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Guten Rutsch, Lüderitz

Posted: February 2, 2013

I often get the question why I speak German. Besides the fact that Germany is the neighboring brother of The Netherlands, it is a country that I could consider to be my second home. It's not that I spent a big share of my life in Germany, not at all. I've been there lots of times, on transit, visiting, for leisure, for work, for friends. As a child I had a German neighbor with whom I always spoke German. My dad listened to German radio on Sundays, I downloaded Rammstein and Terrorgruppe to spice up my teenage years. Now where did I get the most of my vocabulary? Lustiges Taschenbuch, the German equivalent of Donald Duck Pockets. For a long time I have been looking forward to see Namibia and speak… German.

For a while Namibia has been colonized by the German Empire. It has been 100 years but still you can see a lot of trails of German colonialism. Here in Lüderitz we see lively remains of a few decades of German influence. The city is more windy than Emden, but just as colorful as Munich. We chose this town for New Years Eve. Drinking German beer next to the Atlantic Ocean with Germans around us. In Africa. I will still dig that idea in the afterlife.

Alright, there are not so many Germans left. Behind the Lutherian church you can overlook the city. German architecture, yes. But Germans? We've been told that there are still a few families living here, but what do they still have to do with the history of their native country? Not that much of course.

"I will still dig that idea in the afterlife."

Last night Rihanna was singing that there are diamonds in the sky. Here you consider it to be truth. Most people here are either dependent on crayfishing or diamond mining. That may have been a good reason for the Germans to have a look here…

Life goes on and new history is being written. Now, at January 1st, you may say that there is still a lot of German influence. But this influence was yesterday. Today all the people here are Buchters because they are from Lüderitzbucht. They do their thing and that thing does not have a German name anymore. Nevertheless: Guten Rutsch, Lüderitz!

The story of Jantsje 58, a Frisian cow.

Posted: December 15, 2012

A long, long time ago there lived a cow named Jantsje 58 on a rich farm in Friesland, The Netherlands. She lived a happy life among other cows, 156 others to be precise. By her farmer she was treated like a lady, because the people in the neighborhood were dependent on the milk that she gave every morning, in exchange with the farmer giving her food all day long. "I like that everybody is happy", she sometimes told her friends. They all agreed with a long and satisfied moo.

The farmer sometimes had guests over from the other side of the country; Jantsje 58 knew that they are exporters of her kind, Frisian cows. She heard a lot of stories about farmers from far away who are interested in her and her friends. So the moment came that she was moved into a truck and was driven to the big harbor of Rotterdam. She was not alone. "Do you know where we will be going?" She asked Grytsje 52 with shock in her moo-voice. They couldn't know as they had never left the green grasslands of rural Friesland before.

After more than a week of sailing they finally saw the doors of the ship open up. People were talking a language they had never heard before. "It is Swahili", said the lion that had lived in a Dutch zoo for some time to gain strength. "We are very strong", said the proud Frisian cow. "Maybe that is why we are here." In the harbors of Mombasa, Jantsje 58, Grytsje 52 and six other cows were loaded into a truck. For about 8 hours the truck drove west. When the truck-drivers would stop for a cup of coffee Jantsje 58 heard them saying Nairobi many times. That had to be a city. And yes, the black and whites drove through the city of Nairobi to reach a village not far from the metropolis. A small unpaved road took them to a farm with a tiny stable. "I think we are going to live here", said Grytsje to Jantsje.

"And so it became that the two Frisian cows said good bye to the lowlands of Friesland and said jambo to the beautiful hills North of Nairobi."

And so it became that the two Frisian cows said good bye to the lowlands of Friesland and said jambo to the beautiful hills North of Nairobi. The farmer paid 8000 Kenyan shillings for each cow and they were put up in a stable in the corner of a small farm. Jane, a woman of about 60, took good care of them. One day they had a visit from people who were connected to a Dutch organization called Hivos. For Jantsje 58 and Grytsje it was a pleasure to see someone from their country again. They started building a so-called biogas plant. They had never seen something like that before.

Soon they realized that their dump was not only used as fertilizer, but that this too was thrown into a big depot for the production of biogas. Their dump was necessary to provide the family of Jane energy to warm the house and heat the stove. Jantsje looked at Grytsje and said: "You remember what I always told you back in Friesland? Now even more people are happy." Grytsje mooed in agreement.

Ethiopia's internet explorer

Posted: December 10, 2012

From the first story of a shopping centre along Nazret's main street, passers-by hear the beats of the latest American hip-hop hits. It’s close to midnight, and Elias Tetemke is coming back from a late-night nap. "Can't we do this interview tomorrow morning?" he asks.

But Elias indulges me. The 28 year old with a Bachelor’s degree in IT was just the third person to open an internet café in this Ethiopian city. Eight years later, Best Internet Café is, as its name might suggest, more popular than ever.

Running this place requires a lot of energy. During his nap, I noticed how clients were asking each other whom to pay. "Basically, I work 14 hours a day," Elias says. "The trick is to keep the customers satisfied. So sometimes I am a teacher instead of a plain owner of an internet café." Teaching means explaining where to find specific information and what to do when the browser is stuck. "If they use Internet Explorer, I simply tell them to try Mozilla Firefox. I've noticed that the needy people are always coming back to my café. It works."

"But you can understand that there is a lot of competition"

On the other side of the shopping centre, merely 30 metres away, is another internet café, which opened a few months ago. “We understand each other well,” says Elias, “but you can understand that there is a lot of competition." To win the competition, Elias constantly upgrades. Two years ago, Best Internet Café was the first to offer ADSL. That was the fourth time he changed his connection but, as he put it: "Internet speed is everything. People are happy to finally surf on a faster internet connection."

And lately, this is also the only internet café with Wi-Fi. This attracts a lot of students, who come with their laptops and do homework. Despite his loyal clientele, Elias has a hard time paying the bills. One reason is the 6,360 birr (about 270 euro) monthly fee for the ADSL line. Elias, who charges 25 cents a minute for computer use, is unhappy about that cost. "It is out of proportion. A price of around 2,000 birr [about 85 euro] would be much more fair. I also have to take care of the rent and the software rotation. This prevents me from opening a second business," he says.

In fact, one of his dreams is to open another internet café with his girlfriend, Annis. They haven't seen each other in person for the past four years, since she is studying IT in the Netherlands. "We Skype a lot,” Elias smiles. "You can tell that my whole life is dedicated to the internet."

In four months, Annis returns to Ethiopia. That will be a decisive moment. Elias, being orthodox Christian, and Annis, being Muslim, will have to find a way to fit into society. "Many people judge a relationship like ours but, honestly, I don't really care," says the entrepreneur with pride. "I am excited about the future. I would like to play a more important role in Nazret’s internet business. Perhaps I could help all the neighbouring companies to obtain an internet connection. If I'll manage? Only God knows." It’s 12:30 by the time Elias can shut down the computers, switch off the lights and rest until another working day starts.

Education kills crea... a basic need?

Posted: December 7, 2012

"You, you, you!" We quickly realized that this had nothing to do with YouTube whatsoever. The kids who we met right after the Sudanese-Ethiopian border wanted money. A friend of ours, Gijs Stevers, who cycled from North-Cape to Cape The Good Hope had already warned us about this happening. "I gave them a lot of pens, but now that I’m in Kenya I doubt that was the right thing to do," he said. Nowadays we ask ourselves a lot of questions when it comes to the tiniest things we could give to our African brothers and sisters. Why would it be a bad idea to give a pen to a child? Isn't a pen one of the best inventions ever?

A pen is a basic need for successful education. In Ethiopia we pretty much ignored the you-ing and we focused on what seemed to be really necessary: Education. Via contacts of the Dutch Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (Hivos), we were able to see the process of helping families out of child labor situations into child education in a rural village in the north of Ethiopia. Education, the most normal thing in Dutch society, as well al child labor being wiped out because of Het kinderwetje van Van Houten (a law to abolish child labor back in 1874). Does that mean that Ethiopian society is 138 years behind? Not really.

A few years ago the government introduced a law which says that all children should have an education. In practice that is hard to bring about, as most Ethiopians live in the countryside. In the rural areas we saw a lot of children working on the land. Harvesting, sowing seeds, whatever - they were working and the labor they were doing did not look easy. I want you to know that I’ve never seen so much fertile land as I saw in Ethiopia. I realized that these kids are needed to work alongside their families, because there is a visible lack of modern tools to work the land.

"When it was the right time to start harvesting, I knew I would be waiting for pupils all day long."

A friend who I met in Addis Ababa, Tarkegn Teshome, is principle of a primary school in the suburbs of the city. If you ask me, he was right about the following: "Food first, then education. In the past, I was a teacher in the rural areas”, he says, “and when the farmers decided it was the right time to start harvesting, I knew I would be waiting for pupils all day long".

As a Dutchie I believe in modern agriculture. In my home region, modernization has led to a shift in society. The city where I study, Leeuwarden, was first known as the agricultural epicenter of the Netherlands. Nowadays, Leeuwarden is the city of water technology. The shift created new opportunities, because not everybody was supposed to work on a farm anymore. The educational project we visited is doing a great job; they make sure that education is available to children. But what is the government of Ethiopia doing? I see big Land Cruisers; I see thousands of mini-buses. Bring in tractors and such!

Chewing the day away

Posted: November 16, 2012

"What are you doing?" I ask to the guys who I've seen sitting on the sidewalk a few times during the day. "I watch people. They come and go." It's as easy as that. Not too different from me watching people come and go when I enjoy a Dutch pint of beer on a sunny day. These boys have green teeth, green as grass, green as Qat. By Dutch law Qat is considered to be a drug, here chewing Qat is more common than smoking a cigarette. Qat leaves either make you very lazy or fit for the job you are on at the moment of chewing.

The job - so that's why Hatamu was chewing so much. "You allright?" was his favorite sentence while covering 500 slow and windy kilometers through the green Ethiopian mountains. As a truck driver of Derba Transport he got to see all of the horn of Africa. "I don't like the Somalis. Even for touching something they want money," he said. He probably knows better than I do. Then there came the moment to join in on his favorite icebreaker: Qat. "Now that we've had breakfast it's time to chew some Qat. Will you try it?" Miss Temptation left me no other option.

"If you want to know what you're talking about, you have to try it out yourself"

Nobody other than the famous Hunter S. Thompson left the world one famous lesson. If you want to know what you're talking about, you have to try it out yourself. He named it gonzo journalism. Although I have left my experimental phase far behind me, I felt seventeen again. The Ethiopian calendar hits 2005 this year, so in a way I'm indeed seventeen here. While the Volvo truck did not do much more than 25 kilometers an hour, I was chewing 5 leaves a minute. The leaves tasted like leaves I tasted when I went gonzo in the woods as an infant. Bitter.

To sweeten the taste Hatamu took a little sugar. I did the same and enjoyed the result of doing so. We listened to Ethiopian reggae and I confirmed his question 'you allright?' a few times. I forgot about child labor, the poor state of agriculture, the lack of education and the poverty for a while. I found myself sitting comfortably in a brand new truck which was trying to avoid collision with donkeys, baboons and children. I was whistling to the melody of Bob Marley’s evergreen Three Little Birds. I was chewing the day away.

So, how is Sudan?

Posted: November 4, 2012

I'm standing on the bumper of our support car. The sun is squeezing the last drops of sweat out of me and my face gets sand-blasted by the dust in the streets. I’m holding on to the luggage rack as we blaze through the suburbs of Khartoum. It feels like being in a movie. Mouth closed, eyes open and enjoying the dusty sight of people along the road who are living the day of today. We are on our way to Fadallah, a man who tried to get to Libya for a better income. He was arrested by the Libyan authorities, and is now, thanks to the IOM program back in the lecture hall.

He's building his future in the same setting as where I'm having the time of my life on the car bumper. In fact the sight here is not that dusty. It is hot and there is a lot of sand around, but the sky is crystal clear. Now I'm here I can't really say that The Sudan is a country people warned us about. Of course we did get a few extra stamps on our visa. President Omar Hasan al-Bashir must have had a fascination for collecting passport stamps.

"Why do I feel so safe and at home here?"

I almost forgot the trouble that is present here. Bandits and terrorist groups have been known for attacking and kidnapping foreign visitors. Therefore travel outside Khartoum, Omdurman and The Northern States is considered dangerous. Two borderline civil wars continue to see violence, in South-Sudan and particularly in Darfur. So what you automatically get is a travel warning for The Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan states and The Blue Nile region. Don't travel overland to or from Chad and South Sudan. That is more serious than all the warnings written on your pack of cigarettes.

So why do I not die in the capital? Why do I not die in Omdurman? Why do I feel so safe and at home here? And more-over, why are the people so appallingly open and friendly here? Elsewhere in the country they are destroying each other. We respect the travel warnings because it might be foolish to risk our lives. Standing on the bumper of the Discovery I think over my opinion about Sudan. The most dangerous thing for me right now is myself simply standing on the bumper of this car. If I fall off, I will have a huge problem. Unlike everything around me, that is what I know for sure.

We stop at the traffic lights and the driver of a car next to ours yells across, asking me what I think about Sudan. "I love the people, sir", I yell back. Satisfied, he nods his head and wishes me a happy continuation of the Eid festival.

Night train to Cairo

Posted: October 26, 2012

It’s as if sometimes the machinist alcohol-technically is on the haram side of the Islam. The rhythm of the train is incomparable with the sounds I have heard while on dozens of trains between Amsterdam and Beijing and Istanbul.

A few days earlier I was on a third class train Aswan bound and everything was in the right place. Now my perception of it all is slightly different. Here on board, there are many western tourists who have decided to travel in a different, more adventurous way. Now I understand why some people in the third class wondered why I didn’t travel in a higher class.

"Maybe they dream of travelling in it one time, maybe they don't."

The sound of the train is exactly the same as the third class one, but the atmosphere and the setting are completely different. In short there is absolutely nothing to do in this sterile combination of iron, plastic and carpet. Since there are a few ashtrays in the corridor, I ask our conductor Ahmed if it is okay to light a cigarette. "For you, he says, I make an exception." I thank him with a smile and soon after I realise that he will ask me for a tip tomorrow morning. That’s okay.

From the outside it is hard to see that there isn't much to see on the inside. As the train arrives in Luxor, I see a few teenagers who try to see me through the window. A handful of older Spanish couples hop on the train and we leave the teenagers behind on the desolated train station. They must have seen this train a million times, but perhaps they never got a chance to see it from the inside.

Maybe they dream of travelling in it one time, maybe they don't. Would they be disappointed if they found out that there isn't even a restaurant corner inside?

The tourists laugh their way to their compartments. The website offering this train trip probably told them they would see the real Egypt, but in fact they just see a random train which might as well cross the Swiss mountains. Air-conditioning, red carpet, gray walls, even the rhythm is different.

In the third class carriage, masses of people sit together in a carriage with the doors and windows opened. There are remains of food and cigarettes everywhere and the people are eager to start a conversation about politics and society.

I wish Ahmed a good night as I walk to my bed. Soon we will be back on the road tasting dust and consuming inspiration again.

Between two continents

Posted: October 11, 2012

Only 350 kilometres of Mediterranean blue sea separates me from Egypt, once I set foot on the ferry in Iskenderun, Turkey. As I approach the African continent, I am still trying to make sense of it all.

To guess what's underneath that mass of water would be easier for me than to describe my expectations of the continent ahead of me. But, I already talked a lot about this in my last blog and enough about me. Instead, I want to tell you more about the present, about the scene that, as though in a theatre, is playing out before my eyes. It's fascinating.

This ferry we are on is an interesting one because it connects Europe and Africa. The lounge deck is filled with Arab and Turkish men. Some are watching Hollywood films; others are playing backgammon. The rest are just sitting and staring. The only women on that deck are the receptionist, busy at work in the far corner of the room, and my friend Neda.

The ship is full of truck drivers, travelling families, pilgrims and refugees. The truck drivers are mostly Turkish, the families are from Egyptian descent, the pilgrims are from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the refugees just managed to get out of Syria.

This afternoon, I was talking to a family from Aleppo, the Syrian city which has recently been heavily bombarded by the country's government. Khalid, the youngest of the six, is on his way to Benghazi, Lybia. He is just five years old and, together with his family, is running for his life. The simple fact that he is on the boat today makes him happy. He smiles and in Arabic he tries to tell me that the sea is full of boats. He is right.

"Everybody is smiling tonight."

A member of his family tells me that they wish to go to Malta. I can only cross my fingers and hope that the people there will be able to see Khalid's smile. I sincerely hope this kid will also have a chance to start a family of his own, preferably in his beautiful hometown, and that his offspring can climb the citadel of ancient Aleppo.

On the way to Africa it is hard to ignore the Arab Spring. This ferry line was opened two months ago for one reason, and only one reason. It is an alternative route for those who would normally travel overland through Syria and Jordan. So, now the pilgrims can go to Mecca, the refugees to wherever they want to go, the truck drivers to Cairo and we can hitchhike to Cape Town.

Twenty hours of acclimating. Twenty hours left to get a glimpse of the Arab world.One deck below, the wives of the men above are making themselves comfortable. They are smiling and probably gossiping about the men watching Hollywood movies. Everybody is smiling tonight. An easy night, except for the receptionist and the captain. She tries to persuade the last passengers to finally bring their passports to her desk. The captain hopes the customs officers at Port Said will be in a good mood tomorrow.

Everybody has neighbors

Posted: October 11, 2012

In the Netherlands it is pretty common to make jokes about either the Belgians or the Germans. Belgians are usually stupid and the Germans are associated with their national history. Nothing serious, everything is put in a positive context. In the end a lot of people seem to have Belgian and German friends and these friends make similar jokes about the Dutch. The past days we have been crossing Central Europe and the Eastern Balkans. It did not take long before jokes and minor insults about the neighbors started appearing in our conversations.

A few Romanians told us that they were the good guys. "Yes we are", said the driver of the Volkswagen car. "But you need to be careful in Bulgaria. Especially during the night. They will kill you, I swear." Experience has taught me that this is actually never the case. And indeed, on the other side of the border it seemed that Bulgarians were trying to tell us that they were surprised that the Romanians did not kill us. Funny.

"Neighbors. Everybody has them."

Something that did ask for serious attention was the common opinion of Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. In almost every conversation the word gipsy was mentioned at least once. A lot of people have warned us for gipsies. "They are very dangerous," quoting several. But do people really hate the gipsies? Don’t relationships exist between them and gipsies? Such questions made them think about it for a second time. "Yes, we do have gipsy friends, but they are really an exception," said our Romanian driver. Another driver told me that a few ruin it for the majority. There is nothing funny about that, not at all. Last year I got robbed in Skopje. While a gipsy guy was standing 20 meters away, all bystanders could tell it was really him that took my mobile phone. Probably, this guy was as innocent as a baby boy who just opened his eyes.

Now wouldn't it be nice to have spent a little bit more time in this interesting part of Europe. There is a lot of misunderstanding between gipsies and their neighbors. Jokes and insults, minor problems and things that go totally wrong. I will have to spend much more time in the region to - maybe - understand. What I do know is that gipsies are true survivors. An Irish friend of mine once told me that the gipsies will even survive a fatal apocalypse. That’s quite something.

Neighbors. Everybody has them. Here I find myself on the Asian side of Istanbul. Earlier today we crossed the Bosphorus. European Turks, Asian Turks. They must be making jokes about each other. Let us stick to the jokes until we find more time to see what it really is like. In the meantime, new questions arise. Our host just told me that he wants to leave the country because the country is moving more and more to the Islamist side of life. Interesting. What do the neighbors think?

I'm a lucky man

Posted: October 5, 2012

I am going to Africa. Yes, I am going to Africa and I take a huge bag of expectations with me, right? Maybe.

On Saturday, I was strolling down the lanes of Google Earth and showed some of my friends where I will be going. I will see The Nile, the sands of Sudan, the mud of North Kenya, the savannah of Botswana and the beaches of Namibia. I will be overlooking the Zambezi River at Victoria Falls, joining rangers on a Zambian safari and wandering around Tanzania.

Looking at our planet on Google Earth gives us an impression of how small our little Europe is, at least that is what those friends of mine and I concluded. My friends had never heard of Dodoma, Gaborone or Swakopmund. To be frank, neither had I before I got in touch with Thumbs Up Africa.

Africa was never really on my shortlist of future travels. Northern Africa, yes: in combination with the Middle East. I’d do South America, Central Asia and maybe even Route 66 in The States. Africa only crossed my mind when I was 12 and cycling 10 kilometres every day to school. I thought it would be possible to step on a bike and go from Rabat in Morocco to Cape Town in South Africa... Well, today I feel lucky, because after a three-month-long hitchhiking journey alongside my two travel buddies, Neda and Christiaan, I will hopefully be in the very same Cape Town I dreamed of.

I also somehow feel privileged to be Dutch after I saw, the other day, a pertinent question on the RNW Facebook page. William Bayiha, from Cameroon asked: "Would it be possible for an African to hitchhike from Africa to the Netherlands?" He didn't think so and neither can I.

With a Dutch passport, or any passport from any Western country for that matter, it is fairly easy to obtain visas to cross the African continent. Sadly enough, the other way round would be virtually impossible. A concrete example: our South African cameraman, who will be following us on the trip, could not obtain a visa for Serbia. So, we are bypassing that country.

"William Bayiha, from Cameroon asked: "Would it be possible for an African to hitchhike from Africa to the Netherlands?" He didn't think so and neither can I."

I will feel my luck again today as we catch our first ride on this amazing journey. I will get to see the beauty of Africa and meet the people who may also share my dreams and expectations. I have never been to Africa and I do have my strong expectations and prejudices. But, fortunately, today there are not many. Now, I am more open and I believe in what I see for myself.

This realization came to me in 2010 when I went to the Middle East. Before I left, people told me I would meet a lot of terrorists and exorbitant washouts of religion. I feel sad for these people, because what I saw there was many talented people who were more dedicated to their work than I could ever be.

The fact is, I don’t think there’s much difference between people from all corners of the world. So, it is with that same spirit that I am heading towards Africa. For me, it is a rich continent, rich in culture and with a strong will for change, which by the way, I think Europe has always envied.

What can I do there? What changes can I bring? I have no idea, but I do know that I could share my stories as everybody else is doing on this planet. This way we can maybe make this world a smaller place by talking about our similarities and make it much richer by simply appreciating our differences. We all have our own little Utopia, right?

Last minute changes

Posted: September 23, 2012

Earlier this week we found out that there is a new ferry line between Turkey and Egypt. That is great news, because traveling by ferry is not that normal anymore in that part of the Mediterranean. Initially our intention was to take a cargo ship from Sicily and Malta and head straight to Alexandria. A tricky thing, because you cannot afford to be late for a captain who is willing to bring you to the other side of the water. Now, however, things are becoming a lot easier. The ferry of Sisa Shipping will transport us to the African continent.

This recent option to take the ferry gives us the opportunity to travel like everybody else. Small talk with locals on board about the Arab Spring and recent developments in the aftermath of the revolution. Also, it changes our route through Europe by 180 degrees. It gives a new face to the first part of our journey. Germany, Austria, Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria.

"No Italy, no Malta, but fortunately a little off the beaten track."

The country of Serbia has intrigued me ever since I was there in 2010. The people there had a lot to endure because of the wars that were fought in the 90s. Deep discussions on location about the reasons behind these problems made me realize that I had been exposed to these issues before. Whilst talking to a friend of mine in Belgrade about the 1999 NATO bombardments, I suddenly recalled being 11 years old and watching a TV item on the Kids News. My friend told me she can still hear the bombardment alarm now and then…

As we were drinking our strong rakija, I was finally able to put things in perspective. The situation that felt so far away when I was a child, suddenly became very real. In a few weeks we'll be crossing the heart of the Balkans and we will face the same moments with new faces. A beer, a rakija, two cigarettes and a tear for what has happened in the past. No Italy, no Malta, but fortunately a little off the beaten track.

I am much looking forward to take you with me.

This won't save the world

Posted: August 24, 2012

The title above has everything to do with a comment which was made about Thumbs Up Africa a few weeks ago: "How will this save the world?" It is a perfect question, even better: The question could have been mine. How will this help or change the world? Three happy students who go on a voyage and see a continent with all its different forms, shapes and appearances. To be very frank, you could call it a journey of a lifetime full of personal benefits. We get to see the countries, we get to meet the people, and we get to lengthen our summer while the Netherlands is drowning in another lousy winter. Not too much comfort guaranteed, but still the comfort of the sun which shines on our hitchhiking heads. The perfect adventure.

The perfect adventure and the perfect question. Christiaan wrote in one of his blogs that he has more and more doubts when it comes to development aid. Well, I sometimes say that I already lost my ideals about development aid when I was just 16 years-old. Suddenly, my political views changed from socialist to liberal and before I knew it, I was drawn more towards a free market economy. Now what did the free market bring us? Right.

"I got inspired by these four potatoheads traveling Europe on a shoestring."

Half way through my teenage years, when MTV already had nothing to do with music anymore, I was struck by a reality TV-series called 'The Trip'. Two teams, one hitchhiking from the North Cape to Gibraltar and the other team hitchhiking the opposite route. Thousands of kilometers, dozens of people on the road and a pair of cameras recording the whole happening. While I was cutting potatoes to help my mother out with cooking dinner, I got inspired by these four potatoheads traveling Europe on a shoestring. Here we are now, five-and-a-half weeks before we depart on our own hitchhiking adventure across the continent of Africa.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about overcoming prejudices and whether 'yes or no' we should care about expectations. It may have sounded a little idealistic, but in fact I am not that idealistic at all. Our planet just cannot be saved, because the same things have been going wrong for thousands of years. It’s not fair, but maybe it is just the way it is. It is an opinion I would like to change, but at this moment in time, I don’t know how. So here I am, being given the opportunity to see Africa and to maybe change my opinion concerning these matters. Yes, only a maybe. There is, however, one thing I am very sure about. We will have the possibility to inspire people just as I was inspired by the MTV hitchhikers. Will this save the world? Or will this change the world? We do not know. But let’s give it a shot.

Berlin, an international airport

Posted: August 3, 2012

„Welcome to Berlin“, said my new housemate as I sat down for a drink. I asked him what he is doing for a living. – “Well my friend, I do not know many people with a job here. I am on the look-out for a new job, or maybe I should call it a ‘project’. People in Berlin are all working on a project”, he explained to me with confidence. Raised in a family in which having a decent job is placed highly on the agenda of life, I tried to find out what these projects were all about. After being here for two weeks, I think I found the answer – which is anything. That may come to you a little as an anti-climax, but really anything is possible. Although prices for rooms, apartments and houses are constantly going up, there is absolutely a place for everybody here. And anyone can do anything, depending on the level of living comfort you need.

"That makes nobody a real Berliner, but everybody a Berliner."

 

It is hard to explain this city in just a few words. I came here to check it out and dig a little deeper. Six weeks for digging out a city that is home to 3.5 million people isn't that easy. Right before writing this down, I was eating a döner at a diner right between Neukölln and Kreuzberg. There I met a guy who was born and raised in this popular side of the city. He managed to give me a simple answer to my question – “The city of artists, opportunists, clubbers, writers and entrepreneurs is in fact an international airport. People come and go and they do not have the time to discover every hidden spot of the airport, but they do sense the haze of an endless number of directions. That makes nobody a real Berliner, but everybody a Berliner.”

People from all parts of the world come here to see if the city has something to offer for them. Financially there isn't a lot to get, but you can definitely bathe in a pool of creativity. For free. There are musicians to be found on every street corner and there is graffiti on all walls visible to the eye. Berlin is an epicenter of opportunities and joie de vivre. At first, I did not always believe this when people told me something similar about the city. Now, I have been proven wrong because I fell in love with the city and the people, even though they come and go. In October I go as well, to maybe bring a few bottles of ‘Berlin-air’ to Africa. Then, three months later, there may be a vice versa. Nobody knows in an international airport.

International pokes

Posted: July 2, 2012

In one of the drawers of my father’s desk you can find dozens of letters from various West-European countries. Penpals... true pen pals from the old school. Writing a letter once a month to stay in touch with someone you didn’t really know. You would respond on an advertisement in some international penpal magazine and soon after you would find yourself writing with a pretty girl from Bordeaux. You would sharpen your English and teach yourself a few bites of French, while you’d be dreaming about that far away city of teenage love. It must have been exciting to wait for the postman. Did she write back? Sooner or later the moment would come that the correspondence was over. No more news, no more excitement and just another new turn in life with new priorities.

"The postman can’t beat the www-couriers on the 100 meters sprint."

Nowadays, such priorities are also determined by Facebook. If you haven’t talked to a far away friend for a while, he or she gets thrown out of your direct social network and you both lose track of each other. Then again, we don’t have to get a pen, paper, an envelope and a post stamp to get back in touch. One click on the right button and we find ourselves happy together again. I’m quite sure everyone maintains a love-hate relationship with this medium, but I still find it fascinating to have that easy-to-access opportunity to stay in touch with friends from all over the world. One moment I find myself talking about Lebanese politics with a friend from Beirut and the other moment I make plans for a get-together with a friend from Spain. The postman can’t beat the www-couriers on the 100 meters sprint.

It is said that you can’t fully enjoy the depths of far away travelling if you sign into Facebook from time to time. This may be true, but isn’t it beautiful that someone can show the other side of this planet by just one simple click? You can share your opinion on how things are and you can show people the opposite of their expectations. More and more people are becoming active in this way of communication – young and older. Last year my mother joined Facebook for one simple reason, which embarrassed me somewhat. She told me she discovered that the easiest way to reach me is through the internet. She was right; when I’m abroad I share more in a status update than I could share on the backside of a postcard. Now my family, friends and far away acquaintances can easily follow what I have to say on hitchhiking to Cape Town. That makes me forget about that retro feeling the perfect smelling letters in the drawer give me.

It will go well

Posted: June 12, 2012

“So, how did the hitchhiking to Cape Town go?” We had not met for a few months and he heard the story from someone while going out into town. A little surprised, I told him that we are leaving in October. “So, how do you think it will go?” Now that was another question. The past three years I have hitchhiked quite a bit through Europe. Fellow hitchhikers know the game. You spend nights at gas stations and you know that you will make it to your destination the next morning. That way, you can beat 1000 kilometers or more per day and quickly find out that we live on a rather small continent [Europe]. Theoretically, you can make it from Porto to Tallinn in under three days. That said, can you make it from Groningen to Cape Town in three months?

"As you're driving 200 kilometres an hour on the Autobahn, you don't see all the people who live in the villages and cities connected to that Autobahn."

I believe you can make it in less than a month. We could place bets on that, but we are not taking those roads to win a competition. During my trips through Europe, I sometimes had the feeling I was missing out on so many great opportunities. As you are driving 200 kilometers an hour on the ‘Autobahn’ [German highway], you do not see all the people who live in the villages and cities connected to that ‘Autobahn’. You are speeding because you have a destination to reach. In October, we also have a destination to reach, but we will take our time. Again, we have the opportunity to meet the people who live alongside the roads we are taking, and this time, we will grasp these opportunities. We will be smoking shisha in Alexandria, we will get lost in Khartoum and Nairobi, we will be feeding elephants in Tanzania and we will go bungee jumping at the Victoria Falls. There will be joy, but more importantly; there will be moments of connection. Exchanging stories on another continent and better understanding each other’s views, ideas and day-to-day lives.

The other day, a reporter of Radio Netherlands Worldwide asked me about my expectations on traveling through Africa. I did not have much time to answer the question, but I am quite sure I answered well. I told her that the trick is that you should not care too much about your expectations and prejudices. Everyone has expectations, but it is about time that we overcome prejudices and start looking at things as they are. There may be cultural differences, but in the end everyone is the same. That may come to you as a cliché. That is fine, because it is said that most clichés are true. So how will the hitchhiking go? It will go very well, my friend.

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