Adventurers return after 54,000km trip

The Dubai-based couple’s trek saw them work with street children, teach adults English and meet farmers, as well as learning first hand how every penny of the US$17,254 (Dh63,400) they collected counts.

 James and Mira Raley. Courtesy James and Mira Raley
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DUBAI // James and Mira Raley were chased by elephants and narrowly missed being attacked by a lioness during a 54,000-kilometre charity drive through 14 African countries.

During the Dubai-based couple’s trek they worked with street children, taught English to adults and met farmers, as well as seeing first hand how every penny of the US$17,254 (Dh63,400) they collected counts.

“Some people apologised for donating $50 but the average annual income of a guy in seaweed farming in Zanzibar is US$60,” said Briton Mr Raley, back home after 13 months on the road. “We realised that every dollar makes a difference, every penny counts.”

Mr Raley, 36, and his wife Mira, 32, gave up jobs in human resources for the journey that started in Kenya in May last year and ended in South Africa last month. They raised the bulk of the money, about $13,000 before the trip, while the rest came in while they were in Africa.

The funds aided projects they volunteered with, including Zanzibar’s Teaching & Community Project, Zimbabwe’s Lion Rehabilitation Project, Midlands Children’s Hope Project and Zambia’s Chimpanzee Orphan Care Project.

“It was immensely satisfying to teach English to kids and adults in Zanzibar because that has a huge impact on a small village where adults are focussed on getting tourism jobs,” said Mrs Raley, a Jordanian.

“You develop a bond teaching them four hours a day.”

Working with orphans and street children in Zimbabwe who had suffered physical and sexual abuse was an eye-opener.

“They were so young, in some cases, scared, and in others, very tough,” said Mr Raley.

“The kids are looked after, fed, given an education and taught different sports. HIV, rape and glue sniffing were big problems. We donated money and spent time with them.”

It was not all about work for the Raleys. They climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and dived in Mozambique with manta rays and whale sharks.

The adventure activities were gifts from friends and relatives for their wedding in 2013.

Warned about high crime rates, the couple dealt with police officers demanding bribes in Kenya and Mozambique.

“We were lucky, some of our friends thought we were completely crazy going on this trip, that we were definitely going to die,” Mr Raley said.

“We drove with the car doors locked, particularly in cities so no one could jump in. When camping in the middle of nowhere, we tried to find a local tribal leader and ask his permission.”

Fitted with a shower, bed and refrigerator, their 76 series Land Cruiser, nicknamed Honey Badger, survived the gruelling off-road journey.

Shipped back from Durban to Salalah, it will be used as their family car.

They count repairing the car in lion-infested territory and driving 50 kilometres on a steel rim with no tyre among their scariest memories.

The couple are now job-hunting, plan to write a book to raise more funds for charity and are preparing to welcome their first child in December.

“I really miss the openness,” said Mrs Raley.

“After a year hearing the noise of animals in the evening and listening to the wind, you miss it. But I need to take care of myself now. We’re happy, preparing for the baby is another big change.”

rtalwar@thenational.ae