When I was in Africa, a long time ago, when I was 18 years old, my life changed. Probably for the better. I was eager for adventure and to nose my way out of the safety and comfort of home. Home being a little village in Somerset full of ponies, A levels and soon, boys. It was time to leave and Africa seemed as good a place as any.
I left with a rucksack and joined a truck, travelled, camped and cooked by fire every night for about 7 months, maybe longer. I didn't have a hot shower for the whole of this journey. Communication was by poste restante. My mum and friends would write me a letter to a far-off sounding place, say Dar Es Salaam or Tamanrasset, and when I eventually arrived at the destination I would present my passport at the post office and pick up the letter. Letters from Africa sometimes got home, sometimes did not.
I had a hammam in Morocco, semi-naked, with the normally hidden women. Crossed the Sahara and rode camels with the Tauregs, caught diseases, ate awful food, saw poverty unknown and bewildering. I went to Rwanda before the genocide and was scared. Zaire even more frightening with naivety being a friend in the heart of darkness. We stumbled upon elephants at night, frozen to the spot in awe of the hulk at the end of the torch light - to run or keep still? We ran. You are supposed to keep still. We swam in turquoise oceans, discovered shells as big as your head in Zanzibar. I got mugged, robbed and ripped off, a number of times. We spoke to the people, sometimes being squashed in so tightly on public transport for hours and hours on end, with chickens, silently content babies and the hopeful tunes of Kanda Bongo Man. We were invited into homes and swapped addresses with people of my age, fascinated with each others lives.
Why am I telling you this? Because I am going to Africa again. I am going in November to see my best friend who lives in Nairobi. And although I certainly will be having a hot shower on this journey, maybe twice a day, I am curious to see if I will see Africa through the same eyes.
I was going to change the world at 18, and now I am just a part of it.