Made it!

by Kate on August 19, 2010


Just a quick update to say that  I have made it! After 22,040km I arrived at Cape Hafun, the most easterly point of the African continent on the 16th August, 4 days ahead of schedule. Our journey through Puntland was absolutely amazing and I have a great story to tell. I arrived at the remote lighthouse with a pistol in my bar bag and a split wheel rim. The wind was so strong that I was constantly being sand blasted and blown off the road. We have had incredible support from the Puntland government, from the president down.

In Somaliland we took the decision to not publicise our movements or intended route for security reasons. I have two more blogs to write about our journey through Somaliand and Puntland, so please stay tuned for the story.


Title: Awash to Hargeisa

Dates: 26th July to 1st August GPS:

Distance: 594km Total Distance: 20,758km

Roads: All tarmac except for 40km, mountainous before Harar, hilly to Jijiga

Weather: Cool and wet until Jijiga, then warmer on the Somali Plateau

1a. High in the Ahmar Mountains, 20km after Asbe TeferiWe had heard that there could be difficulties as we
neared the Ethiopia/Somaliland border so Ismael (from Logia) put us in contact with a well-connected guy in Awash, Kome Mahammed whom we looked up on our return from the Afar region. Kome gave us some good advice and arranged for someone (Abdul) to contact in Harar to organise our security to the border.

1b. Happy girl, same placeThe two and a half days ride to the ancient walled city of Harar was always going to be testing. The road crosses the Ahmar Mountains, wriggling its way up and over numerous folds. From Asbe Teferi, I had a tough day, climbing up to 2500m and down, up and down several times. The land is intensively cultivated most of the way and the population is concentrated along the roadside. Once over the first big climb, the problems with the kids returned. It was even worse than before I think; stones, manure, sticks… Then just before lunch, pushing up another huge climb a man with a scythe grabbed on to my bike. Think he must have been high on chewing chat leaves (a very strong stimulant which many men chew for hours every day). I asked him to let go politely, then less politely, then very assertively. This not working I slammed on the brakes so that he fell into my bike. I confronted him and he ran off.

Needless to say I was pretty stressed by the time John joined me to ride the last couple of kilometres before lunch. After the break I found a small green stick, stripped off the leaves and kept it with me to help ward off anyone who looked like they were going to hang on to my bike. It is against what I would normally do, but I do have the right to defend myself. Holding the stick reduced the problem and I never used it. Thunderstorms built up and ‘exploded’ during the afternoon. I continued cycling through lightning and torrential rain. Eventually I endured the storms too. By the end of the day I had covered 130km in eight and a half hours and was absolutely freezing. John found a building site to camp beside – our last night of camping together. They were building a museum and hotel on an ancient battleground. The locals fought the Italians in 1895, who were trying to take Ethiopia by force, but never succeeded.

I was looking forward to reaching Harar, one of the most important cities on the Muslim map. The city is 1002 years old. Harar developed as an important trading town, owned by its people until Emperor Menelik finally conquered it by force. Harar and Axum in the north were the last two cities to be incorporated into the diverse country Menelik unified (kind of). Abdul arranged for us to stay in a traditional Hararian guesthouse tucked away within the old city walls.

2a. Feeding the wild hyenasFirst priority was to see the feeding of the wild hyenas. It is a century-old Muslim tradition unique to Harar which began when the hyenas were fed porridge at a certain stage in the Harar calendar. Over the last fifty years the hyenas have been fed daily, whether there are tourists or not. The hyenas are fed just outside the city walls at the back of the abattoir. A group of about eight showed up to be fed leftovers from the day’s butchery. Once the feeder (who inherited the job about eight years ago from another family member) had started them off he invited people from the small audience to have a go.

2b. Necking with a hyena!I was one of the first to be offered a go, then John and a few others after that. They are such powerful animals, yet so gentle when they accept meat off a stick held either by hand or by mouth. Zdenek was able to get right in close to film; so close that a young hyena mistook the fluffy microphone for someone offering it a titbit!

We took a day off in Harar to absorb the atmosphere and enjoy the town. Abdul took us on a three hour tour. He led us out of the main gate which displayed a sign advertising that Harar had become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006. Abdul said the main benefit of the recognition was that it had encouraged tourism, which in turn had improved the town’s economy. We walked through the Smugglers’ Market in which you can buy materials and various items from all over the world. Harar is not far from the Somaliland border where just about anything and everything is imported.

3a. I bought some beautiful Somali material from this lady, Smugglers' MarketI bought a beautiful piece of Somali material made with traditional dyes. The Smugglers’ Market led to the Recycling Market. Abdul said that anything which is lost in the town ends up in this market. John was like a kid in a lolly shop looking at all the spare parts and tools. Even coffins were available; two were being carried off somewhere. The Recycling Market led into the Christian Market. This was an older section where people can buy spices, grains, vegetables, fruit, chickens and other types of food.

4b. Cleaning impurities out of the grainWe wandered through many of the 368 alleyways. Originally they were all natural stone and rendering, but now most have been painted up. There are numerous mosques scattered amongst the streets; most are private houses of worship incorporated into the family homes. The small private mosques are used during the week, but people generally attend the main mosque on Fridays.

Abdul introduced us to Mahammed whom he’d arranged to travel with us for the next two days to the Somaliland border. Mahammed is a Somali, born in Harar with duel Ethiopian/Somaliland citizenship. He seems to be very well connected and it is important to have someone who knows the region with us.

The LandRover has developed a major problem – John pulled a fragment of a gear cog out of the gearbox back in Awash. He kept losing use of some of his gears and the major worry is that there are likely to be more pieces floating in the oil which could become jammed and strip more cogs. Then again, we could be lucky and nothing happen at all. It was a bit like playing Russian roulette and stressful for John especially. He kept draining and checking the gearbox twice a day. Finding LandRover parts, or better still a reconditioned gearbox is difficult in Ethiopia. John had to deliver Zdenek and I to the border (where we were due to meet Omer Jama, who will look after us in Somaliland) and then drive all the way back to Kenya. John was most worried about travelling over the rough road in northern Kenya as he thought this would certainly break up the transmission.

8a. Leaving HararThe road to Jijiga from Harar was one of the most picturesque and enjoyable. The first 30km continued with the same kind of problems I’d had before Harar with stone throwers and even more men sitting around chewing chat. After the first decent climb to Babille however, I could draw a line. From that point on the people, including kids were friendly and the hassles ceased. It was an amazing transformation. East of Babille, the scenery was superb.

8c. Valley of incredible rock formationsI climbed up a short hill and then descended through a stunning valley speckled with spectacular rock formations on both flanks. Then the land opened out into more vast mountains and green valleys; maize and chat being the main crops cultivated. There were plenty of nomadic livestock herders, camels and a huge troop of baboons beside the road. In the past some of this region was treacherous because of armed conflict. Land mines had been laid and the road blown up.

9a. Land begins to open out near Jijiga - looking down on former bandit territoryOnce over the final long steady climb, the vast Somali plain stretched to the horizon, Jijiga ten kilometres below. During the day, the LandRover had lost 3rd and 4th gear for a couple of hours, but then it returned and behaved as normal. Mahammed took John and Zdenek to meet the best mechanic in Jijiga, but he didn’t have any parts which could help fix the problem. We drove on.

11b. Camels use the road still under construction, 20km from Tog WajaleThe road to Tog Wajale at the border has just about been completely sealed. The Chinese are about 40km short of completing the job. This made my ride much easier than expected. We had allowed an extra day to reach the border in case of difficulties, but didn’t need it and arrived a day early. I had been coordinating the transfer into Somaliland for about three months with Omer Jama. He has organised visas, the support vehicle, the security car and two security guards and has committed to accompanying Zdenek and me for the ten days we are in Somaliland. Arriving a day early, Omer simply adapted his plans once again and drove out from Hargeisa the next day.

This was the end of the road for John who has to return to the UK for harvest. With the vehicle not behaving as it should, I was pleased that Mahammed was with him at least as far as Harar. Having someone who speaks the language and knows the region is a comfort. It was strange saying goodbye to John. He has done such a brilliant job driving and coordinating the expedition support and I could not have asked for a better person for this expedition. He not only drove safely and maintained the vehicle, he also got involved in the project visits and enjoyed cycling a few kilometres just about every day. We emptied the vehicle and sorted all the gear out at the very average hotel in Tog. John could not drive over the border and Omer was unable to cross into Ethiopia, so they arranged to load all of Zdenek and my belongings on a couple of wheel barrows with a few more valuable items being carried by what was at this stage a little entourage. Immigration was straight forward; getting stamped out of Ethiopia and in to Somaliland. The next and last couple of weeks will be an adventure of a different kind.

I set off at about 2pm towards Hargeisa, one vehicle in front, the other behind. The first 20km was rough, but after that it was all plain cycling. I made it into the Somaliland capital just after 6pm. On the way we made a short stop to see some of the work that Omer’s Taakulo Somaliland Community (NGO) is doing, building a water tank and new latrines at a school. This is a part of their commitment to improving clean water supplies, hygiene and sanitation. They have 24 similar projects on the go, partnering with the Swiss organisation Caritas. Much more about the TSC in the next blog.


Title: Awash to Mille

Dates: 22nd to 25th July GPS:

Distance: 320km Total Distance: 20,164km

Roads: Excellent tarmac, gently undulating

Weather: Warm (mid 30s), thunderstorms

1a. Entering the desert region, typical scene after rainsOnce we had turned away from Awash, a sensitive military region and headed towards the desert, I felt a sense of relief. I pedalled north through scrubby acacia bushland and vast open plains; some spectacular mountains in the distance on either side of the road. A tail wind enabled me to zip along the tarmac. The road is the main trucking route for Ethiopia which ends at the port in Djibouti. The highway was very busy however I found the truck drivers, on the whole, very friendly and respectful – they gave me plenty of space. 1e. Goat and sheep herding children who watched us on our lunch break, probably no schooling for them.As I headed towards Mille, 320km from Awash, the vegetation gradually petered out and the plains resembled the Nullarbor, although a little more undulating. The people were different too. Afar nomads, often children, tended to their herds of sheep, goats, camels and/or cattle. Adults, even some women carried guns as a normal part of life, which they needed to protect their livestock from Somali animal rustlers and hyenas mostly. The number of guns around was a bit unnerving initially. In general, the children were inquisitive and friendly and I wasn’t hassled by aggressive begging kids.

1d. Coca-Cola drivers stop to offer me a drink. Celebrating 20,000kmA few kilometres after Gewane, half way to Mille, I clocked my 20,000th kilometre. The scene was rather different from the 10,000th kilometre and the shooting incident in the Republic of Congo. We camped after 190km at a communications tower which was protected by armed police. Nearer to Mille, the land became stony and desolate. Normally at this time of year temperatures soar into the mid-40s most days, but the rains over the last few days had kept the climate cooler.

2a. With Valerie BrowningCommunications in this region are unreliable and so while I had been emailing Valerie Browning, the person we had come to see, I wasn’t sure whether she would be in Mille, where she is building a hospital or Logia where she and her family lives. We were just about to give up on Mille and head for Logia when she appeared, looking for us. Diminutive in physical size but with a huge presence, she martialled all who were with her, shooed away those who were standing and staring at us (we are used to attracting a crowd at this stage), and brought us to a cafe for a drink and to discuss plans.

I particularly wanted to see the hospital she and the Afar Pastoralists’ Development Association (APDA) are building, learn about the mobile health units and mobile classrooms they have pioneered, and other community work of the APDA which benefits the Afar. We sat together on the way to Logia, getting to know each other and discussing development, poverty, various projects and NGOs. I was mostly learning.

2b. Ishmael in his Logia office of the APDAValerie, an Australian nurse, has been living in the Horn of Africa for more than thirty years. She has nursed famine victims in Ethiopia, helped independence fighters in Eritrea, supported guerrilla soldiers in Djibouti and reported undercover on human rights abuses in Ethiopia; risking her life many times for her belief in justice. Valerie has been married to Ismael, a clan leader of the Afar for 21 years. They have two children, Aisha who is studying in Australia and Rammid (8) who was determined that he wanted to cycle with me through to Somalia!

Together they have created the APDA which brings education to a culture which had 2% literacy before they began their work and life-saving medical aid and community empowerment to the nomads. The APDA started with 34 committed staff and has now expanded to 750 workers. The Afar people regard Valerie so highly they call her ‘Maalika’ which means ‘Queen’.

We drove directly to the Logia office to meet Ismael and clean up. It had been two long days on the road and even a cold shower was particularly welcome. It was a pleasure to meet Ismael too – a gentle character who also works tirelessly for his people. While the other two were freshening up, Valerie explained that she believed poverty is not simply about living with less than one or two dollars a day, it’s all about lack of empowerment. Not having enough money is a part of it, but often it is a consequence of not having a voice. Education she believes is the key to alleviating poverty (and I agree whole heartedly). Educated people are better able to make decisions and choices. They can learn about the importance of cleanliness and sanitation, understand about the risks associated with FGM (female genital mutilation), they can understand laws, vote and learn life skills for example. Educated people have better health on average, fewer healthier children and have capacity to earn more money. Educated people are empowered to take control and make better decisions for their livelihoods.

The only worthwhile, sustainable type of development is community-based, where local leaders make decisions about their direction and cultural development. Empowering communities with an emphasis on skills transfer is the best possible leg up organisations can give.

3c. With 0% literacy before the work of the APDA, these girls have much to celebrate

3d. Boys performing a traditional danceThat evening we attended a youth dance performance which was to celebrate the end of a week-long Afar youth conference. Youth from all over the huge Afar region had congregated to exchange ideas and discuss their direction, interact and make friends. The performances were a mix of traditional dances which tell stories and new compositions which generally educate about good health practices and the importance of education. It was an uplifting evening supported by at least a couple of hundred locals in the audience.

3b. Young women are empowered and celebrate the conferenceA particular highlight for me was to see the girls perform. This would not have happened a few years ago. Afar women, before the ADPA had 0% literacy. Now these girls have the confidence to sing and dance in front of a crowd. Once the girls had finished, the youth congregated and I was introduced and invited to say a few words (Ismael translating). I kept on with the education theme with the message of the importance of going to school and learning new skills.

4b. The 28 bed hospital should be ready by the end of the yearThe next day we returned to Mille to look at the hospital. It is getting there, just needs internal furnishings before it can start to be equipped. The main section will contain 28 beds. One end will house all the operating and technical equipment. The other end will have space for teaching to train Afar nurses, birth assistants and medical professionals. Funding is still being sought to complete the centre by 2011.

5a. A typical Afar home or deboiterThe basis of the APDA health plan is the mobile health units. It is the most practical way of administering healthcare, such as vaccinations to the nomads. The reach communities where there are no roads, Valerie and the team must carry a generator by camel to make ice to keep the vaccines cold. Once they reach an accessible distance, they carry the vaccines packed in ice and walk with the heavy packs for anything up to 14 hours. Over a week she and her team may walk about 300km. The purpose of the centrally located hospital in Mille is to service those who cannot be treated by the mobile health units.

8b. The young women gather

Valerie made particular mention of the major problems the Afar have with women’s reproductive health. 1.7% of Afar women die in child birth and 35% of children don’t live past the age of five years. Millennium Development Goal 5 is the most difficult to deal with due to the traditional practice of FGM. All Afar women traditionally undergo the most severe form of FGM which involves removing both labia and clitoris and then stitching them together. This causes dreadful complications in child bearing and with the kidneys. Valerie explained that one girl at the age of 23 needs a kidney transplant to save her life, due to infections caused by FGM. Valerie had offered one of her own kidneys.

I had also wanted to visit one of their mobile schools to see a class in action. So far the APDA has delivered education to 85,000 children. Students are educated up to year 4 level, learning in their own language. It seems an impressive amount but Valerie is not content with this when there are so many more to educate. There are approximately 1.4 million Afar people. Given that there are 74 million Ethiopians, the Afar are very much a minority group whose rights and needs are generally overlooked by the government.

6b. Valerie finds out from those displaced the scale of the emergency and who needs helpOvernight storms had caused local flooding; the Awash and Mille rivers and swelled and caused severe flooding so school was off. Three people had died and many were fleeing to higher ground. Our plan changed. Rather than visit the mobile school, we had to drive the long way round from Mille, back down the Awash Road and along the flood plain to Galha village to where many were seeking refuge. Valerie was on the job immediately, talking with the community leaders and women to find out the extent of the emergency and what the people needed.

6a. Emerging from the flood waters, escaping with very little, if anythingThe waters rose quickly and many of the men had to swim their families to safety. About 165 families were displaced at that stage. The people seemed in reasonable condition, but without food and supplies, their health would deteriorate after a few days. Valerie was going to report it to the correct authorities first and wait for their response before going any further.

6c. A group of displaced Afar; 165 homes destroyed and three people dead at this timeFloods are becoming more of a regular occurrence for a couple of reasons. Over the last seven years, the region has experienced more extremes of climate. Secondly, the flow of the Awash River has been altered since the government built a dam just west of Logia. The reservoir extends for over 30km upstream making the waters behind it susceptible to flooding. The purpose of the dam is to supply 60,000 hectares of prime riverside land with water to irrigate a sugar cane plantation for ethanol production.

For the Afar this is having devastating consequences. Other than the increased susceptibility to flooding, the most fertile part of their land which they use for grazing during the driest part of the year, has been taken. This is a threat to their livelihood as there is nowhere to graze their livestock. When Ethiopia struggles to feed its people, and they do have oil reserves untapped, it seems a very strange decision to be producing ethanol from sugar cane.

9a. Below the old MSF built water tower in Galha villageGalha itself was an interesting because it was originally built by MSF (Medicines Sans Frontiers) in the 90s. Their project didn’t work and they pulled out of the region, leaving the empty buildings. According to Valerie, they wasted millions of dollars setting up a health centre, but there was a real division between the MSF and local workers and no real skills transfer. MSF didn’t stay long and left Gahla as a ghost town.

We returned to Logia and stayed in Valerie and Ismael’s compound. There is plenty more to write, but I will never get this blog posted. In Valerie’s book, Maalika, there is a quote which says:

To give and not to count the cost.
To fight and not to heed the wounds.
To toil and not to seek rest.
To labour and not to seek any reward,
Save that of knowing that we do your will.

This sums up Valerie’s attitude to her work and passion. We all found this visit to meet Valerie, Ismael and the Afar people incredibly inspirational. To buy Valerie’s book, or to support the APDA, please visit their website (by clicking on the logo on the Partners’ page) or contact AngliCORD,

We returned to Awash, a full day’s drive, in readiness to start the next phase to Somaliland.


Ethiopia: You, you, you

by Kate on August 2, 2010

Title: Moyale to Awash

Dates: 12th to 21st July GPS:

Distance: 884km Total Distance: 19,844km

Roads: Rainy, overcast mostly

Weather: Tarmac, mountains, generally hilly

After all the problems we had securing our Ethiopian visas, entering our 19th country was a doddle. Getting through immigration was simple and while customs were more particular, there were no major difficulties. It was back to cycling on the right hand side of the road. All the former British colonies which we had been travelling through in east Africa had all left-hand side driving. 1a. Italian fort near MegaCrossing the border, there was immediate changes in climate and people. It is the wet season in Ethiopia, but I couldn’t have imagined that we would have crossed from dry desert to drizzly, sometimes heavy rail. People shouted you, you, you almost constantly. It is their way of saying white person, especially in the southern regions. The landscape opened up and it was open plains all the way to Mega. That is where the climbing started again. Our first night in Ethiopia was spent camping beside the ruins of an old Italian fort 3km north of Mega. Ethiopia was never successfully colonised like all other African nations. The Italians tried in the late 1800s, and then from 1936-1941 they occupied the country which emperor Menelik unified by force.

2a. Salt crater lakeI was pretty tired and so took it easier for the first couple of days to Yavello, most likely fall out from pushing so hard across the shocking north Kenyan roads, and the last gastro. The landscape was stunning; dry scraggy mountains with spectacular rock formations and Sahel-type dryland vegetation. Fifteen kilometres north of Mega we made a short diversion to visit a salt mine and crater lake. The crater is about 600m deep. At the bottom a black-looking lake provides the villagers with an income.

2b. Donkeys descending from salt stores to the lakeThey traditionally use donkeys to transport the heavy burden up the impossibly steep track. The journey takes two hours each way. There are four types of salt; black salt used for animals, fine white salt, crystallised and rock salt. Traders came from far and wide to buy the salts, but these days the villagers gain a substantial income from tourism. They sure know how the take advantage and the village certainly looks like it has all the basics; electricity, school, health centre, etc.

2c. On thew way to harvest some salt

3a Friendly faceCommunications in Ethiopia, away from Addis Ababa and a couple of the main towns is impossible. The only mobile phone company is run by the state and only Ethiopian nationals are permitted to have a phone. Therefore, until we reached Addis Ababa, where a friend was able to set us up with a sim card, I had no phone to use. Internet is non-existent, or at least never working. Setting up and coordinating details for the finish of the expedition, now just five weeks away was made very difficult.

Ethiopia, and specifically the Rift Valley is well known as being the home of coffee – where coffee plant were first cultivated. Small cafes sell very good coffee just about everywhere – there is no instant coffee. The Rift Valley in Ethiopia and Kenya is also generally considered to be where humankind originates. Therefore this might explain why so many people in the world don’t feel human until they have had their coffee in the morning!!! From Yavello I cycled up and up (actually up, down, up, down,up…) to about 2500m. It was really tough work, though not unexpected. I didn’t mind the climbing, but unfortunately it was the kids which were a serious problem.

The adults could not be more friendly, and I welcome enthusiasm, but my days cycling up the Ethiopian Rift Valley, all the way to Addis Ababa and then later to Harar were perhaps the most stressful and unpleasant of the whole journey. At every opportunity children would run at me, often in mobs shouting you, you, you…money, money, money; give me money.

Of course struggling up the steepest of inclines, I could only manage about eight kilometres an hour and so could not outpace the kids. They would grab on to my bike, throw stones, swipe at me with sticks, try to strike me with whips, they would spit and beg – nonstop. If I did the usual friendly thing and say hello, wave and acknowledge their presence, this only encouraged them. It was better for my own safety that I ignored them completely, which was totally against my instincts. This was not an isolated incident, the responses were constant, like in a relay. Even if I managed to burn off a group of attackers, there would be another wave swarming just down the road.

Many children were plain enthusiastic and it was difficult to give them all a fair hearing and a positive response when others were trying to dislodge me from my bike or throwing stones when I did not give them money. If I stopped and confronted them, they would run away. I did two nine hour days taking this abuse, trying to get through this part of the journey as fast as possible. The hassles really clouded my enjoyment. I was disappointed because I had really been looking forward to travelling through this country. The scenery was actually stunning much of the time, although being the rainy season, it was not very conducive to photography. For this reason, but mostly because of the kids swamping me everywhere, I did not take many photos.

There are a couple of reasons as the why this is such a problem – or why I think it is such a problem. Firstly Ethiopia’s population has exploded from 30 million to 74 million in 35 years. The Rift Valley is one of the most populous regions where I don’t believe they all have access to education. The mobs of children probably don’t go to school. I learned from a German woman who had been living in Ethiopia for eleven years deciphering languages so that students could learn in their own languages, that both the Christian Orthodox and Muslim churches teach their children to beg…What is your name; give me money… As soon as they see a white person, doesn’t matter if like me they are struggling up a mountain, or in a vehicle, there is a terrible culture of wanting to be given something for nothing.

The other main problem is that Ethiopia has been the victim of so many years of hand outs from the international community. A generation of Ethiopians, especially since the droughts of the seventies and on, have grown up receiving the wrong type of aid, lacking in community development, skills transfer and empowerment. Money has just been poured into a bottomless pit. Therefore every time they see a white person, they believe they are owed money, that they should give the shirt off their backs, whatever they own.

While there are some good things happening, handouts are still an issue. Money desperately needs to be spent on their ‘ABCs’ rather than teaching children to beg (meaning literacy and population control – ABC = Abstinence, Be faithful, Condoms).

I reached Awasa in good time but then came down with a violent gastro. Something did not agree with me and my body simply pressed the eject button. I could only lie in bed and sip rehydration salts all day. I did seem to recover well though from gastro number 5 and was able to continue after a wipe-out day. I caught up time, even in heavy rain.

I didn’t need to cycle to Addis Ababa as it is 70km off the route I had chosen, so after staying the night in Debre Zeit, just south of the capital, we drove in. This was an opportunity to meet up with some friends – those who had worked hard to help us get our Ethiopian visas – while catching up on the usual admin bits and pieces in readiness for the next stage. About ten years ago I did a walking holiday in Ladakh, northern India. It was the leader of that trek, Suzie Grant and her Ethiopian travel industry colleagues who had fought for us so hard with the immigration department. It was great to meet Suzie again and say thank you to Gebre and Misgane for their efforts. Suzie has been battling with Ethiopian authorities to build her dream guest house in a beautiful part of northern Ethiopia. After initial encouragement, the bureaucracy of trying to set up a culturally sensitive establishment has taken its toll. In short, we were both fed up for different reasons.

One of the big plusses about Ethiopia is the cuisine. Other than good coffee, they have a distinctive cuisine which we sampled when Misgane took Suzie and me to dinner. Over dinner he confirmed what we both had been thinking about development in Ethiopia. They don’t need hand outs, they want education and they want to take control of their own development. He found most of the Western aid responses patronising. He says that when they see westerners driving around in LandCruisers and staying in expensive hotels when they are meant to be directing aid to where it is needed most – the people, it sends all the wrong messages. Misgane has his own very successful travel business and, having lived in Europe for ten years, can see both sides of the story.

I restarted the journey at Mojo, the village at the turn off to Addis Ababa, cycling east towards Awash, direction Somaliland. Before heading for the border, there was one very important project to visit in the Afar Region (Ethiopian desert lowlands). From Awash I made a big diversion 320km north to Mille and Logia to meet Valerie Browning, her husband Ishmael and learn about the NGO they have set up called the Afar Pastoralists’ Development Association. If I have been rather negative and upset about development in Ethiopia in this blog, then the next story is a great counter balance.

3c. Attracting an inquisitive crowd whenevre we stopped

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Northern Kenya

by Kate on July 26, 2010

Title: Nairobi to Moyale

Dates: 3rd to 11th July GPS:

Distance: 874km Total Distance: 18,960km

Roads: Hilly, tarmac to Archer’s Post; 400km of extremely rough and stony to Moyale

Weather: Cool at altitude, warm and dry in north Kenya

1a. On the wat to Nyahururu, fertile Rift ValleyFrom Kigali to Nairobi the expedition had been congested with many project and game park visits and not so much cycling. Setting off from Nakuru however was the start of the final 4500km/six week phase. It was going to be intensive cycling pretty much to the finish – and a few project visits. The first three days of the challenge were very up and down, starting with a long tallying climb – across the Equator once more – to Nyahururu (2350m). Everything and anything grows in the Rift Valley soils. I cycled passed coffee, tea and sugar plantations. I then headed east towards Mt Kenya via Nanyuki and around Africa’s second highest mountain to Isiolo. I somehow managed to pick up another stomach bug and my system had to endure gastro No.4 for the journey. Out of Nanyuki I climbed again for about 40km to 2800m. Here there were large farms growing cereal crops such as barley and tunnels of fresh cut flowers, grape vines and other fruit. We were surprised to see barley growing so well at such an altitude.

2b. Anna, Archer's Post SamburuThen came the best downhill of the journey so far – I dropped 1300m over the next 50km to enter Isiolo and a new world. We’d left behind the fertile highlands and entered a dry, dusty, rugged landscape with spectacular craggy ranges all round. The people were different too. Many more Muslims and mosques, many more nomads’ dwellings lining the road out of town, and much more begging than usual. Forty kilometres north of Isiolo, at Archer’s Post, we stayed with a group of Samburu people beside the river.

2d. With the Samburu ladies, Archer's PostSamburu are nomadic herders with many customs similar to the Maasi and Turkana people. They wear brightly coloured clothes and plenty of jewellery, herd cattle, sheep and goats and live off a diet of milk mixed with blood and meat (no vegetables). Most of the women dress traditionally every day, not just for showing tourists.

Like the Maasi we met, they are very proud of their cultures and traditions. The women had formed a group; the Meagari Early Childhood Group which seemed to be about ensuring their children’s education and future while empowering each other. The money we paid for camping beside their land and filming was divided amongst them. John also gave some pencils and notebooks which were gratefully received.

3a. On the new tarmac, just north of Archer's PostA young fellow named Robin took charge of organising us and explaining Samburu customs. He is part of the next generation – better educated and wanting to break away from the nomadic lifestyle. He explained that he has plans to build a guest house right beside the river. Now that the road has been paved, he says this is a great avenue for progress and he dreams of making a thriving business from passing travellers. Robin, his father and a couple of others kept watch over us all night beside a campfire, spear at the ready, to ensure our safety. Until recently, people had to travel in a convoy because of the threat of bandits. We’d heard about a motorcyclist who had had his spokes shot out a few months ago somewhere between Archer’s Post and Marsabit.

The great news for us was that Zdenek sent a message to say mission accomplished – he had the Ethiopian visas. What a relief that was for all of us. The whole episode had been absurd and expensive, but at least we had found a way. He was able to apply for and receive our visas in a day in Harare. Zdenek flew back to Nairobi and then took two buses to catch us in Laisamis the next night. We greeted him as a hero!

3b. Stunning mountain scenes just north of Archer's PostFrom Archer’s Post, I was fortunate to be able to coast along a further 65km of brand new tarmac. The scenery was superb with spectacular strips of ranges flanking the roadsides. There were many Samburu nomads milling around in the village at the end of the new tarmac.

4a. Samburu woman waiting for her food handout

4e. Delivering the food, mostly maizeThe World Food Program was distributing a monthly supply of food aid. This region was hit hard by drought last season and many of the nomads had lost all their animals – or at least most of them, which they rely on for their food and livelihood. This also explains why we had to endure so much begging out of Iliolo. The atmosphere was tense. People were on edge. Apparently 85% of the aid comes from the US, 5% from Japan and the rest from elsewhere, including Australia.

7c. Typical Samburu nomads' hutsI had a long discussion with one of the village leaders, Mark Rosket. He said that while the aid was much better than nothing, they need more than just maize. They need protein to sustain pregnant and lactating women and children. Maize is so different from their usual diet of blood, milk and meat. The chief explained that their priorities are: enough food to get them back on their feet, they need animals from which they can breed and get their herd numbers back up so they can maintain their normal life style and mostly they need to develop their education program.

As children are nomadic, it is difficult for them to receive education on the move and illiteracy is high. It is difficult to get teachers to embrace the lifestyle and travel with them. The chief said that education is the real priority as better educated people are more adaptable, have fewer healthier children and are better able to cope when they are faced with drought and other crises. There is a real problem with drunkardness in the community which contributes to the community problems.

6a. Typical stony road north of MarsabitReaching the boundary of Losai National Reserve also marked the end of any improved road. I had been expecting this shocking quality of road and feel fortunate that 100km of the 500km stretch is now good tarmac or gravel. It was a mixture of extremely deep corrugations and large loose stones. I could only average about 12 or 13km an hour on it and was shaken to bits. I did try trailblazing through the bush. There were some animal tracks and clay pans to follow, but overall it was no quicker. Even if it was more comfortable and interesting, the threat of punctures was high and it would only be a matter of time before pieces of the thorny bush penetrated my tyres. Eventually after landing in a thorn tree I decided to return to the main road.

5b. 600m deep crater, one of many around MarsabitBy the end of the day, chaffing was so bad I could barely touch the seat. I really struggled from Laisamis to Marsabit, the 100km took nearly eight hours! Marsabit is set on a volcanic mountain range, high above the plains I had been cycling over. In fact I had to climb almost a thousand metres over 50km to get there.

The next morning John contracted giardia and was feeling very ill. As soon as the pharmacist opened I bought the correct medication and John recovered very quickly. In fact he claimed it was the best dose of giardia he had ever had! In the past he had been sick for much longer. Zdenek and I spent the morning walking with local guide, Duba ( to visit a huge, 600m-deep volcanic crater. On the way he also showed us graves from World War II when the British and Italians battled in the region.

6b. Back to camel trains in the desertThe shocking road continued as I descended out of the mountains to the stony Chalbi Desert. The region is almost totally barren and devoid of trees, apart from the odd thorn tree. The plains are covered with volcanic rubble and the road was probably the worst stony surface I have ever had to cycle. There were no alternatives beside the main road. I did try, but it was hopeless. The desert is the realm of the nomads and I came across large flocks of fatty tailed sheep being driven along the road. There were many camels too and the odd camel train. We saw ostriches and groups of gazelle nearer to Marsabit. Hundreds of tiny ‘dic dic’ deer closer to Moyale.

8a. Working into the night. 10 hour day to arrive in MoyaleThe final day into Moyale at the Ethiopian border was massive – 10 hours for 145km. The road did improve from the horrific loose stone surface, but was still very heavy going and rough much of the time. The last hour was done in complete darkness with just the headlights to guide the way. It was probably fortunate I couldn’t see what was coming for the finale – a 700metre climb in the dark! I was knackered, but it was good to get to Moyale to watch the World Cup Final.

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Title: Over Hell's Track and inside Ruben's gates - Nairobi

Dates: 29th June to 2nd July GPS:

Distance: 23km Total Distance: 18,163km

Roads: Hilly in Hell’s Gate

Weather: Mild temperatures at altitude

1a. Setting off into Hell's Gate NPTo save time and having to cycle through Nairobi, we drove from Nakuru aiming to return to Nakuru to resume the cycle journey once we had done everything in Nairobi. On the way we stopped off at Hell’s Gate National Park, near Lake Navaisha. Hell’s Gate is one of the few national parks which allow cyclists as there are no man eaters there. I thought it would be a good team-building exercise and an opportunity to get some footage of cycling past some of the animals. We hired a couple of very inadequate bikes for Zdenek and MaryJane; John and I used our bikes of course. The plan was to take a couple of hours to cycle as a team around a 20km circuit. We’d assumed that the whole park would be easy for the average cyclist and set off along the Buffalo Track which turned out to be a rough 4WD track, inappropriate for normal cycling. 1b. Hell's Track!We pushed through sand and bulldust up a steep route for about 10km which MaryJane dubbed Hell’s Track – it was a baptism of fire for her – partaking in Breaking the Cycle was “breaking her will to cycle”. The positive was that the views were superb overlooking Lake Navaisha and surrounding mountains. Being a part of the Rift Valley there were a number of thermo power stations. Apparently steam rises out of the ground at about 300 degrees Celsius. After an equally rugged descent we joined up with the main track which bisects Hell’s Gate Gorge – the track which is suitable for cyclists! It was a stunning ride back to the main gate where we did see plenty of zebra, gazelles, giraffe and warthogs. From there we set off for Nairobi. The traffic was hopeless and we were late meeting our friends for dinner – Brendan, Grace, Matt and Jayden O’Brien.

One of the main reasons for diverting to Nairobi was to learn about the work of one of the expedition partners the 500 Supporters’ Group. While we didn’t manage to see everything, the project we did see at Ruben Slum gave a good snapshot. Ruben is a part of Mukuru Slums where approximately 1.25 million people live in a very small area. The slums are set in behind a large industrial area.

4a. Typical shopOur minibus turned off the paved road and on to a rough track lined with vendors selling just about everything – at a good price. The dried mud would be hopeless in the wet. Inside the compound, Matt introduced Zdenek and me to Brother Barry, the centre manager. The centre is run by the Christian Brothers (their organisation largely funds the programs along with the 500 Supporters’ Group and some other stakeholders). There are many initiatives in progress.

We concentrated on the health, education and microfinance loans. It appears the Kenyan government has placed Mukuru and other enormous slums such as Kibera in the too hard basket. No assistance is given for education, health, security or social development. The Ruben Centre provides a sanctuary for 1700 school children. They have about 80 students per class as it is and they have to turn people away. The health centre is the only facility of its kind in the slum – they deal with a huge number of people every day, but there are so many more that need attention.

2a. Nutritionist, Mary-Anne with malnutrition treatment sachetsBrother Barry and Matt showed us around the health clinic. We first met Mary-Anne, the nutritionist. Most commonly she treats malnutrition. Malnourished children are prescribed with special packets of powder fortified with high protein and high energy to ensure rapid weight gain. Next we met Sarah, the HIV/AIDS counsellor. Sarah said she became a counsellor after watching her uncle die of AIDS. There were so many stigmas and myths associated with his illness. He was outcast by society and not even family members were permitted to touch him for fear of contracting the disease. Sarah’s job is to educate and dispel the myths, encourage testing and counsel those who are HIV-positive.

2c. Head teacher, Scholastica OpiyoNext we met the head teacher of the school, Scholastica Opiyo. She has been running the school for 12 years and watched numbers grow until they are bursting at the seams. The 28 teachers are paid by the Christian Brothers organisation, again no help from the government. She says the children are always eager to learn and make the most of their opportunity. The lunch provided is often the students’ only meal of the day. Usually it is maize or beans.

2d. Feeding 1700 students with maizeParents are not required to pay school fees, but as a token gesture they are required to pay for the charcoal to cook the food. Even this small charge is a challenge some find difficult to meet. The kitchen was simply four huge vats of maize which was being steamed; almost ready for lunch when we looked in. Scholastica said that often children did not want to go home at the end of the day as the school environment was so much better than their home situations. She said it was often difficult to entice teachers to work in Ruben, but once they were employed, the enthusiasm of the students was a great motivator. Most teachers are committing for long periods of time.

The microloan system offers prospective business people a leg up. Peter, the manager explained that if someone wanted a loan, they would have to present in a group so that his/her colleagues would act as guarantors. The first loan offered is very small; 15,000 shillings or $200. This is usually enough to set up a small business. They pay 15% interest which must be paid back within three months. They are then permitted to apply for a second larger loan. There are four levels of microloans, the largest being 60,000 shillings.

3a. Open sewer and rubbish in the streetHaving learned about many of the services provided on the premises, it was time to venture in to the slum. Brother Barry and community workers, Rose and Phaustine led the way. A security person followed just in case there was an issue. Barry said that in daylight hours, there should not be a problem, but at night it was an unsafe place. The first thing that struck me was the stench. It smelt like a sceptic tank. There were open channels of sewerage running down the streets and rubbish carpeting the dusty and muddy streets. It was a case of treading very carefully much of the time. The streets were lined with small corrugated iron dwellings and shops.

3b. Typical streetMost of the building was such that the floor levels were below the level of the street. This means that when it rains, water flows into the houses and shops – water that has washed over the open sewers – making living rooms a health hazard. There were kids everywhere, playing in the streets, following us around. I felt like the Pied Piper. Many people were busy with whatever they were doing; mostly trading. Barry explained that unemployment was one of the biggest issues and that the young men we saw hanging around the street corners and playing pool were the cause of many problems at night.

We were being led to the tiny home of Mary Makhwana who had recently been diagnosed with tuberculosis and AIDS. Rose and Phaustine had been looking after Mary, ensuring she received medical treatment and also helping her with a plan to move forward. Mary has five children. The youngest sat with me on the couch. She, like many slum dwellers, had been attracted to the potential opportunities of the big city from the country.

6a. With Mary Makhwana who has TB and AIDS

6b. With Mary and her youngest childWith work not forthcoming she ended up ‘trapped’ in the slum with an insignificant income and rent to pay on her little corrugated iron shack. Once she fell ill she was unable to work and has hit rock bottom. She was feeling better now that she has access to the right medication and Rose and Phaustine are trying to organise for her to return to her village in the country. There she can get family support and her children could have a better future too.

7a. Wilson has developed 3 businesses from micro-finance loansBarry, Rose and Phaustine then introduced us to Wilson, a young businessman who has benefitted from three microloans. With the money he has set up a shop, small hotel and is now looking to buy a vehicle with the profits (he makes 6000 shillings a week) and set up a small courier business. Wilson was very proud of what he has created from the loans, foresight and some hard work.

8b. Signing the school visitors' registerAs mentioned there are other interesting projects to which the 500 Supporters’ Group contributes which are making a difference to education, health and social welfare in urban environments. The population density and living conditions are so cramped that people have no space to grow and provide food for themselves and little opportunity for work. I thank Matt and Brendan in particular for arranging our visit, especially when they had their own hectic schedules to further develop these initiatives and new partnerships.


The other main reason for visiting Nairobi was to attain our Ethiopian visas. When I started the journey, obtaining an Ethiopian visa was possible at the border but for some reason, and without warning, they had changed the rules. We’d heard they weren’t issuing them from Nairobi or on the border in advance and had tried to no avail in Kampala. I managed to get a letter of invitation from an Ethiopian travel company and had even written a letter to the Ministry of Tourism, but the day we spent at the embassy in Nairobi was wasted. No reason was given.

There are no problems for people travelling overland from Sudan or flying in, so the reason was not for security. We then heard that a tour group had sent a representative down to the embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe and successfully collected twenty visas. It seemed to be our only option to send Zdenek down to Harare to apply for visas while I restarted the journey from Nakuru. A ridiculous waste of time and money but it was the only way, otherwise it would totally mess up the schedule.

John and I resumed the journey from Nakuru, heading to Nyahuruhu, Kenya’s highest major town. We just had to hope that Zdenek would be successful and then catch us on the road through northern Kenya.

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A Lion’s Roar … and much more

by Kate on July 16, 2010

Title: Kampala to Nakuru (Kenya)

Dates: 22nd to 28th June GPS:

Distance: 334km Total Distance: 18,140km

Roads: Cooler, afternoon thunderstorms in Kenyan highlands; warmer on the savannah

Weather: Busy highway; altitude 2000m – 2800m

1a. A balanced diet!Rather than staying in busy Kampala, we found a great place to spend a couple of nights in Entebbe at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, beside Lake Victoria and near the airport. The centre has an important role in rescuing animals from smugglers and those at risk of being poached. The animals appear perfectly happy in their spacious, leafy habitats. It’s incredible to be awoken by a lion’s roar in the morning. Animals are rehabilitated and then usually moved on to other sanctuaries such as the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, featured in the previous blog. The money we spent there goes into helping maintain the centre. Before heading off we did a half day trip out to Ngamba Island on Lake Victoria to visit the Chimpanzee Sanctuary. The sanctuary was set up in 1998 to care for chimps after being confiscated by the Uganda Wildlife Authority from poachers and traders. Every year in Africa, approximately 5000 chimps are killed by poachers for the bush-meat trade. As a product of this illegal practice, dozens of infant chimps are taken alive from the forest, bound for the pet trade throughout the world.

1a Ranger explains about smugglingAfter a pleasant 45 minute boat ride, we arrived at the island and were greeted by our ranger/guide. All 44 chimps on the island are cared for physically and emotionally; helping them overcome their traumas and reintegrating them with other chimps. Some may one day return to the wild, but most are there for the long stay – they will never make it back. The chimps are fed four times a day on a variety of fruit and vegetables. They receive medical care, security and social companionship – some struggle with the latter due to their prior mistreatment. Our main entertainment for the morning was, however the 11am feeding time. Chimps appeared out of the forest ready to be thrown all sorts of fruit. The ranger knew them all by name and could tell us about each personality. It was interesting to watch their behaviour; some were happy with their fair share, others raced around gathering as much as they could eat and carry, others were hoarders, stockpiling their stash in a quiet place and guarding it. All too soon, feeding time was over and we were back on the boat heading for Entebbe to then drive back to the point where I had stopped cycling a few days before.

1g. Taking refuge from the rain and hailNot much cycling again in this section; just two and a half days from near the Uganda/Kenya border to Nakuru. It would have been inappropriate to travel through Kenya and not see any of the wildlife. I kept the cycle route simple – straight down, or should I say up the main road through Eldoret to Nakuru and Nairobi. There was an awful lot of climbing over the next day and a half to reach 2800m before dropping down towards Nakuru (1800m). Thunderstorms bubbled up in the afternoon. They were very localised. The first afternoon I had to cycle straight through the storm epicentre. As the freezing cold rain turned into hail I took refuge in shelter of a tiny church. Schoolgirls from next door braved the downpour to join me. They could speak perfect English and were intrigued with my cameras.

2a. Kenana knittersJohn arranged for us to stay at Kembu Campsite on Kenana Farm, about 30km out of Nakuru. The 900-acre farm and campsite is owned by the Nightingales, an old white Kenyan family. They employ over 200 people and really do give a lot back to the local community. All the staff with whom we dealt seemed happy and obviously earned well. Also on the farm Paddy Nightingale has set up Kenana Knitters. This is a brilliant initiative which all started roughly twenty years ago from a discussion two people had under a tree and a good idea. Kenana Knitters became a business entity twelve years ago. Since then Paddy has gradually built it up and now has 300 knitters on her books.

2b. Dying the wool, Kenana KnittersWomen from the local community elect to sign up to earn extra income for the family. Once their quality is up to standard they nominate to produce as much or as little as they can guarantee to complete on time. Knitting is a very practical craft that they can mostly do at home around all their usual chores and family commitments. Paddy and her small management team have developed international markets. They are careful to only take on orders which they know they can fulfil at the right quality and on time. The wool is sourced from local markets – Kenya is the first African country where I have seen sheep bred for their wool. (Everywhere else sheep look much more like goats, or they are the Damara sheep in Namibia which don’t require shearing) The wool is spun and dyed with natural dyes made from dahlias, red cabbage and native trees. Everything must be organic (except the acrylic filler for toys which is a compromise, allowing them to be washed more easily).

The knitting workshop has become a centre of the community; a place where women receive social support, medical services and develop camaraderie with other women out of their usual hardworking home environment. Paddy said the women earn a little more than their husbands! She has provided a facility for women to save small amounts of money so there is something in the kitty if a child is sick, or extra is needed to pay the school fees. Usually their husbands would demand that they hand over all their earnings which would then be used up rather than saved. There is a health clinic and free HIV/AIDS testing service which is discrete for the women to use as well as free counselling and support.

Paddy was asked if she could set up a similar project in Darfur by some Americans – in three months! She had to say no because while she could set it up, and it would ‘look good; ticking all the right boxes’ it would not be sustainable. Maintaining Kenana Knitters requires continual support, finding new markets and understanding the women’s needs and culture. Three months is not enough time to establish the skills or find appropriate managers to continue the trade. Being born and bred in Kenya herself makes a huge difference.

We used Kembu as a base while we were in central Kenya. From there we drove for seven hours to the Maasi Mara National Park. It isn’t that far but the scenic shortcut through the highlands was very rough. Once we dropped down from the high altitude to Narok, the vegetation changed dramatically, from lush fertile, ‘grow anything’ pastures to dry, spiky sclerophyllous acacia scrubland. We stayed at the Riverside Campsite near the Talek Gate entrance which was run by a couple of Maasi fellows. It was basic, but perfectly adequate. They kept watch around the clock; keeping dangerous animals away at night and the baboons away from our gear during the day.

6c. With our guide, Amos spotting gameWe employed one of the Maasi, Amos as our guide for the day. This proved to be a very worthwhile investment. Amos was very knowledgeable, spoke good English and worked hard all day to find out where the animals were. All the guides communicate using text messages to let each other know where the main animals are. It was rather a novelty having a traditionally dressed Maasi next to me in the back seat of the LandRover – I just had to be careful not to sit on his knife which was strapped to his side. We were incredibly lucky to see so much in one day.

We had popped into the park for a couple of hours the previous evening and had seen a leopard’s kill hanging in a tree, but no leopard. First thing the next morning we decided to revisit the site in the hope it might still be there. It was! The leopard was having the young wildebeest for breakfast. We watched for about half an hour. What strength and balance it must have to haul such a large animal up a tree. (Unfortunately I didn’t get a decent photo, so you’ll have to imagine this as if it was straight out of a National Geographic documentary!)

5a. Wilderbeest on the moveThe famous wildebeest migration had started early this year. Millions of wildebeests migrate annually from the Serengeti Plains (which back on to the Maasi Mara) to the Maasi Mara in search of rich pastures. The migration was not yet in full swing, but the western plains of the Maasi Mara were still densely populated with tens of thousands of wildebeest.

6b. Amos and Zdenek at workAmos directed us to a high viewpoint where we could look over the lines of wildebeest moving across the plains and the meandering Mara River. Zebras also move with the wildebeest – they make good partners because wildebeest have poor eyesight and it is safety in numbers for the zebra. There were many other herbivores too – elephants, topi, impala, Thompson’s gazelles, giraffes… John made porridge for breakfast at our vantage point while Amos planned our next move. On the far side of the Mara river he could see a few cars gathering – what were they watching?

9a. Cheetahs, the animals I most wanted to seeWe crossed over the river to the far western edge of the park to find a family of cheetahs resting under a cotton tree – wow – the cheetah was the animal I most wanted to see and there were two adults and two teenage cubs about 15 metres away. Cheetahs are very sensitive animals and so it was great to see a warden there directing the traffic, ensuring people remained a respectful distance. He would allow one vehicle at a time to get a good look for five minutes then move on. We’d already seen many vehicles doing the wrong thing – driving through a herd of zebras, driving off the tracks, putting unnecessary pressure on the wildlife. A few of the Kenyans I spoke to say the Maasi Mara is under threat because of overuse. People pressure is destroying the animals. There are big problems in the Serengeti too. The Tanzanian government has just given the go ahead for the track which bisects the park to be bituminised. This will mean heavy traffic disturbing the animals’ sanctuary, even destroying the wildebeest migration.

7b. Hippo in Mara RiverBack at the Mara Bridge we stopped for lunch. There a ranger gave us a free guided walk along the riverbank. He was carrying a gun just in case something went wrong. The river was heavily populated with hippos and crocodiles. He took us to one of the main wildebeest crossings. Being early in the season, there weren’t any running at the time, but a few dead beests were washed up on the rocks and beaches. We moved on in search of lions, heading west. On the way we saw elephants, buffalo, hyenas, giraffes and more herbivores.

11c.Finally Amos made a spot beside a dry creek. There were two pairs of lions – and about 15 vehicles lined up! Amos knew the lions were brothers and that both pairs were courting. This time there were no wardens to control the traffic, but the lions just ignored the chaos completely. We watched and waited patiently. Slowly the vehicles disappeared, roaring off to their lodges for the evening. In the end, there were just two vehicles. We watched one pair from just five metres. I couldn’t believe our luck. In one day we’d seen a leopard, four cheetahs, four lions and an impressive array of animals. Amos had done a great job and so there was plenty to talk about around the campfire that evening with our Maasi friends.

12a. Our Maasi friends who took care of our camp

The drive back to Kembu took all of the next day. From there we set off to Nairobi for the next project visit and to try to sort out our Ethiopian visas.


From Grower to Sewer

by Kate on July 8, 2010

Title: Masaka to Kenyan border; diversion to Gulu

Dates: 15th to 19th June GPS:

Distance: 359km Total Distance: 17,806km

Roads: Very busy, especially around Kampala. Hilly between Kampala and Jinja

Weather: Comfortable, warm, cool nights

1a. The dusty Equator (due to roadworksThe cycle from Kinoni to Kampala ended up being a marathon day. It started out as a routine ride into Masaka and up the main road which runs parallel to the shores of Lake Victoria (even though the lake was not in view all day). There was about 30km of particularly unpleasant cycling through road works where I was constantly doused with choking dust. The Equator monument was enshrouded too. Nearing Kampala the road was certainly not built for the heavy traffic and I was constantly forced over the broken edges and into the gravel. I had to remain extremely alert and aware of what was coming behind me – usually very fast. I stuck at it and reached the city after 150km, just in time for peak hour traffic. Right as I was tiring, the awareness needed to be most acute. Road works stifled our route plan and by the time we found our way into the city centre I’d clocked 170km – the last hour in the dark. We’d reached Kampala two days ahead of schedule. We had dates to keep; John’s girlfriend MaryJane was due to fly in on the 18th and the following day we needed to drive to Gulu for the next project visit. So to make use of the time I cycled a couple more days to near the Kenyan border.

2b. The mighty Nile RiverWorking my way through shocking traffic out of Kampala along the Jinja Road I was thinking that if the conundrum of minibuses, heavy trucks, motorbikes and cars didn’t kill me, the fumes would. There are no emissions laws here. My eyes were streaming. I passed through some huge tea, sugar cane and rice plantations around the top of Lake Victoria. We camped beside the Nile River, just up from the source of the mighty river where it flows out of Lake Victoria. After Jinja the road opened out making cycling more pleasant.

We just managed to return to Kampala and Entebbe in time for John to meet MaryJane at the airport. It was great to have MaryJane join us for the two weeks from Kampala to Nairobi.

Throughout the expedition I have been wearing organic cotton t-shirts provided by a sustainable trade company called Edun Live, a sister brand of Edun Apparel. Edun was started by Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson. Garments are made in Sub-Saharan Africa from grower to sewer. The reason for our 370km diversion to Gulu in Northern Uganda was to see where the cotton is produced, meet the farmers and learn how growing organic cotton as a cash crop is transforming many communities.

3. John Tembo with organic bags and spray equipmentIt took the best part of a day to reach Gulu. On arrival John Tembo, Project Manager and Agronomist for the Cotton Conservation Initiative of Uganda (CCIU) was waiting to greet us. CCIU was established by Edun and the US-based NGO, Invisible Children (IC). CCIU started under an initiative of IC; profits from Edun Live’s t-shirt sales are funding the project. The aim of CCIU is to contribute to the economic development and resettlement of northern Uganda, in Gulu & Amuru Districts, by providing a financially viable farming alternative to people returning from Internally Displace Peoples Camps to their villages of origin before the insurgency of the Lord’s Resistance Army. John joined us for dinner so we were able to learn about more CCIU and discuss plans for the next day.

Some background as to why this region was selected (other than that it is a good cotton producing area). Since the peace talks that started in June 2006 (after nearly 20 years of war), northern Uganda has enjoyed increasing peace. This has allowed people to return to their original villages and land, and begin to rebuild their lives. However, they are returning to land that has not been tilled for 15 years and more, to places that have no economic activity and opportunities. A large percentage of the returnees are below the age of 20. They have never engaged in agriculture before, having been recipients of food aid and other handouts. They do not have the motivation nor know-how to take their future lives as rural farmers in their own hands, and tend to drift into being unproductive, idling away their days in trading centres. Secondly, since the demise of the cooperative movement and unions under the full privatization and liberalization of the agricultural commodities sector, the smallholder farmer producing cash crops has always been victim of unscrupulous agents and unnecessary middlemen, realizing only a fraction of the true value of his crop. CCIU is cutting out the middlemen and developing a value-added chain so that the garments are produced entirely in Uganda and maximum benefits are returned to the small producers.

Our tour began in the office – CCIU’s nerve centre which also happens to be John’s house. We were introduced to the small number of staff who were still working hard on a Saturday morning. The shelves were stacked with files. Every farmer completes forms detailing the various crops they grow and sprays used in the past. Typically farmers will own up to eight acres on which they will grow their staple foods (maize, cassava, vegetables) and a cash crop – organic cotton. All data is then transferred to soft copy which is presented to the international governing bodies. To be certified as 100% organic there are stringent standards, rules and procedures. The governing bodies regularly check a random selection of producers. CCIU is expanding rapidly. Last year they started with 1000 farmers signing MOUs; this year there are 3500 farmers involved and John says that they will have around 8000 members recruited and committed next year. All farmers receive training; farm leaders are responsible for teaching on average, about 30 of their peers. Each member receives a calendar detailing planting dates and information about farm management, fertility enhancement, pest control and crop rotation. Every group has a committee with a president, secretary and treasurer. CCIU provide training and basic equipment to ensure each group know how to run a committee, meetings and can record what is decided. Group leaders communicate with field officers who in turn answer to two are coordinators who then answer to John and Claude Auberson (Project Director).

3a. At the ginnery, cotton lint ready to compress into bales, GuluOur first stop was the ginnery in Gulu. Once the cotton is harvested it is sent to the ginnery where the lint is separated from the seed. The factory we saw wasn’t actually organic certified and so is not used by CCUI – it was just to see an example. CCIU are planning very soon to introduce mini-gins which can be operated by the farmers. This is another way they intend to cut out the middleman. Cotton seed itself has a lot of value, normally exploited by the ginnery. Profits from seed products such as oil, soap and animal fodder for example, will soon be received by the growers.

4c. Head teacher at Keyo Secondary School explains why they have very few girls attending secondary educationNext we set off along the road, now a rough unsealed road, which if we kept going we’d end up at the Sudanese border. CCIU have set up demonstration plots at secondary schools so that students can learn how to produce organic cotton. The first school we visited, Sacred Heart Girl’s School – which had a reputation as one of the best in the region – was also where the first girls were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army. By targeting this school the LRA were intending to maximise their statement of intent, inciting shock and fear in the society. Girls were raped, sold as wives, desensitised and forced to live in the bush as child soldiers.

4b. With head groundsman, demonstration plotWe met the head groundsman, who offers his skills and expertise at a minimal wage, to teach the girls new skills in cotton farming. The seeds had just been planted, so there wasn’t much in the way of cotton crops to see. As we returned through the school he explained that they are in the process of building a substantial wall around the grounds to protect the girls. We visited another school with a demonstration plot – Keyo Secondary School. The head teacher explained that many of the students are badly scarred from the horrors of the war and receive counselling. Two thirds of the students are boys he explained, mostly due to early pregnancies. Life in the IDP camps is not healthy for them – not much to do, living very close to one another, poor levels of education in the generation above. The head teacher and agricultural teacher said that the cotton plot not only empowers the students, the wider community is becoming involved.

5e. Farmers at the meetingOur final destination on the tour involved a bumpy ride off the main road to meet a group of farmers. We were a little late and they had been waiting patiently for us. The women gave us a warm traditional welcome. I felt honoured by their dancing and singing and thanked them. These people had only returned to their land in the last three years (I think). Prior to this these 50 farmers had existed in the IDP camps, depending on hand outs.

6a. Until recently these people lived off hand outs (during the war)I noticed one of the doors was entirely made of rolled out old food tins from the World Food Program. We sat under a tree and John Tembo led the discussion – interpreted by the area coordinator. When he explained that the t-shirt that I was wearing had been produced from last year’s crop, I could see their eyes light up. I added that my t-shirt was coming home – I think they liked that one too. I doubt they get to see the end product very often.

6b. Profits are commonly used to pay for the children's educationWhen I asked what they used the money from the cash crop for, most replied that it was to pay for education. There were equal numbers of men and women farmers who all have an equal say in proceedings. The lead farmer in this village was a woman. Overall they seemed a very happy, motivated group. It didn’t take much to make them laugh (as you can see from the photos). Most planned to increase the size of their cotton crops next year.

The organic cotton as a cash crop really helps these communities become more resilient. Before they would have just produced enough food to eat, perhaps selling any excess at a local market. It was very much a hand to mouth existence. If there was a crop failure, children wouldn’t go to school (if they could afford it in the first place) and/or they would go hungry. Now they are learning how to put money away and plan for the future. Organic cotton attracts 25% above the market value. Once the cotton is set up as the organic cash crop, they also aim to produce other organic crops such as chilli and sesame oil. The whole program aims to become self-sustaining by 2013.

Later that afternoon John organised for us to meet Andrew Morgan and Jessica from Invisible Children as they are obviously the other key stakeholder in this partnership. Invisible Children has been working in northern Uganda for the past six years and has played an integral role in the peace and recovery of the region. IC’s work has been featured on CNN International, Larry King, Oprah and has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2008 Ugandan North American Association Service Award, for its work in education and economic development. Most of IC’s fundraising is done by school students in the US. They also provide scholarships for exceptional students in the region who are in vulnerable situations. Jessica took the time to explain in detail exactly what IC do – they really do a fantastic job.

We had a very interesting time in Gulu and it was wonderful to see where my t-shirts were made and how the producers were benefitting from CCUI’s work. John and Claude arranged for us to visit the factory in Kampala where the t-shirts are produced.

7a. Taleo, the dominant male at Ziwa Rhino SanctuaryWe broke up the long drive back to Kampala with a visit to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. Due to civil unrest in the 70s, rhinos were poached to extinction – the last Rhino was seen in Uganda in 1983. Today rhino horns fetch a high price on world markets where they are sold mostly for Traditional Chinese medicines as well as dagger handles in Yemen. The aim of the Ziwa Sanctuary is to breed white and black rhinos and reintroduce them back into their original habitat, most likely in Murchison Falls National Park. Four white rhinos were transferred from Kenya in 2005. Two more were donated by Disney Animal Kingdom in Florida. The founding three males and three females have produced three calves in the last year.

7b. Mother with baby ObamaThe firstborn named Obama as he has a Kenyan father and an American mother. The sanctuary employs gamekeepers to protect the rhinos around the clock. They also work as guides so visitors like us can track them on foot. It didn’t take long for us to find them. There’s something very special about being just a few metres away from the two tonne animals. By staying in the sanctuary and dining on their high quality meals, our funds were directly supporting the sanctuary.

8f.Back in Kampala we drove straight to Phenix Logistics, the factory with produces organic cotton garments for Edun as well as a number of other companies. Innocent, the Phenix project manager showed us around. They receive cotton bales branded with information which tells them exactly who produced to cotton and when and where it was ginned. Cotton from CCIU’s farmers is only used for Edun’s t-shirts and the pedigree will prove it. It has to be this way to receive the 100% organic cotton label. Innocent took us right through the process, from where the cotton has to be manually relaxed from the compressed bales to the final garments. It was fascinating to see the precise ‘clever’ machinery working. There are many processes involved in making the yarn right through to knitting the material, dying, sewing and screen printing. Phenix provides work for 300 employees. They have just received their fair trade certification that ensures they have their staff’s welfare at heart.

Having witnessed the whole grower to sewer process I can see that the Gulu farmers are really reaping the benefits. Passionate people are using their expertise to ensure that maximum value is received for their work. Communities are becoming more resilient and better educated.

8h. A brand new Edun tee shirt


HUGs All Round

by Kate on July 2, 2010

Title: Kigali to Lubanda (near Masaka)

Dates: 11th to 14th June GPS:

Distance: 379km Total Distance: 17,447km

Roads: Very hilly most of the way; tarmac apart from Lake Bunyoni Road

Weather: Comfortable, mid-high 20s, head and cross winds from south east

1b. Lake Bunyoni next morningFrom Kigale it was a pretty straight forward ride along the main road, up through a stunning valley, over a pass and into Uganda, country number 17 of the journey. At Kabale, 20km into Uganda, we made a short diversion to stay at Lake Bunyoni. It was a seriously steep ride at the end of a long day up to the lip of the ancient crater lake, but the view well worth it. Kalebus Camp beside Lake Bunyoni was a terrific place to stay; great food and so tranquil in the morning. 2c. No health and safety measures hereReturning to Kabale the next day however, one scene was quite a contrast. We stopped to have a closer look at a quarry and meet some of the workers. All generations were represented in the demographics; grandmothers, mothers, fathers, sons, children…and there were certainly no safety precautions in place. We watched women pushing gravel over the cliff face, perched in precarious positions – no harnesses, no shoes, no protection. Men broke rocks with sledge hammers and crow bars, women and children cracked smaller lumps of gravel. I read in a Ugandan newspaper that the wages earned by women nursery workers (picking flowers) was usually about $US1.20 per day, rising to $US1.50 after a year of service. I doubt these quarry workers were getting that. We’d just paid about $50 for four of us for camping, dinner and breakfast on the other side of the hill, yet here it would take a labourer more than a month to earn that amount.

2b. Learning a hard life, making building aggregate

From Kabale I pedalled over some huge hills, a high plain and then more (smaller) hills; through Mbarara to reach the small market town of Kinoni, 20km from Masaka. At Kinoni we turned off to a small village called Lubanda to meet Helen Brown and learn about her HUG Project.

4a. Discussing HUG projects with HelenHelen first contacted me in response to an article in The Age newspaper in Melbourne. We very soon realised that we were on the same page with regard to the theme and purpose of our initiatives. Helen invited me to visit her project in Uganda. HUG stands for Help Us Grow. The not-for-profit organisation was set up by Helen and David Ssemwogerere. Helen and David’s paths crossed when Helen first visited Uganda to take part in another educational program. She had felt that there was a division between the organisation that she was working for and the Ugandan people whom she was teaching. HUG was set up by Helen and David to develop relationships between community members and volunteers so that both cultures learn from each other; two way relationships where the benefits go both ways to develop community spirit and resilience. As we arrived, Helen and David had just returned themselves from Kampala with a family of volunteers – the Tomaino family from Melbourne who were on their first trip to Africa.

4c. These two women have pooled their resources to produce mushrooms more time-efficiently and more profitA surprise was in store as a group of about twenty women from the Lubanda community performed a traditional welcome for us. It was very special. Helen said that when they started 18 months ago, these women would not have had the self-confidence to give such a performance. Helen and David are reviving self-esteem and facilitating empowerment for a better, sustainable future. There are no huge budgets and no new LandCruisers here. This is a small grassroots organisation where initiatives are based on knowledge and skills transfer, community needs, simplicity and positive encouragement at a pace which suits the lifestyle. Volunteers become part of the community and learn just as much from the locals. The idea is to harness volunteers’ skills and put them to use in the various programs. Everyone gets something different out of HUG. The motivation comes from within. There are no hand outs here. Seeds, mushroom spore and animals are provided as loans to be repaid and certain commitments are required. We spent a very relaxed and interesting day with Helen, David and the volunteers looking at some of their initiatives in Lubanda and in the new Suubi Education Centre.

4b. Mushroom project - Sarah is one of the most successful participantsAfter breakfast in the Suubi Centre we set off on a walking tour of some of the projects around the village. Firstly we had a look at their mushroom project. Initially six women were sent to Kabale to learn how to grow them. They in turn trained another group of ten women who were willing to make the commitment. Before being loaned the spores they had to build a mushroom house, usually out of mud, with a dark and a light room. The spores were repaid to provide the next group of women with an opportunity. They had to learn how to process and dry the mushrooms before they were sold to the guaranteed export market in Kabale. Their success provides extra income and they learn how to manage their savings as well as business skills.

5b The next generation of piglets will provide more families with opportunitiesNext was the piglet project. Again very simple, but effective. Australians have donated piglets for Christmas. Instead of giving someone a present, they give a voucher saying they have donated a pig to a specific person in Lubanda (or surrounding villages). When the sows produce, the recipient has to agree to give two piglets from their first litter to another two people. They then have to make the same commitment. We met Babirye, one of the first recipients. Babiyre showed us her very large sow of which she was very proud.

6a. Local primary school has been partnered by a school in Melbourne who has provided a water tank and gardening tools

6c. David and the head teacher - the  vegetable garden provides a micro-economy and doubles as an outdoor laboratory  for the schoolBright Light Primary School was the final stop on the tour. Here Helen and David have helped the head teacher develop the school garden. The head teacher was sent to Jinja to take part in a training course. There he learned about fertilizing, mulching, growing different types of vegetables and fruit – many not normally grown in the limited traditional vegetable gardens. The diet around these parts would normally be maize, cassava, tomatoes, bananas, onions, some local greens (can’t remember the name) and not much else. The garden was impressive and the head teacher seemed very pleased with it. Some of the produce is used for the children’s meals and the rest is sold to create an income to buy in the staple foods – maize and beans. The garden isn’t big enough to provide all 600-odd students with food all year round. The garden is also an outdoor laboratory providing a medium for learning across a number of subjects from mathematics to health, agriculture and science. It is intended that what they learn at school is practiced at home. The primary school has also benefitted from the donation of an Australian school which raised enough money to provide a rainwater tank and gardening tools. Another very appropriate partnership where both sides learn and grow.

Helen says they try to match up people’s interests. Musicians give drums and other instruments for example. They organise and encourage sports, music and drama events to develop confidence and reconnect with skills they have traditionally been good at. Uganda has had a tough time in recent history due to the regimes of cruel, oppressive dictators such as Idi Amin and his successor in the 70s and early 80s. There was a major conflict with Tanzania which would have affected this region. People here aren’t suffering from extreme poverty anymore, but HUG is helping people move out of a vulnerable zone to become more resilient and better able to cope with hard times. All around, the villagers look happy and healthy.

9a. Needlework classes - women learning new skills ay the Suubi Education CentreBack at the Suubi Centre we watched a sewing class. Many women have never developed skills such as drawing, cutting and needlework. Skills were being taught from scratch and both local women and volunteer teachers (like Jan and Sue) were gaining much out of their roles.

10b. Young adults learning computer skills at SuubiMusicians and dancers were practicing for the World Environment Day celebrations (which took place last week and by all reports was a great success) and a computer class was in progress for adult business people. The demonstration garden beside the Suubi Centre is where farmers learn to produce higher yielding crops, using better varieties. Positive results are proof enough for locals to adopt new techniques and encourage learning. There are plans to do more for the men in the community, but this is a young organisation and Helen said they need to ensure each project is up, running and self-sustaining before they introduce more ideas. There are also plans for a health centre.

The women cooked our meals using home grown produce. Initially they had problems with quantity, and the timing of meals, but now they are able to plan and cook great local dishes so that they are ready on time.

8b. Robert, Christian, Lucynda and Nevine -  families learning from each otherSpending a day (and two nights) at Suubi was like staying with one big friendly family. Everyone chipped in and seemed to be having a great time. It was refreshing to watch the reactions of the Tomaino family – straight out of comfortable Melbourne to rural Uganda. There are no Play Stations or televisions here, but Lucynda and Christian seemed to be fully engaged with the local kids and being a part of what was going on. The Tomainos were just there for two weeks, however retired volunteers such as Terry, Sue and Jan could stay for much longer and had different sets of skills to contribute. Helen mentioned that she is looking to encourage the corporate world to get involved in similar ways to the present volunteers but paying more for their stay in the banda accommodation and combining this with some sightseeing in Uganda.

The following day, we all lined up below the new Suubi sign for some photos. All too soon it was time to go. David dropped me off back in Kinoni and I set off on one very long day to Kampala.

To find out more about HUG please visit



by Kate on June 22, 2010

Title: Mayange Millennium Village, Kigali and the Genocide

Dates: June 9th and 10th GPS:

Distance: 0km Total Distance: 17,068km

1b. Emanuel & JohnThere are so many complex issues to write about that it is impossible to squeeze them all into one blog. The easiest news to describe is that it is great to have Zdenek back. He returned to the expedition, flying in from Europe on the 9th. In Kigali we stayed at the One Love Guesthouse, part of a self-funding effort for the One Love Project. Profits from the guesthouse, restaurant and bar go towards developing and maintaining orthopaedic workshops in Kigali and Bujumbura (Burundi) which have so far supplied over 6000 prostheses, orthoses, sticks or wheelchairs to those handicapped by the 1994 genocide. We were fortunate to meet Emmanuel, the founder and driver of the project along with his Japanese wife Mami and son. Emmanuel spent time showing us around and explaining about his vision and the organisation.

1a Emmanuel explains his storyEmmanuel was himself handicapped as a youngster after an injection during a medical procedure went wrong. He experienced all the difficulties of being handicapped in a society with no facilities or support to accommodate his disability – he is a survivor who had to struggle physically and mentally to be independent.

Emmanuel first had the idea of creating the orthopaedic workshops in 1989, just before the first conflict in 1990. Even then he was a skilled networker. He made contact with a Japanese man who later invited him to Japan to study, complete his tertiary education and learn skills needed to realise his idea of setting up the workshop. As a Tutsi, he was imprisoned and tortured during the early 90s. The One Love Project was established in 1996 in order to support handicapped people to become independent in society. The workshops were opened in Kigali in 1997 and Burundi in 2007.

1c. OneLove's chief prosthetic expert at workOne Love is now diversifying with warehouses in Miami and Kenya, where handicrafts made by handicapped artisans are sold; profits helping to fund the workshops so that beneficiaries receive their artificial limbs free of charge. The organisation also trains technicians, rehabilitates people with disability to rejoin society, has set up a vocational training school to teach all sorts of skills in business and handicrafts, encourages sports participation to those with disability, runs the guesthouse and restaurant (which provides employment to the handicapped) and many other activities which provide support.

1d. Finishing off an artificial limbEmmanuel gave us a tour of the workshop. He has sourced materials and equipment from all over the world – Japan, Switzerland, Germany, the US and the UK for example. He also managed the Rwandan team for the Sydney Olympics. It was a moving experience watching new prostheses being measured and shaped, knowing that each artificial limb was going to make a huge difference to someone who cannot afford it. Once receiving the limb the next challenge would be to learn how to use it and to reintegrate into the society where they would have previously been marginalised. To find out more please visit their website at

The main focus of our journey through Rwanda was to visit and learn about the Mayange Millennium Village. Mayange is the third Millennium Village featured during the expedition – the others being Potou, Senegal and Tiby/Segou, Mali. Those following the expedition from the early days will recall that the purpose of the Millennium Village program across Africa is to implement strategies in villages located in selected vulnerable zones to ensure the Millennium Development Goals are achieved by 2015.

My original connection with the Millennium Village initiative came via Ericsson, one of our gold sponsors who is also a major supporter of the MVs. However since the Mali visit I have also developed a strong partnership with another of the key stakeholders, Millennium Promise who is based in New York. (Please check out the Partners’ page and click on the logos to learn more about both)

Potou and Tiby are both located in the Sahel region. A major reason as to why they are classified as vulnerable is because of their marginal, drought-prone climates with unreliable rainfall. In Mayange, water is still a major issue as it needs to be piped from a reservoir to producers over about 40km (which is expensive), but here the communities are particularly susceptible as they recover from the 1994 genocide.

After our meeting with Emmanuel we were a little late as we set off for Mayange, roughly 40km south of Kigali. Ever since arriving in Rwanda (from Tanzania), the ‘land of a thousand hills’ had been living up to its reputation – it had been an uninterrupted rollercoaster ride over some huge hills – but nearing Mayange, the land flattened out. We stopped in at the office headquarters where Deo gave us a tour of the Millennium Village nerve centre.

2a. Kate with Donald Ndahiro, Director of the Mayange Millennium VillageWhen the project was set up in 1996, just two years after the genocide there was no electricity in Mayange and so for practical purposes they had to set up offices in a larger village which had power. Donald Ndahiro, the director of the Mayange MV made time out of his busy schedule to give an overview of the initiatives. While each MV aims to achieve the MDGs by 2015 and there are many common directives, each community has specific issues and challenges to deal with to get there.

Donald outlined what his departments were doing to improve infrastructure and communications, education, farming and agriculture, health and trade/business. I asked whether he thought the initiatives were scalable and appropriate examples which could be adopted by the rest of the country. Donald said that the government had already recognised this and steps had been taken to include some of the strategies as national priority.

We then drove to Mayange where we met Jeanette who showed us around for the rest of the visit. The plan was to see at least one example of each of the main projects. Jeanette’s job involves liaising with the village committees and then communicating their ideas and needs to then report back to Donald and the team. The MV team then assess how a certain directive could fit in to the overall plan – to assist in realising the MDGs. Once a plan is approved, Jeanette would then present a proposal to the village leaders.

Donald mentioned that the MV project has already had much success in improving food security since 2006. Drought protection has been a major focus by increasing crop diversity, improving agricultural techniques and by developing business opportunities, particularly by facilitating the formation of farming cooperatives. Programs including: the artificial insemination of cattle, honey production, fishing, poultry and a cassava processing plant have all been introduced with a focus on skills transfer.

3d. The team at workJeanette took us to meet one of the most successful farmers who has really embraced everything he has been taught – and shown great initiative when new methods did not work first time around. The farmer was so proud of what he’d done in three years. We saw his field of pineapples, mango and avocado trees laden with fruit, bananas, sugar cane, maize, capsicums/peppers, onions, beans and tomatoes. He’d learned how to intercrop and plant nitrogen fixing plants to improve soil fertility. There were drainage channels dug and mulch spread around plants to reduce moisture loss and increase fertility. Everything looked amazingly healthy, including the dairy cows. The farmer could now afford to extend his house and strengthen the walls.

4a. Moringa tree seed pods, school gardenNext we paid a visit to one of the primary schools. More classrooms have been built and teachers provided to improve the student-teacher ratio. School meals are now provided; many of the vegetables are grown in a kitchen garden. Interestingly, in the garden I spotted a moringa tree (Remember this tree is native of the Sahel).

The unassuming-looking tree is like a super-food. Most commonly the leaves are crushed and the powder used to fortify soups, beans and all sorts of things.

4c. New computer room (and classroom)The school is very fortunate to have a computer laboratory and WiFi. Students are now able to be computer literate, receiving lessons regularly. Teachers of course have to keep up. Teacher training is provided to keep them up to date. As of last year, children in Rwanda learn in English rather than French.

4e. John's English lesson - students now learn in English

Many teachers have had to receive English lessons. John thought he would test out the students’ English knowledge and took an impromptu lesson for a year four class. You can see the result…”My name is John”, I live in Scotland.”Where is Scotland?” The students loved it.

4f. Appreciating John's lesson.

Access to health was a major issue before 2006. So far sanitation has been improved with the new water pipeline. Health posts are being set up to take care of simply treatable maladies. Reproductive health was a major issue due to lack of facilities which is now being addressed. A whole new maternity wing has been added. We visited the newborn room. There have also been gains in the uptake of medical insurance with some simple education and promotion. Another big change is that everyone now has a mobile (cell) phone and full coverage thanks to a new cell tower constructed by Ericsson. They all know the free number to dial in the case of a medical emergency which has markedly improved access to medical attention.

After visiting the hospital, next on the packed agenda was a women’s handicraft program. The women’s weaving is to a high standard and an international market is being created. This project and now cooperative helps empower women, allowing them to contribute to the household income and gives them some extra motivation outside the daily grind of farming and bringing up the family.

6b. Washing peeled rootsFinally we were given a tour of the new cassava processing plant. The root from the cassava plant provides the staple food in their diet. The starchy tuber is peeled, washed, chopped in a machine not unlike a wood chipper, fermented, dried and ground into flour. Apparently the processing plant produces a high standard of cassava flour which in turn means higher returns for the farmers of the cooperative. The cooperative appeared to be working well and the workers seemed a very happy bunch.

That was the end of the Mayange tour. A lot was packed into one very interesting day and we sincerely thank Donald, Deo, Miriam and Jeanette for facilitating the visit and making it run so smoothly.

On the way back to Kigali we made a short diversion to see the Nyatama Memorial Site to the Rwandan genocide. John and I had already visited a memorial in Kigali which explains why it happened, events leading to the 100 days of frenzied killing and torture, the lack of response from the international community, the aftermath, child victims and about other genocides which have occurred over the last century. For me (and I think the others too) Nyatama was without doubt the most disturbing, horrific, emotive display I have ever experienced. Before I explain what we saw I think it is important to give a brief background of what I learned in Kigali.

Before German colonisation in the late 1800s and early 1900s the three ethnic groups in Rwanda, the Hutus (84%), Tutsis (15%) and Twa (1% – pygmies) lived in complete harmony, side by side. There is no evidence of any conflict. The Germans decided that the Tutsis, the minority group, were of higher intelligence and began to favour them for all the positions of importance and responsibility. Rwandans were classified a Tutsi if they owned more than 10 cows. The Germans also took anthropometric measurements, classifying a person a Tutsi if they had a longer thinner nose. After World War I, Belgium took over as the colonial power and continued with the same divisive regime. This of course bred descent amongst the Hutu majority which evolved over the next few decades into racial hatred. The first large scale conflict erupted in 1959, around the time of independence. The 1994 genocide was a deliberately planned; its architects (leaders, politicians, the media) manipulating, inciting violence, hatred and deepening divisions within the country. There were many warnings not heeded by the international community. Much could have been done to prevent or at least reduce what occurred during 100 days of madness when the Hutus attempted to eliminate the Tutsis and moderate Hutus who did not want to partake in the ethnic cleansing from the face of the planet.

Nyatama is a monument to humanity at its most evil. Many people fled to the Catholic churches such as at Nyatama to hide and seek sanctuary from the carnage, believing that they would be safe there. Many priests however betrayed their trusting constituents by turning them over to the Hutu murderers. At Nyatama over 5000 people – men women and children – were slaughtered. The aim was not just to kill, but to inflict as much pain and indignity as possible. As we walked in to the rear of the church, thousands of skulls were displayed on the higher shelves; some with spikes and other instruments of murder still embedded. The lower shelf was stacked with limb bones. Victims’ bloodstained clothes hung on the rafters and covered the side walls. There was a certain stench which I will never forget.

7. Most valuable personal possessions of those slaughtered at Nyatama Memorial SiteTo the right of the altar, there was a collection of the victims’ most prized possessions; pendants, crosses, glasses, jewellery, personal belongings. At the altar women were raped, their wombs removed before they were shot. Our guide pointed out the spot where bullets had scarred the concrete. We were taken to the Sunday school classroom behind the church. Here children and toddlers were tortured and killed by being smashed against a wall. The blood stains are still there. Finally we were taken to another adjacent building. There people were wrapped with mattresses, petrol thrown over them and set alight.

I did take a few photos, but decided to delete them all except the one shown (people’s possessions). I have also been deliberating as to whether I should write about what we saw at all. One of the main purposes of the Nyatama and Kigali memorials is to educate people about the genocide in the hope that the world will learn – with even more recent events of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Serbia, I’m not sure whether the world has learnt, but these monuments send powerful messages and there is always hope. I read in a Ugandan newspaper last week that one of the priests who sought asylum in Finland has been convicted of his horrific crimes and jailed. Life in a Finnish jail might be too good for him, but at least another war criminal is brought to justice. In 1994 over a million people out of a population of seven million were slaughtered. Two thirds of the population were displaced. Many fled to neighbouring countries and 16 years later still not everyone has returned. John drove us back to Kigali. Barely a word was spoken.

We moved on the next day – I cycled out of Kigali and up a beautiful valley, over a high pass and into Uganda. All around me were smiling faces and many men cycled alongside me for a few kilometres at a time.

7e. Typical scene, leaving Rwanda

They have moved on too (at the very least, they get on with life). To see Rwanda now it is hard to believe what happened just a few years ago. Anyone over the age of 16 must have been present and must have some horrific memories, lost family members, been physically injured and mentally scarred. It’s hard to imagine how people can forgive after neighbours turned on each other. The international community has poured huge amounts of money into the tiny country to help Rwanda back on its feet. There must also be a pouring of immense guilt along with that.

This makes initiatives like Emmanuel’s One Love Project even more special – they are really making a difference. What has been achieved in just four years at the Mayange Millennium Village is testimony that Rwandan communities are resilient, proud and able to rebuild even after the most horrific experiences imaginable. They are all moving on to a better life.

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