Over the course of 20 years, EM has featured numerous articles in which people talk about a special accomplishment, significant research or some other interesting undertaking. How do they look back on the events of the time? And what are they up to now?
“I do remember having to make a few big changes of plan,” Schuit says 11 years after the tour. We’re talking via Skype. “In Cameroon, for example, our bikes got stuck in the mud. All four engines were shot. It took us four days to complete 80 kilometres. And we initially intended to travel via the Central African Republic and Sudan – countries where there’s a war going on right now. It was already quite dangerous back then too.”
At the time, Schuit was studying Medicine and he had been asked along because of his medical knowledge. “At one point, we had a situation with a fractured collarbone and a number of infections. But of course, I wasn’t qualified yet, so there was only so much I could do,” says Schuit, who now works as a GP.
The Africa trip had another purpose, besides simply having a big adventure: the students wanted to draw attention to a number of local sustainability projects. Did they succeed in this aim? Schuit thinks so: “We managed to put the spotlight on a number of programmes – by making video reports about them (which can still be viewed at AfricAlive.nl) and through articles in Metro and various bike magazines. About a ‘water pyramid’ in Gambia, for example, which collects water and condenses it. The result is sterilised water. Add a bit of salt and it’s fit for consumption. Or the ‘A/C Bed’ that we saw in South Africa. That was an interesting project too: it was a bed with an air conditioning unit underneath – meaning that you only cooled the bed and the air directly above it in the mosquito netting rather than the entire room.”
The six students don’t see each other that often anymore. “That’s what happens when you live abroad. It’s difficult to keep in touch. Although we do hold a reunion every five years or so. It was an intense time, and you have lots of great memories – although quite a few are fading too.”
The life that followed Schuit’s 20,000-km journey through Africa has been as least as eventful. “After getting my degree, I wasn’t too keen on working in a hospital. I ended up working as a doctor on board a Greenpeace ship. We campaigned against illegal fishing in the Pacific, and after that we were off the coast of North Korea campaigning against nuclear energy.”
Australia came into Schuit’s sights when he was working as a doctor in a refugee camp on Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea. The Australian government had converted a former army base into a processing centre for asylum seekers there. “They were locked up there, and lived under horrible conditions. And for us as doctors, the working conditions were terrible. That is why I left eventually.”
Brothels and lynchings
The processing centre was closed later on following an international outcry about the illegal confinement of refugees. “Most of the people held at the camp were young men from Afghanistan and Iran. They have no money and are stuck there. Meaning that you now have 700 male asylum seekers living in a village on that island. It’s a huge mess, as you can imagine. They have brothels and there are all these lynchings and murders. It’s a horrendous place.”
After working on Manus Island, Schuit lived on the island of Saint Eustatius for a year and a half, before he moved to a small town in Australia with his wife and (by now 10-month-old) daughter. They both work for a GP surgery there. “It’s a wonderful place to live: the weather’s great and we have beautiful nature close by. Although there’s one big drawback: you’re away from your friends and family – they’re all in the Netherlands. So I expect that in a few years, we’ll be taking the plane back again.”