Sunday, May 28, 2006

A reader gives Don Ray an English lesson

But first, some photos I was unable to upload last night. These are from a trip on Saturday to a village called Ushafa. It's in the hills above Abuja. Emmanual, my guide, protector and driver, says it's a village that President Clinton visited when he was in office. We spent some time at a

Women's Skills Center where they teach folks of either gender how to throw clay, sculpt and paint. When the rain stopped, we stopped for a Coke (and some rice for Emmanuel) at a family owned place called "Stomach Restaurant". One of the pictures is of the family in front of their food establishment.

The kids at the computer are playing some kind of a fun game. I did a quick head turn when one of them shouted out, "Kill him! Kill him!"

Now, about that English lesson.

You'll recall that my trip from London Heathrow to my hotel was an adventure. I mentioned that the taxi driver who rescued me said something that sounded as if I looked "neked". A reader of another blog I contribute to (it's got to be one of the most interesting blogs I've ever seen, but not everyone would understand the appeal -- it's comprised of the most brilliant amateur investigators I've ever encountered) checked out "News from Nigeria" and was kind enough to fill me in regarding the term.

I'm in Kuwait on a consulting assignment (I'm a safety engineering
professor in real life), which--while quite different from Urbana, IL--is
far easier to navigate than Nigeria. Kuwait doesn't have any of the Wild
West lawlessness that one reads about parts of Nigeria. My hat is off to
you; be safe and enjoy your time there.

I believe that the cab driver was using a British term that is actually
spelled "knackered" by the Brits, and as the cabbie correctly stated,
means tired, worn-out, etc.


>From Wikipedia, you'll find the following entry:
A knacker is a person in the trade of rendering animals that are unfit for
human consumption, such as work horses that have died in harness or are
too tired to work any more. This leads to the slang expression "knackered"
meaning very tired. The word is probably of Scandinavian origin.

Original use of the term is still common in Britain today and gained some
notoriety during the outbreak of mad cow disease. The Slaughterhouses Act
of 1974, the Meat (Sterilisation and Staining) Regulations of 1982 and the
Food Act of 1984 all have a definition of a 'knacker's yard' as 'any
premises used in connection with the business of slaughtering, flaying or
cutting up animals whose flesh is not intended for human consumption.'

'Knackered' also means tired, exhausted or broken in British slang, and is
still commonly used in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

'Knackers' is British / Australian slang for testicles1.

The British magazine Private Eye often refers to senior police figures in
satirical articles as "inspector Knacker" or "Knacker of The Yard", a
reference to Jack "Slipper of the Yard" Slipper.

The term knacker is sometimes used in Ireland to denote an Irish
Traveller, though it is considered extremely derogatory. In Ireland this
term may also be applied to a scanger or scum bag which are both
derogatory terms in themselves. For more information see scanger.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

More children on Children's Day

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It's Children's Day in Nigeria


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First Dispatch from Nigeria

Again, I spent a couple of hours writing about my adventures and observations and then found that the whole body of work got lost in Cyberspace.

So this time, I'm sending the pictures first and, if they make the trip, I'll edit this dispatch and provide the words.

Be sure to check back for "The rest of the story".

Just in case you're interested, the group picture is of the journalists I worked with in the northern city of Gusau.

The woman an child also live in Gusau.

The fire photo is of the best meal I've had so far. It's beef on skewers. They call it Suya.

More later, I promise.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

A most remarkable woman in Twikenham

She's the little girl on the wooden horse rocker. Her name is Erin Pizzey. That's her mother and twin sister with her.

The story of her childhood is a nightmare. Her father was explosive. Her mother had problems of her own. When her parents fought, Erin felt a helplessness that burned itself into her subconscious.

In the early 1970s she saw that same helplessness in a child who was also trapped in a family that was at war. Before long, Erin opened the first domestic abuse shelter in the world. Until that time, nobody talked about domestic abuse. Within a few years, Erin was helping women open up similar shelters all around the world.

Today, the shelter she created is still in operation, but it operates without its founder. In fact, they don't allow her to go near the shelter. The official history of the shelter does not include the name Erin Pizzey.

Erin Pizzey was able to find the seeds of domestic violence in the abusers -- she traced it back to their childhood. She traced it to abandonment of some sort.

And she came to believe that it could happen to little boys as well as little girls -- and both would grow up to abuse their partners -- physically or emotionally or both.

She says that when she suggested that men could be the victims of abusive female partners, she became the target of the women's movement. There was no room in the women's movement, she says, for any notion that women could do the things that those dastardly men did. She says the foundation of the women's movement evolved into an organized plan to label every man as someone who would eventually abuse his female partner.

It wasn't the philosophy she had adopted when she had joined the women's movement. She says she had been fighting for equality between the sexes, but the leaders of the movement chose an all out war against men.

I spent four hours with her today -- I recorded 2 1/2 hours of our conversation on videotape. It will be part of a documentary I'm doing that explores what many women today say is a tragic imbalance. There are other women who are crying "foul" -- psychologists, social workers, police officers, lawyers, judges, legislators and even women who run "battered women shelters" -- shelters they believe should be available to men who are living with abusive, violent and dangerous women.

Erin Pizzey and many other women who have worked to help victims of domestic violence believe that society has turned its back on men -- men who also need counseling, support and access to shelters so that they can escape the violence.

There's a bigger story -- several women have told me. It's about how the role and identify men has gotten lost in a movement that had good intentions -- but that somehow went astray. The real victims, they say, are the children who still witness abuse -- children who they say are likely to grow up to be abusers.

Men and women alike. Posted by Picasa

Adjusting to a foreign land

Such a frenzy getting things ready -- first at home in the High Desert and then at the Burbank house/office. I had to empty the house so that the contractor can repair, paint and carpet the interior for the family move when I return from Nigeria. I'd ask for helpers, but I've learned an important thing about life: for every person from whom you accept help moving, you'll receive at least one reciprocal "help me move" requests. Nope. Too old. Too tired. Too busy. You're safe.

By the time I got on the plane I already felt like a rental stable horse at the end of a kids' holiday. I pity the poor woman from India who had to sit next to me for the 10 1/2-hour flight. Upon arrival, I made the mistake of asking someone at the "Information Desk" for the easiest way to get to my hotel. He convinced me that taking the commuter train would be a piece of cake.

It wasn't.

I had to endure young hoodlums whose presence bothered many of the other passengers as well. I could hardly understand their language, even though they spoke English. I couldn't tell if it was the African English accent or just the slang of a younger generation. When I reached my stop, I spent the longest time trying to figure out the signs that would lead me to the street exit I'd need to catch a taxi. The long, long, long walk didn't bother me as much as the fact that I couldn't find an elevator or escalator. I muscled my bags up flight after flight of stairs.

I hadn't been in the country more than an hour and I was already feeling as if this assignment was going to be taxing. The taxi driver said I looked "neked." I was wearing a short-sleeve shirt, but it was far from naked. I had to ask for a translation. In his thick accent he told me that "neked" means "tired."

He was right. If things were this tough in London, imagine how things will be when I actually arrive in Nigeria!

I took a long-overdue shower and eventually took to the streets for some food. I was now wearing a clean T-shirt, but I began to feel very self-conscious about my appearance. Every time I'd look down, I would see the words "Look right." I was sure I looked wrong. After all, everyone else was in long-sleeves or jackets.

For newcomers to this blog, you need to know that I took a lot of heat for making reference to the "S" word -- "stupid." That came to mind when I was standing and looking down at the words. From out of nowhere it seems, a giant flash or red blew past me from the right.

I tried to recreate the scene here:

It's actually scary. It's so easy to look to the left and step into the street. It takes just one double-deck bus to make you aware of just how close Yankees are to death when they come to the United Kingdom.

Now, when I walk, I keep repeating to myself over and over: "Look right! Look right! Look right!"

To be fair, there are also signs that say "Look left." I pay attention to them also.

The hotel I ended up in is close to the Nottinghill area. It didn't take me long to learn that it's the high rent district. I stopped for a pizza and ended up paying more than $20. I looked all over the menu for a pepperoni pizza and couldn't find such a label. Then I asked the waiter if they had pepperoni pizzas. He pointed down to the menu and said, "Yes. We call it an 'American Pizza." It only makes sense. We invented the pizza, didn't we? Or was it enchiladas or teriyaki chicken?

Don't yell at me or anything, but this morning I discovered a McDonald's in Nottinghill. It was easy and not nearly as expensive as the meals in the hotel or in the trendy pubs and restaurants.

I went into one of the neighborhood stores to pick up some bananas and what looks like orange juice. They call it "orange squash." I asked the clerk what the "squash" part meant, but he didn't know.

"I think it means they add a heck of a lot of water to it," he said. I'll try some later.

I walked past my hotel on the return from breakfast and crossed under a major street and into a much more affordable neighborhood. It looks like there is a variety of shops and restaurants there.

I went into a 2-story mall to look around and found a nice little hardware store. I picked up some electrical adapters that will work in Nigeria and I chatted with the proprietor, a very nice gentleman named Shariff Parkar.

He's been operating the store for 22 years. He's of Indian descent, but he was born in Uganda. His family was from the Bombay area of west India, he explained. For centuries, people from that region have been taking to the seas. His great-grandfather moved the family to Zanzabar and then to South Africa. Later, his father ventured north to Uganda.

They lived under the rule of Idi Amin until the former boxer kicked out all Asians from his country (If you want to take a cook quiz about Idi Amin, go here: -- You should be able to get two of the questions right).

Shariff and I agreed that, no matter where you go, the people are mostly kind and good and friendly. He was a good example of that sentiment.

Now I'm about to go shoot what I believe will be a most interesting interview. I'll tell you more later. Posted by Picasa

Friday, May 12, 2006

Johnny, tell Becca what she's won!

Becca, you've won a dinner with Don Ray and his family (void outside California and inside restaurants that are too organic or too expensive). All you have to do is come to Southern California (Transportation not included).

Becca is my niece.

Becca wins because she was the first to identify Nigeria as Don Ray's next adventure destination. How did she do it? Here are her words:

"Good old Google. I didn't put much thought into your initial call for guesses, because I had NO idea and DEFINITELY thought it must start with "C" or have something significantly "C"-ish about it.

"Then today, I started thinking of Nigeria with the oil and all your shots and quinine-resistant mosquitos and the like. But truth be told, Nigeria was one of a bunch of the countries of the world that sprang to mind that seemed like 2X CA and corrupt and tropically north of the equator. I have no idea which countries are quinine-resistant. So I googled "2 times the size of California," came up with several countries, and there with Nigeria was Venezuela! So I knew it must be one of the 2, with their oil and location. I mean, everyone's corrupt, so I couldn't go on that. I'm trying to think of your other "C"'s now. Oh well. So then it was math time. I added your two figures, googled "419 Nigeria" and suddenly had to come up with a blog title! A title which is seriously lacking in pizazz, so I welcome you to attach a catchier title to your blog. I was so excited to write and tell you I knew where you were going, never imagining I'd be the FIRST and that my title would actually matter. I thought many people more diligent and astute than me would have come up with your next destination just from your first set of clues. I didn't realize you offered us today's set of clues because no one'd figured it out yet. Don Ray, this is so fun!"

If you don't understand the "419" connection to Nigeria, just do the same Google search Becca did.

Now here's the fun connection: The reason that Becca is in my life is because of another mystery I undertook several years ago. I was in search of the truth behind something my stepfather told me about his earlier life. Some 30 years after his death, I decided to find out what really happened. The answer to the mystery also led me to two stepbrothers I had never met.

You should read the story as it ran in L.A. Times Magazine:

Many of my blog readers read already know the story. If you don't, I promise you you'll have good feelings after you've read it. By the way, Becca is David's daughter. And, of course, she's my stepfather's granddaughter.

I'll be bloggin' from Nigeria by about May 22nd or so. By the way, the cities with red blocks below them on the map are the cities where I'll be conducting seminars.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Final clues and a mystery to amuse.

First, a final clue to the where's-Don-Ray-going-next mystery (Mystery #2): By the way, I didn't mean to throw you off by all of the clues that begin with the letter "C". The country I'm about to visit does not begin with a "C" and does not include a letter "C" in it. Today I let them poke me in the arm so that I will be protected while I'm there. I got shots for tetanus diphtheria, typhoid, meningitis and yellow fever. Plus, I got some pills for malaria, but not the ones with quinine (the mosquitoes there are resistant to quinine). I also picked up some water purification pills and some insect repellent. The visit to the clinic cost me $369.08. If they had wanted to rip me off, they would have charged me an additional $49.92. And believe it or not, that's your final clue. Good luck.

Mystery #3 involves the photographs you see here. The winner of the quiz will be the first person who can tell me the city I was in when I took these pictures. That's all -- just the name of the city were I shot these pictures (for my visually impaired readers, the pictures are of older-looking store signs that read: Zweck's Jewelry, Model Clothing Company, Carousel Salon of Beauty and Hotel Continental or Continental Hotel, depending upon which side you view).

Regarding my next journey, I'll be gone from May 18th until June 12th. I'm making a two-day stop along the way to conduct an on-camera interview with a woman who
lives outside of London. It's for a documentary I'm working on. You'll hear more about that one later. You can send your guesses to me at

On the home front, when I return, I'm moving my family back down to the neighborhood I grew up in. I'll still be using my little house there as an office, but the family house will be just two doors down.

It'll be cramped for a while, but being there will open up many opportunities for my son, David (Da Hai), and my wife, Xiao Mei. David will start 11th grade in an award-winning school district and both of them will be able to look for better-paying jobs and more convenient colleges if that's what they choose to do.

The solution to Mystery #1: The photograph was of one of the old fluoroscope machines that used to be parked in shoe stores. The customers put his or her feet in slots at the bottom and were then able to view the bones in their feet and see if the shoes they were trying on were correct. And, of course, the shoe salesman and the customer's mother could also get a glimpse through the other viewfinders. By the mid-'50s, the realization that all of that radiation wasn't good for folks led to end of the line for the foot x-ray machines. I was never able to experience the view because I was too short to reach the viewers.

This topic brings to mind another quiz for you -- but an unoffical quiz. What do my married sister Nancy, my former wife Diana, and my current wife Xiao Mei have in common that would make a punster happy? Just promise me you won't pelt me with hate emails when I give you the silly answer. Posted by Picasa