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.