These skills cannot all be acquired from the start, but rather grows as you venture along. Here follows an (un)complete list of required skills….
Courage! You will definitely need lots of this! Really bad roads, dodgy places where you lay down your head, mosquitoes of varying sizes, weird ideas of food, officials and their little pavement kingdom – all require courage! If you dig deep, you will be rewarded with breath-taking views along least-traveled roads, broad smiles in brown faces as you try local cuisine, a truckful of new “friends” and much more. Courage!
Math skills are highly recommended! Converting wares and fares into a currency that makes sense to your overloaded brain is of utmost importance! Without it you will not be able to bite into your seven-fifty-dollar mini pizza paid for in Rands-via-banktransfer-out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere even though you have been thinking in Metical for nearly 10 years…. You also need to gauge for just how far a ride the boatman is taking you for this amount of money converted back into fuel bought by the barrel….sigh. Math skills in the midst of throngs of pushing people, or trying to decide what you can afford to eat while your stomach is making quite an uproar requires, of the African traveler, nerves of steel. Oh, and did I mention that you need to do all of this math most probably in two foreign languages?
No personal space. Yip. None. Africa lives mainly in a cozy bundle. Nobody thinks it strange to stand right up against you, even leaning a bit on you when they might be tired out…Buses, taxi’s, cars are all filled to the brim! Ferries too, as I recently found out! The boat ferry is quite another story, but suffice to say, it requires a great amount of NO Personal Space.
Flexibility. I do not mean the figurative one here, although that helps too! I mean being able to jump unto things, jump down into things (small boats) and out of things (like taxi’s), climb up and over things (bags of fish, maize and who-knows-what-else-is-in-there), walking barefoot onto slippery gangplanks while grabbing steel cables for support, crawling into tiny spaces, etc. You get the picture. You also need to be flexible to tuck in mozzie nets all around, sleep curled up as beds are mostly quite short and doors and stools low. Stretch those muscles before you begin to plan your trip!
Be Adaptable. Be ready to Improvise at the drop of a hat. These two go hand in hand like old friends. It can come in many forms but the one that usually gets me down is in the form of menu’s – after taking 30 min to decide what you are all having the waiter calmly tells you they don’t have potatoes today or no flour or or no hamburger rolls and heaven forbids that you asked them to make a hamburger on a normal breadroll of which they have literally stacks! ??? be ready to take off your shoes, wade hip-height with a jean through the water, dry out , get wet again, wrap your wraparound around your shoulders for a blanket, a sheet, a towel…..Adapt. Just a normal part of life now, I guess! But be ready to adapt, tuck and roll, esp when you least expect it! Just take it in your stride.
And for now, last but definitely NOT least – a Sense of humour!! Most important! You will need this on a moment to moment basis. From the time where the border official is lying on his veranda filling out forms and collecting $150 and nonchalantly stuffing it into his back pocket, to the “taxi” not being able to crest the hill and you have to jump off and walk uphill, to having ordered Moussaka and it is presented as follows – one thick slice of eggplant, covered in a thin white sauce with a hint of mince (or so you hope!). You also need it to order “Nail on a plate” and then get a kind-of-Prego- roll- directly-translated. You need it to laugh in relief after having fought your way down two flights of ferry steps, over and under heavy loads and throngs of people only to then jump into a small dingy boat that barely floats and be glad you “made” it! A sense of humour is required when you pick up your bags to find a shady spot (on ferry again!) while at precisely that moment the ferry turns around and the whole boat thinks it is because you want to now get off!! (And that after having fought your way unto it!!) A sense of humour to laugh loudly at yourself with half the population, as you bumble along trying to communicate as best you can with the languages you have been given and not succeeding!! Hehe
But all in all, travel widens horizons, broadens the mind and makes you stronger. What is not to like? It may not be quite as you expected so be ready to be surprised by Africa and be ready to see her wonder. It crawls under your skin and you always come back for more.