Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bring it on 2010!

Packed



Whats in that? Well, three pairs of pants, two pairs of shorts, 7 shirts/ t shirts, socks and underwear, a pair of binoculars, tin plate and mug, fork and knife, a pen knife, a box of matches, a pair of shoes, a 4GB SD card and four spare re chargeable AA batteries plus charger, a tin of baked beans, sardines, cheese and a loaf of bread, passport, yellow fever certificate, my English French dictionary, a hat and scarf, sleeping bag and rubber mat, a leather jacket, towel, razor, toothbrush, TP (lots of that) toothpaste and phone charger.

And that's it really except of course I need to throw my camera in there somehow. Its been a long time in the planning, even longer in the dream stage but I'm finally ready to hit the road destination, destination Timbuktu

Yes, there really is a place called Timbuktu, it does actually exist...

From my childhood Timbuktu has been this mythical place, somewhere in the middle of no where, a 1000 miles from that place no one really knows... few places in the world have that same aura of remoteness, of being almost not... for many it still remains just that, a place that really does not exist, a phantom city like Shangri-la, clouded by legends and tales, a remote place that might not even be!

Its just in the last three years that getting there has become an achievable goal, and ever since my first trip to Mali, I've been looking at how best this could dream could become reality.

Timbuktu was founded around the 10th century by the Tuareg who used it as a camp for its proximity to the Niger to transport salt from mines in the Sahara Desert. Three centuries later the city was part of the greater Mail Empire, which controlled the gold-salt trade routes in the region.

Prosperity made by the trans-Saharan trade routes brought great wealth to the city. This wealth attracted not only merchants and traders but also men of academic and religious learning.

Timbuktu's golden age ended in the late sixteenth century witht he end of the Songhay Empire. With more reliable trade routes established by Portuguese navigators along the coast of West Africa Timbutu's importance declined rapidly and today the city is threatend by the very desert that made it famous! Having lost the source of its wealth, Timbuktu declined and became known as a lost city.

Driven by the Harmattan winds the sands of the Sahara threatens to cover the city, destroying buildings and vegetation and water supply - today in the words of one unimaginative traveler "its just a collection of mud huts, I don't know what the fuss is all about"!

Every year, in January, the dunes are 'alive with the sound of music' as the Festival Au Desert kicks off. With its origin in a Touareg gathering the event has now become a festival in celebration of life as the various tribes gather to exchange information, sing and dance, renew ties and participate in events that govern their nomadic life.

Usually held in Essakane, two hours from Timbuktu in Mali, this year, in its 10th edition, the festival will take place in the vicinity of Timbuktu itself - due to security considerations and events planed to celebrate Mali's 50th year of independence.

Over a 3 day period Touareg, Malian and other West African musicians will play their music to a gathering from across the world - last year there was one guy who had spent 16 days hitchhiking across the desert from Morocco!

My own, planned journey, will be I hope less strenuous. Saturday morning I leave Ouagadougou for Ouahigouya and on to Tio/ Koro, the border crossing to Mali. The plan is to reach Bankass 325km from Ouagadougou - 266km of this on a dirt road - where I hope to find a place to sleep.

The next day's drive should get me to Mopti, one of West Africa's largest river ports on the Niger. Its from here that the real adventure starts, for from this point I switch to a Pinasse - a river canoe - to travel along the river en route Timbuktu.

With luck, I'll survive to share the tale and the pics...

Wishing you all a wonderful 2010, full of reasons to laugh and smile about!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Temple Square, Salt Lake City

Three awesome Christmas pics by Heather Dazley





Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More then...

The last post was really an attempt to try and get a few good photographs; not been too happy with my recent efforts to be honest.

Here lies the entire collection, taken over the years

A Merry Christmas everyone and a Happy 2010 to all



























Monday, December 21, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

Music

I've been trying to figure out a way to share music on line - being a techno klutz, this has proved to be harder than I thought - that and the fact that my connection to the internet is more akin to a foot path meandering across the Kalahari than the Autobahn...

But, thanks to a fellow blogger who nudged me along the way by example, I've discovered SKYDRIVE!

I'll add to these as I go along, in the interim, enjoy:


Africa


Spiritual

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Om Mani Padme Hum

Om Mani Padme Hum is a six word Tibetan mantra - the base of all wisdom, salvation and joy.

Over the last year or so, I've found myself drawn to listening to this as well as some other mantra's like the Gayathri Mantra.

'Om Mani Padme Hum' is is said to embody all the teachings of the Buddha in those six syllables. Religious connotations aside, I just enjoy listening to it

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

16 seems so far away...

It seems that the relative wilderness of Africa is not as isolated as one would expect, I've been tagged by DL into trying to give advice to myself - that alone a feat comparable with climbing Mt Everest in my undies since I'm not know to listen to anyone let alone me!

We shall nevertheless try, who knows, all things are possible....

I hate to have to break this news to you but you know getting through your O'Levels is not gonna be quite enough, in spite of what everyone tells you - they lied! right after those damn O's come the A's which fortunately you happen to hit upon away of avoiding while still completing your secondary education - atta boy!

Your late teens are gonna be relatively quiet, things actually start getting interesting when you turn nineteen - oh if you only knew then what I know now.. for instance, nice polite, boys don't get very far with girls, the wilder, bad boys do for reasons which you will never understand... of course, by the time those girls realize what a gem you are it will be too late.

At nineteen you will meet the first of three girls who will then shape the rest of your life - the first will break your heart and it will take oh about 8yrs or so before you quite get over her. The second will many many years later betray you in a way that though shocking will make you a stronger man. As for the third, well she will hold a key to unlock a part of that somewhere along the line you buried deep within yourself.

By 21 you will have formed the basis of friendship with a select few people who will over the years to come remain true and steadfast, in that sense you are indeed fortunate to have good friends. These very friends will, during the course of celebrating yours age of majority toss you into the sea off the Mount Lavania beach, in spite of the fact that you just wined and dined the bastards.

This will also be the year that another wonderful woman will take you in hand and make a man of you, you'll never see her again after that brief encounter, but in the years to come, you will always remember with love and admiration.

You'll never become a lawyer or an engineer, face it, school was bad enough and if not for a combination of good luck and a wonderful sense of self confidence in yourself you'd be in trouble my younger self.

But what you chose to do will take you to places most lawyers and engineers never go to, so don't fret too much about being left behind. In your life you'll do things that a lot of your peers will not, go places few people go too.

There is one thing that I'd try to change if I could... that Sunday when you had to go for CIM classes, don't on the way back home stop off to do the grocery shopping - trust your gut and get back home please... if you don't, that will be the one regret of your life... the 30mts you spent there you will regret for a long time to come.

PS: Your collection of alcohol, while impressive is not quite as good an investment as you thought, stock would be better, or even gold.

Wooden Mallets and wax cloth

I’m touring coastal West Africa at the moment, in the company of a colleague who is over here to promote a new range of products. Over the last 5 decades my employers have diversified from their core business of tea to include a number of rather unrelated industries – so much so that its at times difficult to understand the logic. I’ve come to the conclusion that the gent I refer to as the ‘chairman’ as akin to a gardener who prepares the ground and plants to sit back and watch the crop grow ; there really is no other way to look at it.

From Burkina I flew to Togo where I received a typical Togolese welcome at the airport starting from the Immigration booth, twice, customs, and the final security check on the way out – the demand for a ‘cadeau’, French for a gift and a euphemism for a bribe. Now, I’m not averse to demonstrating my gratitude to someone who steps in to help me getting through the tangle of bureaucracy and red tape that snarls up one for no apparent reason for hours on end but blatant attempts to part me from my hard earned money really annoys me especially when its done in the course of someone just doing his job and me in the right too.

I recollect one memorable occasion in Sierra Leone when a customs inspector opened play with something to the effect that if he was to discharge his duties I might most likely miss my flight and therefore it was in my best interest to oil his already greasy palm. My response was that I had immense respect for him and those in his profession and that I would be the last person on earth to stand between him and the discharge of his responsibilities. He blinked a few times before waving me to take a seat, which I did, making myself comfortable and pulling put a book to read. Nonchalantly browsing the pages I could see from the corner of my eye my friend casting glances at me as my suitcase remained unopened in front of him. This little act played on for about 10mts, me immersed in my book, draped in a plastic chair, the inspector hitting on other would be passengers with a rather surprisingly high rate of success to I must say which made me wonder what the heck people had in their bags anyway! Eventually he tired off me and calling me over waved me through. I rewarded him with a bright smile and a Reynolds Ball point pen – standard stock I carry with me which I use in lieu of money on such trips; after all this was not going to be my last trip to Sierra Leone and Freetown!

But I digress….

After the polite professional efficiency of Burkina Faso border crossing points I’m annoyed when such blatant attempts are made to solicit a bribe. But the sad fact is that the majority of African’s live in dire circumstances, and people are desperately poor. Many government employees are badly paid, work under terrible conditions and soliciting a ‘donation’ for many is a means of survival.
I smiled my way through all these efforts, my stock answer to such ‘touches’ is to say that if only I knew he was gonna be there I would have brought him something, that , sadly, as a paid employee myself, money was something I had little of in hand…
This trip had something new in store for me, entry into Benin, a country I was yet to visit on a formal basis. Yes, I did choose my words carefully there; for this was not my ‘first’ visit to Benin in reality. That was back in April when I happened to cross the border from Togo at a loosely guarded point for a spot of lunch. I had been visiting this isolated village called Bassamba to see their fortress styled houses and did a quickie for a bite to eat one afternoon.

Benin was not quite what I expected it to be, my experience with the place limited so far to scam mails and what little I had read in my guide book. All in all it was not too bad at all. The primary and cheapest way of getting around the city is on a motor cycle taxi, of which the city boasts 1000’s it seemed. Fast and rather daringly ride it tends to be indeed. While the first couple of days was spent in the relatively sterile environment of a staid hotel – its redeeming feature being a lovely pool – the kind of accommodation preferred by my colleague I was eager to check out Cotonou's “Hotel California” – Alex’s Hotel. Its location is not for the faint hearted, on the fringes of the huge and apparently abandoned railway yard, in close proximity to a bar district, it’s a place bursting with life!

It was here that I was fortunate to come across a little alleyway where sitting upon the ground a gang of men pounded away at fine “Bazen: cloth, beating into the fabric the last coating of wax which gives the material its peculiar stiffness and shine.







These men are brawny souls with arms that a body builder would be envious of and no surprise given the weight of the mallet they use to pound the cloth – at least 4kg if not more! They work in relative silence, all one can hear is the rhythmic ‘thunk thunk’ as the mallet hits the wooden tree truck upon which they have placed the length of cloth. Sweat glisten their torso’s as they pound away, two to a cloth, swinging away with one had as they maneuver the material around.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

So there I was

.... on my way back home after an absence of 28,512,000 seconds (or 330 days)with all these great plans about kicking back and watching the world go by while I rocked in a hammock, book in hand, a cold drink close by, soothed by the rustle of the wind in the tree's the lap of water on the shore; nothing more to do than eventually nod off to sleep, an entire month of sheer bliss!

That was the plan, that reality was a little different an understatement...

It all started right here in Ouaga and the very morning I left for my flight. A disagreement over the rate saw my luggage unceremoniously taken out of the taxi (by me) and I was left to cool my heels for another 30mts until an alternate could be found - one filled with Jerry cans of water mind you! From that point onwards it was one flight delay after another till I reached Dubai. Now I had work planned for that trip, but while I was in the air someone decided to celebrate the end of the Ramadan by declaring a holiday, leaving me again to cool my heels til my flight back home...

SL was not much better really, it was one mad rush rush rush and right now just a few high points is about all I have to remind me that I did take my vacation.

High points: A trip to Thailand, a couple of days in Kos, Kottu, Hoppers, A trip to Kataragama, getting to wrestle with the pack - there is something therapeutic about rolling on the ground with a bunch of mutts... and oh yes, I got to meet two bloggers!

But, I'm back now... and its been a little surreal, SL and that lush greenery seem like a dream back here in the dust and reddish soils of BF.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Water

Stopping off to look at some fountains I found light, motion and perhaps art in H2O









I see a lion's head in this last image, does anyone else see it? Hint: Think "Singapore"

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009

If Africa can

I read today of plans afoot to halve the Kenyan Cabinet in the face of increasing taxpayers criticism.

Kenya has a population of 37 million people and a Cabinet of 40 - one minister for every 925000 people. The proposed change, if implemented, will change the representation to 1 for every 1,542000.

One Minster has gone on record saying that it was an embarrassment that he did not know the name of a colleague, who sat on the opposite side of the house - "This showed even ministers don't know each other as their number is too big." he is reported to have said.

Debate about the size of the cabinet revolved around the fact that the bloated cabinet, which also includes the president and prime minister, had made it ineffective!

Should such a proposal be implemented in Sri Lanka, we would see our Cabinet shrunk to an even dozen - just imagine what a lean and mean fighting machine we would be

Small, I mean BIG Miracle indeed!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Crikey!

Sri Lanka Feedom Party - having a centre-left or pro-socialist economic agenda and is often associated with hard-line Sinhala parties

Janatha Vimukthi Peremuna - a nationalist, Marxist-Leninist, Communist political party

Muslim National Unity Alliance - a left-wing political party

Mahajana Eksath Peramuna - a left-wing political party

The Communist Party of Sri Lanka - a communist political party

The Lanka Sama Samaja Party - a Trotskyist political party

The Jathika Hela Urumaya - Monk led lay-based, secular Sinhala nationalist political party

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress - represents the Muslim community of Sri Lanka.

The Tamil National Alliance a minority Sri Lankan Tamil political alliance, amalgamation of moderate Tamil parties as well as number of former rebel groups. Supports self-determination in an autonomous state for the island's Tamils

Eelam People's Democratic Party - a political party and a Paramilitary organization

The Ceylon Workers' Congress - a political party which has traditionally represented Tamils working in the plantation sector of the economy

The United National Party - a right-leaning, business friendly party

Democratic People's Front - originally a trade union, then converted into a political party. It draws support from the Tamil population of Colombo

The government coalition( Sri Lanka Freedom Party - People's Liberation Front - Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya - Muslim National Unity Alliance - Mahajana Eksath Peramuna - Desha Vimukthi Janatha Pakshaya - Communist Party of Sri Lanka - Democratic United National Front - Lanka Sama Samaja Party), as far as I can work it out, is therefore a Socialist, Marxist, Leninist, Communist, Nationalist government with, of course, capitalistic tendencies at an individual level.

Is it any wonder then that what we need is apparently to rebuild our institutional foundations to foster and preserve the new multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious Sri Lanka that we wish to create?!

I need advice

I find my self in need of advice of a legal nature...

The situation is as follows

I'm a shareholder in an extremely large organization. As organizations go, its rather unique in that no single individual is entitled to more than one share - so in that sense its more of a Co-op I suppose, technically all of us have a single vote and equel rights in doing so.

As in all organizations there are various factions here to, people with differing ideologies, convictions, who inevitably jockey around for support in the hope of being elected to the Board. These individuals, and their supporters make numerous promises to the rest of us - better ROI's, all kinds of perks at Company cost etc. which inevitably get forgotten once they are elected. In fact I have the nasty suspicion that the only reason they do so is for the sole purpose of feathering their own nests at the cost of the rest of the shareholders!

For quite sometime now we were asked to grit our teeth and bear the burden of a costly war - you know how aggressive mass marketing is, right? And it was tough, for quite sometime we were actually on bended knee trying to contain the competition which was using faster, almost guerrilla tactics. We prevailed though, hats off to the Board, they got the job done, albeit at a great cost, one which I think though many of the shareholders accepted as required for us to move forward. But now, things seem to be just as bad for so many other reasons, and it seems to me that the Board of Directors are evolving into a Board of Dictators, albeit with the support of some shareholders. The problem lies in the silence of the majority though - who was it who said that "for evil to triumph all it needs is for good people to remain quiet' or something like that?

Fact is I'm not happy with my BOD, I am no longer convinced that they have the shareholders best interests in mind anymore, I'm not convinced that what they do is for our good anymore - dividends are down, and with the cost of living as it is now, every single cent counts, most of the perks they promised are are yet to come, in fact, stuff that we considered to be our rights as shareholders are in fact becoming steadily eroded. Whats worse is that any reasonable objection or question is being increasingly frowned upon and brushed aside with neigh a thought for the shareholders and their hard earned efforts that fund the organization!

Now comes my question: Can I sue them? Can I take legal action against the BOD for failing to deliver, for failing to meet our expectations?

I've tried the other way, at every AGM we have tried, but human nature being human nature there will always be those swayed by the promise of better returns, of growth of increasing wealth just around the corner.... promises if kept I am fine with.

I don't know man...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Read all about it!

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses,
And all the king's men,
Couldn't put Humpty together again


Humty Dumpty as you all must know by now, had a great fall - well actually it was not a really big one at all. In fact, if you or I had happen to take the same fall it would not even be worth two half pennies - or a ten rupee note given the state of our economy now; but that's besides the point.

Anyway, Humpty Dumpty had a fall and all the kings horses and all the kings men got terribly upset about it. They ran hither and they ran thither, pointing at one another saying "it wasn't me, it wasn't me..."

Having suddenly fallen, for no apparent reason, Humpty Dumpty was picked up and deposited in another chair, but perhaps the incident was too traumatic for the Ole Egg for he departed soon there after, albeit intact...

Though no record of the incident was allowed to be kept for posterity, a little bird did tell me that several of Humpty's friends have been consulting animal entrails, the three witches of Macbeth and the heavens to see if this is a harbinger of sorts - we do live in funny times after all

The general consensus was no serious physical damage was done to Humpty's spine possibly due to the fact that egss don't have spines as one wit commented

Monday, September 14, 2009

Thumbs up

HD all the way across in Utah is one of my favorite people - she not only paints but takes some pretty neat photographs too.

These are from a recent trip she made to the East Coast, enjoy!









Sunday, September 13, 2009

"‘Machang eya ape hole ekata haal kiyanawa"

I am an avid reader of Gamini Weerakone's Serendipity colum in the SUNDAY LEADER.

His most recent contribution in the paper of 13th September deserves as wide a readership as it can get, in my opinion, for this quote if nothing makes such a poignant comment about what being Sri Lankan is, celebrated differences!

Such a pity then that when we can celebrate, we chose to differentiate based upon the personal agenda's of those who walk and wish to walk the corridors of power.

Its a sad telling indeed in the context of the entire article that our Government thinks we can learn English from our neighbors on the sub continent, a glaring telling on the depth to which our level of competency in English has sunk to...

English is a language I speak and write in greater fluency that I do my 'mother tongue' of Sinhalese; that I understand even a little Tamil is a matter of pride to me and all things considered, I think it is this fact that makes me a Sri Lankan, not limiting myself to being a Sinhalese Buddhist, but a proud citizen of this country of ours Sri Lanka!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Way to go

The following is a true story - however, to protect the parties concerned, the names have been changed.

Should the story bare any resemblance to our ship of state, I maintain it purely coincidental!