Sometime in the middle of June…
I fly through the form. I’ve done this drill four times in the last three months. Scribbling my name, date of birth and the letters “S.A.” in half of the empty blocks, I pause after I pen down the passport number I have by now memorized – “That’s right, I memorise number sequences bitches”, says the imaginary gangster voice in my head to absolutely nobody while I give a small, almost indistinguishable nod. I scratch “S.A.” in a couple more spaces. Don’t be fooled, I don’t put full stops between my letters - that would be horrendously inefficient in my quest to fill in the fastest immigration form ever.
Damn! I’ve done it again. I’ve paused at that one question that I can only imagine irks at the back of every Tom, Dick and Harriet cycling their way down Africa: ‘Occupation:’. I’m the only one in the group unfortunate enough to be tied down to a nine-to-five job next year, so maybe ‘unemployed’ isn’t entirely accurate. Besides, that would be a dent to the pride. The other issue with that self-pity-filled answer is that I’m not so sure that your average immigration officer would be happy to let a bunch of unemployed people into their country. An issue indeed, but by no means an issue that an underhand bribe wouldn’t solve. “T.I.A., This Is Africa, bru”, chuckles Leo Di Caprio to himself as he finishes reading the second paragraph between shooting scenes of Blood Diamond 2.
I’ve thought about it now, and there are just far too many con’s to go the ‘unemployed’ route. I could be seen as having a laugh at the expense of so many people we have cycled passed since leaving Addis Ababa in Ethiopia three or so months ago – all the kids in scraggy clothing living off whatever their legitimately unemployed parents can put on the table. On top of that, one may have a justifiable suspicion that I might be a terrorist, what with the Amish looking beard I’ve got going on. I have been dubbed ‘Osama’ by more than a few completely random locals.
I’m definitely not self-employed - there is no way I could spin my last few months spent loafing around the Eastern Cape drinking beer and playing cricket as any form of employment (public relations?) and I certainly didn’t earn any money from my negligible efforts. ‘Farmer’? Haha, classic! (That was a fake laugh by the way). My farming knowledge is so bare that my father would happily pay for a flight and bus ride to the Rwanda-Tanzania border to stand alongside me and have a fat laugh at my expense as I jot down the six letters that would constitute a scruffily written lie worthy of the world’s greatest con man.
Despite having cycled a couple thousand kilometres with eff-off heavy bags above my front and back wheels, I would be doing the ‘sport’ of cycling a rather heavy injustice by claiming to be of their lean, hairless species. Lacking imagination and still in the hunt for a personal best form-filling time, I revert to my safety answer: ‘student’.
It is now a month and a half later. In that month and a half I’ve cycled all but three-hundred kilometres of the length of Tanzania. Just before you think that I’m going soft, have a look at a map - Tanzania is a big fucking country. (Note to Mother: Please delete that sentence before showing Grandparents. Thank you). That thousand-plus kilometer trek across some very random terrain (which will be the focus of another piece when I get the gees to write it) was followed by an indulgent three weeks with the family and somewhat significant other in the Serengeti and Zanzibar. Casual. Our cocktail-filled, all-inclusive week at a Zanzibar resort with the whole team and three of our entire families was followed by a stint in Stone Town on Kait’s floor. Kait (our stalwart host who carried the C.V. trump card of having done her tertiary education at Rhodes) is the niece of a friend of a parent who also turned out to be the friend of one of my friends, which made her one of the most closely linked hosts we’ve had on the trip. Once we had lazed around enough for Kait to be told in no uncertain terms by her middle-aged grump of a digs mate that our time in the heart of the most extraordinarily beautiful city I have ever hung around was up, we headed back to Dar-es-Salaam.
We boarded the ferry back to Dar thinking we would only spend a couple of days in the house of Dave and Gill Legge before heading westward on the train to Mbeya before cycling down Lake Malawi, through Mozambique and Swaziland and into South Africa. These thoughts - coupled with the revelation that maybe all Kait’s slightly unfortunate looking digs mate needed in her seemingly endless pursuit of a personality might be a lay – were blasted out of our minds by the sight that awaited us on the boarding jetty. Encircled by a group of masked onlookers were three bodies, washed up from the ferry accident a week before. The bodies were white, or bleached - I’m no scientist. One was concealed by a sheet; the second had all but a stiff, creepily opaque arm covered, while the third body lay fully visible to all who dared to look.
We made it to Dar (insert that blackberry ‘phew’ emoticon). The planned date of departure from Dar came. The planned date of departure from Dar went. Dave and Gill had headed off to South Africa and kindly granted us the use of their beautiful three bedroom apartment as well as their vehicle. A good mate from varsity, Mark Ghaui, took off a few days from work to come and escort us around the better parts of Dar – why would we leave? Once our week of doing nothing was up and our third date of departure was on the horizon, I did it again. Drunken injuries seem to be my thing. I’ve knocked myself out on a table, rolled down an escalator and come off second best in a hand versus wall collision. The worst part of this one was that I am certain that I was the most sober of the four of us and at the very least in a far better state than birthday boy Tom who refused to be woken from the depths of his slumber at the back of the tuk-tuk that brought us home.
On getting no response from our audible but considerate bangs on the security gate I decided to climb over the towering security hurdle. Once up, I realized there was no way down the other side. My efforts seemed to finally have aroused the ineffectual security guards from a sleep that must have been comparable to Tom’s tuk-tuk nap. I panicked and jumped down the other side. Days of watching outrageous activities claiming to be Olympic events had clearly taught me nothing as I landed flat on my heels. Gymnasts all over the world were wincing. I was wincing. I was sore. Damn sore.
The pain emanating from my feet slash ankle region had me convinced that I had broken something - I hadn’t. After a visit to the hospital, departure date number four had to be optimistically scratched in to the diary that none of us keep. Whether it was the many hours spent with my two heavily bandaged ankles in the air or during the thought-provoking crawls between the couch and bathroom, the answer to the question that had nagged me so much a month and a half ago came to me like a vision; a vision clearer than the one that the Mormon fellow had when God came down and gave him a bunch of gold tablets with rules on them that nobody else could see. Just in case you think I’m talking about Moses, I’m not – but I do understand how you might have thought that. (Note to mother: Maybe don’t show this to the grandparents at all).
Back to that vision…
Occupation: House Sitter
Advert: (read it in your head with a cool, deep infomercial-type voice)
Do you have a house placed conveniently on the route one might take going down Malawi, through Mozambique, Swaziland and into South Africa?
If so, do you need four strapping young gentlemen to look after it while you’re away?
If not, do you need four strapping young gentlemen to look after it while you’re there?
Either way, we’ve got just the thing for you!
Four haggard looking humans on three bicycles and an ancient, malfunctioning motorbike with a side car that Idi Amin would (literally) kill for are heading your way! With a vast array of experience at making themselves right at home in places owned by people that they had never met or even heard of a few months before, there can be no other group around who would truly treat your home as if it were theirs!
(Note: keep that infomercial voice going…)
Armed with an endless array of dinnertime stories, these four knights take the tagline; “make yourselves at home” to new heights. See for yourself!
Call us on 0800 31 32 33.
(Another note: don’t call that number. I think it’s for Dial-A-Bed)