It was 1977, my studies had been going on for 2 years by now. My outer life was at the university, but inside me there was emptyness.
It felt I was loosing my direction in life, the very ground under my feet. Biochemistry was loosing its pull on me.
On the inside the question grew stronger: What really matters? What did I want to do with this life, where did I want to go?
There were no answers, from nowhere. The light of awareness was not yet guiding me, its flame was very dim.
Politically, I felt very rebellious, wanting to overturn old structures and ideas, but had no idea how to create something new.
These were darker times in my life, and I felt the desperation and meaninglessness impacting me more and more.
What was the meaning of becoming successful, finishing my studies, finding a place in a society I didn´t feel I belonged to?
I didnt feel I had a home anywhere, I didnt know what I wanted to achieve, I didnt even know if I wanted to live.
Somehow I needed life to tell me if I was to live or not, I needed to break out. The idea that crystallized inside me was to go to Africa.
Joseph Conrads book “heart of darkness” seemed to be calling me – the very title fascinated me. I wanted to face this heart of darkness, encounter it. Yes, I knew it was dangerous, travelling through Africa on my own, that I might not survive, but I wanted to place all this in the hands of something bigger. I didnt have the right words at that time, so I called it life. Would life want me to live or not? This journey should decide it, maybe help me find some meaning.
So I set out on my own – booking a flight to Cairo in Egypt first. In order not to frighten my parents, I told them that this journey was together with a group of friends, in a VW bus. Truth was, however, I was on my own, just with my backpack. The adventure began…
From Cairo I went on to Assyut, then to Luxor and down to Assuan. There was a lot of old culture to see in Egypt, mstical remnants of a glorious past, and a not so glorious presence. The country was vibrant, still flowing with the energy of its past, having not yet found its new role in the world. Leaving Cairo, the muslim influence was felt stronger, and the interaction with women became more restricted. As I was having quite long, blond hair at that time, I received a lot of attention from the young men. However, there was no open aggression, just the feeling of a sexually repressed society that forced the life energy to contract.
From Assuan/Egypt I took a boat to Wadi Halfa into Sudan, then continued onwards riding on the roof of a train until Khartoum. From Khartoum there were occasionally boats on the nile, taking roughly 2 weeks to reach Juba in southern Sudan. I had to wait a couple of days, but I got lucky: a boat really arrived. I booked my passage, 3rd class, and spent those 2 weeks on the open deck of that boat. Together with hundreds of other people, I was imbedded in a strange and mysterious mixture of african cultures. Civilization as I knew it was disappearing, outside and inside too. I was getting sick with a high fever, and I knew I was loosing it when I started to understand all the local languages spoken around me. I was hallucinating, floating in a bubble of space and time, and the 2 weeks on the nile boat floated along like a dream.
I was headed for Juba in southern Sudan, but before getting there, I left the boat in Bor. This place was Dinka land, and only few years ago the bloody civil war had stopped. Now I was really out of civilization, and I could feel the timeless energy of this country, ancient and original, and the life of these people was as different from mine as I could imagine. Something inside me woke up. Nobody here asked about the meaning of life – just living was more than enough, and slowly I tuned into this energy. Time slowed down, life was flowing in its century old rhythms, and the energy of Africa got into me.
From Bor I travelled to Juba on the backside of a truck. In the youth hostel in Juba I met some young Americans – broke, sick, looking very thin and weak. They had different diseases, big open wounds on their legs, no money and were stranded in southern Sudan. Feeling helpless and hopeless, they were just hanging out there, not knowing what to do. And then something happened, that left a deep imprint in me: Seeing those poor souls, sick, unable to travel onwards, the local administrators of Juba felt compassion and provided them with some money so that they could get medical treatment and travel home. One of the poorest countries of the world, supporting the citizens of the richest country in that time: such a generosity of heart, compassion and caring changed my idea of Africa: Compassion was here too.
From Juba I went south into the Congo, that time called Zaire. It was the time of the infamous Mobutu. There was no traffic, no cars, nothing, so the last miles I spent walking. Crossing the border by foot, a very surprised customs officer took his time, finally letting me enter into the “heart of darkness”.