Sand and dust

I’ll be honest.

It would be easier for me to write my stories on Africa with a list of things to do in each country I went to, in the order that I visited them (1. South Africa  2. Namibia  3. Sudan), but now that I’m home I realise that’s not what I remember most about Africa. On a long-ish trip, I retain bits and pieces of memories of individual places,  but – for want of a better word- the thing that hits me first at the end of it all is often the big picture.

I tried writing while I was away but every time I did, I would begin a few paragraphs only to realise very soon after that I’d written absolute rubbish. It sounded lame, weak and contrived, so I stopped. I would try again later only to stop after a few minutes. This went on for days when I was in South Africa.  I wrote in my notebook every day but I couldn’t construct anything from my notes. My problem was that I hadn’t got the big picture.


Table Mountain, Cape Town

I gave up writing after it hit me that after three days of being in Cape Town, I was being ambitious and trying to explain Africa to those who’d never been there, which is silly and impossible to do when you’ve only been to one country. Cape Town – parts of which are very cosmopolitan and remind me of Europe- doesn’t represent South Africa, just like how South Africa doesn’t represent the whole of Africa.


(Creative Commons image from

(Creative Commons image from

If you haven’t seen this photo yet, take a good look at it. Africa is a huge continent, far larger than we’ve been taught. It would take years to explore and understand just half of it. In some countries, towns and cities are hundreds of miles apart and connected only by bumpy dirt roads. There are thousands of ethnic groups and tribes with different languages, cultures and religions. Africa is also very economically diverse- some people live very lavishly and some live in extremely harsh conditions. 

Earlier in March I reached the Namib desert, which, at 55 million years old, has the world’s oldest sand dunes. Other than a peek out the window after a transit at Dubai Airport two years ago, I’d never seen a desert or sand dune up close. Heck, I never imagined that deserts could be so beautiful until I saw these views for myself:


Dune 45, Namibia


Dunes in the Namib Desert at sunrise


My nights in the desert were spent away from civilisation, in a tent under the sky. On some nights we had electricity; on some nights, we had to see our way around with torchlights and headlamps. Being without the comfort of light would be unthinkable anywhere else but when you’re outdoors, being in the dark somehow seems right.

Sometimes, on my way back to the tent after sundown, I would hear sounds of rustling or the cry of a wild animal somewhere. “Make sure you zip up your tent properly so that nothing can crawl in,” our guide would remind us now and then. You don’t get that at home.

Of course there were the stars. Millions of diamonds against a thick black sky, as far as the eye can see. I would stare at the stars through the window in my tent until I dozed off, willing myself to stay awake just so I could look at them a little longer because they would be gone in the morning.


Stars over the Namib Desert


And the sand? Don’t get me started on the sand. The dunes of the Namib are a rich rusty-orange colour. Particles are tiny and as fine as powder. I had sand in my shoes, between my toes and lodged between my spectacle frames and the lenses. After sandboarding in Swakopmund, there was sand in my mouth, my clothes, on my eyelashes and in my bra. It was ridiculous.

I’m usually quite good when it comes to unpacking after a trip. Dirty clothes go straight into the washing machine on the first day.

Shoes, I’m not so good.

From your home to the airport, to the plane and to a new country, your shoes take you everywhere. They leave tracks everywhere you go. Because of that, I’m always reluctant to clean my shoes. Imagine what your tracks all over the world would look like if the rain, snow and wind couldn’t wash or blow them away.

Right now, Africa’s red earth and sand are stuck to the soles of my shoes. There is sand in my sandals but I’m not too fussed about that. I’ll have to clean them eventually, but not just yet. I want to leave my shoes unwashed for as long as I can.

When I look out of my window, I see the lush green of my mother’s garden and yet I find myself wishing I could see those beautiful orange dunes again.

If there is a big picture here, it is that the sand and dust of Africa will stay with me for a long, long time.


© 2014, Anis. All rights reserved.

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9 Responses

  1. Beautiful photos Anis and I am sure, beautiful place too. Thing is, it is amazing to see something that we have never seen, just like the desserts. And don’t let me start with the stars. I can’t remember when was the last time I see stars as much as THAT!

    Oh, it must have been a nice trip huh Anis? 🙂

    • Anis says:

      It was really, really amazing. It’s the kind of place where you just sit in silence and take it all in, and you don’t want to move. And the stars are obviously more beautiful in real life 🙂

  2. Sofia says:

    Africa is indeed a huge continent, and I admit that I sometimes forget how huge it is, because normally when you hear Africa, you’d automatically think of South Africa.. or maybe that’s just me, and the kids. But sandsurfing and sleeping in the sand under millions of stars would definitely take you back to childhood, and that is a great story to tell.

    • Anis says:

      Hi Sofia,
      It is massive. There’s just so much space!! I’m definitely going back again. And there’s just something about sleeping on the ground and with nothing much to separate you from the elements. It’s very exciting 🙂

  3. Julian says:

    Hi Anis,

    I dropped a comment on one of your previous posts (with tons of questions!) on Russian tourist visa application. Would appreciate your advice. Sorry I couldn’t post the link in the comment.

    Regards & happy travels 🙂

  4. Jessie says:

    I’m glad you included the True Size of Africa photo! It still blows my mind!

  5. Amazing photographs of the desert. I don’t think you can ever really sum up whole continents or even countries, so I like your approach.

    • Anis says:

      Thanks Katie, and thanks for dropping by. Africa is such an amazing place! Definitely going back again one day.