Monday, September 20, 2010

Greatest Hitz

For better or worse, this little corner of the internets has been sitting on ice cubes for awhile now. I no longer write on it because I no longer feel like I have anything exciting and noteworthy to say, and I'm not really dedicated or skilled enough to try and write interesting thoughts about mundane topics. I'm back home doing normal home things, which is kind of a let down after my life of fighting murderous baboons and drinking lumpy beer from gas cans. In the process of trying to find a company willing to give me money on a regular basis for use of my skill(z), it came to my attention that in this modern world of ours people really do Google your name to find out if you're some kind of weirdo. Such that this is the cornerstone of my web presence, I figure I should probably give my little soapbox one last lick of paint.

So without further ado: Picture Me Walkin's Greatest Hits, as determined by a committee of one and in no particular order.

5 Sweeping Generalizations about Africa
Forget what you heard, I'm here to reaffirm your stereoypes.
Uganda 1, Me 0
In which Luke narrowly escapes a gruesome death.
Night Terrors
In which Patrick has his first encounter with the fabled beasts of Africa.
In which Patrick tempts fate (again).
A Gypsy in Rasta's Clothing
A merry jaunt through the countryside with a new "friend," with predictable results.
Bigups 2 da Selektaman, Bumbaclot 4 da Haters
A hard hitting journalistic piece on the Ugandan pop music scene.
R.I.P. Tin Can Tony I
A loving tribute to our dear indomitable cloven-hooved friend Tony.
It's not all Mangoes and Zebras
Luke gets spooked by an unexpected visit to the hospital, and briefly becomes serious.
Reflections for a Bulgarian Socialist
Patrick makes use of his fancy "college education" and shares some "thoughts" on the state of the microfinance industry.
The End of Africa

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The End of Africa

(The end of Africa. Indian Ocean on the right, Atlantic on the left.)

Cape Town, the end of the journey. I'm here. Forgive me if I get a bit nostalgic.
I retired from my illustrious career in aid work on January 1 with the goal of traveling until I either reached Cape Town or ran out of money. On Monday, April 19th I pulled into the city limits of the southernmost city of note on the continent. Three and a half months, nine sovereign nations and roughly 11 thousand kilometers over the road. I spent most of this time not really thinking about the bigger picture of where I'm going or doing any significant planning. The map in head rarely extended much past the next town, and decisions were pretty exclusively made on a day to day basis.

(Cape Town and Table Mountain as seen from the V&A waterfront.)

The one constant, however detached, has been the symbolic destination of Cape Town. It's been my Mecca and I haven't turned away from it many times since I left Uganda. Having made it, I've kind of been at a loss with what to do. I guess I'm done now, whether I really want to be or not. I suppose I could just turn around and go back up to Namibia- like Forrest Gump when he walks across the country, reaches the Pacific and just turns around for the Atlantic because he doesn't know what else to do. As much as I try to live a life in emulation of mentally retarded shrimp boat captains, it just doesn't seem like the right move this time.

So having reached the end of the road and finding that I don't really have much else to do, I booked a ticket back home. So that's it, I set a date and the clock on my life has resumed ticking. Everyone asks me if I'm sad to be leaving and the funny thing is that honestly I'm not. As distasteful as the idea of getting a real job and reentering productive society is, I'm not really scared of it anymore. It's time to be an adult and do adult things.

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to take a year plus off and take a good look at what kind of life I want to live and what I'm willing to do in order to get it.

(The Cape of Good Hope, so called southernmost point in Africa)

I stepped off a plane over a year ago with my brother in a very third world country in Africa with little more than a couple phone numbers and an expense account. No lifeline, safety catch or do-overs, we had to either build a life and company or fail. It was trial by fire in the best and scariest sense. I was homeless for a day in a town that was basically one big refugee camp not five years earlier. I learned to bargain my ass off for everything from a tomato to rent. I got hoodwinked by a no-good Rasta, and I made some amazing friends that changed my entire perspective on Africa. Just when we established some order and I thought I had things straight, everything got turned upside down.

From the sky fell a staff of volunteers who were eager, hard working, and just as clueless as me. Over the next several months all the things I thought I had figured out were tested as new sets of eyes saw every problem in a new way. I was now a manager attempting to direct a group of coworkers with a combined zero days of relevant experience (myself definitely included) in an organization with few rules, structure or vision. I also became Mr. Police Man- at least on paper- and as the only person who knew my way around had to keep a bunch of party-hungry college students alive in a region of Africa blacklisted by the US State Dept for insecurity. If that weren't hard enough, I had to do this while spending 24 hours a day living with that group of people I was supposed to be bossing around. I was not much of a manager, probably not even for a day, and I lost my grip on things pretty immediately.

Over the next few months as everything spiraled out of my control I became stressed, then depressed and finally completely disillusioned. I gave up trying to control the organization that had done more or less exactly what I wanted for the entire two years of its history and allowed things to just happen. In short I stopped caring and decided to just live my life for me. I ditched out and started wandering. Completing the descent into gypsyhood I pulled up my roots and set off for whatever the world had in store for me. Hitchhiking, buses, whatever; the only constant has been the hot sun and the pack on my back. Since then my life has been one long recess: scrabbling around in the sand with dirt on my knees and chasing girls; I just substituted kickball for drinking.

A few months later it's all coming to an end, it's time for me to get back to the world. I've been thinking of taking it full circle by visiting the University of Pretoria Center for Microfinance and giving them the same silly pitch I made at Makerere University Business School over a year ago. Part of me really wants to, but I just can't seem to get my fingers to write the email. It just seems dangerously close to working, and truth be told I still just don't really care. Luckily, I'm in Cape Town and there's plenty to distract me.

(Africa. Atlantic on the left, Indian on the right.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Oh Cape Town

It's all but obligatory to rant and rave about Cape Town. It's one of those cities that everyone who visits loves. It's beautiful, laid-back, warm (so I've been told, I'm freezing) and definitely happening. The clich├ęs come pretty fast around here, the biggest being "it's not Africa, it's Cape Town." I hate to buy into it, but it's the truth. Cape Town is a world apart from Africa, even more so than the rest of SA is. It's full of beautiful architecture and parks, classy bars and restaurants and tourists galore.

( The Company's Gardens, basically the Central Park of Cape Town. The white building is the National Art Galleries.)

In short, Cape Town is great, with a surprising amount of things to do in close proximity of such a big city.

(More Company's Gardens, museum of natural history in the background)

The other day I took the opportunity for a visit to the cape of Good Hope and it's resident penguins. Visiting the penguins is pretty much exactly what you would expect, but for some reason infinitely better and lamer than that. More than a couple times I've heard a girl squeal when they hear about the penguins: "They're so cute in their little suit and tie!" "Have you ever seen March of the Penguins, they're so cuuute!" and of course, "Did you know that they mate for life? They're like little people; so cuuute!" A stationary penguin, I'm sorry to say, is not a great draw. A penguin sitting on the beach is basically just a black and white duck, all dressed up with nowhere to go. After a few minutes I was about ready to mark off the penguins as "just another bird" like the ostriches and go away disillusioned and sad when a group of penguins got up and walked to the beach. That changed everything.

(Three Little Birds)

A walking penguin is awesome, I don't know why it just is. Trundling around like a baby in a suitcoat, wonking their flippers around and everything. I didn't squeal or anything, but I can't say there wasn't a little voice in my head saying "aww." In short, penguins rock. If you get the chance to see them and they aren't doing anything, throw a stone or a fish or something at them so they get up and walk around.

(Quack quack)

Also on the peninsula is the Cape of Good Hope, incorrectly billed as the Southernmost tip of the African continent and the spot where the icy waters of the Atlantic coming straight up from Antarctica mixes with the bathwater warm Indian Ocean which followed me down from Kenya. Actually the southernmost tip is several hours east, but "the most southwesterly point in Africa" just sounds desperate. I hiked around on the point for a few hours and checked out the lighthouse, all in all a great time. We decided to have a little picnic and strayed off onto a side road to find a nice spot, little knowing we were about to be accosted by a pack of ferocious wild ostriches roaming around looking for a fight. Although I ain't afraid of no damn buzzard and would fight one of those buggers in a second, my companions weren't so brave and we took off. All for the best since I have heard told that ostriches will attack anything that glitters and my shine blocks out the sun.

I also climbed Table Mountain of course, it was a great hike with beautiful views of the city and ocean. A few museums and a nice park, pretty much it was like being home. I'm glad I did this trip in this order and not the other way around, I think I'm pretty much readjusted to the developed world now.

(The Bay as seen from Table Mountain. Note the World Cup stadium on the top left)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Just call me Feather Baron

I seem to constantly flip flop back and forth between whether I want to on the beach or in the mountains. Honestly it's probably the enduring struggle of my life right now, which is a crystal clear indication of just how lucky I am. It's a clear cut case of the grass is greener: the beach is too easy and homogeneously beachy, everywhere else things just seem to go awry. After leaving the Drakensburgs after a great and very fun- if slightly ill fated- hike, we decided to stick to the beach for awhile and tour along the Wild Coast and Garden Route. The garden route and Wild coast are classic tourist brochure material, as the names would indicate. Perfect beaches, beautiful indigenous forests, amazing flora and fauna resulting from unique ecosystems created by the meeting of the icy Atlantic and balmy Indian oceans. On the beach is world class surfing, just back from the beach world class hiking. It is as great a travel destination for all ages as you're likely to find anywhere.

After a few days though, it was just boring. I have spent the better part of three months on the beach, virtually all of them much warmer than these. The beach is great, but a beach without blasting sun and warm water just doesn't do much for me these days. I'm used to swimming in bathwater-warm ocean and spending 48 hours at a time in no more than shorts and flips, so anything less just isn't quite it. We decided to venture once again into Africa, and take the old highway through the Little Karoo desert rather than the old coastal highway the rest of the way to Cape Town (I would never disgrace myself to take the new unscenic highway).

First stop of real note was Oudtshoorn, ostrich capital of the world. The story on this little town is an odd one. In the 1930's or so when ostrich feathers were the fashion, Oudtshoorn capitalized. South Africa became the world's biggest exporter of ostrich feathers, with Oudshoorn in the center of the action. Peppered around town are numerous serious mansions and estates of the former "feather barons." Then, predictably, the bubble burst and a town on the fringes of some serious desert was left with like a 2:1 ratio of ostriches to people and not much else for opportunities. The town rebooked itself as a tourist destination, with big birds at the center of the action. Touch an ostrich, kiss an ostrich, ride an ostrich. Fun for the whole family! But, as my friend Tomas put it, "an ostrich is really just a big bird. I'm not going to pay 60 rands just to see a big bird." So instead we checked out the Cango caves. The caves were just some pretty big caves, with some Khoisan bushman artifacts thrown into the bargain. As we are quite adventurous, we chose the "adventure route" so we had to squeeze into some tiiiight little spaces. There's not a lot to say about the cave tour. It was fun and interesting, but it was kind of exactly what you'd expect.

After Oudshoorn we took route 62, the old highway through the desert and mountains. Again, cool and gorgeous scenery but nothing particularly exciting. We arrived in Stellenbosh, wine capital of Africa, ready to do some tasting and class the joint up a little.

Monday, April 19, 2010


South Africa never ceases to surprise me with random reminders that I'm in a different world than I started in. Not to be a broken record, but South Africa really is not your grandfather's Africa of bumpy buses and mzungu mzungu. Yesterday I was driving down the silky smooth highway at the speed limit of like 90 mph, in itself a pretty huge contrast to East Africa. Then cars started whooshing by one after another. I took a closer look at what kind of machine could possibly be that much faster than the wicked matchbox car we had rented: 16 Ferraris, one after the other. I guess they were going for a little Sunday morning cruise session. Don't you fellas know that if you rounded a corner and found a herd of goats in the road at those speeds, eh!

To continue with the theme of where the hell am I: On Saturday, seeing as I was in Stellenbosh, the wine heartland of Africa, I went on a bicycle wine tour with a couple friends. It was a nice day (which around here means a nice cloud cover and not deadly sunny) so we ate our delicious porridge, rented some bikes and set out for a sophisticated jaunt in the countryside. South Africa wine country is ridiculous, it's like a shopping mall of wineries packed one after the other. Turn down a country lane and you'll find easily 3 or 4 beautiful wineries, all eager to pour alchol down your face no matter how wobbly your bike is. South African wine is also pretty cheap, though not Africa cheap. It depends on where and when, but it seems to be about $3-4 for a series of generous tastings and $10-15 for a pretty good bottle of wine. Not bad. Aside from one small skinned elbow obtained under semi-mysterious circumstances, adequate dignity was maintained and we had a blast. Unfortunately I scuffed my top hat, but hey, TIA.