Just popped in to the local supermarket this morning to buy emergency loo roll after doing the school run and was amused by the sight of two overland truckloads of backpackers pouring out of their vehicles in the car park and heading straight for the shop. There must have been thirty of them at least and judging by their speed, it looked like they had been given a fifteen minute time limit to run in and grab what they needed in a kind of 'supermarket sweep' challenge.
After excitedly swarming inside, gossiping and giggling in familiar English ‘young people’ accents, they proceeded to ram the bread counter and sweetie aisle. ‘Ooo, I could go seriously overboard here!’ said one young girl grabbing at chocolate bars. A similarly young man saw a large packet of Mini Mars and exclaimed, ‘My favourite! I’m going to go for it’ then added with a flourish, ‘you only live once!’ A few went to the mobile phone stand and a couple to the booze section. I saw that they were all in their late teens or early twenties and bursting with energy.
My eyes were popping at the outfits: the sloppy, dirty tracksuit trousers with baggy bottoms; the filthy feet in flip flops some with henna that was wearing off; the unwashed, un brushed, greasy, scrunched up hair; the grungy tee-shirts. The boys wearing ‘my granny made it’ knitted hats, the boys with cheap orange highlights, the saggy shorts; the ground in tan that was half from the sun and half simply filth.
When we lived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the place was hovering at that early stage of tourism where backpackers and honeymooners visited, but mainstream hotels had not yet been built. There were no plane loads of package tourists arriving in search of guaranteed sunshine, only the intrepid and the brave visited. After years of socialism, the Tanzanians were used to encounters with missionaries, aid workers and backpackers from overseas, which apparently coloured their view of foreigners generally. When asked what words best described the white people who visited their country, they came up with the following; scruffy, poorly dressed, smelly, teachers.
When I saw the overlanders on this overcast, drizzly Nairobi morning my first reaction was strangely maternal, ‘Oh dear they must be freezing – poor things have camped out all night,’ then, ‘They are not wearing nearly enough clothes!’ Then more frighteningly, ‘One day my girls might want to go off and do this. Oh my God, how could I stop them!’ But as the group rammed each other with baby shopping trolleys, shared jokes and dashed excitedly back to the truck with their sweets, doughnuts and bottles of water, dirty and having almost certainly had a rough night under canvas and I looked down at my loo roll and oven cleaner in my little basket I thought, ‘Wow, they are having so much fun, what a riot!.....Oh dear, I must be getting old.’