Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The wandering writer (is back again)

This time I have to say that my wanderings didn't bring me that far away from my home; nevertheless, for someone, this could be regarded as a very exotic retreat.
Levi-Finland, a small town 170 km north of the polar circle. Last time I was in Lapland was at least 14 years ago.
What was more striking for me was the passing of time; fourteen years and I didn't even acknowledge that so many years went by. It felt like something was stolen from me, and it was the most important thing ever: my time.
However, going back it felt like coming back to those times, when, also for me, those places were new and exotic.
The old railway station of Rovaniemi was still the same old wooden building frozen in time, and like the first time I arrived there, it was dark and foggy.
I stood there for a while looking around me, letting all the memories coming back from the past, allowing the sensation to overwhelm me.
I closed my eyes, and I opened them once again with a smile on my face.
Everything felt good, even the least pleasant memories could not spoil that perfect moment of having back something of my past.
I walked to the bus station, where the bus would have brought me from Rovaniemi to my final destination: Levi.
Describing the trip would be impossible, as I fell asleep almost immediately. Despite the fairly good sleep on the night train, I felt like I needed some more sleep. Besides, I have always found extremely soothing the movement of a bus.
The cottage I rented was like something you would see in a postcard. For a moment I wished to own a cottage like that, but thinking twice, and recalling my thirst for traveling to discover different places, I considered the purchase rather obsolete; I would use it too few.
The first afternoon was spent looking around; the town is tiny for being a touristic ski resort, but on the other hand, Finland doesn't have any city that can be considered "big."
The capital, Helsinki, holds less than 600 000 inhabitants and the whole Finland only about 5500000, something that in many countries is the amount of the inhabitants of one single city or county.
Nevertheless, this is a great plus, having the possibility to live in a place where the woods are just on your backdoor.
When I can say that the silence of the capital is something comforting, there in this small town in the middle of nothing the silence was even inspiring.

I know I should have used this opportunity to continue my book or other projects; the problem was that nature was calling, and at that call, it was impossible to resist.
I went for long walks until I decided something different; going to ride Icelandic horses.
I fell in love once again; as those animal are the sweetest creatures, and I connected immediately with the one assigned to me.

I was in a group of about ten people who were going to ride on the same day. People who have been riding horses for all their lives or who never even saw a horse from real.
Nevertheless, considered the mild nature of those horses, it is easy to understand that there is no need to be an expert horseman to go for a ride.
The weather was fantastic, the sunshine... (ok, not much of sun, for being that North) the perfect blue sky, and the freezing cold (-10C).
It felt like living in a postcard, one of those you see on the commercials for arctic safaris or holidays. Those images so perfect you believe that they are made up to entice customers.
It was easy to get lost in the admiration of those wonders, almost forgetting to be on horseback walking around.
It was also easy to forget the low temperatures and other earthly feelings, like the hunger, just to cite one.
If it weren't for the beauty of the sceneries, the fun we had riding and the proper clothes, I think I would have never been able to enjoy anything of those two hours ride.

I would have loved to stay there for more than three days, the problem was that I had also to be back to my office; back to my day-job and routine.
After all, I also started to feel homesick; it is good to go but is also good to come back to the comfortable routine and all the things that mean "home."

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The wandering writer-Rwanda and DRC- part 2.

After the visit to the gorillas, a couple of days of rest were a must. Nevertheless, we had to continue our journey. We were heading south, towards Bukavu, and the best way to do it was by crossing the Kivu lake with a boat.
In Bukavu, we were supposed to meet another person from the UN mission, who would have helped us with the basic safety issues.
We booked a trip with the ferry, which was supposed to leave Goma in the morning and reach Bukavu in the early afternoon, so we packed our luggage and reached the harbour.
As we arrived, we sensed that the day was not supposed to run as smooth as we were hoping. Somehow, we expected some delays or difficulties, but the place was almost deserted, and with that, I mean that there was no boat or ferry in sight. I thought it was quite strange for a harbour not to have any boat but, on the other hand, we were in Africa, but not in any part of Africa; we were in Congo, so expecting something working in the same way as it works in my country would have been pure insanity.
So, here we were, at the harbour with our luggage and no idea where to go or what to look for. We had our reservation for the ferry, but there was no ferry or any information point.
We asked one person who was there, maybe waiting for the same ferry. He didn't know, but he asked someone else about it.
At last, we were informed that the ferry was still in Bukavu waiting for the permission to come in Goma. It seemed that it had the authorization to leave but not the permission to arrive.
T.I.A: This Is Africa!
We waited for hours, at midday we started to be hungry, but we could not leave the harbour, because we had all our luggage with us, and we needed to understand what was going on and whether or when we could leave to Bukavu.
After a long wait, we were given two options; the first was that we would have taken the night ferry. The other was going back to our hotel, pay for another night and wait for the next morning, hoping to leave with the fast ferry.
We decided to leave with the night ferry, not knowing what to expect. I asked the man who came to give us the option whether there was the possibility to have a place to sleep, other than the floor.
He smiled and assured us that we could have the "captain suite."
I felt assured of the fact that there should be a sort of comfort in that "suite."
Finally, the ferry arrived. Ok, the word "ferry" was just a euphemism to describe something that was floating on the lake and had an engine.
The frame was mostly rusty and also had a few holes here and there, the original shine was gone a long time ago, and now it was a sort of relic. There was a small broken window in the upper part, which I suspected it was the "captain suite."
That didn't look good, but we could not go back.
A friendly looking young man came out from the boat and introduced himself as the captain of the ferry. He kindly welcomed us aboard and helped us with the luggage. I thanked him for his kindness and felt sorry for taking over his room, but I guess the extra money we paid for were enough to pay back for the disturbance.
We climbed the stairs to the upper deck, and he opened the door...
How could I describe the "captain suite" to you?
A stinky place with a filthy mattress on the floor, a small table with an unstable looking little chair.
I looked at the chair and the mattress.
My mind raced with the possibilities, and suddenly I said, "the chair is mine, nobody touches it."
They looked at me puzzled, and I smiled shyly "it is such a beautiful looking chair," I lied, trying to justify that odd statement.
The reality of the fact was that I wasn't sure I wanted to sleep on that mattress, and at the time the chair looked like a five-star accommodation.
Quite soon the ferry got crowded of every sort of thing, besides people, goats, chickens, bags of grain/rice/flour/seeds or whatever else.
When the ferry was full-packed, we left Goma.
Everything was going fine until we realised one thing; we were hungry! We went downstairs trying to check whether there was some sort of kitchen in the ferry or a sort of place where to buy food. There was a kitchen alright, but they were using the water of the lake to cook. Considering that the lake is not the cleanest one in the world because of the volcanic activity that releases on the bottom poisonous gases and the fact that the ferried and boats are discharging in the waters their wastes, it didn't invite me.
OK, no food; we are not going to starve for one day without food, the important is to have something to drink.
Hold on!!
"Where is the toilet?" I wondered, and as we were looking for it, we found out a


No, I do not have the words to describe that and believe me, it was something, which was able to stop all the physiological activities in my body.
We went back to our "suite" and started to talk about the following day, what was arranged and how it would have happened.
We took out our map, and our "lonely planet" guide, which was suggesting not to visit DRC for any reason in the world due to the high risk of being kidnapped by the rebels.
"How encouraging!"
Despite the fact that a human body can stand for even ten days without any food, our bellies started to complain noisily about having been empty for 24 hours.
"Wait here; I'm going to see whether I can find something that hasn't been cooked," said my husband.
After a few minutes, he appears with four one-litre bottles of beer, "Carbs," he said.
We laughed and opened the first one, considering that we didn't drink much anything, during the day, all the liquids we were drinking went straight to replenish the reserves of fluids, and we didn't need any toilet.
Someone knocked at the door; we looked at each other wondering who that might be (remembering that we were in hostile territories).
Luckily was just a guy who was wondering about the two white passengers in the boat. We talked a bit with him and seemed to be a nice guy; he said he was a student at the University, but he was back home for a holiday to see his family.
My husband had difficulties to fall asleep since he was born, and he wondered if, in the boat, they were selling something different than beer, for example, whisky or something stronger to relax.
The guy said that if we gave him some money he would have gone and get it for us. I would have said no, but on the other hand, he didn't have any place to hide. For this reason, my husband gave him some money, and he left.
After some time, as forecasted he didn't return not with our money and neither with some alcohol. We laughed, but my husband went to search for him.
"I'll be back in a couple of minutes," he promised.
Now, in other circumstances, I wouldn't have even looked at the clock, and neither I would have minded if he would have returned the morning after. The problem is that we still were in a dangerous place, and none of us had any idea of who was on that ferry with us.
Five minutes...
Ten minutes...
I was terrified.
Fifteen minutes...
I already figured him on the bottom of the lake dead and wondered when they would have come to get me.
Half an hour and a familiar knocking code at the door released my fears.
I went to open and wanted to kill him with my own hands.
"I got the money back. Unfortunately, no strong alcohol is sold here," he said.
Oh well, all's well that ends well.

After an almost sleepless night, we reached Bukavu, and there we had a taxi to reach the hotel where we would have to spend the next five days before returning by bus/taxi to Kigali.
As we reached the hotel, I was already dead tired, and it comforted me to have a real bed and toilet. The first thing was a long shower, and then... Food!
Something engaged my giggle when I looked around. There are hotels where you cannot smoke, others where you cannot bring animals, others where you cannot consume alcohol, and others, like the one we were, where you cannot bring machine guns; fair enough for me.

The following days we were driving around discovering in a safe way the beauties of the natural environment, the local people, and their lifestyle.

 It is always a pleasure to be reminded that life is made of simple things.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The wandering writer - Rwanda and DRC- part 1

Trust me; there is nothing more addictive than Africa.
It is in the red soil, in the warmth of the people and their simple life, which is far more true than the one western people live.
It is in the vast forests and the white sands.
It is in the harsh deserts and volcanic areas.
It is in the wildlife and the still surviving biodiversity that reminds us we are part of it and should never try to divide from nature.
It is in the violent thunderstorms, and the pitch black nights when the clouds cover the moon.
It is also in those starry skies that people living in the cities have never seen, and probably never will if not from the TV.
All those things and much more make Africa great; of that greatness that is far from technology. It is far more advanced as people have a better understanding of nature and use resources without abusing them.
However, it is still a land cursed by civil wars and exploitation, which goes easily unseen by the rest of the world.
Africa, the beautiful, is also the bad consciousness of a world who believes not seeing is equal to not existing.
Once again, we decided to go, and the next targets were Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The choice was not easy, and the organisation of the journey was more complicated than we thought. Reaching Rwanda would have been quite easy, as the conflict that plagued the country was far and gone, there weren't any safety issues involved. Another question was reaching DRC.
The threat posed by the rebel groups to the general population, tourists or foreigners, in particular, was not to be underestimated. For this reason, we took our time to assess the risk, and work out a safer travel plan.
I had to admit that the reason why I wanted to visit the country was to be able to see the mountain gorillas in their habitat. There are left quite a few individuals, and they all risk the extinction. Much probably in the near future, the only ones we will be able to see will be the ones kept in captivity.
We were lucky to have a few contacts within the UN missions which helped us and offered us a backup.
Rwanda, as we experienced in Sierra Leone was on the road to reconstruction, and the future looked bright. Streets were well kept, and life was once again flourishing.

It was, of course, a must to visit the genocide museum and all the main landmarks. However, differently than the people in Sierra Leone, they weren't eager to talk about the past; they just wanted to forget.
Organising the transportation to the border of the DRC, was perhaps the easiest thing, and we decided to go with a local bus.
The journey wasn't supposed to be very long (at least not even closely comparable with the trip between Arusha and Mombasa see the post finding an inspiration). However, the bus was not in its best shape, and it was supposed to be quite crowded, with more travellers than its capacity. We were not truly happy about it, mainly because our luggage didn't look to be safely arranged on the roof.
We spotted a taxi at the gas station, and without even consulting each other, we went there and asked the price to reach the border. Obviously, it was more expensive than going with the bus, but we could have stopped whenever we wanted to take pictures or for our physiological needs, which not necessarily would have taken into account by the bus driver (I still remembered the previous experience).
We took our luggage and started our journey with the taxi. It was a wise choice, and we had an easy trip. We safely reached the border, and we arrived in Goma.

The first thing that we could notice as soon as we crossed the border was the difference between the two neighbouring countries. The roads were mostly unpaved, and the ones who were once paved were quite in bad shape.
Buildings were more to be considered ruins or shacks. Nevertheless, people were going on with their lives and once again, they looked happier than we do.
We reached our hotel effortlessly; for security reasons, it had to be a four-star hotel. After a long shower and a change of clothes, we were ready to relax and wait to meet our first contact from the UN mission.
She explained us the actual situation and how to reach the offices of the Virunga National Park, to arrange a visit to the gorillas.
The following day, we had a walk around to explore a bit the town, and have an idea about the place we were. There was a big old, and semi-destroyed Christian church. According to the information we got from the people passing by, the church was built a long time ago and went destroyed many times by the eruption of the volcano, likewise the rest of the city. Nevertheless, disregarding the threat posed by the volcano, people remained there, and preferred to rebuild their homes than move away from the place they called "home."

We went to the offices of the Virunga Park, and we set a visit after a couple of days. I was excited.
We left early in the morning before the sunrise; the volcano was already awake, and it was glowing in the darkness. However, besides that slight activity, there weren't any warnings about a potential eruption.
We reached the offices of the park rangers where we would have joined the guides and a group of six fully armed guards.
"This is not for the gorillas," the ranger explained us, "this is to have a sort of backup in case of an attack by the rebel group."
For some reasons, I wasn't feeling reassured, but at that point, I wasn't intentioned to come back, so we acknowledge the risks of that trip, and we left.

I have no idea about how dense a forest can be until I could enter the core of the Virunga National Park. Sure there was a terrain, but we could not even touch the ground with our feet, so thick was the coverage of the roots of the trees and bushes.
It was also quite slippery, and after the first time that I fell on my butt, I started to realise the best way to walk in that intricate net of roots.
We walked quite silently, looking around and listening to the sounds of the many creatures living in that great environment. Time by time, our guide, produced some guttural sounds, which were supposed to be interpreted by the gorilla as a friendly call, something like "we come in peace."
He might have known the spot where the gorilla used to be, because quite soon, we could spot the first one.
That was one of the most intense moments of my entire life.
They saw us and didn't pay attention to our presence until a massive silverback (the older male of the group) appeared just behind me.
We all turned our gazes, being very careful of not making any eye contact, which can be interpreted as a challenge to his authority.
We were in his territory, and the last thing we wanted was to be disrespectful.
He sat down, looked at us and with a grunt let us be.
Our journey ended in the late evening, but I assure you, there is nothing that can compare the feeling of being in front of these amazing apes. Once again it reminded me how close we are to them; the only difference is our endless greed and willingness to destroy everything to satisfy it.
...to be continued


Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Wandering Writer

Once again I come to tell a bit about my travel experiences and the inspirations to them connected. Previously I told about my first travelling experience, in Kenya and Tanzania. When I returned home, I couldnt stop thinking about those places as they were so far from my everyday experience and from what I saw on the TV.
The feelings of homesickness felt so unbearable, that we needed to have another holiday there, exploring more of that fantastic continent. However, being always interested in the political aspect, we decided to explore more sensitive countries, for this reason, we decided to visit Sierra Leone.
It was in 2008 when we decided to go, the civil war ended already, but the UN mission was still operational, mostly for the reconstruction of their democracy. There werent any flights from Finland to Freetown, but we decided to fly to Banjul (Gambia) so to have also the chance to visit that country.
Unfortunately, we didnt have any chance to visit Gambia, as we could not either leave the hotels premises. The only time we tried to reach the beach, we were literally surrounded by local merchants wanting to sell us something, visit their shop or visit their restaurant. Therefore already from the third day, we arranged our move to Freetown.

It was quite exciting to arrive in Sierra Leone; and we were eager to discover the history, the places and particularly the people. Reaching the hotel was not the easiest of the tasks because the airport is situated on the northern coast of the estuary, and to reach the city we had to take the boat. Of course, the waiting time was longer than you could expect in any western countries, but one has to recall that each country has its own way to work. It took several hours, but finally, we made it and even if tired, we felt satisfied.
The morning after started with a round of the surroundings by foot, and we felt extremely pleased to be able to walk around being greeted by the locals without any harassment from merchants.

We walked

And walked


And made more walk; something I could never get enough is the red, rich colour of the soil in Africa. We loved to walk around and have small chats with local people; particularly those at the small shops along the road.

We had long chats about everything, but particularly about what they could share of the period of the civil war. It was so close, yet people were determined to find a new normality in peace and leave at their shoulders a very painful and frightening past. They willingly told us about their experiences and finally I realised that the reality told by the media was just a minimal part of the reality, and generally, is flawed with personal opinions. Another sad reality was that outside Africa, nobody cares about what happen there, and that was what saddened me the most. Such a great country so much ignored taken aside the documentaries about wildlife.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to share their natural environment, which is something that enchanted and amused me since the beginning:      

Last but not least, the symbol of Sierra Leone, a real landmark: the cotton tree.

This giant and old tree, which is about 500 years old is very important to the population, and on its surroundings, it was built the heart of Freetown; the Supreme Court, the National Museum and the music club building.

And besides being very dear to the population, it hosts a large group of fruit bats. As for me, I am used to seeing bats, flying at night, but I have never seen that big amount in the same place.
Once again leaving Africa was difficult, and  as the plane left the ground, I started to think about the next time I would have visited Africa again, thinking about the next country to be discovered.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

About becoming a self-published author (starting from the anonymity)

At least so far, this is not yet one of those "successful stories" you hear every day on the internet. However, even if it is not a success story, it has a silver lining, revealed at the end of the story.
This is somehow the story of many self-published authors at the beginning of their adventures.
I have experienced a few stages and the feelings connected that torment me since I have started this new adventure.
Excitement: I just saw my first novel published, I had a physical copy in my hand and friends around me congratulate for the job well done. I felt like I have accomplished something and that this could be a new beginning. In my wildest dreams, I hoped that perhaps I could even make a living out of it.
Wait: I had my first book sold!!!! YAY!!
"Now it is time to celebrate!" I said, as this can really be the new start, after all, you always start with one copy sold, don't you?
Another issue is to get people reviewing your work, and that should be done by people who actually have read it amd have some credibility. Amazon offers a list of reviewers who can read your book or ebook and give an honest feedback. Another way is to get in Facebook communities of swap review; how they work? Easy, you ask someone to review your book and in exchange you review his/her book. It is a sort of helping each other that can help in a quite fast way.
After all, what gives success to a self-published author is the information spread by word of mouth.

And with this we come to the next stage:
Wild promotion: Without any publishing house at my shoulders, I had to work double to make my dream come true, and I have invested all of my free time in finding a way to promote my novel.
Now, writing a book in English, and living in a non-English-speaking country, it is much more challenging, because it is not easy to set up book signing happenings (unless you are John Grisham or Stephen King). Not to mention that most of the bookshops are not dealing with foreign literature unless they are have been published by a known publisher, which is also accepting returns; however, a small minus of Amazon taht can deter bookshops and libraries is just the fact of not having the chance to give back the unsold material.
However, after a research about the ways to get your name around and perhaps having also some sales, I started to promote my novel in many ways possible, investing time and money.
Hopelessness and frustration: It is not encouraging to see that regardless the efforts, your sales are still equal to zero. I continued to look at the only two reviews I had from people who actually read my novel, those great five star reviews, that reminded me that my novel was not garbage, or at least not totally garbage if the people who read it were satisfied with their purchase and would recommend to other readers.
The question was obvious, "where did I do wrong?"
At that question, the only answer was that perhaps I haven't been promoting it wild enough.
The return of the hope: I haven't yet sold more than a couple of copies, but you know what? I am not going to give up, this has been and still is my dream, so considering that I have a good job that sustains my family and me, so I am not going to be bankrupted in the near future, my life is looking bright.
The bottom line:
Pursuing the dreams I have is what keeps me alive, and if I didn't have any dreams to fulfil or to reach for, I think I will be dead and gone. The failures are a very important part of our lives as they can teach us far more valuable lessons than every single success achieved. If I were to give advice to everyone who is looking to become a published author, I would say: never lose the hopes and treat it as a hobby. Make sure that your passion will never subside, regardless the failures, keep that spark alive, no matter what, because that is the dream that can keep you alive.

Stay tuned for other news!!

The long road of writing a book.

Publishing a book is a journey on a rocky path that involves several stages, from writing and pre-editing to editing, formatting, selecting ...