Friday, September 26, 2008

Looking up

Back in SL on Tuesday, to sleep in my own bed after so long.... I've developed insomnia I think!

Wednesday spent getting re oriented and then the summons - to be in India before the end of the week.

Visa in record time and I was soon off aboard a SriLankan flight direct to Mumbai, arriving there at the ungodly hour of 0230am after a 2hr something flight.

Its 1628 as I type this now and things have happened with almost unseeming haste - back to Africa I am to go, to set up the base for a permanent presence!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Nigeria, destination 28

Nigeria, destination 28

Flew in on the 14th from Accra arriving after sunset which was cause for some apprehension given the typical ‘Nigerian’ stories that you hear.

Except for a rather peculiar system of having your visa checked by one person who makes a note of how long you wanna stay, then going it to another guy who in turn passes it to another, meaning that immigration formalities require three people the rest was straight forward – oh yes, you get a trolley to haul your luggage only on payment of a small fee!

Another, pleasant surprise, the Naira is roughly a 117 to a USD, which kind of makes my rupee a, relatively, stronger currency.

First impressions of Lagos I have to say were rather bleak…. Tar, concrete, fly-ways, highways…. Most in a state of some disrepair or the other… Perhaps its my perception, given the cities I’ve been in during the last few weeks…. Lagos is too NYC for me.

The market place, typical of most African ones, the hustle and bustle of retail and wholesale business… again though, I lacked the usual sense of oneness I have with such places.

Day three and I was off to Kano, located in Northern Nigeria this is the hub for trading! The city sprawled across the arid landscape, the hot desiccating air, the dust blown from the deserts… certainly more Africa than Lagos was.

My first port of call o arrival was my reason for being here, to see the markets and what sell’s in it. Dele my guide was a refreshingly bright and articulate, a man I found to be immensely personable.

Kano apparently is a dived city between those of the majority followers of Islam and the minority following other religions. This division has tangible examples from parts of the city dominate by minarets to parts where the sky is broken by crosses. Where one to, and you hardly avid not doing so, cast a look upon the ground, the difference still prevails in the condition of the roads, tarred roads, lined by well maintained buildings in on quarter, rutted, dust tracks lined by shabby dilapidated concrete blocks. In one part Sharia law rules, in the other life lived to its fullest.

That evening I was treated to a few hours of jazz, followed by western pop and eventually leading to Afro beat music by a group that was a certainly enthusiastic.

I’m sorry that my stay is just one day.

By the way, another oddity, NONE of the toilets in the bathrooms seem to have seats!

Monday, September 15, 2008

# 28

Well, another new country, Nigeria.

First impressions, poor... for the first time in Africa, I actually feel uncomfortable... perhaps its preconceptions being reinforced by reality, but so far, I feel awkward.

More to come later

Friday, September 12, 2008

My latest aquisition


Lome, Togo.

00:40 and I am in one of the most luxurious rooms I have ever been in - Its approximately the size of the living room back home, there is 45" flat screen across from where I sit, wifi, a jacuzzi in the bathroom... LOL

I'm well, a mite tired but happy with what has been achieved so far. Since leaving Guinea, I've been in Accra for a night before moving down the coast and across the border at Aflao to Lome this morning. I return to Accra tomorrow, and then on to Nigeria on Sunday for the last leg of my trip.

Sleep calls me, a call I heed more out of duty that desire this evening for I find myself contemplative, of my life and the turns it has taken.
I sense a decisive moment in time coming ahead....

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


So ok, Guinea is still not the list of places I’d rather be, but it’s grown on me.

Africa is a great place; I want people to know that. Yes, you do hear awful tales of this scam, that scam or the other. But these are the things that grab headlines, the things that you need to be aware of but not let that spoil your experience of Africa.

I’v3etraveled on and off this continent since 2005 when I spent up to six months at a time in South Africa for two years. This included short jaunts into Kenya and Uganda subsequently followed by my annual whirlwind trips in WA – out of 17, I’ve been in 10 – Ghana, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Togo and further south to Angola. Yet to see are Mauritania, Liberia, Guinea Bissau, The Ivory Coast, Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon.

The people are friendly, genuinely so, even if they are begging. They are warm hearted, quick to laugh, most always with a smile, traits to be admired all the more given the extreme poverty the majority of the live under, the harshness of their lives and the challenges they face on a day to day basis. Poverty, inadequate health care poor economy’s are all challenges that they face as they try to get through each day on a little more than a couple of dollars a day.

But they are friendly, warm, easy to strike a conversation up with, curious about who you are and where you come from.

Use your common sense, don’t be a smart ars, carry a smile and patience, this is se l’afrique after all. Be aware that most people will try to make a buck off you, its up to you how you negotiate conditions… at the worst you’ll end up paying 50 to a 100 more perhaps. So read up, ask people how much things are generally. Travel guides are great guides; worth the investment if you are gonna spend more than a few days in one country.

I love art and try to pick up a piece each time I travel. I like bargaining too. Rule of the thumb for me is counter with 30% of the initial price. You’ll work your way up, the seller will work his way down. Eventually you end up at a price that you are as happy with as he is, even if he still got the better of you. Smile, its only money and what you just paid probably will feed him and his family for a couple of days at least.

It’s easy to love this place. If you come with favorable economic conditions then you can truly appreciate the beauty of Africa. If you have to fight for each day, then your perspective will certainly be different, that I grant.
I’m in Guinea, arrived here last night almost two hours later than scheduled. Fortunately ‘Alhadji’ was still at the airport waiting for me.

Guinea’s airport certainly lives up to its description in Lonely Planet as chaotic – it was the usual free for all to claim your luggage and get past the security not paying any happy money. Confess to being in such a foul mod that I was willing to sit there and insist that my bags me looked at rather than pay a couple of bucks to be cut loose. It an indication of how pissed I was hat I was willing to do this with a smile and a laugh, just to prove a point.

I had asked my client to make a reservation for me and the truth is I was a mite concerned he might land me a in a hotel where the charges would be frowned upon by the ones who bear my costs – I really should not have. What I should have done was brought bug spray.

I’ll leave it there – I need a room to sleep in only. Though I am not looking forward to spending four days here, including a Sunday to my self.

That said, today, Saturday was an awesome one – It just so happened that my arrival coincided with the arrival of the first order that I had done for this client. The look on his face when the container was opened when he turned to me and said “you know to load a container’ was perfect. Its always been my mantra to have a ‘wow’ factor, to provide the client with what he wants and then something more. In this case, at our initial meetings he had mentioned almost in passing that he was not happy with the manner in which he’s previous supplier had packed and loaded his containers.

This was one was packed tight, almost 35 cartons more than he was used to, making his unit costs that much lower – wow factor!

Sunday morn in Conakry – did I mention that this city suffers from chronic power shortages, that usually there is NO power between 8am and5pm, that usually most hotels run gen sets? My hotel runs their set ONLY at night; I’m faced with a bleak day ahead of me once my battery runs down, this part of the city is incredibly short of anything to do – the only three things of interests so far are a) the Total Gas station, b) A Chinese – Vietnamese - Thai restaurant which I am yet to locate and c) a mini Super Market. I suspect that before the day is through, I will out of sheer boredom go eat yogurt. Let me go do some work…

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Past, Present and Future

I was in Burkina Faso yesterday

I am in Mali today

I will be in Guinea tomorrow

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Au revoir Ouaga {:-(

3rd September 2008, 1500hrs

Ouagadougou International, waiting for my flight to Bamako Mali.

Its awfully hot in here, all the doors an windows sealed, AC knocked off; and to top it off I just sat down to a overpriced cup of Nescafe in the restaurant!

Damage/ lost so far one broken suitcase, a lost t shirt and one pair of broken spectacles – fortunately I carry a spare. But I am thinking that in future, for theses trips at least I need to have a pair with more robust frames.

On the plus side a fruitful trip so, and the most pleasant stay I had in Ouaga since I started travelling here.

To look forward to is a possible issue with my visa to Mali, its been over written and the guys here like to pounce on that when they get the chance. I got played out on my visa this time, in trying to procure a one year multiple entry I was over charged badly…. Now lets try explaining that to the office shall we?!

Last night I decided to treat myself to a decent meal. With hunger pangs like a starved hyena I eventually braved a break in the rain to make a dash down the main street on little motor-bike – riding one after ten years at least. The person riding pillion was in fits of laughter as I re learnt the manipulation required between breaks and gears. Destination reached in one piece, beating the next round of the down pour by mere seconds.

The restaurant of choice was one that served predominantly Italian cusine, pasta’s and a variety of grilled meats and pizza. T’was only after placing my order for a spaghetti cabonara that I realized that the pizza oven was an authentic wood fire one – next time!

My guest chose a grilled fish, accompanied with tomatoes and a sauce which had the gentlest hint of garlic to it, tantalizingly so.

As we dined the evening away in idle chit chat an unexpected bit of drama enacted across the open room from us. Seated alone at a table was a gentlemen who reminded me a of dear friend back in SL, an author of no mean repute, world traveler and the point of contact for all nationals form his home country in the entire south in the event of an emergency. But I digress, back to the Frenchman across the room.

A few minutes after having settled him self down and fastidiously cleaning his cutlery on the table cloth, he ups himself and commences to perform a rain dance, or the reverse of one as he explained later by prancing counterclockwise around his table jangling a pair of bells! This he continued to do so for all of seven complete circuits, oblivious to anyone or anything else. On the last round he stood by his chair a little shaking his hinny and then to plonck himself down with a flourish.

Our own meal came to an end a few minutes later as we lingered over coffee, when it happened…. Ever so gently the rain eased off till it stopped completely. As we walked out our rain man tipped a finger at us with a grin and wink and a suggestion that we hurry if we wanted to take advantage of the break!

Now I am an old fart, rather cautious, forever pre planning trying to anticipate all possibilities – a real stick in the mud. Fearing the worse it was decided that my guest take advantage of a taxi while I rode back upon the little pony. A few precious minutes spent in locating a chariot and we were off, me pell melling along the broad avenue that cuts through the city center, pursued by a chariot. I would have made it, if not for the three red lights in someone else’s favor. Half way home, the heavens opened and I was drenched even before I got 50ft!

Now I must hasten to add that this in no way detracted anything from what was a pleasant evening, if at all, it was the final twist to an evening which was spent in a most congenial way, dining on good food and conversation, spiced up by the antics of a wonderful old man!

I am sorry to be leaving Ouaga this time around. While one set of circumstances forced me to stay longer that I usually do, another set in play gave me an opportunity to see facets of this city and its people that I had not experience before.

This morning I was on my way to the Marche when I was buzzed by a ‘moto’ upon which sat a grinning Michele, my chauffer from the journey to Niger. Having exchanged pleasantries I was invited to hope on board for a speedy trip down and around to my destination.

Its those friendly, spontaneous encounters that warm my heart that make me like this place. Yes there are the officious, petty corrupt parasites lurking in the corners, but by and far the people are gentle, most often than not with a smile than a frown. A begger on the road will only follow you up to a point. The same applies to the touts, the sellers of telephone cards you don’t want, the shoe shine kid, the guy trying his luck at making a buck. Usually a smile a polite no thank you and a shake of the heard sufficient to be left alone. The occasional limpet pried loose by no more than a sterner no thank you.

By all means travel in Africa if you can. Enjoy the sights and sounds and people that make this such a wonderful place. Do so with a smile, some common sense and a sense of humor. Politeness, courtesy can get you almost anywhere you want, if you have the patience to do so.

I love this continent. And as I grow familiar with the lay of the land, even the countries that I feel uncomfortable with become less so with time. I have been lucky I must state, in the years that I have been here, traveling on and off since 2005 I have not had a single bad encounter where I have been threatened or robbed. Luck certainly, some prudence on my part too, judicious use of common sense and practicality. Its best not to tempt fate by tying to prove ones bravery.

I have a new love now. My old beau Freetown, Sierra Leone replaced by Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

I leave her with a multiple entry visa valid for a year with the fervent hope that I will be back soon.

PS: Immigration in Mali was a breeze, the fastest I’ve ever past through!

Monday, September 1, 2008

What a night

Its been a while since I've been out after mid night, till last night!

I've been teased about my ability to dance, in fact the comments have been bordering insolence, voicing in terms which leave little to misinterpret that I in fact cannot shake a leg at all.

Since it was all in good fun I decided to pick up the gauntlet and find a carpet to cut.

This then is how I came to find myself at the Calypso Club in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso at 1am in the morning of the 1st day in September 2008.

Over the three years I've stepped into three clubs in West Africa - Le Byblos in Bamako Mali, Makumba in Accra and now Calypso in Ouaga.

The nicest thing about all these clubs is that not only do the girls usually out number the men, but they also have no inhibitions about dancing with anyone who asks them to. Of course, some of these ladies are of the type that would like to become your high maintenance friend, even for a night, but that in no way affects the good humor that prevailed in all of them.

Another thing that the three had in common was the presence of a giant mirror adorning one wall. And for some peculiar reason, its not unusual to see a number of girls dancing by themselves in front of it, swaying to the music, seemingly lost in a world of their own.

I enjoyed myself, it seemed the perfect ending to a lovely day spent in good company. I conducted myself, I was told, in a manner which laid to rest any doubts about my abilty to move to rhythem, in fact, all things considered, me thinks me did alright!

A word of advice for anyone following suit - either go with a crowed, or a local... Africa is still a place of violence, walking the streets alone at night is not recommended