Finding myself in Belgrade

Candy a la Kiki

Candy a la Kiki

Love it!

Kikiriki aka peanuts

These are also peanuts with the brilliant name "kikiriki", but what makes this too good to not pass up posting is the added text "Gud Diet". Apparently God's on a diet here in Belgrade.

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Another year, another journey

– Another continent, another country. Once again I’m out and about even long before I was ever able to finish the tell-tales of the last trip, and I’m sad to say that one of the best parts of the last one has been left out (on my to-do-list for some time in the future). This time around I’m not solely traveling for the company Kiki-loves-to-travel AS, but this time there’s actually some seriousness to it as I’m doing fieldwork as part of my master studies. For this very reason there won’t be a lot of updates, though some every now and then when the urge to write arises which is probably when I’m supposed to be doing something else – like now.

It’s been two weeks since I arrived at my one and only (?) destination for this trip: Belgrade, Serbia. I’ll admit that my state of mind is on a completely different planet than the first days and it’s like I’ve stopped fighting the unknown and uncomfortable and started to go with the flow. Again it proves to be the best way to go about it. Belgrade met me with a gloomy weather; low clouds, chilly temperatures and snow, snow and more snow. “This is not normal weather”, I’ve been told numerous times already, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s some withstanding feud between myself and the weather-gods that I apparently don’t know about, because I’ve heard this so many times that there has to be something fishy going on.

But Belgrade has really turned out to be something completely different than what she showed the first day: the friendly and helpful people who more than happily continue to talk to you in Serbian even though you tell them you don’t understand; the small cafés that are always packed with people having a good time no matter what time of day; the bakeries in which people elope into to get some breakfast and a quick defrost before heading back into the outdoor freezer; the architectural dissimilarities which tell a story of greatness and heavy history; and the heavy load of clothes people pack themselves into before venturing outside.

On a personal note it’s been a challenge, but things always (ALWAYS) work out. I started the first day by finding a grocery store which ended up being more eventful that I had planned. First of all these things take time as everything’s new and especially when most things are written in Cyrillic. When you then run into a full-grown (lonely) Swede who can’t figure out why he’s not allowed to buy bananas (you have to weigh them before coming to the cashier) and he ends up lecturing you on being careful because many of “these people” have a crazy mentality like “the Africans”, I have a hard time restraining myself and I ended up setting him straight on the matter of both “these people” and “the Africans”. By the time I got done with him, who turned quite mellow at the end, and my grocery shopping it was already dark outside, snowing heavily and I had made the rookie-mistake of not knowing my way back home. So I walked and walked with five bags of groceries and a 10 liter can of water. After walking six blocks in the wrong direction I finally got around to asking someone who pointed me in the right direction which unfortunately was six blocks back to where I came from. I was on the verge of tears when I realized I was eventually home and I looked like a sad snowman with mascara down my cheeks and my once green jacket completely white. A few freezing days later with the Košava-wind blowing like crazy (it’s never a good sign when a wind has a specific name everyone knows) I found myself straight out on the couch down with the flu, covered in blankets, drinking tea. At least I don’t have a car that has to be dug out of these ridiculous amounts of snow..!

In regards to the Serbian language my self-esteem on the matter is rising and the kiosk-ladies outside where I live know me by now and have stopped giggling of my lack of case-conjugation (I hate cases (kasus på norsk)) and the ladies at the bakery (which counts four in close proximities) don’t look as scared when I enter anymore as my Serbian has gotten better. Every new situation mastered is a boost, whether it is asking for directions, buying stamps or refilling credit on my phone.

Two weeks have passed terribly quickly and I’m happy June’s still a few months away, because this can only get better.

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I rank in the top…

Travel Map

I’ve been to 113 cities in 26 countries
Kiki is an explorer that:
does her own thing
    will sleep naked in the jungle
          lives on the edge
Travel cred: high
I rank in the top…
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Stop! Breathe, listen, reflect. Now: live

There comes a time in every life where the world screams “STOP”! It’s when the past becomes intruding, the future is scary with its anticipations and the present is more than you can handle. This is exactly what happened at the end of my journey. It was coming to an end when it had just started and next on my list was writing the last blog posts before boarding the flight taking me across the Atlantic back home.

When arriving in Tampa, Florida it was the first time in so long that I was surrounded by ppl who genuinely cared about me (no offence to any of the wonderful ppl I met around the world), who truly knew me and whom I had a history with. I could finally take a deep breath, sit down in familiar surroundings, let my guard down and say “I made it”. The mental strain of a trip like this resulted in a physical reaction in the form of a migraine beyond description. Along with this headache from hell came all the questions the future has been storing for an appropriate moment; the questions I had deliberately been shoving into the future as I had no intention of dealing with them any sooner than I had to. And before I knew it they came knocking on the door, all lined up, trying to squeeze past each other to gain priority: “What will you do when you come home?”; “Where will you go to school?”; “What are you going to study?” – and of course the inevitable and most difficult of them all – “How was your trip?”.

Naturally this is the one question everyone wants answered, but which there is no answer to. I’ve given up trying to come up with an answer that is fitting, correct or reasonable. How do you put 221 days of experiences, emotions and adventures into a sentence or two? And even if I was to try my very best to explain, my words wouldn’t be rich enough to in a respectful or proper way communicate the way the world has treated me.

I can finally give myself some time to relax, to look at the photos and confirm “Yes, that is me in this amazing place, with these crazy ppl”. It takes a while to really grasp what the last months have consisted of, and a long summer has given me the opportunity to do it at my own pace. I now find myself in a constant stream of memories followed by laughter, wonders, frustration and tears. These sudden interruptions of memories are some of my favorite moments.

This morning as I was walking down the street a sunny and chilly September morning in Oslo, grasping my chai latte begging of it to transfer some heat to my icy fingertips, a memory surfaced of an early morning in Tibet when being cold suddenly had a new meaning to me. I recall wrapping my Mongolian cashmere scarf around me while making my way into the kitchen/living room/bedroom where the traditional Tibetan milk tea was being served along with Tibetan bread and what they called an omelet (not even close to being an omelet in Western terms thou). It didn’t taste much, but I remember how happy I was about my breakfast and the fact that I was enjoying it in the middle of nowhere in Tibet. It was not a situation to complain about regardless of the cold weather, the “omelet” or the “hit-or-miss” pitch black squat toilets. I smiled of the fond memory and almost wondered how I managed to cope with all the absurdly surreal situations and places I ended up in.

Unfortunately that morning in Tibet seems like ages ago, much due to where I find myself in life today. The answers I gave to the questions of the future while in Tampa are not anywhere near to what the future has turned out to contain. My life is in a completely different place than I ever expected it to be. I wouldn’t change it, thou it sounds like it, but it does take some getting used to like everything else. In regards to change, it is the question I keep asking the ones closest to me: “Have I changed? Am I any different?” It’s unanimous. I have changed. The verdict concerning my change is that I’m “more quiet”; “eat slower”; “walk slower” (to many ppl’s frustration I’m sure); and “smile less”. I am different. I smile at different things than before, I’m rarely in a rush (got Africa to thank for that), I like staring at the ceiling and let my thought drift off to wherever they may go, different things catch my attention than before, I view life’s many puzzle pieces in a new light and my understanding has reached a new level. More than anything I’m more at ease.

I guess this is what the world does to you.

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My Soweto

The place most Afrikaners (the white South Africans) tell you to stay away from, and if you do plan to visit: get in and get out on a safe tour bus without lingering. It’s a city within a city estimated to roughly 1,5 million ppl over an area 1/15 the size of Luxembourg and with thrice the population. It’s a township filled with multiple shebeens, local beer, tons of history and only black ppl. It’s a place which carries connotations like crime, poverty and danger. It’s a withstanding proof of the doings by apartheid. To me thou, Soweto (South Western Township) is nothing of the kind, only a pleasant place with lovely ppl.

Soweto was a product of segregationist planning and it was in 1903 that Kliptown was established, which is the oldest of a cluster of townships that constitute the present day’s Soweto. The township was deliberately placed away from the city center and for the purpose to house black laborers who worked in mines and other industries in the city. The constant problems of Soweto have, since its beginning, included poor housing, overcrowding, high unemployment and poor infrastructure. Due to this, the settlements of shacks – mostly used as homes – made of corrugated iron sheets have become a part of the Soweto landscape. Apartheid planning did not provide much in terms of infrastructure and it is only in recent years that the democratic government has organized to plant trees, tar roads and install electricity and running water to some parts of the township.

In despite of an unfortunate dealt hand I found that Soweto turned out to be the gateway back to the Africa I knew and adored. Once again I found myself surrounded by the rough cut edges which have turned out to be a common denominator all thru the continent, not to mention the pleasurable lack of other Mzungus – or as they call the whites in Soweto: Mulongu. To see a white person in Soweto is not completely uncommon (several come to see the famous places whilst being herded around by a specially trained tour guide), but to meet a Mulongu wandering around on her own, taking pictures, talking to ppl, jumping on and off local transport and eating the local food is highly unlikely. Never before have I seen so many confused and baffled looks on one of my many strolls around the streets of this unique place.

Never once did I feel uncomfortable, threatened or unnoticed for that matter, but quite the opposite. There were always someone to ask when I got confused and lost (happens quite often I can assure you) and not only did they give me an answer, but they went out of their way to make sure I found the place I was looking for which often meant taking a major detour to walk me there. One can’t expect to wander into a black area without drawing attention to oneself and when considering the history of the origin of Soweto one would assume, if not expect, the ppl to be somewhat hostile to whites, but on the contrary. The past was the past, they had moved on (as opposed to many Afrikaners which still seemed to believe that Soweto was filled nothing but criminals and filth) and welcomed rather than rejected and doubted my intentions. They answered my questions, welcomed me into their homes and treated me like a friend instead of an enemy. It was time for me to be baffled and positively surprised. Boy do we have a lot to learn from these ppl!

So let me state this once and for all, as is also expressed on the t-shirt I wear: Soweto rocks!

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Heart-hugging Cape Town

The last months I’ve been traveling through countries I knew little or nothing about, so entering South Africa I finally felt I bit more confident in my knowledge of what to expect. Boy was I wrong. Numerous times had I been told about the beauty the country possessed, but no one had apparently gone to the extent of really expressing the full diversity of its fluorescent splendor.

There was also another side to South Africa which I had not expected and which made me surprisingly uncomfortable. I still anticipated South Africa to be Africa in the way I had experienced it the last months. Again, it turned out I was completely off. It took me utterly by surprise how there were lanes, traffic lights, seatbelts, grocery stores and shopping malls, but more than anything the sight of white ppl startled me. For so long had I been the ‘only’ Mzungu around that I was taken aback by seeing others like me on a daily basis. Not only where there whites around, but ppl also dressed decently and the ‘typical’ African clothing was nowhere to be found. To put it simple: South Africa was westernized. This alone takes a serious toll on your credit card which has been deprived of shopping malls for too long and surely enough new items were added to the backpacker-wardrobe as most of my clothes were not suitable for civilization.

As the self-consciousness passed I started to enjoy the beautiful landscape. I’ve heard it be said that Cape Town will capture your heart and you might leave it behind when you leave. I also found this to be true as it is a beautiful city situated on the Atlantic coast and framed by Table Mountain with its occasional table cloth. On several occasions I positioned myself at a random table drinking delicious South African wine while gazing at this uniquely table shaped mountain which truly is one of nature’s special wonders.

Cape Town has so much to offer with a pulsating city center, white beaches, booming night life and exciting wildlife only a short drive away. You need never be bored as there is always something to do – if nothing else one can test out one of many interesting restaurants accompanied by local wine which never disappoints. I planned to spend a few days in the city and before I knew it a week had passed while I was doing nothing and everything.

I’m not a ‘city-person’, but not even I can deny that Cape Town – the rainbow city – is one city you don’t want to miss.

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Shark attack!

20 minutes of the coast of South Africa you’ll find one of the most mystical animals alive on planet earth today. We know very little about them as they are extremely reserved and do not survive in captivity, yet they are the most feared creature roaming the ocean: the great white shark.

I must have been struck with temporary insanity when I signed up to go cage-diving with the great white. It’s not one of the things I’ve been dreaming about doing, nor was seeing Mt Everest, but both incidents turned out to be some of the most adrenaline-rushing experiences I’ve ever had.

As we set anchor just off the coast we were informed that it would probably take up to two hours before the sharks got interested in us, which meant we had plenty of time to fight our way into the dry suits (a quick fun fact: the Atlantic off the coast of SA is warmer in the winter than in the summer). I had barely gotten my calves into it when we were told to get a move on because there were four sharks circling the boat. As soon as we were geared up we jumped into the cage which was lowered on the side of the boat. We got into our positions and got ready to dive on the command of the man who was luring the sharks to the cage with an enormous tuna-head attached to a rope. As soon as he yelled “SHARK!” we lowered ourselves into the cage (no scuba gear as it frightens the sharks), grabbed on to the rail to hold ourselves down and stuck our mask into the 20 cm gap which allowed us a better view of these supposedly dangerous creatures. And there is was, passing by the cage and giving it a little whip with its tale so the entire cage rattled. Needless to say we were all squealing like small kids at Christmas when we surfaced, barely reaching to catch a breath before we got the next dive command.

For about four hours straight we had sharks trying to get a quick snack from our boat and it was absolutely thrilling beyond description. In my final dive the unthinkable happened. A shark rose out of the ocean to grab the bait and as it dived back down, much thanks to gravity, it miscalculated its distance from the cage and managed to get its snout stuck in the 20 cm cage opening, which was the exact spot where my hands and face were curiously peeking out to get one last glimpse of this fascinating animal. The shark literally took my spot and I moved back as the shark’s snout stroked my hands as it poked its nose in and managed to give my thumb a small cut thanks to its teeth pointing in every direction. I screamed and pulled away more shocked than frightened, but as soon as I got some air I dived back down to witness some more of the action. It honestly looked like the shark itself was quite confused and he lingered for a few seconds before realizing that this was no place to be and moved away.

The ultimate shark experience worth every penny! Whenever I think about it the adrenaline starts rushing through my veins. If I had the opportunity to do it again I most definitely would in a heartbeat.

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Malawi: wood carvings, nsima and back problems

One of the highlights on my travels was Malawi and my expectations were high as we disembarked from the Ilala ferry and set foot in Nkhata Bay. We made our way to backpacker hub #1, Mayoka Village where we literally crashed on the couch as it was still the middle of the night. Mayoka is truly a pearl: awesome staff, perfect location, beautiful surroundings, thou pricy food and slippery, uneven stone stairs. Along the road towards the center of Nkhata Bay you pass numerous wood carving stalls with some of the most impressive art I’ve seen in Africa. They guys running these stalls are full-blown Rastafarians and know how to sweet-talk you into buying customized wood carvings that you of course don’t really need. I managed to fill up my backpack even further, decorate my wrist with some bracelets and party with some guys who go by names like Happy-Coconut, Lemon-Squeeze and Boobs, before I had an unpleasant encounter with these darned stairs which altered the rest of my travels.

Thanks to the rainy season the stairs were fairly slippery and I didn’t pay attention as I walked down from brushing my teeth the post-party morning. My foot slipped, my shoe flew off, and my legs straight into the air as my back took the fall all the way down the stairs. Out of breath, dizzy and in pain I tried to catch my bearings as I made my way to the dorm with the help of Ana, scared that I might faint and go tumbling down yet another set of stairs. After taking a breather I felt better and fit for fight and we decided to walk into town. Hours later thou the story was quite different as the pain had returned, shooting down my legs and up my spine and I had trouble walking.

Long story short, the following day I was transferred to the closest hospital in Mzuzu by an ambulance acquired from Lilongwe by the insurance company. The x-ray machine you wouldn’t find anywhere than in a museum in our part of the world, but it did its job and thankfully ruled out any fractions to my spine. Since the ambulance was returning to Lilongwe I decided to catch a ride with it towards the capitol as I wasn’t able to lift or let alone carry my backpack and had been ordered to stay in bed and rest for a while. Of course there turned out to be a fuel shortage in Malawi at the time being and there wasn’t any diesel available before the following day, which meant we had to spend the night in the ambulance.

Eventually we got to Lilongwe after looking for diesel for four hours and I got settled in at another backpacker place. The next day the crew from Mayoka Village arrived: Ana (Argentina), Chris (Wales), Phili (Zimbabwe), Camila (Argentina) and Robert (Sweden), which of course made being chained to a bed a lot more festive. Thou after some days of fun it was time for them to move on in every different direction possible and again I found myself alone on a bed with nothing but beer, peanut butter and my computer to entertain me. Thank goodness for internet, Skype, msn and good friends who made long hours shorter.

At this point my back was still not cooperating and I had to face the facts and cross Zambia and Zimbabwe off my list. Either I had to go home (as the insurance company wanted me to) or get my butt down to South Africa asap. Being bored, in pain and undecided in an unfamiliar place where I really didn’t want to be, did not provide the kind of rest desperately needed for my back to give me a break, so after a few more days of boredom I finally booked my ticket to what I hoped would do miracles for my back: South Africa.

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Starry starry night

The best night I’ve had on my travels so far (it’s going to be hard to beat) took place on the top deck of the Ilala ferry between Metangula, Mozambique and Nkhata Bay, Malawi.

After a delicious dinner with shima/nsima and fresh Lake Niassa/Malawi fish accompanied by some final drops of beer (unfortunately not Mozambican), Ana and I made our nest on the top deck to get some sleep. Our capulanas (the colorful fabric African women wrap around themselves for many purposes), blankets and whatever other soft garments we could use as a sheet, pillow or cover. The only thing above us: the sky and a million stars.

All over the top deck were ppl scattered randomly facing the sky, loosing oneself amongst the endless diamonds twinkling high up above. The rocking of the boat as it made its way across the lake almost made me feel like a child again, being rocked to sleep safe and warm in a mother’s arms. Accompanying the rocking was the constant sound from the old engine of the 61-year-old legendary Ilala ferry – constant, thou soothing. The night sky was as dark as coal and was only lit up by scattered thunder storms lurking along the shore in the east, west and south with lightning bolts being released as if they were playing monkey in the middle; the monkey being us.

We lay there on the Ilala ferry in complete silence and in slight disbelief of what we were experiencing. The peacefulness and beauty of our surroundings and the content of it all seemed overwhelming. The amount of stars above us was unbelievable and we even saw a few shooting stars which of course granted us a few wishes. But there was one star which I’m certain both Ana and I will remember for a very long time. It originated in the far south-west of the sky and shot across to the north-east. The entire sky lit up and we both gasped due to astonishment and of the beauty of this phenomenon. It faded and left us dazed, breathless and covered in goose bumps.

It only lasted for a few seconds, but the feeling and memory will last much longer.

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The train: a shopping center on wheels

On a train – especially Mozambican ones – activities to avoid boredom are quite limited. So after giving up trying to get some sleep, when reading and watching the scenery got quite monotonous, I turned to my other favorite activity: watching ppl. There were constantly ppl walking up and down the aisle, passing from cart to cart. Most of these ppl were trying to make a living by covering whatever practical need you might have on or off the train. There seemed to be no limitation to what these guys (mostly) were selling, and after being fascinated by them for a while I started making a list over what could be bought on the train from Nampula to Cuamba.

Hungry or thirsty?
Soda, cookies, water, juice, bread, pastry.

Something for the wardrobe perhaps?
Shoes, belt, watch, wallet, cloth (used by women as skirts, to strap their kids on their back or to carry things in), socks, sunglasses, caps, backpack.

To prevent boredom?
Radio, drumming monkey toy, CD, DVD, cell phone.

Everyday practicalities?
Light bulb, BBQ set, knives, plastic bag, dish cloth, pegs, safety pins, toothpicks, flashlight, storage boxes, pens, drawing books, notebook, cords, key chain, pencil sharpener.

Toiletries?
Angola toothpaste, soap, nail polish, perfume, razor.

One of the most interesting things I noticed, which really shouldn’t surprise me anymore, was how most of these items also had a version with Obama featured on it. My all time favorite is still the Obama boxer shorts.

Whatever you can’t buy on the train, you can buy by dangling out of the windows at the “stations” purchasing everything from live chickens to fruits and vegetables to not so alive chickens.

What can I say? TIA!

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