Basia Meder

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At the end of 2001, my achievements and dedication to the art of photography were recognised in Australia in an Award for Visual Arts, given by the Canberra Critics Circle.


 

 

Tell us a bit about yourself …

I am a Polish-born Australian living in Sawtell. I think of myself as an adventurer who follows my dreams, and I find new experiences and constant challenges as a way to extend the boundaries of my own limitations.

I arrived in Australia in Perth in September 1981 as a single mum, with a 12 year old son,  two backpacks, nearly no English, nearly no money and only as a temporary place to stay a very long distance from Poland. In December 1981, when martial law was declared in Poland, I made my decision to stay in Australia to make a better future for my son and myself.

I learnt English and then went to do Post Grad study. Qualified in mechanical engineering and IT in Poland, I worked for more than 16 years in Poland. I continued my profession for another 16 years in Australia (in Canberra as a Public Servant – IT), and in September 2001 I retired from over thirty years of IT work and continued my lifelong passion for travel and photography.

My passion for travel has taken me to over 80 countries in all continents. I always like the intensity and enrichment that travel brings to my life, and my everyday life is a constant adventure. I love to go on learning, exploring my curiosity about people. I like so much to be in personal contact with all people, sharing our interest, activities and ways of life. At the same time, I value so much my privacy, my peaceful  and modest life. Since I moved to Sawtell, I feel that I belong here, because I love the environment, climate and all the people I have been meeting.

You mentioned your lifelong passion for photography …

Yes, it was introduced to me in primary school by my father. I have been focusing on the beauty and love of nature and on interactions with people – especially from smaller communities of different cultural and social backgrounds. My photographs of people, especially women, capture unusual simplicity, joyfulness, female pride and humble dignity, as well as depicting their cultural and ethnic ties.

I am connecting with people through a universal language, revealing how photography has been important as a way of communication and understanding of human nature.

I held 12 individual photographic exhibitions and have taken part in over 40 group shows in Australia and overseas. At the end of 2001, my achievements and dedication to the art of photography were recognised in Australia in an Award for Visual Arts, given by the Canberra Critics Circle.

What inspired you to backpack through Africa?

In March 2002 I began my adventure of a lifetime – a solo backpacking journey in Africa, equipped with previous backpacking experiences in fifty countries around the world.

I nearly always travelled as a backpacker on a low budget and to be close to the local people’s life. For years, I had a fear of going alone to travel in Africa, so I travelled across all the other continents. Eventually, I left this African trip as my idea for retirement, hoping that my grey hairs and my life and travel experiences will make my journey safer.

I still felt young, strong enough to be alone on the more rougher road and wanted to see African developing countries, which are changing very fast. I am leaving more developed countries for my older age, when I can travel with a walking stick.

You travelled across 21 countries in the space of 14 months. Tell us a little bit about your adventures in each country.

I landed in Johannesburg, in the Republic of South Africa. From the very south of the continent, I ‘climbed my way’ to the north, through 16 countries to Egypt. In Madagascar, I found myself in the middle of a revolt and worked with villagers. In Rep. of SA, I had first encounter with tribal people, walked in the amazing Drakensberg Mountains and had a red-mud Zulu bath.

In Lesotho, I was engulfed in snow and did horse riding in the mountains. In Swaziland, I danced with village women and witnessed the fantastic Reed Dance Celebration. In Mozambique, I was snorkelling in crystal water and the fairytale underwater world of the Bazaruto Archipelago.

In Namibia, I enjoyed sliding down the sand dunes of Namib Desert, have seen most of the African wildlife and the admired exquisite Herrero women’s outfit. In Botswana, I had a nearly touching encounter with an elephant’s trunk. In Zimbabwe, I had a magical feeling looking from the rugged gorge at the Victoria Falls and reflected about African history sites, a world heritage – especially Great Zimbabwe.

In Zambia I visited villages, shared women’s everyday and spiritual life and despite the poverty, have been cheerful with them. In Malawi, I had swam in huge Lake Malawi, had a recipe for a medium size elephant stew (using 20 bags of salt!), then unfortunately was struck with Malaria, but survived.

In Tanzania, I meandered the narrow streets of Stone Town in Zanzibar and then visited Maasai villages at the foot of Kilimanjaro and Meru Mountains. In Kenya, I saw more African wildlife and learnt about Maasai traditions.

In Uganda, I had a good rest and recovery after my Malarian weakness, and then I encountered mountain gorillas in Rwanda, celebrated Christmas and stayed with the Hamar people in Ethiopia. Coming to the north of Egypt, I was overcome by the beauty of the waste – White and Black Desert – sailed on the Nile in felucca with Bedouins. From there, I set off to Western Africa.

First, I landed in Ghana, where I became an instant multimillionaire, with the low value currency, rested by the sea in a fishing village and learnt the cultural customs of the Ashanti people. In Togo, I enjoyed a delicious meal of ‘fufu’ and visited the incredible village huts, ‘tata’, of Tamberma tribes.

Burkina Faso was only a short stop and a first scary experience in a Muslim country. In Mali, with a Tuareg guide on two camels, we set off from Timbuktu to the Sahara Desert. The journey to Dogon villages in Bandiagara Escarpment was cut short by a dramatic fight for life, and I was forced to leave Africa immediately. It was not until May 2010 that, with all my determination to fulfill my African dream, that I picked up my backpack again and travelled to Morocco, my 21st country of this continent.

I travelled mostly on land, using local modes of transport: bus, car, mini-bus, truck, train, boat, horse, camel, and I covered hundreds of kilometres on foot.

They say that a picture tells a thousand words, and on this trip your cameras were your companions. In what ways did this journey enhance your passion for photography?

My photographs from Africa are always bringing me not only the visual memories, but a lot of emotions, feel and smell, sound and taste, and many more. My zoom lens gave me amazing closeup of details that initially I was not able to notice. I have many photos, especially people’s portraits, that I could write a long story about.

You have published an amazing book which documents your journey, Granny Backpacker in Africa. What was it like compiling the book?

During the process of writing my book (first in Polish), I realised that it’s become a wonderful adventure of collecting all information and deepened my African knowledge. It was also the rehabilitation process of my physical and sociological condition after the dramatic event at the end. My last African journey and chapter (Morocco) become a spontaneous ending of my African odyssey and completed my African stories. Since my books were published in Poland in 2010, I started another unexpected and fantastic adventure – meeting thousands of readers.

The last part of this has been happening since August 2011, when I self-published my English version, printed in Poland, sent it to Australia and started my encounter with Australian readers. I am very proud to have my first book launch in Coffs Harbour as a local writer and the Publisher of Tidbinbilla Press, located in Sawtell.

I am very grateful to Jill Nash and Sandra Lorenz from Sawtell and Jenny Moon from Mullaway for the good will English editorial and proofreading assistance.

Granny Backpacker in Africa won the award for National Geographic (Polish Edition) Travel Book of the Year in 2010. Congratulations! What does this mean to you?

For me, the nomination by the National Geographic, Polish Edition jury was a great honour. I was very grateful and surprised that I received so many votes by the readers – especially when I live so far away.

TRAVELERY 2010 is the most prestigious traveller’s award in Poland. The prize is awarded by National Geographic by Polish readers voting, and by jury, assembled with the greatest travellers, explorers, journalists and scientists who are involved in researching issues related to learning about the world, people and culture.

There is a funny side to this award. It’s having its weight, with the privilege of being awarded, but also  – it is heavy, about a 2 kg sandstone pyramid, and I carried it in hand luggage from Poland to Australia.

Where can people purchase the book?

My book, Granny Backpacker in Africa – a 14-Month Journey Across 21 Countries is available at the price of $70 from retailer:

COCO 39, Shop 33 First Avenue, Sawtell NSW 2452 or by email and phone orders – basia@meder.net and (02) 6658 4490.

Additionally, I am taking part in the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival on 22 – 25 March. I will have my book presentation on Saturday 22 March in Talking Tent at the Bellingen Council Park, at approximately 10.30am. It is also a permanent area during the BRW Festival for selling books by local writers, including myself. I will be around Bellingen during all the time of the Festival.

Do you have any more exciting travel adventures planned for the near future?

As my life is a constant travel adventure, I am looking forward to each kayaking day, usually once or twice a week, bike riding and walking – in the mountains, forests and our wonderful Sawtell beach. I am also looking for more travel in Australia this year. My other travel dream is to go back to many Asian countries.

Thanks Basia.

BASIA will be holding a book launch on 15 March at Coffs Harbour Library, from 11am, followed by refreshments at the Regional Gallery.


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