Wedneday, June 2
A few minutes ago I was knocking back some cheap-but-cheerful South African white wine, watching Brazil v Zimbabwe live on Super Sport 3, when I received the news that the BBC has just published a big story about our project on the Internet.
This is really significant as the BBC is the world's most popular provider of news on the Internet.
The initiative of one BBC journalist means that, potentially, millions more people around the world will now become aware of the work of the UNHCR, and of the plight of the world's refugees.
This story will guarantee that this project continues to grow from strength to strength.
You can read it here
Tuesday, June 1
Just got word from Maximilian Geis of the German Football Federation that the entire German World Cup squad are signing a shirt for us.
This is brilliant news for 'The Shirt 2010' and, of course, for the refugees!
Thank you Germany!
Tuesday, June 1
I asked the Dutch to reconsider their decision not to give us a shirt yesterday. Holland, after all, contributes more to the UNHCR than almost any other country on earth and their former Prime Minister, Ruud Lubbers, was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees between 2001 and 2005.
The great news today is that the entire Dutch World Cup squad will sign their national shirt when they arrive in Joburg on sunday, and we can pick it up from the Dutch HQ at the Hilton Hotel on monday. Thanks Holland! I didn't really mean it when I said 'Do I not like orange'.
Monday, May 31
We meet the UNHCR Regional Representative for Southern Africa in Pretoria. Mister Kimbimbi is very surprised and disappointed to hear that the Dutch national team do not want to support 'the shirt 2010'. They have given us the standard 'nice project but we get zillions of similar requests all the time...so sorry but we cannot help'.
Yeah, I bet they get dozens of people contacting them every day who have cycled from Norway to South Africa for 11 months...
First the Dutch stole Bjorn's bicycle in Amsterdam and now their national team don't want to help the project! Come on you crazy Dutch!
Reminds me of how former England football manager Graham Taylor felt when the Dutch eliminated England from the World Cup in 1993, under very dubious circumstances:
"Do I not like Orange," he famously complained
Saturday, May 29
At this point in time I would love to dust off my backpack and spend the days leading up to the World Cup travelling around South Africa. But the next few days are vital to how much more this project can achieve. We have many targets, such as increasing the media coverage of 'The Shirt 2010' from its current estimated figure of 280 million to over 1 billion people before the end of the World Cup.
Another goal is for all 32 teams participating at the finals to donate shirts signed by every member of their World Cup squads.
I begin the process of contacting all 32 teams on saturday. It is not easy contacting the likes of England and Spain. These are not only national football teams; they are also international brands. Everybody wants a piece of the big international teams and, consequently, it can be rather problematic getting your message to and then convincing the decision makers within the national federations to support you.
We received a signed South Africa national team shirt last year. Only 31 more teams to go.
After several hours of chasing the national teams I get my first 'World CUp 32' result when a representative from Serbia gets in contact to tell me they would love to contribute a shirt signed by all its players.
A big shout of thanks therefore goes to Serbia for being the first national team (other than the hosts) to support the refugees and the work of the UNHCR.
Two down, 30 to go...
Sunday, May 23
Just when I thought sunday was turning into a football-free day Bjorn suddenly asks, "Did I tell you we are going to the PSL Football Awards tonight?"
"After 30 minutes"
It is back on with the suit and the UNHCR driver's shoes and off in the car to Pretoria.
What we didn't expect after a mad dash down the motorway was to park up, turn the corner towards the national theatre in Pretoria and then find ourselves walking down the red carpet to the entrance of the event.
It is probably the single most absurd moment of the project so far, particularly when one of the many South African football fans crammed behind the security perimeter shouts, "Hey! I don't know you. Who do you play for?!"
Inside, the presentation goes out live to 10 million South Africans. It is the standard 'goal of the season', 'player of the season' stuff, with slick visuals, half-clad dancing girls and pop star artist appearances.
Again, I find my head is spinning as I sit watching the various players walk up on to the stage to receive their awards. This is a million light years away from the dirty little shack we parked our cycles outside on the Tanzanian border a few weeks ago, not able to eat or drink because of a Cholera outbreak.
Saturday, May 8
Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi
It is a one hour drive from the capital to the Dzaleka Refugee Camp. Soon the new road, which is being being built by (guess who?) the Chinese, will no longer necessitate the land cruisers currently needed to negotiate the tough terrain.
11,000 refugees from DRC, Rwanda, Burundi and a number of other African countries reside here.
The main purpose of our visit is to meet the members of an incredible football team. The team is called the ‘Dzaleka Leopards Football Team’.
Last year the Leopards entered the region’s premier league. Despite playing on a pitch that would be deemed unplayable in Europe, having almost no resources and struggling to find a dozen pairs of football boots, this team of young men, with seemingly little hope in life, managed to finish third in the league. Their third-placed finish guaranteed promotion to the advanced league.
If they are promoted from this next tier of Malawian football then this team of refugees will compete in the country’s Super League.
It is one of the greatest football stories I have personally ever come across. We meet the lads, discuss their ambitions for the future and discover that enemies have become brothers:
“Congolese and Rwandans might well kill each other in other circumstances. Here Burundians, Rwandans, Congolese and other nationalities are all brothers in the same team. We are friends, team mates and brothers.”
Religion gives many hope and happiness. It also leads to war and suppression. The beauty of football is that it unites billions across the globe. I do not mean this as an atheist statement, because it is not, but to me there is only one true world religion. That world religion is football.
We ask the lads whether they dare dream of one day playing in the top tier; of playing international football? They all answer in the affirmative. We discuss creating a club crest, logo, motto and unique kit. The boys love our interest. Can you help the Dzaleka Leopards? Can you provide them with a kit, boots and training equipment?
It might not seem important on the surface of things but this team unites an entire refugee camp of 11,000 individuals. It gives everyone who lives here hope. It says: I can dream; I can achieve.
Together with the support of the Red Cross, the UNHCR and the members of this camp the Leopards go from strength to strength. There are now seven teams here; the stars of the camp train the youngsters.
And now the football is being used to promote positive and educational messages such as “Youths against the spread of HIV/AIDS.” within the camp.
If you believe in fairytales then believe in the Dzaleka Leopards. They might possibly be the best refugee football team in the world.
Bjorn and I were honoured to spend the day with them and to participate in a penalty shoot out competition in front of hundreds. I am delighted to say I slotted my first penalty away in the bottom corner, sending the keeper the wrong way. Bodes well for England v Germany in the semi finals of this year’s World Cup finals.
Friday, April 23
Chogo Refugee Resettlement Camp, Tanzania
When we think of venturing abroad to exotic lands we often spend too much time worrying about the possible perils that might await us there: spiders, snakes, disease, war etc.
It is sensible to be cautious but sometimes we forget the very real threats in our every day lives such as driving to work in the morning or sending ourselves to an early grave by smoking too many cigarettes.
I was stood in the toilet at 7am on friday morning admiring the wonderful sunrise over the Chogo Resettlement Camp when suddenly I felt an acute pain in my inside leg. I would liken it to being given an injection by a nervous nurse. There quickly followed a second surge of pain and I knew something was amiss.
Out in the courtyard I quickly pulled off my trousers and asked Bjorn if he could see anything that might have caused my pain.
I watched Bjorn step back and his face screw up, "It's a scorpion mate"
"You're joking aren't you?"
"No, it really is. I am sorry. You've been bitten by a scorpion."
A million thoughts race around my head ranging from 'am I dreaming this?' to 'Is the scorpion of the deadly variety and might I die from this wound?'
I lie on the bed in a vertical position and a T-shirt is tied around my leg above my knee to limit the spread of the scorpion's venom.
Bjorn goes off in search of the local doctor but tells me there are 'no deadly scorpions in Tanzania'. His words settle me. Slightly. But as I lie there alone in the room I conclude that Bjorn probably doesn't know anything about scorpions and maybe, just maybe, I might die from this.
It is an absurd idea that this might be the cause of my demise but as I feel the venom spread across my leg I realise that it really might be a possibility.
Bjorn phones his Norwegian Army friend, Ingar, who starts searching his resources for the deadly-or-not status of the scorpion. He reckons I am safe. Jimmy, our guide in Chogo, arrives with pain killers and anti-allergy medicine. The scorpions in Chogo are not deadly, he assures me.
He's just told me I have won the lottery. I don't need to explain the relief.
The UNHCR and REDESO agree to provide us with a vehicle for the day to transport us to Dar es Salaam as clearly cycling is something I won't be doing for a couple of days.
The venom spreads until I can hardly feel a thing in most of my right leg. We drive to Dar es Salaam, I guess 300-400 kilometres away. Scorpion poison makes you feel very tired. I am in and out of sleep for most of the journey south-east.
In Dar es Salaam the people at REDESO can't do enough to help us. They help us find a place to sleep, start contacting the local press and football clubs and say some very kind words about what Bjorn and I are trying to achieve.
You shouldn't mix alcohol with medicine, but one cold beer by the roadside watching the citizens of Dar es Salaam go about their business is a perfect way to finish the day and to reflect upon how happy I feel to be alive.
Thursday, April 22
Chogo Refugee resettlement Camp, Tanzania
Due to a little bit too much beer (at least I hope that is his excuse) Bjorn was cuddling up closer to me in bed than I would have liked and clearly was thinking I might be his Marianne :) Consequently, I elected to spend the rest of the night trying to sleep on the floor.
We travel up to the Chogo Refugee Settlement, less than 100 kilometres from Tanga. The camp is run by REDESO (The Relief to Development Society).
The vision of REDESO is as follows:
"A community where vulnerable people have access to equal opportunities and empowerment".
There are around 2,800 resettled Somalis living at the Chogo Camp. The idea is that they become self sufficient and naturalized as Tanzanian citizens.
Both these ideas seem appropriate to me. Chogo is a beautiful place. It is hilly, full of lush vegitation and enjoys the occasional cooling breeze.
The camp's residents, young and old, are very friendly. We meet the camp's Elders. They want to be totally self-sufficient, but first they need a little more help from people like you and me. They need school books for the kids; they need electricity and running water.
Much has already been achieved at Chogo from when it was originally nothing more than one huge UNHCR tent. Now thousands live happily in their own houses, go to their mosque, cook on coal-heated stoves and, of course, play football.
But these people have shown that if they are given the tools to become self-sufficient, they can do just that.
It would be nice to think that somebody who reads this might help to put those books into the Chogo classrooms and the waterpumps into the orange Chogo soil.
For more details: