View From The Train


I am writing this from our ‘banda’ at the Beho Beho Game Camp, on the Selous Range in eastern Tanzania.  We have just completed a fantastic journey aboard the Rovos Rail train, on which we spent two weeks traveling from Cape Town, South Africa to Dar es Saalam, Tanzania.

As most trains do, ours passed through the less desirable areas of each village and city of the five countries we traveled.  Specifically, this meant seeing miles and miles of incredibly decrepit shanty towns, hovels and slums.  Many if not most, were built on or near piles of garbage, that seemed to be continuously smoking as we sped by.

Okay, now back in Victoria and perhaps that will grant me some perspective, although I doubt it . . .. . 

The main thrust of this article is – once again – about the ‘dichotomy’ of riding aboard a posh train with a group of well off, mainly retired passengers, while traveling through the rough and tough areas mentioned above.  Now, this does not mean that I did not enjoy the ‘poshness’.  Quite the opposite!  I loved the wonderful food, accompanying wines, fantastic service and beautiful cabins.  But always there were the scenes outside the train.  Sometimes exotic wildlife and bush, but more often than not, waving children in threadbare clothing and unsmiling adults.  It seemed that once they hit their teens, the kids realized how little they had compared to those white people zooming by on the train.

At one point in Tanzania, we ‘de-trained’ while the passenger cars were watered-up.  A few of us did a walkabout in the nearby town.  For me, it was wonderful to be ‘back on the ground’, talking with the people, much as I had while serving in the Sudan in 2008.  The large majority of the train’s passengers however, didn’t take advantage of the stop to join us on our walk.  They had been told it was too ‘dangerous’!  Not sure who told them this, but we found the people of the town, generally warm and welcoming, as has been my experience throughout the continent.

Did we ‘see’ Africa?  Well, yes.  Did we ‘experience’ it?  Not really.  In my opinion,  merely flying to a country or zipping through it via train, doesn’t mean one has truly ‘been there’.  With this in mind, I could say that I experienced Sudan, having lived and worked there four years ago.  My other trips to Africa however, have been purely tourist-related, and although I tried at every opportunity to interact with the local inhabitants, I was only a little bit successful.

I have seen enough however, to make me believe that this huge dichotomy, this vast difference in our cultures, with respect to wealth and quality of life, is wrong.  We all of us – Canadians – could give up a very little of our wealth, not changing our lifestyles one bit, but immensely improving the lives of the Africans and other poverty-stricken areas and peoples.  Does this make any sense?  The other lesson I have come to believe,  is that it is too easy to write a cheque to one’s favourite charity and consider that we have ‘done our bit’.  We need to get our hands dirty, helping others.  We need to put our boots on the ground.  This way we will see what truly needs to be done . .. .

Children at Train Stop

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