The Start of Transformation

After an absence of more than 5 years, a dear friend has provoked me to pick up the virtual pen, and share some of my experiences from across West Africa.

This particular story starts while travelling for the umpteenth time from London, Heathrow to Abidjan, Houphouet Boigny.

This flight is both loved and hated. This flight that drags one from the comfort of the European existence, towards the vortex of reality and festering celebration of life that is Abidjan.

Leaving London, passing over perfectly manicured homes, gardens and farmland, seeing the landscape as you land in Paris and then again when one departs a few hours later. This European illusion that wants you to know that all is well, everything has structure, all is in order.

The first hint of something different arrives into view, if you are lucky enough for a precursor, catching a glance of one of the Mediterranean islands.

The Balearic Islands stands out in stark contrast to the continent, as if they were ripped from both Africa and Europe, left with their rough mountain peaks making a defiant statement to the flat lethargic seas which surround.

The first glimpse of the African continent is surreal and mysterious. The northern coast line oozing with Arabic history both past and present. One that is so foreign and deeply unknown to the average westerner.

The intense emotional allure of foreign lands and foreign cultures.

This continent, at first appearing bare but habitable, soon gives way to Algerian and Malian Saharan sands. The touch of Harmattan dust visible on every horizon, dunes and sands stretch for miles in every direction.

As an African coming for south of the equator, one is both excited and confused with the uncertainty this brings. Excited to see this beloved continent once again and yet confused, as if exploring an unfamiliar part, of a once familiar lover. This northern part of the continent, with a history stretching back way further in time, and completely dissimilar to those green jungles and savannah’s south of the Sahara.

The checkered past of conquest and counter conquest. Religious revolution and the dominance and tenacity of the desert people. Staring out at this sand, 25’000 feet below, one can feel the heat of this desert reflecting back mercilessly.

As the plane drifts further south, the terrain slowly starts to change and morph. A few green patches emerge, the flash of a river in the distance. Water, the essence of life, changes the personality of this continent. Habitation becomes more prominent. The red granite dust and soil so familiar across ‘our’ Africa begins to emerge, striking cords of recognition across the cortex of the brain.

Down south we say that Africa burns in winter time. For the northern sphere this is true as well. Once the rainy season is over, from up high, one can see fires lighting up across the land, over this pseudo winter that the tropics experience during the primary four months of the year.

As the sun sets, initially painting the land in deep oranges and red, the land steadily moves from deep blues, maroons and slowly edges to black, as if to hide its true identity.

A reminder that one cannot experience Africa from a distance. She cannot be understood from a lofty height.

To experience her, to taste her joy, her pain, to feel her passion you have to draw closer. One has to descend and dwell among her people. Feel their pulse, listen to their beat and watch her bleed to know the true pain that she is experiencing.

I will leave this post with a musical recommendation. Farafina, by Mousa Traore.

His melodious rapping style captures the heart of this part of West African, with its joy, sweat, blood, tears and political corruption. May his desire to see Africa awaken and throw off the cloak of inferiority, become a reality in the coming years.

A Castle on a Hill

A quiet road meanders slowly across to the horizon, the sun shines down warmly and the sky’s perfectly blue without a cloud in sight on this spring day. A hill pops up over the horizon, and as one draws near the skyline clears and little details start to appear. A castle battlement stands tall and proud over whitewashed walls and red tiled roofs, a stone wall is distinctly structured around the village perimetre part of the way down the hill…. This is Montsaraz.
A medieval village fortified by the Knights Templar in the 1200’s to secure against the Moors, if one was to remove the vehicles and street lights, you could be forgiven for believing the village was still living in it’s ancient past.
From the battlement there is an exquisite view of the Alqueva lake in the distance and close by, the intricate details of the village becomes more apparent. Watch your step up the worn rocky steps, especially with a wriggling Savannah on your back.

The tightly packed little homes create small windy narrow cobbled streets. The tiny doors make one wonder if “here do midgets reside?” Below the battlement there is a tiny dusty arena with stone structured stands. It is here that bull fights have been held for centuries and is still used annually. Unfortunately, today it was just Tam and Dave chasing a Sav around with a white tissue in a sandy ring….the “Olé!” being replaced with the cackling laughter of a two year old.
Visiting this region in Spring is fantastic, the weather is good, the roads are quiet and the areas of interest are not jam packed with tourists. Our lonely car was the only one parked in an area clearly constructed for 300 odd vehicles.

A small little chapel sits off from the walled village. This dilapidated building is slowly caving in on itself. The interior’s been gutted and a broken-down shrine is all that points to this being of catholic origin. Faint paintings on the wall are peeling off and the roof is beginning to fall in as well, while not much to look at it echoes of an age when village life was simple, the church managed opinion and the strongest sword ruled the land.

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Tam enjoying the history…and sun!

Moorish Evora

Evora is a charming little walled city about a hundred and twenty kilometres east of Lisbon. The city dates back to the days when the Romans ruled this part of the world and one of it’s distinguishing features is The Roman Temple, standing in the centre of the city, with it’s proud pillars proclaiming the magnificence of roman design and architecture still 2000 years later. This temple of Diana has a “bloody” past with it being used as an execution ground during the spanish inquisition and then as a slaughter house right up until the end of the 1800’s.
It’s best to find a detailed map of the city before beginning to wonder about, as the maze of moorish designed cobbled streets soon have you criss-crossing your way in circular routes that leave one wishing for a trail of gingerbread crumbs to lead you back to the hotel.

The central square is where most of the one way entry/exit roads lead too. A fountain dating back to the renaissance period forms a main feature. While tiny shops line the periphery and the church forms the main back drop to this social meeting ground. If one has a spare five minutes, stopping off by any of the many tiny cafés for a Delta espresso and Queijada de Requeijão (sweet little “custard cake”) rewards you with a “to be repeated” experience.

One of the architectual beauties of Portugal is the “Sé Cathedral” and it is ironically build within a stones throw away from the Diana temple. This intricately decorated building hosts a multitude of beautiful paintings as well as masterfully crafted wooded lattice work and crafted stonework. while we’re not great fanatics of cathedrals, its continually amazing to see how mankind has build magnificent designs through the centuries.

A short wonder to the southern side of the city bring you to the market place which is inside a munciple building, not far from the wall. The selection of sausage (porco preto), hams, breads,cheeses and fresh produce is enough to make you buy more than you need and makes for a fantastic picnic.

(Unfortunately pic are all on my camera…and not on the bb. Pics to follow!)

Song for the day….. Cheryl Crow – A change will you Good.

The 5am Taxi Express

Late night packing went down smoothly and after running through the check list to end all checklists for the 10th time, we decided that our passports were not going to disappear and it was time for bed. Five hours later Tam kicks me out of bed to make coffee and 20 minutes after that we’re in the taxi heading South to the airport (Luton, Easyjet to Lisbon).
Travelling alone and travelling with a family in tow is quite different. For one luggage requirements vary massively. The normal backpack has been replaced with two cargo bags, two sets of hand luggage and a child carrier. The peaceful settling down to a glass of wine and a movie replaced by a restless, wriggling, kicking little girl fighting an intense feeling of claustrophobia. Relax fellow passengers, she’s not going to stop yelling her lungs simply through your irritable glances, this is Sav in a good mood ;).

Top song for the day…. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks – The National

 

 

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(Allowing dad to tap away merrily on the Blackberry)

TTT excuses and two weeks of Iberian bliss

Well, what started out as a gret intention to record my rambles across the face of the globe has been left behind in the crazyness of life/work and TTT (terrible two tantrums). 

you have the joy and pleasure of looking forward to an update of two tours through the holy land, a week in India and some random days in France and northern Portugal. 

Tomorrow we set off for our first major European tour which is going to take us through Lisbon, across central and southern Portugal finally turning around somewhere near Seville in Andalucia before heading back out of “Lisboa” on the 31st March. 

I’ll update as we move along from one wifi spot to the next….

As for now, it’s time for a final work handover before I exhume myself from the clutches of UK Fresh Produce…. finalise any last minute packing and then head to the airport at 05h00 tomorrow morning.

Wish me luck!

 

A vague 8th day….

6/09/2011……Starting to get really edgy about getting back now, the Tam/Sav deficiency is starting to kick hard now. Today is a vague day. My vague task is to see a new possible supplier, once again getting picked up by a Portuguese only driver doesn’t help my vague historic knowledge of this city or country, but it does highlight the fact that Brazil is big enough for the majority of the population not to learn a second language. 

Being vaguely received at the office, the main sales lady is unavailable to see me, some vague reason about having a baby or something, so I’m left chatting about all matters vague to the logistics lady, who’s soon to take over the sales role….(Should I be vaguely concerned?) A conversation ensues where great phrases such as reliability, supplier/importer relationships, continuity of supply, commitment etc seem to be vaguely unfamiliar to them and one’s left feeling like you’re likely to better off dealing with a commodity trader. They’re keen to show me the farm so we plan a meeting for the next morning. 

Back at the hotel, I’m distinctly aware that if one has to suffer another hotel meal, I  may just lose my sense of humour so after a few inquiries at reception a taxi arrives to take me out to a restaurant called the Armazem Cafe.

This is a very attractively large restaurant that can probably seat about 200 people. The overall decor makes it look rustic without feeling grubby or dirty. A massive sail stretches across the outside seating area and a variety of galvanised masts stretch out holding the canopy taunt. 20h00 and there are very few people around. The beer is proudly cold and goes down well after such a vague day. A couple of musicians are setting up their instruments, doesn’t seem like they’re going to have much of an audience tonight. 

Armazem Caffe

In complete redemption of all other Brazilian restaurant food, this place cooks the best “mal pasada” steak imaginable. By 22h00 the restaurant is packed and the musician are giving it guns. It is hard to beat good talented Brazilian live music, and this is only “little old Juazeira” somewhere on the banks of Rio Sao Francisco. Salute! The next day is Independence day, thus explaining why everyone is out in full force this evening. I am randomly “assaulted” by a group of 17 year olds who are keen to practice their English and sit around the table enjoying the music. Three of them are from Petrolina and the other three are from Juazeira… and so the arguement continues as to which city is the best. By mid-night, the week is catching up and I head for bed. Thank you Juazeira for this noisy display of local culture. 

Inside the Armazem Caffe