Kathleen tells...


Corona in Namibia


And then the consequences of the Corona story also reached us in Africa... We are three days away from the border with South Africa, when a car stops next to us in the desert. "Where are you going?” We tell them that we are cycling towards South Africa. "But they closed all the borders last night, so you won't get in there.”


Confused by this message, we ask more information at the manager of the guestfarm where we're camping that night. He informs us of the latest information. Apparently we will have to stay in Namibia indefinitely. The Namibian government follows the example of many other countries and decides to lock down: all schools and restaurants are closed, the busy church services and many other meetings are cancelled, no more air traffic, and an urgent appeal to stay inside. Hotels and campsites send their staff home and close the doors. Every effort is made to keep people at home as much as possible to contain the spread of the dreaded virus.

These decisions make further cycling virtually impossible. We can't get out of the country, we can only camp wild and our main sources of drinking water - the guest farms and lodges - are closed. After some deliberation we ourselves think it's not responsible to cycle any further. When the Namibian government wants to protect its people by letting them be at home, we don't want to be the ones who wander further around with our freebooting behaviour and if possible spread the virus among the local population. So we consider to help a farmer on his land for a while and wait for the wind to turn. 

Because our story on this fascinating continent is far from over. The African roads still attract us too much.


But then in no time there are disturbing reports on the whatsapp group of world cyclists, of which we are members. Cyclists, who cycle through Africa, just like us. In East-Africa cyclists get into trouble along the way. The mildest forms are remarks in the form of 'Hi corona, where are you going?'. But in some countries people start avoiding cyclists as pariahs, or blaming them: 'You're bringing corona into our country!'. Social unrest is rising, and as a cyclist you are dependent on the goodwill of the locals. Also the authorities keep extra checks constantly, with Europeans, Americans and Chinese being picked out. One world cyclist after the other indicates to return home as soon as possible, 'while it's still possible'.


Suddenly it's the upside-down world. Where Africans are often not welcome in Europe and other continents, Europeans and other whites are suddenly no longer wanted in Africa. Where until recently you could arrange almost anything with a credit card, that same credit card suddenly seems to be worthless. We are told that the private hospital of Windhoek keeps the doors closed for Westerners who show flu symptoms.


The doubt strikes. Are we sober if we stay here? Or are we naive? And where's the line between the two? We decide to ask the Belgian and Dutch consul for advice. The Belgian consulate gives no sign of life. The Dutch consul is clear: "Return home immediately! On Sunday and Thursday, KLM's last two emergency flights will go to Windhoek,' he says, 'planes that the Namibian government has allowed to come empty to pick up people. Afterwards, return home is impossible for unclear times'. Meanwhile, more and more disturbing stories of experiences of other world cyclists come to us through the whatsapp group. We realize that we too have to bow our heads to reality. 

In the evening in the tent, in the middle of the desert, we look at the starry sky together and listen to the silence. I cry salty tears. Saying goodbye to this place feels like saying goodbye to a natural form of life, and voluntarily returning to a complex, and for me sometimes claustrophobic, society, where these starry skies, vistas and silence cannot be found. Returning frightens me. I am afraid of the alienation, which - if I am not careful - will eventually alienate me from myself as well. I am afraid of the many people, of the concrete and the air pollution, of the hustle and bustle, the noise of the absence of breathing space, afraid that I will die a little at home again and that the 

life-energy, which can flow freely here on a bicycle, will be tied up. Afraid that I will trade the openness I feel here for a more closed attitude. I know that here in the tent I give in to a romantic mood and see things too black and white. I love my homecountry very much as well. But for a moment I may mourn and let my body speak freely. Soon our common sense will have to take the lead.


The return

After a 700 km lift with a Namibian farmer and a Namibian family, we arrive at Windhoek airport at 5.30h in the morning, without tickets. A large group of Germans, Belgians, Swiss, French and others are waiting with us, hoping to fly with KLM. The Dutch consul speaks to us in person and then negotiates with KLM. Three exciting hours later he comes back. Paul and I can join the emergency flight. We get the strong impression that we have the right passport. Paul at least. Although we are on number 11 and 12 on the waiting list of people without a ticket who want to return home, we are called second and third. The Dutch consul has arranged these emergency flight with KLM and his main interest is to get the Dutch people home. As a Belgian I sail along on the waves of the Dutch consulate, because I am the partner of a Dutchman. I leave with mixed feelings. Grateful that - now that the decision has been made - we can get home safely. And burdened, because many other people do not have this choice of returning home for the time being. When I walk to the gate together with Paul, I feel the eyes of the 'stragglers' burning in my back.



I am in The Hague in the garden of Paul's brother, who is so hospitable to give us shelter for the first period. The spring sun is doing its job. The Magnolia in the corner of the garden is in full bloom. My thoughts go to Namibia, and to the other African countries where we cycled through. I liked being there, in that distant continent. I loved the people, and I hope from the bottom of my heart that Africa will be spared from this pandemic. The continent already has so much to endure, and is working very hard to conquer its place in the world. The optimism and potential are great, so is the decisiveness, the generosity, the simplicity, the gentleness...


I'm mourning the sudden departure over there. At the same time the sobriety has grown again and we are especially grateful: grateful that we were able to cycle around for 8 wonderful months, grateful that we arrived safely in the Netherlands with our dear friends and family members, grateful that those friends and family offer us shelter and the chance to land in our own environment again, grateful that the Netherlands took the care for its citizens to heart and brought us home. We also realize that we are one of the millions who bear the disruptive consequences of this corona story, and that as travelers we find ourselves in a luxury position.


As I walk down the street here in The Hague, I also slowly come to realize that at home we have ended up in a story we missed the beginning of. Belgium, the Netherlands and many other countries have been under the spell of the Corona virus for weeks now, with the tension, creativity, ingenuity and solidarity that goes with it. There is hard work here, by everyone, with man and power and each in his own way. And we suddenly fall into this story, not knowing how and what. It feels awkward. 


‘Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you have to keep moving.' says Albert Einstein. I realize that a new chapter of our journey has arrived, the chapter of 'coming home'. And as is often said, that chapter is often even more challenging than 'leaving'.  We let go of our journey through Africa little by little and try to focus on the time ahead, fantasizing about creative forms in which we can incorporate all the African inspiration. We make plans about how our experiences can continue to live here at home, and how we can reconnect with our fellow human beings here. In short, how, after a period of 'withdrawal' in that distant continent, we can be involved in our own society again and make our contribution.

We are confident that things will work out, here in the Netherlands, and soon, when the borders are open again, in Belgium as well. As long as we keep moving - literally and figuratively.


See you soon...