Ignorance was bliss. We have now seen ourselves through the eyes of others. And what we have seen is not pretty.
Four months on the road with only each other as behaviour-moderators has left myself and Tough Guy in a pitiful state. This has only become apparent with the arrival of family and – gulp – spouses. The look on their faces when laying eyes on us was not joy or relief. It was fear. We have become feral.
Our personal appearances have been the hardest hit. Tough Guy’s mustache looks like a cross between Hitler and Ron Weasley. My beard is less Kingsley Holgate and more Mr Twit. It looks like pubic hair has been stuck haphazardly on my pale cheeks by a three-year-old with a bad sense of humour. Then there is the state of our clothes – months in crusty buses and seedy accommodation has left them not only with a collection of stains that can only vaguely be accounted for but with an ensemble of odours whose collective pong is so strong it has formed its own personality and joined our travel group as a third member: Malcolm. Our underwear is washed so infrequently that swarms of flies have been seen to leave their orgy on rubbish heaps to make a bee-line for our respective groins.
We talk freely about the people sitting right beside us – usually safe in the knowledge that their grasp of English is insufficient to understand our derogatory critique. This served us well through West Africa. It didn’t serve us well in Ghana. In fact, it almost got us killed. Having passed through so many lands with so many different religious hardliners likewise has posed some interesting problems. Being of somewhat loose religious affiliation has been both a blessing and a curse. Tough Guy may yet face a lynching for stating ‘Alhamdoulilahi!’ in front the wrong audience. I have let slip ‘inshallah’ in front of more Christian priests than I can count. And this always seems to signal the end of our engagement. A particular problem when we are camping at their mission. Few things are reverent enough not to have humorous pictures taken in them. Not even Emperor Haile Selassies bath – the setting for a particularly bad-taste photo-shoot.
Finally there are our eating habits. Cutlery is not big in Africa so we have become used to shovelling vast handfuls of food down our gullets. Locals have practised this for years and do it with a semblance of panache. We are new to it and do it with a semblance of stroke-victim. It looks like a mother penguin feeding her ravenous chick.