Imagine you are an eleven year old child who has never traveled further than his home country. Your school friends tell each other stories about holiday adventures. Distance of five hundred kilometers traveled with your parents is very impressive. Especially, if you are a lucky family, who actually owns a car. Now imagine, there is no internet and no mobile phones. School becomes your window to the world. Some of your friends boast about having relatives living a rich and prosperous life in a far far away land. Sounds like a fairy tale to a young mind.
One day your mum tells you that she is taking you to Africa to visit her sister. Your first thought concerns elephants. As a baby you have always been sceptical about their existence. They look so ridiculous, as if they were imagined. Is it possible for such creatures really to exist? In books, maybe. Two weeks later it turns out that they are real.
You have taken your best clothes, had some language lessons and began the travel. From a small world you travel to the biggest of all on this planet. Finally, you reach Lilongwe the capital city of Malawi. Everything looks different, cars, people, plants and buildings. Even air tastes strangely. There is a six hours drive to Chilumba, the place where your aunt lives. On the way north, your mouth stays wide open in amazement. First steps in Africa were taken very seriously. Later, you have found out that this country is nothing but serious. At least to a child. Seeing all of this peculiar world makes you believe that everything is possible. You have been trying to be a very stern eleven year old, but now, under big baobabs, you feel silly and small. Solemn looks of the indigenous people show how little you know.
Kasungu National Park – the second largest national park in Malawi.
First encounter with the hippopotamus. These large creatures march slowly and prefer to spend the day in water. At dusk they come out to graze on grass. The guide warns you to stay away from them since they are unpredictable and very dangerous. Your hut is on the river bank, so his advice is very important. Especially because a group of hippos decided to stay overnight few meters from the house. Noises of the wild keep you awake for two hours and start blending with your dreams.
Chilumba – small town with a post office.
Aunt’s house is located on the hill. Road to Malawi lake is unpaved, steep and leads through a banana forest. After passing two straw huts where some indigenous family lives, you get to the beach. Water is turquoise and sand is yellow. Just like on the photographs you used to get from your aunt. You always thought it was inappropriate for them to arrive on cold snowy days.
Fishermen on their wooden hollowed-out canoes relax in the shade and chase away very persistent insects. Lazy sun heats up the yellow sand and calm water. When you dive, amazing new world shows its beauty. Colorful fish swim in shallow waters catching rays of sun. They look at you and circle round. Over ninety five percent of the lake’s species exist only here. Water is warm and feels like velvet. You start believing in mermaids again.
‘There is so much that you don’t know’ – now your teacher’s words have a new meaning. Finally, you grasp the idea of school. It is impossible to exist in this vast world without knowledge. From now on, you promise yourself to learn hard. There is no place for doubting (especially yourself). It is time for believing. Even in sausages on trees. Aunt tells you there is a sausage tree in a garden. She says it is called Kigelia. Big butterflies fly around the garden full of colorful flowers. How you wish you knew all their names…
After two unforgettable days you plunge completely into this majestic land. Back home you used to check your bed for monsters, now you look for scorpions. Monsters suddenly seem rather innocent. In the morning you go to a nearby mission for some fresh eggs. The gate is guarded by herds of loud monkeys. After few visits you find it challenging to outwit the monkeys. God knows animals are the best guardians.
Every two days, your aunt takes you to a local market. On big plates there are things you cannot name. One day, Lake Flies, as the locals called them, flew over the lake creating an image of a huge cloud. The next morning you could find them fried and ready to eat.
It was impossible to buy flour, sugar or cheese on the local market, so a trip to Mzuzu, which was a bigger town, became necessary. Fried fish, all kinds of fruit, wicker baskets, even cassettes were available and easy to acquire.
Your mother says you will visit two countries which start with a letter Z. First is Zimbabwe and the second is Zambia. The trip will also include visiting Tanzania and north Botswana. Plains, mountains, rivers and lakes prove how vast this land is. Nevertheless, an urge to see it all is born in your mind. The more you experience, the faster your blood flows. In the heat of African sun, plans for future become vivid .
Nyika Plateau National Park – Three really cold days.
You are one foot in Malawi and one in Zambia. It is constantly cold. Some hot chocolate in front of the fireplace is a fabulous idea. Your mother, aunt and her husband, you joined you on this trip, unanimously decide that five in the morning is a perfect hour to go horse riding. Air is fresh and cold, horses walk steadily when you move along narrow paths surrounded by huge Pine trees. It is a quiet day. Everyone is resting from the heat of lowlands. In the evening, you observe hyenas and other night predators going hunting. It is the longest day of your life.
Kariba Dam – lost lives.
On the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe there is a huge dam which, shockingly, has taken eighty six lives during the construction. It was finished in 1977. Now it provides power to Zimbabwe and Zambia. A cruise on the Kariba lake and Zambezi river is a great opportunity to observe African birds, elephants and other thirsty animals. There are two girls your age who wish communicate with you. Unfortunately, you don’t speak English. Your face turns red. This international sign they understood and walked away disappointed. What a shame.
Hwange National Park – open tree house and wildlife all around.
Your imagination plays tricks on you. Completely dark night is louder than the day. Just outside your window a huge herd of the Blue Wildebeest migrates to find more feeding ground. Everyone is asleep, and you feel important and honored being an only witness to this march. They breathe heavily and walk slowly. Never in a hurry. Nothing is ever in a hurry in Africa, especially people. Finally, you close your eyes and go to sleep with a fear of waking up with a monkey by your side. The night gets cold and cozy.
Victoria Falls in Zambia – wet and loud
When you come from a country with no waterfalls, this place makes great impression. Air is different, fresh and seems to be moving. Fog and mist are all around you. You stop to see the best sights. There aren’t many tourist which allows you to hear rumbling water. Beautiful rainbows come out every few steps. This is how you always imagined Amazon forest. With one of those rainbows comes an idea. Very typical for an eleven year old. In the evening you are planning to create an open list of places you will visit. Amazon jungle will be number one. It feels good to have a goal.
You love an aura of Victoria Falls. While walking, you are making the whole strategy of fulfilling your newly made plan of travels. The passion for languages is born.
The end – the beginning of something new.
You have arrived to Africa early in the morning, and you leave just before sunset. On the plane you are constantly looking through the window hungry for the world below you. One of its kind, stunning sunset says goodbye. When a black curtain covered the ground, the only thing you could see were bonfires. So many of them. You wonder who is sitting by the fire, what kind of people they are. Are they happy? Your favorite book by Antoine de Saint-Exupery waiting on your knees to be read again, suddenly reveals the truth about experiencing the world from the sky. In the ocean of the darkness below, Exupery, the pilot, saw light which meant life, a story to be told. He was a silent observer, a traveler with a different point of view. You ask yourself how to remember everything you have experienced, and how to save you perspective. The passion for writing is born.
Whenever I have returned from a voyage, I have become a different person. Smarter, calmer and more self aware. Many of my passions have began in Africa, maybe because I was in a right place at a right time. Young enough to believe in wonders of the world and old enough to understand the value of this first lesson. I have never been eleven ever since. Maybe one day.