Christopher Stanfield Blog
‘You are the flying circus’
So we have reached the two week mark, and are roughly half way through Egypt, arriving in Asyut today. Cabin fever is well and truly beginning to set in. What started off as surreal and quite funny is slowly turning into insanity. From the very start we would enter towns, and the people would go crazy following us like a carnival, shouting random English words like, ‘What’s your name’ or ‘You are the flying circus’. And now with the police escort behind us that particular random phrase couldn’t feel closer to the truth. Don’t get me wrong It has been fantastic to be looked after so well making sure no harm comes to us and to be welcomed everywhere so warmly but I can’t help but feel its beginning to wear thin.
Our current routine is to wake up (or be woken up by the police), usually at the police station and set about our day in a dreary haze. The police stay no more than a few meters away from us for the duration of our day’s walk and can sometimes be slightly ;uncooperative in when we need to rest or Falcor needs to Graze. Pushing us to keep walking. failing to recognise that we need to take a few minutes rest every so often. When we do make it to our destination we go through the same thing everyday, trying to explain what exactly it is we are doing and why, with the very little Arabic we understand. Then our walking is over and it’s time to take rest but there is nowhere we can go without continually being followed. We are hardly ever actually allowed off the premises of the police stations, and on those rare occasions we are… We are escorted where we want to go, whether it be to the shop or to use the internet. In one particular town we were in the mayor’s house and every time we would go outside the door, even if it was just for fresh air we would be met by are roar of screaming children like we were pop stars. What started out as flattering is turning into a nightmare it is a struggle to just find two minutes peace and quiet, where we aren’t disturbed, and are allowed to enjoy some down time. Even today when I was in the shower there was people knocking and asking if i was OK. Again the people are wonderfully welcoming and ever so warm but I crave some form of freedom for the sake of my sanity.
Fatherhood with Falcor
I knew when I decided I would take a Camel on this trip it would have an impact, but I don’t think I could ever have been prepared for how much. I don’t have children and I’m sure many would disagree with this, but as the days have gone on I can’t help but feel we have a baby boy to look after. I spend nearly every hour of everyday with him and for those moments I’m not I can’t help but be concerned if he’s OK. Like a child you worry is he eating enough, is he healthy, am I doing the best I can possibly do for his sake. All those little things that build up and turn you into an over-protective parent.
People always try to mess with him and believe they know better, what he needs or what we should do, which becomes a strain at the best of times. I guess it’s like an interfering mother in law who just won’t leave you be. I have got to occasions where I’ve made my voice heard and physically removed people from his vicinity, because as a protective parent and as long as he’s with me and Dave, that’s what we’ll do. He turned this trip on it’s head and his needs always have to come first before ours. If he needs to rest, or graze, or is the place we stay suitable for him. All those little things that would normally be a simple decision have to be carefully thought out.
He’s constantly getting himself into mischief going where he shouldn’t, eating everything in sight, crapping everywhere, and on sneezing in policemen’s faces (which I can’t fault him for). He makes me smile, makes me laugh, makes me angry and tires me out, but I can’t help but love him. He’s Falcor, our luck dragon, and as long as we’re with him things can’t help but be full of love and happiness.
Packing up my troubles in my old kit bag.
Coming up to the end of the first month of this adventure, and I have found a quiet place in my heart that has locked away my troubles and rejuvenated my mind, body, and soul. I had come to a point where I felt as I awoke each day, I was feeling more and more fatigued, grumpy and was slowly losing the skip in my step. This troubled me as I like to pride myself on being a positive thinker with no problem too big, that can’t be overcome with a smile and a wholesome heart. I had put my feelings down to the stifling police,who had been removing my freedom on a daily basis, the constant worry of having to look after and make sure Falcor was happy and healthy, and of course the weariness setting in from the constant walking. That said I have been here before and as of yet have not passed my previous walking distance, so it is only right that I should be able to take a hold of my thoughts and control them… And this is what I did.
We set off and the day was like any other, the road was long and straight, the sun was beating down it’s heaviest rays and the police were firmly positioned too close for comfort. As we walked, as usual I slipped into my head and got lost in my own thoughts, but this day was different. I thought of what life could be like, I thought of all those people around the world on their way to work, some maybe getting stuck in traffic, some missing their train and some maybe slept in. This made me think of the countless occasions so many of us have made a mountain out of a mole hill, and genuinely believed that the world was against us because of our small and insignificant issues. I thought of Edna’s Day, I thought of those working at her hospital I thought of the patients there, and I thought of the stories I’d herd of those who had suffered but never lost hope. I looked down at my feet. I looked at Falcor and Dave. I looked at the road again and realised that despite it being long and straight, it was very clear for us to walk on and no block or boulder stood in our way. I looked at the sun whose rays suddenly didn’t feel so heavy, instead they fell around like someone was wrapping a blanket of energy round my body. Finally I looked at the police who had been so pushy and intrusive, but now I only saw a small group of men who would do all in their power to ensure our journey continues without danger.
How could I have been so blind? How could I have ever had any negative thoughts? I am in a foreign land making new discoveries, new friends and having new adventures each day. Not only that I have so much love and support from so many people, some of which I have never even met, and I had the audacity to be troubled by my less than minor problems. Life is truly a magnificent thing! We each have the power to make whatever we want of it, and day a spent complaining about it, is a day spent wasting it. Still not convinced? Let me tell you a story that was the result of an open and positive heart…
Yesterday we arrive in Luxor, with the intention of taking a few days rest, and visit some of Egypt’s finest historical sights. We had already arranged with Adel back in Giza, that Falcor would stay with one of his friends so we wouldn’t have to worry about finding a good place for him in the bustling city. And for the first time since our fourth day walking, the police had not followed us and we were for once free. When we did eventually make into the city, we asked for directions to the center and ended up outside the train station after a few calls we arranged that Adel’s friend would make his way here, and take Falcor. In the meantime Dave sorted out a place for us to stay and took our bags on while I waited with Falcor. Minutes turned to hours and Adel’s friend was still no where to be seen, I rang Adel and he assured me he was on his way. Two more hours passed and still no sign, by now Dave had come back and as per usual a crowd had gathered. one of whom showed a great love for Camels and said he was sorry to intrude but he loved camels so much he just couldn’t help himself. Adel rang me and he was very sorry but he could no longer get hold of his friend and was lost on what we should do, I told him I would have a think and get back to him.
We were stuck, the sun was starting to set, we were in the middle of the city and have no where suitable for Falcor, time was running out. The man who had shown such a love for Camels, had been listening to our predicament and suddenly remembered an animal hospital run by an English women and could possibly take very good care of him. I jumped in his taxi and he drove me to the hospital while Dave waited with Falcor. When I turned up and explained our problem, first of all they were a bit baffled as a camel was a bit out of their comfort zone, but they did house horses, and so with a warm smile agreed. Back we went, and as it was by this time almost dark, to save time I rode Falcor (in fact it was the first time I had ridden him since starting the journey with). I have to admit charging out of the city and flying along the road on his back, was a rush and a half, and I’m sure anyone watching who saw us would have seen my ear to ear smile. Falcor now had his own stable and enough grass to eat till his heart’s content, from what started out as a nightmare of situation, quickly turned into a better scenario than we could have ever hoped for. After all those hours of sitting outside the train station, I finally got some food in me and retired to bed thankful for a truly beautiful series of events. The final cherry on top would come the following morning…
For days and days now I had been thinking of a beautiful fruit I had eaten in Italy some years ago known as Kaka or you might know it as Persimmon. The fruit was so sweet, refreshing and delicious and I could think of nothing I would want more than this wondrous fruit to quench my appetite. I returned to make sure everything was alright with Falcor, driven there by Mohammad, and of course it was. When we left he took me to fill up my gas bottle and while we were waiting he said ‘ Oh I have very special sweet fruit for you’. He went into the boot of his car producing a fully ripened Kaka, My eyes lit up, and once again I was smiling from ear to ear I thanked him greatly and explained that this fruit had been on my mind for some time. ‘Ah well you are in look my friend! In Egypt this is the best time for this fruit and you will find them plenty’ he said. I thanked him once more and didn’t wait a second longer to bite into the delicious fruit.
I’ve since learned the fruit is sometimes referred to as Karma in Arabic too. Karma indeed!
There are no problems, only solutions
So here we all are in Aswan, and things are not going according to plan as we might have hoped, unfortunately the red tape has got a little tighter as of late, call it sod’s law or whatever you like. All the research I had done previous had confirmed obtaining a visa in for Sudan in Aswan was a very quick and stress free job, but the Sudanese government have decided it would be much more fun to make it two week wait. This was not so when we set off and if we had known it would be like this, we would have obtained our visa’s in Cairo. On top of this, Falcor will not be able to enter Sudan as they prefer their camels to leave Sudan but not return. And on top of that, it’s looking like Dave will not be able to complete the journey either, as the Sudanese government at this time are not welcoming Americans into their country. So as it stands, I’m looking like having no companion, no Camel to carry my supplies, and a two week wait for a visa just to enter into Sudan, but if life has taught me anything… ‘There are never problems, only solutions’.
Adel had been kind enough to make the trip from Cairo to Aswan to make sure everything is OK and help us with any problems, good job as well as we have a few small ones. After learning of these problems at the Sudanese consulate, we discovered that a Visa for Sudan can be obtained much quicker in Cairo. I have made the decision that two weeks is two too many and instead will make the journey back to Cairo by train to get the visa instead, which after the last five weeks seems quite ridiculous but somethings can’t be helped. As for Falcor and Dave? Falcor will return to his home with Adel, and Dave will just have to wait and see if there is a chance of something happening in Cairo, but the information I’ve received so far suggests it’s not looking great.
As for me? I spent over a year of my life putting this journey together and at no point did I ever believe things would be straight forward, at the same time, I never said I would give up easily either. So companion or no companion, I am fit and healthy and the wind is still in my sails, the departure of Falcor does hold an issue. For all my mental strength I do not have the physicality to carry the same weight he was carrying on his back so I’ve come up with a cunning plan to solve this problem. When I was walking across Spain over a year ago now, I remembered a man, probably in his fifties, pulling a cart carrying his belongings and had been doing so over many miles seeming quite comfortable and happy, and with my current predicament i can’t help thinking, if it’s good enough him, I am certain it’s good enough for me. So on top of obtaining my visa in Cairo, I will also have a lightweight cart built that will be able to transport my belongings, along with my food and water.
I know this may come as a shock to many of you and will probably encourage you to worry about how this adventure will turn out, but please don’t. Like I have said previous, while my head is up, and my smile wide every problem up till now has been rectified one way or another and despite it looking like our little fellowship might be breaking my heart won’t. I will only continue to grow in strength, and continue to take each day as it comes. So stay with me, and don’t sweat the little things, this adventure isn’t over by a long shot.
Finally it just so happens I received a message from a cousin who I hadn’t herd from for some time, and he passed on these few words of encouragement…
"Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities, because it is the quality that guarantees all others"
Sir Winston Churchill
My big donkey adventure!
Some of you might have herd this story before, but I think it’s important those of you who haven’t, to hear it.This is how it all started… I first stumbled upon Edna Adan’s hospital almost two years ago now, when I was travelling round Europe. A good friend in France introduced me to it, and straight away it struck a cord in my heart. I read up on the hospital, Edna, Somaliland, and most important of all the people. I felt my eyes watering as i did so and I knew I wanted to do my part to keep this hospital a monumental success, but how I would go about doing this was unknown. Until the friend I was staying with in France suggested I walk the Camino to Santiago (a pilgrimage that runs the the width of northern Spain), for sponsorship money, and I agreed it was a good idea and sounded like a great adventure. She also suggested to add a unique twist to the adventure I take her donkey with me, again I was very enthusiastic, and began planning. There was one slight twist with me taking this donkey, he had not received any formal training before, and in order for him to complete this trip I would have to train him under my friend’s supervision.
I spent two months working with Zidane the donkey, walking with him every morning and building the relationship between us. I had spent so much of time, and the with each day our bond grew stronger and more and more full of love. We had started out as not the best of friends in the initial training days, but this was quickly turned round and I genuinely missed him when he wasn’t around me. After some of the most beautiful weeks of hard work and building of a new friendship, we were ready to set out on our big adventure, unfortunately this wasn’t meant to be…
I had slept in one morning, something I didn’t do, as I would always be up and about to have our morning stroll, when I would talk about anything and everything, and he would listen, but this particular morning it wasn’t so. I was sat with a cup of tea when I herd him yell and instantly knew something was wrong. I ran as fast my legs could carry me to his field where I saw him struggling to stay on his feet, I ran over screaming and caught his head as he fell. I looked down at him as he looked up at me with tears rolling down both of our faces and he let out one last cry, then he was gone. I was distraught my beautiful boy, my best friend who I had shared so much with already, had died in my arms. Turns out the electrics for the farm had gone down in the night and he had taken him self for a little walk and managed to get hold of a yew tree and very uncharacteristically ate some, this being deadly and triggered a heart attack giving him no chance of survival. For two weeks I sat contemplating my next move, and as the time passed I started to realise that the grievance period is a journey and I was lucky enough to have one set out in front of me, a journey that was supposed to be going towards helping those who had touched my heart.
So I gathered my belongings and tied Zidane’s head collar to my bag, so that he would complete this journey with me one way or another, and he did. We spent 6 weeks walking from where I was staying in south west France, to the most western point in Spain, meeting numerous wonderful people along the way, people who would feed me, give me a place to sleep, or just show me affection. The word spread and the nature of my journey had started to travel through Spain quicker than I could walk, to the point where locals had herd of me before I had entered their towns. This touched me deeply and spurred me on in my mission, so much that when I had reached my destination and looked out upon the ocean, I turned around and decided to walk back. I poured months of blood, sweat, and tears into this journey, losing a friend in the process, and managed to raise 1200 British Pounds. The money went towards funding a new operating theatre in the hospital, making me very happy and proud of all of those who had contributed to the cause.
After all the hard work I didn’t feel satisfied, I felt more should be done and the amount of money could be more and should be more. So I began to plan something that would be a hundred times bigger than my previous adventure, an adventure that could grab the attention of the world and possibly inspire thousands to part with their hard earned money, and this is where you find me today. Walking across Africa to Somaliland, trying my best to inspire all of you to part with your hard earned money. I never expected it to be easy and it hasn’t been, but considering I lost the life of a friend to get this far, there is nothing that could possibly stop me from achieving my goal, except possibly one thing. I need all of you to come together, and be with me on this journey, I need you to contribute in any way you can, I need you to be the ground I walk on keeping my upright.
How far would I go? As far as you want me to
The wheels may not be strong but this traveler must keep traveling on
It’s been a while since my last post so I’ll try my very best to let you know how things have been over the past few weeks. Well as you all know both Dave and Falcor could not make it into Sudan, and so I came up with the plan to build a cart that I would pull to carry my supplies. This was done! Thanks to my Egyptian family in Cairo, and good job they did. Although the wheels they got hold of were more or less trolley wheels, and in all honesty not exactly what I was looking for, but hey they went to a lot of trouble and I was willing to give it a try.
After a rather enjoyable ferry journey up the Nile accompanied by some other overland travelers, who made for very good company and was a nice break from speaking slow English and bad Arabic, I was ready to set out on the next stage of my journey. This would take me through the sparse desert terrain of Sudan. It did not take long for my mental and physical endurance to be taken to the next level. As I set off it became quickly apparent that my worries about the cart wheels were not in vain, and I felt every step I took, and every kilo I was carrying, I was experiencing highs of close 40 c, and was crumbling. After a days walk, my hands were cut up, I was exhausted, hungry, and very low on water, as I had seen no sign of a town whatsoever. Also I had planned to walk 50km and I barely made it over 30, I was not happy with my current predicament and put all my hope in the next day getting better… It didn’t. I walked maybe 10km and was completely out of water, and patience for that matter. I am two days into Sudan and I’m struggling. All I can see is sand, stone and long stretches of unforgiving road, ‘Is this possible? Have I been too Naive? Is this beyond me already?’ I managed to flag down some trucks who were able to fill up my water bottles, and in some cases give me a little to eat. I had maybe reached 20km and the day was disappearing from my grasp I fell in a heap in some shade under a rock, and just thought to myself about the road ahead and if I had it in me. I don’t know how long passed, but eventually I scrambled to my feet once more, and resumed dragging myself on. Feeling down heartened and weak, I came round a corner trudging up a hill mumbling to myself in a daze, when I saw two men sat in a hut, and they called me over. We sat and they fed me beans and bread and 2 glasses of warm milk, my smile grew and grew as I ate. ‘What was i thinking?, Of course I can do this!, Who am I doing this for?, Stop being so self contained and pick yourself up! NOW WALK!!!
Walk I did what was 30km became 50km, and with each passing day there would be more and more people that would offer a helping hand, whether it be tea, or a bite to eat or just some much needed company. All were an essential part in my feet being able to take one step after another. I plowed on, turning my negative energy into fuel that would pump itself around my body giving me strength to walk longer and faster, no matter how hot, or how tired and hungry, it didn’t matter my head was up once more.
I managed 400km in 10 days and made it into the first major town, Dongola. Here my main aim was to find someone to replace the wheels on my cart, and after being passed from one man to another and going round in multiple circles, I secured someone to fix 4 small bicycle wheels instead. I left Dongola more positive than ever, the weight that was relieved from my waste just through having decent wheels fitted, was immense. I had a new cart, and new hope. The honeymoon period did not last long, and cracks started to show in the workmanship. A couple of the wheels were slightly to one side, and this caused the cart to stray over to the left more often than not. I would constantly have to readjust this and it was wearing the tires down at a rapid pace. With my pliers in one hand and a rock in the other I went to work on straightening the problem out, which to my elation worked. Unfortunately the damage was done and after 5 days walking the worst happened… a small pop and tsssssssssssss, the tire was done for. I sat in the middle of Sudanese desert with a popped tire just laughing hysterically (what else do you do?). Now you may be thinking, silly boy why not have spares etc, well my money was very low and would not be replenished till I made it to Khartoum (another 5 days walking). I gathered my thoughts and flagged a truck down, explaining my predicament, he took me a few kilometers on to the next town where they were able to do a patch job on my tire and did not charge me, instead they fed me (now that is a good price).
Once again I was back on my way with the mentality of is that all you’ve got?… It wasn’t. The following day it got a hell of a lot worse, one wheel, two wheel, three wheel fell off. Fine! I put them back on and continued… one wheel would not! It was buggered! in every sense you can think of… FUBAR! This had hurt me more than anything, I was well and truly stuck without this wheel and there was nowhere with the provisions to fix it, as I was well into open desert now. The thought had come over me that I would have take a lift for the remaining 200km to Khartoum. In doing this I felt like a failure, that I had been beaten, that I had not done what I’d set out to do…Walk. How could I take a lift? I sat in a state of general sadness at losing, until plucking up the courage to flag down a truck. He took me to Khartoum feeding me along the way and dropping me off at a shop who fixed all that needed to be fixed.
I’d had some time to think while I sat in the truck, about the trip and having failed in walking that stretch of the journey. Granted it had been a severely unfortunate turn of events, but I hadn’t seen it that way. Then I got thinking to all those that had helped me on along the way, picking me up when I was down and doing what they could to ensure my journey was a successful one. And there in that truck I looked across to the man driving, representing all those wonderful people who hadn’t turned there heads when I asked for help and always had enough food for one more. That was just it! I’d been so self obsessed, thinking I would walk all on my own and show everyone what we are capable of as a single human being. Yes we are capable of many incredible things as one, but as a unit we are capable of so much more. I wasn’t failing! Failing would be to turn my nose up at those offering help. Failing would be to believe I could do this on my own. I’m winning now more than ever. This journey is, and never has been about me. It’s about people coming together, and collectively changing the lives of others like so many have done for me en route, we must as a group pass on this message and help those who truly need it… And that is why this traveler must keep traveling on x
Where are all the King’s horses and all the King’s men
As always there is much to tell so I’ll just have to quickly sum up how my last 10 days in Sudan went… It was a case of pop goes my sanity. I lost count after 14 flat tire’s and got past getting annoyed. By the end when I herd that sudden pop and tsssssss I would sigh and start the process once more of fixing it. The road out of Khartoum had been far too dangerous to walk on as it’s too narrow, and is in fact nicknamed the death road by some locals. So I found myself walking on the beaten track which was littered with these little thorns which were to be the downfall of so many of my tires, and were a very literal pain in my side. That said I made it to the border and wished farewell to Sudan, a country that had truly warmed my heart and one that I would gladly advise anyone to visit. The people are wonderful and I couldn’t have asked for a better spirited group to help me pass through their country… I wish I could thank all the individuals but there is just too many. Now! onwards and very much upwards…
I had known for some time that Ethiopia would be more of a physical test than any other country that I passed through, but how much of a test would remain to be seen. When I set off for my first day’s walk in Ethiopia, this wasn’t my main concern. I’d be warned on multiple occasions that I should expect hostility and much trouble from the people and despite not wanting to believe such statements I couldn’t help but take them into consideration. It was like the people had been aware of such bad mouthing and rose to the occasion. I hadn’t walked 10km when two teenagers came out of bushes to the side of me and brought me over to eat with them. This would be the day’s theme, Welcome! I spent the night in a locals home who again had seen me passing and invited me over, and again feeding me. Of course I had noticed the terrain that, it was just up and down like a horizontal S shape, but nothing too taxing I have to say. What followed was the most physical challenge of my life…
Now into day two, the mountainous land was fast approaching and started to wrap itself all around me, every where I turned I would see steep inclines. The road did not cut through the land like a knife through butter but instead stuck close to it like jam feeling out every twist, turn, up, down and whatever other direction springs to mind. I started to realise that my cart was probably heavier than me at this point and especially since I’ve had to start punching new holes in my belt to keep my shorts up. Some climbs I approached looked vertical from a distance and didn’t get much better as I got closer. As I trudged up ( sometimes on all fours) trucks would pass struggling themselves, and the drivers looking on like I was not of this planet, and to be fair at this point I don’t think my mind is on this planet. The pain in my legs was excruciating and my energy non existent, but persisted I did, getting slower with each step. That is until one truck came past and out of nowhere off the top a man came hurtling off falling over 15ft and landing on his head. As he lay unconscious and completely still 20 meters in front of me, I let off to a sprint. Where the energy came from I don’t know but thankfully it did. I knelt down and slowly turned his body over, he was coming to but he had three gashes in his head that were bleeding profusely. By this point those driving the truck had arrived along with some other passers by, I ripped my first aid kit out and grabbed everything I could to help him. Quickly cleaning him up and bandaging his head whilst the others kept the pressure on. I sat with him for some time feeding him some water until we all helped him onto the truck and they drove off. I stood once again alone on the side of the mountain, only this time dripping blood. I cleaned up and carried on. What else could I do?
That night I set up camp near a small stream where I was able to get a much needed wash and it felt like sheer luxury. I sat under the stars in the darkness after I had eaten, just lost in my thoughts when I herd a rumbling. It sounded like a tribe going to battle. There was banging and chanting and it was getting louder, not only that it was getting closer. ‘Is this really happening?’ I thought to myself, but it was. It wasn’t long before they were all around me and closing in talking amongst themselves, not only that I could hear the clinking of blades. I rolled to my side and reached for my bush knife but before my hands got a firm grip I thought better of it and let go. ‘This isn’t the way you do things’ I thought. I sprung up to my feet and approached the nearest one brandishing my hand, he shook it, we all laughed. Suddenly the mood had changed drastically from the sheer terror of being surrounded in pitch black by armed men, to realising they were armed with small scythes, and I in the end believed them to be farmers returning from the mountains after a days work. I slept soundly that night.
I was waking up each morning feeling weaker than the previous. It was really starting to take it out of me so many elements were against me and my mind was beginning to play tricks on me. I take Larium every week for malaria and the side effects were making themselves herd. I felt anxious, alone, down, and out. As friendly as the children are I couldn’t get a moments peace just to sit on my own for two minutes without children screaming at me, it was all too much. Once again on the climb, I felt my head getting lighter and my body even weaker, I kept walking all the same but it was impossible, the cart was at it’s heaviest and couldn’t move. I dropped to my knees and held my head in my hands feeling nothing but pain and weariness. A local saw me and came running with bread and tea which I nursed like I was protecting a child. When I thought I could once again stand, I did so and with no where else to go but up, up I went.
My body, my mind, and my soul has been beaten down like it has never been before. I have lost weight, toe nails, patience, and on some occasions my mind. There is one thing that can’t and will not be taken from my grasp, and that is hope. Hope that tomorrow will be brighter, hope that my legs will get stronger, hope that the land will get easier, and most of all hope that those donations come in. The cracks are wide and gaping, but as I take rest for two days in Gondar I repair those crack with thoughts of hope.
I am not over the worst of the terrain and will eventually ascend to over 14,000 ft. My horizon is not yet clear and is littered with obstacles but it is there I will prove to the doubters, to the non-believers and to myself NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE. No I don’t have all the Kings horses and all the Kings men to put me back together again. I Have hope. I have you. I have love x
Look to the horizon, and the sun will rise…
With Christmas on the horizon my thoughts would revert to home more so than ever before. I’ve always held Christmas very close to my heart as a time of year to cherish those you care for, and whom care for you, and so to be not just apart from them but in my current situation and location, it is difficult. Upon Christmas day I found myself very fatigued indeed and because of this, sickness seemed to take it’s toll. I was well out of the mountains now and back, once again in the desert. It was certainly nice to not have those unrelenting climbs anymore, but in my weakened state my spirits were low, and although the end was so near, it couldn’t have felt further away. I must keep my head high for the sake of my loved ones, and most of all the hospital, with the end in sight I can’t afford to start feeling sorry for myself. So I remembered a extract from my favourite book, ‘A Christmas Carol’…"
It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humor". I looked back on the past few months, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and with a light heart, an organic smile began to grow upon my face and I laughed, as if the punchline of my four month joke had just been revealed to me. As always strength is not in brawn, but within our minds and of course our hearts. My spirits were lifted, and they truly needed to be for what was about to upset my world.
As I approached ever closer to the border with Djibouti, I was getting more and more hassle from the police and on several occasions they stopped me from camping and made me ride with them to stay somewhere. Every Kilometer taken away from my feet hurts me deeply I wanted to walk every inch of this journey and I felt like I was being robbed of this, especially after the difficulties I’d had to get over in Sudan. I complied and after increasing hassle at the border, I crossed into Djibouti hoping for a brighter day and a fresh start. Entering the country had offered little issues, and with a skip in my step, I was more than ready for the next stage of my challenge. After my first day of walking, I made camp by a truck stop and had been welcomed with open arms, and I found speaking French a much easier practice than Amharic. A good nights sleep prepared me for the next day, but would prove a waste as after two Kilometers, I entered a town and was called into the Gendarmerie for questioning. The ‘Chef’ was not available so I was ordered to wait, told it would be a matter of minutes. 6 Hours later he arrived, he told me not to worry but I would not be allowed to leave until the general has spoken to me. I was given some food and locked in a room for the night, until I was woken up at 5am the following morning. Me and another prisoner were loaded into a 4x4 and I was informed I was to be taken to the capital. I felt crushed it was almost 200km they were robbing me of, and being so close to the finish line I wanted to walk every meter. The prisoner sat glaring at me for the entirety of the journey and occasionally would spit on the floor by my feet, snorting and groaning as he did so like he was performing some hideous ritual of presenting himself in the worst possible light.
When we eventually arrived in the capital, I was taken into another building with my cart and sat down. I’d assumed beforehand that the general would just quickly talk to me and tell me it’s dangerous to walk and let me go… This wasn’t to be the case. I was made to empty out everything I owned and was grilled by several people about what I claimed to be doing. After which I was asked to follow, which of course I did and told to enter a pitch black room, I did so but still unsure on what was happening. I turned back to the doorway to see the door closing behind me and the slight shred of light I had was being taken away from me. Without hesitation I grabbed the door and asked what was going on, and then I held my wrists together indicating if I was under arrest. The guard nodded and slammed the door on me and all light was removed in so many more ways than just the very literal. My heart was racing. Why was this happening to me? Mine is a journey of peace why won’t people understand that? All my documents were in order, but regardless of what I had said it didn’t matter. I was damned to sit in the dark until told otherwise. Not long after a sergeant arrived who spoke good English and I ran through my story once more. He couldn’t believe that I had walked from Egypt and his only response was that it was impossible and I myself was a liar, and not only that but conspiring with terrorists! I felt my blood boiling after being locked up for nearly 36 hours I felt my patience slipping from my grasp. To have walked almost 4000km and be called a liar, was not an insult I was taking lying down. I said if I am to be treated like this I want to be cuffed, give me what I deserve. His face grew red and he pushed me back into my darkened room, returning he would get me what I desired so much. In the end he didn’t do so, instead I was moved into another room and my mattress was taken away from me. I was sat on a chair that the back was slightly broken on so it caused me to lean back naturally when I sat on it. This was taken as a sign of disrespect and a guard started screaming in my face and banging the desk so I sat up and he left. I asked to go to the toilet but I was refused and told to wait. Sitting back down feeling empty I did the only thing I could do, I crossed my legs, and I meditated. The guard came in some time later and thought I was sleeping, so he nudged me and told me to lie on the desk next to me to sleep, I said no I was fine but this wasn’t accepted and so I lay on the desk as instructed feeling lost and lonely. I didn’t have the energy to fight anymore I just lay there trying to focus on my breathing and leaving the rest up to fate
It was new years eve and I was looking starting 2013 locked up. Darkness had fallen and I’d managed to get some money to a guard to go buy me some food, and after asking several times I was finally allowed to be escorted to the toilet. My food arrived and I was given a plastic bag of spaghetti, which I was forced to eat like a dog. I’d been mentally reduced, with what felt like playground bullying. I was past angry, all I could think was I’ve come into this country with such high hopes, looking forward to a new culture and one that could leave a lasting and positive impression, and now because of the ignorance of these few, my future thoughts related with this country would forever attempt to draw itself to this unfortunate predicament. Before it got too late the General finally came to see me and began once more to explain my story and my purpose starting from Egypt, giving exact dates which could be matched to those stamped in my passport. As I went through how I supporting Edna’s hospital I could see his mouth dropping and a look in his eyes which to me spoke louder then any words he could possibly utter. ‘You know Edna’? Was his first question. ‘Yes I have her phone number. You can ring her if you like?’. After typing my statement up, I was finally released and directed towards somewhere to stay.
I sat deep in thought, it was the morning after the night before, and of course it was the first day of 2013. I was taking some days rest and using the time to organise my visa and now my ticket home. The rain was beating down on the capital, and so I took the opportunity (in spite of what I had been doing for the past few months) to go for a walk and clear my head, letting the rain wash away all that had happened the previous two days. With the prospect of a new year it would have been ridiculous of me to dwell on what had been a a minor blotch on an otherwise incredible year alive. As advised by the people working where I was staying, I flagged down a taxi to take me to the airport to book my flights ahead of my arrival in Somaliland. When I arrived at the airport, I was stopped at the entrance by the gendarmes asking what I was doing? I explained I was wanting to book my ticket, telling them from where and where to. They looked at me and said OK come with us. Yes once more I was to be detained, and questioned on my purpose for being here and once again the accusations were leading towards me being a terrorist. Thankfully this time I was able to direct them to the general and he cleared up who I was. Once again I was released, and once again I let the rain bounce of my forehead and try and massage the pain out of my thoughts.
As suspected from the start of my trek the road from Djibouti to Hargeisa is non-existent, and the terrain rougher than any I’d encountered. Adding to these factors the main population of this area is snakes and hyena’s. So at this late stage despite it paining me to do so, I would have to take a 4x4. It would be ridiculous after all I’d been through up to now to take a more than dangerous risk just before the finish line.
Now wasn’t the time for looking back, now was the time for looking forward, now was the time of SOMALILAND. Months of hard work and the end was so close I could taste it. No amount of Gendarmes or wild animals, or stones thrown, or any negative action whatsoever was going to keep me from my quest being completed. Yes the clouds had blocked out my sun on occasions, and yes the road had not always been smooth, but I was still here. I drew a deep breath, one that penetrated every inch of my body, I lift my head higher than ever before, but not for myself. I stood tall and strong for those who had stood before me, for those who had suffered, so the future could be brighter. The clouds parted and the sun shone down on the world.
Upon the mountain tops, above the distant clouds, sits a proud lion. Open your heart and hear him roar.
After what had been a grueling week I finally made it to Gondar where I was able to take in some rest with special thanks to Jaz whom I met in the Ethiopian embassy in Khartoum and was able to hook me up with his good friend Tess. I was taken in as a family member by both Tess and all his friends, who were so warm and kind, which had been exactly what I’d needed after been beaten down by Ethiopia’s unrelenting mountainous terrain. I said my goodbyes once my batteries had been restored to full capacity and was once again heading for the mountains, only this time I would be climbing to heights of over 14,000 feet, my biggest test yet.
As expected I was back on all fours and scrambling up what seemed climbs of infinite distance, but this time I’d had better idea of what lay before me, so I grit my teeth and hurled myself up with all I had. For the best part of some of the hardest climbs, my head remained down as the sweat dropped from my brow. I felt the air thinning with the climb as I tried to draw deeper and deeper breaths, and once again, in what seemed no time at all, my strength was draining from me. I tried to hold on to what I had but in my weakened physical state I couldn’t help but reside myself to the fact that I can’t keep doing this! Feeling bruised and battered I didn’t want any further part of this journey, it was destroying me to an effect I had never known. All I could do was once again try and focus my heart on Edna and the hospital and with that flicker of light I continued.
Coming into Ethiopia had opened my eyes up to poverty I had not seen with my own two eyes before, and to walk through this unable to offer any significant help was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to endure. I would be followed everywhere I went and had so many asking for money, clothes, pens, anything they could lay their hands on, they wanted from me. I had to toughen up, and quickly, as this constant bombardment of want was beating me down and I couldn’t do much more than to so ‘ no sorry’, and move on. For some this wasn’t enough and I found some children to react very negatively indeed hurling sticks and stones and on occasions trying to remove what little I had from my cart. This had upset me more than anything and I couldn’t help but think the west had a lot to answer for. We have offered so much charity, building schools and hospitals and with so many maybe entering these countries with gifts and treats to ease the suffering. Now of course this is a wonderful and beautiful thing but with this kind of giving comes responsibility, and to leave this mindset of when you need you must beg has in my eyes become a hindrance. This wonderful and beautiful country can never hope to reach the next level of development if we don’t offer a little more than just a wad of cash and pat on the back. Of course my knowledge is limited and I am well out of my depth but I could only react to what I am seeing on a day to day basis. I guess this is why I stand by Somaliland with all I have, seeing a true success story rising out of the ashes and in promoting this country’s strength of heart I can only hope it can go on to inspire the rise of others.
Losing track of what day, what time, where I was, and what I was doing, I continued my walk in the confused daze I had grown accustomed to. I tried to find the most secluded place is could to set up camp, where I would be disturbed by neither human nor hyena. I got my wish in the form of a tunnel I found that ran under the road, that would carry water through during the rainy seasons. It was well covered and I could fit my tent in it without too much hassle. It’s only slight draw back was it was a bit of a drop off the road onto the side of the mountain, and I would have to lower my belongings down onto a ledge, but a small price to pay I felt for a good nights rest. So in my weary state and against what would have been my better judgement I began to lower my cart down onto the ledge. The weight of my cart proved too much and I lost my footing and in that split second I saw my future, and it looked bleak. I began to plummet, holding onto my cart with all my might, but it was useless. I had fallen around 20 feet until finally my fall was broken by a lower ledge. I lay motionless on the mountain side until eventually plucking up the courage to move, and climbing to my feet, I found I had been lucky. Besides a few cuts and bruises I was OK and I laughed at my stupidity though still shaking my emotions got the better of me and I wept like a lost fool. After dragging my mobile home back up the mountain, I set up camp as intended and slept a gracious sleep.
So I have mentioned the want and the struggle I had seen but I could not possibly continue my story without telling you of generosity and warmth I have had the good fortune to have been apart of… I was passing through yet another town some day’s back, and being as exhausted as ever I wanted as little hassle as possible so I kept my head down, and not uttering more than a hello a passed straight through. At least until getting to the top I realised how hungry I was so reluctantly I turned and walked back to buy some bread. I sat at a small cafe, got some bread and a bottle of pop handing over the money to one as I explained to another what I was doing. Once again surrounded by a crowd of fifty plus I ate, and to my surprise the money I had given to pay for my items had come back out and been thrust into my hand. I asked for an explanation, and I was told that I needed the money more than they did. I couldn’t believe it! Some of these people only had one set of clothes and yet were willing to return my money because they saw the true meaning of my journey, It didn’t end there either. I saw one start to walk round collecting money from the others, when I asked what was going on, they told me they were collecting money for me. ‘WHAT? WHY?’ I responded. ‘ We don’t have much, but if we all give a little, it could be a lot’, one man answered. I could do nothing but burst out laughing with sheer and utter joy. These people with so little were willing to give that little to another, my heart filled with gold, as I was in a state of astonishment. I refused the money outright and told them they should use the money to feed those around them, and we all laughed together. Before I left one man spoke to me saying he had seen me on the road for some days when he was driving and told me I was far stronger than any he had known. I disagreed and said it was more likely that I was far crazier than any he had known. He returned that disagreement and paid a compliment I will remember as long as I walk this earth. ‘When I look into you, I see the body of a man, but not the heart. The heart is that of a lion, and I know you will walk even without legs’. I opened my mouth to speak but the words lay dormant, so instead I embraced him and continued walking never once looking back through fear of not being able to hold my emotions back.
That moment of so many coming together to give what little they owned, had filled me with so much happiness, but it wasn’t long before I felt a slight moment of sadness. My target amount is so far off still and I can only hope that as you read this and reflect on those without shoes offering up their money. You too will no longer be able to hold back the tides and are already reaching to give what little you have to change the lives of the many. As I have reiterated so many times. I do not expect a lot from a little, I expect a little from a lot. We all have a lion in our heart but until you let him roar, he will forever sit useless and empty.
A very Merry Christmas to all. Please make my Christmas miracle come true. Click the link below x
However long the night, the dawn will break
So this was it! The beginning of the End! I had all my belongings together, and had loaded them on to the 4x4 that would be taking me across this last stretch of desert between Djibouti and Hargeisa. A stretch that I had been repeatedly advised against walking through by various parties. Mainly because of the sparsity of it, the lack of water, also it was rife with wild animals, such as Lions, Hyenas and snakes to name a few. So in the end I’d felt that I’d just about ridden my luck to edge of the world and back. Now was the time to take heed and listen to the advice given to me. I was later told that there is an expression in the Somali language that refers to cursing someone to that desert. As if it was to curse someone to their death. So all in all probably a wise move on my part.
I sat in the back of the 4x4 cramped amongst Somali women who were travelling home. At 4pm, January 3rd 2013, we were on our way to Somaliland. As the sun began to set on Djibouti, I felt relieved to be on my way out, as my experience hadn’t been one that I’d particularly treasured, especially after all my dealings with the Gendarmes. The experience had left me in a state of anxiety, worried about every single movement I made, especially when authority figures were around. I was paranoid that I would be taken away for a third time and my journey, (despite being on the cusp of finishing) would be torn apart. So when we came to the end of Djibouti territory and I had to enter an officials office to claim my exit stamp (like I had done on many occasions), I began to have flash backs to that feeling of when all control had been removed from my hands. As the guard looked over my passport and filled out the appropriate paper work, all I could see were the four walls surrounding me, closing in on me, wanting to keep me within their grasp. Of course my paranoia had reached grand new heights, and with very little hassle my passport was stamped and we were on our way once more.
Night had fallen and after what seemed like no time at all, we crossed into Somaliland territory! The flag, the people, the sand, the stars, all now were that of Somaliland’s. I didn’t know what to think, or how to feel. Was I supposed to be in a state of elation? Was I supposed to be laughing, crying, jumping for joy. In all honesty I felt nothing. Not because I was disappointed, or anything like this, but more because the reality of where I was had not quite hit me. The reality that I’d entered the country where I would finish my journey, a country that I had held in my head for 2 years, it just wasn’t something I could even begin to comprehend at this early stage.
Having had my Passport stamped one final time, we were back on our way and into the open treacherous desert. Having struggled for so long with the idea of taking an alternative form of transport over this last stretch, I began to understand why. The road was not bad, it was non-existent. All I could see was thick open sand (which even the 4x4 struggled with), and unforgiving jagged rocks that we would have to drive straight over, taking us almost vertical at times. Sixteen long uncomfortable hours, of getting thrown left and right came to an end. It was by far the most uncomfortable journey of my life, and I was starting to think maybe walking in this most deadly of deserts wouldn’t have been all that bad.
The journey over night by 4x4 was over and it was now after lunch time, the following day. Before we set off from Djibouti, I’d already discussed with the driver that I must be dropped off some 15km before Hargeisa, so I could at least complete my journey on foot as I had intended. Once dropped off, I began (for the final time) the daily ritual of packing up my cart, only this time the placement of each item felt more purposeful than ever. Once unloaded and packed up my couriers drove away. I stood alone on the roadside, silent and motionless, with my cart sat behind me, the two of us had been bound for almost 3 months. I’d tackled some of the toughest hardships of my life, and also conquered some of my greatest triumphs, always with it trailing behind me. And despite growing accustomed to the presence of it’s four wheels, and even on occasions sharing a conversation or two (I did most of the talking). I can honestly say there was no emotional attachment whatsoever. This DAMN CART had taken me to hell and back and I couldn’t wait to get shot of it. Many people ask me if I’d named it, and of course I had done, but with the risk of having an under-age audience, I won’t repeat said name. Lets just say that my feelings for the cart were reflected in the title I gave it.
So yes I did loathe it but at this particular point in time, this 80+ Kilograms of thorns in my side was the only thing I had to share the moment. A moment that will stick with me forever. A moment that even now is causing me to fight back the tears. Yes it was at this moment when the realisation of what I had done dawned on me. In a single breath I saw four months flash before me. I saw myself at the airport, I saw Dave, I saw our camel, I saw all those people who had offered me a helping hand along the way when I had needed it most. I saw myself, suffering, not knowing if I was ever going see an end to this journey. I saw so many things, each one taking it’s position, and making itself comfortable within my heart, as it is here they will remain, until my final day on this earth presents itself. I took the deepest of deep breaths, and shuffled me feet to feel out the cracks and bumps on the road beneath. I swung out my right leg, and began, the home straight. This part of the journey I had dreamt, and visualised of so many times over, and now I was walking it. I say I was walking it but if I am true of word, I’m not sure I did. As the memories I have are not a view from my eyes but almost as if I was hovering above my own body, watching the emotions falling out of me.
There is no stimulant on earth that could repeat what I felt in those last 15 Kilometres. I was in a state of sheer and utter euphoria, and I only wish I had the words to give, that could explain it to you. But unfortunately there will never be a spoken language that could depict what my emotions were on that day. Two hours passed and I’d begun descending upon Hargeisa, it was at this point I began to see more Somalilanders, who were (like all those I’d passed before them) baffled by what they were seeing. If there is a look within our facial expression repertoire, that displays what you’re supposed to look like when you see a skinny white man walking, and pulling an 80 kilogram metal cart with a Somaliland flag draped over it, these people had it down to a tee. I was eventually stopped by a group of policeman, and immediately (as before) I began to panic and grew more and more anxious with every second that passed. They asked for my passport, and I handed it over with a trembling hand. I was looked up and down with slight confusion, and then immediately, without a second glance they handed my passport back grinning. ‘Ok, that’s fine’ I herd in a cheerful tone, followed by ‘Welcome to Somaliland’. My anxiety subsided and my paranoia was chased off into the distance. I had not a worry, nor care in the world and I loved it.
My steps were purposeful, and my heart light. I sang, I skipped, I felt an aura around my person which I believe rubbed off on every passer by. My elation was on display for all to see, and all embraced it with a warm welcome. All still baffled by what I was actually doing there, but love and happiness will always conquer all. So what started out as bemusement, turned into elation.
It had been spoken of before I set off on this journey that myself and Edna would complete the final kilometre side by side, and I had every intention of honouring that agreement. So after being directed round Hargeisa in the direction of the hospital, I finally decided it was time to stop and make the call to Edna. I don’t recall much being said by either of us during that phone conversation. Just ‘I’m here’, which was met with ‘I’m on my way’. I stood and waited in anticipation, as the crowd around me grew. Each person wanting to ask question after question. None of which I really answered with more than one or two words. All I could do was look on and wait for that first glimpse of Edna. I have to admit part of me was slightly pensive about meeting her for the first time. It is a well known fact, that you should never meet your heroes through fear of disappointment that they won’t meet up to your expectations. Not only was I thinking that, but I also began to think what if she doesn’t like me, or just sees me as a scruffy young man who’s descended upon her hospital, and in the process disrupted, not only her life but the lives of all those who are being treated. All ridiculous thoughts, but my head was spinning with anticipation and my sense of reality had said farewell a good time ago. I glanced down the road where I could see a bustle of silhouettes against the setting sun, trying to pick out which one was Edna. My gaze dropped for a second, and it was then I herd a man say ‘There’s Edna’. I quickly lifted my head up and I saw the outline of a woman…