Africa with a Bouncy Castle 2004

Africa with a Bouncy Castle 2004

A journey across West Africa taking a bouncy castle as a form of Laughter Aid, 2004.

Vinca Petersen interviewed by Sheryl Garratt

By 2003 I’d been with my partner, Zain, for some time. We were thinking about having a child, which for me meant settling down for a while. So to get that wanderlust out of us for a few years, we bought a beautiful old 1987 Land Cruiser, and drove to Ghana.

We didn’t plan it, particularly: we just got a few maps. But I wanted to give back to the people we met, so I tried to think of an inexhaustible form of aid to take. With condoms, footballs or whatever, there would always be a point where we ran out – probably at the furthest point away, where they were needed most. Then I remembered a traveller group who had taken a bouncy castle with them to India, and I got Hardy Blechman – from the fashion label Maharishi – to sponsor one for us. We called it Laughter Aid.

We drove down through France and Morocco, meeting brilliant people on the way, then across the Sahara sharing a guide with a group of French boys in a Ford Escort. There are no roads, and with the weight of the castle and their ill-equipped car, we had to dig one of us out of the sand about every 300 yards! Afterwards, we met a French couple who had even snapped their toothbrushes in half to lighten the load across the desert. When I said we’d carried a bouncy castle, they just walked off, unable to compute it.

But it worked really well. We’d stop at schools and orphanages on the way, we’d put it up, and the kids would get so excited. They would bounce and bounce on it, and even after we’d turned it off, they’d carry on jumping until it was completely flat. It went down a storm.

It still does – we took it to Romania in 2014, for instance, where it entertained children who were living on the street, in isolated villages, or in Roma communities. It took us three months to get to the coast of Ghana, and we had a cocktail on the beach to celebrate. That’s when I noticed the silhouette of an AK47 burned into the back of my sunbed – they’d obviously stashed their guns in with the beds, and the sun had marked its outline into the fabric. Normally, people make the trip, sell their vehicle and fly back home. But we had our dog with us, and the bouncy castle. So we had to turn around and drive back.