As soon as I stepped off the plane I was hit with that warm mugginess that clings to you like a scared child. I smelled something that reminded me of London amplified, the bittersweet scent of dense living, car exhaust, dirt, and another scent I couldn’t place. A passenger I had talked with at the Brussels airport found me and said, “Welcome to Africa!” I let it sink in for a moment, I’m in Africa.
All the nerves I had about going through immigration were for nothing, easiest and quickest immigration of my life! As was finding my contact, getting my bags, everything far quicker than imagined. I walked out of the airport to be greeted by dozen or so people, all very eager to introduce themselves and say hi. A little overwhelming after so many hours of travel. After some awkward small talk the caravan headed to the docks. And the next 30 minutes left me quite wide eyed. I’ve travelled a lot and seen a lot of third world countries and poverty stricken cultures but I now understand why Africa breaks everyone’s heart, why nothing I’ve seen before could have prepared me what I saw on my drive to the ship.
First of all think of any action movie that has a chase scene in third world country, got one in your head? Great, that’s driving in Africa without the chase. Motorcycles swerving in and out, cars going the wrong direction in a roundabout, no lanes marked, pretty much whatever gets you from A to B goes.
As we drove I saw so much… things you expect to see but don’t actually think you will. Women carrying flats of bread or jugs of water on their head. Children playing in makeshift soccer pitches with gravel and big rocks, shacks built right up to the edge of the road, unsure if they are abandoned or people living in them. Bright colors that stand out against the reddish brown look of everything else. And that other smell I couldn’t place? It was piles, no hills, of collected trash along one side of the road, some burning and smoking. Houses are right behind these trash mounds, kids are playing soccer in front of them, life simply happens regardless of what is around.
Barding the ship and getting checked in was a whirlwind and before I knew it I was standing in the hallway of my tiny six person room staring at my pod for the next four months. I moved into my two shelves, one side of a wardrobe and top bunk and really realized that this is now my home.
View from the plane, somewhere over the North West of Africa
My tiny little pod home.