Thursday, December 23, 2010

Reading lots

In the past week i have finished reading "Black Man's Burden," "China Safari," "Escape from Rwanda," and "Dead Aid." My favorite book of the group was Dead Aid as it made a lot of sense and was very practical and realistic. I wish someone would make the call that Aid would be cut off in five years so the governments would start to make the changes to become self sufficient. It's not like the vast majority of Africans see any benefit from the Aid their countries receive anyways. It also bugs me that celebrities like Bono further their careers by promoting Africa- especially by hawking Louis Viutton "African" bags that the average African couldn't afford by saving for five years!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Paintings, Sandaga, & Tabaski

I finally got my paintings from Nigeria framed for 5,000 CFA each (about $10 each).  These frames should last for a long time as there is a 1/4" plywood sheet nailed to the back of each one and an industrial strength metal eyelet screwed in the top for hanging.

I also ventured into the Sandaga Outdoor Market again yesterday on a special mission: to purchase a Baye Fall boubou made of long strips of fabric.  As usual when I entered the market someone approached me and asked if I wanted to see his artisan store selling all kinds of specials that he made by himself.  My new friend led me through the back alleys to the same five-story shirt factory near the north edge of the market.  Inside he took me to the boubou room and we began our negotiations.  Since I was almost a local now he would give me a better price than the tourist price- only 110,000 CFA per boubou instead of the ClubMed price of 220,000 CFA each.  I countered for 5,000 CFA.  We went back and forth over the price for the next half hour and they brought out a couple other examples of boubous of differing quality.  In the end I walked away with 3 boubous for 45,000 CFA or 15,000 CFA each (about $30 each).  If I had negotiated harder I should have been able to get them for 10,000 each.

Each time I have entered the Sandaga Market I was picked up by a different person and carefully guided to the shirt factory along routes that did not offer boubous or similar items.  Upon arrival each of my friends would offer me a tour of their factory and end up in a room where we would negotiate a price.  Upon reaching a price we would go to one of the cashiers, either on the third floor or in the gift shop on the ground floor and my friend would hand them the cash and keep a portion for themselves.  Communications with cashier are conducted in Wolof and money is exchanged out of sight so I haven't been able to figure out the actual cost of the items.  However, a local friend told me he could get boubous for about 5,000 CFA each.

Tabaski, the Muslim celebration of the Abraham's sacrifice of the ram instead of his son, was celebrated last week and was a two day national holiday.  According to a friend of mine who returned to his home village for the celebration, each family should sacrifice a male sheep.  If they can't afford a male sheep a female sheep would be an acceptable substitute and a goat could be used as a last resort.  He was able to provide one male sheep for his family and bought his sheep for next year as well.  My friend said the price of the sheep depends on it's size, but an average size sheep would cost between 150,000 to 200,000 CFA ($300-$400 USD) the week before Tabaski.  He bought his slightly smaller sheep for next year for 75,000 CFA ($150 USD) and over the next year his family will try to fatten it up. Dakar Goats

The day after the Tabaski celebration I went for a run along the beach and found lots of horns and sheep skins stretched out and drying in the sun.  A surfer friend told me that he went for a surf after Tabaski and ended up paddling through sheep guts and carcasses because the remains were thrown into the ocean by the locals.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

3 Days in Guinea-Bissau

3 days is not enough time to see Guinea-Bissau.  Due to transportation constraints we were stuck in Bissau and missed out on visiting the Archipelago World Heritage Sites- hopefully I will have the opportunity to come back!

I loved my short time in Bissau- I got to speak Portugeuse again, drank Guarana every day, and everything reminded me of living in the country outside of Rio de Janeiro- especially the red dirt.  Even the toilets in the hotel had signs posted to remind users to not flush the toilet paper.
Former Presidential Palace

I went for a couple early morning runs and saw a couple remarkable sights- the former Presidential Palace that was destroyed in the war, the markets alongside the road- mostly selling shoes and food, the new National Assembly building recently built by the Chinese and so on.  All the little kids were excited to see me run by- I was a novelty, like they hadn't seen many toubabs, especially running through their neighborhoods.
Catholic Church near the port- Doors were always locked

Along side the road young men would wait with wheelbarrows for an opportunity to unload and carry stuff.  During my last run a pickup truck pulled up to a group of guys with wheelbarrows and started to offload the carcasses of of several butchered cows, which were then wheeled off down the dirt back alleys to some restaurants or smaller butcher stands. 

Most of the cars on the road were taxis, older Mercedes D190s painted blue and white.  These are tough old cars because the roads in Bissau are in very poor shape.  The majority of people traveled by foot or blue and yellow vans.  There were a couple modern gas stations in town, but on the outskirts of town fuel was sold by the bottle or jug.  I think that most of the fuel was for generator use as the town did not provide electricity for the use for the average person.  If you wanted power you had to buy a generator and few people could afford one or the fuel required.  Light after dark is a luxury in Guinea-Bissau.
Roadside fuel stand

Only the street vendors were eager to talk to me.  The day before Tabaski they claimed they needed to make a sale because of the coming holiday, but nobody knew the name of the holiday.  The next day about half of them were out selling again on the holiday.  The vendors said they rarely saw any foreigners anymore and business was very slow.  The rest of the people I saw just kinda watched me walk or run by but didn't stare too long.
Leaving Bissau was interesting as well.  The airport doesnt have any computers so they kept your etickets and made a manual roster for all passengers.  When we got to the security checkpoint we were wanded, groped, and then passed through a metal detector that wasn't plugged in.  The bag scanner wasnt plugged in either and a couple people at a desk behind it searched your bag.  Since it was Tabaski they also had a donation sheet so you can give them money to help them celebrate.  When i asked what they were going to buy, one young lady responded "Bebidas" or alcohol and made the universal gesture for drinking.

The pilot stuck his head into the terminal 45 minutes before the scheduled departure and counted people sitting in the lobby.  Since we were all there he told us to load the plane and we took off early and got to Dakar in an hour (flight was scheduled to take 1 hour and 35 mins).

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sailing Lessons

I have always wanted to learn to sail and today I had my first lesson, and my first wreck.  The good news is that nobody got hurt and the boat wasn't damaged.  The bad news was that we couldn't self recover and we spent about 30 minutes in the water waiting for the motorboat to come out and help recover the boat.  Everybody told me when we got back to the shore that the Hobie Cat was designed to flip over, self recover, then keep on sailing but even with the help of the instructor and another person we couldn't get the boat to right itself without the motorboat.

Sailing was pretty cool, especially when we started to pick up some speed.  The instructor kept telling me that we weren't supposed to take any risks today, but I still managed to flip the boat.  I can't wait until i can run one by myself, hike out on the trapeze, and then probably flip the boat again.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nigerian Photos

Here are some photos from my trip to Nigeria last week:
Cool statue but rarely seen as they are usually covered except at certain times.  There are several in Lagos, some in traffic circles but when we drove by they were covered.  They are funeral statues used during funeral rites for example for the funeral of an Oba (local chief).  

African Motorcycle Power- I saw thousands of these on the streets in Lagos, many serving as moto-taxis.  It appears that Nigeria has a helmet law because everyone was wearing one and the moto-taxists carried a spare helmet.  A very similar bike was popular in Liberia and was used in the same manner.
Roads on Victoria Island in Lagos, Nigeria. 
View of the river from the Brazilian restaurant

Lagos is a pretty clean city thanks to the many garbage cans throughout the city.  For a city of 20 million I was impressed.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Counterbalance Book

After reading "Africa in Chaos" a friend gave me another book "The Black Man's Burden- Africa and the Curse of the Nation State" by Basil Davidson to balance out Ayittey's opinions.  I'll give it a read- its only 322 pages (might take me another month or two).

Book Review: Africa in Chaos

Africa in Chaos by George B. N. Ayittey

George Aytittey wrote Africa in Chaos 12 years ago (1998) to explain the reasons why Africa is in a perpetual state of upheaval, death, corruption, and in effect "chaos". His answer is depressing and doesn't give much hope for the future unless altruistic African governments assume control and manage to keep corruption out. Perhaps some have paid attention to Ayittey as some of his dire predictions have not come to pass. The book also delves into the many ways that non-African organizations have exacerbated the situation instead of helping- with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund taking a good part of the blame. The Cold War struggle for Africa didn't help either.

What changed my mind the most about Africa is Ayittey's detailing of how the billions in aid and oil money disappeared into the the bank accounts of Africa's corrupt leaders, causing the poverty and suffering of their citizens. The leaders had and have the money to take care of their people but choose to keep it for themselves and their cronies. In his closing chapters the author also explained that the reason why the world in general doesn't know about this corruption is that many of the African intellectuals are still vying for their piece of the pie and are easily bought by those in power. Ayittey also discussed how Americans and African-Americans in particular don't see the reality of Africa and what the African leaders have done to their people and countries. It's a depressing book because if the author is correct there isn't much hope for Africa..

Monday, November 8, 2010

Little America in Lagos

8 November 2010
Lagos, Nigeria

I made some friends at Shell and Chevron and spent the last couple days hanging out in their respective compounds. It's like living back in Europe or the States complete with lush green softball fields, people grilling outside, and little kids riding skateboards and bikes on the smooth paved roads. One hundred meters away taxis and motorcycles fly down bumpy dirt roads in the chaos of Nigerian traffic dodging broken down buses and ditched filled with muddy waste. The difference is like night and day when you get away from the expensive hotels and shopping malls and see how the majority of people live in Lagos.

Oil is where it's at and it is a different world in Nigeria if you have money. The International School costs about $20,000 USD per kid each year, but if you work for an oil company the company covers the cost. For the adults there are many adult establishments that offer "local content" or an opportunity to experience local culture. A friend went to a club called "Ynot" and described it as every teenage boys fantasy- more than 150 of the most beautiful women you had ever seen all excited to see you and want to spend the evening with you. He said the beer and alcohol flowed freely but he had to fight to leave before things got too serious with his dates for the night. Three huge bouncers accompanied him to his cab and made sure he was safe while he waited- a contrast to the recent past where robberies were common outside the clubs.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Lagos, Nigeria
6 November 2010

Traffic sucks in Lagos, but besides that it is an interesting city where super yachts costing millions share the muddy waters with the leaky pirogues. Oil is king in Nigeria and contributes more than $7 billion every year to the government of Nigeria but it's hard to see where it benefits the regular Nigerians on the street. Nobody is sure of the exact population of Lagos or Nigeria, but there are around 20 million in Lagos and over 110 million in Nigeria. Now about 1 of every 5 Africans is Nigerian and in twenty years or so 1 out of 3 Africans will be Nigerian.

There are a lot of nice places in Lagos- yesterday i ate lunch at Kentucky Fried Chicken and it was pretty good. I found a couple good book stores and bought "Allah is not Obliged" and "Half of a Yellow Sun," both by Nigerian authors and highly recommended.

I also visited the Lekki Market and bought two impressionistic paintings depicting buses stuck in traffic- a typical scene in Lagos. The market was like any other artisan market targeting tourists that i have seen in Africa. Some kids helped us find a parking spot, then tried to push us into their favorite shops, all carrying the same stuff. Popular items wee the wooden monkeys (hear, speak, see no evil with a 4th pregnant monkey), ivory tusks, cheetah and leopard skins, and paintings. As soon as I bought my paintings another kid showed up and grabbed my stuff to serve as my porter and followed me around the market. I ended up buying the kid a fortified milk drink when i stopped to buy a bottle of water. His handler was upset when he saw my porter with his drink because he thought the porter was drinking his profits. A pickpocket tried to lift my colleagues wallet but was blocked by my colleague putting his hands into his pockets. Someone else walked by and bumped my rear pockets to see if i had anything back there while i had my hands in my front pockets. My porter snickered but denied any knowledge of the pickpocket when we asked him about it.

As we returned to the vehicle to drive back to the hotel we were swarmed by kids again asking for several thousand Naira for school supplies and the crippled kids asking for handouts. Then the parking attendant kid had his handout again even though he was already paid. When the older kids saw us paying the porters they came over to make sure they got their cut too and the porters had to give up their money. Overall, the beggars and hawkers are on par with Senegal. Since we are staying in a nice neighborhood here that population is limited as well.

Vehicles bristling with police machine guns pass on the streets all the time and security guards armed with Kalashnikovs are positioned on the perimeter of hotels and buildings. The walls seem to be at least three feet higher here and frequently topped with concertina wire and sharpened spikes. There is also usually some kind of armored or SWAT vehicle at the major intersections and cameras are everywhere important.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Lac Rose & Ngor Island

Senegal is a great place for holidays!  We get all Muslim and Catholic holidays so today Dakar was still a ghost town and we could move around easily as traffic was light.  In the morning we drove out to Lac Rose, a small saltwater lake north of Dakar that was made famous as the former finish line of the Paris-Dakar rally and its pink waters.  The lake turns pink in the dry season in certain light, but today the water looked golden to me.  Dozens of locals were in the water scooping salt water off the bottom of the lake and bringing it ashore in boats where it was piled in large heaps on the beach.

As soon as we stepped out of the car we were swarmed by the local vendors selling all kinds of crap.  Today the big items were sand paintings and cups made from cow horns.  Since the vendors were so aggressive we didnt stay too long by the salt piles and ended up driving around most of the lake.

After a quick lunch we went diving again off Ngor Island and saw several schools of hand-sized fish, a couple Morey eels, and other larger fish.  I was the first one to run out of air on the dive and had to share with the dive master to stay under with the group.  Everyone says the best way to increase my bottom time is to dive more often so i'll have to keep at it.  We ended up with 32 mins of bottom time at 26 meters.

Later we took the pirogue out to Ngor island to tour the top side of the island and watched the surfers on the west side.  The waves were waist high and bigger and five or six surfers had taken the boat from Ngor beach and were getting some decent rides.  We ate dinner at sunset on the water then took the pirogue back to the beach in the dark.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Driving Back to Dakar

Saint Louis was nice and relaxing, more calm than usual since it was a Sunday morning. We toured the museum at the southern end of the island as well as the art museum by the Hotel Sidone. Our plan was to drive back on the beach to Dakar but the tide was too high.

We ended up driving down the road to Kebemer and then to Tiougoune on the coast. There was a nice fishing village at the end of the road with a new fish processing area where the locals could clean and dry their catch in the sun. But still the tide was too high and we couldn't make the drive on the beach. Eventually we made it back to Theis where we ate lunch and then to home in Dakar.

Touba Day 2

My friends and i spent the day wandering around the hot sandy streets of Touba barefoot. We started the day with a late breakfast with our host followed by a tour of the Grande Mosque. The building is very impressive and i have never been inside anything else so elaborate or ornate.

The Grande Mosque took decades to be built and is continually being added onto and expanded. Across the street we visited the library and saw many of the books written by Cheikh Amadou Bamba and learned more of his story.  Our guide said that he wrote over 7.5 tons of books and all of it could not be read in a lifetime.

As soon as we left the mosque we were mobbed by people begging for money, both young and old. So many kids surrounded our vehicles and were tapping our windows that some started to climb onto the roof rack to try to get our attention. We had to cut our visit short so no one would get hurt.

We drove north through a couple hundred potholed kilometers of the Senegalese countryside to reach Saint Louis at the North Western corner of the country. We passed millions of goats and cows and a couple camel herds in the peanut fields in the middle of nowhere.
Peanut field on the left

Saint Louis was a nice change of pace and we wandered out to the fishing village and ate dinner overlooking the river as the sun set.
the Senegal River

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Kaolack & Touba

Touba, Senegal
29 October 2010

This morning we woke up in Theis and drove down to the dirtiest, nastiest place in Senegal*. Kaolack had a nice mosque but the town was flooded with many buildings knee to hip deep in green water and a meter-wide stream of foul murky water running along the side of the road. Huge piles of garbage rotted everywhere you looked and it's ripe smell filled the air. Goats, cows, and people waded through the muck and cars and scooters were mired in traffic.

Somehow i found an oasis on the edge of town- a little resort on the river that was clean and didn't stink where we ate lunch. As we left two bus loads of white tourists pulled up to the hotel to discharge their unfortunate passengers. If Kaolack was their final destination in Senegal they were in for an disappointing vacation.

From Kaolack we drove three hours north to the holy city of Touba and met the spiritual leader of the Mouride Muslims. Upon arrival in the sandy city we were ushered into his large chamber where he greets his visitors and supplicants- a large room 20'x40' lined with couches and deep carpets. For the next half hour we discussed Islam and what they were doing in Touba for education and a new university they are founding outside of town.

After our meeting with the esteemed spiritual guide we met and dined with the president of an Islamic Education Program in Touba. We discussed the school he had developed that took Islamic education and added Senegalese culture programs as well as secular scientific training to develop the well rounded, spiritual Muslim.

After dinner we returned to my friends house in Touba where we spent the night. Their great grandfather had founded Touba and was enshrined in the grande mosque. His image is everywhere in Senegal- the image of a man in a white turban with a part of turban covering his mouth. My friends spent the night telling us stories about their great grandfather and his many accomplishments. He sounds like a fascinating person who went through many trials and was a great spiritual leader for Senegal. He was thrown into the lions den but emerged unharmed after two days, was put into a furnace but did not burn, and was exiled for many years. In the end he returned victorious to Senegal, wrote many books, taught many people, and preserved the Senegalese culture.

*A Senegalese friend in Dakar called Kaolack the dirtiest, nastiest place in Senegal

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Back in Theis

After a couple weeks stuck in Dakar working on College Apps for grad school next fall i was finally able to get on the road again. I had five friends fly in from Europe, Mozambique, and Ethiopia for a week to cruise around Senegal. The first couple days i took them around Dakar to the usual sites- Goree Island, African Renissance Monument, Place de l'independance, Ngor island, and even a boat dive off Ngor Island. Now we are driving inland and touring Theis and a couple other cities to give them a taste of the real Senegal.

The drive from Dakar thru Rufisque was surprisingly easy today but scared my European friends. We made the 70km drive in an amazing 90 mins given our 11am start time. In Theis they kept remarking about how many westerners were wandering around. My female African-American friend kept getting hit on by Senegalese men and even got a marriage proposal while we were waiting for lunch. Overall it was a good day despite my friends broken frenglish and temps soaring above 41*C. Tommorrow we are going further inland in search of a city described as the dirtiest, filthiest, downright worst city in Senegal to see if it lives up to it's reputation. Should be fun.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Museum visit

On my last day in Ghana we visited the monument and museum for first President of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.  Its a nice park with an outdoor display of the many books he wrote, lots of trees planted by visiting dignitaries, and a huge pyramidesque monument surrounded by a large pond and many statues.  

The display tells the story of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and has many pictures of where he grew up, his influences, and his memorable quotes.  Inside the monument is his tomb.  

Behind the monument is a museum with more pictures and artifacts from the life of the first president of Ghana.  Including all his old dorm furniture from when he was an undergrad student in the states (Lincoln University, PA). 

Cape Coast & Rainforest Canopy Walk

Even though we left before 7am, it still took an hour to get out of Accra thanks to the permanent traffic in the city.  Three hours later we made it to Cape Coast and the huge fortress that was the point of no return for hundred of thousands of Africans shipped out as slaves.  The Cape Coast Castle is now a museum and popular tourist destination for millions of visitors despite its terrible past.

We started by visiting the museum and its collection of artifacts from Ghana's past.  They have a good display that explains a lot about the culture and daily life for Ghanians.  Then there is a larger section dedicated to the slave trade and how Africans and Europeans were enriched through the trade triangle.  I thought it was interesting that christian church leader in that time period advocated the importation of African slaves to the Americas as the Native Americans were too weak and dieing due to the European diseases.  The African slaves were recognized as much stronger, healthier, and disease resistant and therefore a better source of labor.  The Europeans gave weapons freely to the local African leaders to help them in their tribal wars and then accepted the prisoners of wars the Africans captured as slaves.

The most significant part of the tour to me was the visit to the dungeons or slave holding areas where they slaves were usually held for a minimum of four months while they were waiting to be loaded onto the westward bound ships.  Upwards of a thousand slaves could be held at a time with almost no light and a narrow channel gouged into the stone floor for the human waste to evacuate down the large chamber into the sea.  The unruly slaves were packed in a smaller chamber that measured about 20ft by 10ft, but held up to 200 at a time.  When the building was being renovated several years ago, excavators had to dig through two feet of human waste to reach the stone floor underneath.  A tunnel at the end of the large holding chamber where the main population of the slaves were held led to the door of no return and the ships waiting offshore.  Now that tunnel is blocked by a monument to represent the end of the slave trade.  The rest of the tour focuses on the white living quarters and the church above the dungeons and was anti-climatic to me.

After lunch, we drove out to Kakum National Park- a tropical rain forest that features the 1/4 mile long canopy walk, a narrow rope bridge suspended 120ft above the ground.  The bridge is hung in a circular route consisting of eight segments tied to huge trees.  12 inch wide planks form the walking surface and every movement and breeze makes the bridge swing.  It was a pretty cool view, but we couldn't see any animals or hardly even the ground through the thick trees.  

After sliding down the hill from the tree top platforms and walkways we drove two more hours back to Accra in order to fight another two hours to get back to our hotel.  Accra seems like a great place, but the traffic sucks!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ghana Stories

Girl hairstyles in Ghana
Almost all the young girls or school age girls keep their hair very short (like the boys) while they are in school.  Our guide in explaining the tradition related that the headmaster at his daughters school requires all girls to keep their hair very short, almost shaved.  When they get married, the women traditionally start wearing headscarves to cover their hair.

Self-guided Sheep & Goats
On the outskirts of town and in the villages herds of goats and sheep are seen walking around, crossing the roads, and generally walking with a purpose.  However, usually they have no human or animal supervision.  The goats are trained to follow a certain route and take themselves out to pasture and come back to the house later on, all automatically and without supervision.

Cell Service Carrier Advertising
In Ghana he war between cell phone service providers is heating up and advertising has become a major competition between the different brands.  All the major brands advertise: MTN, vodafone, Tigo, Zain; but it seems the most intense battle is between vodafone and MTN.  Their battle has spread from the airwaves to the fabric of people's clothes (incorporating both small and large logos), as well as the color of their house and business.  Walking down the street in some areas it seems that the houses alternate red (vodafone) and yellow (MTN).

Garbage Man Jingle
Around 5am i was woken by the sound of what I thought was the ice-cream man driving through the streets of Accra.  It was a meandering thin tune played endlessly over speaker, just like an ice-cream man who sells from a truck common in North America.  The reality couldn't be more opposite, because this tune in Accra announced the coming of the garbage man, and people would rush to bring their garbage out.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Accra International Marathon

Accra, Ghana
26 September 2010

I got up at 3:30 in the morning so I could catch my ride to the marathon shuttle start point at the Salvation Army Hostel. At the hostel I linked up with the Peace Corps volunteers who had assembled from the neighboring countries to run the marathon. The shuttle bus arrived an hour late (scheduled for 4:30) and after a tumultous hour long ride through the city dropped off the 1/2 marathoners at their start point and then continued another 13.1 miles to our start point- a dashed line spray painted across the road in the middle of nowhere. With no portapotties and only small bushes around lots a white rear ends were visible in the grass as people used the bathroom before the start of the race.

A few brave Africans had run the Milo Marathon the day before lined up at the start line again, some boasting about their accomplishments the day before and bragging they were going to win today (mostly exaggerations in my opinion- one guy claimed to have run a 2:10 marathon the day before). About 50 of us toed the starting line, including 20 Africans, and after four false starts, because the starting pistol kept misfiring, we were off- over an hour after the scheduled start (actual start at 6:45).

The Africans were off like a shot and quickly out of sight and the westerns started plodding along the road. I, like a couple other runners, carried a hydration backpack since the marathon had received terrible reviews last year for not having enough aid stations and running out of water half way though the race. I was happy to find many aid stations along the course and even at some spots a case of water dropped so you could help yourself. However in some of the more congested locations i think the locals may have walked away with the water.

There was a light cooling mist as we ran through the hills in the first half of the marathon and i reached the midway point in just over two hours (2:02). I grabbed a couple bottles and refilled my 2 liter hydration pack and started to alternate short walks with my running. The sun came out and it got hot and humid and by mile 16 i was dehydrated and getting sore. My walks got longer and my running shorter and within a couple miles my stride was extremely restricted.

I was already regretting my decision to run the full marathon- my longest training run was only 14.25 miles and the heat in Dakar had forced me to walk at the end of that run too. My buddy, Brad, had talked me into running the full marathon with him, but then bailed on me a couple days before the run. So i had to run alone, but I passed the torturous miles thinking of him and how I would get my revenge.

Around mile 20 we ran up a hill into a village and people coming home from church dressed in their Sunday best. Many churches were still in session and played a variety of music- some just singing loud into their speakers, others accompanied by trumpets, handsome with full rock bands- seemingly in competition to be the loudest or heard above the rest. Some of the locals yelled encouragement to my shuffling steps, yelling "fast, fast!". Others just read my face and told me the truth "you look tired."

A couple miles later we emerged from the village onto the main commercial street that lead into Accra and had to weave our way through traffic. The sidewalks were full of vendors and walkers, the side of the road had buses and taxis zooming in to stop and pick up passengers, and heavy traffic dominated the main lanes so making forward progress became a lot more difficult. Sometimes i had to stop and wait for traffic or people to move aside so i could try to stumble forward, but with only three miles to go i had hope.

We finally got clear of the market and most of the foot traffic with two miles to go and i decided to do my best to run the rest of the way in and finish strong. I figured it was only two miles to go, and i had run that distance many times before- it should be easy. I made it one mile before i fell apart. I couldn't lift my legs anymore and walking even hurt so bad i wanted to stop and lie down in the dirt on the side of the road.

At that point of desperation the race director pulled up in her car and handed me a bottle of water and cheered me to keep going. I kept going forward. I had to grit my teeth and limp along as my left leg froze up and wouldn't bend anymore and my right foot felt bruised and i could only step with my heel. It took me 25 minutes to walk that last mile and if felt like it was going to last forever under the blazing sun.

Finally i reached some large banners flying on the side of the road and a cut through some high grass that led to the finish line. I manage to shuffle and almost broke into tears as i crossed the finish line, five hours and sixteen minutes after i began.

My first priority was water and i wasn't the only one suffering. The girl that finished after me collapsed at the finish line and had to be carried to the first aid tent (I felt a little envious). Others were lying in the shade and medics were walking around pouring water on people or rubbing them with ice. The race director even collapsed and was helped into the shade and given ice.

A couple liters of water later i was feeling better and an hour or so later lunch was served. It seemed like a riot was going to break out when they started to run out of food, but eventually i got my plate of chicken and rice. It was pretty good and quickly wolfed it down local style using my hands as no forks were provided. Later on they handed out goodie bags and finally the race medal! I then retreated to my hotel and ended up sleeping six hours before dinner and heading to bed again.

People in the hotel kept staring at me as i limped around, and didn't seem to believe that i had just ran a marathon.

Exploring Accra

Accra, Ghana
25 September 2010

We spent the day on another driving tour of the city and getting ready for the Accra Marathon on Sunday. We found the US Embassy, the Kofi Annan Peacekeeping Center, W.E. deBois center, the LDS temple, and then spent a couple hours trying to find the shuttle pickup point for the marathon and the marathon headquarters (very poorly marked on the third floor of a building in back alley).

I decided to take it easy that afternoon and ended up taking a nap before going to a pre-marathon pasta party with a bunch of expats. A group of about twenty women were excited to run the 1/2 marathon the following day (husbands were going to watch the kids while the wives ran) and only one other guy was going to run the marathon with me. Mad dog is 72 years old from Florida and had run 335 previous marathons in 105 different countries ( holds world record for number of countries).

The Accra International Marathon director was also at the dinner and was already worn out. I had spoke to her earlier at her office when I was looking for directions to the marathon shuttle and her office was packed and she was trying to get all the last minute preparations complete. To add to her agony, several local runners had showed up the day before to demand a refund of their race registration fee so they could run in the Milo Marathon recently scheduled for the day before the Accra International Marathon. According to her, Milo announced their decision to move their marathon to 25 September on the first of the month while her marathon had been scheduled for several months. They also quintupled their prize money so she couldn't compete and she felt obliged to let the athletes compete for the bigger payday. We had seen the Milo buses following driving around town earlier in the day and their awards ceremony on tv where they had claimed over 5000 runners.

Leaving Liberia

Accra, Ghana
24 September 2010

On our way to the airport this morning we stopped to get some snacks at a local market in Monrovia. The store had decent variety of items imported from Europe and South Africa and the first Gatorade I had seen in Africa for about $3.20 (for a quart size bottle). Surprisingly the traffic was light so we got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Luckily the driver had connections to Firestone and brought us onto the farm and to the commissary.

The firestone commissary was stocked with the largest verity of western foods i have seen so far in Africa. The had boxes of tortilla chips, kraft mac and cheese, A&W root beer, whatchamacallit candy bars, as well as all the western brands of shampoo, deodorant, and personal products. Unfortunately i didn't have room in my suitcase for a case of tortilla chips (impossible to find in Dakar).

We made it to Accra without any issues, rented a car, and were off exploring the city within a couple hours. The University of Ghana is an outstanding university- the campus is beautiful and set on a hill across the valley from the government headquarters. The campus is huge with lots of large buildings, a medical school, law school, large sports fields, and blocks of dorms. We got to stop and watch part of a women's soccer game with a couple hundred spectators (the light blue team was doing pretty well).

After the tour of the university the rain started to come done again and and it started to get dark so we headed out for dinner. I got the red red with beans and beef (called "Red Red").

Liberian Stories

Monrovia, Liberia
23 September 2010

"neighborhood watch"
For the second day in a row our friend in Monrovia was woken up in the middle of the night by calls for help from his neighbors. Two nights ago his neighbors home was invaded by a robber wielding a cutlass (machete) in the early morning hours. One of the family members was able to text for help in the confusion and quickly word spread to all the neighbors. Within minutes a group of friends stormed the house, grabbed the robber, and dragged him into the streets where the angry mob began to beat him. Eventually the police arrived and were disappointed that he was still alive, the robber was beaten nearly to death, but was happy to get away from the mob and get to the safety of the jail.

Last night, around 2 am, another call went out to friends and neighbors for a house fire. As soon as the got the call, everyone grabbed their buckets or large containers of water and ran to the neighbor in need. Even with the help of the fire brigade they couldn't save the mud hut and the fire spread to several other huts which also burned to the ground. Right after the fire brigade extinguished the last of the smoldering rubble, the torrential rains began again. The fire was caused by the mother who left a lit candle in a bedroom and when she went outside to talk to a friend. Luckily no one was hurt.

"smell, no taste"
A small town in a rubber forest has a local name i couldn't pronounce (like most villages with local names). Loosely translated, the town is called "smell, no taste." During the war the relatively well supplied peacekeeping troops would cook their food over open fires while the rubber farmers hiding among the trees could smell it, but had nothing to eat for themselves.

"marriage problems"
My Liberian friend was telling me about his problems with his wife. He started by stating he didn't think he could be a polygamist, like many Africans, because dealing with one wife was hard enough. After he had been married for four years or so he felt his wife didn't love him and he wanted to get rid of her, so he got another girl pregnant. Eleven years later he has the daughter from the other girl, and the same wife. She stuck by him even though the mother of his child gave him the child and walked away and he adopted another kid from the neighborhood. The kids live with his parents (their grandmother), but he and his wife still share a house in the city. Both work, but both are on the road all the time. When he is at home, she kicks him out and sends him to the club or has his friends pick him up and take him away. What she does at home he doesn't know.

Visit to LAC

Monrovia, Liberia
23 September 2010

The day began in the driving rain at 0630 am driving a Nissan Patrol 4x4 from Monrovia to Buchanan. The roads were great until 17km past the airport when the smooth Chinese made road came to an abrupt end and the bone jarring five hour torture began. We covered 150 km in five hours as the rain gradually stopped and the sun came out. About half way into the trip we reached an old rusty iron bridge under repair and had to wait for an hour while the bridge was put back together. Heavy traffic had pushed the 1/4 inch steel plates off some of the iron girders over the mocha river so a work crew was spreading out the plates and welding them to the girders.

The bridge work was being done by a maintenance crew from Liberian Agriculture Company (LAC), a rubber company located outside Buchanan and competitor of Firestone. We visited LAC and took a tour and the guides told us that they agreed to maintain the roads since all the rubber they produce has to be trucked to Monrovia over the same road in semis carrying 20 foot trailers weighing several tons each.

The LAC plantation was nice, but the rubber tapper villages and schools weren't as nice as the Firestone plantation and recently the workers protested the LAC headquarters to demand benefits comparable to Firestone.

After the tour of the Liberian Agriculture Company rubber plantation we drove back to Buchanan to check out Buchanan Renewable Energy (BRE). They harvest the rubber trees that are too old to produce any more and chip them onsite and truck them to the port in Buchanan. At the port the wood chips are loaded on boats to Europe where the wood chips are burned as fuel instead of coal.

Red light district & rubber plantation

Monrovia, Liberia
22 September 2010

No rain today, but still seas of muddy water throughout Monrovia.

Today we cruised around town checking out the red light district (named for the the blinking red traffic light that has since broke and been stolen). The place was slammed- overflowing with people, cars, motorcycles, and mud. It took a while to crawl through the slippery mess but it was interesting, as always, to watch the people in the colorful market.

Liberia is famous for it's rubber plants and today we visited the Firestone Rubber Plantation near Roberts International Airport. It's a huge place that is a community unto itself with schools for the children of the plantation workers, a supermarket, health clinics, post office, and several housing areas. The rubber trees are the main attraction, all planted neatly in orderly rows, like corn in the Midwest.

The trees are planted in groves and take about seven years before the new plants start producing rubber. Once mature the trees produce for about seven to ten years then the production drops and the trees are of little use to the plantation. Due to the war many trees are over 15 years old and aren't producing very much anymore and need to be cleared so new trees can be planted. One solution that is being explored is to collect the trees and burn them as biofuel in a power plant since there is a great need for electricity in Liberia.

The system for collecting the rubber from the trees is pretty simple. The bark of the tree is cut or penetrated to allow the sap to come to the surface and collected in a cup. The process is similar to the maple syrup process back in New England. The rubber is collected and brought back to the collection point and processed and shipped out.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Liberia Day 2

Monrovia, Liberia
21 September 2010

Heavy rains all night long flooded the roads his morning- I should have brought my goretex jacket. Today we drove around my friends Nissan Patrol with a snorkel kit and had a blast plowing through axle and deeper ponds.

Most of the roads aren't paved so we had to use the four wheel drive capabilities to get through some deep sand too. We checked out the port and a city beach, which was covered in trash washed in by the heavy storm overnight. Some of the port was blocked by sunk ships sitting on the bottom of the harbor.

UN vehicles are everywhere. The locals ride their little 100cc motorbikes around or drive the demolition derby taxis, but most people just walk. Turns out that most of the bikes were purchased by ex-combatants after the war with their war settlement funds. Many are used as moto-taxis or for delivery services. We saw one being used as an ambulance, transporting the victim of an accident in the arms of passenger on the back of the motorcycle.

Welcome to Monrovia

Monrovia, Liberia
20 September 2010

I flew all morning, leaving Dakar at 1am and after a five hour layover in Accra, arrived in Monrovia at 1pm. I flew Air Nigeria and the service was great- I was pleasantly surprised with the free socks and toothbrush. It was all still marked Virgin Nigeria (Air Nigeria recently broke away from the Virgin family to become a separate airline) but was very clean and professional.

Flying out of Accra we flew over some awesome looking long breaks but the water as we approached Monrovia was a nasty dirty brown with no waves. Roberts International Airport is a good hour drive from Monrovia over some pitted roads and some heavy traffic. For dinner we ate at the Golden Beach restraunt on the beach just down from a decent break. Waves were waist to chest high and the water looked pretty clean but i havent seen any surfboards and the shops are limited to the bare necessities- no luxury items or stores around here.

I haven't had to change any money yet. The places I have visited listed all their prices in US Dollars and gave change in US Dollars too.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Carmel Market

This past Thursday i went exploring with a group of friends and visited the Carmel Market in downtown Dakar.  The center of the market is a huge pavilion with several inner rings of vendors under the vaulted roof selling everything edible that you could think of.  They were arranged in sections with produce in the outermost ring, then meat, and finally seafood in the center of the pavilion.

The market was packed with people rushing to buy last minute items to break their Ramadan fast, but also the vendors were in a hurry to make a deal as the following day was a holiday to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

Since we were in a large group the vendor trippled their regular asking prices.  I was able to negotiate the price of the this 18"x 24" giraffe carving from 120,000 CFAs down to 20,000 CFAs (from $240 USD to $40 USD).

Nairobi Layover

Flying back to Dakar from Lilongwe I had to stay overnight in Nairobi, Kenya.  I was able to make a reservation at the Hilton and a shuttle picked me up from the airport and carried me to the heart of Nairobi in relative ease.  The hotel was nice but only had wifi in the lobby or the resident lounge.

I had a wedge shaped room in the ninth floor of the cylindrical tower overlooking the city.  It was a nice view and later that evening a rain storm blew in and drove all the people away.  I was surprised how crowded the city was for Saturday evening. 

The next day we tried to leave on time, but when we finally boarded our Kenyan Airways flight two hours late one of the passengers was suddenly too sick to continue and the stewardess called for a doctor to come to the plane.  Since we were now delayed more than three hours we had to offload the plane and wait for a new flight crew to arrive. 

By now it was lunchtime and the airline brought us all (over 100 passengers) up to the airport resteraunt and served us lunch and three hours later we were finally able to load again and get underway.  I arrived five hours late in Dakar to pounding thunderstorm and made it back to my apartment by 11pm. 


After spending a couple days in Zambia we flew down to Lilongwe, Malawi.  The first place we passed on our way from the airport to Lilongwe was the school that Madonna is building and later several chinese construction projects.  The Chinese government has just built a new parliment building for the Malawian government and has a giant space dome structure hotel in progress. 

We stayed at the Sunbird Capital Hotel the first couple nights- its located across the street from the new chinese hotel and in a decent location.  The Sunbird Capital was ok, but when we checked in there was a couple at the front desk complaining that there backpack with passports and credit cards had just been stolen from their room.  The place was dingy, worn out,  and just didnt have a good vibe. 

One day for lunch we asked a taxi driver to take us to a relaxing place for lunch and he delivered us to the Sanctuary Lodge just a couple blocks away from the Capital Sunbird.  It was like walking into the garden of eden- it was clean, quiet, calm in a nature preserve and surrounded by green trees.  We ate lunch on an open veranda and i was amazed by the tranquility.  We immediately checked out of the Sunbird Capital and moved into the Sanctuary Lodge and stayed in a cabin/hut that had wifi access, but no tv. 

The next day we decided to drive to Livingstonia on Lake Malawi and rented a VW Polo sedan (like a VW Jetta) from Avis.  Unfortunately we couldnt find a good map and ended up navigating off the map in the Lonely Planet guide and missed the turn for route M14 to Lake Malawi (wasnt marked either).  We ended up traveling 20 km up route M1 and turning on the only paved road we could find outside of Lilonwe.  The asphalt quickly turned into a dirt road but since the road was in good condition we decided to keep going.  The road paralleled a new road construction project and started winding into the mountains and 30 km later we arrived in the town of Dowa.

We found ourselves on the map again and saw that the road we had followed, the route M7, continued south and eventually linked up with the M14 to Livingstonia so we decided to push on.  The road south out of town wasnt as nice as the previous road and we climbed over a ridge to discover it quickly became more and more rutted.  We decided to push on started to scrape bottom a couple times, but kept the hope that soon it would improve again.  The VW Polo wasnt made for dirt road travel (no 4x4 vehicles were available when we went to rent a car) and about 6km and 30 mins of nail-biting travel later we almost high centered the vehicle and decided it was time to turn around.

After a dicey nine-point turn on the side of a steep cliff in the middle of nowhere and out of cell phone reception we started to make our way back up the hill to Dowa.  We almost didnt make it out- several times we scrapped over rocks, ledges, and drop offs and said "We shouldnt have made it this far- what were we thinking?"  The people in Dowa looked at us like we were crazy when our dusty faces rolled back through town and 60 km later we were back in Lilongwe and were able to find the M14 to Livingstonia. 

As we cruised along the M14 we passed the point where the M7 connected and the road looked like hell and traversed many rocky ridges back to Dowa, out of sight behind the mountians.  There was no way the tiny VW Polo could have made it through. 

On the approach to Livingstonia we saw more and more mosques and the people began to dress more conservatively.  We saw several wearing suits even though it was just a Thursday afternoon.  Livingstonia was an average town and we quickly drove through to the lake and ate lunch at Sunbird Livingstonia on the lakefront.  It was a beautiful sight, and the resort was plush.  The food was good and it was nice to relax on the shores of Lake Malawi. 

We eventually tore ourselves away from the relaxing scene and drove back to Lilongwe with no incident.  We did stop to check out what the kids were selling on side of the road-

Later that night the Sanctuary Lodge held a silent auction as a fund raiser for a local wildlife refuge.  A local artist contributed 40 wildlife paintings and a large crowd had gathered.  I was quickly outbid on my favorite painting of an elephant crossing a river and most painting sold for over $300 USD.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Victoria Falls 1/2 Marathon

Livingston, Zambia 29 August 2010
Before the Start of the Victoria Falls 1/2 Marathon

This morning i was the second person across the bridge into Zimbabwe and by the time i had cleared immigration i could see the marathoners running down the hill from the start towards me. The were moving fast and i had to sprint up the hill to the start of the half marathon. Luckily there was a wheelchair division before my race so i still had time to stretch and chew a couple shot blocks before i had to get going.

There were about 300 people lined up for the 1/2 marathon and about 3/4s of them were white. Every race number had your country of origin annotated and i saw Canadians, sweeds, South Africans, and many white Zimbabweans. Once the gun ford to start the race, the black Africans took off like rockets and the white folk plodded after. We rand down the hill from the Ecobank, through customs and immigration, then out on the Victoria Falls bridge to the Zambia gate before we turned around and ran back across the bridge to Zimbabwe and then along the Zambezi river into a park. I saw lots of baboons in the forest and every half mile or so there would be a soldier or policeman with a rifle ready, I suppose to protect us from the animals. You had to keep an eye on the road to avoid the frequent elephant piles on the road.

There were many aid stations along the route (about every 2-3 km) handing out small sacks of water or an electrolyte drink. I thought the sacks were a huge improvement over the cups of water you usually find on the race course. I was able to tear a small hole in the corner of the sack and squeeze the water into my mouth as well as fold the sack over and run with it for a while without the fluid sloshing out. Some of the aid stations even had sprinklers to run through to cool off.

Around the 10k mark we turned around and ran into and up the hills outside of Victoria Falls. Only near the end of the race did we come back into civilization and finished in a nice athletic compound by running around a polo field. I was worn out by the end and finished in 76th overall with a time of 1:46 for 13.1 miles. I got a nice finishers medal, a T-shirt from the beer sponsor of the race, and a bottle of warm water. Within 10 minutes of me crossing the line for the half marathon the winner of the full marathon strode into the field and won with a time of around 2:25. He was flying and I didn't see anyone behind him, I figure he won by several minutes.
The bridge from Zimbabwe to Zambia

After stretching a bit, i was able to bum a ride back to the race start in the back of a pickup truck and walk back across the bridge into Zambia. After a quick shower we drove back to Lusaka (I slept in the back of the car) and got to the hotel in time for dinner and a good nights sleep.