Recently back from their year-long trip driving the length and breadth of Africa, Rosanna Pindoria found time to chat to us about her family's amazing adventure.
What were the best and worst moments of the trip for you?
Best times included a number of occasions where our kids met other adults and later introduced myself and Ajay into their social circle. Those times we were fully functioning at an inter-generational level. I loved it.
We also enjoyed the times where we could truly immerse ourselves into an existing culture and help out. However, I felt painfully limited as to what we could really offer. But when we met our sponsored child in Uganda, it was a humbling experience to see how we make a tangible difference for this youngest boy in a very poor family.
Worst moments were early on in the journey where our roles were undefined and expectations were unclear, causing a lot of friction.
The unknown always gave us a lot of anxiety. We were constantly out of our comfort zones, encountering new people and new cultures. We chose a challenging route and the kids often found it hard having to repeatedly interact with new people. We had to give each other a lot of support – but these often ended up to be the best times as well. We'd always meet the loveliest families. We saw that families operated a lot more cohesively in other cultures.
One time, we were in the middle of nowhere in Botswana and from the GPS we saw that we had to cross a river. However, we had just seen crocs and hippos in the nearby lakes and was disinclined to walk through the river to check it. What would you have done?! As we drove through the river, we had the fright of our lives when the river bed suddenly dropped and the water came up to the windscreen. But at the other side of the river we were exhilarated and it was a great story that all five of us related for months later, pulling us all together in our experiences. The whole trip was like that; anxious moments and high points, and stories that we all keep retelling.
Were there any hard times on the trip?
It was hard being together initially without any help from normal social structures such as friendships, job and school; constantly together without any time out – but we got to know ourselves and each other better. The kids especially missed their friends and social structures. (However, they are now looking forwards to integrating into a new country – which was a subtext in our agenda!) In sub-Saharan Africa we were continually being watched. It was just as if people from the Maasai Mara had materialised in a British street: everyone would be watching them. It became wearing, more than we realised. Over the second half of the trip, predictably, everything became easier. We interacted better in terms of practical issues and we laughed quicker and more easily as time went on.
Have you found it a bonding experience?
Yes it was bonding, but more to the point, the trip will continue to be a bonding experience in the future because frankly when we start a sentence with the words "In Africa" it's a real turn-off! Consequently our memories will be contained in the walls of our family-life and will re-enforce our family dynamics.
Any advice for another family considering embarking on a trip like yours?
The older the kids are, the more you need to include them in your every-day decision making process. (Even to the extent that if the kids don't want to go, then I would seriously reconsider the project!) Definitely set up a couple of work experiences: they gave us insight into the lives of the desperately poor that we never would have had otherwise.
Have you found it a bonding experience?
We were able to see, feel (and smell!) history, geography and different cultures close up. It was a rich learning environment. Even seeing poverty on TV since we've returned has made us and the kids quick to empathise. All three of our kids are far more aware of how rich we are and the opportunities we have in the west which are just not available for so many people we met. However as a family, we've become more conscious of how much waste we generate and how little we need not just to survive but to do well. We are so incredibly privileged to have made this trip.
What was the one gadget you couldn't have lived without on the trip?
The freezer was our essential luxury! We could have frozen meals, cold yogurt but most importantly, cold water through some very hot and dry climates.
Did you have a desert island disc that reminds you of the trip?
Well, we listened to hours of unabridged classics: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, Mao's Last Dancer and Watership Down to name a few that we particularly enjoyed. Surprisingly, the rhythm of home-school in the car in the morning and stories in the afternoon meant that the miles flew past without much effort.
Asher said that rolling the car was his highlight and that was when his adventure really began! On the other hand, it precipitated one of the worst periods of the year for myself and my husband. I struggled to visualise the trip, after the car accident. So many friends and acquaintances had advised us that it was an impossible and dangerous journey with a family. Now having nearly lost our lives, we were confronted with the reality of those words. At the time, I thought we were being totally irresponsible but now I'm so proud of all of us. It's given us a real sense of being able to achieve anything we want to.