Saturday, September 29, 2007

Accra, Ghana, 29th September 2007

Last night was, interesting. A night out to a club to see the action, Ghanaian style. Macumba is quite a suave place just off Ossu open “10pm till you drop”!

The music was quite alien to me, certainly nothing like the stuff that I can relate to, but it certainly did add to the atmosphere.

This was one club where the women easily out numbered the men, who were in the majority white, a couple of blacks, and as far as I could see, one brown – me.

The women, well interesting, in all shapes and sizes, from a questionable 21 all the way to what looked like a bad 35! The not so good thing was that all of them were probably there on a commercial basis.

The good thing? Well, some of them certainly were gorgeous. Black African women tend to be rather uninhibited, and you know, it’s quite nice to watch. The dance floor consisted mainly of the girls, all facing the far wall which was a mirror, dancing by themselves, totally unself-consciously. Five Smirnoff Ice’s and after watching a couple of girls doing a raunchy dance on the floor, I figured it was time for me to hit the sack – it was after all, closer to one than midnight by then and my hormones were raging! I wonder am I becoming a dirty old man, Black Stiletto’s?

A recommendation for anyone staying in Accra – The Blue Royal Hotel in Ossu is quite pleasant. The only minus point is that the damn Wi-Fi is buggered but everything else is good. I haven’t seen the single rooms yet – the day I checked in they were full and I was given a double out of which I am yet to be thrown out. The staff is friendly, the breakfast adequate, the atmosphere pleasant.

Sri Lankan women are generally un approachable, the attitude seems to be that any sri lankan guy who dare’s say ‘hello’ is either trying to get into their pants or is a psycho. What happened to social interaction, chit chat? That said, if a white guy happened to even sneer, well……!

Yesterday afternoon I met a woman, must have been in her late twenties, lovely legs – LOL. Well we got talking, and you know, I learnt a few things that I didn’t know. So you see, chit chat is nice, ladies, it doesn’t mean that every guy who says hi is trying to whatever.

I need a hair cut.

I need a nap.

I hate eating by myself.

I don’t like sleeping alone.

I go to Togo tomorrow – a three hour drive from Accra to the border. My clients have invited me to stay with them, decent off them, uncouth of me to refuse. Truthfully though, I prefer the anonymity of a hotel.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Bye bye SL – 27th September 2007, 1742hrs

I’m on my way out of Sierra Leone today, bound for Accra. Upstairs in the restaurant I’m sitting at the same table I sat at in December last year. Then I was with a colleague, going through a process of taking on a market that till then was his responsibility. I admit freely, my success these last nine months has been due to his initial efforts.
My journey, so far, has been productive. Some of the markets are doing well and show tremendous growth potential, a few have needed to be re assessed; all of them are doing ok.

I’ve enjoyed my stay in SL, but I say that of all the places I travel to! I wish that I could find something positive about Guinea, but so far, very little has really become apparent.

I like Freetown for it’s atmosphere, and perhaps because I feel closer to my client here. In second place comes Banjul, for its restaurants and bars provide some welcome distraction after a day’s work. Bamako next, the Accra followed by Ouagadougou and Lome. Dakar will eventually move up if I get opportunities in the future to visit it again.

And that future is a little murky. In spite of my efforts, I feel alienated from my organisation. It concerns me greatly, for I like what I do, and me thinks that I leave no real room for any concern about the end results. And yet, yet I feel unappreciated….

Last night I took sometime off. Ended up at what is supposed to be a landmark of Freetown, Paddy’s Bar in Aberdeen. It was awfully quite when I walked in late evening, and the first two hours were spent sipping beer watching CSI! But the place did pick up and it was quite an experience to watch the local life around me. T’was 1 am when I laid my head upon my pillow!!

Sierra Leone is another land with potential, and me hopes that with the recent change in government, it will be well on its way towards progress. The new president is reputed to be a hard worker, appearing at his office well before 7 every morning, making surprise visits to the various ministries – I wish him well.

By the way, I took my first Hovercraft ride today…. It was quite something. The motion once at sea is a gentle rocking as the craft skims over the waves, quite a relaxing movement marred only by the noise the mixture of low and high pitch sounds can be irritating after a while.


The trip lasted a little more than 15 minutes I think. Highlight was the moment the craft lifted
itself upon the aircushion, lovely!

video
On my arrival I used the helicopter service. I subsequently heard about the two crashes last year, both resulting in fatalities. That service is no longer functional and another one taken it’s place, supervised I was told by the UN. I think I will stay with the hovercraft though in future. – Occupational hazards I guess

I’m tired. This trip has been exhausting, one day running into another, the constant need to be alert, it can be quite draining. I think I reach home on a Saturday. I have HUGE plans for the Sunday – to do absolutely nothing, except to loll in bed, watch some TV, eat a buriyani for lunch and sleep some more.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Freetown - 25th September 2007

The last two days have been busy, walking the markets of Freetown, talking to wholesalers, retailers, consumers.... its been exhausting but so fulfilling!

The streets of Freetown, so busy, so full of people, everyone on their feet, some people selling, some buying.... no words can paint the picture as it is.
My days have been full, spent in the company of clients, reaching my room late, to take a shower before crawling in into bed... a bit of R&R would be welcome!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Freetown, Sierra Leone

Arrived at destination, all intact.

Almost everyone I spoke to seemed up beat about the recent Presidential Elections and the manner in which they had been conducted - a lesson perhaps for more mature democracy's like my own?

I am happy to see that all is well.

Chopper ride across the riverm roads remain un passable. Its an amasing expeirience. The hotel is a known one, so its like coming home. The location is stunning, over looking Aberdeen Bay.

Early morning – September 23rd 2007, Sunday.

Its close upon 0630, I’m sitting on my luggage trolley at The Gambia’s international airport, waiting on a flight. A helpful chap checking tickets jolted me by saying that my flight just left, ‘boom, he say’s the flight just when boom!’. Some gentle prodding clarifies that a flight had just left, though, according to him, they were not coming back. C’est l’Africque!

Well, the first thing that ran through my mind was ‘Oh shit, here we go again…..’ From there it was a to make a mental calculation as to how I was gonna make my connections… I really need to plan my flights leaving a little more leeway for such things. Fortunately, there is still some confusion. Apparently the airlines flight from yesterday didn’t leave due to bad weather. That flight left this morning and is expected back in an hour….. This could be true; this could be a lie…. I have an hour before I find out.

From Banjul I go (god willing, weather and the airline permitting) back to Dakar and then on to Freetown, Sierra Leone. I am looking forward to this part of the journey, for a particular piece – the mode of transport from Lungi International to Freetown itself – helicopter or hovercraft. Since I flew the former last time, I am tempted to take the later on this occasion, another first.

First’s are nice ain’t they? The first time you get turned on, the first time your heart pounded, the first time you flew….

And then, moments of perfection! I still vividly recollect a perfect drive. It was late one night; I had been to dinner at a friend’s about 10km away from my own place. I drove home that night, fast, changing down as I entered corners, gearing up as I pulled out of them. My trusty old station wagon, the car that I carried a sand bag in the first few months till I learn to handle a light weight at the back….

I’ve been checked in, though the skies are dark with clouds. Travelling during the rainy season is risky business here.

So far I have travelled Dubai, Accra, Ouagadougou, Niamey, Bamako, Dakar, Conakry, Dakar and Banjul. Over the next few weeks it will be Dakar, Freetown, Accra, Lome, Accra, Dubai, Addis Ababa, Luanda, Addis Ababa, Dubai and then Colombo.

Well, I’m en route to Freetown, finally. You never really know, not till the plane is up and off the ground that you are actually going to get to your destination – not that taking off is any guarantee that you will actually get there, but that’s another story altogether and far too morbid for now.

I’m glad that I am not using the same airline I did the last time, the one that managed to misplace my baggage on a direct flight between two points. There was actually one of them, flying this morning from Banjul to Freetown, was expected to leave an hour before my flight. The passengers were boarded, and I was actually thinking that maybe I should have taken that flight, when everybody comes back again, the flight delayed for technical reasons!!!!

So what finally happened was that I reached Dakar before that flight did and may have even got to Freetown first if not for the fact that my flight was 30mts late coming in. This is travel in Africa, almost always, full of ‘fun’!

The next scheduled drama would consist of immigration in FT, then to see if my check in luggage has come with me. Enough for now?

Banjul, The Gambia - 22nd September 2007

My eighth stop. Arrived here late morning to a not completely unexpected bit of fun at the air-port. Someone actually does check all those forms that people fill when they come in as I found out!

I landed here with a clearance permit, which had my nationality wrong. I thought all was well since I passed immigration, but ended up being hauled into a back office just as I was stepping out.

Long story short, I eventually got out.

Poor pay, corruption are just some of the factors which result in officials praying upon travellers, not a good thing considering the amount of money those on tourism and business pump into a local economy. That Western Africa is a spot for people jumping across to Europe is another factor that makes passports from Asia, flagged.

A lot of the businesses in the region, the importers, are of Indian origin. From South Africa all the way up the eastern and western coasts, it’s Indians who have played a significant role in the economy as importers, traders and wholesalers of a range of products – tomato paste, condensed milk, cooking oil, match boxes, mosquito coils, ajinomoto, biscuits, tea, coffee, the list goes on. Liked they are not, tolerated they are.

The model, across many countries remains the same though, and it is an interesting one which provides a fascinating insight into the psyche of Indians – NRI’s as they are referred to back in India, Non resident Indian.

The head of the business is lord, god and master. Under him are between three to six fellow Indians; either family or young men on a three year contract. Under them are the localites.

Now, interestingly, very few of the Indians live separately. The model more often than not is that the Boss man provides accommodation and food, usually at his own house. This not only keeps the costs down it also ensures that he has a complete hold upon the day to day lives of the people working for him. I cannot imagine being able to work/ live under such conditions, could you? Breakfast and lunch are brought daily to the business premises, where the team sit down and eat together. Dinner I presume follows a similar pattern back at the house. To have to live, day in and day out, with the people that you work with, to have to share almost every meal, every waking and sleeping hour over a period of two or three years to me is so alien that I cannot even imagine it for a day.

As it is, on this machine gun fire trip of mine, I am glad at the days end to return to the anonymity of a hotel room, and my privacy. I recollect on my last trip, being accommodated with a client over three days; a wonderful gesture on their part, but one which by the second day had me tense as a spring.

And yet, for an Indian, it seems fine.

People, so different……

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Goree, Senegal - 20th September 2007

The afternoon was spent in exploration, the island of Goree which sits outside the city of Dakar, an island with a history that is as dark as it is rich.

http://webworld.unesco.org/goree/en/index.shtml

It is mind bending to think that this beautiful island, rioting in colour has such dark past, for Goree was one of the points from which Black Africans stepped aboard ships destined for the New World and a life of slavery.

Subsequently a fort, the island is now a tourist attraction.

Looking through the ‘Gates Of No Return’ my thoughts were of how incredibly beautiful the sea was and yet, that in the past, those passing through that gateway did so in despair, torn from their families, their villages, their land.

I walked the narrow streets, shaded by close buildings and trees, lush in greens and reds. The streets of Goree today are quite ones, disturbed only by an endless stream of tourist from around the world, including such notables a Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton and even a Pope.

At the islands highest point is a monument, funded by Black Americans it is a stylised boat in two pieces – one to signify the Black Africans who were torn from these shores and the other half for those who remained.

Walking back I sit down with Issa to indulge myself in a little bit of bargaining over a piece of art. It’s an abstract he tells me, representing all the peoples of Africa and he goes on to tell me that though the material can be valued, the idea, the art itself is priceless just so that I get the point. Issa is truly a worthy man.

His first price is outrageous, I expected no less…. I express my disdain with a laugh, telling him that he must not think of me as a tourist. He responds with a 20% discount…. Sitting myself down on the road, I invite him to give me a reasonable price. Another 10%... I respond with a number, 20% of his figure.

We seem to be at an impasse, so I double my price. He remains unmoved, coming down a mite. I offer him my last price, he declines. I see my host getting impatient... I get up to go, thanking Issa for his time…. As I walk away he comes back with a figure I am agreeable to – the picture is mine. As he removes it from the frame I ask him for one thing, to sign the year under his signature.

As I leave Issa, poses for a photograph holding our painting. His smile is big, so I am fairly confident that he made a decent sum off me.

It’s never the value finally, but the sense of a win win situation, paying an amount that both parties are happy with. Rule of the thumb, never ever go back to check the price!!!

For more pictures of Goree, see my pics at Flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/99124226@N00/

I leave Senegal tomorrow. My 25th country and more importantly, I do so having stood at the Western most spot of Africa. What remains are the Northern most and Eastern most points – I wonder where they are.

And ahead, perhaps a hovercraft ride!

Of fancy meals and more....

Dakar is nice. Me like.

Yesterday was spent walking the market place, talking to the wholesalers, looking at whats there. The market place a far cry from the Medina Market in Conakry; the roads all paved, cleaner, hustle and bustle aye...

Dakar, I am told, is an expensive city to live in... relatively so I am sure in comparison with others of its kind in the region. But it seems to be well built, and there certainly is a lot of road works going one, highways, fly-overs... all good.

Last evening I decided to treat myself to a fancy meal, and with a recommendation in hand out I did step, hailing a taxi to Lagoon II. Alas, the place was closed, and going by the rubble around it, not opening while I was there.

Fortunately logic prevailed, and I went in search of Lagoon I (http://www.lagon.sn/anglais/presentation_lagonl.htm), which, in spite of the improbability, I found a few hundred meters away.

The restaurant proper and a beautiful pier, stretching out into the ocean. Built in the 1950's the restaurant has a nautical bent to it's decorations, fish tanks, pictures, maritime knick-knacks etc. (By the way, this would not be a place to wear a naval uniform to, you could easily get mistaken for one of the restaurant staff who are all decked out in various naval uniforms - Lucy, thy hat would fit in so well here, would definitely create a stir!!

A beer first, locally produced Castel.

By the way, of all the different beers that I have drunk, (and I have drunk quite a few!) I have yet to find anything to beat a

Windhoek Lager (http://www.kewego.com/video/iLyROoaftIcL.html)

or a

Corona (http://i21.ebayimg.com/03/i/07/c8/1f/4b_1_b.JPG)!

So, there I am, sitting over the ocean, beer close at hand, in this really magnificent restaurant, in Dakar, Senegal, West Africa.

A perusal of the menu left me with little choice but to order 'Fillet de merou sauce legere au colombo', which turned out to be a rather bland sauce, no where close to the fiery city I know; this in fact was reminiscent of a 'kirete', with a touch of sweetness to it. But, all things considered, it was a lovely experience, lacking just one thing, company, for I detest eating alone.

And that, for now, is it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I have GOT to say this

OK, it's official, I have now visited 25 countries, 11% of the total. And there could not have been a nicer place than Senegal to be the 25th. More later

C’ est l’Afrique!

Conakry, Guinea, 20:21 hrs, 18th September 2007, Hotel Central, rue de la Republique. I’m listening to Café del Mar as I write this – thank you Black Stilettos’!

Showered, packed, a couple of hours and I am off again. And the last 48hrs have not been without some drama.

Bamako International, Mali and the first signs of something not quite right when the airline refused to interline my baggage all the way to Conakry.

My connection is through Dakar, Senegal, where I have a window of 90mts to go through immigration, get my bag and check in for the flight to Conakry. Sitting in Bamako it dawns upon me that my flight is running late, an hour so far. Worst case scenario is that I miss Guinea entirely, having an additional day in Dakar – not too bad.

Dakar, an hour behind schedule. Walking into the terminal I find ground staff looking for more souls such as me… boarding passes already issued, I am impressed at the efficiency. But wait, our luggage? ‘We’ll try and get in on, but the flight is already late’ which translates into that our luggage is not gonna catch the flight even though we will.

A minor exaggeration on my part, and I am escorted across the terminal to retrieve my bag. That in hand I arrive at the boarding gate to hand it over to the boarding crew. I’ve done my best, the rest will happen as it does. The bag could get placed on board, it could be left behind. I am tired, it’s been an exhausting day and I am fatigued.

Conakry…. Immigration and then a block. That visa is questioned for a date has been over written twice, thrice….. It’s a scam I think; the embassy issues the visa for a little grease, doing so in a way it allows the immigration guys to also create a situation to encourage more greasing. I decide to sit it out’ but then, from behind me a voice asking of me; my client, bless the dear man, he’s driven across to the airport to pick me up. He enters the fray and soon enough we are out and at the carousal… my bag, it’s here!

My hotel, one of the worst I’ve been in, but, good enough for the single night I will be here. Guinea lacks infrastructure, it is one of the few countries on my tour that I actually look upon with some sense of distaste. Even Freetown for all its poverty has a spirit to it that I cannot find here.

Buildings look shabby, the roads are dirty, and hotels are few and way too pricey. The US$50/- per night here is robbery when the amenities are looked at – large rooms, but badly furnished. Peeling paint, an occasional creepy crawly running across the floor. Hot water on tap, rust colour… Fortunately I am made of hardier stuff, I am OK.

This day spent tramping the market place, looking at the competition, talking to the wholesalers, updating myself on the market.

The hustle and bustle of the market place never ceases to amaze me. It’s not a place that I go to in my own country, and yet I find myself doing so many thousands of miles away from home.

As I type this I can hear the rain again…. Me thinks it best I change my clothes, don my pair of boots instead of the comfy casuals I had intended to wear.

But wait, I must speak of my first glimpse of Senegal… it looked exotic as we flew in from the west heading in from the sea. The city struck me as a well planned, well developed one and I am looking forward to my visit there. Senegal, Dakar, the Western most point of the African continent…. One evening I shall keep, to go stand at the edge, watch the sunset into an ocean that I know stretches all the way to South America with nothing in-between.

So, two new things to add to my life’s experiences – a new country and another continental edge.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Update from Bamako

This morning I needed to find the residence of the ‘Ambassade de la Republique de XXXXXX au Mali’ for I was in need of a visa to go there.

Stepping out on to the street, the first taxi driver was not too receptive, and I have grown rather cagey about such souls, harmless though they maybe.

Lady luck though was looking my way, for the next taxi to stop brought with it a driver claiming to be no less than a brother to his Excellency the Ambassador himself!

Obtaining visas in the region to travel within the region is relatively easy. The official fee, bolstered with a little buckshee does wonders and it is not unusual to get what you want in a matter of hours, a day at the most.

Well, we arrive with no further ado at the embassy; my ‘chauffeur’ accompanies me inside and seems quite lordly about it too. The Secretary to the Ambassador appears, I state my request, an exchange between my new friend and him and voila, in ten minutes I am in possession of the required document, signed and stamped! I am impressed.

There is a saying in these parts, ‘C’est l’Afrique’, the equal of ‘This is Africa’…. An exclamation that covers not only the good but the bad too, Murphy’s Law if you like. For anything can happen. A flight delayed due to the absence of jet fuel, luggage lost for a few days, only to appear in another country altogether…. The trick is in keeping a smile on your face, to walk in Africa, expecting the worst, hoping, praying for the best.

I am happy to be here, for I enjoy the opportunity to move with people, to have a hands on approach to what I do. I do not miss my office, the people I work with, I do miss my Lady, my friends.

There is a young man I know here. The first day we met, attired in an old t shirt, a pair of jeans and scruff ed boots. His office, a cramped, dusty dimly light room, cluttered desk….. The next day he was still attired as he was 24hrs before. That evening as we met for dinner, his wardrobe remained as it was. And yet, outside, his chariot a BMW X5 SUV.

He is bright, he is young and he is a star this man. But to see him on the street, you would not know him to be so. Yesterday I toured his new office, a warehouse downstairs, his office upstairs, it was good to see his success, his achievements.

Bamako

Well, the cave never materialised, but I did get up to 'Point G' above the city.

Point G above the city offers a panoramic view of almost the entire city of Bamako, on both sides of the Niger.

The drive from the hotel took about fifteen minutes, through the city streets, past the museum and the zoo, gently climbing up. Past the hospital, along a gravel road to see Bamako below, stretching ahead and to both sides.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tombouctou - so close!

Bamako, Mali, Sunday the 16th of September 2007, 0945hrs, the bar at the hotel Relaise....

Tombouctou is two days drive from here by car, across the Sahara. Alas, my schedule will not allow for it as I move on to Conakry in Guinea tomorrow. But next time, next time I will make time for it.

For today, in an hour I meet with a client, and then, after lunch perhaps a trip across town to see the caves of Bamako... if I do see them, I will share the experiance I assure you!

For now, I am a mite homesick... age catching up with me perhaps.....

Saturday, September 15, 2007

African dreams….

13 days on the road, four countries under my belt, a few more to go before I find my way heading back home again

Day one of my journey took me to the Middle East, the UAE and Dubai. A lonely visit this time, for I was, for the first time, without a friend, and Dubai is not a city to be in alone.

Work occupied most of what little time I had; the rest spent walking around looking at the sites and sound that make that city so vibrant!

From the ME it was off to WA, entering my favourite continent through Accra, Ghana. Two days there, to meet with clients, walk the market and see how the new product was doing before taking (8 hours delayed) wing to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and the first of the francophone countries I will be touching base in.

Ouaga is a quaint little town, laid out, at least in the city centre, along parallel streets, which means that even a mutt like me can get around.

Seven days there spent in meetings, walking the market and most importantly getting visas for the next leg.

My journey this time will take me on to Niamey in Niger (where I am right now typing this) by car, back to Ouaga to fly on to Bamako Mali. Hopes to travel this time to Timbuktu (just want a t- shirt from there, lol) will not work out though. From Bamako to Guinea and the city of Conakry, then Dakar, Senegal.

With that part completed I am done of the French speaking countries, for now. The Gambia is English speaking and a country I like. Perhaps it’s because of the party atmosphere of the area that my hotel is, Senegambia, a few km short of the city proper.

From Banjul I go on to my favourite, Freetown, Sierra Leone. Crowded, narrow, congested streets, it somehow has a charm to it that I relish. From Lungi International airport, I board a helicopter to fly across the Sierra Leone River , a big, old Russian troop transporter, now ferrying arrivals and departees to and fro from the airport, a ten minute journey.

Freetown, then on to Accra for a short drive down along the coast to Lome, Togo and back into a French speaking country; with this done, my journey in this immediate area is done.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

double damn and say that again!

And just when I kind of re adjusted my attitude, tried to bring some perspective to things, this oh so foul blow.Damn, damn, double damn.....

I'm in the UAE as I write this, in the desert city of Dubai. I've always liked being here, its been pleasant; till now. This time around, for the first time I find myself alone, and its not a nice feeling at all......

A little bit of shitty news on top of that - hence the double damn - has not been welcome, given the larger picture. Naff said.

I am on the road, finally. A long trip ahead of me, 41 days, ten countries in all.... I am looking forward to the challenge, for I am in my element in such an environment.

So, over the next few weeks, I will be living out of a suitcase, trying to keep my wits about me as I walk in my favourite continent. I like Africa, I like the smell, the hues, the people - for at their best, they are a happy go lucky people, with big smiles, with huge hearts.

Lots of pic opps I hope!