As I’ve been reflecting on my recent travels through East Africa, I felt I had some gems of wisdom to share with any of you who may be less “experienced” travelers.
1) You’re probably busy and thinking about a lot of other things, so its best to mentally prepare as you’re hastily skimming through a guidebook a few hours before you arrive and you realize you know next to nothing about this place.
2) Don’t calculate an exchange rate in advance, rather just work it out in your head right after you get change from someone and then you can figure out later by how much he defrauded you.
3) Try to arrive at the bus station at least 30 seconds before the bus leaves [this was only a 3 hour bus ride that cost about $5, for my major bus rides I was there about an hour early].
4) If you are in a country such as Rwanda and you know no French or Kinyarwanda, try asking around in Swahili. This will get a response maybe 30% of the time.
5) Don’t top up your airtime in advance when the price is set and it’s readily available, but wait until you are potentially almost out—and hence stuck with no way to contact anyone—and the credit is almost completely unavailable, meaning if you are lucky enough to find some you get charged twice as much.
6) Don’t bother to write out important numbers such as the people you are meeting in the places you’re visiting. Wait until you try to recharge your phone’s battery and it goes crazy for no reason when you plug it in, refusing to start at all—again meaning you are stuck with no way to contact anyone, and this time its even worse because you can’t even get the number to call using another phone. Then someone at the table next to you will probably offer you their Blackberry so you can go on facebook and look up all the numbers people sent you in facebook messages.
7) Another strategy in the situation above is to try random things with your phone to get it to work, and if all else fails, take out the battery and let it sit separately from the phone for at least two or three hours. This seems to make everything okay again.
8) If you don’t know why some outlets shut down your phone, just keep trying them until you find one that works.
9) If you realize its prohibited to bring something like plastic bags into a country, that you think would come in handy later, stick them in your back pocket and hope for the best.
10) When you realize that you have forgotten to bring an immunization certificate like yellow fever and you don’t remember which countries require it, you could try asking the bus conductor, but you’ll probably just find out that he doesn’t know. Don’t sweat it, and hope that you can sweet talk your way through the border if the need arises [although, um that won’t always work]. It probably won’t.
11) If crossing the border into a potentially sketchy area like the DRC, try looking as far as you can from the border, maybe confer with your friend, and if it looks okay go for it.
12) If you only want breakfast and you don’t want to actually change money somewhere, just wander in the first hotel you find and chances are they charge in dollars.
13) If you’re in a bus, and they are playing really ridiculous music videos from the 80s, such as one demonstrating the dangers of drunk driving—“I was caught, caught, for breaking the law…”, or a fire truck going to put out a woman who is “on fire”, just go with it and enjoy.
14) As long as you don’t take too long at stops, buses don’t usually leave you behind.
15) If you’re on a beach and Arab men want to take a picture with you and a white girl, let them. This applies to any African men or boys as well, unless they are being really annoying.
16) If you’re on a beach and it looks like it is about to begin pouring rain, try to time it so you leave exactly five minutes before the rain starts. A good follow-up strategy is to hang out at a hotel for the rest of the day, playing cards and watching Al Jazeera. Try overpriced tea or if you’re very bold, a piece of “traditional” apple pie for only 9 dollars, and rather strange filling.
17) If there is a volcano that looks suspiciously active near you, try to ignore it.
18) Preaching can be a good way to get by in many countries. I was a visitor, so most of this was not just because I preached, but when I stayed with my friend’s pastor I received dinner, breakfast, lunch, tea, Coke, several bottles of water, a bed for the night, my church clothes ironed and folded, my shoes brushed, a three hour ride from the place upcountry back to the capital, and an Rwandan shirt. They were very generous.
19) Safari njema.