travel


I was in New York last week. No, that isn’t the story. Just the start. I had this meeting way down at 8th street. Or is that way up? No idea which way is up and which way is down when I am there. Who knows? Who cares? Anyway… My meeting finished way before my flight was to leave and I decided the day before to try something new. Take the bus back to the airport. I had more than enough time to get there – about 5 hours. How difficult can it be…

Well. More difficult than it seems. Especially if you have my navigational abilities. And street savvy…

Wait. Let’s just take a step back for a moment. I had this all planned out. I planned my whole trip the day before – back at the office. Printed out a map of the city. Marked the spot where I should catch my first bus. Where I should get off. Where I should catch the bus to the airport. And how long it should take to get to the airport. Everything was ready for me to fly off on a new adventure! I was prepared…

But I got home realizing that I left my whole stack of maps, directions and info back at the office. Right where I put them so I won’t forget them. Next to my bag… But hey! I can remember all the details right? What can possibly go wrong?

Now back to NY.

I said my goodbyes and left the building (AA has left the building.) I just flipped on my hat on and off I went… I jumped on a bus heading toward the direction where I should catch my bus to LaGuardia. Damn. Didn’t have the right change on me. And they only take coins. I got kicked off the bus by the bus driver. He could have been friendlier, but no problem. I’ll just grab a few coins from the shop. I bought some gum and a packet and off I went. Back on the next bus. Handed over my coins and settled in on my seat.

Bloody hell. It stops at every single block! And I am on 8th Street. I only have to get off at 95th. Or was that 116th? Maybe 125th? Anyway, I’ll sort that out later. But really. It is taking forever. And people aren’t that friendly either. I get a few stares. But I don’t mind. I got my iPod playing so don’t give a damn. But no “Love is in the air” from them. Grumpy bus people.

The ride took about an hour! It stopped for every single soul in NY and bloody everywhere. And people got on. And on. And a handful got off. I got up a few times to make way for pregnant women, women with kids, old ladies and gentlemen, and anyone who looked like they could do with a seat a little more than me. But hardly a smile or a thank you. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. Zero. They just sat there with their Yankee hats on and stared at me. The only one who gave me a smile was a Muslim woman who was visiting NY and didn’t speak English at all. New Yorkers? No sirree. Not a smile or a nod of the head. I just shrugged and did my own thing. Who will ever understand these people from the Big (Rotten) Apple?

But now I was struggling with another problem. What street should I get off at? I couldn’t remember if it was 95th or 116th or 125th. Don’t ask me how I got these three numbers stuck in my head. But I did. So the plan was that I’ll get off at 95th and then walk up to 125th. My bus to the airport will be around there somewhere. I think. Easy plan right? Yeah, right…

So I got off at 95th and started walking up towards 125th. On the same day that they had a huge event with McCain and Obama and Clinton and everyone speaking at Columbia about volunteering or national service or something. Whatever. It just meant that there was cops everywhere. And no taxi’s… But hey. I was going to catch the bus right? I can swear I see the right road just ahead…

An hour later I realized that I am hopelessly lost. I had no clue where I was. I knew that there was not a bus in site anywhere. And I passed 125th a long, long time ago. I have been walking and walking with no luck. And 116th didn’t look like anything where buses would use for a major stop. 125th didn’t make sense either. Maybe it’s just ahead. Morningside Heights have come and gone. Let’s go to Plan B. Catch a cab. Now that should be easy right? And I still have about 3 hours left. No problem…

But there wasn’t any cabs around. Cars yes. But not a single bloody cab. No problem. I must have picked the only spot in NY that is not covered by yellow cabs. But I know where I am. I think. I’ll just turn right and walk until I start hitting the main sections of Manhattan. Sounds like a plan. Let’s do it. So I turned right. Towards cabby land.

Mmm. Still no cabs. Let’s see. Where am I? Check out a few names of shops. Harlem. Cool. Never been to Harlem. But this isn’t a visit. It’s a mission. Get a cab and get to the airport. So I made another right turn down the main street of Harlem. Wazap my heavies! That’s to the dudes at the Hip Hop store. Lookin good! With the Yankee caps and hoodies. Lookin smooth bother! Hope they didn’t hear me listening to Enrique singing Hero… And why do the people give me the beady eye? What? What did I do dude? Is there something in my teeth?

Where the hell are the taxi’s? Oh wait there is one. Flagging down taxi! I am going to the airport!

He slows down as if he was ready to pick me up and then… Zoom! He hits the gas and off he goes. WTF? He didn’t have anyone in the cab! Oh well. It’s just one cab. And I still have loads of time…

Two hours later…

And I am still stuck in Harlem. Completely lost. Cabs refuse to pick me up. They slow down and then hit the gas. Some even flipped me a finger. I stopped guys at the traffic lights. But they just wave their finger at me and shake their head. Can you believe it! I stopped guys at a gas station filling up. And still nothing. They mumbled something about “Sorry sir… time… off” and other bull. I got into a taxi who dropped someone off and he turned around and his face just dropped when he saw me. Told me to get out the cab as he had some other business to do. Bloody rude cab driver! Everyone just ignored me or showed rude signs. And this went on for almost two bloody hours!

I started to panic. I am going to miss my plane back to Boston. I had just over an hour to get to the airport before my plane leaves! I gave up. I just stood on a corner seeing cabs everywhere but no one to pick me up. I just stood there. The iPod wasn’t even playing anymore. Head down. Shoulders hanging. And then the dude showed up.

“Looking for a cab?” I looked up. It was one of the hip hop guys. He was smiling. An odd smile. The smile you give to someone you want to laugh at but you know the person is really lost in so many ways. “Yeah, please”, was all I could say with a whimper. He shook his head and turned to a cabby on the other side, “Hey! Come here!” The cabby drove over and I got it. I looked at the dude that just saved me and said, “Man. Thank you so much for that. No one wanted to pick me up! You saved my life.” He just smiled, shook his head, and slapped the roof for the driver to take me.

The driver didn’t speak. I said, “LaGuardia please. My flight leaves in an hour and I still have to check in.” He just nodded. And then stopped to put some gas in. Well, after he drove on the wrong side of the road to take a shortcut to the gas station.

And he drove slower than Miss Daisy on a Sunday afternoon leisurely drive. And never spoke a word. Just looked at me every now and again with his Yankee hat on and gave me a rude stare. Like all New Yorkers did that day.

But thank God I made it in time. I got there in 30 minutes, checked in and got on the plane. I was tired from all the walking and just pulled my hat over my eyes and slept all the way to Boston. Ready to catch a cab home.

This time I didn’t have a problem. It was an easy ride home. Had a chat to the cabbie about Haiti where he is originally from. Got home and said goodbye. Walked into the house and took off my hat. Well, my hat… That’s it! My bloody hat I always wear when I travel!

My bloody Boston Red Sox hat! I had it on the whole time. The whole day. Everywhere I went in NY. The bus. The streets. Harlem. The cabbies. You name it. No wonder the Yankee loving bastards glared at me and refused to give me a lift.

Oh man. They hate the Red Sox. Especially now. They lost out to the Red Sox and didn’t make it to the playoffs. Back when they refused to give me a ride it was still a close contest. Now it’s over. We won. You’re out. You Yankee loving bastards. I got the final revenge. Go eat this Yankee! I win. You lose! Red Sox Nation 1 : 0 Yankee Losers. Revenge is sweet.

_______________________

Note: To those “Souf Efrikans” reading this. The Red Sox and Yankees is like Province vs. Blue Bulls in rugby, South Africa vs. Aussies in cricket and Chiefs vs. Pirates in soccer. I’m the Province type of guy.

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I am back. And what a ride it was. So much to say. I don’t even know where to start. 2 days in Shanghai and 4 days in Beijing. And so different from what I expected. I should have known better. Much better. The world isn’t black and white. And neither is China. But let’s start with the heading of this blog…

Please Mr China. Please unblock my blog. Yep. My blog isn’t for public consumption in China. For some or other reason you just can’t open it over there. Blocked. I hope it was just my computer. And the computer of the few people who tried to read my blog. But it seems as if the Chinese government decided that it is better that my blog be blocked in China. Come on. It isn’t that much of a blog. Pretty middle of the road if you ask me. Just a few questions and observations on life, love and the universe. No need to block it.

Okay, so I wrote a piece or two on China. And maybe they were slightly critical. Okay, maybe more than just slightly critical. Comparing China to Zimbabwe might have been over the top. At least from an Olympic perspective. And maybe I shouldn’t be so critical of tyrants and other non-democrats when I created an Oh-Limp-Pic Games to celebrate tyrants everywhere. Maybe it just wasn’t fair. But hey, life isn’t fair. Live with it.

So please unblock my blog.

Also. I have some good news to tell about China. My week there has been awesome. What an eye opener. So many stories to tell. So many things observed. Too many surprises I never expected. But let’s start with why I was there in the first place.

It was all about disasters. And specifically because of the earthquake that hit the Sichuan province in China on May 12 of this year. So far almost 70,000 lives have been taken by the disaster. And they expect it to rise to at least 80,000 by the time they close this chapter. I was asked by the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs and other partners (let’s not name any names) to speak at two conferences and chair two sessions on how to prepare for disasters and how to develop effective public-private partnerships. One was held in Shanghai and one was held in Beijing. Yes, the Angry African was invited to go there. But under my real name.

I won’t bore you with the details of the conferences and meetings. It was amazing. But I am sure you don’t come here to read about that. Let’s just say that they are way better prepared for disasters than I expected. And way better organized than what I have seen elsewhere in the world. I think I learned more from them than they from me.

Let’s also say that I really did not want to go. I tried everything to get out of it. Delayed my travel plans. Moaned and groaned. Bitched and threw my toys. I just don’t like flying anymore. I am not scared of flying. It’s just boring. I would rather spend time with my wife and kids. They are the most important things in my life and I would rather be with them 24/7. But, alas, I got the visa the day before I had to fly off so I ran out of excuses. And there I went. Flying off to China.

It didn’t start off that well though. I had to fly American Airlines. You know, I have flown some weird and wonderful airlines in my life. It comes with having flown maybe 1,000+ times in my life. I mean really, I have flown Air Cameroon and made it to my destination. Eventually. So American Airlines should be a breeze, right? Nah. They are by far the worse airline I have ever flown. Crappy planes. Crappy food. And just… crappy. I mean really. Why the hell do they block off the aisle and window seats right until they are about to take off? It meant that I had to take a middle seat because I had to fly via Chicago and couldn’t change my seat at either Logan (Boston) or even online. Jeez. So backwards. Even Air California (Mexico) had a better system in place.

And, of course, I had to be squashed seated next to a guy with the worse breath I have ever (EVER) had the pleasure to smell. Not that I wanted to smell it, but he fell asleep with his head almost on my shoulder, mouth gaping wide open and snoring away. And breathing on me. I can’t even explain how bad it was. Let’s just say that I have seen grown men cry when facing this. It is even banned in Guantanamo Bay because they believe that this kind of torture would be crossing that invisible (but smelly) line. I had to go to the toilets a few times just to get fresh air. It was not a pretty sight or smell.

And the food was crap. Of course. Imagine Chinese food made by a pissed of dude in downtown Philly. Well, I would love to have his version rather than what they gave me on the plane. Cold noodles. And warm water. And a soggy bun with plastic ham and a year-old lettuce. Let’s just say that they did not impress me with their culinary skills. I am sure the guy with the stinky breath flies American Airlines all the time or might be their official food taster.

And the “in-flight entertainment”. Mm. What entertainment. Movies and programmes to fit in with their food service I guess. College Road Trip was never funny. And neither is Definitely, Maybe. It’s not even that romantic. And Spiderwick Chroniclesis really not my cup of tea. And the music and television offered nothing better. Sad old programs to fit in with the sad old plane. My general feeling about their in-flight entertainment? Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn… I had my iPod and a few books. The books also helped block off Mr Smelly Breath.

So I wasn’t a happy camper. I didn’t want to go to China. And I didn’t want to sit in the crappy plane. But here I was. Stuck on the plane and hurtling towards Shanghai. Man. I was not into this at all.

But what a surprise when I landed. China made my crappy flight worthwhile. And that is a whole new story.

————————–

Tomorrow: To China (with love) II: Man, the Chinese are funny

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I have these pictures in my head. Pictures of people and places I have seen. It’s my memories in colour. I wish I had them in little picture boxes to share. But I don’t. I just have these pictures in my head.

Pictures of the Pink Market in Bamako, Mali. The sea of colour spread as far as the eye can see. Clothes and textiles hanging from every stall, tent and shop. Shirts of gold, blue, white – all shades and colours, more than the rainbow can give. Shirts and tunics and dresses hanging everywhere. And the women in their bright clothes and big smiles. Mulling around and laughing and talking. Neighbours during the day and friends at night.

Pictures of Soweto Market in Lusaka. Taxi’s everywhere. The minibus taxi’s. Blue and yellow or whatever spraypaint they could get their hands on. The backyard mechanics working at the stop street. Welding “new” exhaust pipes on cars still idling. And the tables with their variety of goods spread out. Fresh fruits and vegetables – oranges, carrots, potatoes, apples and everything you would want. And don’t forget the nsima and stewed beef. Or the dried Mopani worms ready for a salad – like croutons. And the men sitting in the alley’s drinking beer and talking soccer. Pictures of life and living.

Pictures of the arts and craft sellers on the side of the road on the way to Masvingo in Zimbabwe. Two or three soccer fields big. Sellers and artists a meter or two apart. Row upon row. With a government agent standing out acting as a seller. But the suit and the sunglasses give them away. They’ve  watched too many Western spy movies. But the artists sit there with a dusty backdrop and the beautiful Zimbabwe hills scattered around them. And their art. Art of wooden carved heads, soapstone mother-and-child abstracts, traditional clothes and much, much more. Just more and more – row upon row. Fields of art. And fields of people.

So many pictures. The flower sellers in Cape Town with their wide smiles and Table Mountain backdrop. Fisherman in Hout Bay coming in with their catch. Rows and rows of construction and more construction in Abuja, Nigeria. Carpets of trees as far as the eye can see when flying over the Cameroon jungle. The Danube with the spectacular Buda Castle as a backdrop in Budapest, Hungary. Lake Geneva from the window of a train. The Sun and Moon Pyramids in Mexico standing tall with cities of ancient civilizations scattered around and underground. So many pictures.

But my pictures can’t tell you of the smells, sounds and tastes that lingers in my mind.

I can hear the Cape Town flower sellers shouting funny lines to get you to buy their flowers. “Two Rand a bunch”. Or the ice-cream guy shouting, “A lolly to make you jolly, a sucker to make you wakker“. The languages going wild in Pink Market. And Spanish all around in Mexico. Not a word I understand. But it still sounds like music.

The taste of my first cheese fondue in Lausanne in Switzerland. Followed by horse steak as a main course. And chilli on everything in Mexico. And tequila to take your breath away. And having some more. My first good coffee ever in a little coffee shop in Brussels. And later having a Turkish coffee a few blocks away. And still trying to go to sleep more than ten years later.

The smell of the perfumery in Luxembourg. And dog poo in Paris. Fresh fish bought from the fisherman in Strand. Real butter on the farm in the Karoo. Manure on the farm… Afval and putu on a wonky table in Khayelitsha. Fresh baked roosterkoek on the fire at Ouma’s place.

They are all good. But my pictures don’t fade. They just get more colourful by the day. The shades of poverty around the corner disappears. The darkness of sick and hungry children fades way in the background. Every spot of bad memories grows fainter by the day. Only the colours of happiness and beauty remains. And become brighter by the day. That’s how I want my pictures to be. The good things of life and living etched in my mind. Smiling faces. Happy times.

I hope you have some pictures too.

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I am on the road for a few days. In San Francisco and beyond. It is a beautiful city. Everyone always told me that it reminds them of my hometown – Cape Town. I don’t see it. Superficially yes. The layout of the city with hills everywhere and the sea all around. And the people. The wild and open people of San Francisco. Just like Cape Town. We’re wild and open. And pretty stubborn in our belief that Cape Town is God’s gift to the world. Once you get there you will never want to move away. It gets to you in a way now other place will. Well, that’s what us Kaapies believe in any case. And too many people who went there on holiday stayed – because the city got to them. Got into their blood and into their soul. And it’s when I am on the road like this with only my thoughts and no rock (my wife and daughters) to keep me anchored that I miss my people. My people from the Cape.

There is something there that is just difficult to comprehend – it’s almost untouchable. There is something in Cape Town that makes us different. And it starts with the city itself. We have our mountain – Table Mountain. The most beautiful mountain in the world. Flat like a table. And sometimes the gods smile on us and leaves a little cloud hanging over her like a tablecloth.

As the story goes Van Hunks, a pirate in the early 18th century, retired from his eventful life at sea to live on the slopes of Devil’s Peak – next to Table Mountain. He spent his days sitting on the mountain, smoking his pipe. One day a stranger approached him, and a smoking contest ensued which lasted for days. The smoke clouds built up and a strong wind blew them down towards the town. When Van Hunks finally won the contest, the stranger revealed himself to be the Devil (hence Devil’s Peak), and the two disappeared in a puff of smoke. Legend says that the cloud of smoke they left became Table Mountain’s tablecloth – the famous white cloud that spills over the mountain when the south-easter blows in summer.

That’s our little mountain. With a tablecloth. She is our anchor. We can never get lost, because she is always there to show us the way. You can’t miss her. I was born with no sense of direction. Why? Because you don’t need one in Cape Town. You just look at the mountain and she’ll show you the way. She’s your home and we play in the backyard – never losing sight of our home. I get lost in every city I visit because of her. I walk or drive and after taking one turn I am lost. Because there is no mountain to point me in the right direction. Ask me directions anywhere outside Cape Town and I would strongly advise you to take the opposite direction I am pointing you to. Our mountain is our beacon. Without her we are lost. Without her we are not Kaapies. Just people roaming the streets in cities far away from our soul.

And then we have the sea. We wake up to the smell of the sea every day. Sweet, crisp and full of life. The smell of Cape Town. The smell of home. The sea gives us the food for our bodies and the food for our souls. We play with her and we feed from her. The little fishing boats go out every day from fishing villages like Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town. They go out. And most of the time they come back. Filled with the gifts of the sea. And you can go down to the harbor and haggle over the price of the latest catch. Oh, and if you are lucky they might have a Snoek. Our little Cape Town secret. The best fish of the sea is reserved for us down there at the bottom of Africa. But the taste of Snoek… Nothing like Snoek. I am not even going to try to explain it to you. But if you ever land up in Cape Town please ask your host for some Snoek. On an open fire. Cut open and split. And let the debate begin about what is the best way to braai your Snoek. I like it with a little bit of lemon juice squeezed by hand from a freshly cut lemon. And just a little smear of apricot jam. Yes. The sea. She gives us our food. And she feeds our souls.

But she also drives us away. We look at her and stare over the horizon and wonder what lies on the other side. Who are those people who come with their ships and never return? Who are those people who never live a life in Cape Town? She feeds us with the soul of Van Hunks. The pirate. We sit in the shadow of our mountain and wonder what lies on the other side. And we go and explore the world, but she never truly lets us go. She teases us with freedom. Knowing we can never be free from her. Like a true love we can never take our soul away from her. That always stays behind. In the shadow of the mountain and the smell of the sea. We might go somewhere else, but we never truly leave her.

But most of all – you should meet my people. Those bleddie Kaapies. They have laughter in their souls and life in their eyes. Naughty as hell 100% of the time. Always ready with a joke. Always ready for a friend. And the two goes hand in hand. They want to be your friend. And they want to hear you laugh and see you smile. Naai man, moetie fightie. You should hear them. The poetry that comes from those Kaapie mouths are just something to behold. I can hear it even though I am listening to my iPod right now. A sucke to make you wakke! (A rhyme saying “an ice-lolly to keep you awake” – doesn’t work in English.) See – I can’t write it, but I can hear it.

They are not perfect people. Oh no, they are not. But they are my people. All of them. No matter how much we try and say we are different. We always knew. We always knew that we are one. The blood that runs through our veins are from the sea and the color of our skins are given by the mountain – sometimes shady and sometimes sunny. My people.

They are an irritating bunch. Those Kaapies. They won’t leave you alone. They want to be with you. If you are alone in a bar. Not for long. They will come and sit with you. And talk with you. And poke fun at you. And ruffle your hair. And joke and laugh. And share a beer or a dance. And invite you to their homes. And share their last meals with you. And share their lives with you. And in the morning. In the morning they will phone you and ask you what are your plans for the day. Because if you don’t have any… Then they have plans for you. Yes. They are an irritating bunch those Kaapies. Irritating if you want to be alone and sad. Because they won’t let you be alone or sad. No. You are there to be happy – and they will make damn sure you are. And happiness is a bunch of Kaapies hanging out and having a laugh in the shadow of our mountain and on the beaches at the sea.

I close my eyes and I can hear their voices. There are the flower sellers making up songs – “Two Rend a bunch“. Here are two people play fighting – “Djy, ek slat djou met a pap slang ne“. Another one over there bragging about the fish he caught – “Ek se vi djou. Hy was ne su lank soos Kobus Wiese“. Yes. My people. They make music with those voices and those words. I can hear them in my soul. Those bleddie Kaapies. They don’t leave me alone. They are me. And I am them. They are in my blood. And in my heart. They are my people and I miss them and love them.

Tonight, my friends. I have the Frisco blues.

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It irritates the living hell out of me when politicians (or anyone for that matter) uses the “I have been there” line. You know, that line when a country comes up in a conversation and they say “I have been there”. I was listening Bill Maher (yeah, yeah) on my iPod when some or other politician was using this argument that things are soooo much better in Iraq. You know – he’s “been there”. Like he knows something we don’t know. Sorry buddy. You haven’t been there. Going on an escorted trip to some holiday camp isn’t “been there”. It’s just a package deal holiday trip. It’s buying that Disney trip off the travel agent. Not planning your own trip to Florida. Disney isn’t Florida. You haven’t been to Florida just because you have been to Disney World. Mickey Mouse isn’t Governor Charlie Crist – and Goofy isn’t Jeb Bush either. They just act like them. I know – it’s a shocker. But that’s the truth.

Dick Cheney has been to Iraq. Hillary has been all over the place. All escorted trips. Talking to people and seeing people that other people controlled. Not a moment of meeting the people in the streets. No. They met the people those in power wanted them to meet. Those “good little soldiers”. Those on the side of the winners or warlords or occupiers – not those who suffer in their homes without water or electricity or food or jobs. Or walls for that matter. Those have been bombed as well. So what you have are just very big windows as the Republicans would like you to believe. You see what they want you to see. And not what you should see. You don’t see the families caring for the wounded ones or crying for the lost ones.

It brings me to McCain. (No, I am still not writing about the election – just the topic of “I have been there”). McCain went to Iraq last week. Made a few “misspokes” by confusing a few issues. Wouldn’t you with Lieberman standing next to you? You just don’t know which way Lieberman might go – Independent today, Republican tomorrow, Democrat yesterday. Anyway – I digress. Again. So McCain went to the marketplace. Bought a few goods there I hope. You know. A bucket of water (just a few minor shrapnel holes in it). Some oil (imported from Saudi Arabia because you can’t find Iraqi oil). An AK47 (seen some action). But no food and no freedom fries. But why didn’t he go to the market he went to the last time? Because it wasn’t safe. Not even with those Blackwater guards, marines, armoured vehicles and helicopters. He hasn’t “been there”. He could only say “I haven’t been there”.

They don’t know those places. They don’t live in those places. They fly in and they fly out. Just so they can say “I have been there”. Just so they can spin it in a way that you like it – with a bit of cream on top thank you. It makes it soooo much easier to swallow. It’s just the way I used to feed my dog his medicine – hide it in a piece of ham. But even my dog got it in the end. He started spitting out the pills (but still ate the ham). Americans aren’t stupid. No. Let me rephrase that. Americans aren’t dumb for long. You start smelling something rotten and starts spitting out the pill of stupidity. And the approval rating of those “who have been there” starts dropping faster than the bombs in Iraq. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time…

“I have been there”. I should be a politician really. No – I should be the ruler of the world by now. Hear me people of the world – your leader is here. The wait is over. Get the roses and the wine ready, because here I come. The people of Cameroon – I am your main-man. I have been there once. For almost a day. A stopover on my flight to Bamako, Mali. Actually, I have been there twice – on my return flight as well. I am the most knowledgeable foreign policy person I know. Why? Because “I have been there”. Zambia – vote me in. I spend time in Lusaka – many times. “I have been there”. I’ve eaten your nsima and drank your Mosi. Ivory Coast – your saviour and warlord is here. “I have been there”. Twice. Stuck at the airport.  Hungary – anoint me in the Danube. “I have been there”. For 3 long days in a luxury hotel that included a massage from a big hairy Hungarian – male. Mexico – ola, make me your main revolutionary piñata. “I have been there”. Mexico City, Chihuahua, Monterrey and many Tequila’s. France – c‘est la vie, your monsieur of la resistance has arrived. “I have been there”. Four long days in Paris – baguettes, wine, cheese, insults and all. Germany – your über prince of the united country is here. “I have been there”. In Trier to shop for toys, in Berlin to do nothing really, and in Nuremberg for a job interview. “I have been there”. I have been everywhere. Almost. Never mind South Africa where I was born and raised. Or the UK where I spend four long years watching footie, drinking pints and eating crap “fish and chips” like a real Englishman. Or the US where I have lived for the last 18 months shouting for the Red Sox and hating the Yankees like all good Americans should. Yes, I have been there. But I know nothing. Because I don’t live their lives. I am just a guy from South Africa. An Umlungu who knows too little and says too much.

Really, if “I have been there” qualifies you as a foreign policy expert then every pilot on the Delta international route is Boutros Boutros-Ghali. And sorry my friend, you ain’t from Egypt or his world. I sometimes even doubt if you are even from this world. Even if you “have been there”. You still haven’t “been there” or “got it”.

So. Stop it please. Stop trying to sound all travelled and wise because you “have been there”. You haven’t. You haven’t even “been there” when it comes to the US. You can’t use a daft and brainless line just to justify and spin your stupid, warped and pathetic policies. It isn’t an answer. It isn’t an analysis. It isn’t even SNL or Real Time. It’s just you being stupid. Like my dog was in the beginning. But even he got over it. He roams and knows his territory. He even marks it by lifting his leg on everything. Instead of telling me “I have been there”, tell me how you are going to “be here”. Just don’t leave a mark like my dog. Just don’t take the piss.

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A was talking to a friend of mine this morning about a book she was reading – What is the What by Dave Eggers. It’s all about the journey of a Sudanese refugee fleeing the war and ending up living in America. In all honesty, it is not my kind of book. It’s too tough to read. Too much suffering for me to handle. I am a coward in that way. It will drive me crazy if I know anything more than what I already know. I am too consumed by it and it will take over my life more than what it has already. But that’s not the point of this blog.

She was telling me this story of how this young guy walked from Sudan to safety. And it took him a bit longer because he had to do it without a GPS system. Surprisingly enough GPS systems do not come standard with your refugee vehicle – your feet. But he made it to safety eventually. And he landed up in the US – safety at last. Or was it?

He managed to find a place to stay in the US – Atlanta. Not a posh area – just your run of the mill tough US district. But he had a home. And he was sure he was safer in this “mildly” tough area compared to Sudan. And then, one night, he heard banging on his door. And with it came a shout for help. It was a female voice crying out for him to please open the door and help her. Of course he was going to help her. I mean really – he was alive because there were people out there who helped him. And he owed society at least a little bit of humanity to help when others are in need. So he opened the door to help. And hell came with it.

He was robbed. And then he was beaten and held captive in his Atlanta apartment. Welcome to the world. Welcome to the world where you are never safe. But this isn’t about his story. This isn’t about finding a place where one can just have an opportunity to make your own way. That’s what the book is for – feel free to go and read it. This is about the difference between knowing your enemies in Africa and not knowing in America. This is about how a different culture makes it more difficult to survive in a safe place than in a place of war and genocide.

You see, the problem is that in Africa you can see your enemy. You can see those who want to hurt you or kill you. It is in their eyes. It is in their voices. It is in their faces. It is in the panga in their hands. You see it straight away. The hatred is there for you to see and for you to run away from. They don’t try and be your friend first. They don’t try to make as if they need something from you. No. They come for you and you flee or you die. No hidden agenda. Just hate and murder. And you see it from a mile away.

But in the US, and most “western” countries, those who want to kill you will hide behind a veneer of decency. They will try to be your friend or try to get you to relax by “selling” you a story. “Help! Please help me!” And you open the door and they come for you. But by then it is too late. And the hate is hidden as well. Even when they rob you and beat you up you don’t always see the hate in their eyes or hear the hatred in their voices. No. Many times you will hear laughter in their voice as they beat you up and kick you and spit on you. Or call you names.

I am not saying that the one is right and the other one is wrong. All I am saying is that hate comes in different forms. For us from Africa we can see it immediately. And we can run. We can survive on gut instinct because it is easy to read the other person like an open book. But it makes it so much more difficult when you are then transplanted into a new country. Where the hatred is hidden. And the intent is hidden. You will get beaten up because your gut is so out of tune.

Maybe it is because Africans are so “honest” to the bone. We hate you? No problem. We’ll show you we hate you. We’ll beat you up or kill you. No problem. We like you? No problem. We’ll show you we like you. We’ll invite you into our homes and share a few beers and laughter. No problem. In Africa you know when you are in sh*t and you get that chance to run because you can see it coming from miles away.

But it is also the reason why we are so easy to get along with. Love comes just as easily as hatred. We love you or we hate you. No problem. We will give you everything and trust you completely when we love you. And we love more than we hate – no matter how much you see the bad side of the story. You need 10% of a population to live in hate to cause anarchy and genocide for the other 90%. But what you see is what you get.

When I first started traveling across the world I had a problem in countries outside of Africa. I never felt safe in NY, London, Paris or anywhere. Give me the streets of Lusaka, Bamako, Johannesburg or any African city any time. Okay, maybe not Johannesburg. But you know what I mean. I feel safer in the streets of Africa than in the West. I just knew how to fit in when I get to the African destinations. It is in my blood and I can subconsciously make an assessment about my safety. Never had to think about it. I just got into the city and knew whether I was safe or not. I felt safe in Nigeria and Zimbabwe. Because I just felt safe. Can’t explain it. But not outside Africa. I couldn’t read these new places. It wasn’t in my DNA. It isn’t that bad anymore. I have been living in the UK and now the US for almost 6 years. And I have a better “feel” of where I am than before. But I still “relax” more when I feel the African soil under my feet.

This principle goes for doing business in Africa too. In Africa you will never be taken for a ride if you know how to see the person on the other side. We know when they are trying to take us for a ride. And they know we know as well. Why do you think they are so open about that “facilitation fee” at immigration in so many African countries? Because it is no secret that they take money from people. So why keep it a “secret” when everyone knows? Even our corruption is open and transparent!

But in a good business deal everything evolves around the shake of a hand and a look in the eye. If someone gives you their word and look you in the eye you are halfway there. What you should do to make it impossible for them to take you for a ride is meet their family, share a beer and a meal, and tell them about your family and life. Now they know you. And if they shake your hand and look you in the eyes and tell you that you have a deal they mean it. You have a deal and they will do everything to make that deal stand. (Of course you still have to overcome the principle of “African time”. But that is for another day).

In short. Business is done on the word between people. My word is worth more than anything else you can offer. If I give you my word I can do nothing but stick to that word. Yes, there is honor amongst thieves in this way. Tomorrow I might rip someone else off because I never gave them my word. But it is a new day and a new person. It has no relation to the deal between us today. See – even hypocrisy has a different meaning in Africa…

But if you do business in the US you expect a different set of business rules. Get that contract signed and read the fine print. That’s the deal between people. Not your spoken word. But your written words. And signature. Nothing wrong with that – this isn’t a judgement. It’s just a different way of doing business.

But in Africa that contract will mean nothing. It is just a piece of paper with a few (or many) words on it that I don’t even understand. It is legal talk – just another way of saying I nailed you on paper. But that piece of paper is useless if you didn’t first got to know the person signing the contract. You still have to meet the family, have a few beers and a meal, and shake their hand and look them in the eyes. If you haven’t? Then go and use that piece of paper in the more traditional way behind the bush over there.

As I said, this isn’t a judgement call on either of these cultures. It’s just a reminder that we are wired differently. We carry our emotions on our sleeves a  bit more. Maybe because we don’t have too many options. Because just as easily as what we can read other people – they can read us. They know us within a second. And they know whether they need to run or hug. With me? I live on two principles. One, I am a hugger and a lover not a fighter. Two, it is difficult to hit me on the nose if I run away with my back turned towards you.

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And now some Wimbledon tennis live from Lagos“. Sounds pretty stupid, doesn’t it? Wimbledon is pretty English wouldn’t you agree old chap? Strawberry’s and cream and what not. Maybe some tea and cucumber sandwiches to go with the afternoon game. Wimbledon is Wimbledon. Should be and would be held in and at Wimbledon every year. Wouldn’t think of moving that to Lagos or Johannesburg now would you? So why the hell would you move the Dakar Rally to South America?

Dakar. Good old Dakar. According to Wikipedia, Dakar is the capital of Senegal. I hope I didn’t really have to remind you of that. But just in case. And the Dakar Rally is a rally that ends in Dakar. It got its bloody name from Dakar, Senegal (in Africa). Come on guys, I feel stupid even writing this.

(Yes, it did stop in Egypt twice and Cape Town once, but they called it the Paris to Cape Town when they did the Cape Town thing. And okay, they once ended in Paris, but only after they went through Dakar.)

This isn’t the same as the English Premier League playing a few games outside England – although that is pretty stupid as well. The Dakar Rally has always been proud of their commitment to Africa. They even included it in their values. It is a central part of their values. They mention Africa in their values more than 10 times! They talk about how the Dakar Rally should excite Africa and respect African people. And that the Dakar Rally plays such an important role in boosting Africa’s image. Wow, they must be committed to Africa. Imagine the damage to our image if they decided to hold it in another country. No, they won’t do that. They know how bad it would be and they love us too much to do something like that.

They write about it as if they truly believe in this relationship between Africa and Europe. That Africa is in their bones and in their blood. They say that “the 28-year old relationship between Dakar and Africa has now matured. It has blossomed from a friendship into an alliance between two adults who have decided to share in the work as well as the celebration“. Isn’t that nice words? Isn’t that nice, empty words? Looks like the engagement is off.

The first sign of trouble and they run to the hills. Trouble in Dakar? No. Trouble on the route along the way. But this is a weak excuse. The route has always changed to adapt to threats and developments. It’s just the ending that stayed the same -DAKAR!

They should just take their rally and shove it where the sun don’t shine. They can have their rally. We just shook our heads when they drove past in any case. These crazy umlungu’s and their crazy cars. But you can’t have the name. Oh no. You want the rally? Then fine. Have it. But you can’t call it the Dakar Rally if you don’t have it end in Dakar. That’s ours baby. We had Dakar before you had rally. Call it the Chile Rally if you want (that’s where it will end in 2009). People won’t know whether it is the race to the loo after some strong, hot food or a reference to the reception you’ll get in Africa next time around, but see if I care. Call it the Not-So-Dakar Rally. But just don’t take our name with you. You have stolen enough over the last few hundred years. It’s ours. Dakar is ours. Or at least until the WTO tells us otherwise. Then we’ll rally in Dakar.

This is so stupid, I don’t even know how to end this blog.

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