Sunday, December 09, 2007
I meant to write six or seventeen blogs since I returned from Malawi, but when I got home, I hit the road running. Before I knew it, I was off to Azerbaijan for what was supposed to be a mostly evening training assignment.
Dream on. I sort of volunteered to be the cameraman and trainer of producers during the day -- and then I'd teach the classes in the evening.
Maybe I could have stayed up late at night to write about all of the interesting sights that I visited.
But I didn't get a chance to visit any sights. The students were fantastic and enthusiastic -- so enthusiastic that they volunteered to work on weekends and even on Muslim holidays. I couldn't let them down, could I?
If I had taken the time, I would have written about some of my observations -- things I noticed while I was going from story to story with the television camera.
For example, I would have commented on how, in most countries, I visit, it's common to see women holding onto each other as they walk in public. I was impressed that in Azerbaijan, even the men and boys felt secure enough to hold onto each other in public.
In think that one of the reasons I don't post things as frequently as possible is I can never figure out how to put photographs on the blog and still control the text flow.
If I would have taken the time to post the blogs that I wanted to, I would have written an entire piece about my best friend from clear back in the days of the Marlindo Lanes Junior Traveling League (that would be bowling) when we were in high school. Joe Veraldi was two years behind me.
When I graduated from high school, joined the Army and went to Vietnam, Joe wrote to me. By the time I came home, Joe had graduated and joined the Air Force and became a loadmaster on a C141 Starlifter. He had always dreamed of flying.
I was envious. He was able to travel all over the world in the giant transport jet. He made a gazillion trips into Vietnam. He was responsible for every bullet, mortar round, jeep and Howitzer that he and his crew delivered into the war zone.
He stayed in the Air Force for eight years, I think, and then decided to return to civilian life.
Eventually, he'd end up in the San Diego area with his wive and three boys. He worked for himself as a building contractor.
Over the years, neither of us spoke much about our experiences in Vietnam. We were OK. Both of us recall that we weren't very sympathetic to what we called "crybaby Vietnam veterans." Neither of us had been drinkers, smokers or drug users, and we survived quite well, thank you.
Within the past decade, what were once occasional combat nightmares became nightly events. And there are a lot of other things happening.
Thank God the Veterans Administration was there to help me in so many ways.
Recently, my friend Joe, told me that he was going in to the V.A. to talk with someone about his nightmares. After all these years, the things he saw and experienced during the Vietnam war were catching up with him. As I mentioned, he had to sign for all of the cargo he delivered to Vietnam. He never talked about the cargo he had to sign for when his plane would leave Vietnem. Joe had to sign for the bodies of probably thousands of young soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen.
Today, Joe can't get the thoughts out of his head. Joe was also there in 1975 when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. He brought out thousands of Americans and Vietnamese.
We talked about our expiences for the first time a couple of weeks ago. We were amazed that our lives had been parallel in so many ways -- anger, nightmares, tears at inappropriate times, panic attacks, flashbacks and much more. Both of us gravitated toward working for ourselves and we're both uncomfortable in crowds.
If only we could have known years ago what was happening to us.
There were so many more things that I wanted to write about, but they will have to wait for another time.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
On my way to my boss's flat for a conference, I saw the view as it is today and snapped a picture. The sun was in the eastern sky, so it came out dark. Whoever shot the one above shot it in the early afternoon when the sun was in the southern sky and lighting the south side of the building in the center.
I'm always at work at that time of day, so I may have to re-shoot this on Sunday or something. There's not a lot of time for being a tourist here.
By the way, the building in the center is now a cafe (the part that faces you) and a multiplex theater on the north side (to the left).
Sunday, October 07, 2007
They built these old buildings before anyone could ever imagine that there would be automobiles one day. I pulled back the drapes from my room and discovered that my view was filtered through the protective wrought iron bars. I could see a little into the window across the small walkway. It appeared to be an abandoned building. Puzzling.
I unpacked for an hour and then went to breakfast. There was only one other guest. I was the only customer in the restaurant. The night manager covered for the morning cook until she arrived to finish cooking.
After breakfast, he took me to the room of the four-story hotel.
What a view!
The sun had just risen over the Caspian Sea and was hiding behind some morning clouds.
We were surrounded by the hundreds of buildings that have been standing since as early as the 16th century. Apparently they started building the walls that would protect the city clear back in the 14th century. I'm sure I'll learn more later.
I didn't have too much time to learn about things. I had to meet with the man who will be my boss while I'm here. He walked to my hotel and we went together to the area they now call Fountain Square. In the past, they called it the Karl Marx Square.
It reminded me of the center of Belgrade -- no cars allowed. It's a place for people on foot.
The place was alive with people. I'll introduce you to some of those people later, I hope.
There's some construction taking place, so they put up a wooden wall to keep people out. On each panel is an historical photograph of the area.
It was amazing to see views from decades ago of the same walls and turrets that still surround most of The Old City.
I look forward to exploring the area when I'm on my own.
We went to a Mexican Restaurant. The food was great, but not very Mexican -- at least the Mexican I know.
There's so much more I want to share, but I have to prepare for the classes I'll be giving to journalists here in Azerbaijan. From the early briefings -- and from what I've read -- the reporters here face a lot more obstacles that we face in the United States. They have less training and little exposure to the kind of reporting that takes place in other parts of the world.
I'll learn a lot more today when I meet with them for the first time.
I hope you'll come back and join me as I discover this world -- a half-a-way across the globe from the world I temporarily left behind.
I didn't have to change the time on my watch -- it's 12 hours ahead of California.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
It was in March that I last wrote to the blog. My apologies – a lot of stuff has been happening that probably isn’t of great interest to people. But I’m back in Malawi, and that’s pretty interesting to me. The interesting little tidbits, observations and anecdotes have been backing up. It’s a lot like getting behind sending a thank-you note – the longer you neglect to do it, the more difficult it is to finally make it happen.
I’ll use this short entry to tell you a little bit about what I’m doing here. I’m doing some very specialized training with 23 experienced reporters from various media (newspaper, radio, television, freelance), from various cities and from various news outlets. About a third of them attended one of my week-long classes in February. Another third attended a class that one of two other trainers hosted and the rest are attending their first training with the company that’s employing me.
They’re working on a project that’s very focused and it’s likely their final product will be on a website of some kind. I’ll certainly send you a link when they’re done. The training lasts until the end of next week, August 17th or so.
The one thing I’m doing differently this time is I’m encouraging (forcing) them to do their reporting from the bottom up. In Malawi, the journalists seem to have been focusing their attention on the president, the members of parliament and the ruling and opposition parties. The people about whom they write know how to get the attention of the journalists and, way too often, the government officials or party members get away with manipulating the always-ready-for-a-tip reporters.
For that reason, I instructed them this time to seek out Malawians who were at the bottom of the socio-economical hierarchy. It would be an overstatement – OK, an all out lie – to say that they were enthusiastic. In fact, a few of them displayed outright hostility (in spirit, at least) to anyone who begs for help or money.
On Monday and Tuesday of this week, the group hit the streets and talked to some of the most unfortunate of unfortunate in this, one of Africa’s poorest countries. The reporters returned from their missions with a new view of how people in their own country are living.
I don’t want to spoil the stories you’ll read in a couple of weeks, but here’s one of the stories that best tells the story:
A woman who has been crippled – unable to walk – her entire life spends every day of the week sitting on a Blantyre sidewalk begging for money. Like many of the other beggars the reporters interviewed, this woman takes in about $3.20 on a great day and no more than $.70 on a bad day. Of course, she can’t walk to get to “work” and she has no wheelchair or family members to help her. How does she get to her sidewalk workplace? She hires a couple of men to carry here there and back – every day. Here’s the grabber: on a bad day – a full day without a lunch break – she only makes enough money to pay the men who carry her to and from work.
There are other stories – many of them have common themes. The life expectancy of Malawians has been plunging over recent years (it’s now in the 30s) because, some believe, of AIDS, malaria, poor nutrition and poverty that keeps getting worse. The reporters have talked to numerous street urchins who had to leave school when both of their parents died. Many – most actually – of the poor people have tried to get loans so that they can open up their own businesses and work their way off the streets. Sometimes the loan is as small as $7 and it’s supposed to be enough to get them started in business. The bigger loans seem to be in the range of about $35. Many of the people the reporters encountered have a belief that God – or someone – will make life better for them. But it seems obvious that more people fall into the abyss of poverty each day.
Millions and millions of dollars shower in to the country every years – dollars that the donor nations, organizations and agencies believe will make things better.
But there’s corruption at every level – it touches absolutely everyone here.
Stay tuned for more when I get another break.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
When I see the results of what British Colonization did to generations after generations of wonderful people, I get sad. And by being a person who stands out in Africa because I'm white, I begin to feel in just a very small way what black people, Mexicans and other "outsiders" must have felt for a lifetime -- and still feel. I came to a frightening realization the other day. For a while, I was feeling a bit proud that the, in the U.S., we don't have the great-grandchildren of the original inhabitants calling white people "Master." But then I realized why that's not the case.
In what would become the U.S., the white man either killed or isolated the natives so that there are very few reminders of their proud existance. Giving them their "own" separate nations was just a nice name for locking them up and locking them out.
In Malawi, I realized that the city of Blantyre was never an African village -- it was built by the British for the British. And the local population was there only to serve. What's sad to me is that decades after the British pretty much cleared out of what was once a colony, the old (and new) buildings and businesses are in the hands of foreigners. In downtown Blantyre, the poor people tell me that they wish that they could own businesses, but the businesses all belong to the Indians (the South Asian Indians), to people from the Middle East and to Eurapeans.
Indeed, the Malawians have the legal right to prosper. They are a democracy. But much of their democracy relies on the international support from a variety of nations and non-government organizations. Yes, the trick is to empower the Malawians and other Africans to prosper in the light of self-sufficiency.
But that's a slow process.
And in the meantime, the people on the streets still refer to me as "boss" or "mahsah".
And I hate it.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Yesterday when I was walking back to my hotel, I noticed Achimwene Tebula bounding out of the Ryalls Hotel restaurant. He and my good friend Debra, the chef in Mt. Soche's restaurant (pictured with the rose), had come to their competing hotel to look for me.
I got to know Tebulo when he helped me in my quest to get on the roof of the Mt. Soche Hotel so that I could look for the Southern Cross. He ended up taking me out on a ledge outside the 5th-floor restaurant. In the course of things, Debra came out to find out what the heck we were doing there.
By the time she was able to go back inside, she had had to listen to my long-winded story about my time in Vietnam and how the Southern Cross became my friend.
She became so intrigued that she stayed outside with us for about 20 minutes.
Two nights earlier, I had invited Achimwene Tebulo, his wife and their son Raymond to dinner. Tebulo wanted to make sure how much they all appreciated the experience.
Debra was working a split shift and had come along during her break to find me. When I returned to Blantyre las week, I had visited Mt. Soche to apologize to all of my friends there for not staying at their hotel this time. Debra wasn't around -- hence, her journey to say "hello" yesterday.
While we sat -- not eating dinner -- I realized that I had invited my friend Bernard to the hotel to get a status report on his quest to help school students and orphans learn how to plant trees and raise rabbits (see my earlier blog). Some of the employees found him at the front desk, so they sent him over. Bottom line -- I found myself sitting with four wonderful friends -- friends I'm sure I will see again. The cool thing is that Tebulo and Debra became intrigued with Bernard's big little dream and vowed to help him.
It's always wonderful when one can introduce friends to other friends.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
But this is my diagram and you'll have to make do.
A bit of a lecture in astronomy here:
If you drew a line through the axis of the earth and continued it forever above the North Pole, the line would just about exactly touch the star Polaris. We also know it as the North Star because it's directly north of the Earth.
If you were to watch it all night long, it wouldn't move. All the other starts, however, would be moving in a circle around it going in a clockwise direction. The cool thing about the North Star is that it doesn't move. That makes it a pretty convenient way to always know where north is. Just find the North Star (by the way, the two stars on the far side of the Big Dipper --on the opposite side of the handle -- will always point to the North Star) and you'll be looking north. Also, if you measured how high the North Star is in the sky -- compared to the horizon and straight up -- you'd know your latitude. If the horizon is zero degrees and straight up is 90 degrees, the position of the North Star along way is your latitude. If you're on the equator, the North Star would stay on the horizon. If you were shivvering on the North Pole, it would be above you. That's how mariners can tell where they are in the Northern Hemisphere.
Problem is that the Southern Hemisphere doesn't have a "South Star" and that really sucks. The next best thing they have down here is the constellation Crux or, as many people call it, The Southern Cross. It's a kite-shaped constellation that isn't in the spot where the South Star would be if it existed, but it point in that direction -- toward where the South Star should be. Remember, the Southern Cross -- like all of the other stars in the southern sky, rotate around that spot in the sky where the South Star isn't.
So to find where the South star isn't, you measure the distance between the two stars in the kite-shaped Southern Cross that are farthest apart. Then you follow the tail of the kite four and one half times it's length and you'll be at this blank spot where the South Star should be.
In the diagram -- I know, it's really bad -- you'll see the Southern Cross off to the left just as it rises above the horizon (in February). It changes as the earth travels around the Sun and messes up the night sky. Anyway, at this time of year, the Southern Cross would be on the horizon just after sunset and would point to the right. Six hours later, however, the cross will have rotated with the night sky and be above the Celestial South Pole (that's more of an official name) and be pointing down. Six hours later, just before sunrise, it would be off to the right and pointing to the left. Just imagine it rotating clockwise across the sky. The whole trip across the sky takes 12 hours. The next 12 hours, it's still rotating in the same direction, but you can't see it because it's daytime and the sky blocks it.
When I was walking my dog at night in the dark in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969, I discovered that I could tell time by keeping track of the Southern Cross. Wherever it was when I started my six-hour shift, it would be exactly 90 degrees to the right (or clockwise) when the six hour shift was over.
I came to love the Southern Cross and, for about 38 years, I've longed to see it again. When I was in Nigeria last year, the skies were never clear enough. When I was in Nicaragua, it was the same situation. And when I was in Hawaii, it was the wrong time of year. Oh, I forgot to mention that because the Southern Cross is not exacly on the Celelstial South Pole, it's sometimes possible to see it from the lower latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. That's how I saw it in Vietnam. But if you're in the continental U.S., you ain't never gonna see the Southern Cross.
My wonderful friend Debbie Winger (not the actress -- but more talented) was the winner. She'll win a cheap trinket of some kind from Malawi. Two other people got it, but not as quickly as Debbie.
Thanks for all the good guesses.
Malawi is famous for its Chambo. This fish is native to Lake Malawi. Today I learned that nobody ever returns from the lake without bringing fresh Chambo back home. We carted about 50 pounds of it, I think.
The woman you see is selling a delicacy here. They call it Mgumbi (I'm not sure if I'm spelling it right, but that's how it sounds). When evening comes they capture the flying termites by either using a light to lure them from their mountainous termite mounds or they cover the mounds with grass (or was it leaves) and then somehow capture the termites when they try to fly to the tasty stuff. Then they fry it up and sell it along the highway. It's apparently rich in fat and protein. I'll take their word for it.
An finally is the exotic stuff that I prefer to eat here.
This wonderful dish is called a BBQ Pizza. It's supposed to have steak it but, as Maria the waitress told me, "The steak is finished. We only have spicy chicken."
So you'll have to use your imagination.
Anyway, I ate it and I'm glad.
Monday, February 12, 2007
It was nice to have a day off and to finally get to walk through the city of Blantyre. I found the Alibaba Takeaway restaurant located “along Haile Selassie Road” as the menu identifies the location. The “BBQ Pizza” was as good as any BBQ pizza I’ve ever had. The BBQ meant that it had bits of steak on it.
I sat in the corner table where the order counter and display case meets the wall. Bernard Madeya came in with his carafe of fish came in. He set it on the counter and spoke to one of the employees. While he waited for the employee to get the bigger boss, I complimented him on his fish and asked him about them.
“They’re a lot like goldfish, but they’re not gold and they don’t get as big. I’m seeing if the restaurant would want to have some fish here for people to look at and enjoy.”
He explained that he could build a very nice aquarium and he could come in a couple of times a week to service the fish.
It took a while, but he finally agreed to sit with me while I ate my BBQ pizza with a fork. He refused my offer to buy him lunch or at least something to drink.
We talked. Here’s what I learned:
Bernard was born in Mawali but moved to Zimbabwe when his parents divorced. His father ran a small trade school of some kind. Bernard finished high school in Zimbabwe and then went into the military there. When he got out, he accepted a scholarship to attend a university in India where he earned a degree in zoology. He returned to a now-peaceful Zimbabwe (during the time he was in the military, he was providing security to defend against guerrillas who were involved in the fight for independence).
Bernard worked for the nation’s parks department and later taught science.
In 2004, his father died and left Bernard the property where the school had been. Bernard rented out the main building to a church and another part to a mechanic. He moved into the little living area behind the building with his wife and three children.
Bernard’s dream is to create gardens and nurseries at schools and orphanages where the children can learn how plants grow. They can also raise food.
But his dream is bigger, however. He also wants to install fish ponds and cages where the children can raise rabbits and chickens and other animals. He said he was inspired when he visited his son’s school and discovered that the children had to sit on the floor during lectures. He realized that outsiders needed to help. Carpenters could volunteer to make benches and desks, he said, but since he’s not a carpenter, he wants to make gardens, ponds and nurseries.
He asked if I wanted to see his gardens at this home. I think he was surprised when I said I would certainly like that.
We called a taxi.
I only had a few minutes there, but it was enough to see his seedlings, his banana trees, his rabbits and chickens and the hole he had dug for water.
Bernard also showed me a brochure with pictures of the greenhouse he wants to buy one day to nurture the plants he’ll one day put in the schools’ gardens.
He was in the city to visit the local garden club. I told him I’d share his contact information in case anyone had ideas for him or knew of some organization that might want to sponsor one of the gardens in conjunction with the garden club.
For what it’s worth:
P.O. Box 989
He said anyone could reach him through the Blantyre City Garden Club, P.O. Box 51410, Limbe, Malawi. Their e-mail address is BCGC@africa-online.net.
He’s quite a nice man.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
In case the original posting didn't make the trip (I'ts so difficult and time -consuming to even e-mail somone -- much less post words and photos to the blog. But today is Saturday and I have a little bit of time.
I'm trying to re-post some photos that didn't make the trip before. Two of the photos are from outside my hotel balcony on the first morning I arose here in Blantyre, Malawi.
By the way, Blantyre is named after the Scottish city that was the birthplace of Dr. David Livingstone. He plays a big part in the history of this region (is it Livingston? forgive me if I'm wrong. I'd go to the Internet, but I'd probably screw up the posting.). Anyway, it's beautiful here. I'm going out later today and I may be able to tell you more about the city. I've ridden in a cab, but not really been able to walk around.
I'm including a photograph of my friend, Beston. He works at the hotel. He's put a lot of energy into helping me be more comfortable. I call him by a local nickname in the local language. I'd try to spell the name of the language, but then I'd be showing more ignorance. Anyway, I call him (spelled phonetically) Achi Mwaynay Tabo. The Achi Mwaynay part means "my brother." The Tabo is really "Table" but it sounds like Tabo. Everyone calls him Tabo, but nobody can tell me why.
Anyway, he was instrumental in helping me encounter my long lost friend (not really a person) that is the subject of the current mystery. I'll repeat the clues here:
I was able to see, for the first time in 38 years, a friend (not a person) who I saw regularly in Vietnam when I was working. It would be absolutely impossible to see this "friend" from the United States -- expect for maybe in one part of Hawaii only under the most special circumstances. I could have seen my friend from Nigeria, but not as well as in Malawi. But it didn't work out in Nigeria -- the conditions weren't right. And in Nicaragua, there was also the possibility of seeing my friend but, again, things weren't right.
I knew that Malawi was my best bet and, indeed, I was able to see my friend -- the exact same friend I had seen daily (sort of) in Vietnam. It was quite a thrill. By the way, Achi Mwaynay Tabo facilitated the encounter.
By the way, I didn't mention it before, but there's a great chance that Dr. David Livingstone was also very happy to have this exact same friend.
Some of my friends guessed that my "friend" might be a guard dog or sentry dog of some sort -- because in Vietnam I was a dog handler. One friend even suggested that maybe I was able to walk a dog around some site that needed securing here in Malawi.
Well, that's not the right answer, but it sounded like fun. I had seen some people walking big dogs -- dogs that were wearing muzzles. I asked around and learned -- to my astonishment -- that they use guard dogs at department stores and other retalil establishments. So on Thursday, after work, I asked my hosts to take me somewhere where I might smeet one of these dogs and his/her handler.
The name of the dog in the picture is "German." I know -- not too creative. But he was big and mean and -- to most people -- pretty scary. In fact, the woman I work with here, Pilirani, was not willing to get close to the dog to help me chat with the handler. But I learned enough to know that if someone tries to steal something, the handler removes the muzzle and turns the dog loose.
He told me that he's had to do that four times and each time the dog was able to recover the stolen goods -- or at least bring the fleeing thief to a bloody halt.
Indeed, the crux of the story is, when you're down south in Africa, you don't want to mess with a cross dog.
But that's not the answer to my mystery. Maybe it's a hint, however.
Can you guess the identity of my friend?By the way, I suspect that the photo of Table didn't make it. I'll try to add it later.
OK, I confess that this is a quick posting so that I can see if I can finally get things posted here. If I put too much work into it, it doesn't work. If this ends up on the blog, I can probably go back and make some text that makes it interesting. But you have to admit that the photos are sort of cool, huh?
Sunday, February 04, 2007
I'm minutes away from beginning the first day of the first weeklong training sessions. I awoke in the beautiful city of Blantyre and looked out my 6th floor window to see the hazy hillsides overlooking the lush fields of maize (is that spelled maze?). It's the last photo in the sequence.
The others are shots along the way.
Saturday, February 03, 2007
It was the longest series of flights I’ve ever experienced. In fact, as I write this, I still have one more flight. I’m onboard, in my seat, on the ground awaiting the last of four flights — this one from
My journey started at 5 a.m. Thursday when I arose to prepare for the first flight from LAX to
That fight was quite nice. Since my journey exceeds 16 hours, government regulations say that government contractors must bump their workers up to business class. That meant some really comfortable seating.
The gentleman who sat next to me approved of the high-tech seats. And he seemed to have the authority. It turns out he was on his way to
He typically recruits volunteers to sit in a couple different styles of car seats and rate different aspects. Then, they test the seat experience on the road. They never know which of the seats are the ones Lear wants to buy. The others are part of a control group.
Our two professions overlapped in the area of the interview process and the objectives of the interview. As a journalist, my goal is to get people to tell me stuff I didn’t know — whatever they say is fine with me. After all, it’s their story to tell and they can have their own opinions. My goal is to get good information and lively quotes.
On the other hand, Scott uses a rule he calls the 10-80-10 rule. He can’t expect everyone to love the product — that would be an impossible goal — so he hopes to find cumulative answers that indicate that 10 percent of the people love it, 10 percent of the people hate it and 80 percent of the people think it’s OK. He has others ask the questions of the participants — he processes the responses. I shared with him some of my open-ended, no-questions-asked techniques and he said he’d consider trying it out.
It was a lot of fun.
We arrived in
The flight to
That’s about all I’m thinking of right now. I hope I can get to the Internet before long so that those of you who work late into the night or get up before dawn can get a glimpse of the Saturday sunrise long before you get to experience it.
My assignment, by the way, is to conduct four week-long training sessions with journalists in
The program is part of
Does any of this make sense?
Oh, I’ll end this posting with a challenge for your sleuths at home:
The winner will be the first person to translate this:
Boya la kujiokoa liko chini ya kipumzisha mkono. Funga mkanda unapoketi.
I’ll bring a special (cheap) gift to the first person. And, of course, I’d like you to tell me the language.
Quick update. I’m here. I’m sleepy. More later.And a final note. I've tried for two days to get this text in place and struck out. Maybe this time it will work. On Sunday, we flew to Blantyre where I'll be doing a weeklong seminar. I finished the course outline at 2:40 a.m. and went to sleep. I just woke up to realize I didn't turn off the paid Internet. So before I do, I'm trying again to post this text.