Kathleen tells...

Our preparations

'Nina mpango' means 'I have a plan' in Swahili. How do I know that? Because I've been studying this language for months, and in particular, listing all the words that seem useful to me for our adventure. I now know that, 'hasira mbwa' means ‘angry dog’. Such a mutt will always target my ankles. 'Nina njaa' means 'I am hungry' and with 'asante' I say 'thank you'. While I’m learning the language, Paul tries to remember the names of footballers. Five years ago, on our cycling trip to Singapore, he discovered that his knowledge of footballers often takes us further than our knowledge of the local language. One mention of a football legend can make us friends in no time with local officials, shopkeepers or customs officers.


Nevertheless, I stick to my study of Swahili. Some people claim that anyone who travels to Africa shouldn’t have a plan, as it won't help you in a tight spot anyway. I don't believe that because the phrase 'Nina mpango' exists in this African language spoken by 150 million people. Surely there will be someone there who knows what it feels like to have a plan?


That’s why I’m preparing for our journey; the route; the people we want to visit; the length of the journey; the history and the political situation of the countries on our route. Maybe it will all be different on the way than expected, but regardless of that, planning is very satisfying. Planning is good. It’s as though I’ve already begun to say my farewells and I can taste the atmosphere; provoking many different feelings, dreams and fantasies as the excitement builds. By the way, you must first have a plan before it can fail!



As a teenager, I often sought salvation in preparation during my exams. I spent hours drawing out a study plan with a ruler and pencil. I drew straight horizontal and vertical lines on a blank sheet of paper and each compartment was coloured. Blue for the main subjects, green for the minor subjects, yellow for the break time and purple for the reserve time. If I over shot a line with my pencil or made a written error, this was reason enough to redraw the entire scheme. A perfect study plan guaranteed a perfect knowledge of the subject matter. It never occurred to me that not drawing study schedules, but actually studying could also contribute to this end.


In the same (call it obsessive) way, I bend over the African road map. The more often I unfold it, the less likely it feels that we will encounter any inconveniences along the way. The more beautiful the website, the smoother the trip will be. The longer I stare at the empty space of the Sudanese desert, the greater the chance that there will be waiting posts with water supplies within cycling distance, even though they are not indicated on our map! 


We don't limit ourselves to studying and research. We visit the African study centre of Leiden University; exchange knowledge and contacts and three hours later we are members of the African Community. A community of about 800 researchers, journalists, artists, writers and more. We go to the annual Africa Day in Amsterdam, put our shyness aside and approach African speakers, who have flown in from Uganda and Malawi especially for this day.




Then there are the books. I devour reading material and travel reports of cyclists who have preceded us. Of course, I make choices, and the disaster stories remain firmly on the shelves of the library. Stories of cyclists who look back enthusiastically on their adventure get my full attention. Paul also reads a book. One book, ‘The SAS Survival Manual’! How do you survive in the wild, on land, at sea and in the city?  


With every hour of preparation, I pack metaphorical safety nets inside my suitcase. Maybe I can fall back on them when we need them the most. Maybe not, but a person has to make some positive use of their time in anticipation of their departure. So, in earnest, I pick up the Swahili study book again and I put the list of words I have already collected down in front of me. Once again, I look for new useful concepts. At the bottom of the left column I write the word 'Saidia' with a blue pen. In the right column the meaning of the word appears at the same level and reads, 'Help’! I give a nod of satisfaction!