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Last Updated: Monday, 3 December 2007, 13:31 GMT
Tractor woman on African rescues
By Daniel Dickinson
BBC News, Dar es Salaam

Manon Ossevoort is driving a tractor to the South Pole
Ms Ossevoort on her gentle trundle from rural Holland to the South Pole
A Dutch woman who is travelling across Africa by herself on a tractor has said she has been like a lone rescue service for broken-down vehicles along the way.

"I once towed a bus 140km through the desert to Sudan's capital," Manon Ossevoort said in Tanzania, 30 months and 20,000km into her epic trip.

Ms Ossevoort says her trip from Holland to the South Pole is "performance art".

At the end of her journey she plans to encase in ice the messages and pictures of children she entertains on the way.

Over the next year she will add another 15,000km and five more African countries to her epic mission.

Stuck in the mud

Her account of trundling past the pyramids in Egypt, along the Nile River in Sudan, through the highlands of Ethiopia into the Maasai Mara in Kenya and then to Lake Victoria in Uganda, reads like the wanderings of an early explorer.

Manon Ossevoort's tractor hauls a stranded bus through the desert
It's like I'm a one-person African Automobile Club
Manon Ossevoort

The tractor has not broken down yet. Its top speed is 20 km/h, but her average speed of around five km/h has been closer to the walking speed of those intrepid Victorians.

"I come from a rural area in Holland and was told by farmers that this tractor was very reliable," Ms Ossevoort says. "The farmers there have a sense of humour and what they didn't tell me is that it's also very slow."

Her progress is slowed by curious onlookers quizzing her about the journey, passers-by hitching lifts between villages and pleas for help from those whose cars, trucks or buses have broken down or become stuck in heavy sand or thick mud.

"I was very busy in northern Kenya during the rainy season. It's like I'm a one-person African Automobile Club," she says.

Driving up to 10 hours a day, she stops to sleep under a specially constructed tent on top of the tractor.

"It's not very comfortable and in the rain the tent leaks, but my bed is just over the driver's seat so it's good for quick getaways."

There have not been too many of those.

Although Ms Ossevoort admits to having been "scared of shadows in the night" and having panicked at coming face-to-face with a heavily tusked elephant in the Maasai Mara, she has never been threatened physically by human beings.

Instead she speaks warmly of the generosity and hospitality of many of the people she has met along the way, especially the Sudanese.

And she is philosophical about the slow pace and the, not inconsiderable, discomfort of driving a vehicle with no suspension.

Deferred gratification

"My journey is all about fulfilling a dream... to go to the South Pole. The slowness of the tractor symbolises the fact that fulfilling your dream takes time, that however slowly you travel, if you are committed you will get to your final destination," she says.

Saidi from Tanzania is one of the children inspired by Manon Ossevoort
Saidi Hamis told Ms Ossevoort his dream is to become president

Ms Ossevoort has taken her message across Africa, performing the story of her trip to villagers and city dwellers, with the tractor occupying the central role.

In Tanzania she joined up with local actor-poet, Mrisho Mputo: "I thought the idea of this trip was impossible, but Manon has showed me that if you have a passion, you can realise your dreams."

Mr Mputo says he has been inspired, although his plan of action to "sit on the beach and talk to myself to find out my priorities in life" is perhaps less ambitious.

Next November Ms Ossevoort hopes to load the vehicle on to an ice-breaking boat at the Cape of Good Hope on the final leg of her epic journey to the South Pole.

Among the messages she plans to encase in the ice is one from 11-year-old Tanzanian Saidi Hamis: "My dream is to become president of this country and I'm very pleased the tractor woman can take my wish to the South Pole."

Cynics will point to the T-shirts sold on her website which have funded this whole trip in the absence of sponsors, the book on her experience now in the shops and a documentary in the making.

If even a few of the dreams she is collecting come true, then any lingering scepticism probably should stay frozen at the South Pole.

Country profile: Tanzania
16 Aug 07 |  Country profiles

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