Monday, August 30, 2010

Victoria Falls

Livingston, Zambia 28 August 2010

Since we got in so late last night we weren't able to check out the resort so immediately after eating at the super breakfast buffet we set off exploring. The Zambezi Sun is set up like a family resort with African drummers and dancers in reception, lots of sculptures of animals (giraffes, crocodiles, hippos) and many of the real animals roaming the area. The large semicircular pool is the center of the resort and surrounded by apartment style buildings. Our room looked out over the Zambezi river above Victoria Falls and occasionally baboons or other small monkeys would climb up and jump from balcony to balcony. There were signs everywhere to remind you to be careful with the wildlife- close your windows so the baboons don't get in your car, or watch your kids so the crocodiles don't eat them.

The resort also has an adventure center so visitors can book a walking or segway safari, go white water rafting below the falls, fly fishing, or bungee jumping from the Victoria Falls bridge. Most of the trips cost about $120 per person and my friend tried to schedule a fishing trip but the adventure center couldn't find a guide for the same day. I ended up walking out onto the victoria falls bridge to watch the bungee jumpers and continued on to Zimbabwe.

After clearing immigration I walked another two kilometers to the small resort town of Victoria Falls but along the road at regular intervals I would run into a street vendor. Each street vendor had a specific territory about 200 meters long and as i walked into each area the guy would walk up to me and try to sell me 100,000,000,000 (100 trillion) dollar notes. As I reached the end of his territory he would stop and another guy would greet me and begin again to try to sell me the same hyper-inflated currency notes. I couldn't tell if they were real or not as they had not seals or special markings like those of the neighboring currencies so i didn't buy any, despite the efforts of dozens of the vendors.

When I finally made it to my destination, a huge hotel at the edge of town, i registered for the Victoria Falls Half Marathon for the next morning. They were also running the full marathon and each event only cost $35 USD. The people running the event and most of the patrons were white, but there were several thin and fast looking africans trying to register as well. The races only cost $10 for the locals.

After i walked back across the frontier to Zambia i found my friend still trying to find a fishing guide and we ate some lunch at the poolside restraunt. Then we went on a short hike to Victoria Falls, an amazing waterfall where the wide Zambezi river plunges over 300 feet into a narrow canyon creating a huge column of mist that can be seen from miles away in the early morning light (its harder to see at midday). I was much more impressed by Victoria Falls than Niagra Falls which i visited three months ago. There were some local Africans fishing in waist-deep water just yards from the edge and others that would guide you across the river just a hundred yards from the edge to Livingston Island- both seemed too risky for me. There would be no way to survive a trip over the falls and apparently dozens of people go over every year.
My favorite view of the falls was from the knife's edge trail and bridge just below the falls to a huge ridge that is perpetually slick from the mist. There was a chain and a sparse railing to help you negotiate the slick surface, but there were plenty of areas where if you slipped there was nothing to stop you from enjoying a quick free fall to the rocks below.

The Knife's Edge is also home to many baboon families who live out of the garbage cans. I quickly discovered that they don't like a camera flash when i took a picture of a baby clinging upside down to her mother's belly and the daddy came after me and chased me up the trail.

After exploring we hung out at the pool and had a couple drinks before heading to dinner at a restraunt and watched the Manchester United game on a enormous nine square meter screen. The best meal i had at the resort was the grilled crocodile- it didn't taste like chicken, but is hard to describe.

Livingston, Zambia 27 August 2010

Livingston, Zambia 27 August 2010

I enjoyed the gross matinee this morning (sleeping in), until I realized that i was still an hour off due to the hour change. We had a great breakfast in the hotel and tried to find a flight to Livingston. Unfortunately, the guy at the hotel who helped arrange travel for the guests said that only flights available would cost $450 USD each way and the buses had already left for the day that would arrive before dark. That left was with renting a car and driver as the only option to get to Livingston by nightfall. The hotel dude arranged a driver and car for $550 USD, but when the car showed up three hours later (two hours late) we found out that we had to pay an addition $100 for the drivers food and expenses.

We finally got on the road around 2:30pm for the 500km drive to the far end of the country through some scenic country. Lots of little villagers made up of a circle of mud huts, some sprawling lush green farms with irrigation and sprinkler systems straight out of the Midwest, and lots of big trucks carrying huge crude copper ore ingots from the mines. We also ran into lots of cattle and police check points every 50km or so along the road. For the most part the roads were in great shape and we were able to cruise comfortably at 130km/hr in our new Toyota Landcruiser Prado. That was until it got dark out and the lights didn't work. The last 30 km to Livingston were pure torture as we couldn't see the edge of the road and whenever we saw a car coming towards us we had to turn on our hazard lights so they could see us.

By the time we finally got to the Zambezi Sun we were worn out. We checked in, got some dinner at the $40 USD per person buffet and fell asleep to the sounds of a local african band singing off tune covers of bob marley- "don't worry about a thing, every little thing is gonna be alright."

Lusaka, Zambia 26 August 2010

Lusaka, Zambia 26 August 2010

After 55 hours we finally made it to our hotel in Lusaka from Dar Es Salaam. The Tazara train made it to Kapiri Imposhi at 1pm, but then we had to get to Lusaka before we could rest. It was starting to feel like an episode of the Amazing Race.

Luckily we met a local lady who adopted us and helped us make our connections to Lusaka. She caught a cab with us from the train station to the bus station about 5km away, then she waited with us and caught a bus to Lusaka together, and then we shared another cab from the Lusaka bus station to our hotel before she went on to her home. She was very helpful when at the Kapiri bus station local african started harassing us. She yelled at him to go away and called the attention of the security personnel in the orange vests when it was obvious that he was high and just wanted to cause a scene. Eventually the trouble maker was taken away by the security guys and he started a fight. The last i saw of him was a circle of orange vests surrounding the guy on the ground. Besides that minor incident we had no problems at all on our trip.

Until we got to Lusaka we didn't see any other muzungos. The people on the small 24 passenger bus weren't really sure what to think about us. They were very nice and Brad shared his pretzels with the kids and although we were tightly packed together it was a nice ride. Once we got to the city and people started getting off the bus bedlam ensued as one lady who had many large bags wasn't keeping track of them. When we got to her stop at the end of the trip she discovered she was missing a large bag and started yelling at the driver and doorman in Nyanja or some other local language. I couldn't make exactly what she was saying but it was clear she wasn't happy and held the bus people responsible. We quickly got into a cab and drove away before she made too big a of a scene.

We experienced a mini-culture shock when we walked into the lobby of the four-star hotel. We had gotten used to being among the locals and all of a sudden we walked into a room with marble floors where Africans were a distinct minority, everyone spoke English, and drinks were $5.00 USD. After three days on the train we were black with soot and pretty ripe but I appreciated the hot shower, electricity, and wifi. There was even a large outdoor pool, but it was too cold to swim. We indulged in a nice dinner at the hotel that cost 136,000 kwachas each and i was asleep by 9pm local time (somewhere on the train we crossed into a different time zone and didn't realize it until dinner- we had to wait an extra hour for the restraunt to open for dinner at 7pm).

Book Review "Into Africa, A Guide to Sub-Saharan Culture and Diversity"

Book Review "Into Africa, A Guide to Sub-Saharan Culture and Diversity" by Yale Richmond and Phyliss Gestrin.

I wish i had gotten this book before i arrived in Africa as it has some much practical advice and explanations for how things are done and why. I guess i can appreciate it now as well as see many of the mistakes i have made after living on the continent for almost two months.

Salient point for me include how important it is for Africans to develop a relationship and learn about each other (and renew those acquaintances) before anything else is done or discussed. As a typical Westerner i haven't allocated enough time to building relationships with the people i see each day and am always in a rush to somewhere.

The book also refers to African Standard Time, where the Africans come from a life controlled by seasons or lunar calendars so their sense of time is different. Coupled with the importance they give to relationships they may be late often as it is important for them to renew their relationship with their friend of family member they encounter along the way. This reminds me of "Hawaiian Time" and how laid back the hawaiians were back on the islands. They also placed a great deal of importance on their relationships with others and would love to stop and chat and were often late for appointments or school. It was a hard adjustment for me to move from Hawaii to the East Coast after three years.

"Into Africa" also has lots of practical advice for business, negotiating, and dealing with the government as well as running meetings and workshops. The book explains the difference between francophone and anglophone Africans and suggests different approaches for dealing with both. It has helped me understand better the diversity of Africans and i hope change my attitudes and behaviors.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tazara day 2

Tazara train to Zambia, 25 August 2010

We crossed from Tanzania to Zambia around 6pm. There weren't any signs welcoming us to the new country, our only indication that we had actually crossed the frontier was a boy holding a handmade net attached to a post and a policeman standing next to him who was wearing a different uniform. The Tanzanian customs officials who had stamped our passports DEPART had gotten off at the previous stop and the train was full of people calling out "change" as they roamed the corridors. We exchanged $100 USD for 420,000 kwachas and bought some simosas (triangle shaped pastries filled with mystery meat) from the vendors who swarmed the exterior of the train. I bought a visa for Zambia for $50 USD- since we are in first class the customs officials came to our cabin.

This trip has been very enjoyable and scenic. A steward brings all our meals to our cabin and the washroom is just a few doors down. If we want a drink or snack there is a snack bar in the next car. A couple police officers are in the last car of the train and they patrol the first class cars, and have been more alert since we crossed into Zambia.

It's been hard to tear my eyes away from the window. The landscape has been awesome and ever changing. The villages have changed their shape and building materials (cement vs red clay bricks, tin roofs vs straw) and its great to get a glimpse of people in their normal lives. In some towns the women are washing the clothes in the creek and spreading them out to dry on the rocks, in another area some women had dug a pit in a dry river bed and were using buckets to scoop up water to carry back to their homes.

It's also been interesting to see the brick making process as we fly by on the train. In one area people are mixing the clay and putting it into forms. Next to that another person is stacking the dried grey bricks into a tower with ports at the bottom and an open center area. In another area someone is jamming wood into the ports under the bricks and covering the tower of bricks with clay. When it's all sealed up, they light the fires under the bricks and start them cooking. Further down one can see some clay towers that were broken into and the reddish-orange bricks inside.

One great thing is that everywhere we go the children are excited to see us. If they can get close to the train when we stop they will run alongside it calling for water bottles or soap in Kiswahili. Whenever we stick our heads out the window they would cheer excitedly "muzungo!". Even in the villages the kids would hear the train coming and run to the edge of the village and wave as we rushed by. Even some of the adults will break into a smile and wave if you waved at them.

Very few muzungos are left on the train now. Most had gotten off for safari in a national park or in one of the larger cities before we left Tanzania. The missionaries got off the train around 4:30 this morning for a four hour truck ride into the mountains to get to their compound. I think only the Russians and us are all thats left.

Another interesting aspect to the train is how it serves as the local marketplace and gives villagers in remote places an opportunity to sell their goods. The Africans in the car next to us have been on a shopping frenzy; at one stop they bought two huge sacks of potatoes, then at the next stop a huge sack of rice that must have weighed at least 20 kilos. They must travel this route a lot because sometimes people will walk right up to their window, talk a bit in Kiswahili then exchange the heavy sacks for some cash. Even at 3am, the locals are waiting for the train and are selling everything from chicken to sugar cane. In the larger settlements they even have the duty free shops with people selling cookies and perfumes.

Unfortunately some of the other great cross-border train routes have stopped operation and probably at a great loss to the local economies sustained by train travelers. I was hoping to take the Dakar-Bamako train but it has been out of operation for three years now. There are still some train services like the Rovos which travels all over the continent, but a luxury price. The trip from Johannesburg to Cairo would be amazing, but costs $45,000 for the "economy" ticket. I am very happy with my $50 USD (70,000 Tanzanian shillings) ticket.

Tazara Train

Tazara Train to Zambia, 24 August 2010

We boarded the Tazara train to Zambia at 15:30 and departed the train station at exactly 15:50 as scheduled. We bought all the bunks in a four berth first class cabin on the train for comfort and to minimize the chances we would get stuck with bad company. When we had told others of our grand plan to ride the rails to Livingston most laughed or told us we were crazy. Some told us to look out for robbers or thieves and the one person who had taken the train years ago told us about how one of the bunks in his cabin had been used for "professional purposes."

We were surrounded by muzungos in our first class car, except for the one cabin next to who us which must have housed VIPs because police officers kept stopping in to say hi and talk in Swahili and they got fed before everyone else. Two cars up was the lounge car with a bar stocked with plenty of beer, sodas, and water. Beyond that was the second class cars with six berths per room, and in front of that the cattle cars with open seating and regular seats like on a plane. I think there were only three first class cars on the 20 car train with the majority of cars carrying economy passengers.

The scenery for the ride was amazing with distant mountains and little villages everywhere. Since we were on the express train we didn't stop as much, but did stop occasionally and were instantly swarmed by locals selling bananas, plantains, fruits, and fried chicken. Four hours into our trip we stopped for 15 minutes to allow a huge group of tourists dismount with their expedition size backpacks and join a safari group heading into a game park. Their empty cabins were immediately occupied by German backpackers with their equally large backpacks.

Dinner was served in our cabin at 9pm I had some chewy grisly meat with rice while brad ate the fried chicken and rice. The meal wasn't half bad and only cost us 7,400 shillings. The steward cleaned the plates by holding them out the window and allowing the wind to clean the plates.

I was surprised to see the number of fires burning in the countryside and even though we seer miles from any towns smoke was still thick in the air. The bright orange and red flames stood out in the pale moonlight. Luckily we had a full moon so we could still see some of the landscape as we traveled in the dark night.

New cell phone

Dar Es Salaam, 23 August 2010

We mostly hung out in Dar today and took it easy. We got the hotel reservations set up for Lusaka, Victoria Falls, and Lilongwe and tried to get ready for the long train ride from Dar to Livingston, Zambia. The trip is expected to take 40 hours if we don't break down, if we do break down this trip make take several days.

I also bought a new cell phone, a Samsung dual line touch screen phone for 400,000 shillings and got it hooked up for data so i can hit facebook, Twitter, the Internet, and my emails. I chose vodacom for my service and usually it costs 1 shilling per second, but six times as much for a call to the states.

After dinner we cruised out to a shopping center on the beach and enjoyed ice cream cones while we watched the sun set. Tanzania and Dar Es Salaam are amazing and very peaceful. I definitely want to come back for an extended stay in the future.

Sunday in Dar

Dar Es Salaam, 22 Aug 2010

This morning we got up early and met some people from the yacht club and went on a six mile run. We ran with two white south africans and a Kenyan and managed about a 8 minute mile pace over dirt roads and the mini-hills of Dar Es Salaam. Immediately after the run we jumped in the truck and headed back to the house so I could get changed for church.

I took a cab to church and got there a couple minutes early and passed the time talking to the missionaries, a black elder from Zimbabwe and a white elder from South Africa. The branch is part of the Kenya mission and has about 70 active members. I was the only white person there and the services are conducted mostly in English. The elders said they were only allowed to teach in English, even though the Scriptures are printed in Swahili.

In Sunday school the lady teaching the class shared a Tanzanian parable about a frog and a snake. They had both gone to visit the hare to learn how to get smooth skin. The hare started to explain- get a pot of water and start it boiling, then take the water... At this point the frog said he got it and hopped away. The frog went home and boiled some water and jumped in and his skin became very rough. The snake stayed and listened to the rest of the instructions- take the water off the heat, mix in the medicine, then let it cool, then take a bath in the cool water. The snake stayed and listened to all the instructions and that's why it has smooth skin but. The frog has rough skin. The moral of the story was to not rush off without getting all the instructions. If you jump too soon you may get the opposite effect.

After church we hung out around the house and later went to dinner at another friends house. It was a pretty quiet and easy going Sunday.

Bawe Island

Dar Es Salaam, 21 August 2010

I woke up on Zanzibar this morning at a great hotel, which unfortunately was full of the Mosquitos in the am. I ate breakfast on the beach and watched a pod of dolphins swim bay, 20 yards from the sand. After i checked out from the hotel i wandered around stone town and made my way to the port and bought my ferry ticket back to Dar es Salaam for 55,000 Tanzanian Shillings. I got to the dive shop at 8:30 and got my gear easy and we were on the boat by 9:15 heading out to Bawe island, a 30 minute boat ride away.

The instructors wore a shorty wetsuit over their full wetsuit to keep warm since it's winter in Tanzania, but the water was still 28* C so i wore a 2mm shorty wetsuit- huge improvement over the 7mm i wore in Monterey. The visibility was also way better at 25 meters. For the first dive of the day we dove to 17 meters (about 60 feet) and swam around a coral reef for 34 mins.

For the second dive of the day we rode out another hour to Fungu Reef and explored the wreck of a ship that sank in 1941 while laying telephone cable between the islands. The hull was still there and there were a lot more fish in this area. At times i was enveloped in a cloud of hand-sized cloud of blue and white fish.

We were back in Zanzibar by 1 pm and I walked around the back alleys and narrow side streets that were flooded with tourists and vendors selling the same wares out of every nook and cranny.

I was on the Sea Express ferry by 3pm and were were underway by 3:30. The seas were pitching the twin hulled express shuttle so 15 minutes into the trip they distributed sea sick bags and within 45 mins passengers were lining the rail or filling their bags. The trip lasted 2.5 hours and there were many miserable passengers that were happy to disembark in Dar es Salaam.

The cab ride from the port to my friend's house in Dar was interesting because i agreed to a cab ride with one person that spoke English very well, but who jumped out of the cab 5 mins later and left me with a cab driver whose English was very poor. Before he abandoned the cab the driver gave him 5000 shillings, so i assume that his job was to set up the cab rides for those who don't speak English well and gets a cut of the action. The ride cost me 20,000 shillings so the driver made about 15,000 shillings for the 20 minute trip. We still had to stop and ask for directions a couple times, but it all worked out in the end.

Zanzibar

Stone Town, Zanzibar. 20 Aug 2010

Woke up on the island of Pembe his morning after a goods night rest at the Pembe Paradise Resort Hotel out in the middle of nowhere. It's located 1 km off the paved road east of Chake Chake on the Indian Ocean and the place is awesome. It's surrounded by banana trees, coconut trees, papaya trees, and baobao trees on the reef above a clear blue lagoon. It was low tide and the local villagers were wading throughout the water collecting squid trapped in the pool behind the outer reef. The women would bring the squid to the men sitting on the shore who were smacking the squid against the rocks, killing them and softening them up for dinner. A local delicacy is fried squid in a tomato sauce.

After breakfast we drove into Chake Chake, the largest city on the island, and visited the Old Fort. Researchers have determined it was either an old fort or palace, but they weren't really sure. It has been turned into a museum of the history of Pembe and had some old artifacts dorm the period when the island was settled by merchants from Oman and pushed the natives off their land. The display also included Chinese pottery from the 15th century and had a model home that explained all the aspects of local life and all the different elements found in a home in Pembe.

Behind the Old Fort was a concrete basketball court and our guide explained that this was one of two courts on the island and the locals were pretty good, in fact, some were recruited to play basketball back in the states. Unfortunately no one was playing at the time.

We also drove down a narrow road which also served as the local market and was swarming with people. Lots of different things were for sale, including sandals, used shoes, "dead muzungo clothes," fruits, vegetables, and fish. It was very lively and colorful, even though they didn't like how our drivers were forcing their way down the narrow lane.

In the past 24 hours on Pembe i had only seen 2 other "muzungas," and that was when we had briefly stopped a government hotel outside Chake Chake. The island was closed to all foreigners just 50 years ago and white folk were still a novelty. Little kids would cry out "Muzungos!" whenever they saw us. While we waited for our ride to pick us up from the airport a sweet little girl in a black headscarf kept circling around us and couldn't stop staring at us (we had to wait 30 mins for our ride and sat on the porch outside the airport).

This afternoon we caught a twin prop plane back to Zanzibar where i jumped ship to spend the night in Stone Town and my friend continued back to his house in Dar Es Salaam. I ended up at the Tembo House Hotel, a nice place on the water with two PADI dive shops around the corner. I ended up signing up with Bahari Divers and for $100 i will get two dives, one off a reef and the other an old shipwreck, including all equipment and lunch. Since i will be diving i will have to give up my plane ticket for that evening, but can take the ferry back to Dar Es Salaam.

Pembe Island

Dar Es Salaam, 19 Aug 2010

We went out for a nice 6.5 mile run this morning at about a 8 min mile pace. We ran mostly on the dirt roads in the neighborhood and by the beach just to glimpse the flat silvery water before turning back into the neighborhood of mansions. After a quick shower we drove out to an outdoor cafe and had a nice breakfast of croissants, orange juice, and eggs (with an extra bottle of water thrown in for me as i keep sweating for at least an hour after i run around here).

After breakfast i exchanged $300 for 450,000 Tanzanian shillings- i felt like a drug dealer carrying a huge stack of bills. They even gave me an envelope to carry all that cash.

Next we visited a shop to check the price of unlocking my iphone 3 GS and my friends blackberry storm. The iPhone would cost $380 to unlock it, but the blackberry was only $80 so I decided to keep my iPhone as it is. The shop keeper offered to buy my iphone for $800 and said that he buys them in Dubai for about $1000 and offered to buy as many i could bring in from the states.

After lunch we headed to the airport and caught an 8 man plane to Zanzibar flown by a student pilot with ZanAir. The plane kept crabbing or fishtailing in the air and the landing was kinda sketchy, but we made it in one place. It was weird to sit right behind the pilot and watch the gauges over his shoulder. Next we caught another 20 minute flight to the island of Pembe on a much larger18 passenger plane, this time piloted by tow experienced pilots (and was much smoother). The flights only cost about $20 each and with taxes was less than $100 round trip.

On the ground in Pembe we had to wait 30 mins for our ride to show up (they had thought we were going to show up another day next week) and even though no one hassled us while we waited, a taxi kept circling in the parking lot, hoping we would change our minds and hire it to take us to a hotel somewhere.

Our driver, Sori, drove his little Geo Tracker equivalent fast, honking his horn to get people out of the way, exceeding 90 kph, driving on the left side of the road. Eventually after many near misses with bicyclists, cows, chickens, and carts we made it to the end of the paved road and drove the final kilometer over a rutted and washed-out dirt road to the Pemba Paradise Resort Hotel.

We arrived at the golden hour and I was amazed at the scenery- the silvery ocean, coral cliffs, and huge baobab trees. The ambiance got even better with a purply-pink sunset and the gentle sound of the waves rolling over the reef.

We were each assigned our own "banda" cabin with a palm thatched roof with the basic essentials of a toilet, sink, shower, and a wooden bed. It wasn't a four star hotel but was good enough. Power was on until 11pm, when they shut off the generator, and didn't come back until 6am so it was a little warm without a working fan or an AC unit. Thankfully with constant ocean breezes kept the temperatures down.

Flying to Dar Es Salaam, 17 Aug 2010

Dar Es Salaam, 17 Aug 2010

It was cold and damp with a hint of smoke in the air when I got off the plane in Nairobi. I was unprepared for the chill in the early morning air- it was still hot even though it was raining when i left Dakar last night. It never gets cold in Dakar. There is often less than a 10* F swing each day, so there is never any relief from the oppressive heat and humidity.

Kenya Airways was pretty good, better than many US Airways flights i have taken in the past, with amiable stewards and decent food. I really appreciated the hot towels at the beginning of each flight. Since the flight was half full, i was asked to move to an exit row and sat by myself for the overnight flight. We did stop for an hour in Abidjan to drop off and let on new passengers. So far none of the airports have had wifi- it would be nice since neither of my cell phones work here. I will have to acquire a new sim chip and buy some minutes.

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania is a very different town from Dakar. It's cleaner, not as crowded, and they drive on the right side of the road. Even the cars are right hand drive, like in England. The weather is great- nice and cool since it's winter time and so far the people seem friendly. I like how the town is more spread out into neighborhoods instead of the harsh contrast of tall buildings in downtown Dakar surrounded by unfinished houses as far as the eye can see.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunset in Dakar


In the evening the downtown/Plateau area is swarmed by birds, swirling clouds of blackbirds among the violet rays of the setting African sun.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Aloha Friday


I surfed for 4 hours yesterday and got some good waves.  Most of the sets were thigh to waist high but occasionally it got bigger and i was able to take a couple head high drops.  It wasnt crowded, probably due to Ramadan, with only five to six people in the water at any time.  Since the area has two breaks we were able to spread out some and we didnt have to fight for the waves.
video
This place is great when the break isnt crowded.  The water is nice and warm, and reminds me a bit of surfing in Hawaii with having a volcano way off to the right, like Diamond Head in Waikiki.  Here we have the African Renaissance Monument and the lighthouse on an old volcano.

But unlike surfing in Waikiki, you dont have goats and cows wandering around your car.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Empire in Africa

I watched the Empire in Africa last night about the war in Sierra Leone.  It was a powerful and disturbing film that showed the beatings, torture, and killings of people by fighters from all sides.  The film portrayed foreign governments and the UN as the forces that perpetuated and funded the violence, and the Nigerian forces in ECOMOG definitely got a bad rap, but everyone had blood on their hands.  The film also showed the duplicitity in politics and how the people that made the rules kept changing them to their advantage.  I dont think there was a winner, and the people of Sierra Leone were definetely the losers.

I still don't understand the motivation behind the amputations, why they were chopping off the hands and arms of the civilians, even the little kids.  Its not an easy movie to watch, but exposes the complexity and horrors of war.  It made me wish for peace. 

But similar things are happening on the African continent right now.  What can be done to stop the violence?  According to this film, the government only agreed to negotiate when political and media pressure forced them to the table.  Before that, they were in a fight to exterminate the rebels and were leveling villages with air attacks and mercenary forces. 

I don't think there is an easy answer.  In order to get media attention to bring pressure on the government, tens of thousands of people died, and many of the mutilated were put on camera.  Some leaders rightly fear the power of the media and strictly control or target the media because the exposure of their actions would lead to international concern and force them to change their behavior. 

I am sure the millions of people who have suffered through similar tragedies or are currently going through such things wish more fervently than I for an easy answer or solution.  Right now, I don't know what can be done.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Business Proposition

                           
Today's adventure was talking around downtown for two hours trying to find the Oceanium and the French Cultural Center.  I was only partly successful as I quickly found the Oceanium on the Petite Cornice but never found the French Cultural Center.  As I walked down the road along the Presidential Palace that leads to the Petite Cornice I saw a European guy walking up the same road quickly away from an African guy who was standing on the corner.  When the European passed me I could hear him muttering something in French and he wasn’t too happy. 

As I reached the corner the African guy advanced toward me with his hand out and asked in French if I spoke English, quickly followed by the same question in Portuguese.  I responded in Portuguese but he couldn’t carry on the conversation in Portuguese and dropped into French and broken English.  The African dude introduced himself as "Camaro" and offered to show me around but I declined telling him I was going to the Oceanium, which was across the street, directly in front of me.  Camaro said he had a boat too and he wanted to show it to me and be a boat guide for me and my friends, I figured why not? So I followed him down a flight of broken stairs to a couple shacks on the waterfront where his boat was tied up.  His boat was just an oversized rowboat without a motor, but it was afloat in the water.  He said he had taken many people on boat tours in his boat, even down to the Gambia and Guinea-Bissau. 

Camaro then proposed a business deal- we would open an office in his name, I would correspond with Americans and other Europeans and get them to come down to Senegal and he would be their tour guide.  I would sit in the office behind the computer and he would do all the work.  As part of his plan he said that he had friends with large houses on the southern coast who could let the guests stay at their place- he had it all arranged, all I needed to do was start bringing the guests to him.  Because I wasn’t too excited about his business pitch, Camaro wrote down his cell phone number for me and told me to give him a call after I had thought it over.  But, he cautioned me, he might not answer the phone because it was an older cell phone and it might be out of minutes.  He then proceeded to pull an old brick Nokia cell phone out of a garbage bag he was carrying with him to demonstrate how old it was.  He said not to worry, just keep trying the number and eventually I would get through.

After listening to a tirade of broken French and English about how the Lebanese controlled the tourist trade in Dakar and raped the openhearted Africans, I followed a trail between the burnt garbage pile and the red brick shacks to the Oceanium parking lot.  Camaro didn’t follow any farther into the Lebanese owned dive center, but waved from behind the garbage pile.  At the Oceanium I met the owner briefly and he invited me to come back on Saturday or Sunday because they only dove three times a week: Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday.  He said they would provide everything and it would only cost me 18,000 CFAs (approx $36).  The boat went out twice a day- in the morning and the afternoon and they would go to different dive sites depending on your level of experience and the depth you wanted to go.  As I had just completed my PADI Open Water Certification, they said they would take me out to a place that was 10 meters (about 33 feet deep).

As I exited the Oceanium by a different path, Camaro raced to catch up with me and started cussing and swearing about the Lebanese again and how he was cheaper and I needed to go into business with him.  I kept walking and talking to him in French and listening to his stories of how good a guide he was.  Camaro then went on to talk about his most famous client- President George W. Bush, and how he had taken him around and ended up in a bar drinking Vodka with former president. 

Half an hour later I still couldn’t shake Camaro, even though I had gone up stairs and through another neighborhood to get to the Place d'Independance.  When he started to give me a broken history lesson on the Place d'Independance I had enough.  I repeated for the fifth time "I don’t need a guide.  I live here- I have been here many times, leave me alone" and darted through traffic across the street.   Only by starting to raise my voice did he leave me alone.  I guess I should be happy that I didn’t lose any money in the process.

As I wandered through the streets I was amazed at how the European tourists stuck out, usually by following some advice from a guidebook, so the women would have their purses tightly strapped to their chests.  Most tourists already stand out by wearing the latest safari gear from REI or some other outdoor store with huge vents in the back of their shirts and nylon pants.  The funniest and most obvious tourists even wear the old British safari helmets in the crowded streets of Dakar.  The first time I recognized an African tourist (tourist from another African country) I was surprised, but it made sense- Dakar is a great city with lots of colorful history- Africans from other countries would want to visit here too.

I arrived in Dakar a month ago and have learned a lot in that short time.  I still have a lot to learn (learning Wolof would help a lot!), but it was interesting to see an interaction between a Senegalese man and a white tourist (probably American from his clothes).  The tourist wore khaki cargo pants, a black t-shirt, and wore Oakleys on his shinny white shaved head.  The Senegalese man wore traditional clothes, not the usual dark blue jeans and t-shirt that most people wear in Dakar, but the baggy cotton pants with matching long shirt.  I was far enough away that I couldn’t hear the words, but I knew what they were both saying.

"My friend, welcome to Dakar.  Are you American?  Do you speak English?"

"Where are you staying?  Let me show you my shop.  Just look you don’t have to buy anything."

"I have a gift for you to welcome you to my country.  You don’t have to pay anything- its a free gift.  Here look at it, take it."

"Can you loan me some money as we are now friends?"

"Look, I gave you a gift, it would be rude not to give me a gift back."

"Let me see the other money you have in your wallet, I see you have other bills in there.  Give me some."

Stupidly, the tourist had accepted the gift and had been coaxed into getting out his huge expedition-strength "hidden" wallet on the corner of busy street and given cash to the local.  Eventually the tourist got angry and stormed away, a few thousand CFAs lighter.  The Senegalese man watched him go, put the money in his pocket, and looked around for his next mark.  I wasn't the only one watching this go down- it was just normal on the streets of Dakar.

Tips for surviving in Dakar:
- Wear what the locals wear- Mostly dark blue jeans and some kind of shirt.  The professionals wear long sleeve button up shirts, others wear a polo shirt or t-shirt.  Don’t wear obvious American logos or brands. 
- Only wear shorts when you are exercising, otherwise your white legs are dead giveaway that you are a tourist.
- Carry only what you need, in your pockets.  Only use your front pockets, as it’s easier to pick cargo or rear pockets. 
- Learn a couple phrases in Wolof and speak good French (still working on this).
-Don't respond to everyone that calls out to you.  If you give them notice, it’s an invitation to conduct business.  A popular way to initiate a conversation is for them to mention that they saw you at your hotel or the embassy (usually not true), and then the gift giving or tour of their shop will begin.
- With time, the locals will start to recognize you and look for easier marks.  There are plenty of tourists that are here only for a short period of time so it seems this has become a way of life and source of income for many.
-When people surround you put your hands in your pockets- you may be surprised to find another hand already in your pocket.  I was walking with a friend who was new to Dakar and was wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  As we walked by a stand on the side of the road two men walked up and flanked my friend, jabbering in Wolof.  They blocked him and one reached down and grabbed his pants, actually grabbing his cell phone through his pants (another common scheme) while the other went behind him.  We acted quickly to push them away and didn’t lose anything, but many aren't as fortunate.  Other similar tricks include calling attention to shoes, etc...
-Keep your doors locked and windows rolled up.  Breaking into cars doesn’t seem to be a problem, but some people will take advantage of an open window.

Crime doesn’t seem to be a serious problem here beyond pick pocketing.  However, there are the occasional robberies at night.  Most big cities in the states have a lot more crime and it’s never a good idea to walk alone at night in a major city.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Surf Therapy

Today for lunch i surfed.  It was cloudy and sprinkling all morning but when i got to the Secret Spot the rain stopped.  When i paddled out the clouds parted and sun started to shine.

The waves were beautiful, about waist high with occasional chest high sets.  The outside larger waves were green, but inside they were black with shredded kelp.  The closer you got the shore the thicker it was, to the point where it felt like i was pulling myself through a field of waist high grass.  Still the conditions were pretty clean and if you took off in front of Chez Fatou you could make the section and ride it in to the tiny sand patch beach.

Its amazing how much better i felt surfing.  I was able to relax and try to figure out the breaks because for the most part of the two hour session it was just me and another local surfer, "Happy," in the water.  Turns out that Happy is a local surf guide who works at the shop at the Secret Spot and he offered to take me around the area to all the breaks for 10,000 CFA per day.  He said he even has access to a boat to get to some of the outer breaks.

At 3pm a group of 20 young kids walked up the beach with their surfboards and bodyboards and swarmed the breaks.  The kids were pretty good with a couple doing aerials near the shore break.
video

I wore my Vibram 5 Fingers in the water and they worked great!  I used my regular pair that i use for running or walking around and they worked fine in the water too.  I just strapped them down a little tighter and they stuck to the board well and protected my feet when i got too close to the rocks.  The only time i felt an urchin was when it hit the top side of my big toe, but the spines did not penetrate the fabric!  I may look like a dork using my 5 Fingers in the water but i love them and they did a great job protecting my feet.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Weekend Ghost Town

Place Soweto
I like the weekends in Dakar.  Downtown the streets are empty as all the street vendors and pan handlers pack up their shacks and head home for the weekend.  The streets are nearly deserted and I can walk around in peace and not get hasseled every 10 yards.  A couple people walked up to me but didn't try too hard to sell their watches or phone cards.  I think the people in the neighborhood are starting to recognize me and realize that i am not just a tourist passing through.
Place de L'Independance

A cool sight downtown is the large catholic cathedral.  It is also surrounded by the catholic schools (elementary and high schools) where many of the more affluent Senegalese send their children.

A fun game I have started to play is to find the different embassies in the city.  Today I walked by Cameroon, USA, Lebanon, and Russia.  Yesterday I ran by China, Ghana, Spain, and Saudi Arabia on my eight mile run up the cornice and around the African Renaissance Monument.  Unfortunately, the guards at the embassies and official buildings get upset if you start taking pictures.