Teresie Hommersand grew up near Stavanger, a city known as the oil capital of Norway. She remembers eating supper every evening off plates with the logo of the national oil and gas company on them. Somehow she became the "green sheep" of the family. She has lived in Uganda, Oregon, and Australia. Learn more about her 13,700 km ride going from South Africa to Norway and her charity crowdfunding campaign at cape-to-kapp.com. And follow her progress on Facebook.
(This is her fourth journal entry for us)
(This is her fourth journal entry for us)
When traveling in a country different to one's own, certain things one come across might seem peculiar - to say the least. When cycling, because you meet people you most likely otherwise would not meet and travel on roads you otherwise would not find yourself on, one is likely to discover more things that make one scratch one's head, laugh out loud or get chills down the spine...
For instance, the other day a conversation topic turned to names. What do people call their kids in Malawi? I don't find strange names like Gift, Precious, Memory, Admire and the likes, but what I learned is that there's a new trend in what to name kids - namely after new technologies.
Now, you have kids running around called Machine, Internet, or Headset! My absolute favorite is Missed Call!! Although Call Me Back comes pretty close too!
Another thing that may to many seem weird or incomprehensible is the level of superstition that exists in some of these countries. I was reminded of it one late evening, sitting on a cement porch, 40km short of the border between Zambia and Malawi.
That afternoon I 'pulled in' at a Maize depot, asking if I could pitch my tent for the night. It was a first for the guys working there, but they said "Yes. Of course!" The security guard that was going to be there that night showed me where to erect my tent and invited me to join him for dinner.
"No. Thank you." I said.
He insisted, saying I should save my pasta and can of baked beans for the next day. Even though I really wanted my delicious carbs and protein (mmmm), there was something about this man that made me feel like I could not say no. So, when the sun had set and everything was covered by the dark, I found myself eating nshima and eggs (with a bit of a crunch) on his cement porch in the flickering candlelight. We talked about everything and anything. He told me I had just missed one of the biggest traditional celebrations in the country– a festival where people from all over– the president included– come to see... The Masked Men's Dance.
"When they put on their masks," my host told me, "they take on a different persona. They become animals."
But this is not the only time these men wear masks he continued. They are part of a group, a group that recruits members in the rural villages. Boys between the age of 12 and 15. They are being taken away for months at a time, schooled in the rules of the group at a remote graveyard. Why? Because the kids that do not graduate end up six feet under. Here they are introduced to black magic. Seeing men being cut 'bleed' honey and buzzing bees. Putting fellow aspiring graduates in a bag. Tying it and beating it with a stick until it's red. Opening the bag and seeing their friend jump out without a bruise. Certainly no blood.
There are rules for which roads people are allowed to use. If they find someone on one of the roads that people are not suppose to be travelling on, they will take them and make them part of the group - that is if you know you're not suppose to be travelling on this road. But what about if you don't know? Like me? When I'm cycling? My host said that these people are both good and bad. Good in the sense that they won't do anything to you, if you are not aware of being on the 'wrong' road. They will even help you along.
It's a secret group. No one is suppose to know who its members are. They do not address each other by name or refer to each other in a way that means that they know who the others are. And here I am sitting alone with this guy, whose telling me all this, only able to see the white in his eyes and his teeth in the weak light from the candle. Then he leans in, looks me in the eyes and says "I am one of them". I suspected it all along. There was something about him.
'You're not suppose to tell meeee!' I jokingly exclaimed.
Then he laughed and took it back, leaving a bit of uncertainty with regards to the truth... The next day, as I got back on my Soma Saga, he wished me a safe trip... Needless to say, I never saw him again, or any masked men...