Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Crux of the Mystery -- Solved!

First of all, I don't need to tell you that I'm not a great artist. In fact, I'd make a better jockey or belly dancer or something.
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. Posted by Picasa

What some people eat in Malawi

Somebody on the blog recipient list asked for photos of the food people eat in Malawi. Here's a quickie look at three favorites.
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. Posted by Picasa

Monday, February 12, 2007

Bernard's Big Little Dream

Bernard’s Big Little Dream

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:
Bernard Madeya
P.O. Box 989
Blantyre, Malawi

He said anyone could reach him through the Blantyre City Garden Club, P.O. Box 51410, Limbe, Malawi. Their e-mail address is

He’s quite a nice man. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Hints to Don Ray's current mystery

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. Posted by Picasa

Malawi is Alive

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?
 Posted by Picasa

Sunday, February 04, 2007

A few photos that need no captions

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.


 Posted by Picasa

Saturday, February 03, 2007

A long journey to Africa

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 Nairobi, Kenya, to Lilongwe, Malawi.

My journey started at 5 a.m. Thursday when I arose to prepare for the first flight from LAX to Detroit. There was only a 45-minute turnaround and everything seemed OK until a flurry of snow sent up circling over Saginaw. When we finally landed, there was about 12 minutes to get to the next flight — the long flight to Amsterdam. The held the door for me.

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 India to check out some car seats his company, Lear Corporation, was considering buying. Scott Ziolek is an engineer who specializes in how people interact with things that engineers design. His official title is Senior Human Factors Engineer. His specialty is called occupant biomechanics. He works in Lear’s Seating Systems Division in Southfield, Mich. Apparently, it’s a fairly new specialty. It would seem that we would have little in common (except for how our backsides enjoyed the seats in business class), but soon we embarked on a conversation that was stimulating and I think beneficial for both of us.

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 Amsterdam at about midnight Los Angeles time. I had an 11-hour layover. I found places where I could connect to the Internet and a few other places where I could sleep somewhat. Then, about two hours before my next flight, I checked with the people at the gate and found out that I needed could have spent the entire time in the First Class Lounge for KLM. Dang! I went up there and discovered a paradise of refreshments, serenity, clean bathrooms and free internet connections as wonderful work spaces. You can bet that I’ll spend my entire time there on the layover on the way home.

The flight to Nairobi left Amsterdam at about 11 a.m. Friday, California time. It was 9 p.m. in Amsterdam. The overnight flight provided a wonderful opportunity to get a little sleep. In the morning, I looked out and saw the Saturday morning sunrise beyond Mount Kenya.

Now, we’re about to take off, It’s 9:30 a.m. Saturday. The flight is about an hour and a half. I’m not sure if there will be anyone to great me. If they don’t, however, I’m sure I’ll find my hotel.


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 Malawi. Three of the groups will be newspaper reporters — the fourth will be with broadcast journalists.

The program is part of Malawi’s attempt to improve many of the systems that have a positive effect on human rights. In order to receive oceans of aid from the United States, the Malawi government must first take steps to show that it deserves the help. Hence, they’re receiving assistance from USAID (United States Agency for International Development) through its Millennium Challenge. USAID contracts with non-government organizations (NGOs) to help the Malawi government get on the right track so that it can qualify. The NGOs hire people like me — people with expertise in key areas — to help the Malawi people and government get a better pre-aid report card.

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.

Good luck.

Quick update. I’m here. I’m sleepy. More later.

Posted by Picasa

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.
Posted by Picasa