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|Saturday, May 16th, 2015|
|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.
|Wednesday, June 15th, 2016|
|11 of 30 - Right to Bear Arms
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
That, as you may recognize, is the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, popularly believed to grant everyone an individual right to guns.
Now, I don't have a particular agenda as regards guns, at least not on the traditional perception of one being either entirely against them or entirely for them. I'm not a gun nut, but I have friends who are quite in to their gun collections, and am aware that many other people are as well and would be very upset, indeed live in relative terror at the prospect, of their guns being taken away. And on the other hand, gun violence obviously causes a lot of unfortunate events, to put it mildly. And then there's the whole issue of what is or is not a constitutional right. And it is this latter point I'd like to address. What DOES the Constitution actually say?
Most people on both sides of the debate have seemed to completely lose sight of one minor detail about their "right to bear arms" -- the Constitution does NOT guarantee individuals the right to bear arms.
The 2nd Amendment's express purpose is to guarantee a "well regulated militia." So now let's step back from everything else and ask this: does the current firearm policy in any stretch of the imagination resemble a "well regulated militia?"
I will go so far to propose that it does not.
Some have put forward that the state national guards fit the requirement of a "well regulated militia." And that may be possible, but it's also true that the founding father's were intensely suspicious of government and clearly intended the amendment to allow citizens to fight the government, their OWN government, if they so desired.
Which brings up an interesting nuance. Far from banning military grade "assault weapons," such an interpretation would expressly allow them.
Anyway, clearly there are a lot of fans of guns who adamentally desire to keep personal weapons that are not under the control of the state, and would be, so to speak, up in arms, if they didn't have an option.
So what if people COULD form "militias" in the form of gun clubs. But the members of any such militia are collectively responsible for the gun related behavior of any individual member. It's then in all member's of the club's interest to make sure no wingnuts are allowed to join their club. And if you're a wingnut you probably won't be allowed to join any gun club. And of course as is currently the case, no felons, mentally unstable, or otherwise dangerous individuals could have firearms even if they could join a club.
I know, I know, the idea of "armed militias" sounds scary but consider that presently they already exist with no motivation to self regulate.
And the "right" to bear arms doesn't necessarily need to apply only to militias, remember that which is not forbidden is allowed, so I'd propose there'd of course be allowances for persons of known levels of civic responsibility, honorably discharged veterans, police officers and the like, to own personal firearms -- and this category would happily include all my friends who are gun nuts.
So that's my compromise interpretation of the 2nd Amendment. Either way, to return to my initial point, the current situation in no way resembles a "well regulated militia," and clearly needs to be drastically reformed.
|Tuesday, June 14th, 2016|
|10 of 30 - Shootout at Glenrowan
Monday, June 28th, 1880, Glenrowan, Victoria, Australia - In the early hours of the morning, police Sgt Steele heard a noise among the gum trees behind them and spun around. Through the grey mists behind them a strange apparition appeared, like a large topheavy man lurching from tree to tree. It fired opened fire on them with a revolver and Steele, Senior Constable Kelly, and Dowsett, a railway guard, returned fire, but the bullets just bounced off the ghostly figure.
Friday, June 10th, 2016, Glenrowan, Victoria, Australia - Returning from the beekeeping conference in Wangaratta, the next town down the Hume Highway was Glenrowan. Honestly I wouldn't have stopped there but the aforementioned Ingress game had a portal there I wanted to visit. Upon arrival I noticed all these tourist signs about Ned Kelly and decided to investigate.
I had first become aware of Ned Kelly when I toured the Melbourne Gaol, where there was informational signs about some Ned Kelly character as if of course we know all about him. I kept looking for the sign that contained the beginning of the story thinking I had missed it, but it just wasn't there. Turns out all those signs are up in Glenrowan, 150 miles up the Hume river valley. Such is life.
As it turns out though, it's really a very interesting story!!
Sunday, June 27th, 1880, Glenrowan, Victoria, Australia - Ned Kelly had become a notorious outlaw, or what they call a "bushranger" in the sort of "wild west" days of Australia. Him and his gang ranged far and wide robbing banks and other such mischief. There were many interesting adventures, I'm sure, but I find their last one of particularly remarkable note. They basically, it seems, planned to defeat the police in one pitched battle and then to go on a bank robbing spree without having to worry about the police.
So to go about this they planned to murder a police informer up country, and then when the police dispatched a special police train to the area, to derail it and ambush the police.
The initial murder went off well enough. The informer seemed to have three police guards who just hid in the back room when they shot their informer in his doorway, not a very impressive moment on the police's part. As predicted a police train was dispatched, and the gang retired to the little town of Glenrowan, where the tracks curved through a forested glen. There in the midafternoon they took over the Glenrowan Hotel, held everyone they could find hostage, and compelled some railway workers to pull up the tracks. Then they set about waiting for the train, during which time they apparently encouraged their hostages to play card games, and kept the barstaff serving drinks -- some hostages later admitted it wasn't a half bad afternoon really.
Unfortunately for their scheme, during the night the local schoolmaster snuck out and ran down the line and successfully warned the approaching police train around 3am. So the police train was able to stop and deploy its forces before it reached the town. Also of interesting note the train was carrying a fair number of newsmen from Melbourne who had expected to report on the earlier murder they were on their way to, so now all the preeminent media outlets of the area happened to have reporters right in the thick of things.
Around 4am the police were in position behind trees and other cover surrounding the hotel. Some more daring reporters sheltered behind further trees, while most occupied the tine railway stationhouse, barely 100 yards from the hotel. The Kellys released their prisoners to better prepare for action, and then the firing began, with the outlaws (I think there were only four of them) and the police blazing away at eachother in the night. But here's where one of the most remarkable things about this story comes up.
Ned Kelly's gang had made themselves suits of plate armor from plowblades, or rather had a local blacksmith do it for them. The resulting armor looked quite like what you'd picture a medieval knight to wear, with solid plate completely protecting their upper body and groin, and cylindrical helmets with narrow slits for their eyes. The suits weighed about 100 pounds each. Over these suits they wore long grey overcoats. The police had heard reports about the armor but as one might imagine dismissed the reports as too fantastical.
As it turns out, it seems the armor worked quite well, with bullets bouncing right off the outlaws. Their helmets were padded on the inside to protect them from the constant concussion of bullets.
A police superintendent was wounded in the hand in the first few minutes of the gunfight and a newspaper sketch artist staunched his wound (this is how RIGHT THERE the newsmen were!)
The firing continued intermittently throughout the night, with gunsmoke sometimes obscuring the view. In the morning fifteen more police reinforcements arrived, doubling the number of police to 30. It was in the dim grey light of early morning that it was discovered that Ned Kelly had apparently snuck through the lines in the fog and made an attack on the police from their flank. After a short firefight he was injured in his unarmored leg and arms and captured alive by the police.
Meanwhile, some hostages were only now getting out of the house and informed the police there were still three gang members in the hotel, and the shootout continued. Bullets could pass entirely through the thin walls of the building and the police had to take care not to injure their own allies on the fire side of the building. At about 5am gang member Joe Byrne was hit and killed as he lifted a glass of whiskey to his lips.
The two remaining gang members apparently stood in full view of the police, blazing away at them, clearly confident of the protection of their armor (and, lord knows how they didn't get shot in the legs, but said confidence seemed to be well placed). At 10am 30 hostages were escaped from the hotel under a white flag -- though two were immediately arrested as gang sympathizers.
At 2pm a 12 pounder cannon (For comparison those cannons you see being used in pictures of Napoleonic battles, those are mostly only 6 pounders, this was a Big Gun) and company of militia arrived via another train. Under covering fire at 2:30 a police officer was able to ignite a fire under the hotel and flames soon engulfed the building.
In the end all that was left of the hotel was a lamp post and sign board. The two outlaws were found dead, still in their impenetrable armor.
Ned Kelly was later tried in Melbourne, held in the Melbourne Gaol ("jail"), where I first encountered him, and there hanged. His last words were "such is life."
Today Glenrowan is still an idyllic little hamlet in a small glen with railway tracks leading through the middle of it. The stationhouse is still there, and signs indicate where the police positioned themselves (on present "Siege Street"), where the hotel was of course (still an empty lot), and where the copse of trees where Ned Kelly was finally taken down is. Today the tiny town appears to garner most of its income through Ned Kelly tourism. Such is life.
See Also: Read more about his earlier exploits on wikipedia.
|Monday, June 13th, 2016|
|09 of 30 - Chook Invasion
I woke up abruptly in the early predawn blackness this morning, to the sound of squawking chickens. The chicken coop is not far from my room, so I could hear them quite well, and easily pictures feathers flying all over the place as a fox ravaged them.
So I got up and went out to see what could be done about it. But as soon as I left my room I found a situation I had not expected -- my housemate is chasing chickens around the house, and as soon as she sees me she starts apologizing and saying over and over again "this has never happened before!"
Apparently, what happened is that she was headed to work and had gone to let the chickens out of their coop. But at the time she opened the coop she had the door to the house open, not fifteen feet from the facing coop door, and the light on in the house. The chooks, as they call chickens in Australia (one of the very best Australianisms in my opinion), made a beeline for this illuminated beacon, right from the coop into the house. Once in the house they proceeded to hide under furniture, poop everywhere, and set up wild squawking when she got close to actually capturing one of them.
One by one we were able to corral and catch the wily birds, though some of them evaded us from room to room, under beds and out the other side. And then I went back to bed. Gosh dang chooks!
|Saturday, June 11th, 2016|
|08 of 30 - Conventional Arguments
So convention was fun, informative, and surprisingly dramatic -- it ended in an overtime secret ballot! But unfortunately it looks like I'm now a bit behind on my entries!
In general in beekeeping, and I think this is very close to the accurate numbers and not an exaggeration, 98% of beekeepers are hobbyists and 98% of hives are owned by commercial beekeepers. Ie there's hundreds of people with one or two hives in a given area and a half dozen to a dozen guys with 1000-1500 hives.
Most of the people at this convention were the professionals, I think I can think of maybe three people I found to be hobbyists. In kind of a general question and answer period Wednesday night one hobbyist girl, possibly after having a few drinks, asked the whole room "I feel like there's some tension between the commercial beekeepers and hobbyist beekeepers, what's up with that?" which of course everyone denied and expressed their wholehearted support for hobbyists.
At the very end of convention Thursday afternoon, they went into the official votes on motions and such. There were three or four which were resolutions to lobby the government this way or that, for example the government database of registered beesites in the state forests had somehow come to put them all in the wrong place and so they resolved to lobby the government to fix that. Pretty straight forward.
Then this one hobbyist beekeeper, this brash, outspoken woman with kind of a contentious tone, made a motion that all advise given by any of the officers or deputies to anyone else be recorded, "for posterity." It seemed kind of weird to me -- her argument was so that this advise could be seen and used by everyone but there's more than enough resources on beekeeping already, both in available books and videos and experienced beekeepers one can talk to one on one, but the practical effect would be a great burden of recordkeeping on these individuals and I fear even a reluctance to actually give advise because of the onerous burden of recordkeeping it would bring down on their heads.
And then. Then minutes before we had to be out of the hall, one last motion came up. That same woman had put it forward, and she had put it forward before convention even began so it wasn't her fault it came up so close to the end like this. And if it had been before the other motions none of them would have been seen. And there should have been more time but things had been running on a crunch all day.
This motion was to move future conventions "for the next five years" to the weekend instead of the weekdays. At first glance that might seem thoroughly innocuous, but really it gets at the heart of the hobbyist-commercial divide. Hobbyists would prefer the weekend, commercial guys would prefer the weekdays. Personally, I'm a professional beekeeper, and I could do the weekend too, and I'd imagine so could they, but I think it was more about the meaning behind it all.
She spoke in favor of course, and frankly I think didn't help her cause one bit. Her speech wasn't about how it would be good for the association but seemed to focus on how it would be good for _her_. And her tone was thoroughly combative. I had resolved to abstain on the issue but her speech really kind of made me _want_ to vote against her.
The majority of the members of the association at this point are indeed hobbyists, and since I can make the weekend too (and when I say the weekend, to be fair, she was proposing Friday-Saturday so it would be one of each -- but there's no way the people whose livelihoods are beekeeping would take a miss on a day of convention, so the question is still bringing them in on the weekend), and its not like beekeepers don't work on the weekend _all the time_, but I really think it was the principal of the matter. They raised additional arguments that convention center costs would be multiple times higher on the weekend, that other professionals such as the academics and government apiary inspectors wouldn't want to come on the weekend, and the single most invluential argument I heard was an organizer told me "we had it on the weekend a few years ago, we lost 40 commercial beekeepers and gained three hobbyists."
But about the arguments, I must say, I'm a bit of parliamentry procedure nerd, and every time someone made an argument against the motion the woman who motioned for it would shoot her hand up and yell "right of reply!" and they'd let her make another argument -- but "right of reply" is only supposed to be used to defend oneself against _personal_ attacks, of which there was nothing even close.
The motion was quite reasonably amended from "next five years" to "next year with further review for following years."
Anyway, if this wasn't all contentious enough, then she raised her hand and called out "I request a secret ballot!!"
The room groaned. The people at the podium said "really??" conferred among themselves, declared that this motion required FOUR people to second it, which then occurred.
At first I was baffled by this move, since I felt beekeepers would be more likely to vote against the hobbyists in secret, but then it was explained to me, on the simple just-raise-your-hand vote its one person one vote, but with the invocation of secret ballot the more complex rules come into play. She had, I am informed, 11 proxy votes from hobbyists who couldn't make it. However, the association membership is such that you pay higher membership fees the more hives you have, and if you have more than I think 200 hives you have 2 votes, and if you have more than a 1000 I think you have like four votes. Which I think is fair because these people have a much greater stake in the goings-on. So she was able to cast 12 votes but suddenly most of the room had doubled their voting power.
Anyway this stretched on a full half hour after we were supposed to be out of the room and they announced that they'd announce the results at the awards dinner that night. So we left the room on quite the cliffhanger!
...when we were all reconvened for dinner they announced the results: 46 in favor, 66 opposed.
|Wednesday, June 8th, 2016|
|07 of 30 - Factoids
Random Fact I learned yesterday: I apparently have been living very close to ground zero of one of the world's greatest biosecurity breaches.
Random Bee Fact I learned today: When bees go out to a location where they had previously collected nectar but find the source depleted, they do not immediately search the surrounding area for a new source, they instead return to the hive and, according to the researcher who presented on it today "do literally nothing for a few hours, I guess they're depressed or something. But then they'll get over it and go out looking for more nectar." Well there you go.
Very Interesting Bee Fact: Another presenter (I'm currently at the state beekeeping convention) was a microbiologist, who along with her colleagues has been studying the nutritional benefits of honey. And I learned something very interesting! While the overwhelming majority of honey is the simple sugars glucose and fructose, about six percent or so is made of rare complex sugars calleed oligosaccharides, and these are not digested in the stomach and upper gut and absorbed by us but rather travel down to the lower gut to feed the gut bacteria there. And in their testing it seems to have a very positive effect on good gut bacteria AND repress bad bacteria (like bacteria that cause diarrhea).
This effect is called "prebiotics," not to be confused with "probiotics" which is ingesting live bacteria; and prebiotic effects appear to be more longlasting than the popular probiotics. SO this means two things. For most of you, it is apparently quite healthy to have a tablespoon of honey in some form every day; and for me it means that if this news gets out it should really help honey sales! (:
Further Elaboration on That First One: This biosecurity breach occured in 1859 in nearby Barwon Park manor (which I have written about previously), when Mr Thomas Austin thought it would be jolly to release 24 rabbits, no doubt saying "what could go wrong?" as he did so. Within years the rabbit population was in the millions. Wikipedia notes "it was the fastest spread ever recorded of any mammal anywhere in the world."
Totally Unrelated Photo of the Day
"The Saddest Rhinoceros"
|Tuesday, June 7th, 2016|
|06 of 30 - Bound for Wangaratta!
This morning I finally got through to the Victorian Apiarist Association (VAA) -- the beekeeping club of the state of Victoria. I'd been calling them between two and four times a day for the last week because their annual conventions begins, well, tonight. They don't exactly have _any_ information about the convention on their website or anywhere on the great wide internet. Apparently it was in their newsletter, which I don't get since I'm not a member yet. My only lead had been that I'd gotten the date from the Geelong Beekeeper's Association newsletter, but they said to see the VAA newsletter for details. So all I had was the date.
And I can tell you I was getting increasingly concerned as by this morning was pretty much the "eleventh hour." And granted the voicemail on their phone line does mention that the phone is only answered on a part time basis but boy had I been trying to get ahold of them.
Anyway, so they finally answered and told me the town and hotel it would be in and that I could indeed register on arrival. Turns out the convention was in Wangaratta, at the other end of Victoria, four hours drive away!
So I finished up making frames around noon, told Cato to hold down the fort for a few days, went home, threw a bunch of clothes OUT of my suitcase (it was all in my suitcase still since I just moved in the other day), and I was off!!
Now this is certainly the most memorable thing to happen during the drive. I look in my rearview mirror and see nothing but the bull-bars and grill of a big rig right on my ass. So when I get a chance I merge into the lane to my left, the slow lane.
But then I watch as this truck gets right up behind the next car, until it gets out of the way. And then it does it to the next. I'm talking literally half a car length, which is closer than you should get in a small car much less a giant truck. AND keep in mind that none of these cars were slow-poking it, myself and them were all going almost exactly 100 kph, the speed limit.
Soo notwithstanding my earlier post about driving, there ARE apparently _some_ asshole drivers in Australia.
Traffic was annoying as I passed Melbourne on the outer ring roads but then once I was out of town on the "Hume Highway" headed north it was less trafficky. The weather was off and on drizzle, but the road was pretty straight, and the scenery on either side was cow pastures and sort of sporadic tree cover. It was weird to realize I'd apparently already been this way, on a random roadtrip I went on with a friend earlier.
Australia has some great funny place names, and when a sign came by announcing the next two towns to be "Violet City," and "Dookie" I grabbed for my phone to take a picture of the sign for y'all, but was far too slow.
Unfortunately it was getting dark by the time I pulled in to Wangaratta, but it was about six and the initial social evening event didn't begin till 7:30. so I walked down the street to find dinner. Happened upon an indian place which sounded good. I was the only one there when I walked in which was a bit alarming but it later got quite a few more people in. The dining room was cozy and being the first one tehre I got to snag the table just beside the brick fireplace that had actual logs crackling in it, which was just delightful.
And then when my food came (some kind of chicken stewed with fenugreek and garlic naan, and lassi to drink), omg it was to die for. Possibly the best indian I've ever had, including that place in Addis Ababa I've been raving about for years. If you're even in Wangaratta, Victoria, Australia, I highly recommend Tandoori Paradise!!!
Spent ten minutes trying unsuccessfully to log in to yelp to give them a rave review (at the end of a tedious registration process it told me my email was already registered, but didn't like any of my usual passwords paired with that email address) and eventually threw up my hands and gave up on being a good yelp contributing citizen.
Once the social evening began I determined there were probably about 100 people there. As usual they were mostly old stodgers and I could quite possibly have been the youngest person in the room. The few people I talked to often led off with "so you're getting into bees are ya?" which I thought was funny.
Anyway, the conference proper begins in the morning, I'm looking forward to seeing how the Victorian Apiarists hold a convention! (:
|Saturday, June 4th, 2016|
|04 of 30 - Caticus Maximus Augustus Julius Quintus Potatoe
One of the best things about my old place, merely a trailer on the farm, was that it came with a farm cat (well five cats and five dogs but there was one cat in particular that sort of adopted me) ... and the only semi heartbreaking thing about moving out is that I've got to leave the cat behind. Granted I'll still see him at work, but gone are the long evenings of him purring on my lap, or kneading my chest as I try to fall asleep... or wanting to be let out at 4am.
Maybe the following will seem like run-of-the-mill cat things to you but please understand I've always liked cats, BUT have always moved too much to actually _have_ a cat.
The cat is named Cato ("cay-to" like the Roman statesman, not "caht-oh," that would be dumb), but naturally in my constantly addressing him, his name gradually expanded: to Cato Potato, Cato J Potato, Cato J Q Potatoe, and finally, in my mind at least, I've decided his full name must certainly be considered to be Caticus Maximus Augustus Julius Quintus Potatoe.
He was an interesting cat, because he could be quite grumpy to the other cats, indeed there's one poor cat he always chases away on sight. He's definitely the alpha cat, but then he is also so loving and sweet to me. Allegedly he was once a feral cat, but he's so well trained -- he's never pooped in my trailer (whereas I let one of the other cats stay in overnight ONCE and it left a steaming cat turd right on my luggage... never again!), and he never uses his claws on me except just a bit maybe when he's kneading on me. He does attack paper towel rolls on sight though, they are his declared enemy apparently.
If he's stayed in overnight he usually wants out around 4, I don't know if it's because he has to go to the bathroom by then or just liked to hunt in the early morning gloaming. He knows I usually emerge just before 8:00 though and is often waiting for me thereout. I never know if it's because he wants in though or he wants to hang out with me. So the other day I opened the sliding door a cat-width for him but then walked ten feet the other way and turend to look at him. He sat there looking at me and then after a minute or two gave me one definitely "Meow!" as if to say "WTF! Are you coming in or not?" So I went to pick him up, and as my hands came around him he stood up, arched his back a bit and about hopped so I could put my hands under him and pick up his adorable furry self.
He likes to ride on my shoulders:
The other day I was heading into town after work. The moment I opened the car door, Cato, whom I hadn't even realized was nearby, jumped into the cab of the truck. It's about 200 meters to the outter farm gate so sometimes I let him ride with me until I get there. By the time I got there he had curled up down in the passenger-side foot-well though. Well I had to scoop him up and eject him but sometimes I wonder if if I took him on a trip he would behave and not run off.
I swear that same evening when I came back after dark I think I saw him in the bushes by the road a little distance down the way I had gone.
And he wasn't waiting for me that time, further reason to think maybe I had seen him down the way looking for me. But often when I stop to open the outter farm gate he comes trotting out of the darkness meowing at me, and I scoop him up and take him into the truck cab with me as I drive into the farm.
Anyway, I've moved off the farm now, and I still see him whenever I'm at work or on the farm, but I'll miss the kind of quality hanging out time I had with him when I lived there ):
|Thursday, June 2nd, 2016|
|02 of 30 - Driving in Australia vs California, a Comparative Analysis
I have found driving in Australia to be fundamentally somewhat different from driving in California. Beyond the obvious driving on the left side of the road thing.
In California, on highways with two or more lanes in each direction, such as The Five (California's main North-South artery) for most of its length, on paper the fast (left) lane is for passing only. I hear in other states they actually enforce this and people abide it and I assume all aspects of life are therefore better in these states and people wake up with a smile plastered to their face every day as a consequence. However, that is not the case in California. In California people get in the "fast" lane and sit there. Even if they are going the speed limit or even less. They expect slower moving cars in front of them to move to the slow lane to let them by and generally enforce this by tailgating, honking, light flashing, and/or generally being obnoxious and probably swearing a lot in the confines of their own car for the assumed benefit of their target. Long queus of cars form in the fast lane when someone won't move over, possibly because said front car driver is saying to himself "well I'm going the speed limit gosh dang it so I'm not getting out of the way."
And that's another thing. The speed limit. Even on paper the speed limit is basically a suggestion, though I don't think they explicitly say you can go faster. Generally on the 5 the flow of traffic is around 80mph even when the speed limit is 65. But because everyone has a different interpretation of how much leeway they have, you are always passing and being passed.
Now in contrast, in Australia the speed limit seems to be almost always 100kph, aka 62mph in the One True System. This speed seems a bit slow on the highways, and crazy fast on the narrow two lane farm roads winding through the gum forest. And on those narrow farm roads people generally DO go zipping around at 62mph, which frankly terrifies me. But on the major highways... people STILL go exactly 100kph. You see, the thing is, in Australia they apparently enforce a strict interpretation of their speed limits. I've heard of people getting ticketed for going 102. So everyone gets on the road, and get up to exactly 100 and sits there right on it. As a result, you aren't passed nor do you pass anyone else generally once you get going, the cars just move along the highway in line like they're on a conveyor belt.
And generally everyone does stay in the slow lane util they're passing, but I found another thing happening. I am often turning on to the highway from small farm roads, so I need to quickly accelerate to 100 as cars are zipping by. So as not to impede everyone else, I found myself moving immediately to the fast lane (which I started doing after seeing other people doing it), until I get to 100 and THEN I move into the slow lane and move along with everyone else. I think other people do this too. Weird how the de facto use of lanes doesn't stay as intended.