wash and dry and minimum iron but also keep me cool during the day. I've decided to take a tracksuit for sleeping in as it's very cold at night and can be frosty in the desert.I think given the severity of the sun it may be wise to take something to cover me when wearing a costume...not least because time has taken it's toll and I am no longer a lithe teenager for jumping about in a scanty bikini on beach days! My excuse is sun protection at all times! The Muslim bathing costume shown here is looking very appealing just now!

It seems sensible to take a mixture of shorts (knee length) to hide the chubby legs and longer ones for the evening to stop the mossie's biting and also if we are in Muslim areas. I plan to buy a lot of local clothes on the way as I am sure they will be cheap and practical.

I will take my Naija national dress though as I love getting the opportunity to wear this and buy more when I hit Ghana...there is a definite elegance and style and you can basically design the outfit yourself, although I need to be more adventurous with this.

Add on to all that a first aid kit, cameras and bits and pieces we will soon exceed our 10kg limit each in the rucksack!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

"Mam, why are there so many races in the World and why are we all different colours?”

To which my mother replied, "We are all flowers in God's Garden and he makes them all colours"

From a young age I was fascinated with Africa and anything African. Strange then really that it took so long for me to meet someone of African descent.

My Uncle John first fired the imagination. Talking about the lands that he had travelled to whilst in the Merchant Navy. I used to listen intently imagining all the trees, colour and different sights and sounds...and Oranges. I said I wanted to go to Africa where the Oranges grew!

Little did I realise at the time that my Uncle was, in fact, talking about Nigeria as he worked for many years on the Palm Lines out of Lagos, moving commodities including Palm Oil on the West Coast of Africa for many years and his first boat was Katsina Palm.

Being an avid reader as a child with a high reading age I soaked up all I could on Africa, I knew as much as one could from living in England. Who spoke what language and the different beliefs of all the African tribes. I read biographies of people who visited Africa, missionaries and other intrepid explorers and longed to follow in their footsteps.

At the age of 10 I announced to my mother that we should all up sticks and move to Kenya. Of course, she flatly refused. What on earth do you want to move there for? she asked. So I can own an elephant and stop them becoming extinct and I want to live with the people. My mother dug her heels in and said you can go when you're old enough.

I watched and read all about the Biafran War, the Ethiopian famine, Apartheid, Idi Amin and anything that affected Africa. South Africa was a favourite for a while but I decided I had to boycote Apartheid as it was totally wrong. I questioned why all the time, why where they fighting, why were they starving, why where they being segregated, what is wrong with whites and blacks mixing? I was worried about what was happening to the people and the children and I used to Pray for them every night. I used to ask Jesus to protect them and let them go free and help them. "Mum, why is God allowing this to happen in Africa?" came the inevitable question. My mother exasperated with my questions tried her best to give me the answers I wanted...but it just led to more questions as it all seemed so straight forward to me. She helped me with the sponsored walks and saving milk bottle tops or whatever the latest thing was to raise money for Biafra or some such. Although the day I gave my best beads to Oxfam flummoxed her somewhat. When she questioned me as to what I thought the Biafrans were going to do with beads, I replied indignantly, to make things and sell them. To me as a child it was straight forward, these people didn't need charity they needed help to get back on their feet and support themselves as I saw it and by making things to sell to tourists would allow them to be independent, earn a living and feed their families. Such is the nievity of a young child. Sensing that it wasn't that easy, I later decided to sell all my clothes, toys and belongings at a jumble sale. Mother wasn't impressed at that either but I did raise £7 which I duly sent off for Biafra.

My uncle was home from his trip at some point and when I asked if he was going to Africa where the Oranges grew he said yes. I was an obedient child and usually never pestered for things when told no. However, this was different, he was going to where the Oranges grew. I wanted to go. We went to Immingham Docks to see him off, as he came through the lock gates I shouted up 'can I come to Africa'. I was about 8 at the time. His Captain asked what I had said and he was telling him when the Captain kicked the rope ladder down the side of the ship and said if you can climb that you can come. I was up that rope ladder like a rat up a drainpipe. My mother, distracted by talking to someone turned and just caught hold of my ankle to stop me making the full ascent. I never ever got cross at my mum, it wasn't the done thing, but I was 'damn well cross' with her that day and let her know it. She chastised my uncle for encouraging me and saying you know how much she wants to go. I can't ever recall sulking but I did over that for weeks. In the end my mum said I could go when I was old enough. The same response 'when you are old enough', sigh.

At age 15 I had the opportunity to learn Swahili at school from the Headmaster, who had spent a bit of time in Kenya. There was no question I had to learn it! Kenya and an African language! So I signed up and Mr Robinson taught us Swahili. My party piece was to sing 'one man went to mow' in Swahili.

So when I was 18 first place I headed was Africa! I was 18 in the November and booked to go out on 26th December. I told my mum I'm going on holiday and when I told her where I was going she laughed and said, 'well I guess you are old enough now'. I was in heaven. I couldn't wait. Only it wasn't the Africa I had dreamed of. Two weeks in The Gambia in a hotel being shepherded about by tourist reps wasn't what I had in mind. I broke away from the main group and made my own way linking with the locals etc. It was enough for me to know that I wanted to go back some day, however, studying, work and career got in the way.

After a holiday to the Dominican Republic I had researched my family tree, after a long search I traced my maiden name back to Hispaniola where it appeared that my ancestors were brought over during the Spanish Wars after one landing by the British to Puerta Plata but were eventually fought off but not before they managed to take a few POW's. This would explain my unruly hair in my teens. I am often asked by hairdressers if I have 'black' genes.

It was just before I did my pilgrimage across Spain that I felt the yearning to return and considered my options. I was offered a research project in Botswana and a missionary position to set up HIV/AIDS projects in Kenya but it just wasn't right in someway.

Then out of the blue and through the very same Uncle who had travelled around Nigeria I was introduced to Shane. I never thought much about it but once we met we had so much in common at our first meeting we hardly stopped talking.

Shane was mixed race, his mother was from Hull where he was born and his father from Nigeria. I was born in Grimsby the other side of the River Humber and about the time I moved North to Scotland his father moved the family down to London. Only for us to meet a number of years later in Greenwich, London whilst I was visiting following my other African interest of Egyptian artifacts being displayed at O2.

We became inseparable and spent hours speaking on the call was 10 hours long as we talked throughout the night! We talked about growing up in Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Humberside, travelling across Europe and, of course, Africa. Shane being mixed race in Hull found it difficult being one of the 'few' black families in the area. I never fitted in because I just wasn't like other children in that my horizons were set much higher and I knew what I wanted. We never seemed to have any awkward silences. It was as though we had known each other before and just picked up where we left off and both had a tendency to finish off each others sentences. We even had the same sense of humour. Our upbringing was very similar too and we held the same core values and principles. We both wanted the same things and we both had strong faith.

The Igbo's were used in the Atlantic slave trade. The first time I came across Igbo culture was when in the Dominican Republic I heard the saying 'Igbo go hang themselves'. Being of a curious nature I researched such an odd saying and I found that Igbo's rather than being enslaved would rather kill themselves, and many did so they were set free as they didn't make very good slaves. No surprise to me then as they are inherently proud and not subserviant in nature. So in Hispaniola Haiti and Dominician Republic there are still Igbo communities that settled there. I sometimes like to think that perhaps if I traced my ancestry using DNA that there may be a teeny weeny bit of Igbo in there, and that is why I have this burning desire to go 'home'.

My family call my love of Africa an 'obsession'. I read a book called Negrophilia....apparently people suffering from negrophilia have an inordinate affinity for blacks (as opposed to antipathy towards them) so maybe that's nearer the truth...maybe...just maybe I've been a closet negrophiliac all these years. Is there a cure? Well, I sure as hell hope not, because for the first time in my life I feel like I belong. I feel like I am almost home...and perhaps my trip to Naija is part of that...heading home.

Afterall, they say that we all came out of Africa...perhaps it's time for me to return? Perhaps I've always had that calling.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

After my engagement to my husband I started to take a keen interest in Nigeria, in it's history, the language and the people. They are amazing people, if a nation has an abundance of PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) it's the Nigerian's. Yet we only hear about the negatives.

Nigeria famous for her huge population of more than 140 million people and with more than 370 ethnic groups, has the highest population in the whole African continent. The country is made up of three major ethnic groups - the Hausa-Fulani, the Yoruba, and the Igbo - and they represent 70 per cent of the population. Another 10 per cent comprises of several other groups numbering more than 1 million members each, including the Kanuri, Tiv and Ibibio. More than 300 smaller ethnic groups account for the remaining 20 percent of the population.

My husband is from the Igbo Nation so I feel I can talk reasonably knowledgeably about the Igbo and happy to share what I have learnt over the short period of time. Igbo people have a dynamic and fascinating cultural heritage that says a lot about them, with most of the Igbo people being Christians.

Igbo people are industrious, friendly and educated people and not surprisingly they played an important role in Nigerian political development. They are proud to be Igbo. Igbo's embrace egalitarianism in a way I have not seen before, with hospitality being their watchword. The Igbo's have their traditional way of welcoming visitors, which is usually offering kola to guest, even before they made their mission known. When united in a common cause they are a force to be reckoned with. They will move mountains to achieve their goal.

The Igbo's have many cultures, which are further divided into many groups, due to dialects and boundaries among the eastern states in particular.

Nigeria has had a bad press over the years, most recall the Biafra War where the Igbo's in particular were victimized and more recently they think of corruption and trouble, but you know I think Nigeria is one of Africa's best kept secrets.

It is built into our genes. Many centuries ago, our ancestors wandered and hunted the African landscape amongst an overwhelming abundance of wild animals. In each of us is a primal urge to experience Africa for ourselves, even if it is from the safety of a Land Rover and the luxury of private, room-sized tents.

Africa's a big place, so just where do you go? Nigeria, of course!

Are we mad?

We must be...we have made the decision to take at least a year out and travel to Nigeria. I have always wanted to go and see Africa. The West Africa I visited many years ago got under my skin and I always planned to return. Now we have the perfect opportunity and a prolonged visit.

Some of our family and friends were quite concerned when we announced our plans to drive, however, we did our homework and joined an expedition travelling around the West Coast of Africa.

A few years ago hubby and I were idly discussing driving across Africa and both said what a road trip. For me it would be the ultimate trip....driving across a diverse continent and seeing the cultures....a few times we've joked about driving there and a few have warded us off. I spent some time mapping it out for my own curiosity and decided that it was too risky for two travellers alone...then the very next day I heard about a company that arranged Trans Africa expedition from UK to Accra in Ghana just over the border, taking the same route I had already mapped out. No way - this was worth investigating!

I searched their site and immediately emailed them for more information. I then noticed they did a larger trek down to South Africa which went via Abuja, Nigeria. I followed up the email with another asking if it was possible for us to do the Accra to Abuja leg too.

I phoned hubby and within minutes he was, 'Let's do it'! No hesitation. I explained it will be hard, sleeping out under canvas, living out of a rucksack and in an expedition bus, sand, rain, heat, exhaustion, days on the road etc but somehow it didn't restrain us any! It would take approximately 12 weeks! It seemed to be for us and being able to finish in Nigeria was the ultimate destination. We felt justified in using some savings and moving the dates forward to November!

So the decision was made and we started to plan in earnest....mad we may be but my explorer instinct has kicked in...I was born to do this!