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|Saturday, May 16th, 2015|
|Wednesday, January 25th, 2017|
“There have been several officer-involved shooting incidents in the Los Angeles area in the early hours of this morning, though Police Chief Charlie Beck has issued a statement assuring us that the situations were unrelated and should not be cause for alarm” [click]
“…and reportedly a fourth incident in Lakewood” [click]
“…clearly the police are out of control Tom, I think there’s more to the story of this morning’s shootings, and I’m demanding answers…” [click] why is it always talk radio in the mornings?? David wonders. It’s something he had often wondered. The drive to work would be much more peaceful with some good music, rather than jarring banter about the news or latest entertainment gossip.
He turns off the radio and suffers through the morning rush-hour traffic in silence. It’s going to be another one of those days, he thinks to himself as he finally pulls into the parking structure at work. He walks briskly into the building, emerges from the elevator and enters the offices of the law firm at five to nine. Alyssa, the office manager, pointedly looks at her watch as he walks past. Another day in paradise, he says to himself.
Ten A.M. at the coffee stand downstairs, the news is on: “…several more shootings reported this morning. This is a bit unusual, even for Los Angeles, here’s what people are saying on twitter…”
“…well John, I do think there’s something going on here, I’m thinking it might be al-qaeda, or maybe the drug cartels are going to war in LA…”
It's a bit odd but David doesn't dwell on it, street violence certainly wouldn't be permitted to spill over into the nicer parts of town.
Around 11:00 David has sorted and delivered the mail, made all requested copies (and collated and sorted, and thought I spent four years in college to do THIS a dozen times), refiled all case files and loose documents that the lawyers are done looking at. He’s swept the floor and collected all the random paperclips. He’s even lined up the pens so they’re all lined up in a row on the table. He sits down to try to think of something else to do, and at that moment Alyssa walks in. She’d be attractive if she weren’t such a bitch – She’s only a few years older than David. Blonde hair in a ponytail, cute black collared shirt and knee-length pin-stripe skirt. With only a brief disapproving glance at David she steams out again.
Though she’s no longer in the room David jumps up and paces around looking for something to busy himself with. Minutes later he receives a call from the temp staffing agency whom he technically works for,
“Is everything alright, David?”
“Uh, yeah, why?
”Well, we just received a call from the office manager over there, she said you didn’t seem to be working very hard…”
As the day goes on, the support staff are increasingly speculating about just what IS going on out there. – the lawyers themselves seem oblivious, all too drowned in the pursuit of “billable hours” to notice. While delivering and collecting things from secretaries’ desks, David notes that many of them have the news up on their computer monitors. It’s peculiar news, but it doesn’t make the day go any faster. If anything it makes the day seem even slower, as David becomes impatient to go on lunch and have an opportunity to catch an uninterrupted news report. The clock slowly ticks around to noon.
Finally it’s twelve and David rushes off downstairs and across the street to the food court. As he wolfs down his thai food he catches snippets from the television despite the crowd around it – “…eyewitnesses report ‘dozens and dozens’ of shots fired…” “…the police department is still saying that there’s no reason to panic, though they have added that people should not travel unnecessarily in Los Angeles today.” “…here’s an interesting new report John, we’re getting reports now of CDC vans – that’s Center for Disease Control – near some of the accident sites.”
An eyewitness describes how one of the shooting victims was "acting crazy" and kept coming at the cops despite being shot "dozens of times." the news anchors speculate it might be some new drug. Just before the end of lunch there's actually footage from a news helicoptor of someone (their face blurred) walking lurchingly down a street as people run away. A police car peels in and the officer is seen shouting from behind his door, two more squad cars swoop in beside him and the blurred figure starts towards them. You see muzzle flashes from the police's hand guns and the figure doesn't seem to hesitate. The police pour a continuous fusilade of fire on the figure, and though the news has blurred out a wide area around them you can tell there are clouds of blood being knocked off. Finally the figure stumbles to the ground but still appears to be moving. The channel cuts to the anchors again, who seem visibly shaken, at a loss for words for a moment before desperately launching into inane babble.
David returned to work a bit shaken himself. This was no longer and odd distraction on the news, this was becoming quite concerning. Office staff no longer tried to hide that there were more interested in listening to the news than doing work. A senior lawyer came out and yelled at everyone for not working. David noticed the offices of the firm's partner's were empty. Soon it was in the news that the national guard had been called out, and as columns of humvees moving down the streets were shown on the new, one by one empty chairs started appearing behind desks as secretaries came up with excuses to go home to their families or just plain left.
By three most of the support staff had disappeared. Unfortunately since David’s immediate supervisor was Alyssa, he knew he was unlikely to get permission to leave early. Finally around three thirty, with nearly no support staff remaining, David was walking past with a box of files when Alyssa emerged from her office looking flustered and distracted.
“Hey, um, everyone’s going home early today. You can, um, clock out and go home” she said as she locked her office door. David straightened out his work area, grabbed his coffee travel mug, and was out the door. None of the lawyers had moved.
Overhead dark clouds scudded across the sky on September winds as David entered the parking garage. As he exited, he called his mother and sister, and found out they were home already. He called his girlfriend but she didn’t pick up.
Unfortunately the drive home was along the 91 freeway, just south of Los Angeles county and jam packed with traffic out of LA on the best of days, and on this day it was barely crawling. David sat in the mired traffic and listened to the radio, no longer noticing that no stations were playing music.
“we’re here in the Channel 7 newscopter over Crenshaw Boulevard and it looks like there’s a general disturbance down there, lots of people running around…” came in amid the background beat of helicopter blades “…there appear to be several people covered in blood and, oh god, one of them has just tackled a woman and … we’ve got her zoomed in on the camera here and she’s struggling, and, I can’t tell but it looks almost like he’s biting her. And now she’s not moving and he’s running again. He’s come up on the cars backed up at the freeway onramp now Ron. He’s trying to pull the driver out of this car it looks like. And someone else just grabbed him from behind to pull him off. Okay now there’s two men trying to hold the crazy one down, he’s gotta be on drugs or something Ron he’s giving them one hell of a time … oh it looks like the woman he attacked earlier is okay, some neighbours are tending to her and it looks like she’s getting up now and… oh my god she just lashed out at them, I don’t believe this Ron. Now they’re running away. She’s running toward the onramp and … okay now people are getting out of their cars and running up the onramp to get away. The men who were trying to subdue the first man are running up the onramp as well, they appear to be bleeding and the first man doesn’t seem to have been slowed down. I don’t believe this Ron, this is madness.”
David eyed the bumper-to-bumper traffic around him nervously. It was essentially not moving. The people in the other cars were looking around nervously themselves, no doubt listening to the same reports, and having the same thoughts.
“…there’s a veritable stampede down the highway now, Ron, cars can’t move and people are getting out and running—“
“—where are the police Jerry can you see any police there?”
“Yes the police have arrived at the base of the intersection but, I think the situation is just getting out of control here Ron, the police are spread too thin. This immediate situation here would take a number of cars to secure the area but, you know, there’s still ongoing situations throughout the city”
“What about the national guard, have you seen any of them yet?”
“No Ron, they just got called in an hour or so ago so they’re not suited up and out on the streets yet. Also, Ron, in this case right here the police car can’t drive up the onramp past the abandoned cars either”
David nervously tapped his fingers on the wheel, and felt sweat trickle down his back despite the car being well-cooled by the AC. He tried calling his girlfriend again but the network was busy.
“Ron, we’re watching a police officer engage one of these … people. It looks like he just emptied his pistol’s magazine into the man and he’s still coming. Now he’s using the tazer and the crazy is down …. And he’s back up as if nothing happened. Officer is backpedalling quickly. Two more squad cars just got here. Many many shots fired. If you’re broadcasting the live feed from the camera, I’m sorry you’re probably having to blur out a lot of blood. I can’t believe this though. Okay it looks like the man is down.”
David noticed several cars pulling onto the highway shoulder to try to get ahead, but within minutes that avenue was completely clogged as well. A few motorcycles weaved through the stopped cars. One motorcyclist even looked like he was bleeding on the arm.
“Oh we’ve got a bad looking situation here Ron, people are stampeding on the 5 north from just north of downtown, and I'm assuming it's the same south of the city, this can’t end well. As you know the highway is raised above the street level here and you can’t easily get off where there isn’t an offramp. I don’t know how this is going to end, there’s people chasing the crowds from both sides. And it looks like a number of elderly or otherwise, a number of people haven’t gotten away in time all along the way and have been attacked. On the city streets the police are forming cordons around places order is breaking down but this situation on the roads Ron…”
Just then the first runner went past David’s car. He realized his heart was pounding, and at this realization that the events on the radio were catching up to him, he suddenly felt faint. There was the sudden sound of numerous car doors as the people around him started to get out. Almost in a trance he found himself opening his car door to step out. Someone attempting to hurry between cars was stopped by the opening door and cursed angrily at him before squeezing past. He looked in the direction the crowds of people were coming from and could just see an ever increasing crowd coming along. In the air above, a news helicopter passed over, flying low. He grabbed his phone, shut the car door, locking it out of habit, and began jogging in the direction everyone was going.
As he made his way with the surreal procession of people weaving between cars on the freeway, David’s phone rang, it was his girlfriend Jessie.
“Jessie! Where are you??”
“Hey I’m alright, I got down to Travis’s here in Aliso Viejo. You should come down here too it sounds like all hell’s breaking loose in LA right now.” David was relieved to know his girlfriend was with his best friend down in southern Orange County, 30 miles or so south of the LA border.
“I’m going to meet up with my mom and sister, and then I don’t know what we’ll do. It’s crazy though Jess, I’m currently walking down the freeway!”
“Oh my god you’re what?? You’re on the freeway?? It’s on the news! The freeways! You need to—“ the line cut out. He tried calling her back but the network was busy again. He began to feel even more uneasy about no longer having the car radio piping breaking news to him.
It would only be a few more miles to his mom’s house. Funny how what takes only a few minutes to drive can suddenly feel so great a distance when you’re on foot. Earlier there had been a few motorcycles weaving between cars but they had all either gotten ahead by now, or perhaps gotten on offramps in search of less congestion on surface streets, or simply become mired in the crowds.
The crowd here was channeled along the freeway by high walls on either side. Slowly the crowds got thicker as more people moving faster from further back caught up. David and others found themselves inadvertently picking up the pace as they were surrounded by more and more people in a greater hurry. He heard an older woman cry out as someone rudely shoved past her, but the shover didn’t take notice. He passed a woman pulling two small children along by the hand – the children both looked terrified, and were constantly jostled by people hurrying past. A few people were bleeding, and David found himself wondering whether it was from scratches they got in their mad hurry, or actual contact with the berserkers. Every now and then a news helicopter would rumble overhead, and, most alarming of all, gunshots rang out in the distance frequently.
Quite suddenly people began colliding with those in front of them, forward progress apparently stopped somewhere down the line. Thousands of voices expressed alarm and confusion. People continued to try to jostle their way forward through the crowd. Amid a great amount of shoving, people actually started moving backward, though many stubbornly tried to keep their places. Then the rumours flying around congealed into one statement: “they’re in front of us! Go back! Go back! They’re in front of us!” There was panic and screams. More people were still coming up from behind, and the crowd became more compacted. David climbed on the hood of a car simply for lack of space, but also to see ahead. The crowd was being pushed back for the next several hundred feet ahead, with more and more people clambering on top of cars to get away. Forward of that it looked like a moshpit from a rock concert -- the crowd was a thrashing turbulence. Periodically people got through the turbulence and would dash off forward to the offramp that lay a short distance beyond, or continue down the freeway. Beyond the distrubance thre freeway was still packed with abandoned cars and a desperate crowd beyond the disturbance ever more desperately fleeing. David could tell many people were getting hurt by eachother in their desperation to get away.
Looking back in the other direction, it was just more compacted crowds for about a mile, but beyond that the freeway was ominously empty. Movement brought his attention back forward, and he saw that the compressed crowd had suddenly burst forward past the turbulence. All down the line people started moving forward again, but David stayed on top of the car. From where the turbulence had been he still saw people suddenly falling down, or jumping out of the way of something David couldn’t make out. The momentum of the crowd faltered and David could see once again a break in the crowd there with the forward edge of the crowd once again trying to retreat from that point. He saw several people a the front of the crowd get pulled down screaming but he couldn't see what was there. A few intrepid people dashed over the tops of cars in the area. Finally the crowd pulled back and David could see that the way between the cars had become blocked by piles of bodies. To his horror he saw a person, covered from head to toe in blood, lurch up from the pile and lunge madly at the crowd. Once again the crowd lurched backwards.
Looking back the other direction it looked like the back end of the crowd was getting closer as well.
Just a short distance ahead of David someone kicked in a maintenance door in the wall. Like the drain pulled in a bathtub, the surrounding crowd all began rushing for the narrow exit. People fell to the ground in the rush and were could be heard shrieking as people continued to hurry over them. David hoped desperately they were not being trampled to death. Several desperate scrabbles broke out in the narrow doorway, with punches thrown. Several other doors had been found in the wall at various points and David could see identical situations happening at all of them. Looking at the front line of the crowd David could see it was coming back faster now, with what appeared to be more berserk blood covered people wildly attacking the crowd. Evidence of how far forward the crowd had been was plainly visible, as the roadway for several dozens of yards further on was riddled with bodies and splashed with crimson blood.
Making it through the nearest door looked like it would require a lot of fierce jostling with the crowd, but it surely wouldn’t get easier before the murderous berserkers got this far. Just as David was about to try to wade through the crowd he spotted the woman with the two children nearby. She was clutching them to herself looking terrified, and they were both bawling.
“You need to get out that door!” he shouted at her above the din of panicked voices. She stared at him helplessly. “Here let me help you!” he shouted, and reached to pick up the larger child. The child looked at her and she nodded, so he permitted himself to be picked up.
David was able to make it about a car length, with the woman and other child right behind him, before he found the crowd absolutely impassable. He placed the child on the hood of the car and then climbed up himself. The woman passed up the other child and then followed herself. They were able to do this to get ahead a few more car lengths but then there were already people clambering over the cars and to attempt to go over them meant risking getting shoved off. This close to the doorway the crowd was moving fast though, so David turned his back to the crowd and tried to push backwards through the mob, holding the one child and with the woman and other following closely behind. He almost tripped, and, looking down, saw someone’s arm and a lot of blood on the ground. A finger moved and David looked away, feeling sick. Forward progress was difficult on account of the ferocity with which terrified people were pushing back from the violent end of the crowd. Blood curdling screams sounded terrifyingly close in that direction.
With renewed vigor David threw his back into the crowd. Someone elbowed him roughtly in the head, he felt someone else hook their arm behind his neck to lever themselves forward of him. All around him people were desperately scrabbling. Suddenly he felt the people on the doorward side of him disappear and himself roughly shoved in that direction. He didn’t bounce off of another person this time but felt himself fall down onto a sloped embankment, slippery with churned up ice-plant. He rolled down the embankment a dozen feet, doing his best to protect the child. Finally he came to a rest in a pile of squirming people. People were scrambling, scratching and kicking. He tried to get up but another person landed on him knocking him further into the pile. He was able to push the child to the edge of the mass of people, and after a little more struggling in the crowd managed to get to his feet on the edge and stumble free. He was covered with scratch marks and throbbed in several places from kicks and elbows.
Looking back at the mass he was greatly relieved to see no bloody zombie-like monsters, it was simply people getting pushed out the door, sliding down the slippery embankment, and then panicking when they found themselves all in a pile on the bottom. As people got pushed to the edge they picked themselves up and either ran away or looked for friends and loved ones they might be with.
David found he had lost track of the woman with the other child before he went through the door, and didn’t see her in his immediate scanning of the situation, but he had done his part to get them off the freeway and now he had to look after himself. Turning around, he found they were next to a suburban street. The owner of the nearest house was busily nailing planks over his windows. Not sure exactly where he was, David ran in the direction most other people seemed to be running.
Running down the suburban street, David tried calling his mom again but the network was still busy. In front of a number of houses people were hurriedly throwing possessions in cars. There weren’t many cars on the road here but every now and then one would come squealing around a corner. David came to an intersection with a geyser of water shooting up in one corner where a fire hydrant had been bowled over by a car. He went left to try to continue in the direction he had been going on the freeway. A short distance down this road, however, he saw people running back towards him, and he realized the offramp that had been ahead on the freeway was probably down this way, spilling the freeway’s chaos into the neighborhoods. He backtracked and ran to the intersection and took the road that lead further into the city. A steady stream of people were still coming from the direction of the freeway.
A national guard humvee rumbled towards and past him, with a uniformed soldier riding in the roof hatch with the large roof mounted 50 caliber machine gun in front of him. Feeling a little safer because of this, and with a painful side-ache from running, David slowed down again to a brisk walk and tried to picture in his mind how to get home from here.
His sense of safety and distraction were soon shattered by the staccato of the heavy machine gun. First there were several short bursts and then it fired continuously, accompanied by the smaller sound of what must be the other soldier’s M-16s. David began running again. The gunfire faded away into, what David realized suddenly was a general background din of sirens, people screaming or yelling near and far, dogs barking, and frequent isolated bangs. Every now and then more heavy machine gun fire could be heard at various places. It sounded like it was particularly heavy near where the offramp had been.
I think they’ve contained it on the freeway. God I hope they have David found himself thinking. The crowds of refugees had increasingly thinned out the further he got from the freeway, with some coming and going in opposite directions at intersections. He passed a body face-down on the lawn and just hurried quickly past it.
He heard a shout of profanities up ahead and saw a man in a business suit backing away from a figure that was lurching towards them. David looked backwards but it was a long ways to the last intersection, he didn’t want to lose that much ground and time with things having every appearance of getting worse by the minute.
There was only one of the zombie-like figures, it wasn’t moving very fast, and the street was broad, David decided to take his chances trying to dodge around the figure. As he got closer, he could see that it was a middle aged woman. She appeared to have some severe bite marks on the upper arm, but otherwise looked physically normal. She had a vicious unthinking feral look on her face though, and moved in an awkward lurching fashion. The man was still backing away from her, uselessly shouting “No! Go away! Shoo!” at her.
David came up on them, staying on the opposite side of the street. The woman noticed him and seemed unable to make up her mind to stumble towards him or the man. While she was thus distracted the man edged around until they were on opposite sides of her, and then they both ran past her and down the street. The man became winded and had to stop running long before David, and soon David was on his own again.
Despite the horrors he had already seen, David was stopped in his tracks when he came upon a house that had several bodies in a bloody mess on the front lawn. Their positioning seemed indicate they’d been trying to walk towards the front door, and moving his eyes towards the door itself, David saw that a table at been upended in front of it to create a barrier, and behind it, just in front of the doorway, sat a man with a grey mustache, trucker cap, Vietnam era camoflauge jacket, and brandishing a shotgun, with another slung on his back. As soon as David hesitated the man aimed the gun at him and called out “you god damn better keep walking!”
David didn’t need a second invitation, he was on his way! He turned onto a familiar street at the next intersection, home was only a few blocks away! He stepped out of the way of a man carrying a rake – the pronged end of it was alarmingly bloody. It was no longer safe to walk in the middle of the road, as what cars there were usually came screeching down the street at a reckless speed. Everyone going anywhere seemed to be in an urgent hurry.
Up ahead three figures were pounding on the front door and boarded up front windows of a house. From their ungainly movements David could tell they were “infected.” David also noticed that the front windows were smashed in on several of the houses that hadn’t boarded them up. Some of the shards of broken glass had blood on them.
David tried to quietly hurry past the three on the other side of the road, his heart pounding, but to his horror first one, turned and looked at him, and then the oter turned and all three started quickly shambling towards him with drooling slack mouths and vacant eyes. He turned to go the other way but saw two more climb out of a broken window in that direction, heedless of the broken glass, and start to head towards him. He frantically looked from one group to the other. The figures were able to move surprisingly fast considering their ungainly gait, and it would be hard to get past either group without being potentially intercepted. He could dart between the houses, jump some fences, and come out on the other side, but there were too many unknowns with that plan – he might end up cornered in a backyard, or even be set upon by an unfriendly dog that had been worked up to a frenzy by all the chaos. He prepared to try to run past the two that had come out of the window.
He ran towards them on the same side of the street as they, so that at the last minute he could veer around them in the street. As he prepared to run to the other side and pass them, a body he hadn’t noticed lying facedown on an overgrown lawn on that side picked itself up with the unmistakable movements of a the infected. David took a quick look behind him and confirmed that those three were closing in on him from that side. This was about to be very close.
Just as David was beginning his run to get between the two window zombies and the new lawn zombie, he heard the screech of tires right behind him and three loud thumps. He couldn’t help but glance back again – a police car had come skidding to a halt right on top of the three zombies, which it must have bowled over.
“GET DOWN!” the driver shouted. David hit the asphalt as the officer aimed an M-16 out the patrol-car’s window and unleashed a quick burst at each of the two zombies. The shots were aimed at their heads, and David noted that though they were each hit several times in the head – each hit marked by a sickening sort of crunch and cloud of red—they didn’t seem terribly deterred. They were alarmingly close and continued approaching. One of them, who looked to be a young man wearing a “hurley” shirt and backwards baseball cap, appeared to be having trouble seeing straight, David tried not to look at his one eye that was dangling out of his head. Two more bursts of gunfire just about destroyed both their heads, and they both slumped to the ground in pools of blood.
The officer tossed his gun back on his passenger seat and hit the gas, hitting the lawn zombie and sending him flying. He landed in a broken and crumpled state, but was still moving so the officer moved his car relatively close and took several single shots at point blank range at its head until it stopped moving. “get somewhere safe and stay there!” shouted the officer to David, before speeding off.
I've often found it disappointing that nearly all zombie movies seem to skip past the beginning, fast forwarding to a point where everyone is already desensitized to the whole situation. I've been wanting to write a story that takes us through the very beginning of it, as the rigorous iron of social norms (such as office ettiquette) slowly gives way to the complete breakdown of society. For example I think the tremendous taboo against murder would prevent even adequately armed people from actually shooting a zombie until they were absolutely forced to, as social taboos are eroded. If I continue the story I was thinking I'd mirror the rescue of the child with David less prone to look out for others later on, as well as a key moment when he first has to kill a zombie himself.
Also, in pondering how it would actually unfold, I was really struck by how the freeways would act like a wick or fuse, first becoming completely clogged and then becoming the panicked stampede, with some "infected" people with minor bites or scratches carrying it ahead like sparks before turning themselves.
Part of my continuing coverage of the Coming Zombie Apocalypse, this story is preceded by Patient Zero and followed by 28 Hours Later
|Saturday, January 7th, 2017|
|Where the Beekeepers Are
April 1st, 2016, Kurshab, Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia - We drove back up the remote river valley away from Kenesh village. I was sad to see it go, it was a cute village. I had literally no idea where I would end up next. Maybe another cute mountain village? Or maybe I'd be stuck in a decrepit hotel in the city of Osh for the next two weeks. We followed the road up the valley a little ways, once again seeing many herdsmen on horseback, and occasionally having to stop for sheep traffic, crossed the river on the upstream bridge and then the road took us up the steep valley sides to the top, where we stopped for some photographs, as I posed with the family on the valley rim, wearing my felt kalpak hat.
Nurzat, my translator, took the above picture, then I took one with her in it.
We continued over hill and dale through the foothills of the Mountains of Heaven for two or three hours until we passed through the town of Kurshab. There our ride (who remember was the village chief's son, a banker in Osh), dropped us off at Nurzat's in-law's house before continuing on to Osh.
Kurshab is a much more "suburban" town than Kenesh was. Not in a track housing and stucco kind of way but it does seem to consist mainly of houses with smaller yards, not the series of self sufficient farms Kenesh was. It still has plentiful tree cover though, I feel like I rememeber constantly being under tree canopy in town. Downtown there was a small Soviet monument with some tanks proudly perched on pedestals like lion statues. Across the street from Nurzat's house was the ruins of a completely overgrown stone building with elegant arches, she said it was a former bathhouse. Another of the neighboring lots was a large overgrown lot of a large half constructed building that was seemingly never completed. Now horses graze in the lot.
The single most surprising thing to me though was the house Nurzat and her in-laws live in. I was entirely unprepared for it to be so big! Three stories tall! Shiny and new looking! And, in a very adorably typical Kyrgyz fashion, there was also a "yurta" just beside it. The linked picture is someone else's yurta since I didn't get a good picture of theirs, but the design is always basically the same. Theirs had a nice carpet inside, as well as a table, a few odds and ends, and if I recall correctly two rusty old swords.
Nurzat's father-in-law was the principal of the local high school I believe, and was well traveled. I forget what the mother in law did but she seemed very sharp as well. Her husband himself was a rather slight young man whom I got along with very well. He could haltingly communicate to me in English when Nurzat wasn't about to translate. They were a cute couple.
That evening they asked if I'd like to take a hot shower and I eagerly said yes, having had no bathing options in the cold village for the past few days. After a bit they said the water was ready and I discovered the hot water was literally being heated over a wood fire!!
They had a nice little guest room even for me, with among other things a traditional sort of lute sitting on the dresser.
But still though I woke up the next morning, thinking well this is all very pleasant, but what will it entail. We've gone from where we had been lead to believe the beekeepers were to where we hoped beekeepers would be, but would they be??
And I don't know how Nurzat accomplished it, considering I don't believe she had an in in the local beekeeping community, but somehow, she delivered. The next several days were filled with visiting beekeeper after beekeeper! Many of whom just lived blocks away, in the middle of town having a hundred hives closely packed in their yard.
I was envious that apparently 100 hives is enough to support oneself in a comfortable middle class life in town with a house and family there... you couldn't dream of doing that with 100 hives in the West! My visits with beekeepers also confirmed that beekeepers tend to be really smart people who dabble in many things. Many of them had experimental hive designs or side projects. One guy was also a physics and math professor at a local school, and had build the most adorable-yet-utilitarian hive trailer, with sixty hives on each side, and an extractor, two bunks, and work bench inside:
Most beekeepers said they take their hives up to the tops of the foothills in spring for the plentiful wildflowers up there. Several were even engaged in queen breeding which is among the most advanced beekeeping one can get up to.
One beekeeper, when asked about his other hobbies, listed "hunting wolves" as a hobby. As I stood by a thatched shed and a wobbly home made ladder led up to a hayloft (and I watched a chicken hop up the ladder rung by rung to get to the loft!), I swear I could have been teleported back to medieval Europe. Wolf hunting!
Another fun cultural occurrence was the evening Nurzat's family made "Kyrgyz chocolate." The boiled up some sort of beans in the large cauldron you see pictured above and stirred it for hours. I took a turn myself at stirring it. It resulted in a brown pudding-like substance that was admittedly kind of like chocolate. Kind of.
After what turned out to be a very productive week of meeting beekeepers in the area it was time to go home! Nurzat, her husband and I returned to Osh, and I was finally able to spend a day seeing the sights of this ancient city. We were joined by several of her students, she teaches an English class, young men who were eager to practice their English with me. I was surprised by how many of them had their heart set on getting a job in and moving to ... Dubai.
We climbed the rocky landmark known as Sulayman Mountain, reputed to be the "Stone Tower," ancient writers reference as the midpoint of the silk road, and also revered as a Muslim holy site. 2/3rds of the way up, a museum is actually located IN an extensive cave system in the mountain, which was interesting.
At the base of the mountain was an impressive three story yurta, alleged to be a model of one owned by some famous khan whom I'd remember if I wasn't writing this nearly a year later. Entry was a few dollars, which Nurzat insisted was a scam but I was curious, and then they let her in for free to translate and it was kind of interesting. Nearby there was a big museum chalk full of both extensive historical stuff and natural history exhibits (many taxidermied examples of local wildlife, among other things), but all the information was in Kyrgyz and Russian and even with Nurzat translating key bits I wished I could more readily absorb the wealth of information around me. Then I had to bid adieu to Nurzat and her husband -- I wrote her a rave review for going above and beyond and basically saving the project and I think she's had a lot of interpreter gigs since then (recall when she joined me she was anxious because it was her first).
The Organization put me up in the obligatory decrepid hotel for the night (okay it was one of hte better ones in town I think, but it still had a bit of a mildewy aura), next day flew over the beautiful Tian Shan mountains back to the capitol of Bishkek. Spent a day in Bishkek, made final reports, bought some souvenirs (which I don't usually do actually, but I picked up a Kyrgyz flag because I do like the ole Pastry Jack, a copy of the Epic of Manas, and a Red Army elf hat because I can't believe I found one!) flew to Istanbul ... where I had purposefully insisted on having a day to spend with my ex Asli, but she had neglected to mention she apparently has recently fallen in love with some shlemiel in Denver AND gotten a ten year visa, so she bailed out of Istanbul a day or two before I got there.. I'm not bitter ::hides voodoo doll, and voodoo map of Denver that has been placed in the freezer:: So I wandered around Istanbul for a day, it's a lovely place anyway. I wouldn't mind moving there, it's central to everywhere else.
From there to Dubai and on to Melbourne, the end!
|Friday, December 16th, 2016|
|Like a Bee Without Direction
March 31st, 2016, Kenesh Village, Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia - Lying on the little hard bed, wrapped in blankets like a burrito against the cold early spring morning, I wonder what I'll DO for the next two weeks. I remember my first development projects I was incredibly stressed about how I was going to make good use of the time. But then I had bees to work with and trainees. Now, here, I have just two half interested trainees and boxes of dead bees.
I resign myself to a two week vacation of riding horses through stark wind-swept mountain valleys and fishing in muddy rivers. There's worse things I suppose, though I hate to "waste time." I haven't had a non-bee related vacation in years.
As it turns out we were able to visit a beekeeper across the village, ie a five minute walk away, who, just past his thatched farm shed and s small freshly hand-tilled garden plot, had a few dozen beehives under trees by a gully. He seemed thoroughly experienced. ...which only increased my feelings of "why am I here?" if they have an experienced beekeeper literally around the corner. I'm sure he doesn't know everything (neither do I), but his attitude toward me was obliging but not that he expected to learn anything.
I was really impressed by their bees though. The bees were kept in big chest like boxes and they were incredibly docile. All kinds of bystanders were able to stand immediately beside the box without being bothered by the bees.
One thing I tried to narrow in on was treatment of the bee pest varroa mites, since the treatment thereof had killed my hosts bees the other day. Unfortunately, as I would find with every other beekeeper I talked to in the area, he treated with chemicals which were unknown to me by the trade name he knew them, in dosages either recommended by the person who sold the chemicals or that he heard through the beekeeper grapevine. All I could do was vaguely urge them to find out as much as they can about any chemicals they treat their bees with and be very careful with it.
this is an occupied hive full of bees, look how they don't bother anyone!
After we finished playing with those bees we walked back to the host's house, where people were loading the heavy dead beehives into a truck to be taken to the beekeeper we just visited, who would apparently sell him replacement bees. Other than bee related issues it continued to be a fascinating cultural experience, this village that seemed lost in time with crumbling stone walls, thatched hay lofts, people commuting about by horse, people tilling garden plots with hand held hoes, and the beautiful explosions of cherry trees in blossom.
Kyrgyz seem allergic to spending time indoors. Even though the temperature was still very brisk, uncomfortable to be out without a big coat, they still took most meals outdoors at a table on a little raised platform. The variety of home-made jams and fresh bread and the like was really a treat. Also they drank copious copious amounts of tea (made from herbs the women had gathered in the surrounding hills!).
Later that afternoon I was taking a nap, wrapped like a burrito again in a cocoon of blankets (hey it was freezing, there was nothing else to do, and I was still suffering jet lag!) when I got a call from Guljamal, the Organization's regional director.
"The project is finished?" she asked in a tone of surprise, "the host called saying you have taught them everything already!"
Oh, um. Well that took me fairly aback. I don't remember what I said, this all took me quite by surprise. Admittedly there was little to do there but where would I go and what would I do if I wasn't in the village at all?? And even though it wasn't my fault they had no trainees and had killed their bees, it still felt like I had somehow failed.
They had gotten the prestige of bringing in a beekeeper from far away and now they were done with me, to brush me back and get back to business as usual.
At least everyone was still very cordial, in fact you'd think it was a wild success. The host's son, the banker in Osh, wanted to take me back to Osh and show me around the ancient city. This at least sounded somewhat promising, I like ancient cities. Nurzat, my translator, thought she might be able to round up more beekeepers herself in and around Kershab, where she lives with her husbands family, so we decided to hitch a ride the next day with the banker to Kershab, which was just an hour away back on the main road that I suppose probably sits on the exact route of the ancient Silk Road.
I'm sure Marco Polo had to deal with these traffic jams too
|Friday, December 9th, 2016|
|In Vaguely Related News: The Out of Eden Walk
So I've been following this thing called the Out of Eden Walk, wherein this journalist sponsored by National Geographic is aiming to walk all the way around the world retracing roughly the route of human migration, beginning in Ethiopia and ending at Tierra del Fuego. I've been following it for awhile because I think the whole idea is neat, and he started in Ethiopia, which is dear to my heart. While I was in Osh in Kyrgyzstan I realized hey it's likely he will take hte Silk Road, and thus pass through Osh itself! At that time I think he was just entering the western -stans. I've been even more eagerly following his progress as he gets closer to Osh, and it looks like his most recent updates are from just across the Uzbek border in the Fergana Valley! I can't find his upcoming route (though my computer is really slow to browse the official project pages due to too many moving parts I think), but I anticipate even if he doesn't hit up Osh he'll probably head up past Kershab at the head of the valley and up the narrow Kara Darya river valley that I went up. I'll be even more eagerly following in the next few weeks for sure!
And this is a picture of the fishing mentioned in my last entry that I liked but couldn't quite fit into the entry (though it was linked). This isn't the Kara Darya but a tributary that joins in just a few miles further down. There should be a pin on this map by Kenesh.
|Monday, December 5th, 2016|
|Into the Mountains
March 29th, 2016, above the Tien Shan Mountains -Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan lies amid flat agricultural plains, but even from the the urban canyons you can see the white serrated wall of mountains to the south. Taking off, one sees the city is an urban island in a sea of patchwork fields, to the north it stretches north to Kazahkstan and the endless steppes, but only minutes after takeoff, after the plane swings around the south, you see the white mountains rushing towards you like a breaking wave. The flight south to Osh was only an hour or two, and I think I spent the whole time with my face plastered to the window in amazement at the snowy peaks so close below me, jaggedly rising from shrouds of cloud. And then just as suddenly, one swings into another broad agricultural valley, though this one you can see the mountains on the other side. I see the town of Jalal-abad nestled on the edge of the mountains (having studied a map before the flight I'm able to identify it), and the river Kara Darya snaking through the middle of the Fergana Valley. One thing I'm not able to see before we land there is our actual destination, the city of Osh, since it's dead ahead and we don't maneuver in a manner that ever brings it into my sight
Note Bishkek near the top, and Osh on the southern edge of the big bite that's taken out of the country on the western side by Uzbekistan.
You may note from the above map that through some quirk of political history, all of the Fergana Valley belongs to Uzbekistan, while Kyrgyzstan is mostly mountains. Jalal-abad and Osh are on the edge of an agriculturally rich valley but must instead look back into the narrow valleys among the mountains to find compatriots. Also note there is no major road between Bishkek and Osh. During winter heavy snows, avalanches or landslides might close off what roads there are between the capitol and this southern region. For this reason Osh acts as a secondary capitol for the area.
Descending the stairs into the brisk early spring mid-morning, the first thing that caught my attention was several glossy SUVs on the tarmac just beside the aircraft, with a number of officers in their soviet-esque olive green uniforms and peaked hats shaking hands with an important officer and his entourage who had just disembarked the plane. On one edge of the airfield there seemed to be a disproportionately large number of military transport aircraft, but as they were packed so close together they clearly weren't in regular use, I wondered idly if in the chaos of the breakup of the soviet union a disproportionate chunk of the transport fleet just happened to be abandoned here. I wanted to take a picture ... but taking pictures of military things is a rookie tourist mistake and grade A way to end up in military custody for a few hours.
The airport terminal was small and I was quickly through it and out the other side. I hadn't been sure of the gender of the Organization's Osh staffmember, since all I knew was that their name was Guljamal. It turned out to be a middle aged woman with her six year old daughter (precocious, adorable with her dark hair in two little buns, and impressively decent in basic English when finally coaxed into saying something by her mom) in company, in an SUV, classic soccer mom style.
We wound through Osh on our way straight out of town. I would like to say I could see something ancient about it at this time but its history wasn't terribly much in evidence between the airport and the edge of town. Mostly what I saw I'd characterize as "crumbling post soviet." But somewhere under or behind the rigorous utilitarianism of the 20th century I strongly suspected a lot of history was hiding. Osh, you see, was a noted location on the ancient Silk Road. It's about the mid-point of the famed trade route, and if you were coming from the West it would be the last stop before traversing the rugged Tian Shan mountains to cross over into China. The city is believed to be about 3000 years old.
As one leaves town one passes under a great arch accompanied by yet another giant statue of the folk hero Manas. This one, as many of them do, has him accompanied by what I like to refer to as "his cat," but this makes locals laugh as they point out its a tiger (but I don't think the statue was too dissimilar from my Cato...)
Soon we were winding through the undulating foothills on the two lane country highway. The passing hills were green with grass and frequently ornamented with shepherds on horseback tending herds of sheep, and occasional herds of horses. We passed quickly through a few small towns, in which beat up hyundai light trucks unloaded agricultural supplies beside tethered horses, and weathered looking men in jackets went about their business wearing the distinctive tall white kalpak hats.
After about 45 minutes we came to the slightly larger town of Kurshab and picked up my interpreter. She turned out to be a young woman (I noted that the Organization had managed to have entirely female staff other than that unpleasant driver. Good on them om a country where gender roles are a bit more firmly rooted than in much of the west) named Nurzat. My first impression was that she seemed very anxious to do a good job -- I think it may have been her first gig as an interpreter?
After Kurshab we turned up the narrow valley the Kara Darya river comes from and headed up into the mountains, eventually crossing the river and going up into the mountains and (after passing a random rocket shaped monument. Those Soviets and their monuments I tell you) we suddenly came upon the broad vista of another valley. We descended into this one and followed the road (by now only a dirt road) downriver a bit to the village of Kenesh.
Other than the tin roofs, it could have been a medieval village -- the houses all had rudimentary fences around them and contained cows, chickens, and garden plots. It being early spring many trees were still bare but a number of cherry trees were resplendent in explosions of blossoms. I met my host, a jovial seeming largish older man whom I gathered was a sort of village magnate, and his wife and nephew, a twenty-ish young fellow who helped on the farm. Guljamal and her daughter bid us good by and drove back to Osh, Nursat and I got situated in rooms in the house (I noted the walls were well-nigh two-feet thick!), and were shown around the village. I was very excited to have an opportunity to ride their horse, which they probably thought was funny since to them a horse is a basic form of transportation.
The temperature was ... quite brisk. I had planned on acquiring a jacket locally (another tourism pro-tip: often if going somewhere cold it may be more practical to acquire a jacket locally than lug it all the way there), and fortunately they had one to loan me.
For dinner we had a dish called "Osh" (yes like the city of its same name), which was basically pilaf (ie long grain rice) with grilled onions and things in it as well as bite sized chunks of beef. I found it quite good... though as we proceeded to have it every day for the entire project I did start to long for a little variety. It was served on one big plate and we all had at it with our own spoons. The table was also set with an abundance of homemade jams and things, which were quite delicious.
March 30th, 2016, Kenesh Village, Osh Oblast - The next morning I was anxious to get started with the project, but the host's son, a banker from Osh, had arrived and quite insisted on taking me fishing in the river first thing. The river was cold and muddy, no doubt being snowmelt from the mountains. Only the host's niece (sort of a slightly younger clone of Guljamal's daughter -- Maybe all young Kyrgyz girls are adorable and precocious) caught anything (and that tiny), but it was pleasant down by the river, away from the village, just the vast emptiness of the mountain valley all around and the looming white mountains up at the valley's head.
Finally that aftenoon I was able to wrangle the host to get the participants together, the beekeepers I would be working with to impart any useful technical expertise I could. Usually 30-60 participants are involved in a project. So imagine my surprise when my host presents me... his son and nephew. I had just travelled for days, halfway around the world, to teach the village magnate's banker son and nephew beekeeping. Cue blank expression.
Ah well, all you can do is make hte most of it, let's open up those beehives!
All the beehives, which I'd seen full of activity on arrival, are now dead. It would appear that they perhaps were embarrassed by the number of parasitic varroa mites on their bees and/or simply wanted to make it look like there were a minimum of them, so they had treated them with a miticide just the other day (while distracting me with horseback riding or fishing?) ... and had overdosed and killed all their bees.
So now I have only two trainees who only seem at best hobbyists anyway, and no bees. Cue very blank expression.
Now there's two organizations that I've done these projects with, which I'm not going to name since I already caused an international incident by complaining about this one once before, but the other one I've never had any complaints about. This one however, the other project I did with them I felt was completely unnecessary, myself and the other technical experts were in Egypt working with Egyptian enterprises that we all agreed were "as advanced or moreso as comparative enterprises in the States," and we felt like it was just a money sink. So on finding out that this project was also a poorly conceived nepotistic exercise in amusing a village chief had me really thinking "This organization... this organization..."
TO BE CONTINUED: Will it be salvaged, or will I spend two weeks fishing from horseback in a remote mountain valley?? Will Nurzat find professional satisfaction? Will I get a keen hat?? TUNE IN NEXT WEEK TO FIND OUT!
Nurzat pretends to be beekeeping with one of the recently killed hives (which isn't to say she wasn't willing to brave live bees too
|Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016|
|Kyrgyzstan I - Arrival
Folk hero Manas faces the flag I fondly refer to as The Pastry Jack
March 29th, 2016, "Manas," 02:00 - It's two A.M. when we shuffle off the small airplane, through the cold night air and into small airport terminal. The sign says "Welcome to Manas." Manas? Where is Manas? What am I doing in Manas. No one seems to speak English, there aren't any signs. We're all being disembarked but I have no idea what I'm doing here or where to go. The security guards wear vaguely soviet olive green uniforms with peaked visor-caps, and have a stony unhelpful set expression on their weathered asian faces. I wander the (very) small transfer section of the airport but determine there are no outgoing flights any time in the near future. The signs are all written in cyrillic, though having studied Russian long ago in college I remember just enough to decipher cyrillic into the latin alphabet. I decide to follow all the other passengers even though it looks like they're going out to the baggage claim where I might not be able to get back in.
I've already been most of the way around the world and in transit for 44.5 hours by this point. Having begun in Melbourne a full day before (evening of the 27th), I flew to Canton, China, and from thence to Paris, France (passing my final destination roughly halfway)(arriving in the morning of the 28th), then to Istanbul, Turkey (where I was for several hours of the afternoon of the 28th), and finally, this final leg to Kyrgyzstan in the very center of the Asian continent.
I found my bag on the baggage claim conveyor and stumbled past security to the outer lobby, still thoroughly confused. Leaning rogueishly against a pillar smokign a cigarette was a shifty looking fellow with a sign with my name on it.. so I guess this was the right place after all. Shortly I was able to put together than though the destination I was expecting was "Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan," the airport which serves the city is "Manas" airport a fair bit out of town. I had misapprehended Manas to be a different city entirely.
The driver led me cavalierly to his waiting car and didn't offer to assist me putting my bag in the back. I had never thought hard about it before but when one picks someone up at the airport it's always seemed like what you do. The driver spoke pretty good English, but I wasn't feeling terribly talkative being as it was the middle of the night and I was still feeling pretty bamboozled after spending a full day in air travel across half the Earth's time zones and back again. Curiosity did keep me awake during the drive though I noted a long tree lined road through countryside, with occasional giant Soviet-esque monuments materializing after the slowly brightened day. After about half an hour we got into the city, which consisted of big crumbling aparment blocks, broad streets empty during the night, and more Soviet cubist monuments.
We finally arrived at the little hotel I would be staying in, and, after not helping me with my bags, he said "see you at ten."
"What? like in five hours?" I said with not a little bit of horror at the fact that I'd clearly not be nearly caught up with sleep by then.
"Oh, no, not this morning, the next day." He corrected me. Oh thank god.
The hotel was small but clean, about three stories tall with maybe twenty rooms. My room was actually quite large and nice. In the morning I decided to walk downtown. I was actually more fearful than I usually am in Africa, since someone had told "oh everyone I know who's been to Kyrgyzstan has been mugged" ... and everyone else I talked to who had been to Kyrgazstan.. had been mugged. But the school children who skipped past me in the brisk morning air showed little interest in doing so. I was in a quieter area of smaller buildings across the railway tracks from downtown proper, which I made my way toward. My general observations about Kyrgyzstan can be summarized as that it's a country of Asian looking people, with a Turkish culture, a Russian alphabet and Soviet political history, and a tendency to wear really unusual looking hats.
I made my way to the national museum (pictured above), but it was closed. So I headed to another museum marked on the map I had found but it was closed too. I also found that nowhere would exchange my Australian dollars and I couldn't find an ATM anywhere. I had initially assumed I would inevitably pass an ATM from which I could get local currency but after crossing several of the main city blocks downtown in search of an open museum and not seeing heads or tails of an ATM I began to get desperate and looked up banks on my phone and headed to them and yet they still didn't have ATMs.
I did however find a lovely sculpture park. Many of the sculptures looked like broken pieces salvaged from something larger but I wasn't sure if they actually were or had been made that way as a stylistic thing. I particularly liked this one I call "World's Saddest Rhinoceros" --
On the way back I found an ATM, and then stopped in to a Turkish restaurant (all restaurants appeared to be Turkish restaurants). They didn't have a menu in English but fortunately I happen to know the turkish words for many Turkish dishes, which I could read even though they were written in cyrillic, so through a filter of two languages I barely understand I was able to glean menu information.
In the afternoon the Organization's country director came to meet with me at my hotel. She explained briefly the plan (I'd be flying to the regional town of Osh the next morning, where I'd meet the local staffperson down there and my translator and then head out into the countryside for the project site.
Due to the previously mentioned tales of getting mugged in Kyrgyzstan (though to be fair I think it's possible even these people who had previously been in the area may have confused Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan?) I declined to venture out at after dark, even though I ended up a bit hungry -- showing up in the hotel dining room for dinner I learned I was supposed to put an order in an hour before I planned to eat and it was too late by then.
And to be continued, wherein I travel to Osh, an ancient city on the ancient Silk Road, I travel out into the remote countryside and things immediately begin to go awry!
And here's a statue of Kurmanjan Datka, as it clearly says in the pedestal.
And here, watch a pretty promotional video for Tourism Kyrgyzstan
|Friday, November 11th, 2016|
|LJ Idol Season 10 Introduction
First you hear a buzzing. The buzzing of bees among the tall straight gum trees. Then some startled roos burst from the underbrush, dart across a meadow like a panicked school of fish, and funnel across a small wooden bridge over a small creek. Presently, Kris emerges from the forest, with a very large cat on his shoulder.
But pretend its the forest behind me
Oh hi. I've been sadly sadly neglecting livejournal as late. Fortunately LJ Idol usually motivates me to actually post. It'll be hard though, I'm busier than ever ::carefully removes a bee that has landed on the cat::
I'm in Victoria now, the very most southern part of mainland Australia (further south than South Australia!), though I think I was already here as of last season? It's always so cold here. So cold. ::shivers::
I'm not Australian though; I can still be heard loudly declaiming that eggs don't belong on hamburgers and sausages should be put in buns, not flaccid slices of bread. Do I want a beer in any size smaller than a pint? No, that is un-American!!
When not writing for LJ Idol my livejournal is mostly travelogues. I never got around to writing about Kyrgyzstan last April so I might try to shoehorn that into the first few entries if the topic remotely suits. If you're curious about any of the places I've been, see the index at the top of my livejournal.
Alright, back to work. ::returns into the forest, narrowly avoiding being killed by a dropbear. Shortly all you hear is the chirping of birds and especially the buzzing of bees.
And I don't often appear in video, but when I do... well here's a video I recently made with a friend for a lesson I had to give on bee disease identification which I'm posting just so you can visualize the forest I intended to portray in this entry; the forest in which I work.
And for more of what I know you're really after, more pictures of that gorgeous cat, see my instagram.
|Thursday, September 22nd, 2016|
|24 of 30 - TV Series Idea: Building Civilization
So I don't watch much TV but for awhile I was really fascinated with Naked and Afraid. It's fascinating watching people try to eke out an existence without any help whatsoever from modern technology, and the drama of complete strangers trying to get along in these difficult conditions while starving is a bit of a guilty pleasure as well.
I've had an idea though that jumps off of this for an even better idea (in my humble opinion). What if it basically begins just like Naked and Afraid... but when the first people are ready to clock out new people are able to take over where they left off. So while the first people start out plumb ass naked, maybe they can make something to cover oneself for the next people, as well as hand off any sharpened sticks or other simple tools they've made and their shelter. Since we don't have 100,000 years for civilization to evolve maybe among the early groups someone with experience in pottery will be sent in to try to "invent" making some bowls and things from the resources at hand, or a basket weaver, or someone who reckons they know how to find and plant food plants.
Maybe the local area will be seeded with harder to find resources, like rocks containing copper and tin ore, so that once the participants have thoroughly mastered the stone age someone can try to tackle smelting to bring them into the bronze age ..... and keep on going from there!
I think this would not only be every bit as entertaining as Naked and Afraid but thoroughly interesting in a "how things work" sort of way as well as an actual "experimental archaeology" sort of project.
Personally I think this is an extremely epic idea and I even tried to google around how to pitch show ideas but all I got was a bunch of websites that want suckers and chumps to PAY to have their stupid idea "pitched" (I bet the people who run those webpages don't even have any connections and don't do anything with them except maybe read them for laughs at the pub).
|Tuesday, August 9th, 2016|
|Guinea 2016 Part 4 - Airport Hell Odyssey
Saturday, July 30th, 0200 hours, Conakry, Guinea - "ready for your flight in five hours?" The message flashes in the dark. I shouldn't still be up but I'm not sleepy and after all I don't have to be anywhere in the morning.
"Dad it's not for like 19 hours"
"It says on the itinerary you sent us that it's in the morning, seven hours from now" Hmmmmm. In the Organization's office they had told me I wasn't flying out till 8:45pm and I hadn't thought to cross check it because, well, they've never been wrong before! So I scrambled for my printed itinerary. Right there staring back at me: 8:45 AM.
Had the flight been changed?? There wasn't much time to find out! And no one in the office would be able to answer before the morning flight! Fortunately the Organization books with a major corporate travel agency that has a 24 emergency phoneline! Called them and they confirmed I was departing in just under seven hours!!
Fortunately Daniel happened to be departing at 5:30 for a flight at that same time 8:45, actually the same flight as it turns out, and already had a ride arranged. So I dove into bed to sleep for three hours. Got up at 5:00 to pack in a mad hurry -- and apparently in so doing left behind my good northface jacket and one shirt which I wouldn't care about so much but my malaria medication was in the pocket. The hotel front desk wanted me to pay an additional $20 for the already-paid-for taxi they had arranged. That seemed like a raw deal but I was too tired to argue and figured I'd get reimbursed anyway .... except that receipt, which I thought I had immediately folded in half and placed in my lower left pocket, was utterly not to be found when I got home and looked for it... so so much for expense reporting THAT ):
Arriving at the airport in time to be at the front of the line, it still somehow took them an hour to issue our tickets, and the flight wasn't going to the intended destination of Abidjan anymore but that flight had been cancelled and the aircraft rerouted to Lome, Togo, from where we were assured we could connect to continuing flights -- Daniel on to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and myself from there to Abidjan where they optimistically said I could catch my original flight to Dubai (departing there at 15:20). Also while waiting in line for htis extremely tedious ticket sorting I started to feel nauseous, something I had eaten the day before apparently wasn't agreeing with me. Just eyeing the utter non-movement of the line behind us in the hour it took them to sort out the first people in the line I predicted an 8:45 departure wasn't in the cards.
Proceeding up to the gates, the guard at security made a half hearted attempt to solicit a bribe from Daniel, but he laughed it off and maintained his forward momentum (she used the old "what present do you have for me? money? hm?" trick). The 8:45 departure time came and went. 10:00 ... 11:00 went by. While idling about I was taken by the sudden need to puke by guts out into a nearby trashcan, and then some kind mzungu girl handed me a bottle of water. Daniel struck up a conversation with some airline employees who mentioned some interesting facts relating to France's continual grinding-of-Guinea-under-it's-heel -- apparently France or Air France owns the airport and charges such high fees on any other airline besides Air France that no one else will go there. Asky, the little airline we were flying on, keeps its airplanes on the ground there literally the least possible number of minutes because I guess Air France charges them by the minute or something? When our aircraft finally did arrive around 12:30 they had us crossing the boarding bridge as the offloading passengers crossed off on the other side of the glass wall, and we were off as soon as we were aboard -- the aircraft couldn't have been on the ground for more than 40 minutes (safety checks shmafty checks!)
1400 hours, Lome, Togo - At the transfer desk I found my flight to Abidjan was scheduled to already be boarding, so I bid a very hasty goodbye to Daniel and ran off to find the gate. As it happens Daniel would be stuck in Lome overnight and continue on to Addis the next day.
My flight was... not boarding. and then it disappeared from the departure board. Then it reappeared on the board with a different flight number and gate (that is, the Asky flight to Abidjan did), so I hastily proceeded to that gate and found a big crowd of people around the gate desk. It seems they had recombined two flights, so now an aircraft would fly to Abidjan and then onward to Dakar. They needed to reissue everyone's tickets but somehow couldn't organize people into a line, so one just had to jostle through the crowd to the front and then get the attention of one of the three people behind the desk, who were taking people in no kind of order. Once you got one of them to take hold of your existing ticket they leafed through the tickets on their desk to find the matching name ... but their stacks of tickets didn't even seem to be in alphabetical order, the overwhelmingly obvious way to save time in a situation like this, so they had to leaf through all the tickets on hand. Fortunately this kind of incompetent tediousness really brings people together and there were plenty of sarcastic witticisms traded among the passengers (and by the way, I wouldn't think I'd need to note this, but I saw a hollywood movie recently where they visited an African airport (in Namibia) and most of the people inside in the movie were white, wtf. Just so you know, the ratio of Africans to westerners in west african airports is something like 200:1.)
Predictably, this flight too departed 2-3 hours after its scheduled departure time -- even when we were finally boarding there was still a disorganized crowd of people trying to get jostle their way to the front desk and get their tickets reissued.
2000 hours, Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire - At the transfer desk here they were flabbergasted that I had managed to miss my connecting flight by five hours. In contrast to how helpful everyone had been last time Asky marooned me here, this time the transfer desk guy bruskly escorted me into the check in area to where he saw someone he could hand me off to, who kind of grunted upon receipt of me in a manner that left me not entirely sure he had actually accepted the mission, and as he kept walking in the direction he was already going I really wasn't sure, but tagged along. He led me into a back hall of the airport and pointed to a door down the hall, and then left. I proceeded to that door and found it locked and knocking or listening did not reveal any signs of life. My escort had left, and I ran to the door he had led me in from but it had locked behind him. I was stuck in empty back hall of the airport!!
After about ten minutes of me being quite consternated there, much to my surprise someone from Asky DID actually show up to enter that office. I had written them off. He seemed marginally competent, I mean like, he seemed to barely be able to work out the obvious facts, that they'd made me miss my flight and they should put me up in a hotel until the next day and arrange for my ticket for that flight the next day. After some coaxing he did manage to conjure up the driver from the hotel they'd put me in last time... though he wouldn't issue me the usual paperwork to make transfer lodging official, just saying it was worked out. I had to take his word for it but since the driver was right there for the conversation it seemed promising. Also I asked him what time the flight the next day was and he said 12:00. I said "not 15:20 like it was today?" and he said "no it's 12" and I said "like leaving at 12, so I should be here at 10??" and he glared at me like I was being really annoying and said "sure"
There were no problems with the hotel, and the manager was glad to see me again, he was the same young fellow who two weeks prior had issued me the invitation to come work in Cote D'Ivoire. (Note to self for future reference: this is/was the Hotel Ile de Maurice). I had been feeling vaguely nauseous all day, and had eaten literally nothing because I just couldn't stomach anything. As soon as I got in to the hotel I conked out on the bed.. was awoken an hour or two later by the manager knocking on the door saying my dinner was ready and why hadn't I answered the phone. Went down and stared at the dinner (grilled chicked, and onion salad, same thing I had two weeks ago that was actually pretty good. And the amount of food was huge, like half a chicken), tried to eat a bit if only to be polite but I really couldn't stomach anything at all and had to excuse myself.
Sunday, July 31st, Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire - 10:00 was at the airport promptly at 10:00 the next morning... only to find that grossly incompetent nimrod had lied!!! The flight was not at 12:00, but at 15:20!! As I had entirely expected! The Asky flight to Lome was at 12:00 which is probably what the utter baffoon had been thinking of.
I tried to go check in but Emirates wasn't even manning any check ins until three hours prior to their flight. I went back up to the Asky office but either they said I needed to talk to Emirates first or maybe they just weren't there at all, all I remember is I ended up having to sit in the outer part of the airport for two hours, the area where arriving passengers are emerging from the baggage claim and being greeted by whomever is waiting for them, and people are hanging around trying to sell them in country phone cards or ask if they need a taxi. So as it happens I was able to at least find a seat in this area and was rather bored ... and I took note that one of the girls working as a greeter for one of the hotels was quite attractive. Her duties happened to take her upon occasion right past me since I was between the area where arriving passengers emerged and her hotel's desk. I've gotta give my friend Trent some credit here, since I was talking to him on facebook messenger and he encouraged me to talk to her after I noted her high level of attractiveness to him. I was just conceding that "well maybe" I would when she seemed to disappear. Oh well.
12:20 - And then it was time to go check in, so I got up and started walking towards the check in area, which happened to take me past her desk.. and as it happens she stood up behind her desk as I went past, I hadn't seen her behind it there. I walked a little further and looked behind me, and I couldn't say for sure she was looking AT me but she was looking in my direction. I thought for a moment and then slowly turned around making a wide turn with my wheeled luggage behind me like trailer, and proceeded directly up to her desk, where she was waiting expectantly with big pretty eyes.
"Do you speak English?" I asked
"A little" she answered, blushing a bit
"Ah. I just wanted to come talk to you because you're so beautiful" I explained -- no point beating around the bush. She blushed deeply but really I almost felt like she'd been expecting me.
"Do you have whatsapp?" I continued, and just like that she was giving me her number (Whatsapp is the messenger app that everyone in the rest of the world (except the US and Australia as far as I can tell) uses instead of texting), I had actually neglected to get her name until I had to ask what to put her in my phone as (Chantal, it turns out). I then explained I had to go check in, "but you'll come back here after checking in?" she asked with a tone of real concern. What a sweetheart.
12:30 - the woman at the Emirates desk seemed to take a sadistic pleasure in giving me bad news. Her eyes danced with glee as she informed me the Emirates flight that day was booked solid and I couldn't get a flight until the next day. And then her face filled with pure joy as she announced I'd have to pay a $500 fee. She was vaguely dismiessive of my assertions that Asky should pay any fee, waving me off to go talk to Asky about that, in a manner dripping with her secret hope that they wouldn't.
13:00 - Up at the Asky office I found there were actually three other Americans waiting in their office to get flights fixed, no doubt after their own missed connections. I haven't seen so many Americans in one place since the fourth of July in Melbourne! With typical Asky slowness it took at least an hour to get through these three before the one guy there could begin to look into my case. Long story short it concluded with him saying only his supervisor could authorize Asky's paying of the fees, and his supervisor wouldn't be in in the morning so he'd "call [me] at 10:00 the next morning." I gave him my number but was also careful to get his number as I had no faith in his actual calling me. Also he said they wouldn't put me in a transit hotel this time because I wasn't _actually_ their transit passenger any more -- Asky and Emirates don't actually have any agreement so they were two entirely seperate tickets.
"But I was a transit passenger yesterday!" I exclaimed... which he easily parried with
"Yeah well ... you shouldn't have been."
Time to call the travel agent again! They confirmed that yes, they were actually two freestanding tickets, but kindly offered to book me a hotel (what fun travel agents are!), on the spot I couldn't remember Chantal's hotel (turns out it was the Marconi Ibis, which was one of the ones the travel agent had in her computer) but it so happened the cheapest one on their list ($114 a night after taxes for those following along) was one I recognized as having been about 200 meters from the airport so it sounded good. The travel agent made the booking and emailed me a booking number and all that.
14:00 - went down and chatted with Chantal a little bit more before going out and catching the aiport shuttle. We made dinner plans before I left, though she was working till ten.
The guard by the hotel shuttles spoke surprisingly good English, I was initially pleased with this but then it started to become a little irritating that he kept trying to interest me in one of his friend's taxis despite that I had a free shuttle bus coming to take me the 200m (hey I know you're asking why I didn't walk but the wheels on my luggage barely work and it was uneven ground the whole way), and then when it did come the guard asked if I had something for him and acted quite hurt and offended that I didn't. I don't mind handing a little baksheesh to someone who's helped me in some way but I hate it when people expect something just for the pleasure of their conversation.
15:00 - Arriving at the Oronomo Hotel they couldn't find my booking, even with the reference number they couldn't find it anywhere in their system. I tried to check my bank statement on my phone to make sure they hadn't charged me already but Wells Fargo in their infinite wisdom has locked me out of being able to check my accounts online (though my cards still work) because they can't be convinced my every activity isn't fraud apparently. So I decided to just book the room anew ... and THEN I was informed that "well, actually the hotel is full" (!!!!) Seriously must _everything_ go wrong???
15:30 - Fortunately I happen to have an inside line on a hotel! I asked Chantal how much the Marconi Ibis was and it was literally like only $3 more so I made plans to return to the airport and catch the Ibis shuttle (have I mentioned that I happen to love ibises? they're an inherently funny bird, always looking like they ought to be wearing a top hat), but as I got up to go the manager suddenly called out "wait! I think we have a room for you!" Okay... They showed me to a room and I really wasn't very impressed but a bird in hand is worth two ibises in the bush I suppose and was ready to be done running all over the place.
The hotel had a really fancy looking lobby and restaurant area but the room was small and claustrophobic. Most of the other guests appeared to be flight crews. A big contingent of them I thought were Australian because they were dressed kind of like Americans but with shorter shorts than any self respecting American male would wear ... but then I heard them talk and it was just bizarre! South African apparently.
22:00 - I walked back to the airport to meet Chantal when she got off work and we grabbed a cab into town. Unfortunately it was a bit late for most nice restaurants but between my list of restaurants from the tripadvisor app and her local knowledge she recognized one she thought was open, and we proceeded to a fairly decent cafe with outdoor seating that appeared to be a popular nightlight location, it was pretty hopping. Apparently it was open 24 hours. Chantal was a real trooper because I think she was really tired actually but was trying to be game.
This is her somewhat constrained face after putting up with my cameraphone failing to focus properly on her pretty smile for a minute or two. Also lol at the girl in red behind her wtf!
Monday, August 1st, Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire - 10:00 I began calling "Mr Binto" at 10:15 and continued like clockwork every 15 minutes until at 11:30 I actually got ahold of him. He said to come to the airport and talk to his boss Eric, who would sort things out. So I checked out and proceeded to the airport. Unfortunately Chantal was not there, having errands to do in the morning and not working until that afternoon.
12:00 - I found the door to the Asky office locked again. Waited around for about half an hour till someone showed up and let me in, and then about half an hour later this boss man showed up. He barely spoke to me but got most of the story from the other staffmember in French, and from his tone it sounded like he (the boss) was making fun of me for the most part.
13:30 - I was starting to be concerned that this wouldn't get solved today when another staffmember in a suit showed up and the boss character told me to follow him down to the Emirates office. With less than 100 minutes left until my flight was scheduled to leave I started providing my mom with the countdown, as I was talking to her on facebook messenger. I was getting seriously doubtful this would get sorted out this day. But then suddenly the Asky guy was counting out a very thick wad of money onto the Emirates desk -- he must have been bpaying the whole $500 fine right htere in cash! And then I had a ticket!!
14:00 - I got all of about ten steps from there with my Emirates ticket in hand when the check in counter people wanted to see my Australian visa ... which was recorded in my other passport. All I could show them was electronic evidence of a visa for a different passport number, and a current flimsy temporary passport (recall the earlier passport shenanigans).. this seemed a big problem at first, but once it proved to be an unresolvable difficulty they seemed to kind of shrug it off and left me proceed. And then I was through security! And boarding the plane! At this point at every one of these ordinarily mundane steps I expected to run into some kind of obstacle, just the way things had been going. Flight was prepared to depart on time at 15:20 since Emirates is a gosh darn real air line, but "three people failed to board the plane after checking in so we need to find and offload their luggage" ... how do you get all the way through check in but ail to make it on the plane in such a small airport? I pictured one of the many sudden obstacles I had dreaded reaching out its bureaucratic tentacles and snagging these people as they blissfully walked to the gate thinking themselves home free, and thought to my self "there but for the grace of god go I!"
Tuesday, August 2nd, Dubai - morning? Really time has lost all meaning by the time you fly halfway around the world. Anyway only noteworthy thing I can recall about Dubai is someone had tipped me off that there's a Shake Shack in the Dubai airport, the famous New York burger chain, so it was my goal to find it! And I did! And it cost me $24 USD for a small albeit delicious burger!
That and sometime within the following 24 hours apparently an Emirates flight crashed in Dubai and burned to cinders right there on the tarmac!
Wednesday, August 3rd, Melbourne, Australia - 05:45 I had been dreading a potential visa problem ever since the passport switcharoo, though I was optimistic that they had straightened it out in the system as I left. Turns out they did, it wasn't a problem, but then the passport control officer threw me a curveball -- "you're coming from West Africa.. do you have your yellow fever vaccination?" ... which I do but the documentation is with my old passport (which FINALLY arrived back today, the 9th of August). Yellow fever is primarily an East Africa concern so I hadn't even thought to worry about the lack of that paperwork on this trip! On my explanation that I did but didn't have the paperwork on me she grunted disapprovingly and wrote a note on my immigration card wihle saying I'd need to see the health officer ... but no one asked me about it again.
From there without incident I took the shuttle bus back to Geelong and was picked up by my housemate, the end!! Total travel time, 89.5 hours spanning five days!!!!
|Friday, August 5th, 2016|
|Guinea 2016 Part 3 - Roadtrip Guinea!
Thursday, July 30th,
Labe, 0700 - Ibro, Damba, Daniel, driver Mamadou and I got started bright and early on our trip back to the capitol, leaving the hotel promptly at 7. Monica had gone back to the village she's posted to the day before to pack for her upcoming trip to the Peace Corps training village near Conakry (to welcome a new group of volunteers), and had told me she'd be waiting by "the orange sign" by the road junction to Doumba -- which I knew well because last year's project had been in Doumba. She estimated it would take us about 45 minutes to get there. Also I only realized in the morning that while Monica and I had come up with this plan we hadn't really shared it with the others apparently, so it was news to Ibro we were giving Monica a ride.
The morning was clear and quiet as we sped down the road past the lsat buildings of Labe, over a small river, past foliage and bush ... and twenty minutes later we were rocketing through the Doumba junction. "wait wait wait!" I exclaimed, "we're supposed to meet Monica here!" I made them turn around and go back but they were very doubtful she would be there, saying it was nowhere near Sintali, where she's posted, and after one return pass we were on our way, me wishing I had had Monica tell the plan to one of them so they'd have had a clearer understanding of it.
Continuing to text with Monica via whatsapp we established she might actually have meant a different junction that also leads to Doumba and we got there closer to the predeicted 45 minute travel time. She wasn't there, and we were just about to go continue on to the nearby town of Pita for breakfast and then come back when I saw her coming up the side road in a taxi. So she joined us, and now with six people we were a spot crowded. But hey, I think we counted 13 (THIRTEEN) people in one of the local taxis (a regular sedan style car, with three people in the front, four in the backseat, two more behind the back seat, and four people actually riding on top). Apparently Conakry has no bus system, so to get from Labe to the capitol as a local your only option is to pile into one of these overcrowded taxis for the 350km trip, and breakdowns are the norm.
Stopped in at a little shop for breakfast. We were after omelettes but the guy "didn't have eggs," which was kind of a mystery since there were literally people selling eggs all around us. We discussed the oddity of that people in Guinea will often decide they "don't do" some type of business, like buy or sell eggs, and no matter how much business sense it makes can't be budged. Or if you buy a coke or something and it comes in a glass bottle you can't leave the shop with it because they get cash back for the glass bottle -- which is good that they're all about recycling but annoying you have to finish your drink there. So you offer to pay them more so you can take away the glass bottle and sometimes they might go for it, but sometimes they might insist that no you simply cannot take the glass bottle away from their premises no matter how much you offer.
Mamou, 1400 - After several hours of winding through the green mountains of Guinea we came to the town of Mamou and dropped Damba off at his house, tucked into a backstreet of Mamou. A gaggle of little girls (nieces?) ran up to hug his leg as soon as they say him. From there we proceeded just to the edge of town to where the college of forestry is tucked away in a way that somehow makes it feel like you're not near a large town at all but just in a secluded grove. Here we found another landcruiser identical to ours, with the Organization's logo, waiting. We had met up with another project and Ibro would be hopping from us to them. The American volunteer in this case was an old professor with spectacles, working on some kind of occupational survey. After a short chat with them we were off! Now with only four in the car: Daniel, Monica, myself and the driver.
The ENATEF school of Forestry in 2014
Kindia, 1600 - On our way to Kindia we passed a police checkpoint where they made our driver show them all his papers and even unload all the luggage in the back so they could confirm there was a fire extinguisher there. Meanwhile their rigorous safety inspecting didn't seem to apply to the taxis puttering by with piles of people on the roof. The driver grumbled that really they knew NGOs like us are always in complaince but were hoping we'd bribe them to get out of the hassle.
A few hours later (these times are very approximate) we came to the town of Kindia and stopped for lunch. Just past Kinda there was a waterfall called the Eaux de Khaleesi -- "the waters of Khaleesi." Another volunteer last year had reported it was awesome so I had insisted we plan on stopping there. Just prior to the waterfall we made a stop, the driver announced his wife had come up here for her sister's graduation and so we'd be picking her up to take her back to Conakry. So we stopped by some buildings by the side of the road and picked her up, and let me tell you, I think she was one of the most gorgeous women I'd seen in all of Guinea. And she didn't speak any English but she seemed sweet. She works as a nurse. Driver Mamadou has definitely done alright for himself!
It was just a short drive off the main road. At the location itself a nice looking little hotel was under construction, a number of bungalows seemed complete. We paid an entry fee of about a dollar a person and a guide with a hard hat took us down the trail. Despite the development of the site the first area we were led to had an entirely broken bridge we had to cross very precariously walking on just two planks. There was a fair bit of water crashing over a short falls here but I was kind of thinking "this is NOT as cool as the other volunteer had made it sound like" and was pondering whether we had time for me to drag the group to the "Wedding Veil Falls" I had visited previously -- I was still in kind of host mode trying to show Daniel the best parts of Guinea, and Monica as well hadn't been to the waterfalls. But then the guide announced "and now for the main suite!" and led us across a meadow to a locked gate. Unlocking it, he led us down a series of steps curving down amongst big mossy trees. Mamadou (driver)'s wife continued along with us even though she was wearing high heels! At the bottom of the steps the trail continued meandering maybe 100 feet along the gnarled roots and frequent little streams of water and then reached a small waterfall comign from a cliff high above and slippery rocks. Continuing along the base of the cliff we approached a growing roar and finally came to a large pool where a truly huge waterfall was falling. There was a wooden boardwalk positioned opposite the waterfall but the water level was unusually high and we'd have to wade to get to it ... which Monica, the tour guide, and I did. Because the boardwalk was exposed to constant mist the steps leading up to it were green with algae and so slimy I could get literally not traction at all -- I had to maintain three solid points of contact and have my foot up against a crack or something, practically crawling up the boardwalk. Once in the middle there was a dry space and now directly across from the waterfall we could appreciate that this was indeed an epic waterfall.
Conakry, 1800 - on the edge of town we came by the driver's house and dropped off his wife, and his two young children came running out to give him a hug. Then we continued on slogging through rush hour traffic. Conakry is a long peninsula and our hotel was at the far end of it. We could have been home in maybe half an hour if there was no traffic but instead the hours stretched on one after the other. At one point we watched a pick up truck practically DISAPPEAR into a pothole, that was pretty alarming. That thing had to be three to four feet deep and the size of a car, the unsuspecting pickup go one wheel in and went over, half in the hole with the bottom of its chassis resting on the edge of the pothole and its wheels spinning in contact with nothing.
Conakry, 2100 - On a quiet street just blocks from our hotel we came across a barricade across half the street that said "HALT" on it. The driver stopped and looked around. There didn't seem to be anyone around, there were cars driving on the other side, and this was the way he wanted to go. So after a minute or two of thinking about it he proceeded past it. Immediately there was a whistle and he stopped as a soldier came to the window and started yelling at him. Then the soldier asked to see the car's paperwork, and inspect our luggage. The driver was visibly grumpy with all this, and things seemed to escalate between him and the soldiers. Daniel says he saw a soldier slap him, and the driver later reported he could smell alcohol on their breath ... which is really scandalous in a muslim country where no one EVER drinks.
We were hoping it would blow over but they took him into custody, making him sit on the bench with them, and continued to argue with him. I distinctly heard the words "500,000," presumably they were trying to get a $50 bribe from him. One of the soldiers talked to me in a friendly manner trying to say in very broken English that there wouldn't have been a problem except that the driver is being so argumentative. I'm sure he was hoping that by playing the good cop in a sort of "good cop bad cop" routine maybe I'd offer to give him some money to make up for my driver's argumentativeness and it would all go away. Daniel and I were told we were free to go, and I kind of suspected if we left they might release Mamadou since their hopes of a bribe would be over, but I also couldn't just walk away and leave him there. I intentionally didn't let on to the guards that I could speak any French at all, because if they can't negotiate with you they can't ask for a bribe. My phone wasn't working, reception is terrible in Conakry, but Daniel called Ibro, who called up the pipeline to USAID, which called up the pipeline to the US Embassy, whom I talked to briefly, and then they called someone in the Guinean military who called the garrison commander who called the unit captain... after awhile a person with military bearing but looking like he had just been called out of bed emerged from the darkness and addressed the soldiers in a posture of parade rest with his hands behind his back. His tone was not angry or chastising, just kind of "these are announcements" and the soldiers listened attentively. They all saluted and the man disappeared into the darkness. Shortly later, Mamadou was released and we continued on our way.
In related news, Daniel mentioned that when he first arrived Ibro had told him "there's a police station down the block this way ... avoid it if you want to avoid trouble."
And just ten minutes later we were at our hotel finally!
Up next, the epic 89 hour trip home, complete with cancelled flights, being stranded in strange new African cities, violent bouts of puking, and maybe even a little romance!
|Thursday, August 4th, 2016|
|Guinea 2016 Part 2 - Project 146
Monday, July 18th, Labe - Arrived in Lafou about half an hour north of the town of Labe. The highway was really shockingly well made here -- no potholes at all. Apparently its part of a new road that goes from Labe to Senegal and will eventually link all the West African countries together.
We (myself, Mr Damba, our driver Mamadou, the beekeeping association trainer Khalidou) were put up in a guest house on one side of a dirt square across from the tiny little local government hall, which is where the training would take place. There was also electricity this time! The little government building had solar panels and they strung across wires so we had working lights, though we couldn't plug anything in to charge.
Along the highway and around the square there were these big white light poles with solar panels, to light up the streetlights at night. Apparently this charity project called Akon Light Up Africa put them in. Personally I think they're a nice improvement of safety by the main road and I guess prevent people from tripping at night in the village, but I'm not sure where streetlights fall in the pyramid of needs. Still everyone seems excited about it and everything helps. I did miss my starry nights though.
As the people filtered into the little hall that first day I noticed a mzungu, or as they call us in Guinea apparently, a porto -- a white person. She was, it turns out, a Peace Corps volunteer. She was working on a beekeeping project so she came to attend the training, which she had heard about the previous years' projects. She was really nice and it gave me someone else to speak with, since Damba usually couldn't be bothered to translate anything conversational for me. Monica, AKA "Umu Bah," wrote a blog entry herself about the training. I'm not going to write too much about the nuts and bolts of the training because that's the same as it always is, so you can read her entry for a fresh look at that (:
For me, having a Peace Corps volunteer there was itself one of the most interesting things. I have an interesting relationship with Peace Corps, having been thinking about doing it on and off ever since college and at one point had almost gone. And there are lots of informational sessions where you can talk to returned PC volunteers in the states if you are interested, but that's nothing like spending two weeks with one in the field to really see what it's like. I greatly enjoyed discussing various development problems and projects with her.
In the evenings a local man named Abdul would take Monica and I walking around, in a different direction each day, and I greatly enjoyed this, since I always love to explore the area. While the part of the village where we were staying was more open, other parts of the village were much more like Doumba had been last year, that is, houses and huts connected by veritable tunnels through thick maize, lots of tree cover, generally green and lush.
One of the days, Abdul led us up a mountain trail, pointing out various herbs along the way and telling us the local beliefs about their medicinal values. Just when I thought we were really far from anywhere, up the mountain, we suddenly came to another little village, where he said his sister lived. Greeted his sister and her family and came back through thick rain.
We got a fair bit of rain in general, and one whole day was lost because it was raining too hard to do anything, but even when it was raining I was revelling in the fact that it was SO MUCH WARMER than Victoria, Australia, which has been within ten degrees of freezing all winter. As always, many hours were spent sitting on the veranda, reading as it rained.
Since Mr Damba only really seemed interested in translating for me when it suited his purposes and/or translating what he wanted to communicate, I found myself increasingly using Monica to go around him to communicate directly with the FAPI (beekeeping association) president and FAPI trainer Khalidou. When someone annoys me I tend to tell myself I'm just being grumpy and it's not that bad but after awhile I realized its kind of ridiculous that I was having to go to all this effort to go around my own interpreter (so he wouldn't intervene I'd often be trying to get a chance to talk to Monica without him around about what I wanted to communicate to the other participants!
Things really came to a head at the end of the week -- I had talked my friend Daniel from Ethiopia into coming to Guinea for the project. He is a honey exporter in Ethiopia, and even if they found another exporter in the United States, no one would have as pertinent experience as Daniel does from exporting from a similarly undeveloped African country to Europe. So Daniel had volunteered to come which I am very grateful for and I paid for his flight from Ethiopia. He was arriving in the nearby town, Labe, on Monday. All week I'd tried to bring up the plans with Damba and he kept brushing me off with "we'll deal with that later." So finally on Friday I sat down with him and said
"okay we need to go in to Labe on Monday to pick up Daniel," to which he said
"No we're going to Labe on Wednesday it's in the itinerary"
"Yes but Daniel is there on Monday and we need to go get him." I said
To this Damba went into the other room and came back to show me the printed itinerary, saying "no see it's on Wednesday"
"I don't care if it's in the itinerary!" I exclaimed, "my friend will be there Monday and I'm not going to leave him twiddling his fingers there for three days"
Damba was completely unmoved, saying we couldn't change the itinerary. Which, I've seen all kinds of wild deviations from the itinerary. We had days off and trips to Labe that weren't in the itinerary already, I really don't know why he was being like this.
"Okay well I'll email Ibro then and ask about it" I offered, since Ibro, the country director for the Organization, surely had the authority to change the god damn holy text of the itinerary. Ibro called him an hour later and I don't know what he said but Damba seemed a bit better behaved.
Monday, July 27th, Labe - On Monday we headed back in to Labe to pick up Daniel, and Ibro who had actually come up with him. At breakfast that morning in the hotel in Labe there was the Justince Minister, the governor of Labe region, and the mayor of Labe. Place to be apparently!
Returned to the village of Lafou for one more day of wrapping things up with the participants and "closing ceremonies." Lots of speeches ensued. I gave a boomerang decorated with aboriginal art to Abdul as thanks for taking us walking every day. I'm not sure he knew what it was or what the kangaroo on it was but he seemed very touched.
Wednesday, July 29th, Labe - On Wednesday we had a meeting with the board of FAPI and Daniel presented about how to meet the import requirements for the EU and it was very good and informative and I myself learned a lot. I had really wondered many times if it was worth the stress and cost and effort to bring Daniel here but after this I was satisfied I had done the right thing. His contributions were very valuable and I'm very happy to have fostered pan-African exchange.
For lunch that day we went to Sanpiring, the little village just outside Labe where I had my first Guinea project in 2014. There I was shocked to learn this young girl of about sixteen I knew (she's the one who was declared my wife after she cried for two weeks after I left the first time) had been married and gone off to live with her husband. You hear about these young marriages but it's truly shocking when it happens to someone you actually knew. She was so young! I was really quite shocked. At least her husband looked young too, not some old creeper.
And the next day we would return to Conakry! Usually its mostly a straight shot but it actually turned into a rather interesting 14 hour road trip complete with being waylaid by drunk soldiers. But that's definitely another entry! (:
Myself, Ibro, and DanielRelatedMonica's Blog PostAll entries about Guinea
|Guinea 2016 Part 1 - The Journey There
Wednesday, August 3rd (today), Moriac, Australia - Well I just got home today from my third project in Guinea. Let me tell you, it was an ordeal getting there as well as getting back! I think I can break this down into just four entries, (1) on getting there; (2) the project itself; (3) on the drive back from the interior to the capitol; and (4) the FIVE DAYS it took to fly back.
Monday, July 11th, Moriac, Australia - I was due to leave on Wednesday, the 13th. As of Monday I was freaking out because I had sent my passport to Washington DC for the Guinean visa stamp and as of Monday it hasn't been released yet. At this point it was no longer physically possible for my passport to arrive on time. In fact I had been stressing out since the week before when I realized it was still in the Embassy in DC. I don't stress out much about things that I can control but thins like this that are entirely out of my hands can really freak me out. I was barely sleeping, constantly feeling stressed.
I tried to contact the US Consulate on Monday and after initially having some trouble getting through the bureaucracy to actually talk to a human (they only actually answer the phone on Tuesdays and Thursdays or something and the appointment system is automated), but once one of my emails reached a human there they were actually quite helpful -- they called ME and said even though the next day was booked out they would make an emergency appointment for me. They were very careful to say they could by no means guarantee I'd be granted an emergency passport but I figured it was my only chance to save this project.
Tuesday, July 12th, Melbourne, Australia - Arriving at the consulate I began to tell the guy at the window my situation and he was like "oh, yes, you, we've been briefed about you." I had to fill out a bunch of forms, pay a $130 fee I hope will be reimbursed by the organization, and wait an hour, and... voila! they issued me a new flimsy temporary passport! My old one, by now finally in transit with DHL but a week from arriving, was cancelled. I still needed a Guinean visa but I was told the Organization's contacts in Guinea could arrange that on arrival, and I didn't even think of it until I was in transit myself but my yellow fever vaccination document was in my old passport .... could have been a big problem but they didn't ask for it on entry to Guinea -- just re-entry into Australia but that's another story.
Wednesday, July 13th, Geelong, Australia - The first frantic misshap of the actual travel occured on my way to catch the bus to the airport. The airport is about an hour and a half away but there's a direct airport bus from downtown Geelong. My housemate has to go to a train station on the outskirts of Geelong to take a train into Melbourne for work so she gave me a ride there and I was going to catch an Uber from there. I had 40 minutes, plenty of time, ... but my uber app on my phone decided THEN was the time it needed to update! It spent ten minutes updating and then still wouldn't load, as I begin to panic anew! And my prepaid phone had run out of its monthly payment just that morning and I wasn't about to put $20 more on it just for one call!! So I put in my American sim card and called a regular taxi. Succeeded in catching the taxi to the train to the plane.
Thursday, July 14th, in transit - Had a bit of a sore throat by the time I landed in Dubai after a fifteen hour flight, which progressed to stuffed up sinuses during the flight to Ghana (but the sore throat actually went away) ... and I don't know if you've ever gone through elevation/pressure changes with entirely stuffed up sinuses but it's actually agonizingly painful, feels like you're head is going to explode.
In Ghana we landed, disembarked some passengers, and took off again. As we landed in our next stop, Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire, my seat mate my have wondered why I was leaning forward cradling my head in my hands silently rocking back and forth with tears rolling down my face, I don't know and I don't care, I'm just glad my head did not in fact explode and my eyes did not pop out (I'm really not 100% sure it's not possible for something to catastrophically burst in such conditions). The pain subsided pretty quickly after landing but my right ear remained plugged for most of the project, making me a bit hard of hearing.
Optimistic that the trip was just one quick hop from being over I sauntered over to the connections desk ... only to find out that the flight to Conakry had been cancelled. On this occasion everyone I interacted with in the airport was extremely friendly and helpful and really made a positive impression of Cote D'Ivoire.
Since the flight was cancelled they put me up in a hotel, which had a shuttle to take me, so no stress. During the drive there I observed that Abidjan has broad streets without too much traffic or squalor. Apparently it's the second biggest city of West Africa (and here you'be probably never heard of it before). The little hotel they put me up in was cute and the manager, a young man who looked in his mid twenties, was very friendly, though his English wasn't great. When he found out what I do he asked why I wasn't working in Cote D'Ivoire. I said I only go where I'm invited ... the next day he had printed out this really cute "invitation letter" which
I promise I will link in here asap. voila:
Friday, July 15th, Conakry - I had bought a massive 250gb "microSD" memory chip for my phone, so I was looking forward to actually being able to take lots of videos even, without constantly running out of room. Well on day 1 it started borking out. Some 85% of the pictures I took resulted in unreadable files until I removed the chip and then things worked fine. It's weird though because I have been using that chip for months without a problem, but the moment I'm out in the field counting on it it completely fails!
At this point I did succeed in recording and uploading this video, which is mostly just me telling the above story. It cuts out abruptly but all attempts to record the second half resulted in bad files so this is all you get. Anyway I pretty much just spent Friday and Saturday trying to recover from jet lag.
Sunday, July 17th, Labe - The drive from Conakry, a peninsula on the coast, to Labe in the interior, can take 8-10 hours, plus 3-4 hours of traffic in Conakry itself. Fortunately, being Sunday, there was no traffic!
My driver one of an infinite array of Mamadous, didn't speak much English so we couldn't really talk but he seemed like a capitol fellow. The drive is always beautiful once you get out of the city as well. In Mamou, about 2/3rds of the way up, we picked up Monsieur Morlaye Damba, who had been my interpreter last year. In Labe we stayed in a hotel, and while we were (for some reason?) standing by the front door a well dressed man in a suit came in accompanied by some other guys in suits and some uniformed soldiers. He shook our hands as he went past and I was afterwords informed he is the Guinean Minister of Justice!
Monday, July 18th, Labe - we met up with some people I knew from before from the beekeeping federation, and it was good to see them, and then we greeted the regional governor in his office. And then we were off to the project site about half an hour north of town! But that's another entry!
|Sunday, June 26th, 2016|
|18 of 30 - A World Without Art
The fellow pointing in this picture was Arturo Zamarripa. He was the first mate of the schooner Spirit and brig Pilgrim. He's a bit in the background in this picture but I feel it best captures his fun-loving leadership style. Heartbreakingly he was killed in a motorcycle accident this past Tuesday at the age of 33. I suppose I hardly hung out with him outside of the boat but even spending a little bit of time with him one immediately gets a strong sense of his great friendliness, zest for life, adventuresomeness, kindness, competence, and leadership.
When someone like this dies it's a bit hard to come up with a way to express one's reactions without feeling like one is just being trite, posting yet another "RIP so and so 1983-2016" that will garner predictable "I'm sorry for your loss" responses. And I always feel weird people apologizing to me for it like that. So I don't know, please just take a moment to consider that there had existed for awhile a fantastic young man who brightened the lives of everyone he came into contact with.
To feel like I'm doing something to commemorate him I've been telling my friends about him when we're out and then making them drink a toast to him, of Sailor Jerry spiced rum ... I don't know if it was his favorite but it was popular among the sailors. In this way I feel a little more like I'm doing more than just posting a cliche memoriam. One wants to feel they're doing something.
|Friday, June 24th, 2016|
|17 of 30 - Solstice!
Last Tuesday was the solstice. I used to call it the summer solstice but now it's the winter solstice for me. Websites like Timeanddate.com refer to it as "the June solstice," but I don't terribly like the sound of that even if it's always in June. Northern Solstice I suppose would be most accurate word for it, since what it marks in actuality is the most northernmost zenith of the sun, when the sun is directly overhead the Tropic of Cancer somewhere for a moment before starting its long corkscrew back south.
As it happens this moment was at 8:24am my time, this past Tuesday. I believe it was at 22:24 Monday, Greenwich Mean Time, and actually occurred somewhere East of Australia (well three and a half time zones east).
I found it kind of neat that unlike events such as midnight, New Years, which rolls around the world hour by hour, the moment of solstice is of course the same all the way around the world, since it is a specific moment in time. And yet despite this, it occurred for me on Tuesday but for all of America it was Monday at the time.
I've found myself really looking forward to the solstice ever since, well, the equinox. Practically counting down the days. There are a few reasons for this. (1) Being as I work in an agricultural industry in which much turns on the season, yet I'm not quite familiar with when the seasons begin and end here in Australia, it is my clear signpost to the progression of the seasons;
(2) I'm finding the Australian winter really depressing! In the United States winter is bracketed and punctuated by holidays -- Halloween kind of heralds in the season of crispness, then just wwhen you need another pick-me-up there's the warm cozy over eating and family time of Thanksgiving, and then in the deepest darkest of winter there's Christmas and New Years ... and in Southern California anyway pretty much from there on out you forget it's winter even though I guess it continues till Easter (:
But here in Australia Christmas and New Years fall weirdly in the middle of summer and the whole long stretch of actual winter is completely devoid of big holidays to look forward to. It's really making me realize how much having holidays to look forward to distracts from the lengthening nights and shortening days. And so, like some kind of "gosh dang pagan" I find myself fixating on the solstice.
Also this solstice happened to coincide with a full moon, which was kind of neat. I admire the clock-like ticking around of the moon every thirty days and the precise angular movements of the solstice, though I'd hate to be mistaken for some kind of hippie who attaches some sort of voodoo "spirituality" to these occurrences. Perhaps more on this in a future entry!
PS: Unfortunately I'm falling a fair bit behind in this "30 in 30" thing. To be fair ever since Monday when I posted the last one I had something to do immediately after work and just literally didn't have time to sit and write something. I suppose I'll just continue after the end of June to try to get 30 entries out as soon as possible.
Totally Unrelated Pic of the Day
This one didn't quite make the cut in the Guinea entry but I kind of liked it. The teenage girls of the village are doing their homework on a balcony. Even in remote African villages, homework happens!
|Tuesday, June 21st, 2016|
|16 of 30 - Philippines!
February 2016 -My friend Justin left the United States after college and never came back. He went to teach English in Korea and has mostly been doing that ever since, which is like eight years or so now. Since I'm not generally in the area of Korea I hadn't seen him in that time, so when I found out he was getting married in the Philippines and I happened to be _relatively_ nearby in Australia, I was excited to attend!
The only problem was that this was coming after I'd worked on my new job for just barely two months, NOT a good time to run off for a week! So I didn't feel comfortable asking my boss for the time off until relatively last minute, and didn't want to take more than the bare minimum of time off. As a result of the lateness of booking, the only flight I could get was via Kuala Lumpor, I don't know if there ARE direct Melbourne to Kalibu flights, there's probably Melb - Manila - Kalibu flights, but I ended up going via Kuala Lumpor, which made a giant triangle of 5,462 miles. ...but it could have been worse, just a few weeks ago Justin had to come HERE actually and ended up flying via Hong Kong, which is exactly the opposite direction.
Anyway the consequence of all this was that I spent nearly a full day getting there, three days there, and a full day returning! NOT the best travel to enjoying-oneself ratio!
Also I flew "Asia Air X" or something which was some super budget airline that packed us in like sardines and did NOT have in flight movies. Left Melbourne Friday (Feb 5th) evening, had two or three hours layover in Kuala Lumpor. It's a big airport, with a fair bit of art installations and things. Really not bad as far as international airports go. I tried the Popeyes in the food court because now I get excited when I see American chains in random food courts .... but the food was awwwwwwwwweful and the portions tiny.
Then flew to Kalibu in the Philippines, arriving there in the vaguely general area of noon. I had had a wild misconception that Kalibu would be very close to my final destination of Boracay Island, like it was just on the mainland (as much as the Philippines _have_ a mainland) of the island. Nope. From there it was a three (?) hour bus ride winding through the lush forests, rice paddies, and little villages, before we came to the town that was, in fact, mainland side of Boracay island. Short ferry ride (a kilometer or two?) by outrigger ferry from there to Boracay Island. From there shuttle bus to my hotel (all these modes of transportation fortunately could be booked all at once with Southwest Tours, who kind of herd you from one to the other so it's not really as nerve racking is it would be if one had had to figure it all out on one's own).
Boracay Island it turns out is a small island, small enough to actually walk all around the periphery, and it's fairly densely urbanized through most of the middle but has beautiful beaches on the two long sides (it's very oblong). VERY heavily touristed. If you want to go somewhere with well developed tourist infrastructure it's your place. If you want deserted undiscovered beaches, it is NOT the place for you.
That first evening once I had gotten sorted out I took a motorbike taxi to where the wedding party was having a dinner for everyone. They'd rented a nice house for the weekend so we had a nice little dinner. It was at this point of course that I saw my friend for the first time in eight years. It was good to see him. As it turns out I was actually his ONLY friend from the states to come to his wedding -- twenty or so friends came from Korea (no actual Koreans though. Mainly other American teachers and some from elsewhere. I actually got along best with the girl from Nairobi. I had been there more recently than she had!), and of course family from the states. His wife was also American. It was a regular old ex-pat convention!
And I really must laud his friends, I didn't know a single one of them previous to this, and pretty quickly I felt like I was hanging out with a group of my own best friends. Really great friendly people.
After htat was over a few of us went down to a club on the beach and stayed out till the sun was coming up again, which I haven't done in longer than I can remember. Okay Spain 2009 actually.
Day 2, Sunday - Slept till after noon I think. Even staying up till after the sun rose, I have a bit of an abhorrance of being in bed past noon, but what can I say I was really tired and wiped out. Waking up I discovered that the night before I had lost my hat (just a khaki cap from the army surplus store back home) and the bag of swag the wedding party had given everyone. After checking the bars we'd been to and finding they didn't have it I set off to walk as far around the island as I could, which is practically standard operating procedure for me on a small island really. I was able to traverse most of the island in the remaining afternoon.
That evening I was just starting to wonder where the heck everyone was when I got a text from Justin asking "are you coming???"
"To where??" I naturally inquired. I imagine maybe a schedule of events had been in my lost swag bag. He informed me everyone was sitting down to dinner at a restaurant. And after a little more back and forth he isntructed me how to get there.
So I ran out and got a motorbike taxi, who couldn't find the place, but after a bit of a goose chase and calling Justin again we finally got as close to the described location. I had the front desk girl of a nearby restaurant make me change to pay the taxi and set off down the beach looking for the place that was supposed to be "down the beach on your left."
After walking far enough that I concluded I had missed it again I called Justin again, got new directions, came back... and found the girl who had made me change was actually at the very restaurant I was trying to get to! My earlier directions, from the bride actually, had proceeded from the mistaken belief I was walking here down the beach from my hotel, so it WAS "down the beach on the left" from there but not from where the driver dropped me off.
Anyway dinner was lovely, as was the company, once again. Didn't stay out crazy late this night, even though it was the Chinese New Years and he clubs all seemed to be gearing up for some pretty big partying. A bunch of us did set at a table on the beach belonging to a bar and have some beers though and a bunch of the guys tried the infamous chicken fetus eggs. They claimed it was surprisingly good and tasted kind of like gravy, but there ain't no way I'm trying it.
Day 3, Monday - Woke up in better condition this time, strolled along the beach, had a nice breakfast along with obligatory drink from a coconut. Walked the remaining radius of the island. Then in the early evening we all got together for the wedding on the beach. Once again it was great fun hanging out with his lovely friends and family and I was definitely full of regret that according to my original plans I was to leave the very next morning!
That night when I got back to my hotel I went online to see if I could change my flights but alas Air Asia X had a strict no changing your plans in less than 24 hours policy. So the next morning (Tuesday) I had to catch the shuttle bus back to the ferry back to the mainland bus back to the airport. I'm informed btw that I got lucky and was the only wedding guest who didn't suffer agonizing flight delays trying to leave. From there back to Kuala Lumpor, which, I've just got to remark on the EXTREMELY GOOD airport food court food I had this time at an actual indonesian restaurant that put fresh ingrediants in a wok right in front of you and for very cheap whipped up this utterly delicious noodle dish (Beef Udan).
Day 5, Wednesday - And flew from there to Melbourne, arriving around 7an. Airport bus from there back to Geelong, and this lighting waaay-too-short trip was done!!
|Sunday, June 19th, 2016|
|15 of 30 - Guinea 2015 Episode VII
By now not only has nearly a year passed, but my daily notes on the Guinea trip were ALSO on the phone that was lost in Nairobi so they're gone! ): So The last two weeks or so are going to be super condensed! I'm going to assume you don't remember my last Guinea entry, because I certainly don't!
September 2015 - Let's see I don't think I wrote about the making of wax products, which we did the last few days and everyone was very interested in it. I write about it now mainly just to illustrate (or rather literate) the numerous good pictures I got of everyone being very interested in it.
Anyway, then I returned to Conakry. Did that take one day or two? I don't know any more! But it's a long way.
Back in the capitol, Conakry, I was once again there at the same time as Dr Sandra, a pesticide expert. The next morning I'm still loafing in my room in my pajamas when I get a call from the lobby saying my driver was there to pick me up. Uh what? So I quickly get dressed and run down there ... and it is then that they (the guys from The Organization) inform me that we have to go to the Ministry of Agriculture to make a presentation. GEE THANKS FOR THE WARNING!!
THEY had known about this in advance, it's not like it just came up, but somehow didn't think of telling ME about it in advance. Fortunately I have no fear of public speaking so was able to decently wing a presentation to a room full of under-secretaries and heads of branches, two reporters and the local peace corps coordinators -- but I would have really liked to have had a chance to put a power point together, which I could have easily done the night before if I had had warning!
After that we went to another big presentation room for Sandra to give her presentation on how pesticide safety can be improved in Guinea. I found it quite interesting! I often wish I could sit in on more of other volunteer's projects.
My dear mother had asked me for some of the cloth they make their beautiful clothes with in Guinea so we went looking for clothe, and once I'd indicated to my local colleagues what I wanted we left without buying it, since the sellers obstinantly would _not_ give a decent price seeing a white guy was the buyer, and instead we had Miss Adama, the Organization's secretary, later go back and buy that same fabric for an actual decent price.
That evening The Organization guys took Sandra and I to a restaurant out on a pier called "Obamas" that was actually quite nice ... if you ignored the really alarming amount of trash floating in the water.
Sandra and I were both to be taken to the airport at the same time the next day. At some point I decided I wanted to stop by the craft market on our way to the airport and talking it over with the Assistant Director he agreed to this and I asked if Sandra was on board with this and he said, I believe, sometihng along the lines of "I assume so"
Knowing how terrible they are about communicating I asked Miss Adama again just before tehy came to pick us up if Sandra had been told of the chane in plans and she gave me a similar positive sounding yet not 100% positive answer.
Aaand when they showed up it turns out Sandra had NOT been told we were leaving an hour earlier. It's things like this that I just find shocking -- how can it not occur to you that people involved in plans need to be told of changes of the plans? Especially when someone involved is actively reminding you??
One last funny thing -- on Tinder, the dating app, there was no one in Conakry but a lot of medical professionals in Freetown, Sierra Leone, 80 miles to the south. I chatted with this one girl a handful of times but then I went into the interior and got busy with stuff.
Arriving in Atlanta, Georgia, when I got to passport control and told them where I had come from, the officer promptly put on a surgical mask, gave me a surgical mask to put on, and put in a call for another officer to come over after a few minutes, also wearing a mask, to escort me to the quarantine area. There were about half a dozen of us in the waiting area, and then they took us into a little room to take our temp and stuff. All staff wearing protective clothing. And I realized the little room had a thick door with one way window, stainless steel walls, a cot bolted to the floor ... it was totally the room where they beat you with hoses before disappearing you to a plausibly denied secret CIA prison in Eastern Europe!! Fortunately they didn't do that to me.
But now I mention the girl because when I finally got home to California I had a message from ehr saying "was that you in quarantine with me???" ... so we "met" on tinder while 80 miles apart in Africa, and then two weeks and 3,000 miles later we happened to be quarantined together in Atlanta. Funny!
The morning after my arrival in California there was a knock on my door, it was a county health inspector there to serve me with a formal notice of quarantine. I was free to leave the house and go about my business but would need to notify them if I left the county, and had to report my temperature to the county health inspector twice a day -- to fail to do this would be a misdemeanor.
I asked what would have happened if I came back with a fever like I did last time, and he said they'd have had an ambulance waiting for me at hte airport to take me to the back entrance of the hospital where they would put me under intense quarantine. YIKES!!
Anyway I was officially quarantined for 21 days I believe and on day 22 I was off again to East Africa! And that is another story... which has already been told!
Ismatou, in the blue making a kind of funny face here is getting married around the time I'll be back next month so I'm really hoping I can coordinate it to attned her wedding. Recall I just barely missed a village wedding last year and I was really bummed because it seemed very interesting, so maybe I'll get my chance!
See Also: there's really too many good pictures I'd like to post! See them on flickr! Guinea is such a beautiful place I really want wait to go back!
|Saturday, June 18th, 2016|
|14 of 30 - Six Months
Today, the 18th of June, officially marks 6 months I've been living in Australia (if we overlook the fact that I've spent a month of that time abroad). My how time flies! I feel like I just got here! And yet, I feel like 6 months is the smalelst amount of time that can officially be called a long time.
Last time I was in Australia I was here for abut six months (I never sorted it out exactly, but within half a month of six months I'm pretty sure), which means I've now been here onger than I was last time (which means something to me at least, because I felt like last time was "a long time"), and that all totalled up I've lived here a full year. Even Sweden I only lived in for 11 months and I felt like that was definitely "a long time."
I suppose one's current situation never feels as etablished and permanent as anything one looks back on nostalgically. Last time I lived in Australia, in Bundaberg, I feel like it felt more established and settled than I do now, though arguably it should be the opposite. Maybe Bundaberg had more routine. I worked 60 hours a week, watched rented movies in the evening 3 days a week (the movie rental place had a deal for renting up to three movies for pretty cheap on tuesdays you see), went into town on Saturdays, had Sunday roast at the local bowling club on Sundays. It was very routine.
Now I work only 40 hours a week (first time in my life to work so little!) It's like working half time!), and it seems every evening I'm up to something! Las week I got back from the beekeeping convention Friday evening and immediately showered and went out again because Billie had invited me over for roast. Saturday I don't remember, Sunday a bunch of us got together to play Cards against Humanity. Monday evening my friend Trent and his lady friend were passing by this way and invited me out to my local pub. Tuesday Billie invited me out to "parmi night" at another local pub. Can't for the life of me remember what was on Wednesday but I had something on, Thursday I usually go to trivia night with a meetup group but I decided to have my first night at home in more than a week, Friday evening was the local beekeeping club meeting, tonight (Saturday) is a 20s theme party (excuse to wear my bowler hat!) ... I wasn't nearly this busy back in California! I haven't been this social since college!
Comparing again to Bundaberg, it's funny how nostalgia makes everything better. I do remember kind of hating Bundaberg, I was lonely, I was working my butt off, it was wicked hott, nearly everyone there was kind of a bogan (ie Australian redneck) or squirrelly alcoholic 18 year old backpackers. But now I fondly think back to the tropical warmth of Bundaberg, living on the beaches, living in a little community I could walk across barefoot in the rain without being cold. One thing I wasn't prepared for her ein victoria is being cold so cold. All the time. cold and dreary. People who live in places where it snows like to give me grief about the fact that it's only maybe 40f here, but hey most of you work indoors! I work in an unheated shed, and it's cold as heck!!! Even in summer int was too cold half the time., I wasn't prepared for this!!
I've been unable to leave the country for the past two months because I'm informed it will reset my current visa application. If it's not sorted in the next month I have to leave the country anyway by the terms of my current visa, which requires me to stay no longer than 3 months at a time. Either way, at about the time this one would require me to leave I'm planning on going to Guinea for my next project there. I probably won't have much time for development projects after that, so that means this year I'll have only done two, I would have liked to have done three, but oh well. Next year I should be able to make up for it.
And this is getting kind of rambly so I'll wrap it up. But yeah, six months!
|Friday, June 17th, 2016|
|13 of 30 - The Dragonnades
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
Now as long as I'm on a constitutional roll, let's talk about this controversial little gem. I'm sure you probably can't even agree with your closest friends on interpretation of this one. I mean seriously, does an apartment count as a house? Does this mean that if you go to the bar and meet a lovely and/or dashing member of the armed services, depending on your inclination, you can't bring them back to your place without your landlord's permission?? That would seem to be the strict interpretation of it! Too bad Justice Scalia is no longer with us to give us the hard literist take on this. Only members of the army are officially called soldiers now, so can one bring home a Sailor?
This is the Third Amendment and really when I was looking at the list of items in the Bill of Rights this one struck me as much more specific and uncontroversial than the others. Indeed wikipedia informs me that it has _never_ formed the main argument of any case before the supreme court.
In the future, there is only war ... and as a consequence the 3rd Amendment shall not apply and God Emperor Trump will assign a PTSD suffering space marine to every household!
|Thursday, June 16th, 2016|
|12 of 30 - Freedom of Speech
An acquaintance of mine recently posted the above piece of tripe on facebook in an earnest manner, and proceeded to argue with me in favor of it's central idea. I've had some similar discussions lately, so I thought I'd post an entry about it. Let us start with oh just an obscure line from an old document that is lying around:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
That is, you guessed it, the First Amendment! Two amendments in as many days!
As noted I've had other discussions recently as well, with people who don't seem to quite value Freedom of Speech.
After I pointed out that in the United States people can display offensive symbols because Freedom of Speech, "I don't agree with what you're saying but I'll defend to the death your right to say it," and all that, he argued that it wasn't speech because it wasn't "intellectual discourse," it was "just a symbol." To wit: "Flying a flag of any kind is intellectually inferior to to actual speech. One is sacred the other is stupid."
To this I say, and said, that the right to fly a flag or otherwise display symbols representing one's beliefs and values is in fact the exercise of Freedom of Conscience, a subsidiary of freedom of speech that I would argue is actually even more fundamental.
In cases like this I often suggest the person try applying what I can the "if the shoe was on the other foot," test. They seem to take it for granted that the moral majority and the government would always share their values. I'm eternally thankful that the Founding Fathers didn't make this mistake, and indeed, it's probably because tehy were splitting off from a government they didn't agree with that they were so insightful. So to put the shoe on the other foot, if flags and such symbols are "intellectually inferior" to protected speech, imagine just a generation ago, when the government and main stream morality could very plausibly have declared that the gay pride flag should be banned.
Another related argument I had with a friend regarded the crazy preachers who periodically appear on university campuses spewing hateful rhetoric. Once again I was defending their freedom of speech and my friend argued that this particular speech of theirs was nothing but hateful and that there should be a "usefulness," test on whether or not speech actually furthers any kind of discourse. The problem with this idea is that "usefulness" simply cannot be measured objectively, and while we may be pleased to find the government clamping down on these hateful preachers, "if the shoe were on the other foot," and the government was was not perfectly pleased with the "usefulness" of what WE wanted to say, you can bet we'd be thinking that wasn't so great any more. Simply put, no interpretation of rights can hinge upon the assumption that the government and moral weight of society will always be on your side.