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.