“A traveller journeys not without knowing whither he wanders” (H M Stanley)

I shall miss the food more than the work. For the last two weeks I’ve eaten better than I might do for a very long time. Sushi in Central Africa I tell you! It was the only thing I really looked forward to whilst holding a tape measure in the scorching sun, wondering what the hell I was doing. That and the interaction with the children, who curious as ever wanted to know more about the schools that were being built for them.

The Japanese from this construction company remained as inscrutable as ever, and I found myself having to explain to many local staff that their culture was just very different. They work hard, communicate very little, and generally take very long to get to know. Take Suzuki san for example. This is the chap I worked alongside for two weeks. He barely said a word to me, and when he did it was often through Hiromu, my Japanese cycling companion. Locals greeted him in French and tried to shake his hand. Children occasionally shouted Ni hao, assuming he was Chinese. His attention was elsewhere. Was he purposefully ignoring these people? Was he just shy? Did he realise it was rude not to make eye contact, greet and shake hands with important locals? I sometimes imagined how he would react if I threw a bucket of water in his face. Would he flinch? Shout at me? Retaliate? He has been here a month and will stay for up to another year. I doubt he will learn a word of French or Sango, the local dialect. And even if he does, it will be a rare moment when he utters a word. For all I know he might speak fluent English.

At work in Bangui

For all my frustration with the job and failure to fully comprehend the Japanese mentality I shouldn’t complain. Yes the work was dull as hell, but the Japanese were paying for my food and lodging, and providing beer money that will probably last until I reach the Indian Ocean. For the others – the local employees, the situation was different. For two weeks work I got paid what many would earn in about 3 months. And lets face it, they were doing far more actual work than me and probably supporting various family members through that measly wage.

Anyhow. Now it’s back to reality for me too. Tomorrow I hope to load the bike on a canoe and cross the Ubangui river, which divides Bangui and the Central African Republic from Congo DRC. Apparently the route I’m planning to follow used to be popular amongst overland travellers through Africa, but that was more than 20 years ago. Gemena looks like the first town of any size as I head south towards the Congo river. If there is Internet there you’ll know about it, otherwise it may be some time before I get to write here again.