Category Archives: English


She had always been very mature for her age. Or no.. what is the better way to explain it? She had always had an old soul. Yes, that is what a teacher once wrote in her report card: ‘she has an old soul’.

At the age of 9, she heard from a friend that there are YouTube videos that show you how to solve a Rubik’s Cube. So she set her mind to it and she taught herself the algorithm to solve a Rubik’s Cube. After she made sure she could do it every single time, she set out to school and told everyone that if they had a Cube at home which was jumbled up, she would make it right again. Numerous children showed up with one, even more children showed up to watch.

She told her mother about her little project, and asked to be filmed. Her motivation? “This will be my college application.” It wasn’t ruthless ambition that made her do it, or the plan to boast about it later (old souls don’t think like that) but it was out of pure empathy. Since she knew that the college of her choice might depend on a scholarship based on her own merit, and not on her mother’s financial situation.

And in school? Everything went well, she did all the cubes, and the rightful owners took them home to put them back on their shelf, all perfect looking. She now enjoys the reputation of clever cookie. And maybe nerd? But we like nerds.

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If you think this is my weak attempt to a short story, you are mistaking, this is a true story. You see my eldest daughter in the picture, she is 14 now. Yes, she has decided which college she wants to apply for (she is subscribed to the newsletter). And yes, she can still do Rubik’s cubes.

My Favorite(s)

I am not one to make New Year’s resolutions and therefore “blogging more regularly” was not one of them. But this morning, both my kids said something that made me think.. and very often when something makes me think, it makes me write.

For a while, I have been pressing my snooze button but instead of dozing off again in my own bed, I go and lay with my daughter and doze off next to her. I consider it a gentle way of waking her up and giving her some time before she needs to get up. I have two daughters so I alternate between them.

When I casually mentioned this system of switching every day between them, you should have seen their face! They both looked at me incredulously, full on consternation written all over their faces. In stereo they said “what do you mean? You go to her room too? I thought it was only me!” It was actually rather cute to think they were both convinced they are my favorite and they kept it as ‘our little secret’ without gloating to the other one (they do get along). So imagine their surprise when they found out both are my favorite. If I had known they felt this way, I would not have blown the secret either!



Lake Natron

Sometimes it is amazing if I look at all the places in Tanzania I have not seen. Amazing in a bad way then of course. And in a humbling way because the country is huge! But an expat of course tends to spend most free time (and money) in going home so we only spend the odd long weekend in the bush really.

So I really wanted to do something during mid term break that we had not done before. And preferably something that we would remember forever (why not have high standards, right?). For a second I contemplated going to Zanzibar to have the kids do their PADI but I am sure there are tons of destinations in the world that have better diving so not a priority. Then I heard about the gorillas in Congo (most people go to Rwanda or Uganda but Congo is promoting tourism very enthusiastically) but Celeste will need to wait until she turns 12. So then I thought about hiking.. There is a gorgeous walk from Empakai Crater (East to Ngorongoro Crater) to Lake Natron that goes around Oldonyo Lengai. That is an impressive walk in many respects. So off we went.

The walk itself was long but surprisingly neither the girls nor me had any difficulty, not in terms of fitness, or with the altitude. I think the steady but slow pace of the Maasai, as if he is having a leisurely stroll, helped. The second day however, some parts got rather technical and some were rather steep – some both –  so my joints did remind me of my age. The sun was harsh but nothing that tons of sunscreen and a hat couldn’t fix. But then the views! Oldonyo Lengai, ‘the mountain of God‘ in Maasai, on the right and the Serengeti on the left, Lake Natron in front of you (as a far goal).. I do not have enough superlatives in my vocabulary to do it justice. Stunningly beautiful, amazing, mind-blowing.. ? I will let the pictures speak below.

Finally reaching Lake Natron camp was a reward in itself but what a cool place that camp is! The girls swam for hours in a natural pool, formed by a stream that runs through the camp, with fish and all. We walked closer to the lake to watch the flamingos, we enjoyed the lounge (and cold drinks!!), and kept on taking in the views. The place is so desolate, remote and quiet, it can’t but affect you.

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The thing I love the most about travelling are of course the places you see and the people you meet. But it is more than that: all those places have a history and all those people have a story. And I love hearing the story.

When I was in China, my students told me about an old professor that taught Chinese history and culture. They spoke of him with great respect, but I also detected some fear, his subject was very hard apparently and a lot of students failed it. But I was intrigued. I asked a student if she could set up a meeting with him. I wasn’t sure if anything would come of it, but I was happily surprised to hear he took my request as a compliment and he would love to have a chat. So we agreed to meet.

Another volunteer that was there with me, Leo, heard about our appointment and he joined me. It was an extremely interesting evening. We had to work with a translator so the discussion was a bit tiring but it was extremely interesting. At a certain point, the professor decided he was going to send us on our way with our life motto. I had no idea what he meant and what he was going to do.. It was not as if he had asked us any questions or that we had introduced ourselves at length or anything..
He spoke to Leo first. He explained to Leo how he saw him: you are an honest man and you attach a lot of importance to being genuine – a sort of what you see is what you get attitude I guess. Leo was gobsmacked. He felt he had described him to a Tee. Leo makes his own wine and on his label he prints the text “klare wijn schenken” which probably translates into something along the lines of “be clear and open, use clear language”.
Leo’s reaction was so deep, that I became nervous.
He told me: you follow your own path, and you never chose the beaten path because you want to find your real self. You are a pupil of Taoism.
He proceeded to write my motto on some rice paper in beautiful ancient characters (not the modern ones). He wrote on the side “for Sofie” in modern Chinese characters, and put his personal stamp. I had that paper framed and I had it in every living room in every house I lived in after that, including this one I am sitting in right now. Needlessly to say I read up on Tao, and I try to be enlightened enough to get it but I admit it is not a walk in the park.

Many a moment in my life, I have wondered: am I doing the right thing? Am I following the right path? But I do not think I follow the less taken path because I look for it specifically, I think I just do not see the beaten path. It is not an option for me, I simply do not know where it is.



For as long as I can remember, there has been a terror threat and travel warnings about Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. But I do not think more dangerous things or simply more things happen there than in any other capital. I am not sure why not all other towns then also receive these travel warnings against them but that’s a whole other discussion…

When I first moved to Tanzania, Nairobi is where we went for shopping. It was the shopping mall Walhalla, where imported products and nice restaurants awaited us when we went for a weekend of spending. When I was pregnant, I actually had to go there to find things we needed for a newborn that Tanzania did not have. But those days are long gone and I hardly ever go to Nairobi anymore..

But there are definitely things I recommend you do when you do visit Nairobi, we did them and we had fun!

The Giraffe Manor is a hotel in the middle of town, with rooms in old English style and giraffes roaming the garden. But even if you do not stay in the hotel, you can visit the giraffes,  feed them and pet them at the visitor’s center. I can imagine that is not the same as having a giraffe stick their head through the window to say good morning when you have breakfast, but still… The girls were about 4 years younger than now but they still remember our visit, especially that the giraffes had slimey tongues 🙂

The Giraffe Manor is described in Wikipedia as follows: Giraffe Manor is a small hotel in the Karen suburb of Nairobi, Kenya which, together with its associated Giraffe Centre, serves as a home to a number of endangered Rothschild giraffes, and operates a breeding programme to reintroduce breeding pairs back into the wild to secure the future of the subspecies.

So there you go..

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Pictures below: The girls in 2011..

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I can’t believe it took us 4 years to go back to Nairobi.. and I still had the Sheldrick Center on my wishlist. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust does a lot for conservation but at the heart of it all is it’s elephant orphanage, which is hugely successful in saving orphaned calves and re-introducing them into the wild about 3 years later. You can go and visit and see the orphans up close when they get fed in the morning. This alone is a very special experience. But you can also foster one of the babies, and then you get emails with pictures and entries of the diary of the care giver and so on. We were also allowed to go back at 5pm to have a private visit with our orphan.

Axelle had developed a soft spot for Murit. A little elephant that was just over 1 year old. Celeste on the other hand adopted the only rhino they have. After all, they are endangered and Celeste always protects the underdog. And on top of that, Maxwell the rhino is blind so they will never be able to re-introduce him into the wild. Celeste very responsibly said she was ready to commit to fostering him for the rest of his life.

But if I am making this out to seem like an experience for children only, that is not the case. Seeing the little ellies run for the bottle, seeing the littlest one get a bit lost and run straight towards the crowd who fondly started hugging and petting the 500 kg of cuteness, seeing them have a loving and teasing relationship with their caregivers, seeing how the babies are still a bit confused as to how they need to lay down to sleep, and yes, being able to touch them and feel how surprisingly hard the head is when the fuzzy hair looks so fluffy, and feel how hard the skin and the horn of a rhino.. it is truly amazing.


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And if you cannot visit them any day soon, you can always adopt online here, or give a foster baby certificate to someone else as a gift

Lake Manyara

Lake Manyara is relatively small, about 50km long, and it is so shallow that when it is warm and dry, it becomes a lot smaller, about a third smaller than in the rainy season. It is nestled against the escarpment along the Rift Valley so calling it a pretty sight is an understatement. The national park stretches along the lake but only on one side, so basically visitors follow one road with a number of loops. There is only one lodge inside the park so many visitors either skip the park all together, or only go in for a game drive of a couple of hours. The marketing posters for the park always feature the tree climbing lion or a huge flock of flamingo so it does happen that visitors do not see the lions or only see the flamingos from really far and are then disappointed. That is a pity because with numerous species of birds being attracted by the water, the eerie sight of the lake with an impressive backdrop of the escarpment, the hot spring with hippos, the forest close to the entrance of the national park, it is very much worth a visit.


Anyway. I love it. I have stayed at the one lodge inside the park (fantastic!). I have also driven in and out the park in one day. I have been mock attacked by a lone male buffalo in the park (serves me right for parking the vehicle between him and the water). I have seen giraffe laying down on the plains next to the lake (funny sight). I have seen the tree climbing lion here (I got lucky I guess).

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This time around, I had to go for work because our driver-guides had their annual training on a special campsite within the park. So I was very lucky when the trainers suggested I stay at Wayo Green camp for the weekend. I was lucky in more ways than one… Despite the rain, we had the best game viewing I ever had in the park. (Or maybe because of the rain?) We saw a lot but we also saw it all really up close. Have you ever been able to count the creases in an elephants bum? This is all very comforting because it confirms there is no poaching inside the park. One of the elephants came so close to the vehicle that I got really nervous and then it lifted his trunk to smell and check out the kids who were up on the roof, that was a new experience. That is probably the coolest thing about going on safari, it is never the same, and it doesn’t get old.

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But then, Wayo Green Camp.. That was something else. Right next to a wall of rock where a gigantic waterfall dropped off. And it being the rainy season, there was a risk of our tent flooding (adventure!) and the waterfall was as loud as thunder. It is quite a privilege to feel small between the elements being so big and overwhelming.

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And if you are curious about an elephant up close..

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Arusha National Park

One Saturday, we had a fund raise party in the afternoon/evening but a bit of a lost feeling in the hours leading up to the time our presence was required there.. So we decided to go to Arusha National Park. A very underestimated park, very close and very diverse in landscape, vegetation and wildlife.. Always a great way to spend a Saturday.

I guess it is underestimated because people know of the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro crater and they have a bucket list of things they need to tick, especially the Big 5. I do not get this overall fascination with “The Big 5” but hey.. that’s just me. So we packed lunch and binoculars and off we went.

We saw the usual, even though even your hundredth time to see a zebra is still pretty amazing. And even though I am not a birder, I love seeing them soar through the skies, they are fascinating. I do however have a hard time catching them in that perfect picture in full flight.

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And every time you go on safari, you do have something new happening that you have never seen before. Last time in Tarangire, it was a huge python in a tree. This time, it was giraffes galore, and they came VERY close (normally they are pretty shy). I could count their eye lashes.


I deliberately stopped at the lakes for quite some time because I have never before taken a good shot of a flamingo. And even though they are usually perceived as an elegant animal, we all had to giggle when they went head first in the water to fish, they kept kicking their scrawny legs to stay under while the bumm kept bobbing up and down, it looked really silly.. But some looked more pink than others, some stood on the one leg, and there were so many of them, it was a pretty sight.

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We had lunch in the most amazing spot..


But most of all we had fun.

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Splendid South-Africa

This post is long overdue.. I have been back home for some weeks now. But since I went for work, the report for my boss was a bit more pressing than the blog post 🙂

I had been to South-Africa before but it was almost 9 years ago so I knew I was in for a treat – but that a lot must have changed in the meantime. For someone that lives in Sub-Saharan Africa, South-Africa is heaven. It is the best of both worlds: the comfort of Europe and the beauty of Africa.

I must admit (shame on me) that I had not been to Johannesburg yet and I had a bit of prejudice about it but boy, was I wrong! It probably helps to see the city through the eyes of ‘locals‘ – who then also happen to be extremely friendly and the most efficient colleagues. A modern and big city but it still felt comfortable and cozy, it did not have the atmosphere I expected from the biggest city in SA.


I had one morning off before my flight to Cape Town, to drive a bit and to visit Maropeng, the cradle of mankind, beautiful and interesting. The link to Olduvai Gorge, which is in the Serengeti, was an added interesting bonus to me. The exploration of the caves where the skeleton was found, was actually kind of fun, I felt like a kid on an adventure. The exhibition afterwards was diverse and entertaining and I actually learnt a lot. I would never have chosen this excursion myself but now I would most definitely recommend it to others. Working in tourism is a perk, you see places you would not chose and they surprise you immensely:-)


And then there is of course Cape Town. I was very much looking forward to visiting Cape Town again and it did not disappoint. I noticed that a lot of high-rises and new buildings had been added, partly due to the FIFA world cup 5 years ago of course. Obviously, I enjoyed good food and shopping. Well, if you give a girl a hotel room at the waterfront, on her one day off  (that happens to be her birthday) during a summer sale.. what do you expect? I even met up with an old student I used to teach in Leuven. That was an unexpected and nice reunion.

Actually, Cape Town always reminds me a bit of Knokke. And Canal Walk reminded me of Wijnegem. I guess the Belgians will know what I mean.

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Travelling for work sometimes feels like a pity because you would prefer to enjoy and experience it all in the company of your family (I guess it gives me a reason to go back), but the big advantage is that I get the greatest hotel rooms – I have to be careful not to get used to that sort of stuff. And always conveniently located. (I admit it is easier to show up at the office in a good mood when your breakfast was served and you were not stuck in traffic.) And before you doubt whether I worked there at all.. I did! And it was most useful. And fun. Love my job, apparently also when I do it in other countries.



Magical Mahale

I had been looking into going to Mahale already but I thought it best to wait until the children could come along, the minimum age to actually go see the chimps is 12. But when the opportunity came up to go when the children were on holiday, it was an offer I could not refuse. And it only made me more determined to go back with the kids later.

Of course the main reason and attraction for visiting Mahale are the chimps. Tanzania has chimps in Mahale National Park, Gombe Stream Park and Rubondo Island. Gombe Stream Park seems to struggle with an unstable environment and population; and the chimps at Rubondo Island are introduced (bred in Germany) so it is said that the most authentic experience would be in Mahale.

Mahale mountains borders Lake Tanganyika. Lake Tanganyika is the longest lake in the world and the deepest lake in Tanzania. Mahale is the green and jungle-like part of Tanzania (it is not all Savannah here :-)). I did my homework and read what I could find on my destination, but nothing prepared me for the beauty..

I stayed at Nomad’s camp Greystoke and even though everyone knows the excellent reputation of Nomad and I was not surprised they did deliver –  it was still impressive to receive such exquisite service in such a remote place. The staff had such love and passion for their own home, the food was excellent, the beach resort truly felt like the garden of Eden and Greystoke is clearly a guardian of paradise.

And a special mention should go to ‘Big Bird’, probably the most documented pelican on the internet (read it here). The story goes he got lost during a storm and ended up at the Mahale beach. They taught him how to fly (which was successful, see here) and now they are teaching him how to fish. Not surprisingly, he thought it much more convenient to grab our catch of the day when we went fishing. Big Bird is the puppy of the camp, and I am sure my kids would love him too.

– A plane from Arusha to the bush airstrip of Mahale and a boat into the National Park –

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– The beautiful beach and camp –

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Activities.. walking, beach, swimming, wildllife, fishing.. Big Bird!

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– And of course… the chimps.. –

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Since I was there for work, I do not have much to say. I will let the images speak for themselves.

We stayed the night in what used to be one of the Sultan’s houses.

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We even went souvenir shopping..



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And my favourite place to wander (read: get lost) when taking pictures: Stone Town

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I loved this image: trying to curb the roots