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Overlanding Africa and The Wings Project


Overland travelling always stretches me, a long way out of my comfortable mind and body space and my feelings about over landing vary greatly.  Swinging from one huge extreme of loving it, to the other extreme of, ‘Get me out of here now!’, and I want to be on a plane heading back to my life amongst the trees and birds in Queensland in a culture which I can relate to.

Ah, Home, where I don’t have to face the curious stares of hundreds of people every day or overwork my brain with impossible language difficulties. And the enormous cultural hurdles, the  38+C intense heat, witness the lives, the cruelty and death of animals on a daily basis, the begging men, women and hungry children.

A big part of me does not want to pay the price, by feeling guilty, that I live such a free and easy life.  So I don’t because I cannot ‘compare’ my life to theirs.

“The cultural differences are extreme!”

I did not want to pay for a ‘stigma’, I thought I would reflect.  As I have white skin and am seen by many, to be a giver and taker of some magic potion that will help people to feed themselves and the too many children, that they produce.

This sounds harsh.  It is and many NGO’s and corrupt people in ‘high’ places, have a lot to answer for in the assisting of millions of people to become ‘dependant’, instead of empowered.
But enough of that for now. It is complex!

So overlanding? What is it exactly?

A rough description is that instead of flying around in foreign countries, you take your own vehicle, get your map or GPS out and drive.

And for me, it always seems like such an exciting idea, from the comfort of my own safe, calm and cushy room at home, in Australia as I wondered what it would be really like, in say….Africa?
Now I am here in the northern part of Cote d’ Ivoire, in the huge continent which is Africa.

A big part of me did not want to do any more overland expeditions because of the harsh impact is has on my physical and mental well being.  But even against my better judgement I am here, and I came simply because it is Africa and my desire to see some of this earth is strong.

After experiencing quite a bit of travelling overland in the past ten years, I have been coming home feeling battered, though travel satiated. Now three months on the road and my survival triggers are operating in top gear and already my weary mind and body are complaining and I am feeling more and more depleted. 40C degree heat, thousands of biting mosquitos, tetsi flys, bilharzia in all the rivers, rubbish everywhere, horrendous potholed, dirt roads, deforestation, overpopulation, having a body wash with a cup of water every night and waking up in a lather of sweat every night.
Not to mention that living with one other person in a small truck on a daily basis is not a stimulating gig.

“Five countries in 90 days including two weeks in magical Morocco, ten days of incredibly stunning Mauritania desert, six days of filthy Bamako pollution and armed guards at every corner, 600klm’s of burnt out bush and many days of intense Dakar rally type driving”

Five countries in 90 days including two weeks in magical Morocco, ten days of incredibly stunning Mauritania desert, six days of filthy Bamako pollution and armed guards at every corner, 600klm’s of burnt out bush and many days of intense Dakar rally type driving in deep bull dust and huge holes, makes me realise that I will not see the whole of Africa. 

With Africa, I believe I missed the boat by about 50 years.

The upside is that my ‘Sanitary Pad’ Wings Project has been very successful and well received by  the hundreds of women who I have connected with.I loved it and it gave me great joy. The African people are so beautiful and so joyful and warm.

I have learned that what I think is a great idea is not always going to be so widely accepted by others, so I was not sure how it would go. But my ‘research’ in Australia to find out what women need in Africa, has paid off. In every instance, I was warmly welcomed and the the pads and sewing kits had a huge impact.

Many many times, I heard ‘Merci Madame’, some clutching the ‘gift’ to their breasts with big smiles and a few times I received a huge hug and kisses on the cheeks. How beautiful, to be hugged by a woman who, a few minutes before, had been a stranger.

Forty pad packs with sewing kits and underpants went deep into the Sahara desert to the Bedoiun women who live amongst the dunes there, 300 klms away from civilisation in Western Sahara.

In Marrakesh Morocco, I was able to run some workshops with disadvantaged womens groups with an organisation called AMAL. I also met a dozen Berber woman who came past our camp on donkeys, laden with firewood, who gratefully received a pad kit each.

Young women learned to sew the pads as we sat together in a circle at the back of the truck in Cote d’ Ivoire then took the large kits I made up, to their schools to teach other young women.
In the south of Timbukto in Mali, some women in a very remote village were given pads and kits.

I also connected with many women who walked along the dusty tracks and roads carrying their baskets and bowls on their heads.

And women who herded sheep and goats, women who gathered at the wells for water, washed clothes or sat on the edge of tiny villages selling their produce.

Because I was born with a highly sense of curiosity I would love to knows, what happens to the pads, the sewing kits… but I am learning to just ‘give’ and then let go of the outcome.

Reality is, I will never know what impact the pad kits will have, but I believe in the pebble in the pond. The powerful ripple effect.
Will it bring some empowerment into another woman’s life? Will it help a young woman go to school with dignity, every day of the month instead of three weeks of every month?

Will the women benefit from the pads? 

Yes I believe they will. I hope that the ripple in the pond becomes a tsunami. Whatever the outcome, I accept it.

I am back in Australia as I write this, resting, loving the space , the clean air and water, the clear and distinct Australian accent….spending time with my my beloveds and feeling the gratitude and privilege of living in this country. This feeling will never leave me. Africa imprinted this upon my soul.

“Africa imprinted this upon my soul.”

I reflect back on the past four months and can see that I went to Africa to deliver the project. To connect with women, to observe and feel how these people live and it gave me much joy, a greater understanding of myself and where I fit in the world.

Then I receive an email from a young woman named Safi, in Marrakesh who has gotten my email address from her Dad who I met at AMAL. She wants to start an NGO to help disadvantaged women around Marrakesh, especially those who cannot go to school because they cannot afford sanitary pads. She wants to make the cloth pads to empower women….. and she wants to educate men and women and stop the ignorance surrounding womens menstruation. How fantastic! I send Safi some information, congratulate and encourage her.

The ripple effect in action.