Author: Kirstine

Home / Author: Kirstine

Table Mountain seen from Robben Island

Arriving in Cape Town almost feels like coming home. It’s extremely European and according to locals very different from the rest of the country – which means I haven’t really gotten the full experience of this country. I’ve spent two weeks here in Cape Town and haven’t seen half of the sights. After travelling for two months I needed to spend some time relaxing and processing all my experiences.

All of us of course know one the greatest humanists Nelson Mandela. You can’t visit Cape Town without visiting Robben Island where Mandela spent so many years as a political prisoner. I clearly remember the apartheid regime from when I was young, and it was a fantastic day when he was released.

Our guide at Robben Island

Robben Island is a desolate place, flat with not much vegetation. The guides on the island is former political prisoners. Our guide spent 10 years here and he told about torture, famine and the humiliating treatment by the apartheid regime. Since the regime ended improvements have been made but there is still a long way to go.

The difference between rich and poor are still huge, even more than I have seen in other countries. The different governments have only managed to lift a fraction of the poor out of poverty. And like under apartheid it is primarily black people who are poor, lack education and are unemployed. Unemployment rate is approximately 25%.

At first sight Cape Town looks like a wealthy city, but then you begin to see all the beggars. There are so many beggars, none of them are kids though like in some of the other countries. I’m not sure why.

The humanists I met are concentrated around Cape Town. They told me this country is just as religious as the other African countries, but it is easier to be a non-believer in South Africa. Or it depends on which parts of the country you are in. In some areas, rural areas, you would never say out loud you don’t believe. While in others it would not be an issue, like in urban areas.

The cultural diversity is extreme. One example I got from one of the humanists illustrates this very well. South Africa has a secular progressive constitution and homosexuals has equals rights, same sex marriages has been legal for many years. But while kids can be raised by homosexual parents without facing any challenges in their daily lives, just 20 kilometres away lesbians get mass raped as punishment.

On top of this there is infrastructure challenges. Everywhere you go there is posters asking to save water. The power plants cannot deliver enough electricity during peaks times, which means they will cut the power in designated areas for a couple of hours at a time – this is called load shedding.

Despite all the challenges I like this city – just the daily view of the mountains, Table Mountains, with the clouds makes me feel good. When you are used to only the flat land in Denmark mountains are mesmerising. Even though I am afraid of heights, well to put it another way I am afraid of heights when I’m around cliffs and trees. I bungy jump and want to skydive but I will not climb a mountain.

Happy Feet 🙂

And being used to have the ocean nearby I’ve been happy to be close to the water again. I have enjoyed the waves which are like at Vesterhavet back home, the cliffs which looks like Bornholm only a thousand times bigger. I’ve had my first encounter with wild penguins and seals.

It’s the first time I’ve been this long in one place. On one hand it has been nice to be able to empty the suitcase and hang my clothes in the closet. It’s been nice getting to know my maid Jeanette and the people in the reception & the restaurant. But on the other hand, I know I’ve missed out on so much. I could have explored the country even more if I had spent maybe a week travelling up the coast.

Seals on the Waterfront

I would like to come back one day – they have it all – the mountains, the savanna, the desert, the ocean. I want to go whale watching & swimming with seals one day, and searching for a leopard the next, diving with sharks on the third day.

Tomorrow I’ll be flying to Namibia and then there is only one week left before I’m back in Denmark, planning the next steps.

Some facts:

South Africa (Denmark)

Population:   58 mio. (5.8 mio.)

Area:   1.221.000 km2 (43.000 km2)

Density: 48/km2 (133/km2)

Life expectancy: 63 years (80 years)

I – a tourist

2019-02-19 | South Africa | 1 Comment

The Cape Wheel and Table Mountain 
in the background

The last few days I’ve focused on being a tourist in Cape Town – no interviews, no writing, no editing. I’ve been exhausted and extremely tired. I’ve had writers block – not being able to write anything that made sense. So, I needed this break, relaxing, watching Netflix and not thinking about the next steps.

This is the most touristy place I have come across on my journey. Off course the safari places in all the other countries are for tourists as well, but it doesn’t feel like it in the same way. It’s not the same kind of tourism. When you chose a safari, you are interested in the animals and proper accommodation. When choosing to be a tourist you are interested in historic sites, entertainment, shopping, beaches and animals in a mix.

My journey has so far been a mix of going on safari and meeting humanists. It has been a good mix – I wouldn’t have managed travelling and only doing one thing. I like the change in focus. But I have forgotten to give myself a break occasionally. When I was on Zanzibar the purpose was to relax for a few days, instead I worked, I edited the podcast and wrote some texts.

I have met so many people, seen so many countries, met so many different cultures, basically my brain has been overloaded with impressions. So, whenever I was thinking about writing a blog post or edit a new episode, I felt tired and wanted to lay down and sleep. I finally listened and decided to go with it and do absolutely nothing and if it required laying in bed watching Netflix all day it would be ok.

Whenever I needed to leave the hotel, I’ve followed the beaten path of any tourist in cape Town. Jumping on the sightseeing bus to get to know the city better. So, I have seen the sights from the top of a bus or walked the city thin.

As a tourist here you don’t have to interact with the population at all if you use the sightseeing buses, hotel shuttles and only visits the tourist attractions. You can keep to yourself and only interact with others if you choose by yourself. So, I choose to keep to myself trying to process all the things I have experienced the last two months.

I have visited 7 countries, interviewed 27 people, published 11 episodes of Babelfish and wrote several blogposts. Which is quite an accomplishment thinking about it. Off course I deserve to take a few days off doing absolutely nothing, watching Netflix and getting room service.

Now I am relaxed and ready to continue – in a few hours I’ll visit Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spend so much time in prison. In a couple of days, I’ll visit Cape Point and, in the weekend, I’ll meet a lot of humanists. No worries – I’m back on track 😊

Goodbye Botswana

2019-02-13 | Botswana | 1 Comment

The Okavanga Delta

It is difficult to comprehend the amount of open spaces in Botswana – the country is the size of France, but France has almost 30 times as many citizens. So much space everywhere.

The Khalihari Desert covers a large part of the country. Together with the Okavanga Delta and Chobe National Park it attracts a lot of tourists – but it is by far the most expensive country I have visited. The parks are covered with air strips where tourists are flown in to stay in luxury lodges. Some cost several thousands of dollars for one night (one night!). A bit out of my league.

Endangered wild dog

The wild life is amazing. Even with my budget I managed to se a lot of animals – even some I haven’t met before, like the pack of wild dogs and the python I met in Moremei Game Reserve. Botswana has thousands of elephants which causes a lot of tension with the local farmers.

Elephants will take down trees, fences and crops on their way. The number of elephants is so high it is a problem. If there is not enough food for them in the parks, they will migrate and ruin farmland. Even though I love elephants I see the problem – some places in the Moremei Game Reserve looked like a graveyard for trees due to the elephants taking most of the trees down or eating the bark of them.

An elephant passed by

Climate changes also has an impact in Botswana. The country is very dry, but I visited during the rainy season and it hardly rained. Newman, my guide in the Okavanga Delta told me the water level should be 2 meters higher at this time of year.

Like in the other countries I have visited the population is growing despite the fact Botswana has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world (estimated 25% of the adult population). More youngsters get an education. But unfortunately, there isn’t enough jobs and unemployment is high even though Botswana is a success story in Africa with high economic growth rates.

Religion plays a vital role in Botswana. Most of the population is christian, but the traditional beliefs still exist including witchcraft. Being a non-believer can be challenging since they are considered to be devil worshippers and without ethics and moral.

There is no humanist organisation in Botswana – not yet. There is a small group of friends, non-believers, who wants to create a humanist organisation.

I met a couple of them while visiting and at this point, they are focusing on being formally registered. Next steps are to make humanist more visible, basically showing the public humanists are good people through charity work.

Like other humanists in this part of the world their biggest challenge is the lack of funding. I hope they succeed.

Some facts:

Botswana (Denmark)

Population:   2.3 mio. (5.8 mio.)

Area:   582.000 km2 (43.000 km2)

Density: 4/km2 (133/km2)

Life expectancy: 63 years (80 years)

My – now dead – favourite fan

Today I lost one of my most valued travel gadgets. It doesn’t look like much, it’s not expensive but besides my passport and my credit cards it is my most valued gadget – it is a fan bought for 2$ in a Chinese shop in Copenhagen. It has followed me for a long time. It is useful in the plane, the bus, in restaurants, everywhere it might be to hot for you. Unfortunately, it died today. It will be missed, and I need to buy a new one.

It made me think of what things I cannot live without while travelling. I wanted to make a top 10 – or rather it ended up being a top 12 plus extras, since I couldn’t limit it to only 10 things. These are the thing I always pack together with some clothes.

Passport & yellow fewer card: pretty essential if you want to leave your country experiencing the world.

Credit cards: instead of carrying loads of money for your whole trip. Make sure to have different types of credit cards. Some places don’t accept visa card, and some places doesn’t accept master card. It is also a good idea to have a backup card, just in case. I actually travel with 4 credit cards, maybe a bit over the top, but it doesn’t cost me any extra.

top 12 plus extra

Travel insurance: just in case. I have never had the need for it, but I felt pretty good knowing I could get picked up by a helicopter in the middle of the Cambodian jungle and flown to the nearest hospital when I was travelling with my then 12-year old daughter.

I also feel pretty good knowing I can get help if I have an accident while diving with sharks or bungy jumping (still need to visit the 216 meter drop in at Bloukrans Bridge South Africa – take it easy mom – it will not be during this journey 😉).

Money: it’s always good to carry a few dollars. Just in case you experience what I did in Rwanda, and your credit cards getting rejected by the ATM’s, then you have some back up money. Else I will always rely on my mom to transfer money through Western Union.

Sunglasses: no explanation needed

Malaria pills: no need to gamble. The pills are so cheap these days its affordable for almost everybody. If you get malaria and you are not treated in time you either die or will have the disease for the rest of your life. Just get them and remember to take them.

Dehydration relief effervescent tablets: if I travel in countries with high temperatures, I lose my appetite and forget to drink water. If you get dehydrated, you’ll get extremely ill. I always bring the tablets together with my miniature travel pharmacy. I’ve used them several times on this journey just to be sure I was hydrated.

tsetse flies

Mosquito repellent: another essential. You don’t want to have your whole body covered in mosquito bites. Unfortunately, the repellent didn’t help against the tsetse fly in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania. I was bitten from my knees down on both legs – so I had to dig into my travel phamarcy to find the stop-the-itching-cream (which only helped a couple of hours at a time).

sun tan after 1½ month

Sun screen: I must admit – I hate sunscreen. The greasy white stuff you must put on in a thick layer, using half a bottle every time, and it closes your pores which makes you sweat even more. For many years I have only used alcohol-based sun screen, which you only apply once a day. Down here I sometimes have applied twice a day though, the sun is relentless here.

sun burn

I brought factor 50 and 20 and after 1½ month I still got a nice tan and no burns. Expect the one time I just wanted to get a bit tanned on my legs (they never tan, never, never) and sat outside on the ferry from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam for two hours – bad idea.

Lonely Planet books: Even though you can google everything wherever you travel I like my travel books. And I prefer Lonely Planet – I always buy them. I document my journeys, where I have been when, which route we have been taking, which sites we have seen, where we have stayed. And I keep them in my bookshelf at home. I like to look at them – it’s my travel diary.

Fan: the fan I have already told about – it is essential for me and I will miss it very much.

Church – Dar es Salaam

What I have realised during my journey is how much religion and, in most countries, also tribes influence everything. Which religion you belong to, which tribe you are a part of influences you everyday life, what school you go to, which job you get, who you can do business with, who you marry, who you vote for.

If you belong to the majority religion and/or tribe you will be better off in many countries. This means it is not the best qualified who gets the job og gets elected, it might not even be the best qualified within your tribe – it all depends on connections and where you belong.

It is also well known that corruption is widespread. Some are trying to fight it, but it is difficult to get rid of and changes are slow.

On top of this people are ready to give all their money to the churches instead of paying for their children’s education, they are ready to pray instead or in addition of relying on doctors to cure diseases. Many people are poor, but they are still willing to give their last dime to their priest.

Kigali, Rwanda

I’ve seen many beautiful buildings while travelling but it is churches, schools and public buildings not peoples houses. Many houses are old, worn down and especially rural areas huts. Think about the amount of money the churches receive from people who could be spending them on improving their own lives.

Especially Pentecostal churches (in Danish ‘Pinsebevægelsen’) is growing in numbers, receiving enormous amounts of money from their followers. So, the priests get rich. Some of them have private jets, big mansions, expensive cars – some of them are con artists and people still donate money to them. People are convinced that god will take care of them if they keep praying and believe enough.

Supported by christian missionaries some priests preach people should get many children – even though they cannot support them or pay their education (education is not free in most countries). The churches are also against contraception and family planning – supported by donator countries like the US, who has a policy of not supporting organisations where abortion is included as a possibility when they are advising families.

This means HIV infected and the population is growing in number in countries where contraception’s are not promoted. The infrastructure, educational system and the labour market cannot keep up with the growth of the population – many young people gets a college degree but there are no jobs for them.  Unemployment rates are high amongst the youth, so many would of cause want to travel abroad to find a proper job. And climate changes are not doing anything good either. It seems like being so religious work against solving a lot of the problems here. The African countries have not been christian for a long time – only a few hundred years. I’m wondering if that’s the reason they are so conservative and extremely religious. And maybe their belief will loosen in the coming generations, I don’t know. The question is whether or not it will be in time for them to be able to solve the challenges they face, and where their belief stands in the way of the best solutions.

Goodbye Malawi

2019-02-03 | Malawi | 1 Comment

Liwonde National Park

This beautiful small country landlocked between Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania. It somehow seems to be forgotten by many – no major conflicts to keep the media interested. Not a major tourist destination either even though I would recommend a visit – people are friendly, the service is good, and the animals are plenty.

It is one of the poorest countries in the world. Most of the country is rural with farmland. They are heavily depending on financial support and projects from foreign donors. The last 10 years the country have experienced famine several times either due to floods in some years or droughts in other years. Driving through the country there where areas overflooded with so much water that they can’t even grow rice there.

The humanists are few in Malawi. They have a small organisation but not many funds, which off course means they are struggling, since they are not able to initiate the projects they want. They would like to establish humanist schools like the ones in Uganda. Not many non-believers have come out in Malawi. Humanists will not face challenges coming out in public, but many are afraid of coming out to family and friends. They are afraid of being shunned.

Like all the other countries I have visited Malawi is very religious, and non-believers are considered to be devil-worshippers, bad people without any moral and ethics. On top if this many still believes in witchcraft (like in other countries) – a belief which is fully integrated with the Christian faith, which makes it even more difficult to debunk. The humanist organisation here ran a project some years back to fight the belief in witchcraft, this included training the police force.

I met a guy working with resettlement of UN refugees in Malawi – you know the kind of refugees Danmark no longer will receive (‘kvoteflytninge’ in Danish). He told about the cruelty towards albino babies and kids – they are being killed and parts of their bodies sold. This happens because people think the body parts are magical. It is difficult to comprehend that people believe this so much they are willing to kill babies and kids, chopping them up in pieces and selling them on a market. Unbearable.

And yes, we talked about my embarrassment of Denmark’s change in policy. My country who has always held a torch for the most vulnerable refugees – like the albino babies and kids. My newfound friend tried to comfort me, telling about all the Danes still working for the UN and the refugees – I’m still embarrassed.

Malawi has not been kind to me if we look at my digital challenges. First the poor internet connection at the first hotel, and then the subscription plugin on my webpage failed. And Friday evening my laptop crashed – or so I thought. Luckily the laptop worked perfectly when I arrived at my last hotel. The cosiest feeling-like-at-home hotel with the fastest internet. Happy days. And even more happy days for the first time I have experienced hotels with English channels on the tv. These little things can make me happy on this long journey.

And then there was the animals – all the beautiful animals I have seen. I was especially amazed to see all the hippos in Liwonde National Park. They have estimated 2000 (!) hippos in the park. You can sleep in the park while listening to them ‘talking’ to each other. Definitely worth a visit.

Some facts:

Malawi (Denmark)

Population:   19 mio. (5.8 mio.)

Area:   118.000 km2 (43.000 km2)

Density: 166/km2 (133/km2)

Life expectancy: 64 years (80 years)

Succes – finally

2019-02-01 | Babelfish, Uganda | No Comments

After struggling with slow performing internet connections I now have access. I am in a the MVUU camp in the middle of the Liwonde Nationalpark in Malavi and the internet connection is the fastest I have experienced in this country.

So today I have published another episode of my podcast. In this episode I talk to Max from HALEA Uganda. He tells how he tried out different religions before realising he don’t believe in a god. And we learn how ‘the Secret’ influenced him, how he has been shunned and lost friends, but also how he gives medical support through Rotary.

Find it in your favourite podcast app or on this website. Enjoy.

Challenges

2019-01-30 | Babelfish | 3 Comments

Unable to upload podcast

For the first time while travelling I faced some challenges – challenges not related to transport, accommodation, food or money. Not at all – instead I was not able to get online – I have never experienced an internet connection performing this poorly. And this in a large hotel in the capitol of Malawi.

For several days I tried to upload new episodes of my podcast. Again, and again the upload failed after a while. It has been so frustrating not being able to do anything about it. When talking to the reception they promised to investigate it, unfortunately they never gave me any feedback – I had to ask them again and again. I never got any explanation, not even a ‘we are sorry for the inconvenience’, nothing. I’ve stayed at much cheaper guest houses where the service was 10 times better.

To make matters worse I discovered the subscription feature on my blog had stopped working. It was not possible for people to sign up. And I was not even able to log in and check up on it – the pages wouldn’t load due to the poor internet connection. I think I could have punched someone at this point, several times.

In the end I gave up and went to bed.

And the next day I asked for help on LinkedIn – not that anyone could fix the performance issues, but if someone could look at the issues with the subscription feature, I would be very happy. A former colleague from CGI Maria Ana from Sweden helped me and will help me in the future – I got myself a wingwoman 😊

The subscription feature is working again – or it’s partly working. If you have already tried to sign up without any success it is not possible to sign up again (we are working on solving the issue).

If you are one of the unlucky ones… please send me an email and I will register you manually – sorry for all the inconvenience.

This blog post should have been about something completely different related to Africa & humanists, but I have been too frustrated to write anything that made sense.

I know this is first world problems – people living here are facing much more serious problems than this. They have power outages, floods, droughts, lack of clean water, climate changes, a growing population they cannot feed.

I can leave – I can go home, turn on the electricity, get clean water out of the tab and be sure my internet connection is fast.

I’ll be back… with new podcasts and blog posts when the connection is good… I’ll be back

With more than 120 tribes (& same number of languages) no tribe has majority in Tanzania, the melting pot of migrations. The last tribe migrated to this country less than 200 years ago. Tanzania is even more diverse and complex than the other countries in East Africa – migrations from all over Africa, from India, from Europe, from almost everywhere.

Like the rest of East Africa, Tanzanians are very religious, conservative. The population is equally divided between Christianity, Islam and traditional religions, which means no religion has majority. This makes Tanzania different from the other countries – they had to find a way to live together, co-exist, no matter tribe or religion. They have succeeded in many ways, even though there can be tensions (as an example Zanzibar which is predominantly Muslim would like to be independent). Tanzania is peaceful and you don’t have to worry about security.

Like in the other countries it is difficult to be a non-believer in Tanzania. Family and friends might consider you a devil-worshipper if you openly come out as a non-believer. Like in Kenya Tanzania has a secular constitution including the human rights declaration which protects non-believers even though they might face discrimination in every day life.

There are a small group of freethinkers who try to reach out and find likeminded people in order to build a community. The internet and social media have helped a lot, since almost everybody has access to information online these days. So besides being enthusiastic the freethinkers are optimistic and know things will change slowly, but they will change. Many more non-believers will come out – because they are out there, they just think they are alone. Through the social media they will discover they are not alone in the world, and they will find a place to belong, a community.

Tanzania is also the biggest country – it is 22 times the size of Denmark, 22 (!). It’s huge – with the speed limit being 80 km/hour (down to 50 km/ hour many places) you’ll never manage to visit the whole country. It takes forever to drive from a to b. The traffic police are everywhere, you would be ruined before managing to drive from Arusha to Dar es Salaam.

For a Dane it is difficult to comprehend why they haven’t built highways like in Denmark where the whole country is covered in highways. Our highways have a speed limit of 130 km/ hour which makes it easy to get from one end of our small country to the other in no time. In addition, there is no railways of importance in Tanzania (again in contradiction to Denmark), which means everything must be transported on the same roads – goods, containers, people, schoolkids, cows, goats etc.

Halfway through my journey I have almost adjusted to the African way – which means you must be patient, don’t rush, take you time greeting people in a proper way, a lot of handshakes and talking. It seems like I have adjusted to the hot African weather as well – just arrived in Malawi, it’s 23 degrees & I’m freezing (!).

Halfway through my journey I have visited 4 countries in East Africa – the other half will be spend visiting 4 countries in Southern Africa.

My visit to the cradle of humankind – the Serengeti – made an impact. I think it is an amazing place. I would like to go back some day, and spend at least one week in the Serengeti, sleeping in tents among the wild animals, spending hours looking for them, spending hours staring at them. It’s beautiful, overwhelming, majestic – pictures can never show how it feels to be there.

Goodbye Tanzania & East Africa – hopefully I’ll see you again on the Serengeti – Hakuna Matata

Some facts:

Tanzania (Denmark)

Population:   60 mio. (5.8 mio.)

Area:   945.000 km2 (43.000 km2)

Density: 64/km2 (133/km2)

Life expectancy: 63 years (80 years)

Freedom of opinion & expression

2019-01-23 | Kenya | 1 Comment

The above article 19 is from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It gives all of us the right to say what we think and participate in the public debate.

Last week when I was in Nairobi visiting Harrison Mumia, the president of the Atheists in Kenya, he got fired from his job due to some political tweets. Harrison is probably the most well-known atheist in Kenya, participating in a lot of debates, tweeting and commenting on different subjects.

It is not easy being a non-believer in the very religious East African countries. Most people think you are a devil worshipper or illuminati if you publicly say you don’t believe in one or more gods. People will think you have no morals or ethics, because in their opinion only god (or gods) can tell right from wrong.

Some non-believers get shunned from their family, most loose friends and many know it will affect their chances of getting jobs and establishing a carrier if they openly declare their non-belief. When the humanists in Uganda spoke up for LGBT rights their office was attacked. They even went to Kato’s house (president of HALEA) and burned his car.

And now this – an atheist fired for participating in the public debate. Even in Denmark we have heard stories from civil servants fearing it will affect their job if they express their opinion. We have also seen stories about politicians requiring people to be fired because they disagreed with their opinion.

And these cases in my country Denmark where we are so proud of exercising the freedom of speech – to the extent that some people feel the need to humiliate others instead of keeping a civilised tone in any debate. Even in Denmark the freedom of expression is under pressure if our opinion is in opposition to the powerful people in our country.

A few years ago, the atheists in Kenya registered as an organisation. Some religious groups got upset and successfully pressured the government to revoke the approval. But the step was in violation of Kenya’s constitution, which meant the government lost the following court case and the Atheists in Kenya is now a registered organisation.

Harrison will off course sue his employer for wrongful termination and violation of his right to speak freely. I hope human rights organisations will follow the case closely. We need to protect our right to participate in politics and express our opinions.