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Thursday, August 26, 2010

25th Stop - Antananarivo, Madagascar

It seems as though the length and extent of my posts are a good indication about the quality of the destination, people, and experience. Madagascar is no exception to this rule. It’s really been a fantastic time, much more than I could have ever hoped for.

I had a nice long drive back to Tana, sitting next to a young girl who was vomiting every 45 minutes or so. No worries though; she had a stash of plastic bags and kept things rather clean.

I went back to Paul’s place for one more night. He had a prior engagement and ended up not coming home, so I went to bed early to get some sleep before the training I was giving the next day.

Wednesday was a great day. I trained five colleagues on how to use Wordfast Pro at a beautiful venue overlooking the entire city. This venue was a Catholic seminary and one of my trainees pointed out that the church has some of the best property in the city.

Wordfast trainees
After the training, I met up with Paul and his colleague Cédric for dinner at the Shakamanga restaurant downtown. Cédric has been living in Mada for two years now, working as a graphic designer for his brother’s IT business. He’ll stay at least another year before trying to work in the United States. Interestingly, Cédric’s mom used to be a member of the Junior Chamber in France; I’m glad I got a chance to tell him more about the association and hope he hooks up with some of the great people I met last week.

Dera came and picked me up at the restaurant, we grabbed my things at Paul’s, and then went back to Valérie and Dera’s home. Dera shared some photos and videos with me of his trip to Mauritius, and we enjoyed some nice scotch from his exceptional collection. We also talked about future business opportunities and parenthood. Thanks again Dera for the interesting conversation!

I got up early the next morning to have breakfast with Dera before he left for work, then I went with Valérie to her office for a couple of hours. Valérie has an off-shore call center called Ma Dactylo that offers solutions for data entry, accounting, administrative assistance, hotline support, and sales calls. Feel free to contact her on my behalf if you need any of these services!

View from the seminary
We both finished up some work, spoke to Fred in New Zealand on Skype about surfing when I'm out there in November, and then went for lunch with some of Valérie’s friends. It was very interesting to meet and discuss politics with a judge and Hérisoa, a JCI Senator and advisor to the Minister of Finance. Unfortunately, it was getting late and I had a plane to catch, so we ate and ran to the airport. Got there just in time!

Thanks to all the JCI members that met up with me. Another big thanks to Paul, Dera, and Valérie for hosting me a few days during my stay in Tana. Thanks also to Wordfast who will be buying a bednet for every trainee I train during the trip. That makes 8 bednets altogether, 8 more families protected from malaria for the next 5 years. Thanks to all of you and best of luck until we meet again!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

24th Stop - Andasibe, Toamasina, Mahambo, Foulpointe

Paul took me into town Thursday morning on his way to work and dropped me off at a bus stop, so I could get to the main bus station. Three bus rides and nearly an hour later, exasperated by the impression I was going in circles, I hopped in a cab. Thirty more minutes, then one hour of waiting for the taxi-brousse (mini-van) to fill up and we were on the road.

We stopped for lunch after a couple of hours (more like dunch as it was nearly 4 pm) and I met two other tourists from India, Prabhakar and Lakshmi, who were sitting in the back of the mini-van. Prab works for the UN in Ethiopia but has worked around the world, including North Korea. That makes at least four people I’ve met in the past three months who have been there!

The bus dropped me off in Andasibe and I walked down the road to a local lodge where I would spend the night. On my way I ran into Jean-Claude who offered to be my guide in the national park the next day. Ok!

It turns out that Prab and Lakshmi were spending the night in the same lodge, so we had dinner together. It was nice hearing all about their travels. They left Ethiopia and had been on the road touring Africa for a few months now. Mount Kilimanjaro, gorillas in the mist in Uganda, Rwanda and more. Apparently, it costs about $1000 for a permit, per person, to see the gorillas. If you’ve ever dreamed of doing this, start saving!

Up bright and early the next morning to meet Jean-Claude at the entrance to the park, along with Prab and Lakshmi. The first thing we saw was a really hard to see chameleon, followed by tree frogs, some rubber trees, and finally some lemurs. The first lemurs were small and gray, but later on we saw some big, furry, black and white ones. We switched our cameras on to rapid fire and got carried away, using up all our memory. Mine even overheated at one point and I thought I was going to lose everything.

After the novelty wore off and it started to get hotter, we called it a day and went back to the ranger station and gift shop. I bought a few things for Louis, parted ways with my company, got my things at the lodge, and went back to the main road to hitch a ride to Toamasina.

I tried to negotiate the price with the driver of the first mini-van that stopped, but failed miserably. Oh well, I’ll take the next one. What luck! The next mini-van to stop was taking a famous Malagasy rock group called Mage 4 to Toamasina for a couple of concerts they were giving over the weekend. I hopped in, we introduced ourselves, and then started drinking rum!

Uploaded by ramahy. - Explore more music videos.

A great ride talking with famous rockstars, telling jokes (remind me to tell you the one about Santa Claus... thanks Ken!), and singing songs. Thanks again Mage 4 and definitely see you at the concert tonight!

When we arrived, Jimmy, Marjeanne’s boyfriend came to the station to pick me up. I met Marjeanne, a member of JCI at the World Congress last year in Tunisia. Marjeanne is working for a big mining project that will start extracting cobalt and nickel and provide a big boost to the country's economy. Jimmy told me all about his upcoming plans to open a VIP karaoke bar.

In case you have noticed yet, the Junior Chamber International has members around the world. In fact, the vision of the association is to be the leading global network of young active citizens. A network only works if you rely on it and render service when you can. This reinforces the links that connect us. Indeed, I hope that my travels and visits will bring us closer together, create new opportunities, and allow us to learn from one another and grow. Speaking of opportunities, my good friend Ghislain in Cameroon is looking for a partner to open a training institute in Cameroon with him.

Later that night, we all went out for dinner with other members and former members. It was nice to hear about their local projects and more about the political situation in Madagascar. I also got a chance to invite them to attend the JCI Challenge that Pays Niçois is hosting next year!

We finished dinner and then went over to the the Chinese Congregation for the Mage 4 concert with Zazah, Angelo and Tuv. It’s really nice going to a show when you know the tour manager and everyone in the band. It kind of makes you feel like a rockstar too.

We stuck around for the second band, finished our second bottle of whisky and then met up with some other friends at the Neptune, a local night club. Dancing was great but we were getting tired, so we all left and went to Anja’s karaoke bar. Anja, another JCI member opened up especially for us and we hung out at the bar, talking and laughing until the sun came up!

I headed north the next morning with Zazah to Mahambo to check out the surf scene. Mirana Olivia from Tana had tried to put me in contact with a surf school so I could learn how to surf. It turns out the owner is Valérie’s brother, Fred, who is now in New Zealand; I’ll catch up with you there Fred!

When the taxi-brousse dropped us off, we had a 5 km walk to the water. I adjusted the straps on my backpack and we must have walked 20 meters when a truck stopped by. The driver offered to drop us off somewhere. It turns out that he was the owner of the hotel we were going to and on top of it all, he was from Nice!

Not much excitement in Mahambo, so the next day we went back towards Toamasina, and stopped off in Foulpointe. Unfortunately, we would miss the Three Horses Brand beer festival starting the following week, but we would still go visit the Fort Manda which is one of few forts in the world built of coral, sand, and egg whites. When Zazah was telling me we should visit the fort made of eggs, I was initially imagining a giant fort built of eggshells!

That night, we met Priscille from Mauritius who runs a Montessori school in Tana and Eliot, an architect and former French legionnaire. They joined us for a drink which later turned into a fish and chips dinner on the beach prepared by a young local entrepreneur. The next morning, we had a breakfast of fresh clams in shallot vinegar at a beachside shack and then it was time to hit the road!

For my last night in Toamasina, I gave a similar JCI presentation to the one I gave in Tana, then we all went out to sing songs at a karaoke bar. As you can see, the Malagasy are crazily fond of their karaoke.
A big thanks to the members of Mage 4, the JCI members of Toamasina, Marjeanne, Jimmy, Angelo, Antonio, Tuv, and everyone else for making this such a memorable experience. A special thanks to Zazah for accompanying me up North. Best of luck to all of you and see you soon I hope!

Next stop: Tana!

Friday, August 20, 2010

23rd Stop - Antananarivo, Madagascar

Have you ever dreamed of going to Madagascar to discover the exotic flora, landscapes, and fauna? I had, ever since I leafed through a guide book at the local library seven years ago. I was so excited that as soon as we reached the coastline, I had my eyes fixed on the trees, looking for lemurs swinging to and fro. At an altitude of several thousand feet, it probably would have helped to have had a pair of binoculars. The landscapes were breathtaking, however.

First time in Madagascar and first time after nearly three months of traveling that I would stay in a hotel. Though torn about not meeting more fantastic people and buying bednets, I was looking forward to having some time to myself–and by myself I mean me, my computer, and Facebook!

My taxi dropped me off at the Menhir hotel, just south of downtown Antananarivo (or Tana for short). Downtown is perhaps an overstatement. Tana looks more like a larger version of a village in Provence, with rolling hills interspersed by rice paddy plateaus and dotted with vibrant painted homes and buildings. The contrast with the azure blue sky, red earth, and lush green flora is strinkingly beautiful.

Back to the Menhir, this quaint hotel owned and operated by an ex-pat from Brittany named Dan, is located in a quiet neighborhood across from a police station. This reassured me as I was a little nervous at first because of the coup d’état in early 2009 and the unrest it ushered in. Ever since, inflation, uncertainty, and high unemployment have plagued the country.

Dan was very friendly and later introduced me to Clément, another ex-pat who works in the costume design business in Mada, but also runs the restaurant in the hotel for fun. In case you are interested, Clément is looking for someone with experience who would like to run the show during the week while he is at the factory. it is a Moroccan restaurant (he lived there for 10 years or so). If you are interested, go ahead and contact Dan so he can put you in touch with Clément!

Interestingly, Clément was the third person I have met so far on this tour who has been to North Korea. He lived there for several years, working for a textile company. If you make it to Tana, make sure you drop in for some of the best couscous I’ve had in awhile. It’s so good that even government ministers and people from the French consulate pop in for lunch (I saw several VIPs on at least three occasions). Thanks for the game of chess and the excellent food!

On Monday, I went into town and gave a Wordfast demonstration at the Centre National d’Enseignement de la Langue Anglaise (CNELA). Thank you Stéphane for helping me to organize this, thank you Mr. Rasoloheritsimba for allowing us to use your facilities, and thanks to everyone who showed up!

Upon leaving the CNELA, I was met in the courtyard by three members of JCI Tana: Mirana Olivia, Seder, and Tuv. We talked a bit and made plans for me to give a talk on Wednesday night during their general assembly about international opportunities in JCI. As we parted ways, I told them I was taking the bus back (dressed up in suit and tie with LCD projector and computer in hand) which thoroughly surprised them. Well it makes sense every way you look at it: mass transit cuts down on pollution, lessens traffic, and saves pennies. I think Mada has the cheapest bus fare I have ever paid: 300 ariary or slightly more than €0.10!

On Monday or Tuesday night (I can't remember), Dera, another JCI member and former national president called me up to meet for dinner. He picked me up at my hotel, then we picked up Valérie, his wife and also former JCI national president. We went to the Café de la Gare in downtown and had a delicious meal. It must have been national presidents night out because at the restaurant we bumped into Yannick Moati, former national president of JCI France! Message for Guy T.: Yannick te passe le bonjour ! Thanks Dera and Valérie for a lovely evening out on the town.

After a few nights relaxing stay at the Menhir, I packed bags and headed off to Paul P.’s place, a young French IT ex-pat working in Tana whom I had contacted via Before leaving the Menhir, I told Dan about my project and he jumped at the occasion to buy a bednet. A big thanks to Dan and everyone at the Menhir!

Paul was living in another part of town and his place was difficult to find. The taxi made a couple of wrong turns and we ended up on the worst road I have ever seen in my life. Off-roading through the Tunisian desert in a 4X4 outside of Tozer was a cakewalk in comparison with this! With help from local zebu herders, we eventually found Paul’s place.

I dropped off my things, then Paul and I headed into town on his motorcycle. I hung out in a hotel downtown working on a few things all afternoon until the JCI meeting that night. At lunch, I met Hery Andriamiandra, a former JCI member who is now the editor-in-chief of a IZA Magazine, a nation-wide monthly business magazine. Thanks for giving me a copy of the magazine Hery, it was a great read!

That night, I gave a one-hour talk during the JCI Tana general assembly about how you have to seize the day to be the change. I touched on some ideas picked up from other trainers and shared experiences from the past 4 years as a member of JCI, about how important it is to have a positive attitude, say yes to opportunity, the importance of envisioning in order to move forward and how we should challenge ourselves and others to be better in all aspects of our lives. The message seemed to get across as the members left with “Yes” on the tips of their tongues! Thanks Mirana Olivia, Seder, and Tuv for organizing this encounter.

The night was young so we went out for a bite to eat, some drinks, and a karaoke jam session. I was amazed at how good some of the members could sing. Thanks for the song, the laughs, and for teaching me some key phrases in Malagasy : mi fat fat be ianoa (all of you)! One more stop to meet up with Paul and his friends for a drink and then we went home.

The next morning, I left a suitcase at Paul's and got on the road for Toamasina with the intent to stop off in a virgin forest in Andasibe and frolic with those ever-elusive lemurs.

Next stop: Andasibe and Toamasina!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

22nd Stop: Cape Town, Part 2

I was really looking forward to the Thursday night dancehall vs. hip hop party at the Vudu Lounge downtown. Chandra, Jørn, and I went out for dinner and then Chandra and I went over to the club to danceparty. Moses from Germany, Serghino and Nanette from Holland, and Rodney from Ghana joined us to “hear Cape Town's finest DJ's on rotation as they [brought us] the latest in Dancehall vibrations bumping against the best of Hip Hop jams!!!!” Thanks for the nice night out everyone!

What superlative could I use to express the anticipation I had building up inside for Friday night? I don’t know but I do know that it all started earlier that week on Monday, incidentally Women’s Day in South Africa, over dinner with Chandra, Marion, and Rebecca. Plans were hatched to throw a bednets fundraising house party over a delicious curry dinner that Chandra had cooked up. We were going to sell raffle tickets to raise money and had a good 2-hour long brainstorming session to think of prizes we could raffle off.

Here is an excerpt of my personal favorites:
  • one free DJ t-shirt
  • one cageless shark diving
  • the chance to take Rebecca out on a date
  • one home-cooked Indian meal with Chandra
  • life-coaching session with Marion
  • 1 week's worth of anti-malaria medecine (Lariam)
  • dinner by a famous South African food critic
  • Dutch anthem signing lessons with Marion
  • one private photo session with Tar
  • a day with Rex
  • interview for Cape Town Magazine feature article
  • free press release by Rebecca
  • one eyebrow pluck session by Marion
  • one free hug from Chandra
  • one happy belated birthday song from everyone
  • full body white/black head popping session by Marion
  • buy a bednet, take anyone else's prize
  • bednet from globe-trotting Norwegian cyclist
  • coffee with a typhoid fever victim
  • phone number of cheap, friendly taxi driver (Obs-Town: 50 rand)
  • one travel-sized toothpaste (courtesy of Ghislain in Cameroon!)
  • one love letter written by Rebecca to the person of your choosing
  • 1 year of free, unlimited access to wikipedia
  • one homestay in Nice, France at John's place
  • sunset on Signal Hil with a glass of wine
  • and many more...
A Facebook event was created—Get buzzed, save lives mosquito bednet house party—and notice was sent out by more traditional means (SMS and e-mails). It was hard to guess but we were figuring about 20 or so people would show up.

The first guests arrived around 9 pm, and we sold a batch of raffle tickets: 1 for ten rand, 3 for 25 rand. The party really started to get going though around 11 pm when Serghino showed up. The previous night he had offered me a beer but completely forgot about it when he went to the bar. The next morning he woke up and suddenly remembered "I think I forgot to get that beer for John!" When he walked in the door, he had a nice cold big bottle of Black Label beer for me. Thanks Serghino!

The raffling was underway and we had our very first winners. In fact, it seemed like Paul kept winning all the prizes so we made him draw tickets, then he would automatically be disqualified from winning. A special thanks to Jess and Erik from Nice for donating a free facial message at their beauty salon, La Fée Beauté, to Paul from Blue Collar, White Collar for donating a designer shirt, and to Rebecca’s dad, a famous local food critic for inviting a winner over for dinner one night! Thanks also to Tarjei Langeland for doing the photo shoot, you’ve got talent Tarjei, keep it up!
Tarjei and Rebecca, photo by Siri
Tarjei Langeland manning the photo booth
Marion and Chandra
Marion, Chandra, and Marthe

At least 30 people showed up and they didn’t leave as early as we thought. With the dance floor thumping, a professional darbuka (North African drum) player named Cid gone rabid with the music (too much time with Rex), raffle drawings at regular 15 minute intervals, the photo booth churning out stills and more than 60 prizes to raffle off, people didn’t clear out until 4 am!

Thanks to everyone who came and participated in the raffle. Together, we raised $76 which will buy 7.6 bednets and protect 7.6 families (don’t worry .4, we’ll get you a bednet too!). A special thanks to Denga from Malawi for buying enough raffle tickets for one bednet, to everyone who will be donating their time to fulfill their prize commitments (Siri, Chandra, Marion, Rebecca, Jørn, et al.), and to Marion and Chandra for hosting such a marvelous party!

One lucky winner was entitled to a happy belated birthday song in Norwegian:

What can I say after such an exceptional night? Table Mountain was pretty, the view spectacular; do go if you get a chance some day. On Sunday, I was at the airport again with a quick layover in Jo’burg, just enough time for morning KFC (it is finger licking good, isn’t it?), and then on to Mada.

Next stop: Antananarivo, Madagascar!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

22nd Stop: Cape Town, Part 1

Cape Town was going to mark another first of this journey. This would be the first time that someone I had met during my tour would put me into contact with one of his friends who in turn would offer to host me. Not sure that makes sense, so let me explain. Remember back in Berlin when I met Pat in his art studio? We exchanged emails, and Pat put me into contact with Chandra, a Dutch friend of his who is finishing her master's thesis in international law and studying art history and French in Cape Town. By the way, she is actively looking for an internship or job opportunity. If you have any leads, please let me know!

I got in late afternoon, met Chandra and Rex, the dog who belongs to the owners of the house she is renting (famous jazz musician Mervyn Africa) as well as Siri, Chandra’s Norwegian friend who is studying journalism. There was something special about Norway in Cape Town because I didn’t stop meeting Norwegians. Two more Norwegians, Jørn and Oyvind, stopped by with their bicycles to put them in Chandra’s garage, then we all went for a bite to eat.

This is where things got really interesting. Jørn and Oyvind, along with their friend Andreas, whom I wouldn’t meet until later, had just arrived in Cape Town after cycling almost a year from Oslo! Oslo - Cape Town, that’s amazing. 24 years old, all three of them. Bravo gentlemen! I was sorry to hear that Jørn had picked up typhoid fever in Ethiopia and you all got wretchedly sick after eating rotten meat, but comforted by the fact that you made it to Cape Town alive and well. Remember, if doesn’t kill you, it will only make you stronger! Again congrats on a great feat and best of luck to all three of you with the rest of your studies and whatever the future holds in store for you!

Check out their blog, it's great, especially the blind cola taste testing in Syria!

I made some pasta salad for the three of us, and some crêpes, and then we set off with the crêpes to Marthe and Marejke’s for a house-warming/birthday party. There were a lot of really nice young people from around the world who were studying at the University of Cape Town. I met an Italian surfer who is also signed up on and has hosted several people and a very nice translation colleague from Amsterdam, Nanette. After the crêpes ran out, someone had the fantastic idea to make pancakes. I was skeptical at first about having one, feeling full from the great potluck, but after seeing them fresh off the griddle, the flamed banana topping, and chocolate spread, I couldn’t resist. Thanks to whoever had that great idea!

Chandra and I left towards the end to go see a friend of hers, Leroy, who runs a local jazz bar a few blocks away. Somebody will have to correct me if I’m wrong but I think we were really close to or in District 6. This may remind you of a recent South African movie called District 9. In fact, this movie was inspired by history when over 60,000 inhabitants were forcibly removed from District 6 starting in 1968 by the apartheid regime. Check out this article to read more about this tragedy. By the time we got back to the party, everyone had left except Marion so we grabbed a cab and went home!

The next day, I met up with the Norwegians again to go up to Table Mountain, but unfortunately the power went out on the cable car so we weren’t able to leave the base station. It was a nice chance to get out anyways and find out more about their trip!

On Wednesday, I went down to the waterfront to see the wharf and downtown area. I had just settled down outside on a café terrace, had an espresso in one hand, The Economist in another, when all of the sudden a deafening boom rang out. Conversations were put on pause, the lone coffee drinkers like me made dumbfounded eye contact with the those around them, and then people started to precipitate to the source of the sound. Two men driving a small utility vehicle had run into a wall, right next to a high pedestrian traffic staircase. Luckily no one was hurt, though the driver and passenger looked a little dazed and confused and the vehicle even worse.

After finishing my coffee, I walked past the World Cup stadium and got a table at Il Doppio to wait for my friends. Remember back in episode 8 when I stayed with Janet and Enrico? Well, it just so happened that they were on vacation with their son in South Africa, and were flying back to Amsterdam the very next day! Chandra joined us for dinner and Marion came at the end, then we went back home. Nice seeing you again Janet, Enrico, and Antonio!

To be continued...

Monday, August 9, 2010

21st Stop - Johannesburg East, Part 3

Like I had mentioned in an earlier post, I was very successful using for the first time. More than four families had offered to host me and I was moving on to my third and final family in Jo’burg.

Carol dropped me off at the bus station and I rode into Sandton to get the Gautrain, this time alone (see first Jo'burg post about drive by bus shootings)! Tammy picked me at the Rhodesfield train station and we went back to her home to drop off my bags. Tammy’s half-sister, Claire, was home from school and decided to go out with us to do some shopping.

Later that night, Wendy, Tammy and Claire’s mom, Kobi, Wendy’s boyfriend, and Sharon, Tammy’s friend, joined us along with Wendy and Kobi’s four friends from Belgium who had just arrived for a three-week long vacation in South Africa. We had a lovely dinner followed by ice cream sundaes with a secret chocolate sauce. Actually, I’m not sure it is a secret, so I’ll share the knowledge: melted milky way candy bars with milk chocolate. Drizzle that over some nice French vanilla ice cream and you’ll be in heaven.

Emile Singeh from Cameroon had put me in touch with some fellow Jaycees from South Africa and I was finally going to get a chance to meet up with them during their mid-year recharge. I invited Tammy to join us and we set off early Saturday morning for the meeting after a crêppy breakfast ;-)

The weekend was the first of its kind for the JCI South Africa National Board and local presidents. The goal of the weekend was to evaluate what had been accomplished so far this year, plan for the rest of 2010, and start looking forward to 2011. We had a couple break-out sessions which consisted of SWOT analyses (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) of different internal aspects of the association. I also had the honor to do a brief presentation about the the Nothing But Nets campaign and why I was in South Africa.

I must say that the fun highlight of the day was the warm up before the afternoon session. We went around the room saying famous company slogans or taglines. Then each person had to repeat their slogan, right after saying the phrase “under my underpants”... Thanks for the great laugh with KFC's “it’s finger lickin’ good”!

A big thanks to Ali, Tshepo, Michelle and everyone else for such a wonderful day. I wish you all the best of luck for the rest of the year and next and look forward to seeing you in Osaka in November!

Tammy had left earlier in the day, so I went back via the train. I figured it would be a good idea to use my Gautrain credit as I had foolishly purchased about $50 worth of it! The rest of night we enjoyed some of Tammy’s delicious Elvis hamburgers and karaoke. Thanks for the recipe Tammy (please contact me if you want it, they're honestly the best burgers I've eaten)!

Next morning, I was back at the airport and off to Cape Town already. Thanks Wendy, Tammy, Claire, and Kobi for hosting me for these two nights. That’s two more bednets and two more families protected for the next five years.

Next stop: Cape Town!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

21st Stop - Johannesburg, Part 2

Remember back in episode 12 (Brussels) how my cell phone got stolen? Well, I eventually replaced it and feel compelled to tell you about my new phone. Why? Because it’s finally been sunny, after weeks of clouds during the rainy season in Cameroon, and I am only now getting a chance to use the solar panel on the back that charges the phone. Now don’t be jealous; if you’ve already made the transition to a smartphone, as I had several years ago, this is like trading down from a Harley to a kiddie bike with training wheels. No GPS, no synchronization with iCal or Outlook, no flash for the camera... basically a useless phone (I can still make and receive calls) with a solar panel.

Rhodesian Ridgeback, Shakira
Back to the here and now. Adrian dropped me off at Carol and Mike’s place on Wednesday night; it turns out that they live qute close to one another! Carol and Mike have a lovely home in Jo’burg North that Mike actually built. I was greeted by Carol and one of their Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs. These are beautiful dogs that were bred in Zimbabwe to hunt lions. I don’t think they do much lion hunting these days but make for excellent guard dogs. In fact, after meeting Mike, the first thing he told me was that there was one rule in the house and that was not to go outside whenever Brutus, the male, was not locked up. Too dangerous.

On Thursday, I went with Carol and her dad John to the Lion and Rhino Reserve for an African safari. First time I have ever seen a rhino, springbok, African buffalo, cheetah and more. Did you know that the cheetah has characteristics of both canine and feline and people disagree as to its classification? Thanks Carol and John for a beautiful day in the Land Cruiser!

Vanessa, Carol’s daughter, and Robert, Vanessa’s boyfriend, joined us for a fish and chicken feast later that night. We had a few cocktails and Mike shared some amazing stories about gold mining in Zimbabwe, copper mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo and what it is like being an entrepreneur in South Africa. I hope that one day the Zimbabwe National Bank gives you back that 6 kg of gold they’ve been holding onto! I also learned what the expression “it’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey” means. Take your best guess by commenting on this post (without googling it); I’ll give you the explanation afterwards!

Tauren, Carol’s niece, lives upstairs and she invited me out for a drink with one of her friends. We had a nice evening out, thanks again Tauren!

On Friday, I packed up my things and went East to another host family. I had a lovely time with Carol, Mike and everyone else. Looking forward to seeing Robert and Vanessa in France when they go on their world tour next year! Thanks again for hosting me and for two more bednets to fight against malaria. Oh and I almost forgot, if you're in the market for a beautiful home in Jo'burg, Carol and Mike are selling theirs!

Next stop: Jo’burg East!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

21st Stop - Johannesburg, Part 1

I made it into Jo’burg bright and early Saturday morning and as I stepped off the plane, I suddenly realized it was winter! Brrr... The first thing I did when I got my suitcase was take out my jacket. When I opened it, I noticed that it had been “inspected” by airport staff or customs officials in Cameroon or South Africa. Actually, a better term would be “pilfered”. When I was about 10 years old, I made my first foreign currency purchase. I went out to the airport in Minneapolis and bought a $5 Australian bill. I’ve held onto it all this time, knowing that one day I’d make it there and be able to use it. Looks like some thief will be using it before me. He or she also made away with 40 Thai Baht (about $1). Lesson for us all: don’t put cash in your checked luggage.

After filing a complaint and filling out a police report, I was on the new high speed Gautrain heading to Sandton, Jo’burg’s sister city. From there, I got on the bus and went up to the Monte Casino to meet Adrian. Interestingly, there were only two other people on the bus. They recently put in place a public bus system and it hasn’t quite taken off yet among the locals. Maybe the fierce resistance from the taxi association and random drive-by shootings are scaring off potential riders.

Jo’burg was going to be the first city where I would reach out to complete strangers and ask them to host me. How? Using a website called I had contacted some people while I was in Morocco and at least 4 people had offered to host me during the week. First stop, Adrian and Louise’s place in Jo’burg North.

Adrian picked me up and brought me to their house. My room wasn’t ready though because they had a young German couple staying with them (couchsurfers as well!) who were leaving in an hour or so to drive up to Mozambique. After sending off the Germans, I went out for a relaxing walk in the park with Siobhan, Adrian’s daughter, Louise, and Crackle, their dog. Louise told me all about her and Adrian’s volunteer work as police reservists. I was very impressed and felt like I couldn’t have ended up with a safer family! I commend you both for your active involvement in your community.

That night, my hosts took me along to one of their friends’ house party. Nice evening with Brian and Randall, two philosophy professors from Canada, and Luana, a South African pilatis instructor. Thanks everyone for such a warm welcome on my first day!

Next day, another house party at GG and Sue’s house to celebrate Sue’s birthday party. What a great opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people! Adrian shared some stories about his trip to North Korea to purchase pottery. I loved learning that they have an entire movie set that replicates all the major cities around the world for TV news broadcasts. Had a chance to talk a little with Mike, a former world champion in no holds barred cage fighting and see some pictures from one of GG’s last motorcycle trips through Namibia. Very impressive. Finished up chatting with one of the local city councilors, Ralph, who invited me to their caucus the next day. Unfortunately, I couldn’t come as I wasn’t a party member :-(

Three’s a charm, Monday night, another birthday party, this time to celebrate Luana’s 50th. We had a nice dinner at an Italian restaurant and then went back to her place to drop off the dishwashing machine that her friends’ had all chipped in to buy her. Talked with Scruff who just started a mushroom growing business—not the psychedelic kind—and Marshall, one of Jo’burg’s captains of industry. Thanks Marshall for sharing some tunes from the new Beck album!

All of these parties gave me the chance to tell so many people about the bednets project; almost everyone asked me if I knew Kingsley Holgate. Hadn’t heard of him before I got to South Africa, but now I know. Want to find out more? Check out his site and bravo Kingsley for your action!

The next days were a little quieter. I spent most of the time working, and we went out to eat for local fare on Tuesday night. A nice local joint called where you can write on the walls (see really bad res photo to the left)! In a matter of days I had tried most of the country’s specialties: biltong, which I had mistakenly understood as bull tongue, or South African beef jerky; bunny chow, a minced meat stuffed half-loaf of white bread, and milk tart, a custard tart with cinnamon. Yummy!

Adrian and Louise were very kind and offered to let me stay the rest of the week. I must admit I was tempted because I was having such a wonderful time in their company. Some other people though had also been kind enough to offer to host me and were very excited to know that they’d be helping save lives that I regretfully had to decline the offer and move on. Thanks again Adrian, Louise, and Siobhan for a great experience in Jo’burg. That’s four more bednets to fight against malaria. I look forward to taking you up on the invitation to Mozambique and welcoming you in Nice one day!

Next stop: Jo'burg North chez Carol and Mike!