Monthly Archives: January 2014

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20140120-213938.jpgAs we celebrate the life, achievements, and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It remind us we still have to raised awareness of conservation of our environment and need for sustainable development. This could be achieved by investing on education hence better knowledge, quality life, technologies, polices, etc. You support to our initiative will lead to better future that could be built from positive change.

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Freetown to Monrovia

History is history but I think it can answer some questions and can also determine one’s direction. Sierra Lone and Liberia finish 20th and start 21st century with down side of human; war and brutality. But also emerge with new optimism and hope most notable; First elected female president in Africa. Ellen Johnson Sieleaf.

20140119-170104.jpgAs I cycle to Freetown I was curious to see the remnants of decade long civil war, many have fade away with time and the city is booming. Traffic congestion and over crowded small part of peninsula, lack of roads, running water, electricity, etc. Partly explain that while others were moving forward someone here was moving backward. This will be more vivid in Liberia, electric polls, roads and others showed that once there were infrastructures here.

20140119-170215.jpgOne of the account which bring the stories of what other called ”Senseless War” and it madness close to our imagination is from a former child soldier; Ishmael Beah ‘a long way gone’. In this memoir book Ishmael tell the story from the time when his was just a boy in the village of Mattru Jong (which I had chance to pass through), the time things where normal to the time when he will lose his family and forced to become frontline soldier while he was still 13 years old.

Stories still exist in the rural areas I cycle through, I chart with formal child soldiers who are now in the late 20s, old folks, etc. The most effected were venerable rural areas and poor, the victims were uniformed youth, children and woman. War took long time and the madness reach the peak because partly was fueled with drugs, it was hard to tell from soldiers and rebels as most turned into groups of looters and reapers.

Sierra Leone is beautiful country of many rivers, white sand beach, mountains and forest. This natural beauty added with indomitable spirit of it people. Majority of Sierra Leones are kind, friendly and welcoming just like they have never see or experience other side of human character.

It one of the former British colon which I find to preserve well the link. The name of places are like; Water Loo, Kent, York, Liecester, New England, etc.

20140119-170426.jpgThe answers are often ‘Yes Sir’, ‘No Sir’. And most asked question; What is you mission in Sierra Leone Sir?

I was fascinated with their Krio language; broken English with drop of French words and African languages. ‘How de bodi ?, De bodi is fine…!’ that is the greeting goes.

20140119-170308.jpgThank to my host friend and family, Paul Lamin for trying to teach me without much success.

Most of the things are in the bottom rug of moving up, many young people are in the streets with luck of education and essential skills they still have hard time to make their way into economy with limit opportunities.
I was luck to present to young professionals of Environmental Protection Agency, their questions demonstrate the commitment and enthusiasm. One of the thing I will remember this agency is a treatment of proper meal. I can’t think of other country with such simple food which could also be descried as luck of food and passion to prepare it. Most of the meals are boiled rice, cassava sometime mixed with sweet potatoes and plantain. This is saved with ponded cassava leaves or potatoes leaves with piece of fish, plenty of palm oil and hot paper.

….in the jungle…
Out of Freetown I team up with Matias, Danish dude bound to South Africa. After 50km along the coast we were to see if we could hitch the boat to the other side across the bay or make couple of hundred kilometer detour to the town of Bo then down to Liberia.

20140119-165843.jpgWe arrived at the conspicuous port due to the crowd of people and shakers settlements around. Before we though twice about the ideal we shuffled into open wood boat, I was bit hesitant but Mat’s bike was already on board. All the pushing and jostling was like the boat will leave next minutes. Before I remove my shoes so I could walk the depth of almost chest size to reach the boat, a muscles dude offer to lift me up on his shoulder. I though it was kind of joke but the man was serious, of course it is not a free service. It fun looking at him lifting up huge mama.

Arrived at the boat I was shocked with the number of people and cargo. This shock remain with me for the entire 2 hours and half trip which seem to be like two year of my journey. It took about 3 hours of shouting, jostling and engineering to switch on the small yamaha engine. We venture into immense ocean, I didn’t had courage to watch and enjoy the white sand beaches decorated with tall palms and green mountains on the back ground with dotes of colorful villagers. Roughly there were more than 60 people with cargo on the boat, the wooden fleet was so deep one could touch the water. I sat down barry on my book avoiding to look around the blue ocean scared that I might spot the wave like those I have seen in the other coast which could easily cover all of us.

The boat could only make it to 15km/h, it greet luck that the ocean was calm that day. I was so reveled when I saw land but my jubilation was when I set a feet on it and regain my sense of confident.

Chiefs…
At Shenge village we were taken to paramount chief, we were instructed to sit on thatch shelter join with other old mans. I was surprised when old lady emerge from the house we were asked to stand up. For the first time I met female chief. She didn’t bother us much, guess she didn’t had much energy. She offer us banana and instruct that we shown place to camp. If were not lot of formality and old man hang around I wished to have more personal chart with ”her majesty” How did you become a chief? How is to be a chief in this culture where woman not only can not enjoy the same privilege but still has long way to change their mentality to realize the equality.

This will be the same formality for every village in Sierra Leone as foreigner we had to report to chief especial when wanted to spend night in the village. Sierra Leone still maintain chiefdom, it said that chiefs are elected but it can be for life time as it mix of tradition and modern democracy. Most of the chiefs they were very nice to use. I find it interest to talk with them, all of those I met got good education, some have lived in America, some saved a good position in the government and now a chief position seem to be retirement. It seem that there is big gap between their people who are majority illiterate living in the isolated villages in the forest, ocean or river side. Most didn’t suffer with these villagers especial in the time of war. The swagger, respect and fair to these leaders I think it can hinder democracy.

20140119-170954.jpgThe road to Liberian border was quite challenge, there are plenty of roads as there isolated small villages. Most of them are like footpath with so many rivers and creeks. Moto cycle is only fast link. The think forest is rolling terrain. It hot and humid which suck water from the body.

20140119-170702.jpgIn the diamond mining area road get better but huge mining trucks constantly steer dust which cause temporary blindness.

In this road I develop worst saddle sour ever for last 2 years, when the blisters bust contracted with sweat I couldn’t seat neither walk. It was quite painful to try to pedal because there were few options.

Tommy George…

20140119-170859.jpgAt one evening in the village of Maselelo contemplating of place to sleep, Mat was feeling the bottles while I was waiting in the edge of the village. I engaged in the conversation with a young boy was standing there watch the river, I asked him about direction and distance. He spoke very clear with good English which is not common in these remote villages. I went on to ask him where he study. I come to find out that the boy who sound quite intelligent was in secondary school but following the death of his father last year he was now out of school unable to finish two years to high school. He is living with his grand mother. Knowing the harshness of this place, I felt the weight of this boy life. What are hopes and chances for this young man in this remote village ? Look around his grand mother thatch house and small field of cassava and ground nuts. The distance from the last village and the distance to next village with rivers to cross, she can not make much profit if luckily she can sell some harvest.

Tommy, 13 years old. His annual school fees is 200, 000 (leones) US $ 46, this is lot of money for people who are leaving under $1 per day. I decide that I will give the boy my food money.Thanks to Mat who decide to share and contribute for 100,000 (leones). This make use run out of cash in the last villages but glad to see the Tommy back to school. Hope I will hear back from him sometime or my friends of in Freetown can help out.

Liberia….

20140119-171221.jpgEven though I was too tired and with additional pain of saddle sour, I find it surprising and fascinating as we arrive at Liberia boarder. It was like arriving int the lost state of America not only because of flag but the immigration police uniform, military and most notable; the language. Till right now I have had time to understand Liberia English, it is half way american accent spiced with jamaican slang.

Who said this country never colonialized? It was America colon with Ameico-Liberia through American Colonization Society from 1820. Indigenous become citizen 1904, possibly that what make it second oldest modern African state after Ethiopia.

A day cycling from the border (137km) through new villages and few war ruins, tarmac road brought us to Monrovia. Arriving in Monrovia a small city/town but dense populated, It was like entering into Hollywood live scene. Broken buildings, houses with tall walls and barber wire on top, military barracks, slum duelers, lot of UN vehicle racing around, etc. All this at small space.

We were luck to find home in the middle of what is said to be among of expensive African cities, they say this is due to lot of aid workers, huge number of UN staffs, mining companies, etc. Thank you so much Kate and Ivan for the help and share your diversity experience from the farms in South Africa to all the way up here.

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End of Sengal-Guinea-Bissau and Guinea-Conakry

Finishing Senegal…

We exchange fare well with Agustin with his wonderful children and extended family who made my stay in Ziguinchor a memorable. The family security dog wouldn’t agree ease with this depart, he chased me for about 2km till he was fetched back with Augustin. I was introduced to Augustin with friends who run organization which support ecological projects; Ecofunds.

20140101-155742.jpgLike most Senegalese, Augustin is ambitious educated in Europe in business and Agro forest economy studies he come back to give back to his community, he set up several firms including travel agency which according to him become quite successful to the point of collaboration with airline company to manage direct flight from France and Dakar to Ziguenchor. His flight were always full put the government running flights into risk for those incidents he lost his business license, at the time I was in Ziguenchor the government was unable to provide flight for couple days. Ziguinchor, is separated from main Senegal landmass by narrow Gambia and Gambia river, this region was more exposed to christian missionaries and less to islamic therefore enjoyed the luxury of education.

I cycle out through the growing city, 15km I arrive at uncrowded border just peasants parking their big sacks of peanuts, I stump out Senegal at the immigration officer siting under the mango tree.

20140101-160117.jpg Senegal come to the end, my first Sub-Sahara country after the cycling in North, Western and North East Africa. It goes with the excitement of seeng cycling in the black Africa but also it reviling harsh reality of this continent. The country have done far better in comparison with others in the region; with minimum resources, straggling democracy brought several reforms through governance which put the system into motion at least with stability. There are good progress and achievements in education field but has yet to copy up with speed of population growth, create suitable environment and jobs.

Guinea-Bissau…

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Arrived at the boarder post the man on football ti-shirt ask for my passport. Just to make sure who he was I ask if he is immigration officers. The colorful man found me ridiculous, he told his fellows that ‘I think the house is disco!’. Well, I could imagine for him he couldn’t understand how come for his fellow black dude wonder who is who or ask direct question. The office was quite casual with atmosphere of celebration, everybody was running his own initiative from the road to the back of the counter. I was stamped after threatened to be returned to Senegal.

Later I found out Guineans particular these one the former Portuguese colon (or overseas province) fancy a lot with clothes and shoes. Although there is no a lot here, the busiest sport I saw in the markets is second hand clothes sections. Despite the fact that the country is stricken with extreme poverty, the sense of beaut and colors are still precisely. Girls just like Brazilians like to express themselves through dressing. I found out the dress code to be suggestive for the country which is not modern.

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I stop at Sant Domingo, camped at the village with German man who found his second home in the middle of thatch roofed and mad houses. I find it quite ironic consider my understand of German culture with their altruism character, well I can’t generalize!. I camp out for few two days,

20140101-160916.jpgexplore the market day which was tremendously colorful with some products which I have never seen

. Most of this product are of cause food products, about 80 % of daily activities here is to find and prepare food often one meal per day. These food products are all natural most grow themselves in the forest therefore I assume the price is determined by collecting time. Wondering in this market which isn’t very different from the one in the village I grew up, I thought to myself the wealth and and rich of poor man is his food and freedom, these are all natural food. In the developed countries these will be only for rich man.

20140101-161321.jpg Nature determine life here provide all the nutrient by seasons.

It is hot and humid I sat down and watch the market

20140101-160448.jpg, my mind wonder in different conners to put together the situation in front of me. I think this system could be fine 100 years ago or so, today we have grow into different sophistication. The village is growing or has been growing though the population in Guinea Bissau like most part of Africa is quite stretched out populate sparsely (Gunea-Bissau has about 2 millions people in the area of 36,125 km square). With no clean or running water, access to basic health care, function latrines, balanced diets, etc. In my though I find it to be a sot of misery and hard situation to be exposed on. My friends finished the shopping, anyways there is no much to buy; Neals bought new cup for bucket shower and bar soap. I walk away my head occupied with thoughts of what could be done to alleviate the situation. But why? ; a moral question or human responsibility?

It was already 11 am Neals was ready for a beer I guess that is good remedy to sustain life here but it could be to better for me.

I find my remedy to go through this is bicycle, my hunger and un-sastification transformed into physical pain as I pedal through the hills and valley under the sun, endurance and tolerance is secret, motivation and hopes are tranquilizer; combined at the end of the day bring internal calmness and it is 172km; I’m in the Capital, Bissau.

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Along the low laying woodland (main cash nuts trees) and rice valleys it chains of villages. Lot of smiling faces and enthusiastic children who most shout ‘Branco’ ‘white’ at the first sight bit older would call out ‘Pretu’ ‘Black’. More older enjoying their palm wine by the road side which boost their confidence would great out ‘Ami Kuma?’ the creaole language (How are you my friend?) About 40% of people in Guinea Bissau speaks creole which is formulate out of Portuguese. Instead of saying ‘ Coma estas? they will say ‘Kuma? and if they want to be more formal ‘Kuma esta?’ and that how it goes to form a language to link them across their several tribes with separate African languages. It said that is again about 14% can speak official language Portuguese while others speaks various African languages.

Human bond and practice of simple things like compassion is out of question here, out of urban areas folks are so generous and helpful, I find Guinea-Bissau to be very friendly and ease going people. People are very ease to know and liked, they carry certain fascination which attract me.

In the capital I was invited to camp at the home of tax driver, it is small slam not to populated. I pitch my tent on room which has no tenant it has no window like many others. Illegal connected electricity come around 8pm and there were about 4 times black out through out the night, it bit worthless. That is urban, huge part of country electricity is day light dream.

In the morning the compound was quite crowded with young folks of about 15 to 25 years, its canabis and liquor bar. I adjust into my new home and make friends, I was provided with bucket of water from the well in the compound

20140101-161606.jpg. For the toilet I would use bush toilet if there was near by bush, for the show I was too tall so I had to squat. Anyways in this part I find to have less shame or concern for the necked, in the rural areas folks bath in the streams woman wonder around bare chests.

20140101-161746.jpgI spend the day charting these idle young folks who couldn’t figure out what is the heck I’m doing. They are full of dreams and energy but there are less opportunities; creativity is so low and no much of inspiration or motivation. Most wish one day to wake up in America or Europe. It was incredible experience to live within these people I slow start to see what lay beneath the daily life here, there is lot of stress. Fights especial verbal fights for woman break out time to time, these is loud shouting to each without listen to one another. Woman carry more responsibilities, often single parents because they start have children at age of 15-18 they can hardly control their children. People are very curios in the slums, these fightings are big scene, it just like football, they took parts and cheers.

Football is big entertainment, music play a big roll in the daily life. Despite all the hardship this place was lively and full of life.

It was more tough to spend more time in this place with no sense of private or individual space. I met a group of young professionals from various West African countries, they were exited with the initiative. At one evening I give present to them, this is after they had couple of round of beers and wine, they all cigarette smokers, they smoke through out the presentation calmly chewing on peanuts and drinking. At the end one of them a Senegalise, Sele who speaks less than all offered to put me in the cheap hotel in town.

I got Guinea-Conakry visa with no lot of paper work for 30,000 CFA. I ride out of the city, the road from the ocean wonder inland. Guinea Bissau is well linked with roads. The villagers seem to be more remote every single day, disconnected from the modern world. Along side the roads there are good numbers of wells which seem to together with fancy mosques beside thatch roof and mad houses. Most bear the sigh from whoever donate them, Kuwait has more mosques and wells, EU, USAID and MDG (Millennia Development Goals) has more schools, health care (some of them abandoned, in one village I was invited with village health worker who work at his mad house.

20140101-162444.jpgI ask why they abandoned the nice breaks house. He said he is only one left at the village, there is no money to run the clinic which still bare the rusting sight of donor.) There are so many donors vehicles, signs, etc. Of course there is improvement but thinking of their resources, funds, technologies for whatever the time they have been here (MDGs was sign 2002) but still for 2 millions people the system is yet to work! I wonder what will be of another 11 years to eradicate extreme poverty if there is running down now. If we are not making business out of it then we should re-thing the strategies.

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On the second day which was x-mass day there was no real sign of celebration out here, it was till the evening when I come across military barrie at Ganamberi village on my way searching for Cantanhez National Park. The solders seemed to be happy the senior who introduces himself as ‘Comondante’ he wasn’t just tips but quite buzzed. He said that I should stamp excite before I continue because that was border post, argument with his colleagues break out. Apparently there was no respect for ‘comondante’, anyways I will still be in Guinea Bissau. Comandante win he said we’ll have to find the immigration officer. That was mission, I wonder into village houses with him after refusing to give him my passport. On the way we become friends, he tell me the stories of his proudly military work, children who he doesn’t know the number exactly or where they are. We stop a lot for greetings which is quite important here In one instance we stop at the house he introduce me as tourist. This was christian family though majority are muslims include comandante there is no great distinctions they all practice their local believes which are more stronger. Five littles of palm wine was brought out and served I sip and rotate the jug. I do not real like the palm wine, in most cases it is 0% hygiene because the make are ofter drunk. I kept on not to offends my new friends whose by no with alcohol they were more excited and the leave of intimacy was high. They learned my dislike of palm wine. I was given a special drink made for x-mass; it mix of condensed milk, cash-nuts and local liquor, the closest comparison is Amarula, it definite changed things!

As I was told the stories of village, what I should do and I shouldn’t the food was borough hug plate of rice (I have ate so much rice in west Africa than I have eat in my life time). I think they drunk 10 liters of palm wine before we continue. Immigration office, an old man sit in front of his big compound he order his bag. The old bag contain ink and stamp, he stump my passport and sign I could remind inside the country or leave. It was dark by now but comandante is trying to lead me to the park but he was too drunk which he would never accept. I proposed to camp at the barrie instead. Seat around campfire I listen the story of drunk solders. Guinea-Bissau since it independent (1970’s) have never had a democratic elected president who save office for full time, it is a military play ground country. The last president he was assassinated because he try to disarm the army. Recent arm business is cocaine trafficking, facilitate shipment from Latin America to Europe with stop over in the Guinea-Bissau Islands.

The direction I was given in the morning didn’t bring me to the park but instead to the few mad houses with bitten up flag which is slight different from Guinea-Bissau, I was in Guinea-Conakry.

Guinea Conakry….
In this village/post there is another ‘comandante’, his voice and face tells the years of drinking and smoking. Apart of his worn out military uniforms he has no any recognizable military swagger, I though this is his retirement post. He was gentle and friendly, he had a look on my passport and said I can continue but will have to find my way to whatever I go. He gave me a bottle of mineral water.

There were single part wondering into woods, I stick on the man path, it pass through solitary villages, crossing many streams and rivers with no bridges. This means unloading the bike or sometimes walk into stream if it is not too deep. Other places bear chests woman washing in the river would help me to lift the bike most are real strong and muscle.

This part linked two countries is wild ‘a wild Africa’ with no much wild animals. It tall trees forest. The cultural is quite intact, I couldn’t see the cars just motorcycle, people, young to old board these motorbikes bump and dusty for 100km to get to the town. The main link to the modern world is radios, partly news and the rest is music.

In Guinea-Conakry people are linked with French in the rural areas most will be able to help someone out with basic words while most are fluent in urban areas. I spend the night at Debis village done only 60km cycle 40km and walk the rest. Camp at compound of one extended family, the old man of the family lead me to the stream to shower with other bunch of man coming back from the farms. I hang out with the young lister to their stories and dreams. Most (boys) would be married with their father soon, on 18-22 years old their likely to be married to 14-16 years old girls. When I ask them how many children they wold have, they say as much as god will give them. When I ask for more precise answers the estimation is from 6 +, and how they will sustain them ? That is god’s willing. Girls would say they want to be married when they are 25 yrs above but there is nothing to do in the village and it is too hard to refuse their father’s decisions. They also prefer less children (4-). In Both Guinea I saw many young girls with children on their backs.

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In that night there was accident, the thatch roof caught fire and the entire mad house burnt down. Though people have less here it was big loss, there was cries and moaning.

20140101-163249.jpgAt Boke town the dust and bumping come to the end, the road is paved but now with all the dust I have running noise and dry throat. The drivers here know two important things; accelerate and honking. No mater how I try to stay calm the honking drive me crazy especial when I’m climbing and the shoulder is occupied by grains or cloths and no where to go.

Boke to Conakry it is rolling hills of cool morning and 32 celsius hot and humid afternoons. In Guinea Conakry with about 10 millions people of what could be among the wealth country in West Africa due to it potentials and natural resources, the system is working bit better compared to other Guinea. In both countries, the rural folks with their small towns are quite gentle and friendly. This is among of remain Africa of imagination in teams of people and culture.

Twenty Fourteen…
In the hectic and busy suburb of Conakry were majority conduct their rural life though they live in urban with slightly likeness of other modern urban areas. I watched very minimum celebration of the turning of the year. Thanks to Charles Ibsen (2011 TDA ride) for providing comfort of home. The news from Sierra Lione embassy is that the consulate is on the leave for unknown time.

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