Turtle Poem

 

01 First steps into the unknown

First steps into the unknown,

 

02 Walk together

walk together,

 

03 Walk alone

walk alone.

 

04 It's a long road and we stray

It’s a long road and we stray,

 

05 And many times we wonder

many times we wonder,

 

06 Which way

which way.

 

07 Crossing hurdles and hills

Crossing hurdles and hills,

 

08 Its daunting

it’s daunting,

 

09 But daunting also thrills

but daunting also thrills.

 

10 So embrace the crazy ride

So we learn to embrace the crazy ride,

 

11 The magnificent unpredictability of life

the magnificent unpredictability of life,

 

12 And surf the tide

and surf its tide.

 

27375 days on earth. But how to spend them?

“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man [woman] is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” – Jack London

IMG_0876I recently headed to the USA and came across this quote during my travels. I embraced it as a kind of guiding wisdom for two reasons. Firstly, I was stepping outside my comfort zone and entering the world of electric motorcycles in the hope of building a series of youtube clips about an incredible friend, Terry Hershner. Our journeys would involve dashing all over California on his motorcycle for a two-month period of filming. I felt this bold wisdom might help inspire.

Secondly, this wisdom challenges my views on how to build a happy life. As I’ve grown older, I’ve consciously slowed down and focused less on bold achievement and more on simply feeling content. I’ve worked at appreciating beauty in every moment, even the most simple, most mundane. I’ve focused more on yoga, meditation and eating well. My morning rituals have involved walks, pilates, coffee and quality time with my retired dad. Unlike my dad, however, I am not retired. I am young, I’m full of energy and there is much I have yet to give. So I starting wondering…  Had I prematurely become a ‘sleepy planet’? Do I really live or do I just exist?

To all my friends in the Southern Hemisphere, Terry needs an introduction. Terry Hershner is an extreme motorcycling adventurist who knows more about electric vehicles, battery technology and charging infrastructure in the United States than just about anyone on the planet. Given the urgent need to move away from our gas guzzling, fossil fuel dependent ways, he’s knowledgeable about some pretty critical stuff. He’s gained this knowledge over decades of pushing the extreme limits, both in terms of his own capabilities and the technology he’s working to develop and promote. Oh, and he has the most ridiculously bad ass electric motorcycle you’ve ever seen.IMG_1034

Terry doesn’t love electric vehicles; he is obsessed with them. When he wakes, his electric motorcycle is the first thing on his mind. His nightly dreams are full of ideas on how to improve the efficiency of his motorcycle, the new world records he is yet to claim and who he might work with to achieve his great ambitions (which are, you know, just the small things like ridding the earth of its addiction to oil before it’s all gone and combating climate change). For Terry, brilliant ideas spring forward as if they were transmitted to him overnight by some sort of celestial sleep being.

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Terry is to me like London’s proverbial meteor in magnificent glow, acutely aware of his own impermanence and in his burning desire to make a difference, destined for that brilliant blaze. Emboldened by Jack London, I found myself swept up by the urgency of his Terry’s ‘earthly assignment’. I found myself desperately craving to be more, live more, do more. I felt the anxiety of wasting my own life because of indecision or laziness or what felt like a lame preference for comfort over challenge. When in the company of Terry, I would – like Jack London – launch myself out into the unknown because I too would rather be ashes than dust! I would see the immeasurable richness of life pulsating with endless energy, I felt boundlessly wild and I could not but want to taste and feel everything.

So during my two months in America, and in the true spirit of Jack London, I surrendered my usual preference for yoga and meditation and became like Indiana Jones,  scurrying around as if the earth was about to melt and there was not a second to lose. We rushed from one electric vehicle event to another. I traversed California with him, helping film and document his journeys, his frustrations, his challenges in pushing boundaries, I met other incredible electric vehicle pioneers and I felt as though I travelled more, saw more, met more, tasted more, argued more, cried more and laughed more in a two-month span than most people do in a lifetime. Seriously. IMG_0975

Two months passed quickly and I left America feeling mentally exhausted, in desperate need for a meditation retreat, intensive daily yoga and the serenity of existing like an old sleepy planet. I left craving numbness and anonymity. I left feeling utterly exhausted, derailed of my focus and a bit scattered in my goals. And so I left for a little holiday. Now as I write, I’m facing backward on the Eurostar train in Spain, so that the coastal scenery flows calmly past me. This calmness could not be in sharper contrast to the days I spent squeezed into the back of Terry’s motorcycle, exposed to all the elements as we dashed about at stupid speeds through California’s mountain ranges.IMG_0312

I’m completely comfortable now and perhaps I instinctively prefer my sleepy Spanish carriage to the utterly exhausting journeys across California with extreme adventurist Terry.  But the funny thing is, while I left feeling exhausted and scattered, these two months were also ridiculously joyous. I loved learning about electric motorcycles. I loved meeting other pioneers in the field and I loved exploring new lands. In retrospect, I even loved the moments that were physically or emotionally hard. These moments brought a different kind of happiness, the kind of temporarily euphoric happiness that comes from doing something you didn’t ever imagine you would, or could. It’s the happiness that comes from feeling truly alive, even if momentarily it hurts. I miss California, I miss all the talk about electric motorcycles I became a part of and most of all, I miss Terry and his bold, irrepressible spirit.

So, Jack London: to live life as a superb meteor or to live life as a sleepy planet? You were neither right nor wrong, for it cannot – at least for me – be one or the other. What I’ve learnt from this experience is that in my own life, I absolutely must have both.

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Glimpses

Being far away from family and friends is hard. Particularly hard is the fact that many can’t relate to the life that you live, despite long emails, phone calls and endless Skype sessions. So I wanted to show them instead, show you, what life is like in this beautiful part of the world.

Very timely, I found this app that pastes together video clips, one second per day (if you remember to take one clip each day that is). Below is the result and glimpses of my life in March and April, until I slowly but surely started to forget taking videos.  You will see some Rwanda, South Africa, Burundi and Uganda, and although that sounds a bit wild for “every day life” during only two months, that’s exactly what those two months offered. Many of the best moments were of course not captured on film, but on the other hand, this app allows you to appreciate the small moments, the ones likely to be forgotten – a drive, a dog, an afternoon by a lake.

I hope you see this and make one of your own – what a fantastic way to share life with those who are far away.

Bali

So I went to Bali and I thought I would come back all Eat, Pray, Love and tell everyone something massively insightful. Well, I went, I laid on the beach, toured around the island, met an adorable surfer, and relaxed. It was amazing; I even tanned.

I did come away with one bit of life advice for everyone, especially women: take a damn vacation.

Most of us, especially the women I know, spend our lives getting so wrapped up in our own thoughts, trying to be better, trying to accomplish more, that we get pretty much nowhere. Then we somehow think that if we do something for ourselves, we are being selfish and we feel guilty. I find this especially true for mothers and people who work in my field (human rights, development, etc).

Taking a break allows you to recharge so that you can better accomplish what you set out to. If you let yourself burn out, you are no good to anyone. So, go to Bali everyone.

That’s all I got.

Abandoned Places

I always thought there was something so fascinating about abandoned places.  Partly because I love photography and they make for the most extraordinary motifs, but mostly because of their haunting, inherent sadness – they once carried such great potential, they were the objects of expectations, hopes and desires to achieve something unique. Now, they might look like nothing to the bypasser. They might look like dirt and trash, unworthy of our attention. But I would like to argue that there is rare beauty in the sadness they bear, and there is always a concealed story of hope, often unknown to the world around.

There is one such place in Kigali, Rwanda. In the middle of the city, there is a small lake surrounded by an array of green vegetation, and somewhere in there, you can find an abandoned amusement park. The story goes – as recollected from various sources and rumours – that a woman brought over the rides and statues from China approximately 10 years ago, but was then unable to get the park approved and opened. The result is  a wonderfully bizarre and unique abandoned place in the very heart of Kigali. You can literally walk past it on the street, not knowing that what hides behind the greenery a few meters below in the valley.

If you ever come here, I will show you were it is. In the meantime, please do enjoy these photos. I hope you find them weird, ugly, beautiful, sad, mysterious, bizarre, random, terrible, fun, intriguing, unnerving  – anything but nothing.

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Thoughts on Nomadic Friendship III

I’m drinking a glass of wine. I’m in bed. I’m in Santa Cruz, California and I’m alone. I’m here for two months working on a film project. After this, it’s off to Spain for a wedding and then Bangkok to see friends. And after that? Not a clue. This really is, as Michaelle says, a nomadic existence and while the idea of living without a permanent address is not for everyone – my mother is a prime example – the experience of living a modern day nomadic lifestyle can also be extremely rewarding. Continue reading

An East Africa Road Trip

Tuesday night. After a long day at work I’ve taken some time in front of my laptop, with a glass of wine and some cheese from a recent trip to Cape Town, to reflect on the past weekend.

It was a three day long Easter break and I had planned to relax and do some work. After a long sleep in on Friday I woke up to find my housemate preparing for a trip to the Congolese border, with the hope of crossing over to DRC. Debating whether or not to join, I was finally too overwhelmed by the prospect of making it the to the mysterious DRC and about 20 minutes before it was time to leave, I packed my passport and my dollars and I was ready.

Now, you can’t really just cross over to DRC just like that. If you’re a resident in Rwanda you can apply for a visa at the Congolese embassy in Kigali (which one of us was, but being so spontaneous, there was no time to sort one out). If you’re, like me, on a tourist visa, then you have to get your Congolese visa in your home country. Either way, it’s 150 USD to visit this exotic country.

BUT. This is Africa and in Africa normal rules don’t really apply. So with that in mind, a Brit, a Kenyan, a Rwandan and a Swede drove down through the stunning Nyungwe Forest to Cyangugu, neatly located by lake Kivu, overlooking Bukavu in the DR of C.

With all this build up, surely we made it right? Actually no, the Brit and the Kenyan, with their awesome bullshitting skills, were sent off to test the terrain and were offered an “emergency visa” for 300 USD. When they didn’t accept this kind offer, they were escorted back to the Rwandan side. That night, we stayed in Cyangugu and had dinner and drinks by the lake with one of the most stunning views I’ve experienced in Rwanda so far. Waking up to it wasn’t half bad either, the fishermen in their small, wooden boats, singing away, the sun shining on Bukavu, the mountains of DRC and the small, lush islands in the lake. Apparently, if you get too far out on the lake, you will be shouted at and eventually shot (no news there, this happens on the Mekong too).

Slightly disappointed, we drove down to Burundi and Bujumbura instead. Only 40 USD and no hassle. Well, that’s not true. We got our exit stamps and Burundian entry stamps, just to be informed that there then was nowhere to buy car insurance at the border. No worries, said the immigration guys. Just head back into Rwanda and sort it out. So, we went back to the small town, tried to find the insurance company, found the shop closed as it was Easter Sunday, called someone, played some pool and had some beers at a bar while waiting. For some reason, it felt like the opportunity should have been seized to just disappear into no man’s land, but, we nicely returned to the border with our car insurance and none the wiser.

In Bujumbura we ended up having drinks by beautiful lake Tanganyika, which shared borders with DRC, Tanzania and Zambia and is populated with hippos and crocodiles. Had dinner overlooking the city lights, celebrated a birthday with some shots and finally went dancing until 4.30. I vaguely remember harassing the DJ for random song requests and dancing like there was no tomorrow in clubs I probably would have been scared to enter had I not been very, ehum, happy. There was bunch of guys there who were the most awesome dancers (I mean rolling around on the floor kind of good) and me, being Muzungo and all, not having any problems making one of these guys my dancing partner. There is no video footage and for that I’m glad.

There is no real point to this story I suppose. Except for the fact that these random, unplanned events often end up being your most treasured memories. I’m glad I decided to go, despite only being able to admire DRC from afar, and I thank my fellow partners in crime for an awesome weekend full of laughs.