Tag Archives: Africa

No Fixed Abode: 18 Months Living Out Of A Suitcase

Soaking up the sun in Andalucia

Soaking up the sun in Andalucia, southern Spain

As many of you know, in March 2013 I left Melbourne – quit my job and my rented apartment, sold all my stuff including my car and beloved Suzuki motorbike – and, with no “Grand Plan” or itinerary in mind, threw myself, for better or worse, into the big wide world. Armed with a suitcase and some savings, my self-appointed remit was simply “to live a little”. Eighteen months on, I’m sitting here in a little cafe on the sunny Andalucian coast, sipping an Americano and looking back on what a year and a half it’s been.

Gorgeous Granada

Gorgeous Granada

I kicked things off last year with a couple of months in beautiful Granada, soaking up its gorgeous Moorish architecture and ambience, indulging in tapas and southern Spanish wines, and generally living la vida loca for a bit. All very nice – but soon I was itching to DO something and, after heading to London in the hope of scoring some casual work with a charity such as UNICEF, I found just the challenge I’d been looking for…

Getting to grips with a Ugandan boda boda!

Getting to grips with a Ugandan boda boda!

Bring on 4 months in the farthest reaches of Uganda and Rwanda, near the border with the Congo, working with a small British NGO to set up a community film initiative for local people, teaching them video skills to enable them to tell their own stories about their lives, culture and key issues like health and education. I was plunged into a surreal and challenging life in a remote town with no running water or electricity. I filmed with a local pygmy tribe, had a heap of adventures involving 125cc Chinese motorbikes and some of the roughest terrain I’ve ever been on, and helped pioneer “pedal power cinema” (screening films in remote areas where, in the absence of electricity, you use a common or garden pushbike attached to a dynamo to generate power to run a DVD player!). Not to mention spending time with gorillas…

With the Comic Relief crew in Ghana

With the Comic Relief crew in Ghana

Coming back into “civilisation” after all that made me all the more appreciative of the simple things in life (light switches, showers, internet, Suzuki motorbikes…) and Christmas back in Granada saw me making the most of all these things and more! Early in the New Year, I landed some freelance work at Comic Relief‘s London HQ – and barely a week into the job, they posted me out to Ghana to oversee some vloggers making YouTube films about some of the charities Comic Relief funds in the capital, Accra, and in remote Tamale, near the Guinea border. I was the proverbial “pig in shit”, loving being back in Africa so soon and enjoying, once again, being able to act as a mentor, this time to two young film-makers.

Standing simultaneously in 4 states - Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona!

Standing simultaneously in 4 states – Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona!

After some work on the Sport Relief 2014 campaign and a few months overseeing, amongst other things, a documentary about the Street Child World Cup, shot in Brazil, India and Tanzania, it was time to hit the road again – this time in the good old US of A, yeeha! I’d been invited to be a presenter at the Overland Expo in Arizona, speaking about my Uganda/Rwanda Film Adventure, and decided to combine this with a road trip through some of the surrounding states for a few weeks. After a great time catching up with fellow travellers at the Expo, I spent some time hiking through the mighty Grand Canyon before hitting the road to travel through Utah, Colorado and New Mexico and some of the most memorable and challenging scenery I’ve ever encountered.

On location with the Zambian TV crew

On location with the Zambian TV crew

All too soon, my money was starting to run out again and it was time to look for some more work. Back in London, though, work was proving pretty tough to find – until yet again, the travel gods smiled, and a contact at the BBC emailed me about an opportunity to consultant produce on a series of documentaries being made in Zambia. Again, this was an offer too good to miss –  I found myself winging my way to Lusaka for a few weeks to work with a local Zambian documentary team on a UK Aid/DFID-funded film. It was very challenging work but after delivering a first film that “exceeded expectations”, they asked me back to oversee a second documentary – so back I went to Zambia!

Jeanie at Grand Canyon 2013

There’s adventure out there somewhere…

All of which brings things pretty much up to date and finds me here in Spain, sitting by the Mediterranean Sea, contemplating what’s going to happen next. Looking back on the last year and a half, it’s been a roller-coaster of unforeseen opportunities and adventures that I could not have imagined before leaving Australia last March. I won’t lie, though – as a wise man (or woman?!) once said, “you can’t have the ups without the downs”: there have been more than a few hairy moments when I’ve had to stretch my money to the max and tighten the old belt considerably to make ends meet. Plus, living out of a suitcase as I have been – staying with friends, in cheap B&Bs, remote African village with no amenities (!), calling home “wherever I lay my hat” – is not always as glamorous and fancy-free as it sounds: sometimes you just want to be “home” somewhere, surrounded by all your own “stuff” again. But as all you long-term travellers out there well know, once you get a taste for “life on the road” – the freedom, the feeling of being truly “alive”, the chance that there’ll be another adventure just round the next corner – it’s pretty addictive.

So what next? Well, like I said at the beginning, there’s no itinerary and no “Grand Plan.” The next chapter is, quite literally, waiting to be written. What I can say is that it will take just one phone call, one chance email, or one random encounter, to set me on the road to the next adventure. Can’t wait to see how it’s gonna turn out…! 🙂

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News: Presenting at Overland Expo 2014

Commandeering a boda boda in Uganda

Commandeering a boda boda in Southwest Uganda

I’m excited to announce that I’m going to be a Presenter at this year’s Overland Expo in Flagstaff, Arizona, 16th-18th May 2014.

As many of you know, I was there last year manning the Charley Boorman stand with my friend Billy Ward. I had a great time meeting lots of fellow overlanders, adventure motorcyclists and 4×4 enthusiasts, and really loved the adventurous spirit and camaraderie that filled the air over those three days at Mormon Lake, about 2 hours’ ride from Phoenix.

This time round, I’ll be doing a one-hour session about my recent three-month African Film Adventure in southwest Uganda, down by the border with the Congo and Rwanda. I’ll be showing some clips and photos from the trip, talking about some of the challenges of travelling and filming in this remote part of Africa, and fielding questions about how to combine overlanding adventures with volunteering. 

I’m a big advocate of doing good while travelling and have done a number of trips now which have combined adventure with “giving something back”, including my big Sahara trek with UNICEF Ambassador Russ Malkin in 2010. This year I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Africa (most recently Ghana) as a Journalist with Comic Relief to film and report on the many charity projects that are being funded by them there.

Exploring the Grand Canyon after the 2013 Overland Expo

Exploring the Grand Canyon after the 2013 Overland Expo

I’m really looking forward to sharing my experiences with the OX14 audience, not to mention hearing about everyone else’s adventures. It will be great to be back at the Expo, which is now one of the biggest overlanding/adventure events of the year. I can’t wait to be back in Arizona – last time, I borrowed a motorbike and toured Route 66 and the Grand Canyon; this time, well, let’s just say I’m going to be having another good look around!

Details about session times and venue for my talk at OX14 are still being firmed up by the organisers, but keep an eye on the Overland Expo website: http://www.overlandexpo.com. Hope to see you there!

Three Days In Ghana

A backstreet in a Greater Accra suburb, Ghana

A backstreet in a suburb of Accra, capital of Ghana

Barely two weeks after starting work with Comic Relief, I was last week sent on my first overseas assignment – to Ghana! As a Journalist on the Editorial desk, I was asked to go out as part of a small Comic Relief media team to help two You Tube vloggers, Lily Martin and Anna Gardner, make short films about some of our projects for International Women’s Day on 8th March.

With just two days of prep time, I suddenly found myself skidding onto a BA flight to Accra. Within 7 hours, I’d left the cold and rain of London behind and was back in tropical sunshiney Africa.

The Comic Relief Team: (L to R) Anna (You Tuber), Jeanie, Lucy (agent), Nathan (fixer), Lucy (Media Officer), Lily (You Tuber), Abudulai (fixer)

Jeanie (second from left) with the Comic Relief team in Ghana

And so began a whirlwind trip through Ghana. First up, we jumped on a plane to Tamale, about 600kms north of Accra, then took a two-hour drive through arid, flat savannah to Bolgatanga, about an hour from the Burkina Faso border.

There, in a small dusty village, we met a wonderful group of women benefitting from a Widows and Orphans Movement project funded by Comic Relief. They’ve been given the chance to own micro-businesses making and selling shea butter – an opportunity which has taken them out of poverty and enabled them to become self-sufficient so they can support their kids. These women have lived unimaginably hard lives in rural Ghana but their new opportunities have definitely given them something to smile about! It made me smile too.

Then we headed back to Accra and drove (on one of the bumpiest roads I’ve ever travelled on!) to the outer suburbs, a beautiful region of tropical impossibly-green forests – what a contrast to the arid north! There we met women who’d been given small grants by the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) to set up small businesses in dressmaking and hairdressing. In their tiny shops, crammed into the middle of noisy, bustling markets, we heard how these women are “paying forward” their opportunities, training dozens of other women and passing on their skills.

Lily and Anna, our two You Tubers, were great fun to travel with and they’ve produced some cool films about our trip. See my Twitter feed @jeanied1 for the links to their films.

Spotted this little beauty in downtown Accra

Spotted this little beauty in downtown Accra

It was a tantalisingly short trip. As you all know, I love to explore under my own steam and I hope I’ll be able go back to Ghana one day, commandeer a set of wheels, and get to know the country a little better. Till then, I count myself lucky that I was able to go and witness the good things happening in the country because of Comic Relief. It’s yet another adventure that will stay in my mind for a long time to come. 🙂

 

Adventures With Comic Relief

Capturing a story in Africa

Capturing a story in Africa

After coming back to the UK for a couple of weeks to consider my next move, I got an offer I couldn’t refuse: six weeks working as a Freelance Journalist for Comic Relief. This high-profile charity supports projects in the UK and overseas, mainly in Africa, and my job in the coming weeks is to gather stories from some of those projects to show how fundraisers’ money is being spent.

With Comic Relief’s Sport Relief 2014 campaign coming up (21st-23rd March), it’s a great opportunity to get some “good news stories” out there and I’m excited at the chance to be part of it.

My Comic Relief coffee mug :)

My regulation Comic Relief coffee mug 🙂

My first week has already been fantastically busy. I’ve interviewed a Ghanaian woman from a remote African village who pulled herself out of poverty to become President of one of the most successful Fairtrade cocoa farming co-operatives in Africa. I’ve covered a story about women being saved from the Nairobi slums by a project that promotes boxing as a way to combat social problems. And I’ve talked to a doctor in Ghana who’s at the forefront of delivering life-saving vaccines to remote village communities via the “cold chain” process. (Remember Ewan McGregor’s recent UNICEF Cold Chain Mission documentary on the BBC? It’s the same kind of thing.) Diverse work indeed – and I’m loving it!

After my 4 months in Uganda setting up Film Africa, a community film project for local people to share their stories using video, it’s fascinating seeing charity work from a different perspective and realising what’s involved, not just in the projects themselves, but in promoting awareness of their work. And as someone with a passion for Africa, I’m pleased to see so many people there benefitting from Comic Relief-funded programs.

So I’m throwing myself into the next few weeks. Apart from anything else, it’s a good opportunity to put some money in my pocket to help fund my next adventures. Because yes, as ever I’m cooking up some more overlanding exploits for 2014: more on that to come very soon… 🙂

To find out more about what Comic Relief does and see how you can get involved in this year’s Sport Relief campaign: http://www.comicrelief.com.

Adventures in Uganda

Got the keys to the company boda boda!

Got the keys to the company boda boda!

Hard to believe, but I’ve been out here in southwest Uganda for over 2 months now. And what an amazing eight weeks it’s been!

Living in the small town of Rubuguri, on the edge of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, has been an absolute eye-opener in terms of seeing the basic living conditions of the community here – few have running water, flushing toilets or electricity, and most live off the land, eating what they grow. Meat is a rarity – eaten only at Christmas or on very special occasions – and the shops (such as they are – little shacks on the side of the road) stock only the bare essentials. Luxuries like chocolate, wine and muesli are hard to come by – I’ve had to send out for supplies to the nearby town of Kisoro when the cravings have got too much!!

Teaching local project co-ordinator Justice some camera basics

Teaching local project co-ordinator Justice some camera basics

The Film Africa project is hard work and a real challenge in such a basic environment. Oftentimes, I’ve been really frustrated at the lack of electricity and how basic our camera and editing equipment is. Nonetheless, what we’ve achieved here already is pretty wonderful, I think.

I’ve devised a training program to teach our four local project co-ordinators basic camera, directing and editing skills. They’re having a blast learning production techniques and the basics of storytelling, and I’ve already been using them as trainee cameramen to film local events, including the recent Uganda Independence Day celebrations and a local talent show featuring lots of amazing cultural performances – Best of Bwindi.

Kids steal the show (again!) at Uganda Independence Day celebrations

Kids steal the show (again!) at Uganda Independence Day celebrations

With four weeks to go, I have a big decision to make – whether to keep going with my work here at Film Africa (there’s so much to do!) or hit the road, possibly by motorbike, and head down through Africa towards the south in search of new adventures. Money’s a big issue – I’m already struggling to cover the costs of volunteering here with Film Africa – so that will undoubtedly sway my decision, ultimately. Right now, I can’t contemplate leaving all the wonderful people I’ve gotten to know in Rubuguri through my film work here. But having budgeted for only three months here, it could be time to move on.

So some tough decisions to make in the next week or so: watch this space…

If you’d like to support my volunteering endeavours here in Uganda, please consider donating to my fundraising page: http://www.gofundme.com/3tev04

Want to join us by volunteering at Film Africa? Please drop me a line via the CONTACT ME page on this website or get in touch with lizzie@bigbeyond.org for details on how YOU could make a difference here in Uganda!

Road Trip To The Ssese Islands

At the Equator, 100km from Kampala

At the Equator, 100km from Kampala

After five weeks of pretty hard work setting up the Film Africa project here in Uganda, I decided it was time to take off for a few days and see what else this amazing country has to offer. And craving to see open water again, I decided on a trip overland to Lake Victoria to spend a few days in the glorious Ssese Islands.

With only a few days to spare, fellow volunteer Louise and I decided to split the cost to hire a car and driver. A wonderful guy called Godfrey, who’d driven us from the Rwandan border to our new home in Rubuguri, said he’d do the trip to and from Kampala/Entebbe ferry port for 1 million Ugandan shillings (about £250), which sounded like a bargain to us. So at 7am on Thursday morning, we hauled our luggage into Godfrey’s battered Toyota Corona and set off for the long haul northwards.

For the first two hours to Kabale, we enjoyed the notorious “African massage” as we bumped along precarious dirt tracks through the mountains around Bwindi. Early-morning cloud hung in the trees, giving everywhere a magical feel – we truly were “Muzungus in the mist”! When we finally hit tarmac – the first we’d seen for 5 weeks! – there was elation at the smoothness of the ride. The 10-hour journey overland to Kampala was a profusion of roadworks, dusty bustling towns, markets teeming with produce, and occasional wildlife-spotting.

The MV Kalangala to Buggala Island

The MV Kalangala to Buggala Island

After a night in bustling Kampala, we battled through the capital’s chaotic traffic to the Entebbe ferry port, to pick up the MV Kalangala across Lake Victoria to the Ssese Islands. The ferry was crammed with people, goats and all manner of produce – our First Class tickets afforded us a cushioned seat rather than just a wooden one, but otherwise we were squashed in alongside dozens of other passengers.

Buggala, Ssese Islands

Buggala, Ssese Islands

Three and a half hours later, here we are on gorgeous Buggala Island, the largest of the 84 Ssese Islands. I’m writing this by the lakeshore, sitting on a pristine white-sand beach with the soporific noise of the tide washing in and out. How wonderful it is to be back by water again!

The bird life here is extraordinary – I’ve already seen shoebills, herons, storks and dozens of other varieties in the past 24 hours (apparently there are 240 bird species here!). Vervet monkeys scamper all around us, watching us cheekily from high branches. The Mirembe Beach Resort we are staying in is basic but clean, and the overwhelming sensation here is of enjoying unspoilt natural beauty.

Vervet monkeys scamper round the cottage

Vervet monkeys scamper round the cottage

Looking out across the vastness of Lake Victoria, our home down in the mountains of the southwest seems a world away…

Film Africa – Shooting Starts

Screen grab from video shot with the Batwa near Nkuringo

Screen grab from video shot with the Batwa near Nkuringo

It’s been a busy week down here in southwest Uganda. After a few weeks of field research and collating some basic bits of camera equipment, we’ve been able to do our first shooting for Film Africa – or “Film Club” as the locals have dubbed it.

On Tuesday, we headed up the mountain on motorbikes for a first meeting with the Batwa tribe near Nkuringo, to broach the idea with them of documenting their culture and way of life on film. I’d always wondered if pygmies really existed – or whether it was just an outdated term for indigenous tribes – but as soon as we met the first Batwa, I realised that at 5″4 I towered above them all! Moments later, we were heading deep into the pocket forest with them for a first taste of how they live. After showing us various medicinal herbs and some “chat” leaves (“These make a very strong drink!”), we went to one of their settlements, where they live in small huts made of mud and leaves and a rather spectacular two-storey treehouse.

The Batwa come to welcome us into the forest

The Batwa come to welcome us into the forest

We then found ourselves huddled in the dark in one of the small huts with all twelve tribe members staring at us expectantly with wide eyes. The moment had come to talk to them about our film project. With the help of Kenneth, our local guide and interpreter, we talked the Batwa through our hopes of capturing their stories and way of life on film. When we said we wanted to get to know them better, they broke into wide smiles, clapped excitedly, and invited us to come back soon to spend a full day and night with them – and they would bring their questions for us to discuss things further. We left on a high, knowing that the first step towards filming with the Batwa was done. A special day indeed and one I will never forget.

One of the local kids plants a tree at the TRees For Life event

One of the local kids plants a tree at the Trees For Life event

Then on Friday, we filmed our first big community event – Trees For Life, a tree-planting event organised by Louise, a fellow volunteer. The whole town of Rubuguri turned out for a day of ceremonial tree-planting, speeches, music and dancing. As usual, the kids stole the show with their colourful costumes and enthusiastic singing as they led everyone down the town’s main street towards the ceremony.

So the Film Africa project is well and truly up and running. It’s been a struggle with limited electricity and minimal equipment but, undeterred, we’re now forging ahead!