« Life is not about the destination, it’s about the journey… »

RAJ KHOOBLALL*

Travelling through the Rainforest

It was a hot summer evening in 2007. I was on my way to the Imperri Hills located in the south west of Sierra Leone. I had not rested for the past 20 hours; after an 8-hour flight from Gatwick airport, I was picked by the driver at Lungi airport and we hit the road without delay so that we could reach our destination before nightfall. We drove for more than 6 hours through the gravel and muddy road in the deep dense forest which at one time was the home of the former rebel warriors. Fortunately, the Sierra Leone war had ended some 5 years before (2002) and the country was recovering from the brutal conflict.

I spent nearly 2 years working for a mining estate at Imperri Hills, travelling to Mauritius every 3 months. Life in the mining estate was not always easy. I did my work within the mining compound with much professionalism, while the travelling was a sort of adventure which pushed me occasionally out of my comfort zone. Of course, there were instances when I was confronted with situations which were really tough, and I would wonder what I was doing at such a remote place. But, in the end, I found that the winds of adventure were worth the stay and had made me a stronger person. Today, 12 years later, when I look back to those days, I feel proud of having gone through the Sierra Leone journey and having overcome so many challenges which I was first afraid to take on.

Year 2000 – The African Adventure Began

It was in September 2000 that I first travelled to the African continent, more precisely to Beira, which is the second most important city of Mozambique. I went there initially on a two-year assignment but stayed in the country for more than 4 years. At first, I should admit it was a real cultural shock to be in this former Marxist country, with the added problem that I did not know a single word of the Portuguese language. Eventually all these hurdles became just an adventure for me. Despite the problems and challenges of living in Mozambique in the early 2000s, I did have the privilege of enjoying the passion of the wildlife environment over there.

My four years in Mozambique had been full of meaningful experiences for me and, of course, a series of stories – some funny, some serious and sometimes very sad. While I went through these periods, I can remember it as if it happened yesterday so lively was the life in our Marromeu village. The sugar estate of Marromeu was a small rural village about 300km from Beira, located on the banks of the Zambezi River with risk of flooding of the river during the rainy season. The place was infested with mosquitoes, making it a high-risk area for malaria. But worst, we sometimes came across snakes, especially on the side of the road and in grassy bush, and it took us some time to get used to the situation.

At the peak of the construction of the factory, we were 300 Mauritians working in Marromeu. And all of us will always remember the noisy uncomfortable Sabin Air – the 15-Seater chartered plane which was often scary during the turbulences.

Beira was not a bad place; it was a big city, but it was dirty and most of the buildings were not properly maintained. My first arrival in Beira was quite funny as the driver who picked me up knew only a few English words which he kept repeating throughout our trip. My immediate superior, Mahen, was a multi-skilled professional with ability to deal with every situation. He was the focal point of our life in Mozambique. His fluency in Portuguese made him a real leader with a strong command over the local employees. But being a workaholic, he soon managed to convert everyone whom he came across to his style. I still remember his motto adapt or perish!!

Living in the land of the brave

For the past 10 years, I have been living in Windhoek, which I consider as one of the finest places on the continent. Namibia with its clean and well-established cities, including the desert coastal region of Swakopmund, is simply magnificent. Out of the 40 countries I have travelled to around the world (worked in some), Namibia remains one of my favourite, maybe because of its hospitable cosmopolitan population, its scenic countryside, amazingly big canyon and impressive landscape of the desert dunes which I have never seen elsewhere.

There were moments that I experienced while travelling in Africa which completely blew me away. These will stay with me forever and even years later I will still smile at these loving recollections.

From Windhoek, I sometimes drive to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Livingstone in Zambia, these being spectacular destinations and really incredible experiences. I loved the early morning safari in the picturesque landscapes of the Namibian Etosha Nature Park where I would be amazed to see lions, elephants, zebras, giraffes and rhinoceroses, among other animals, in their natural habitat.

Walking in the footprints of elephants

I had the immense privilege of travelling to many African countries by virtue of my job at SADC. Over the past 15 years I have travelled extensively to more than 20 African countries, visiting wonderful places with experiences difficult to put in words. I was fascinated by Victoria Falls which I have visited some 10 times. During a visit in Uganda in May 2012, I took a boat and went to the source of the river Nile (point zero). I felt very proud when I stood right in middle of the river which was hardly 2 feet deep at source but which would extend a long way up to Egypt crossing the great Sahara desert.

But the best part will still be the adventure on the river Zambezi, the river of life. Zambezi is the fourth largest river in Africa which flows through six countries (Zambia, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique) to end into the Indian Ocean. I lived for about three years at Marromeu on the bank of this great river and visited the river upstream in Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The great lakes of Africa are just amazing with their huge area. During a conference visit to Burundi in 2014, I stayed at a hotel just by the side of Lake Tanganyika which is around 32,000 km2, but I was more impressed when I visited Lake Victoria which is 68,800 km2 (more than 30 times as big as Mauritius!) and has many islands some of which inhabited. I also got the opportunity in 2012 to stay in a hotel by the Lake Malawi (29,600 km²). These will stay the most unforgettable travel experiences for the rest of my life.

No place like home

The adventure on the continent finally took more than 16 years of my life and, during my long journey, I met many amazing local people from whom I learned a lot. I don’t believe that I could write intelligently or accurately about Africa without the insights that these locals provided me over the years.

Africa also gave me a lot of opportunities in my professional careers – financial accountant of a very big sugar estate (Mozambique); Chief Accountant in listed mining company (Sierra Leone) and Director of Finance of SADC Parliamentary Forum (Namibia). However, since some time, I feel a strange nostalgia of my home country and want to return but with lots of stories to tell from different parts of Africa. Once again, I think “I have to get lost so I can invent some way out” (David Salle). In the end, there’s really no place like home. However, Namibia will still remain my favourite place, my second House.

* Raj Khooblall is the Director of Finance at the SADC Parliamentary Forum and is based in Windhoek, Namibia. He has worked for more than 15 years across various African countries and has published articles on business opportunities in Africa.