Living under the poverty line

I am now 50 days into the walk and we have certainly had our ups and downs but the hardest thing without a doubt has been living under the poverty line.

I set myself the challenge of completing the entire trip spending just US$1.50 per day on food to simulate what it is like for the billions who live below the poverty line every day. So my eating on this trip has been very basic to say the least. Here is an insight into what it has been like.

  • For breakfast it is either porridge or cornflakes with a cup of tea
  • Lunch is usually just dry 2 minute noodles or a sandwich
  • Afternoon tea is a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts
  • Dinner is rice or pasta with a sauce made from onion, tomato, carrot and tomato puree with a bit of seasoning, plus a couple of cups of tea
  • I keep hydrated with water or cheap cordial

breakfast lunch snack dinner

You might think that doesn’t sound too bad other than the obvious lack of variety. Well the portion sizes are quiet small to stay under the US$1.50 and there is no going back for seconds. Shopping is also less enjoyable now, walking past all the nice looking food that I know we can’t afford and working out how to make ends meet on so little is somewhat depressing.

We have however learnt to be smart in a few ways to cut down on costs and sometimes cook our own bread in the fire and if we can get cheap potatoes we also roast them in the fire and that helps to keep the carbohydrates up. I also reuse my tea bag 3 times to save on costs there!

To date I have lost just on 15 kilos and 8 of them where in the first 11 days of the walk. It has taken my body a fair bit of time to get used to living like this and to be honest I don’t think it has adjusted fully. Many times the hunger pains are so bad I feel like I am going to faint, my stomach is eating away at itself in ways it never has before. My judgement on things isn’t the same as what it normally is which I put down to my brain crying out for more nutrients. I even start questioning myself on even the most simple of things.

Whilst we have survived it is no way to live a life, going to bed at night hungry is awful and having to walk 17 or 18kms before having something to eat has been extremely tough. I know it has given me a greater appreciation of how the poor in the world live and for them to get up each day not knowing where their next meal is coming from shows great courage.

This experiment has proven a couple of things to me; that no one should ever have to live like this and we need to do more to help the world’s poor.


Reflections on Botswana

I was sad to leave Namibia as it is a beautiful country with extremely friendly people and we had such a great time during that part of the walk. However, Botswana has been just as fantastic but also more challenging.

Official welcoming party at the border

A day before we arrived in Botswana we received a phone call wanting to know what time we were to arrive as they wanted to welcome us at the border. Well, welcome us they did!! We all filed into the immigration office and started getting our passports processed but when I handed mine over, the lady said “Ah, Matt Napier, I have been waiting for you!” and then rushed off out the back office. We were then greeted by a number of government officials, some having driven 800km from the capital, Gaborone, just to welcome us.

The first night we camped about 7km inside Botswana at a place called Charleshill, setting up camp just behind the service station. The next morning I woke at about 5.30am to the sound of someone speaking in the local language on a loud speaker. Not knowing what they were saying all I could think was “shut up, some of us are trying to sleep”. This went on every half hour and it wasn’t until I huddled around the campfire with the team that someone said to listen closely. So I did and although I could only pick out two words – “Australia” and “Napier” – it was pretty clear that the person was informing the whole town that I had arrived and calling them to attend the official welcome later that morning.

Official welcome at Community Court (Khotja) in Charleshill

The Government Officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Youth & Sport returned later that morning and escorted us to the local meeting place called a Kjotla or Customary Court. We were welcomed by about 500 people performing their customary dance and singing. It was an amazing way to be greeted into the country and the community loved the soccer balls that I handed over to the Chief to hand out to local schools and community groups.

From there we headed on our way to what we would later call the “Danger zone”!! Many people at the border had questioned my route and said to be extremely careful of the lions. We were all a little taken aback by that as we weren’t walking through any game parks and had been advised that the wildlife was mostly north of us. The area in question was about 100km up the road and lasted for about 200km. We were unsure what to do but were lucky enough to have police guards through most of the problem area and even had two people from the Office of the President come along with us for the 5 nights we were in the “danger-zone”, they even camped with us over night.

Day 27 - Saying goodbye to our Govt escorts after 3 great days

Good campsites were hard to find so sometimes we would have to double back to camp and then drive forward to where we had finished the night before. Most mornings I had a police escort until at least breakfast. On the first morning, just as I was about to get out of the car at 6.30am to start walking a pack of antelope (I think they are called Orricks) came out of the bushes and nearly ran in front of the car. I asked the driver what they were doing here and he said that the lions had probably chased them out. Knowing I was about to get out of the car and start walking with the car following me, it was safe to say that I was scared out of my wits. Ten of the quickest hail mary’s were said and the prayers were answered as not a single lion was spotted that morning or at all in our time in the “danger-zone”.

Several villages along the way also welcomed us with hundreds of people turning out. It meant a lot to us to be so welcomed into the villages and the country as a whole. We gave out dozens of soccerballs, enjoyed a range of traditional entertainment and met a huge range of people. A truly amazing experience.

Traditional dance at official welcome to Charleshill

Unfortunately we had to say goodbye to two of our support crew for reasons I won’t go into now but we were left with no choice and after surviving the “danger-zone” this added another level of uncertainty to the trip that we could have done without. Morgan, our cameraman, stayed with us for another couple of days but then it was time for him to say goodbye as he had only planned to join us for first 5 weeks and was heading off to Europe. It was great having him around and we enjoyed the company as he would often walk with me.  So now, as we head into South Africa it is just me and Wendy – not ideal but I’m sure we will manage.

The parts of Botswana we saw are very similar to the Nullarbor Plain in Australia, long open roads with lots of trucks and often days between towns or truck stops. While it is sad to say goodbye to Botswana, It is now time for South Africa and the 730 odd kilometres before we hit the Mozambique border. We are expecting the weather to get a little colder but we are well rugged up at night so we should be fine and the days are usually warm and sunny.

Chief of Charleshill community with donated balls

Given that we have had such a big couple of weeks and still managing to walk 45-55km per day, crossing Botswana in just over 2 weeks, we have decided to keep going at this pace and bring the end date forward a couple of weeks. I now plan to reach the final destination of Maputo in Mozambique on 3 August instead of 20 August.

Thanks for following and I will do another blog in a few weeks when we hope to be well over halfway across South Africa.


A day walking in Matt’s shoes

Hi, Wendy here, Matt’s wife. A couple of days ago I got the opportunity to walk a whole day with Matt, something I have never done before – 48km into either a head wind or cross wind the whole day. It was tough but I made it!

Day 30 - Wendy walked the entire day with Matt, an amazing 48km!

I wanted to take it on as a personal challenge to see if I could do a full day but I also wanted to experience what Matt experiences every day during his walks. I never realised how many other factors impact on his day, not just physical energy levels but the direction of the winds, air-wash from passing trucks that at times feel like they will knock you flat on your face, dry lips from sun/wind exposure, blisters and callouses, muscle and/or nerve pain in various parts of the body, the hard surface of the road making it feel like you are walking on pieces of timber at times and the lack of mental stimulation when the landscape is the same day in and day out.

On the positive side, the first few hours in the morning are glorious with the stillness of the day, beautiful sunrises, the warming temperature, and the promise of breakfast and a cup of tea after the first 3 hours are done. During the day there are also the wildlife that come to the side of the road, mainly cows, horses, donkeys and goats at the moment but also lots of bird-life. It is also great to see the number of people that stop or double back to check that he is ok.

So for me the morning wasn’t too bad but when the niggling pains in the feet started to spread, my legs and hips were screaming out in protest and we were only 2km from the last rest break with another 6km to walk until the next rest (and then another 8km to the end of the day!), that’s when I had the greatest appreciation for what Matt goes through on a daily basis. I realised that those are the times when this walk becomes less about physical ability and much more about mental toughness. To be able to keep going and still finish the day with a smile on his face is a true testament to just how mentally tough Matt is. Unfortunately I did not manage to finish the day with a smile on my face! I got heat rash on the backs of my legs, was in pain from the waist down and then it started to get cold. I only finished due to sheer determination, safe in the knowledge that there was a warm jumper waiting for me at the end and that I would not have to back it up and walk again the next day.

I now have a new found appreciation for what it takes to walk day after day and although I know some days would be a lot easier than the day I had, I am also just as certain that some are much harder yet he seldom complains and just keeps putting one foot in front of another usually with a big smile on his face and the classic Matt sense of humor still intact. Matt you are such an inspiration and I hope you know just how proud of you I am.


Why I include sport in my adventures

I often get asked what role the soccer ball has in my walk across Africa… 20151105_Matt with soccerball_by CbrTimes Jay Cronan_croppedI believe sport and physical activity is a fundamental human right. Sport is well recognised internationally as a low cost and high impact tool for development and a powerful agent for social change. It is a culturally accepted activity that brings people together and unites families, communities and nations. Effective sport-for-development programs combine sport and play with other non-sport outcomes to achieve the desired development objectives such as the joy of movement, self-esteem, health prevention, mental wellbeing and social interaction, just to name a few. Sport can also be used as a tool for addressing some of the challenges that arise from humanitarian crises and in conflict and post-conflict settings. At the grassroots or community level, sport can be seen to provide a useful way of creating an environment in which people can come together to: work towards the same goal, show respect for others and share space and equipment. All these aspects are crucial to peace-building. The United Nations recognises that by including sport in development and peace programmes in a more systematic way, they can make full use of this cost-efficient tool to help us create a better world.

“Sport has become a world language, a common denominator that breaks down all the walls, all the barriers. It is a worldwide industry whose practices can have widespread impact. Most of all, it is a powerful tool for progress and for development.” Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General

I believe sport is under-utilised as a development tool and should be an integral component of any comprehensive development program. Sport brings people together from all walks of life to compete on a level playing field. Sport knows no bounds. It is important in a world of highly paid sports people not to lose focus of the real meaning of sport.

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.” Nelson Mandela

I am hoping that by kicking the soccer ball it will bring children out of their villages to kick the ball with me on my journey. I may not be able to speak their language but we will be able to share the language of sport. And to be honest, I also need something to keep my mind occupied during the long and sometimes lonely days. Having grown up with a footy in my hands from a very young age, I can’t imagine doing the journey without a ball by my side.