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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What is it with these people? What is it about immigrants that gets people so worked up. There is always someone they need to hide from or get away from. No matter where you go in this world – there is always some immigrant group in a country that is seen as worse than the “original” colonialists… sorry, I mean inhabitants. Yes, every single country I have been to have some group that they look down at and want to get out of “their” country.

Let’s start with South Africa – my home (when I am not working and living in other countries…). It is well documented that South Africans are the most peace loving people in the world. Never had any problems in our history. Just a good old bunch of farmers sweating away in the field and herding our cattle – and hiding from the lions. Just peace and love in our history, right? Not true. As you might know, we’ve had our fair share of problems in the past. Hell, Apartheid was all about immigrants. White (Afrikaner) South Africans saying that this is their place. That they where here first and that they don’t want the black “immigrants” to come and live in their country. And black South Africans arguing that they were here first and did not want the colonialists (immigrants) in their country either. Both stood a better chance of winning the popular vote today because of the rising immigrant debate globally. But both are so bloody wrong. Neither of them where “here” first. That goes to the Khoikhoi (and Khoisan). So neither group actually “owned” South Africa. The one moved in from the north and the other from the South. And the poor Khoikhoi got caught up in the middle – squeezed by both sides and moved on to more arid lands (or stayed and mingled). Of course there are two groups black and white (Afrikaner) South African really don’t like – Nigerians and the English. The English? Well because they are the original colonialist (okay, I know the Dutch landed first, but you know what I mean). And because they are still here talking in their fancy ways and living in the big houses up the hill. You know, generally just looking down at us “locals”. The Nigerians are disliked because they are all seen as drug dealing pimps and scam artists roaming the backstreets and stealing our money. Yes, we in South Africa have our problems with immigrants – you see, it is never our fault. Always the fault of others – the English and the Nigerians. Racism? Of course not. We in South Africa would never do something like that after our own experiences under Apartheid. That would be double standards right?

We should go to China to learn about living in harmony with each other. China doesn’t have a racism problem. You see, according to a study in China “there is no racism in China because there are no black people…” Hum. Yes. The less said the better.

It is a problem in Japan though. Japan is increasingly racist and anti immigrants. It is unheard of for a non-Japanese person to go to the Japanese baths. Why? Because it is apparently a culture clash. But it is not just Westerners that are treated with disrespect. No. Special treatment for those from Korea and China. The anti-immigrant feelings in Japan has always been high. Westerners got off easy as they are not seen as people who will stay long – and there is some notion that these Westerners are well off. But the Chinese and Koreans – now they are bad. They want to take Japanese jobs, stay long and settle, and slowly but surely smother Japanese culture – i.e. take over Japan by stealth. The UN has long warned about deep seated racism in Japan. So don’t think that the Japanese live some wholesome lives – drinking sake and eating sushi. No. The racism of immigrate haters are alive and well over there as well.

And in Eastern Europe? I made a trip to Hungary a few years ago. And guess what. They have their targeted groups as well. Over there it is the Gypsy – or the Romani to be more politically correct. They are spat at and generally looked down at – a universal view of immigrants. They live on their own and do the worse jobs possible. The work no one else wants to do – another universal immigrant tendency. And Kosovo? Without getting into a political debate on whether it is right or wrong for them to declare independence – the “Gypsy” moved into this land while the Serbs lived there. But the treatment of the Gypsy (previously believed to also be Roma) resulted in more conflict and resentment. And we know what happened there.

The immigration debate has come a long way in the UK. Right wing parties like the UK Independence Party and British National Party has long flourished moaning and bitching about immigrants. And now they have even more to target. With the enlargement of the EU more Eastern Europeans have moved to the UK to find work. Yes. They do the worse jobs available – like all immigrants. Those jobs that the British feel they are too good to do. The hard labor and long hours. Because they don’t have that social safety net that the government provides for the “natural” inhabitants. As if a Brit will take on one of those jobs! No. They are too happy to live on the dole and go to the pub each night. Served by a Polak working on below minimum wage. Or a Pakistani working in the chippy where the Brits get their late night snack. No Brit would do work like that.

But it is time to strike back. What the UK did now is make it even more difficult for immigrants to get in. And the immigrants have had enough of this blatant racism. A few of them are taking the Brits to court. Okay, they are a privileged few immigrant. But they have had enough. Enough of the racism that the English call immigration control.

And now we get to the US. Here the immigration “issue” is a central debate in the elections. Especially immigration from Mexicans – or Hispanics to be exact. It makes little sense to me. Those Americans complaining aren’t Levi 501’s by any stretch of the imagination. They are not original. They came here from elsewhere and are a country of proud American immigrants. I find the fact that Americans can be immensely proud of being American and their original roots unbelievable uplifting. African American or Italian American. It doesn’t matter – you have roots but your soul belongs to America. So why the hatred towards people who did what your father and grandfather did?

Maybe they are scared that these immigrants will do what they did to the original inhabitants – kill them. Yes. That was the traditional way that immigrants dealt with the locals many years ago. Just kills them and put the few that survive in camps they can call their own. The US did it. Australia did it. And South Africa tried it (although oddly enough not with the “real” locals the Khoikhoi). Don’t worry – they won’t do anything to you. We have grown up a bit since you did that. Just don’t be so shit scared of them the whole time. Show them the good time they can have with you as long as they respect the basic rules of engagement in your country.

But there is an even deeper racism in the immigration laws – especially in the UK. You see, it is easy for those from Europe and other rich developed countries to get into the UK. But not for those from Africa. No. We need special visas to prove how we deserve to get in. Not needed for the rich white guy from the US. But you from Uganda? Try again buddy. That’s my real beef with their approach to immigration. They even discriminate against immigrants from different countries differently – I call it deepened and entrenched racism. It was okay to travel to the UK under Apartheid – just flash that passport and your up and away. It was mostly white guys who traveled thanks to the control by the white government over who could travel (white) and who could not (black). Now? Oh, now we have a black government so the UK brings in new laws to make it tougher to get in. Jeez guys, can’t you even attempt a bit harder to hide your racist behavior a bit better. And we thought you were happy Apartheid was over. Thanks for showing how much you really like the new South Africa.

No wait. I should shut up right now. You see there is an advantage to being a non-Hispanic in the US. I am treated like royalty. It’s the accent you see. They think I am “exotic” and full of wisdom. Not really. I am not even an immigrant – just visiting before I invade my next country.

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I had the most amazing, and unbelievable, airline adventure in 2002 – all thanks to Air Cameroon. I couldn’t make this up even if I tried. And it all started when I got a call from a few African NGO colleagues asking whether I would attend the UN Africa Regional Conference on the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Bamako, Mali (what a stupid, boring line to include in this story. But hey, read on – it gets better. I promise). The request to go to Bamako came from the African Caucus – an informal alliance of African NGO’s workers. We linked up at the prep meetings for the UN Conference on Financing for Development (UN FfD) – and was formally represented at the Monterrey Conference. It was not only an honor, but I was excited about my first trip to Mali – and it wasn’t going to be in Timbuktu (you knew that was in Mali, right?) But first I had some travel plans to arrange.

I phoned around and everyone else was going to fly Air France – via Jo’burg to Paris to Bamako. That sounded odd. Why fly all the way to Europe to get to Mali? My travel agent also recommended this, but I insisted on her finding a more direct way there. The alternative she came up with? Air Cameroon. Hey, that sounded excellent – I am in Africa and should fly with an African airline. I booked my place and was ready to go.

I flew from Cape Town to Jo’burg to catch my connecting flight to Douala (Cameroon), and from there onwards to Bamako. Two stops and I am there. I was going to have fun with the other guys who flew Air France. They were going to leave after me so I will be there in time to have some cold beers ready by the time they got to the hotel.

I landed in Jo’burg and checked in for my flight to Douala – I got a nice window seat. Thought it was odd that the flight only left at 2 am, but that was fine. The last flight before this was at about 11 and the next one out at 6, but it gave me some time to first buy a few things (biltong, for one) for the flight. I did my shopping and grabbed something to eat. Everything shut down at about 11 and I hung around and walked from one area to the next. Also found it odd that I saw hardly anyone else hanging around. And then I looked at the boarding notice – my flight now only leaves at 5 am. Oh man, I had to hang out at a dead airport for another few hours. And nothing is open. So I ate my biltong, drank a few cokes from the vending machine, and smoked as if I was about to give up the next day (that took a few more years).

At last my flight was ready to board. One would have thought that we would get a good gate – especially with no other flights taking off at that time of the night/morning. But no, we got a gate stuck somewhere in a corner. After another slight delay we got onto the bus taking us to the plane – I was surprised to see no one being slightly pissed off about the delay in the flight. But that is the African way – we take things in our stride. No reason to lose your temper over something you can’t control – war, corruption or delayed planes, it makes no difference to us having to live our lives anyway.

I was ready to sit down in my comfortable seat and catch up on some sleep. I was to scared to sleep at the airport – what if I missed my flight? Air Cameroon doesn’t fly until he next day again. But, as I was about to take my seat, the air hostess came over to say that I can’t sit in this (my) seat. They had to keep that section open to balance the plane! ‘But I had this seat allocated on my ticket! Where do I go now?’, I responded. ‘You can sit anywhere you like, sir. We don’t hold people to their seat allocations’, she said. Okay…

I got a seat and settled in for some sleep. I am like Pavlov’s dog when it comes to planes and sleep – I fall asleep the minute I feel the vibrations of the engine. I woke up as we hit the tarmac. Douala, at last. But oddly enough no one else got ready to leave. I got up, got my stuff and started to go to the exit. But Ms air hostess stopped me with a ‘where do you think you’re going, sir?’ ‘Douala, of course’. The response – ‘we’re not in Douala, we’re in Kinshasa’. What the hell? After a few exchanges of views and news, I was informed that they had people who wanted to get on the plane in Kinshasa and a few people that wanted to get off in Kinshasa. And this is just part of their service to their clients – we stop where you want us to stop. A bit like most African taxi’s – the Toyota Hiace type.

Now I was starting to get worried. What about my connecting flight from Douala? I called the air host (by now I was too scared of the air hostess) and asked if there is a way to let Douala know that we are going to be late – we already got delayed in Jo’burg. He looked at me and smiled, ‘no problem, sir. We use the same plane’. Air Cameroon only had 3 working planes at that stage…

Many hours later we arrived at Douala. It looked unbelievably modern from about 10,000 feet. Extracting gates and all. Way ahead of Cape Town and Jo’burg back then. But the closer we got the clearer the detail. None of the extracting gates worked. Half stood rusting away and the other half just sat there with their missing wheels and windows. And the tarmac didn’t look that smooth either.

But we landed safely and got out quickly. Man, it was hot. I have never been in more humid and hot conditions in my life. Couldn’t wait to get into the airport to the cool crisp air conditioning. Hum, this didn’t work either. Nada, nothing, zilch, zero worked. But at least our flight got delayed. Again. But they gave us some crap coffee and bread to keep us quiet. As if I was going to argue with a guy standing a few meters away – in full army gear and an AK47 in his hands. Nope, I was as happy as a clam to keep my mouth shut and go with the flow.

We did eventually board our plane, and I got a seat – any seat – and settled in for the last trip to Bamako. And again I fell asleep. And again I woke up as we hit the tarmac. And again I got up to leave. And again the air hostess stopped me (the same one from earlier). And again I was told that we are not in the city that was indicated on my ticket. No this time they stopped in Abuja as part of their commitment to client needs. And then we stopped in Abidjan. And then we stopped in Dakar. And then we stopped in Bamako – many, many hours later than indicated on my itinerary.

The meeting in Bamako (and Bamako itself) is for another day. But the return flight was more or less the same as getting there. Same detours, same air hostess and same seating arrangements. Except for two things.

As always, I went to the airline a day before I was to leave Bamako – just to confirm my flight. As expected, they weren’t open as indicated in the hotel brochure. I hung around for a few hours until they opened. I confirmed my flight leaves at 8 am. They said no. I confirmed that it was to be tomorrow. They said no. Apparently, the flight will leave sometime the day after tomorrow – but not sure what time. Still trying to fill the plane. I gave up. I didn’t even bother to ask what I should do. I just turned around and started walking. The person behind the counter shouted for me to call them early on the day of departure. I just nodded my head, waved my hand, lit another smoke, and kept on walking.

We did eventually depart – and got to Douala after our detours. The air hostess told us that the plane will leave again at 7 (it was now 5 am). I laughed and jokingly asked whether that was 7 am or 7 pm. She looked at me and with a serious face said she will check. Of course it was 7 pm…

I had to call South African Airways in Jo’burg to say that I will miss my flight, but this was before I had a mobile phone that could work anywhere. And no phones at the departure gates either. And I had to pay $10 just to get out to the public side. Like hell I was going to do this. I got out my UN Conference badge and swung it around with the blank side showing. Found my way through some back corridors and found a door leading to the outside. But there was some seriously armed security guards hanging out there. I just kept on walking as if I belonged and with a ‘bonjour’ here and a nod there I got through to the other side. No luck in finding a phone either – there weren’t any working phones. But Africa saved me again – as always. Someone overheard me asking for a phone and came over and offered me their mobile phone. I made my call and offered to pay – but he refused. He even bought me a beer. Very, very typical of my experiences in Africa. Someone somewhere always comes along to help me out or just share a beer – here I got both at the same time.

I was offered more crap coffee and bread – back in the departure lounge. But by now I was dying of the heat and humidity. I found my way up to the roof with a few beers and two friends. That lasted all of 10 minutes before armed security came to remove us. Apparently we weren’t allowed up there. Off I went in search for an air conditioned office. I couldn’t find anything. But I did find an air conditioned computer room. And I stayed there for the rest of the afternoon until we left. Yes, I was asked to leave a few times, but I didn’t understand any language they spoke at that stage – neither French or English. Nada, nothing, zilch, zero.

I got home and after a few years started sleeping without waking up screaming and sweating. And managed to laugh about it after years of serious counseling.

And those guys who left on Air France? They left after me, but got to Bamako a day before me. But I had it lucky. A few of them was booked on Air Cape Verde for their return flight. Guess what. There was no Air Cape Verde.

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