BEST TRAVEL STORIES:- Traveling in Africa Back in the Mid 1990s with Angus Begg
Words and Story By Angus Begg
I ‘found’ travel while covering the Somalia conflict and famine of 1992 (if you’re too young, google the movie ‘Black Hawk Down’).
The SABC – governed by executives with no attachment to Africa – didn’t think it was a story. Think Band-Aid, George Michael, Bob Geldof and all of the global efforts at the time. I was a producer/presenter on a prog called Radio Today / AM Live – and I had an itch to cover this story.
So I took leave. I hitched a lift to Mombasa with World Leisure holidays (I think Bruce Hutchinson was his name?), from where I made my way to Nairobi. Here, my mentor, Mo Amin gave me the lowdown on covering conflict in East Africa. I had contact with many non-governmental agencies, like the World Food Programme, and arranged to get a lift with one of their flights delivering food into Somalia. For a young journo from Rhodes Uni, the only South African journalist officially covering the story (bar maybe a couple with foreign agencies) this was beyond exciting.
The flight was departing Wilson Airport, where the light aircraft servicing lodges in the Mara operates from. It was very early, before Nairobi’s busy streets clog up and the smog hovers above the traffic.
The plane I boarded was an ancient, rusted Soviet-era Tupolev or Antonov. The Berlin Wall had fallen three years previous, and the Soviet bloc had disintegrated. Planes and people were taking work anywhere. There were just two pilots and me. They were Russian, didn’t speak English, and the only Russian I knew was ‘da’.
They wore 1970s tracksuit pants with twin stripes down the side and loops around the ankles. With nods and gestures that wouldn’t be out of place in a game of charades,, after we had clanked, creaked and bumped down the runway, the co-pilot offered me an interesting tea out of a thermos.
Which was almost the first thing I saw after we landed on the sand in a place called Jalalaxi. An American nurse working for Save The Children Fund offered me a cold cardamom tea – from a flask. I can still taste it on a February-hot Cape Town city bowl day.
The refugee camp they were ‘feeding’ was roamed by young men with machine guns their own size, and teeth stained by khat, the natural narcotic chewed by many Somalis. Many of the young girls boasted facial bone structure that resembled their compatriot, supermodel Iman.
If this was travel I liked it.
Back in Kenya, beyond the special report news documentary I was producing, I had to work off my flight to Mombasa.
I had to produce articles and radio documentaries on two Lonhro properties – Mount Kenya Safari Club and the Masai Mara safari club. I met my first Masai, saw my first dik-dik and gerenuk antelope, flew in a balloon over the Mara river with a Texan pilot, and slept in a massive bed in a massive room where President Klerk and Emperor Hailie Selassie had laid their heads many years before. Mt Kenya filled my window while my first butler set the fireplace.
The same train of events happened during and after the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The movement and interaction of people, displays of humanity and cruelty, photographic opportunities when my battery ran out between nowhere and somewhere…it was intense travel.
It was followed by a security conference in Arusha, a town where I found a cemetery full of Afrikaner graves from 100 years previous. And I found Tarangire game reserve. I was addicted to the life that travel revealed.
This was my story of travel, the movement from A to B – and what was found, who was met, at both sides. It was not just about cocktails and sunsets, lion kills and river-rafting. Travel was and is those and everything in-between – they were just parts of the whole picture.
Curious, interested tourists like to hear those parts.
We have all those stories here in South, southern and East Africa, however small and insignificant we think they may be. They reveal us, our humanity, our country.
When the fog of virus lifts, the world of travel has to use those stories, use what its people know, to preserve the jobs of millions who work in the industry.
#tourisminmyblood #storytelling #privateguide #traveljournalism #TogetherInTravel #storytellingthe only South African
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