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Bird of Passage, West Africa

Updated on February 2, 2016
Jui, Sierra Leone
Jui, Sierra Leone

Bird of Passage?

Bird of Passage: Noun

2. a transient or migratory person.

For the past ten years I have moved over a great deal of the United States finally stopping in New Orleans post Katrina where I lived and worked for two years. It was there that I began writing about some of my experiences.

I migrated to Sierra Leone, West Africa which became my home for two years; and then moved on to its neighbor Liberia in May of 2010 where I spent another two years. Sandwiched in between was a trip to Nigeria. Currently I am living and working in Limbe, South West Region, Cameroon.

School Kids in Manyemen - Children in Cameroon

Good to have a yellow umbrella to keep cool
Good to have a yellow umbrella to keep cool

Roach Man

Humorous Stories From Cameroon

Nobody likes Cockroaches, and over the past two or three days I have been doing battle with one particularly crafty one. These encounters have not gone well for me, at least in being able to vanquish it.

The Dick Dastardly roach has been showing up in my bathroom each night, and each night has eluded my attempts to squash him. Cockroaches are nasty, but also quick, very elusive. It does not help that my bathroom is extremely small.

Two nights ago, I awoke at about 1:30 am and staggered to the bathroom door with my smart phone flash light engaged. Up country, specifically here in Manyemen, we do not have electricity at night. There is no national power, night or day, and we don’t run the generator at night due to the heavy cost of fuel. It’s not pleasant, but livable.

I pointed my light in my tiny toilet area and was confronted by my adversary once again. I surprised him, sitting on the back of the sink. There was no movement on his part, or mine, as I thought of how I might be able to smash him against the back wall.

My mind was still hazy from just waking, not expecting to come face to face with the beast. I squinted and focused the light right on him, only then to turn away in horror at what I saw.

My toothbrush was lying on the sink with the bristles facing upward and the filthy beast was sitting right on top of them. To give perspective, the roach was about one and one-half the size of the brush head and appeared to have its back hunched so as to balance its body to not fall off.

My mind raced right to the inevitable question. How many mornings had I put those bristles in my mouth after this uppity insect had spent half the night tap dancing back and forth along them?

The disgusting thought not only thoroughly woke me; it heightened my senses and supercharged my adrenaline. I grabbed the towel hanging on a hook and snapped it with enough force to knock the roach off the sink. I must have stunned it. When it hit the ground is moved slowly, as if dazed.

As the roach staggered out the bathroom door I called upon some of the sage words of the immortal Chinese General Sun Tzu, “When your opponent is at his weakest, strike.” Fortunately I was wearing my slippers, always a must in Africa, especially up country.

I had the high ground and I creamed him, twice, kicked him out in the hall for good measure after that. I would deal with his corpse in the morning if need be, but I suspected the tiny ants would feast on his flesh by then. I would probably have to eliminate them as well with a good saturation of insecticide.

I have witnessed the vast carnage of the “ant and roach wars” over the past few years in Africa. Cameroon has some of the worst battles. It was only couple of weeks ago that a full battalion of ants, thousands of them, had amassed and were in the middle of an all-out assault on about seven or eight of their much larger enemy.

There were three roaches being ripped apart in the kitchen, two more on the back screened in porch, and another three or four meeting their doom on the front screened in porch.

Many more roaches may have been victims in unseen attacks taking place in and around the house. The hungry ants had them out manned by the thousands.

The ant commander’s mistake though, was picking the wrong battlefield. Every time I got close there were ants all over me. They must be able to jump several feet because I was careful to not step directly on any of them.

I quickly tired of my dove like stance and decided on the more hawkish approach. I, much like the Unites States Military Machine, decided to use my technological advantage. I got out the spray cans of my own version of Agent Orange. When I finished, there may well have been up to a million deaths. So be it, they had awoke a sleeping giant.

For this night though, I was now content that I had rid myself of the bothersome cockroach. However, I could not help but go back to the toothbrush. Had this roach done this before? Had I been rubbing bristles of roach DNA inside my mouth? Oh my!

I grabbed the toothbrush to drop it in the trash and suddenly thought, I’m not sick though. In fact I had been feeling pretty good the last couple of days.

Could it really be? Could I have been exposed to roach DNA? More importantly, could I be assimilating that DNA with my own genes?Could I, much like Spiderman, be incorporating the characteristics of creations most resilient species? Was I possibly becoming, Roach Man? If so, the ants were now a major concern.

I looked in the mirror but without full light it was hard to tell any difference. I looked at the toothbrush. I thought about it for several seconds. I began brushing furiously. Ant Man, if there is such a thing, you are in trouble.





Walking to the steam for laundry - Scenes From Cameroon

Laundry Day
Laundry Day
Up the road to Manyemen market
Up the road to Manyemen market
Typical housing at hospital compound
Typical housing at hospital compound
Home
Home

My Saturday Morning Walk

It's Saturday again! Most every Saturday morning I take a walk from our house in the Presbyterian Hospital Compound, were we rent houses for staff, to the road side market in Manyemen. This is about a ten minute walk that serves as a little exercise.

I usually need phone credits or something small like powered milk, water, deodorant or other personal items. There is also a girl that makes flat crepe type pancakes that are good to bring home and eat with honey, fruit, or sometimes chocolate.

Even if I don't buy anything, I enjoy the early morning climb up the semi steep road and mixing with some of the locals for a few minutes. I usually see someone that says they work for us, although I don't really know the field workers.

I do take pictures at times with my phone but not of people much. I really don't like subjecting people that are going about their daily lives to being photographed as if they were some kind of oddity to be shown passed to people in the US who live life differently.

I do like to take pictures of children playing and having a good time, they're like kids all over the world. I also like taking pictures of surrounding landscaping and buildings, which I loved doing in New Orleans when I lived there.

Each place I visit, city, town, or village, has different architecture, building methods, and materials. Each shows a certain functionality and in its own way a different beauty. Doesn't matter if it is simple or ornate.

The landscaping is also interesting. I stand outside our house or office and see beautiful scenery that is unlike anywhere else in the world. Sometimes you just have to step back and enjoy, or take a short walk and observe.

Lord of the Trinity: The Two Towels

Humorous Stories From Cameroon

The Trinity Hotel sage continues. An epic trilogy has been completed and the final episode wins all the awards, hands down. I know this because I’m the lone nominator, the lone voter, the host, and the lone presenter.

It might be good at this time to revisit and reflect on the first two episodes in this battle between good, represented by a single member of the rebellion against incompetence and lackadaisical service, and the evil galactic systems of the nonchalant and inattentive.

The trilogy began with episode 2, “Man on a Ledge,” that highlighted an open window extraction, a precarious scaling of the outside hotel walls, and a precision style break in to a another room in order to open the door. The entire early morning disturbance was all due to the hotel management and staff’s inability to maintain copies of their rooms keys.

The saga jumped back in time some to episode 1, “CHANGE NO DAY,” revealing events that took place both before and after episode 2. This story did not involve explosive bursts of action in multiple sequences. Instead, the plot laid out a slow grinding, almost torturous ordeal where a constant wearing down of the protagonist's senses takes place due to no planning or consideration of another’s time. The tale leaves the audience feeling exasperated and helpless.

Episode 3 takes place during my second stay on the third and final night of my Trinity Hotel experience, and my last night in Limbe, but the seeds were planted the day before and began to sprout in the early afternoon of the following day.

On the second day of my stay I had to change rooms, as was prearranged. The hotel had done my a favor and put me in a higher priced “suite” the first night at regular rates. The suites were really not that much more but the upgrades were not worth it, the regular rooms were just as good. After moving, I noticed that there was no bath towel and made a mental note to remind the staff.

The remainder of the day for me was hectic and through my own lack of follow up there was no towel placed in the bathroom. I always carry a spare just in case and it came in useful the next morning. I hung it on the chair to dry for repacking later and made another mental note. This time on the way out I stopped at the desk and made my request.

There was a huge wedding party at hotel so the gentleman desk clerk was busy and upon hearing my just as gentlemanly like request he stated, without looking up, that there would be a towel there before nightfall. I was skeptical but took him at his word as I was as busy as he.

I returned early afternoon, no towel. I left and returned early evening, no towel. I went out again at 6:00 pm for dinner and dropped a quick reminder. I returned about 10:30 pm, no towel, so back to the front desk. Again, rather dismissively, I was told there would be one coming right away.

At around 11:30 pm there was a knock at the door. I was in bed asleep by then. There was another knock and a female voice said, “your towel sir.” I sat up in bed, “really, you wait until I’m asleep and bring it.”

“Your towel sir,” was the refrain while another knock at the door echoed in the room.

“Just leave it, I’m in bed. I’ll come when I get dressed.”

“I should just leave it?”

“Damn it, LEAVE IT, LEAVE IT!”

I got dressed and finally got to the door, unlocked the key, and cracked it open. There was no one there but a towel was hanging from the door handle. At least she didn’t just put it on the floor, was my first thought. I grabbed the towel and locked the door. I looked at the towel, grabbed it by the top corners and held it up.

It was not a bath towel to say the least. It was a white, light blue, light orange and light pink checkered patterned light weight hand towel. I used a couple of swear words, put on a different shirt and donned my slippers. I grabbed my 95% now dry thick white bath towel that I was forced to use that morning, folded it and placed it under my right arm pit and headed downstairs. I had the hotel version of a infant’s bath towel in my left hand.

When I arrived at the front desk I held the hand towel up by two corners and said, “This is what you have given me to dry off with after a shower?” The two ladies there, the guy was gone, stared at me and before they could say anything I unfurled my majestic white personal towel; soft, comforting, absorbent, and dare I say luxurious.

As I held it on high I exclaimed, “This is a bath towel, my bath towel, that I was forced to use this morning. I don’t want to use it again then pack it wet, so I need a real bath towel for tomorrow morning.”

“We’re sorry sir, there are no more towels, we are waiting for them to dry, we are sorry.”

My entire point was that I had asked for one early in the day, later in the day, and there was no action or explanation. I asked for the guy who had made the promise, thrice, that a towel would be there by night. He was gone of course. The ladies continued to apologize so I knew I would not be receiving a new towel and gave up the challenge. I could not continue my quest for this particular holy grail.

I went back upstairs to my room unsatisfied and beaten. The rebellion has suffered another blow. I could have exclaimed that I would never stay at Trinity Hotel again but since I’m not returning to Cameroon, at least in the foreseeable future, it would be an empty threat, in my mind at least.

The truth is though I would stay at Trinity again as compared to all others in Limbe and the surrounding area, it was the best when all things were considered. The price was good, breakfast included, fairly clean, water ran even if not exactly hot, and it is within walking distance of several spots if needed.

Conceding these points though does not mean the rebellion is giving in. Each member of the rebellion must endure and although this latest episode did not seem to end in victory, who knows maybe the next patron will receive their towel, full size, will get the correct change upon concluding each transaction, and will not be subject to early morning raids where high flying acrobats are forced to leap from windows to rescue lost keys.

The theme, always fight for the future, hope is alive for a better day because of the fight of the due to battles such as the fight of “The Two Towels.”

School in Manyemen - Scenes From Cameroon

School next to our office in Manyemen, Cameroon
School next to our office in Manyemen, Cameroon

Change No Day

Humorous Stories From Cameroon

Again, for the 1000th time, it has happened. Maybe it has been more than 1000 times in three years and two months, it sure seems like it.

I’m back at the Trinity Hotel in Limbe for a three night stay before going to Douala to take my final flight out of Cameroon. I arrived in Cameroon the first of November 2012 and since that day have been barraged with, “Change no day,” meaning no change for the money you are purchasing your items or meal with.

Businesses here in Limbe, and most of Cameroon I suspect, just do not provide the staff that services customers proper change, or any change at all. But, once business has been conducted throughout the day, customers coming and going with money changing hands, the refrain mysteriously is still, “Change no day.”

When this happens my reaction is to stare blank faced at the server and ask, “Okay, what do you want me to do?” There is no answer, to which I then say, “I guess then you will just have to give me my money back and the meal will be free because I’m not going to give you extra money.”

At that statement the server will look at me like my head just caught fire and rapidly reply, “Oh no, no.” Sometimes they say it with a very hesitant laugh. The problem is if that were to happen it would come out of their pay, not the establishments till. What ends up happening is that someone has to go for change which will take anywhere between five and thirty minutes.

I can’t get to upset at the server, except when I request the bill early to give them time to prepare, which they never do, but the higher up the management chain the more stern my comments get. Why can’t the business supply change so that the customer does not have to be inconvenienced? It is of course a losing battle, probably because they don’t pay their people, so they don’t trust them with much money.

My last stay at Trinity, about a month ago, was a running tab of the hotel owing me small change from transactions at the front desk and the restaurant. The morning before leaving I warned them to do whatever necessary to have some change when I checked out.

Luckily, someone either found the initiative to go for change because they were afraid my head would explode, or another guest dropped some money on the floor and they grabbed it and gave it to me when I checked out, so I was just fortunate.

On this stay I met the same response to my paying the 18,000 franc bill for the first night with two 10,000 notes. “Change no day.” I asked them to please right it down. The next day when I payed for the remaining two nights there was no record.

Instead of believing my account, of something that happens there every day, and not wanting to be duped out of what amounts to $3.33, the desk clerk had to call all the night clerks to verify, all while I again had to stand and wait, and wait. As I understood when the facts were gathered, they had written down the wrong room number and given my change to someone else.

The desk clerk said that they gave the change to the person in room 222, Karen Valentine I guess (you’ll get that if old enough), and that the person went ahead and took the money. “Can you imagine,” she said.“

YES!,” I replied.

Everything got sorted. I paid, with the correct change because hell it’s all my fault for not planning ahead and wearing a dork change belt with fanny pack everywhere I go, just so I don’t have to inconvenience the business that is already giving me mostly poor quality and average service.

I guess I will never learn. But now I don’t have to, I’m leaving Cameroon and I can only hope that the first place I purchase something in the US does not come back with, sorry sir, no change.

School Kids in Manyemen - Children in Cameroon

Early morning on my way to work and kids on the way to school.
Early morning on my way to work and kids on the way to school.
Trinity Hotel, Down Beach, Limbe, Cameroon
Trinity Hotel, Down Beach, Limbe, Cameroon
Window Room 116
Window Room 116
Ledge outside the window
Ledge outside the window

Man on a Ledge - Stories from Cameroon

Jason Bourne was outside my hotel window this morning. I guess more accurately said, the African Jason Bourne, Treadstone's asset in Cameroon, was outside my hotel window this morning.

I checked into the Trinity Hotel at beautiful down beach in Limbe Friday afternoon. When the desk clerk let me in the room she warned me to make sure to take my room key with me when I exited because the door would lock automatically.

This was no real surprise to me, most hotel doors function this way. In Africa though, especially in the remote cities and areas, most still work off a regular door and key system, leave, lock it, come back, unlock it.

The Trinity Hotel management, correctly, just wanted to remind the guests, in case they stepped out for a moment, to make sure and have the key in order to avoid small problems and delays, and, I'm sure, to keep from having to find the spares, if they had any.

You are guessing by now that I left my key in the room, or forgot it somewhere, causing problems and an huge uproar. You are wrong, wrong wrong. I'm to attentive and intelligent to make that mistake, at least on this trip, I hope.

However, at 7:35 this morning there was a knock on my second floor number 116 hotel room door. The female voice in the hallway said it was the hotel desk clerk. I responded, "okay, please wait," and put on my shirt.

When I cracked the door open she was smiling, pleasant, and apologizing for the disturbance. She then added, "We have a problem."I immediately glanced out and down the hallway looking for the police, but it was only her and a young guy who I assumed worked for the hotel.

I waited for the problem to be stated but she continued to apologize. I finally said, “I'm sorry, but what is the problem?”She informed me that another guest had lost their hotel key and they could not find the spare to unlock his room.

I waited for the explanation of why she was at my door while she again continued to say how sorry she was for disturbing me. I again said, "I'm sorry,” and added, “how does this concern me?" I was half expecting her to ask me to go ahead and check out so they could have my room.

She explained that the only way to get through to the locked room was to go though my room. I look at my room, looked at her, and said, "How, there's no door in here to enter another room."

"We need to go through your window," was the reply."Really," I said. "You’re serious, you have no other keys, or access?" I now knew the purpose for the young guy standing next to her.

He was a secret operative that they call whenever they needed someone to scale the outside walls of the hotel. I guess his services were less expensive then making copies of the room keys.I backed out of the doorway as the desk clerk continue to apologize and the young guy came in, opened my sliding glass window, and stepped out on the ledge.

He then used his grip, probably hardened from countless missions scaling buildings stealing secret documents for the government, and consequently slamming his fists against the heads of those attempting to prevent his clandestine affairs, and grabbed the side of the outside wall.

He disappeared around the corner and hopefully completed his mission. If he fell I did not hear anything about it. I'm sure he was too seasoned to even make a sound if he did bounce off the compound courtyard below.

There is a pool in the middle so I'm sure if he felt he was slipping he would just push off and land safely in the water. I was not worried.The desk clerk apologized again and I asked about if the breakfast was being served downstairs. She said the ladies were there at the dining area. When I went down a few minutes later, they were not there. Great, one mission accomplished one not. I hope I don't forget my room key.

At the Market in Manyemen - Children in Cameroon

At a small shop in Manyemen market on Saturday morning.
At a small shop in Manyemen market on Saturday morning.
Birds nest in a rats nest
Birds nest in a rats nest
Another birds nest
Another birds nest
All professionally done
All professionally done

Power Outage - Stories from Cameroon

One of the minor inconveniences living in West Africa, as with all developing areas of the world, is the consistent interruptions in both power and water. Some countries are better than others with Cameroon being very good, especially with water supplies in Limbe. Of course that changes once you travel up country to the various small towns and villages.

The other night power went out at the house where I live. Somehow a circuit breaker got fried and it was late enough that the problem could not be rectified until morning. One night every few months or so is not bad.

One problem area is the electrical wiring that is done here. Owners opt for doing what is cheapest, not what is most efficient and safest. Case in point the burning of Bamboo Club I wrote about in an earlier post. The good thing, our house is not made of Bamboo. To get quality work done is not impossible if you are paying and insist on it, but is not easy. You have monitor the project all along the way.

Always Protect the Basketball - Children in Cameroon

No one is taking this ball
No one is taking this ball

I Guess it's Taught from Birth - Thoughts from Cameroon

I decided to get out of the house this afternoon to enjoy the cool ocean breeze at Mirmamar Restaurant. I turned into their parking area and noticed that the lone tree there had been cut down to make way for more parking. The trunk had been chainsawed and was temporally taking up a great deal of space, so I had to maneuver my vehicle around a bit.

Two small boys, about 8 to 10 years old, had been walking on the road near the entrance and made their way in behind me. I angled the vehicle so that I could back against the compound wall and both kids immediately took off to run behind me, as I backed. I pressed on the breaks, sighed, and shook my head. The kids circled around the front for some reason, coming to the driver side. They wanted some money.

I moved the vehicle forward some to get a better backing angle again for the turn. I wanted to be facing the opposite direction and with the fallen tree spread out everywhere there wasn't much room. I was forced to make a three point turn. As soon as I began backing up, the kids ran behind the vehicle, again. I braked, sighed, and shook my head, again. This time I waited for them to clear out.

Instead they did as before and circled around the front to my window. One of them said. "Please sir, we are hungry." The wanted some money.

"Look, you two need to stop walking behind vehicles when they are backing up."

"Yes sir, we are hungry," one of them replied, my advice going right over his head.

"Alright, let me see if I have something small." I gave them 550 francs and they thanked me. I also again reminded them. "Don't go behind when a vehicle is backing up, okay." They agreed. I looked behind and began backing. They ran around behind the vehicle. I braked, sighed, and shook my head, again.

From the time they are little until they are too old to walk; here in West Africa when you are backing up, someone will walk behind your vehicle. Count on it.

Down Beach Limbe - Scenes from Cameroon

God is first but Coke's advertising budget is a close second
God is first but Coke's advertising budget is a close second
Restaurant
Restaurant
Work Time Kind Of
Work Time Kind Of
Restaurant
Restaurant
Bar area
Bar area

Miramar Resort

There are not too many places to go in Limbe, Cameroon. It is a small town of about 85,000 people. Most restaurants and bars are small local establishments catering to the people that live here. The so called higher end restaurants are lacking in variety of menu items, quality of service, and overall comfort and décor.

It seems that over the past year though that several of the restaurants have begun to understand the need for improvement in these areas and are making renovations to their buildings and décor, trying to upgrade the food choices, and are working on service and quality.

One of these is Miramar Resort. Miramar is a hotel with several bungalows, a fine restaurant, swimming pool with pool side tables and chairs, and some entertainment for children such as a kids pool and trampoline. Mirimar sits right on the ocean taking advantage or the cool breeze and beautiful views. It's a relaxing place to spend some time.

The best part is that they are constantly making improvements. The manager recently not only installed Wifi but he then upgraded his connectivity for faster service. Although some improvements and additions are slow, they are being done. Miramar is the best place to have a good meal, do some work, and just plain relax.

It's not the only place to go in Limbe but one of the few and certainly the best. I don't know if I will still be in Cameroon when the finally get it to exactly what they envision but I'm sure it will be first class, at least for Limbe standards.

Be-Bop Rhum Bar - Scenes from Cameroon

Be-Bop another good place in Douala
Be-Bop another good place in Douala
Mediterranee Restaurant
Mediterranee Restaurant
Plenty of outside seating
Plenty of outside seating
Pizza is very good
Pizza is very good
Inside is covered but also exposed to outside
Inside is covered but also exposed to outside

Mediterranee Restaurant, Douala - Scenes from Cameroon

I don't get to Douala as much as I wish I could. The drive from Limbe is about one and one-half hours but the road in many areas as you approach the city is not good. This makes the trip unpleasant and can add another hour due to the heavy traffic that is slowed by the bad road.

Unlike Limbe there are several very good dining choices for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or late night drinks. Whenever I find myself there I almost always take advantage of Mediterranee. It's easy to get to, always plenty or seating, and has good food and service. The pizza they make is very good and the menu is expansive with Lebanese, American, and African dishes.

Douala is a French speaking part of Cameroon, which all areas other then the South West Region including Limbe are, so that means they take after the French culture and way of doing business. In Douala lunch begins and 12:00 sharp and is finished no later then 2:00 pm and sometimes as late as 2:30. It's rather aggravating and having a place like Mediterranee is a blessing.

The best part is that it is one of those rare places that is an outside restaurant right on the main road in the busy Akwa section of Douala but is still relaxing due to the greenery surrounding and throughout the dining area. The nose is muffled enough and the shade is just enough to keep you cool but let in enough sunlight to brighten your day.

It's a little more difficult during rainy season when you have to sit under the overhang but I don't really mind the sound of the rain as long as its not hitting me. For me, the experience is good if I'm eating lunch, just having coffee, or on the few occasions I've been there in the evening having food and drinks.

On the way Home - Children in Cameroon

Coming home from School
Coming home from School
My Clarks
My Clarks

My Clarks and London

These are my shoes. I just polished them. A couple of weeks ago, I had the soles sewn back on, not glued mind you, sewn. Had it done across the street from our office in Limbe and it cost me double what a regular old glue job would have been. That means I paid approximately $2.00 USD per shoe. Only $4.00 to have the soles sewn back on, but that’s just more of the good luck I've had with this pair of Clarks.

I bought this pair of shoes while I was in London about the mid-point of 2009. I noticed them on sale in a shop for about 28 pounds. That’s a pretty decent price for Clarks. Since that time, I have worn these shoes almost every day for over five years. This is not simply walking around the office wear and tear, but living in Africa wear and tear. This is rainy season wear and tear and up country wear and tear.

I don’t remember the exact date I left Sierra Leone to visit London. Other than being as I mentioned around the middle of 2009. I had been having some minor problems breathing with some chest pain so the decision was taken that I go to London to see a doctor and cardiologist. Having been in Sierra Leone well over a year, I needed the break anyway. The UK was a lot closer than the US, plus I knew someone in London I could stay with so it seemed better and less costly all the way around.

After arriving I was able to get settled and the next day see the regular physician. He advised me right away on the medication I was taking as per instructions from a doctor in Freetown. The London doctor’s recommendation, "stop taking it immediately," especially the dosage, 100m of Dechlyphine, which was being taking for joint pain and arthritis symptoms. He stated that he, or any doctor, would never subscribe more than 50m of Dechlyphine and even then monitor it closely. 100m would be for an extreme case and short period of time as it was a drug that would wreak havoc on the liver.

Of course this was a prescription drug, but in West Africa you can get anything you want, no prescription required. That includes bad advice at any pharmacy. They don’t have any creed such as. “Physician do no harm,” only a greed of, just pay me some money. I agreed to discontinue the drug right away, which had been doing wonders for my pain.

After the visit, I proceed to partake in many of the touristy experiences most people visiting London embark on. I had time since I wouldn't be seeing the cardiologist for a couple of days. Activities included the double decked bus tour of London; Big Ben, London Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Square, Notting Hill and other attractions. Also, I went to a really cool club called “Tiger Tiger,” and had a good time all around.

At his point, I will mention a second night out. This was the type of adventurous situation I usually get myself into on nearly every trip I go on. It involved the friend I was staying with and was not quite as good a time as “Tiger Tiger Club.” I don’t remember the name of the small club we went to, but I do remember it was on the third floor and they had a band that was actually pretty good. The unpleasantness began when my friend ended up completely wasted at closing time, around 3:00 am. Nothing good happens after 12:00 am, let alone three.

When the club closed my friend went down to the street and into a small convenience store, and began raising all kinds of hell. This resulted in me raising my voice, spewing several obscenities, basically saying F-you I’m leaving find your way back, I’ll find mine. I walked out amid snarky remarks and stares from the people of the night that hang around those late night areas in big cities. Usually not the most pleasant types if you know what I mean.

There were no buses running, and thank God because I’m couldn't imagine the riders they would have attracted at that hour, considering many of the daytime riders were difficult to endure. As with any city, there is never a dearth of assholes in the UK. The taxis were nowhere to be seen either at that hour so I began walking towards the main road; at least I assumed that’s where I was headed. I really had no idea. I've been in these similar situations in places like New Orleans, New York, and Atlanta; not to mention Sierra Leone, so I understood the predicament and acted accordingly.

The trick is being, and looking, focused. To keep your attention to yourself but also ensure everyone can tell you are watching them and your surroundings. You just have to project that you are aware, ready, and confident, and not an easy target, but also not threatening. You have to walk with a purpose, and when the time comes, talk with a purpose. These are all tricks I began learning in Westport, Kansas City, MO, by the way. Thanks to all my friends that have abandoned me there in the past.

This all works unless you are 63 sheets to the wind drunk, which I was not. As I walked, I began using my powers of observation and instinct, much like Sherlock Holmes would be doing if he were in my situation. There were a pair of losers hanging in front of a shop across the street, no help, a car going by in the opposite direction, no help, a group of people making their way into some type of strange establishment, no help. Wait, there was a nice looking club with a doorman standing in front talking to two others that seemed neat, and sober. That, my dear Watson, is the ticket.

I went over and explained my situation to the doorman and asked if I could get a taxi. He asked me where I going. I told him and he asked if I understood that would cost about 80 quid or so. I said yea, I realized that, but I needed the ride. One of the guys next to him said. “Hell, I take you home for that much.” I inquired as to if he knew where he was going and if he would let me see his vehicle. He said yes and pointed to his car across the street. I deduced again. We took off. Forty minutes and eighty pounds later I was home. My friend arrived much later, still drunk, and pretty much not my friend.

The next day, before I was scheduled to see the cardiologist I found out that there was an arrest warrant issued for me in Freetown. As Managing Director, I was the person on record responsible for the actions of the company. We were in a dispute with an Egyptian group at the port of Jui over space that we were told we could occupy; they were arguing that the space given us was theirs and sent us a bill for rent covering the time we had been operating there. It went to legal action and now all of a sudden some part of the police had been given money to deliver an arrest warrant, not really according to the lawful process, but it happens that way there.

I had to stay in London for an additional week, or at least until they got the warrant lifted and things straighten out. I was not exactly crying in my Starbucks coffee, which was my location when I received this news. Oh woe is me, I laughed to myself, I would have to stay in London another week instead of going back to Freetown. I was practically doing back flips, “Barrister, give me a double espresso, right away, and here, make sure I’m giving you the correct amount of pence, or whatever you call this money because there are way too many different coin sizes and denominations for my American intellect and bad attitude.”

This did unfortunately screw up my next doctor’s appointment because I needed more money sent before I could pay both the doctor’s fees and also stay another week. I went and convinced the doctor to do the tests but in the end other events caused me to delay the payment so I didn't get the results. There didn't seem to be any real medical problems, at least I didn't pass out and fall off the treadmill. The first doctor gave me a clean bill of health. So I didn't worry about it too much. As I look back, this visit may have given a warning of what ended up being me on an operating table in 2011. Who knows?

The problems in Sierra Leone were taken care of, but I was unable to get a flight out until a week later. That following week was spent checking out other London sites, sampling British food at various restaurants, and experiencing the pub scene while watching the rugby matches. That’s much like watching NFL games at the local sports bar in the US, without understanding the teams or what half the crowd is really yelling about. I also got a haircut, bought a few clothing items. and one afternoon spotted a nice pair of shoes on sale for £28.00. Best shoes I ever purchased.

Children in Cameroon

Cat as a hat
Cat as a hat

Protecting the Baby - Children in Cameroon

A little boy intently taking care of his sibling outside bakery in Limbe
A little boy intently taking care of his sibling outside bakery in Limbe

What is a Disgusting Human Being Like?

During the time I spent in Liberia we had lots of problems. People lost money. Employees and creditors were owed money. These situations are not easy to say the least. The reasons went back two years prior to us arriving in Liberia and don't need to be rehashed here, they are not pertinent to this posting, its another story.

After we finally pulled out of Liberia, one of the Stakeholders of the company (investor and principle manager), along with his wife, who was also in Liberia, made several trips back to Monrovia to try to recoup money and make deals to salvage losses. I don't know how successful these trips were. I do know they were always without any accountability or progress reports to anyone, a lone wolf operation.

On the last trip one of our employees, a faithful, hardworking, smart, and extremely valuable person throughout our time there, requested the Stakeholder and his wife try to find some money for what was owed her. She was still at that time helping with issues and getting most of the heat from parties still in Liberia that were owed money, including employees. She got no satisfaction, even though we all knew there was money somewhere. How else were they flying back and forth at the rate of around $5,000 USD and paying for expenses to stay two weeks at a time?

At that point she did what she felt she had to, take them to court. It has to be said here that going to court in Liberia, or any West African Country, is a little different. It usually involves police showing up to serve the papers, sometimes going to the police station, then sitting in mostly unorganized court proceedings for a whole day, or more. The experience ended up being rather traumatic for the Stakeholder, but more so for his wife.

It should be stated here that the despicable human being described in this writing is the Stakeholder's wife. (No names at this time.) She was a complete bitch to everyone the whole time there, and I imagine has been most of her life. Two short examples for the record:

1. When I told her husband and her I was getting married and invited them to the small wedding at my apartment her first comment was to ask if a little Bambino should be expected, meaning was my wife pregnant, further meaning did my wife get pregnant on purpose to get me to marry here because she is African. I didn't respond but this was a typical despicable comment from her, not to mention somewhat racist, not because that kind of thing does not happen, but because my circumstance was very different than a scam. You see, everyone to her is a piece of shit, except her husband, I think. So, I dismissed it.

2. When I told them that I was able to get my wife a permanent visa for the US, a difficult and taxing ordeal that took months, not to mention about the happiest day in my wife's entire life, and something they both said could not happen because again they don't understand my planning, organization, and resolve, this women's first comment was, "Well, Janet is going to have a very hard time in the US, a very hard time." I just looked at her, and again dismissed her despicable comments as spite and ignorance. The implication was that she would not be able to handle the change in culture. Nothing is easy, and although there have been bumps in the road, some due to me not being there, Janet has adapted very well. The person who could not adapt to the new culture was this despicable woman.

What happened to turn my view of this woman from just despicable to a totally disgusting human being? I found out a couple of days ago that the former staff employee, who was my assistant, that took the Stakeholder and his wife to court, and by the way won a settlement, received a phone call from this woman. The phone call went like this, per the email she sent to me:

"Hi boss, you will not believe who called me a few days ago, Rosemary! That old woman called me and said to me: Hi Hawah, this is rosemary, remember me? You used to work for us. I said yes. She said remember what you did to us? You took us to court and sued us for money what you didn't earn, well I just call to tell you that you are the cause of all that is happening now in Liberia with Ebola. Cos I told you that I would curse you. At this point, I just lost it but she hung up before I could say anything. It took me a minute or so to digest what I had just heard and when I did, I called the old witch back. .she picked you and hung up again. I called again and got the voice mail so I left her a message. Not the kind I would have left had she been a much younger person. ..damn my cultural up bringing! !!! Can you believe that??!!! I Tried calling you immediately after that but couldn't get through. She is too old for that kind of behavior."

That ladies and gentlemen, in bold highlights for you, is a Disgusting Human Being.

I said no names at this time, but I wanted the entire message on here, not a blanked out name. I guess I won't write the last name. There are many other words such as mean, spiteful, hateful, despicable, horrible, etc., but disgusting is the label I give her. A whole Nation is suffering and most of that region of the world has been affected, and she is not only reveling in it, but also glad to take some of the credit.

Disgusting!

Semme Beach - Scenes From Cameroon

Mike Ebu, all around good guy
Mike Ebu, all around good guy

Michael Yaw Ebu

Mike Ebu has been working either with or for me on each stop along the way in West Africa. He is from Ghana and came to Sierra Leone in 2009 to supervise forest operations. He later met us when we moved operations to Liberia as our operations and forestry manager. Through another mutual acquaintance he moved to Cameroon where I later joined the same project.

Mike is a good forestry manager but maybe is best at road and bridge construction in the forest. He might not be able to construct the Golden Gate Bridge but if you need a bridge built or maintained of timber he's a guy that can get it done.

Mostly, he's a hard working guy that wants to take care of his family back in Ghana. One of Mike's dreams is to someday visit the United States, like many people here.


Fish Being Cooked Down Beach - Scenes From Cameroon

Sometimes I stop by for take away.
Sometimes I stop by for take away.
Inside the rebuilt Bamboo Club
Inside the rebuilt Bamboo Club

The Bamboo Club and Technology

Towards the end of 2013 the Bamboo Club, a popular night spot in Limbe, burned down. The culprit was faulty electrical wiring. Luckily the fire started in the early morning after the club was empty and no one was injured or killed. I'm sure the material it was constructed with, bamboo, caused the whole place to burn very quickly.

On a side note, the small engine repair shop next door also burnt to the ground in the blaze. Unluckily, we had a generator being repaired there at the time. This cost us several thousand dollars as it was not a small generator.

It just so happened that I had gone back to the States for my semi-annual leave and didn't hear about the accident until I returned. I was not surprised as I had remarked the first time I visited the club that it looked like a fire waiting to happen. Building codes and inspections in Africa are not exactly up to the same level as those in the US or Europe. It's not unusual to see overhead wires hanging where people and vehicles can come into contact.

When I was talking to a fellow staff member who is Cameroonian he laughed regarding his hearing about the club's fate. He received a call from a friend in the US who inquired about what had happened to Bamboo. My fellow staff didn't know what they were referring too. They informed him that Bamboo had burned down the night before. He was amazed that someone in the US would know about the incident in Limbe, Cameroon before even he heard about it, while living here. Just an example of the strides in global communication.

It was only a few months later that Bamboo was rebuilt, better and safer than before. I was invited to the grand opening but just as had happened when it burnt down I was going on leave to the States again. I wondered what might happen before my return this time.

Mt. Cameroon, Limbe - Scenes From Cameroon

Cursed.
Cursed.

The Perfect Ending

The light jacket that caused me so much trouble purchasing in Brussels is still haunting me. I lose the equivalent of $267 due to trying to pay with counterfeit Euro note, get interrogated by police before being released, paid the equivalent of about $67 USD to actually get the Jacket; then yesterday I washed the expensive POS and the zipper handle mechanism, or whatever it is called, comes off so that I can't zip it in this freezing cold weather, and finally I'm leaving to go back to Cameroon Monday so I don't even need it. I'm just going to build a shrine to which ever god of the underworld is controlling his piece of cloth and leave it. Maybe when I get back I can use it as a towel.

Don't even think about coming in here.
Don't even think about coming in here.
Restaurant on Grand Place Square
Restaurant on Grand Place Square
Beef Medallions
Beef Medallions

The Austere Maitre d'

My original plan on my first full day to myself in Brussels was to visit the Grand Place Square and walk around until I got hungry, thus allowing me to fully enjoy one of the fine restaurants the city has to offer. This all got delayed with my unfortunate run in with the local authorities and their silly little concern over my counterfeit Euro.

When I finally freed myself and walked to the area surrounding the square I finally loosed up and began enjoying myself. It was Christmas season so there were festive decorations everywhere with holiday music and good cheer. The street side booths selling all varieties of food, candy and knickknacks were a real treat and I was able to buy some gifts for family members and friends.

I made it to the Grand Place Square where a giant Christmas tree stood with an equally giant Nativity scene. The buildings were grand and people were everywhere milling about taking in the sites and snapping pictures and videos.

I was feeling the plague of hunger so I began looking for a bistro or cafe where I could get a good meal. It was more then a little brisk so sitting outside and enjoying the sites was not really an option. As I made my way up and down the narrow streets around the square I notice one bistro and even took a picture. Just as I began to step toward the door I noticed a stern looking man in the window, the austere Maitre d'.

Belgians are somewhat like the French, not so inviting towards some folks. This one pose changed my entire attitude towards going inside what looked like an otherwise inviting place to dine. It was on to another restaurant, thanks to his royal sternness, where I dined on beef medallions with mashed potatoes and Belgian beer.

Sorry austere Maitre d'

Cozy
Cozy

Streets of Brussels

Welcome to Brussels, Belgium

What a great day in Brussels. I strolled around the Grand Palace square taking pictures. I stopped at coffee shops and cafes, and ate good food, and drank world famous Belgian beer. And, oh yeah, spent two hours at the downtown police station.

First thing in the morning I had gone to purchase a lite coat, I had come from Africa after all, and the 200 euro note I paid with was counterfeit. Goes back to Cameroon, where the guy I changed my Central African Francs to Euro with slipped in a fake 200 euro note on me, and I do remember him, if I ever see him again.

Store security is required to call the police whenever this happens, so to wait they took me to the quintessential small room with one desk and two chairs under the shopping mall; where I figure they are either going to beat me or wait for the police to come and beat me.

The police eventually arrived and asked a bunch of questions, blah blah, blah, and then said they have to take me to the police station where I have to convince them I'm not Frank Abagnale Jr.

The best part though, the station was 100 meters from Grand Place where I was going anyway. I got free ride in police car where I was already going, and they took advantage of their siren and lights at nearly every intersection. Since I was not hand cuffed and didn't really do anything wrong, I didn't have to go all Jason Bourne on them so I pretended I was a big shot being escorted by the police.

The officers, one woman and one man, were very nice once they figured I wasn't a mastermind counterfeiter and just another dumb-ass. They are also very jealous of our American police cars and in general feel disrespected in Brussels. Who knew? Just another day, and another lesson from Africa. My free ride cost me 200 euro, about $270 USD.

Fishing Boats - Scenes from Cameroon

Sponsored by FC Barcelona?
Sponsored by FC Barcelona?

Off Elmina Castle on Ghana Gold Coast - Scenes From Ghana

Good atmosphere, good service, good food.
Good atmosphere, good service, good food.

Dynasty Chinese Restaurant Accra Ghana

A Humorous Story From Ghana

During my time in West Africa, about five years now, I have often written and relayed stories to people of my unusual experiences searching for places to dine, drink, or just relax. Mostly they have all been feudal attempts to bring some kind of normalcy to life that is not normal. I have been disappointed time and time again.

Sometimes it is the service, sometimes it is the atmosphere (rats included), sometimes it is the food. Most times it is all three at once. There is nothing like showing up at an eating establishment with mold and dust, no air conditioner or fans, and after waiting thirty minutes being told the chief is not there. Opting to stay, you're served warm beer or cola, have the power go off, are entertained by a huge rat strolling about, and finally after one or two hours you're served cold food with chicken or beef that is un-chewable.

This past Sunday evening I once again tried my luck at finding some kind culinary, well, adequacy is the best work I can think of. When in Africa, always believe that the worst is going to happen, that way you are not disappointed, or go over the edge and begin screaming at people. On this night's attempt, I would try a restaurant only one half block from my hotel, Dynasty Chinese Restaurant.

My hopes were not high of course (see previous paragraph) because I had already had problems with the hotel and their so called Wifi Internet. Thus far, in the three days I was there, the Internet had been working exactly zero seconds. My back and forth with the desk clerk is another story. Also, I had stopped by the restaurant earlier in the afternoon to inquire as to when they opened and was told by security that 7:00 PM was the ticket.

When I arrived at 6:50 PM the place was lite up and the parking lot was three-fourths full. Upon entering, I observed several people seated with many already enjoying their meals. Clearly it had been open way before seven. I was not feeling the love.

I was already there, so I had to forge ahead and hope for the best. I told them I needed a table for one, my friends were attending to family matters which is common in Africa on Sundays after church. On the positive side the restaurant was decorated in exquisite fashion. The waiters, all Ghanaian, were dressed in black slacks, white shirts, and had bow ties.

As soon as I sat down the waiter was right there with the menu and asking what I would like to drink. The Club Beer came within minutes and he was prepared for my food order. I had to stumble around to stall for time but was able to come up with combination fried rice. Chicken, beef and shrimp. This would test the chief, and how would something as simple as fried rice come out. I was still nervous.

Things were going well. People were coming in and being treated and served just as I had. All the customers were happy and seemed to be enjoying themselves. The atmosphere was warm and relaxing. My beer was cold and I was even beginning to relax. All of a sudden another waiter appeared with a tray of small towels. He took his tongs and offered me a clean white washcloth. It was damp and hot. Unbelievable. It was perfect. I was having quite a time so far.

I'm sure anyone can see that usually this is when I get hit in the gut here in Africa. I was still on my guard, waiting for the hammer to drop. It was only about ten minutes and my food was served. The fried rice was steaming hot and there was so much on the platter that three people could have been satisfied. I transferred one-third to my plate and tasted. The shrimp, chicken and beef were all cut in small portions but they were tasty and tender. On a scale of 1 to 10, I gave it a score of.......seven and one half, and I'm critical when it comes to Chinese food, especially fried rice.

The waiter came back and took my empty beer. He pointed and asked if I needed another. Of course I did. It too came right away, as cold as the first. I couldn't take the rice back to the room so I made sure to eat all that was served. No need to waste a good thing, even if I was full. At this point I was not only satisfied, but happy and would have left feeling very good. The evening was not quite finished at this point though.

When the waiter took my empty plate and cleaned the table he asked me a strange question. He wanted to know if I wanted desert or even coffee. I asked him to repeat himself. I could not believe what I was hearing. He again asked if I wanted desert or maybe some coffee. I decided to take a huge gamble at this point. Even remembering my failed attempt at the same risk in Monrovia I nervously asked if they had cappuccino. He said yes, and then march off to the kitchen as if he knew what he spoke of. Wow, maybe, just maybe I was going to get lucky.

About five minutes late he came with a small cup of what looked like liquid gold. It looked perfect. I quickly took a small sip. It tasted like liquid gold. It tasted perfect. I had not tasted anything better, even in New Orleans. All of a sudden my mind hit some kind of nirvana and without a care in the world, or caring who was watching, I got up (at least how my mind remembers it) and began dancing an Irish jig around the dining room, all while singing over and over,

"ME POT-O-GOLD, ME POT-O-GOLD, I'VE FINALLY FOUND ME POT-O-GOLD."

It took five waiters to subdue me and drag me back to my table. The restaurant was in an uproar. I didn't want my new found friend, Mr. Perfect Cappuccino, to get cold so I sat down and began to take another sip. Just then I discovered a small cookie on the saucer. My God, MY GOD. Not a stale cookie as is usual but a fresh after dinner cookie with sugar sprinkled on top. Perfect with coffee.

It was as if I had been visited by two of the three wise men. I had my Gold and Frankincense and it was only left for the Myrrh to arrive. And so what if it didn't. I was having my fill. As I finished my cappuccino the waiter returned. I assumed he was going to ask if I wanted either more coffee or if I needed the bill. He then said the unthinkable.

"Sir, would you perhaps like a Cognac?"

"A what," I responded, again not believing my ears?

"A Cognac."

My God in Heaven, the third Wiseman had just arrived with the Myrrh. It was a home run all the way around. I told him that I would like the bill and after I would go to the bar area and order a drink. The bar had nice looking seats. I looked at the drink menu he brought and although could have had several high quality after dinner drinks I decided I would get a Vodka Martini.

I paid, made my way to the lounge area and asked the bartender for a Vodka Martini. He looked at me funny then said he didn't know how to make martini. Well there you go, I know my string of blackjacks would finally end. I didn't leave the blackjack table though, to much luck that night. I ordered a Jack and Coke and sat down for a little more fortune, while it lasted.

Elmina Castle - Scenes from Ghana's Gold Coast

With Jimmy and family on Ghana's Gold Coast.
With Jimmy and family on Ghana's Gold Coast.

Cove Full of Fishing Boats - Scenes From Ghana's Gold Coast

Fishing Boats in cove off Ghana's Gold Coast next the Elmina Castle.
Fishing Boats in cove off Ghana's Gold Coast next the Elmina Castle.
Please put your seat in the upright position.
Please put your seat in the upright position.

Another Near Miss Flying in Africa

Humorous Stories From a Trip to Ghana

Recently, I took a flight from Cameroon to Accra, Ghana on a small Pan African airline called ASKY. The initial one hour and forty-five minute leg was from Douala to Lome, Togo, ASKY's home base. A short forty minute flight to Accra followed. All in all, fairly simple.

ASKY is no different then any other airline in the world as far as following all the safety rules. They have life jackets under the seats, use the seat cushions as possible flotation devices, and have oxygen masks that drop down in case of a sudden decrease in cabin pressure.

While demonstrating all the safety rules, ASKY flight attendants explain the bit about exit doors, wearing your seat belts at all times, and keeping your seat back in the upright position on take off and landing.

They, like all airlines, struggle to get all the passengers luggage in the ovehead compartments, get everyone seated in a safe and orderly fashion, and always remind people to be careful when opening overhead doors in case the contents may have shifted during the flight.

I think that most people take these safety precautions for granted, and sometimes even the crew might as well. One tends to think that none of this stuff will actually happen and all this is for the airline to pass inspection by the FAA or other like departments in other countries. Mostly is just everybody going through the motions.

The thing is that you never know when these safety rules, that are supposed to be so strictly followed, might come into play. For me, the first leg of my journey to Lome proved that at any time, if you don't pay attention, you may incounter a possible problem.

The flight went according to plan and, except for the "so called" chicken sandwich they served, we landed in Togo with no incidents. The thing was, that just after runway touch down I noticed something that really horrified me. I looked at the seat next to me, then the seat across the isle, and noticed that my seatback was not in the upright positon. I was mortified.

Everybody knows that the stewardess or steward is supposed to walk up and down the cabin screamng at people to put their trays and seatbacks in the upright position so as to keep each passenger from having some kind of accident, have the airplane go off course, or I guess even explode. I'm not exactly sure what all the ramifications are, but never before had I been a part of such an egregious error in airline safety protocol.

As the passenger, I felt embarrassed at first, then slightly relieved, and finally angery. I felt that the crew had not done their duty. They were there to serve, but also to protect me and the other passengers by making sure we followed all the important safety rules. I don't fly every day. The crew flys several times a day.

I've had to be yelled at by flight crews before to put my seat back in the upright position before landing. Usually, much like many other passengers, I'm doubled over with stomach cramps from the food they serve and don't even realize the plane is getting ready to land. It's pretty normal and I don't remember a stewardess having to slap or beat anyone. This crew put me in danger.

To be honest, I really don't know how my head and neck did not kick back after the tremendous force inflicted on it during landing. I would have expected that at least 99% of the time my neck would have been snapped like a twig when landing occurred with my seatback not in the upright position. Somehow I survived. I wonder how many dead bodies they have had to sneak off the plane when this crew is scheduled to work.

There is no doubt that I will be writing a letter to ASKY Airlines. It might not do any good but who knows, I could save lives if someone at the top takes action. If nothing else, I'm going to recommend they begin offering the Hans Device for all passengers. Works for NASCAR, does it not? It's simple, as a passenger boards the plane offer them a full helmet that attaches to the seatback so that when there is a sudden jolt, such as landing, the head and neck will be stable.

Somehow I got lucky. I just don't want other people to have to roll the dice every time they fly. Just because you fall asleep doesn't mean you have to be put in danger because your crew is also sleeping, on the job.

Ghana

A markerGhana -
Ghana
get directions

Welcome to Ghana
Welcome to Ghana

Flyover Bridge - Scenes From Cameroon

Flyover Bridge - Scenes From Cameroon

Pictures From Cameroon - Downtown Limbe from My Office Window

Lazy Monday morning.
Lazy Monday morning.
Down Beach, Limbe Cameroon.
Down Beach, Limbe Cameroon.

I Am Back

More Misadventures From Africa

I'm back on two fronts. First, I'm back in Africa. Cameroon, West Africa to be specific. I'm in a small city called Limbe where the company I work for has two offices for a project that involves a large Palm Plantation. I won't bore you with those details. Second, I'm back reporting on my thoughts and observations of life, the way I view it, as I go about my daily business in this part of Africa and this part of the world.

I returned to the US in February of 2012 and stayed for a total of ten months. I didn't do as much as I had hoped due to circumstances somewhat out of my control, as well as leaving for this opportunity to further the financial cause. Sometimes you have to go where the work is.

I brought my wife Janet, who got her green card before leaving Liberia, to the United States where she started school and began working at a job she enjoys. Janet loves the US and with things going good for her decided to stay while I came back to Africa to work. She stays with my mother and youngest brother. Things are moving in a positive direction for her.

While home I visited family, but not as much as I wanted. There were financial restraints on how much I could do and where I could go. I visited friends, some I had not seen in several years. I attended my 35th class reunion and had a good time.

I also enjoyed having open heart surgery while home, quadruple bypass surgery to be exact. What a great time that was. Most important, it took care of my breathing problems, my chest pain problems, my not being able to walk more then a block problems, my heart damage problems, and of course my dropping dead at any given moment problems. Turned out okay except for my new "paying the hospital" problems.

I was able to watch the Kansas Jayhawks Basketball Team work all the way to he NCAA Championship game where they did lose to UK. Along with that they defeated their arch rivils, Missouri, in their final meeting due to the cowerdly Tigers leaving for the SEC. A couple of weeks later I was treated to a bonus moment of pure joy when Missouri was knocked out of the NCAA Tourny in the very first round. Way to go Mizzou, snakebit as usual!

On the other side of the coin, I was forced to endure the Kansas City Royals baseball season and a good amount of the Kansas City Chiefs. What a depressing ordeal.

The first week of November I boarded a plane to Cameroon and I'm now set in to miss another Thanksgiving and Christmas. I'll return to visit home in April of 2013. Meanwhile I am also set to return to writing on what happens here, what I think about what happens here, and how I fell about what I think about what happens here. I think?

Cameroon

A markerCameroon -
Limbe
get directions

Welcome to Cameroon
Welcome to Cameroon
Boarding for Kansas City, Misery will begin.
Boarding for Kansas City, Misery will begin.

Misery

Stories From A Trip (Part 5)

Finally, we were back in the United States. Total trip time to that point was 31 hours and we were still in Washington DC waiting for our final leg, a flight to Kansas City. We slugged it out at the Monrovia airport, had a stop in Ivory Coast, and a six hour layover in Brussels, then the fight through customs and immigration. It had all taken its toll. We were tired and miserable and I just wanted people to now leave me alone until boarding time.

The final flight on the journey was a small express flight, so the wait at Dulles Airport was in a segregrated offshoot with two groups of passengers at the same gate. One group was going to, well I really don't remember, I was so tired. The second flight was of course to Kansas City, Missouri. With both these destinations from the same gate it did cause some small confusion for passengers.

The American Airline people working at the gates had to field many questions and make many clarifications on flight times and which line would serve which flight. The person manning the microphone was from India. He was pleasant and kept everyone informed. The only problem was that he was a little hard to understand with his accent. No mistakes or anything, it just took a little more, well, paying attention to the announcements.

So, with some of the words being pronounced "slightly wrong" I made sure I was listening carefully. It was getting close to boarding time and our announcement finally came. He made it twice, and although there was a heavy Indian accent, no mistakes in pronunciation at all.

"Flight 262 to Kansas City is now ready to board from line A."

"Flight 262 to Kansas City, (slight pause) Misery, (slight pause) is now ready to board from line A."

I smiled and laughed to myself. Even in India they know how to properly pronounce the name of the Show Me State. This made the whole trip worth it.

Amazing catch
Amazing catch

The Amazing Catch

Stories From A Trip Home (Part 4)

It was amazing, an act of incredible quickness, agility, grace and efficiency. Mario Maningham’s and David Tyree’s Super Bowl catches for the NY Giants, not even close. Willie Mays’ over the head basket catch in the World Series, a feeble attempt. Christian Laettner’s game winning shot against Kentucky in the NCAA Regional Finals, nothing.

What I witnessed in the United States Customs line at Dulles Airport outside Washington DC was nothing short of a miracle. A catch and save that would have gone viral in no less than twenty-four hours had someone been able to record it. It was, quite frankly, the most exciting event I have witnessed in my entire life.

Those four words I mentioned, Quickness, Agility, Grace, and Efficiency were the key. Here is how it played out:

Quickness

The young man, Indian or Middle Eastern and about six feet two, was reading a rag newspaper as he was moving along in the customs line behind me. I couldn’t get a view of the name of the tabloid but that does not really matter. What does matter is that as he was reading intently while holding it up and keeping up in line, when all of a sudden, his gum dropped out of his mouth.

In a flash he pulled the rag down and moved it towards his body, just in time too, because the gum stuck right to the bottom section of the paper. I gasped in amazement and my heart actually jumped. Great catch! Yes, I almost blurted it out loud.

Agility

He indeed was able to move quickly to save his “precious,” but getting the initial stick to the paper would mean nothing if he couldn’t hold on. Just as the chewable delight stuck on his daily, the man made a move to secure his treasure by adjusting his arms and making a cradle motion with the paper. What good is getting your hands on a pass or your glove on a fly ball if you can’t bring it in? He was able to complete the play. I wanted to applaud out loud.

Grace

The best defensive baseball players make everything look easy. They make it look so easy that you actually think you could do it. This guy was so good that I knew he must have practiced dropping his gum from his mouth hundreds of times a day, but I know this is not possible, who would do that? He was a natural; and the most amazing part, he did it without bringing embarrassing attention to himself. It was grace personified. Drop, catch, cradle, move forward as if nothing happened. I was in awe.

Efficiency

Everything that happened in that split second was truly outstanding, but the final act was what made this the most amazing play ever. He didn’t waste any motion, or the gum. When the man cradled and stepped forward he also craned his neck, lowered his head towards his gum, opened his mouth, and snapped up the gum. He did it; he recovered and recycled his gum, no waste, no mess.

He was able to continue to enjoying his now ink flavored gum, thus saving him tons of money on a new chewable product. He kept from creating a sticky mess at customs and maybe an international incident. I was lucky to have caught this master in action and will cherish the memory forever.

Please watch for flying objects.
Please watch for flying objects.

Another Know It All, Do It All

Stories From A Trip Home (Part 3)

Anyone who has ever flown knows that the coach section of an airplane is about the most confining area someone can be subjected to over a lengthy span of time. The longer the trip, the worse it is. Trying on clothes at Wal-Mart, making a call from a telephone booth, and using the stall in a public restroom are all confining; but they are all short lived and most importantly, private experiences.

The coach section of the airplane though is packed with people. These people can be quite, polite, nice, and keep to themselves. They can also be loud, rude, bothersome and a complete pain in the ass. Usually the best you can hope for is that the former outnumber the latter and the latter are not sitting next to you. If they are, and you have a long flight, you are in sure hell with no chance of escape.

One particular form of these bothersome types is the unflappable captain McBrag. The guy who has seen it all, done it all, and is always ready to tell it all to anyone who will listen. No matter what you have done, he has done it in a grander and more spectacular fashion. You've been to the Empire State Building; he's been to the top. You've been to the top of the Empire State Building; he's been to the top of the Eiffel Tower, which of course in his opinion is much better. It goes on and on.

If you have a friend like this you can tolerate him because you can simply walk away for awhile or tell him to shut the fuck up, depending on your relationship. In a plane this is not so easy. There is no escape and being curt can cause problems the rest of the flight, which is already miserable enough. You have to bear with it or pretend to fall asleep, which does not always work.

Captain McBrag, as may have guessed by now, was aboard my flight from Liberia to Ivory Coast and on to Brussels. Usually this would cause me to order the captain, Morgan that is, right away but the surprise, he was actually a good guy. This is a rare find indeed. He had done it all. Berlin was better than London and Austria was more magnificent than France. His family lived in New Jersey but he worked in Hollywood. He'd been there and done that, seen this and seen that, had an opinion on your opinion and opinion on his opinion. He went on and on, and on.

There were two reasons I say he was a nice guy. One, he was not in your face. He only engaged those who engaged him. Two, he was knowledgeable about the topics he spoke on so at least there wasn't that I wish I had a gun feeling. For myself, I didn't engage him too much so he left me alone and was not so loud that I couldn't sleep some. He was only a couple of seats away so I was forced to endure only a small bit of pain.

Nice and knowledgeable as he was, he of course did hang himself, as these people always do. He tightened the noose around his neck while we were taking on passengers in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. While the boarding passengers were storing luggage in the overhead bins one of the locking doors to a compartment two rows ahead of me and opposite McBrag snapped. It was the plastic anchor that held the hinge to the compartment. It would be difficult to repair.

Mickey B spoke up right away, "We're not going to be leaving anytime soon!" A statement he repeated a few more times for affect.

No one else said anything, probably because they were not aeronautical engineers, FAA officials, airline executives, or even airplane overhead bin repairmen. I guess Mickey B was all those because he made it understood, loud and clear, that we were not going to take off before the dangerous overhead door compartment issue had been rectified. I was, like everyone else, a cowardly lion and just sat in my seat to wait for the crew to access the situation.

Finally the steward marched down the aisle closing overhead compartments and came upon the disastrous door. Just then Mickey B spouted again, "Yeah, we're not taking off until that bin is repaired or replaced," just so the steward could hear and back him up. I was waiting for the steward to scream obscenities, grab a couple of beers and shoot out he emergency door but this wasn't JetBlue and we didn't have Steven Slater working that day.

Instead the steward called over another stewardess who looked at it, reached up, adjusted the angle, pulled it down, and latched it. She tried to push on it to see if it would fly open and kill somebody but nothing happened. The problem was solved, and the real Captain didn't even have to get involved. The crew went about its business and there was silence for a few seconds, but not for long.

"If this was a US plane, no way would we be taking off, no way."

I put my head back and smiled.

Watching for Strange(ers)
Watching for Strange(ers)

Is That Micky Rourk? Ahhhh, No!

Stories From A Trip Home (Part 2)

Taking a long flight is always more boredom then anything else. Unless you're taking your maiden flight, the whole ordeal is nothing but sitting and waiting in airports, sitting and bouncing in turbulence, sitting and sampling uneatable food, sitting and trying in vain to sleep, sitting and attempting to read, and my personal favorite sitting and listening to a baby scream.

This means that any small change in the sitting routine is most welcome, which is why observing people can present the small treasures of excitement needed to make the trip bearable. On my journey home this past week, once I finally got through Airport immigration, customs, check in, and settling in for the two hour wait, I was able to begin my investigation into the bazaar behaviors of the unworthy dregs around me.

I noticed a friendly face across the room and went to say hello. He doesn't speak English so it was mostly shaking hands, smiling, and nodding heads. Other then that brief moment of bliss, everyone seemed calm, cool and collected. In other words, it was boring.

But wait, what is this coming at me? What, what.........WTF? It's Micky Rourk the wrestler, no, no, it just kind of looks like the flabby out of shape version of Micky Rourk's character in "The Wrestler." How do I know it's a flabby version? Because this idiot is walking through the Airport with his two sizes to small shirt unbuttoned.

Is this guy doing this on purpose? Does he think that this is manly or sexy or something? He doesn't have any chains on his neck or tattoos to show off, but here he is walking around the airport with his button up shirt, unbuttoned. I'm shaking my head and laughing to myself.

As the guy walked into the duty free shop I chalked it up to an idiot sighting. On his way out of the shop though I noticed that he had buttoned his bottom button. So, did this guy suddenly realize that his shirt was completely open and get somewhat embarrassed? Did they maybe tell him that they couldn't serve him in the store with his shirt open? I don't know but his shirt was so small that his bottom button looked like it was cocked and ready to put someone's eye out.

As he walked past me I kept my head still but turned my eyes up at his face. He didn't give me a return look so I figured he was someone, somewhere in his own world. A few minutes later, I see him again walking around and, that's correct, his shirt is completely unbuttoned. A little later, his bottom button was fastened. I understood his plight now.

It was a struggle. A struggle between the man, his tight shirt, and his inner demons. Should he suck up his gut and button the shirt in the name of decorum, causing him considerable pain? Should he just say screw it and walk around with everyone eying his flabby chest and gut, but in complete comfort? Or should he comprise and work to keep the bottom button fastened as much as possible to keep his place in society somewhat, well, acceptable?

I felt his pain, his desperation, his inner conflict. I felt............oh fuck it, I was laughing my ass off!

Monrovia Airport
Monrovia Airport

Getting Through Airport Check In

Stories From A Trip Home (Part 1)

Flying from Africa to the United States is always a long and tiring journey, even when a direct flight is in order. On the other hand, the more stops and longer layovers do create more opportunities for adventures in my favorite pastime, "Observing Idiots."

Observing Idiots is one of my ongoing passions in life. The best part, the supply will never outstrip my demand. The idiots are in abundance with statics showing an increase each and every year.

Unfortunately there are some times, although few and far between, that I am forced to include myself in this immortal league. This does not mean I'm a total moron like most of these other people, only that every once in a while my own compass goes out of whack.

I began my trip to the States with just such a breach of common sensibility and social grace. In my own defense my actions were triggered by the other persons lack of realizing they were not the only person on the planet Earth.

Going through African airports has its own unique tricks of the trade, such as knowing there is no such thing as a line. It's kill or be eaten alive. If you're first in line when the gate opens the term, "He who hesitates is lost," immediately comes into play. Those who are last believe they should be first and those who were first must fight to maintain their position.

For this first part of my trip, I was able to position myself near the front of the line. Once movement began I blocked out the oncoming siege with a military encirclement maneuver using my luggage to protect my rear while I advanced on the gate ahead.

With my back covered, I mounted my assault on the course set up to check, check, check, and recheck my passport and other travel documents. My only problem, the lady in front of me seemed much more versed in airport military luggage warfare.

The lady looked half Middle Eastern, half African. She was having some kind of problem with her connecting flight through the Ivory Coast, tussling with the initial screening person and then repeating her problem when finally passed on to the information desk.

I was right behind her with no hope of breaking through her defenses to continue on. At the information desk I finished quickly and looked to finally move past her with no recriminations from security. Only problem, her bags were positioned in a manor reminiscent of the Berlin wall.

Since President Regan is longer with us, I took matters into my own hands. "Madam, tear down this wall!" I confidently proclaimed. No movement, and in fact no acknowledgment whatsoever. "Excuse me Mame," I asked politely. "I'm sorry Mame, excuse me," I asked again. "Ah, excuse me I uttered as I bulldozed right through her blockade knocking over one of her bags.

I plowed forward with total disregard and moved around the corner as I heard her exclaim, "Hey, what are doing, you don't see my bags?" I could not just move on, I could not resist. I turned and stepped back around the corner and said. "I asked you three times to please excuse me, what the fuck do you want me to do?

"I'm not a machine, you know!" was her excuse. I held up my fingers, "Three times," and whirled around only to get my foot caught in one of my bag straps causing me to stumble, trip, and fall to the floor. I was able to catch myself somewhat as to not go flat on my back.

The damage was done, security, passengers, and airport personal were all staring at me. What an idiot, what a moron. The arrogant rude American struck again. I picked myself up quickly and moved on. What else could I do? I had bested my rival and broken through to become next in line to get my boarding passes. Yes, I suffered a small amount of disgrace but at least it was in pursuit of travel excellence.

Visa Day in Liberia

This is what it looks like when you finally get your permanent visa to the US
This is what it looks like when you finally get your permanent visa to the US
Some bread please
Some bread please

I Never Seem To Learn

Humorous Stories From Liberia

I thought I would give it another shot. (See previous post)

Lawrence, could you do something for me?

Yes Lawrence, I know we are out of toilet paper for the office bathroom, that's what I need you to do. Please go the store up the street and get some.

Yes, four rolls are enough for now. Also while you are there I would like you to get me something to eat.

No not pizza. I want you to go to the counter in back again though.

Yes, the one where the sliced meat is sold but please no hot meat this time, but to the right of the meat is the cheese and to the right of that is the bread and pastries.

Yes, same counter. On the top shelf they always have pastries and below are fresh made long French bread. Please get me one long French bread and two pastries, whatever type of filling they have.

Right, get toilet paper, French bread and two pastries, whatever filling they have.

Ten minutes later my phone jumps to attention.

Hello, yes Lawrence!?

Yes, next to the cheese, there are pastries on the top shelf inside the glass display counter. Lawrence listen, see the bread on the bottom? Now look on the top. There are always pastries there, like cinnamon or chocolate.

Okay, okay, let me talk to the person behind the counter.

Yes, hello, how di day? Fine, fine, what kind of pastries do you have today?

Pastries, pastries! You know like jelly filled rolls or chocolate filled or cream filled. Do you know pastries?

Yes, so you know pastries, but you don't know what you have? Are you behind the bread counter next to the meat and cheese?

Okay, but you don't know if you have pastries, which are sitting right on the top shelf? Okay! Please give the phone back to the man in front of you.

Lawrence, forget the pastries and just get the French bread and come back. Okay, we'll see you in a few minutes.

Ten minutes later my office door slowly opens

No pastries huh Lawrence? I don't think anyone understands what pastries are. How can someone work behind the pastries counter and not understand pastries. Never mind.

Let me see the sack, I'm starving. Hummm! Lawrence this is not long French bread. Lawrence this is a bag of four bread rolls. I don't want four round bread rolls. What happened to the long French bread………Jesus........., never mind.

What else is that in the bag? A package of cheese single slices? Why? Why did you buy cheese, I never said anything about getting cheese? I don't even like single slices of processed cheese and would never tell anyone to buy them. I wouldn't take them for free. In fact you can have these.

My god, never again, I will never again.

Hot pepperoni.
Hot pepperoni.

Ummmmm Pepperoni!

Humorous Stories From Liberia

Here we go again............

"Hey Lawrence*, you hungry?"

*Lawrence Kparokpah (Spell check just blew a gasket) is a guy who works for me doing all sorts of logistical work, well odd jobs is actually a better description.

"Good! Why don't you go up to the store on the corner get something for us. I'll pay."

"Okay, you need to go back to the section were they sell the lunch meat, you know, where you got the sliced ham the other day."

"Yeah, then right in front of the display case are some frozen foods, look in the case and get two frozen pizzas, they should be about five dollars each."

"That's right, then take them to the guys behind the counter and have them heat each one for take away."

"Yes, it takes about ten minutes and then while you're waiting get a couple of cold sodas, Fanta maybe."

"Oh and on the way out grab me a Snickers Bar."

"Snickers! You know, Snickers Candy Bar!"

"You don't know Snickers?"

"Call me when you get there, I'll direct you."

"Get Pepperoni, Pepperoni pizza."

Lawrence leaves and ten minutes later the cell phone jumps off the desk!

"Yeah, Lawrence what's up?"

"Pizza Lawrence, Pizza! It's right in front of the meat display case."

"Okay let me talk to him."

"Yeah, how di day, how di bodi? Yeah let me have two of those frozen Pepperoni Pizzas in the frozen display section in front of your meat counter and heat them up for take away."

"Right. Right. I want them heated in the oven, thanks."

"Okay Lawrence does he have it?"

"Ham? Is he slicing ham? Stop him, I don't want any sliced ham! Just the Pepperoni pizzas!"

"Good, don't forget the sodas."

Ten minutes later the office door springs into action and Lawrence appears with a bag.

Lawrence, you got um?

"Huh? Let me see the bag."

Oh no, no, no. Lawrence?

Lawrence, this is a pound of sliced Pepperoni! Heated sliced Pepperoni! I said Pizza!

"You don't know what Pizza is? Really?"

"You've never seen pizza, ever?"

"No way Lawrence. Let me show you on my computer screen, that's what pizza looks like."

"Yes, now you know, I think. Unreal Lawrence."

"Alright, alright. Don't worry about it. I should have gone with you."

"Thanks, let me have my Fanta and here is your............er, hot Coke a Cola; and thanks for the..............er, hot Fanta. You can go ahead and take the rest of the day. I'll see you Monday, thanks again."

Thanks for the hot pound of sliced Pepperoni, hot Fanta and, hey wait, where's my Snick...................never mind!

My living room. Nice furniture.
My living room. Nice furniture.

The Generator and the Ladder

Stories From Liberia

Now that I have found and settled into the living space on Mamba Point I so coveted, life is somewhat more tolerable and less hectic. My apartment has twelve foot ceilings, marble floor tiling's, spacious bedrooms and bathrooms, hot water, and most of all National Power. No more purchasing fuel every two days to run the generators while regulating usage to save money and keeping maintenance on schedule. Thank goodness.

This does not mean that everything is roses. National Power will go off without notice for short periods and my generators are still needed for those occasions. Water has to be delivered by truck so it is important to make sure to conserve and stay on top of tank levels. There are nagging electrical problems throughout and although the landlord is good getting small items taken care of, here is always slow.

Problem number one was that a couple of light bulbs needed changed, most urgently the kitchen. Since the ceilings are so high this requires either stacking boxes on top of chairs and on top of tables for Moses, the house boy who torments me daily, to reach to outlet; or find a ladder. Moses is short so his attempt at stacking of furniture didn't work. I reiterated the need to get a ladder, a folding A shape would be the ticket. Problem was, according to Moses, he couldn't find one.

Several days went by and the light was not changed. If anyone is thinking, well why didn't you take charge and go get a ladder yourself, they need to move to West Africa and live here for three years to understand why that didn't happen. The other reason is of course I have, well, lets just say way to much to do to be worrying about instead of changing light bulbs, plus I'm paying this person to take that burden. The truth is Moses does a good job for the $80 a month salary plus lodging he is paid, but there is always lots of room for improvement.

While this ongoing saga was playing out problem number two popped up. My big generator was not starting and more important I had not been made aware of this small detail. My big generator is a Chinese made gasoline fueled 5.5 KVA used to power the house and at least one air conditioner. I have it for nighttime use to sleep in a comforting cool bedroom when National Power goes off. My small generator is a Chinese made gasoline powered 2.5 KVA just to power the lights, fans, TV, computer and consume less fuel then its bigger friend.

Yesterday this "non starting" became a problem when the National Power went off and the 5.5 was needed. I was called on the phone and as is my custom I began asking many questions, one of which was why I was not made aware of this before now. Excuses were given that there was a problem with the wiring to the house from the generator so it wouldn't bring power anyway.

My response, "So what? Why won't it start?" I don't want to bore with all details and questions so I'll jump ahead. Once I got home I asked to look at the generator. For some reason everyone wanted me to come inside and rest first. Probably because they new I would blow a gasket, my own that is. Fuck that, unlock the storage area and show me the generator and then try to start it, god damn it!

It didn't start, of course. I asked if the spark plug was good. The answer was that the wire was jumping off the plug.

"What?"

"The wire is jumping off the plug."

"What? Show me."

This time showing me, "The wire is jumping off the plug."

As a point of interest it must be noted here that as anyone who is a good friend of mine will attest to I don't know a damn thing about motors, electrical, and the general workings of machinery. All my educated testing's point to analytical instead of mechanical. None the less I looked at the cover (for lack of a better term) that is attached to the spark plug and felt the tip of the plug with the cover removed. Just threads there.

"First off," I said while holding the cover, "I assume you are saying that this thing is popping off the spark plug."

"Yes!"

"Okay, but let me explain, this is not a wire. This wire it is attached to is a wire, but this is what I will refer to as the cover that the tip, or head, of the spark plug fits into to carry the spark, or electricity, or power, as you might know it, to the engine so it starts. Second it is not popping off, it's just off, it will not fit onto the spark plug because there are only threads at the head, or top, of the plug, feel it."

"Oh!"

"Do you have another spark plug?"

"Yes!"

"BRING IT!!!!!"

Once this replacement was presented to me I pointed to the tip of the new plug and said, "See this mettle cover over the threads?

"Yes!"

"That mettle cover is either stuck in the wire cover or it fell out and is gone, check it."

To everyone's delight, except mine, the mettle head was discovered in the cover, and with the hands of a surgeon on his fourth Martini, Moses pried it out.

"Now, REPLACE IT!!!!! and I'll bet the generator will start."

He did. It did. Problem number two solved.

Problem number one was still literally hanging over my head while I was selecting a cold can of Vimto from the refrigerator. Vimto by the way is the best. Red in color and lightly carbonated it is by far now my favorite drink. Coke, Pepsi, Sprite and Fanta can go take a hike, Vimto is number one.

I digress.

The kitchen light issue would have to wait for tomorrow. Meanwhile I went out back to take a look at the room reserved for the housekeeper. Hadn't had time until now but I was getting into the sprite of house work, I have no idea why.

Behind the two bedroom apartment building two 500 gallon water tanks were placed up high. Underneath was a one room living area with bathroom for the housekeeper, Moses in this case. I walked back with the key and lo and behold what should I see laying on its side shining in all its glory. A mettle folding A shaped ladder that could quite possibly be used for changing light bulbs. Laying on the ladder were two towels somewhat worn but good enough to be used to do some cleaning. I examined the room, took the towels and headed back inside my apartment.

"Moses! Take these towels and wash them, they should be useful."

"Yes, I put them out there," Moses replied.

"Really? You knew these towels were out back?"

"Yes," Moses responded proudly and yet hesitantly.

"Did you see what they were hanging on?"

He uttered nothing while giving his best blank stare.

"Moses they were hanging on a ladder. An A shaped ladder. You know, a ladder you can use to change a light bulb? You didn't see this ladder that was right next to your door, while you were hanging the rag towels on it?"

Blank Stare.

"GET IT!!!! Bring it in here and lets get this light changed. Jesus Christ on a stick."

My god!

There is now light in the Kitchen. The big generator is working. Obstacles have been overcome and another day has gone by in my life and death struggle with Moses, and West Africa.

Now back to my regular job!

Blood and guts.
Blood and guts.

Blood And Guts At Lunch

Stories From Liberia

Deadspin is one of my favorite web sites. It covers sports from an irreverent point of view, something I can relate to. Remember, sports are just entertainment. The twenty-four hour wall to wall coverage of Tim Tebow taking a dump sometimes requires a little perspective.

A few weeks back I noticed that Deadspin was kicking off what they refer to as "Blood Week." Apparently there would be daily stories about sporting events where there was lots of mayhem, blood, guts and broken limbs. I'm personally not really into that kind of storytelling but this a sample of the kind of "outside the norm" that Deadspin reports.

Before you begin thinking badly of me, when I saw this I was doing my web surfing during lunch at Donna Maria, so my all important job performance was not affected. I was still in Liberia at the time and Monrovia is not exactly the cuisine capital of the world but they do have a few decent restaurants. Donna Maria is one of these located near my office in the Sinkor section of the city.

The Restaurant is Lebanese owned and run so you have the usual Lebanese fare, along with American food; hamburgers, pizza, and even a version of the Philly steak sandwich (if you want to really call it that). They also have very good pastry and ice cream, one reason I go.

Today I was just eating a simple lunch, small Boston Pizza. The place was not crowded which made it easy for me to focus attention on the big flat screen TV mounted on the wall across the room. At first I didn't pay much attention, the sound was off, but right before my pizza arrived I took notice of what programming I was being fed.

It seemed to be about baby crocks. They showed them entering the river with their mothers, I assumed, behind them. How sweet! But wait a minute; before you knew it, they were, mother and offspring, attacking Zebras as they crossed the river.

At first this didn't disturb much, but just then the blood began to flow. They were showing the Crocks reaching out and grabbing their meals with wide open mouths and long sharp teeth. The best approach for the crocks seemed to be to grab onto the back hind quarters and hold on. This commenced the initial bloodletting and flesh gnawing.

After that, it was all Crocks and Blood as they attacked, shook, and finally drug their prey down below. My Boston pizza with plenty of meat and tomato sauce arrived.

Next up, as I bit into my own version of captured prey, was a pride of female lions and their own young attacking a Yak. They ripped the hell out of it limb by limb, piece of flesh by piece of flesh. There was blood everywhere, especially on and around the lion's mouths. I was not halfway through my pizza and it was beginning to look like half a Yak.

At this juncture I began to look around the restaurant to see if this was offending any of the other customers. Some were actually watching rather intently, none seemed bothered. I thought to myself just then that this program would not have made it three minutes in a restaurant in the United States, a sports bar maybe, but not a family restaurant.

None of this made me sick, but it at the same time it was not enhancing my lunchtime dining experience. I was not grasping that, "I can't wait to come back here," feeling. Just then it was time for the baby Hyenas and their mothers.

I swear to god they were eating each other, along with whatever they were attacking. It was nothing but a bloody mess and as I looked at the remainder of my pizza, well, the toppings had now transformed into bloody bits and pieces of dead animal. I quite chewing and had them wrap the remainder for take away.

Blood and guts for lunch, enjoy! I don't think I'll be reading any Deadspin "Blood Week," stories in the next few days.

I just wish Gordon Ramsey was with me to throw out a few F-Bombs.

Liberian local beer.
Liberian local beer.

Elections in Liberia - Why Not End on a Good Note

No problems with protesters, riots, tear gas or shootings today; so I had a chance to go out and have a couple of these at the Atlantis Hotel Restaurant. Club Beer is made in Liberia and is really good. Like all beer, for me at least, it needs to be as cold as possible, almost freezing. I had shrimp spring rolls for a starter and roast meat with pepper for the main course. The Club Beer accompanied the starter, main course and was the entire dessert.

Holding off the protesters in Monrovia
Holding off the protesters in Monrovia

Election Time in Liberia - The Day Before Elections in Monrivia

This took place two blocks from the office in Sinkor. I was advised by my office staff to close the office and stay home, which I of course did.

From BBC Africa:

"Liberia election: CDC Monrovia protest turns deadly."

"At least one person has died after shots were reportedly fired during an opposition protest in Monrovia ahead of Liberia's presidential run-off."

"A BBC reporter saw the body of a young man who had been shot in the head."

"Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) candidate Winston Tubman has pulled out of Tuesday's vote, alleging fraud."

So it seems that Mr. Tubman is not willing to wait to see if he actually loses before declaring voter fraud. I was in Sinkor a few blocks from CDC headquarters about 30 minutes before this happened. Although there were lots of police and UN forces around National Election Commission yesterday, and in fact all week, I didn't see anything stirring.

I sometimes wonder if the people protesting really know what they are protesting other then a change. The reason they want change? Because their lives have not become better. Jobs, schools, medical, housing, money.

Also from BBC Africa:

"These are the first elections organised by Liberians since the 14-year conflict ended. The previous ones were run by the large UN peacekeeping mission."

"Justice Minister Christiana Tah told the BBC that security would be stepped up for the elections following the violence and that an investigation would be opened."

"She could not confirm the number of casualties. Some CDC officials say four people died."

"The rioting broke out after thousands of CDC supporters gathered outside party headquarters to urge voters to boycott Tuesday's poll."

"Police, backed by UN forces, reportedly blocked a road to prevent the CDC activists from marching through the city, before the shooting and stone-throwing broke out."

"Opposition activists are said to have exchanged fire with the police, who also used tear gas."

"But police spokesman George Badue said officers had not used live bullets."

"He said only tear gas was used by the police "to disperse the crowd so that people who were not part of the demonstration could move about freely."

"As well as the dead man, the BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh, in Monrovia, also saw three or four other injured people who said they had been shot."

The elections are today. Mr. Truman has withdrawn. Will there be problems from CDC supporters who are supposedly boycotting the Election? Probably.

I'll be staying at home again today, with the compound gate locked.

(Picture from Reuters)

Monkey behind the house
Monkey behind the house

Helping the Monkey, Pets in West Africa

Stories From West Africa

Yesterday I spent about 30 minutes untangling a Monkey's chain. It was a simple solution that will most likely have to be repeated because it is in the nature of the monkey to move around, left and right, up and down, through and around. The chain is not very long and is tied to a rail with several rods, meaning there are many obstacles with many angles for the monkey to wrap his chain around.

For some reason a few people here, both African and from other parts of the world, seem to think it is "neat" to have a small monkey as a pet. They buy one from up country, not a difficult thing to do, and then either put it in a small cage or, as my neighbor has done, put it on a chain. Why? I personally don't understand it.

A monkey is not like a dog or cat that can be somewhat controlled and is mostly domicile. Monkey's like to move around, constantly. They like to climb on things, constantly. They mostly relieve themselves whenever the urge presents itself so unless you want too to put diapers on and change them several times a day they will stink up the area they inhabit. This is not much of a problem when they are in the forest but very unpleasant in confined areas.

Before yesterday I had no idea the monkey was there and if this was the States I would handle the situation differently, like making a few phone calls, but this is Africa. Once I untangled him I held his chain and let him move around some before tying his chain back in the best way possible so as to not allow it to tangle. I'm sure this was not successful. I instructed the houseboy Moses to talk with the neighbor to allow him to bring to monkey down to where he could tie it to something a little more out in the open, at least from time to time.

This was not my first encounter with this, shall I say, ridiculous situation since coming to West Africa. While in Sierra Leone some of our contractors from the, a, great State of Arkansas had two monkeys at the logging camp in Masingbi. They kept the two monkeys in a small cage. That's right, they were in the middle of the jungle with wild animals all around and the two monkeys were in a small cage. WTF!

When I saw this I said, "What is wrong with you guys?" Needless to say, since they didn't really work for me, they keep the pets. One of the Arkansas geniuses was even thinking he was going to carry one home. My lips didn't say anything but my mind sure was talking, Arkansas man plus African Monkey, can anybody see a new disease epidmic on the horizon? Both monkeys died, by the way.

This is not limited to monkeys. On two occasions baby Deer have been the subject of the owner's desire for an unusual pet. The first was when I was on a trip to Masingbi and one of our Sierra Leone management people was driving. Just as I was about to get in the truck to leave for Freetown he asked me, "Do you mind holding this on the way back," as he held out a baby Deer. "No, I'm not going to hold a baby Deer for the four hour trip to Freetown. He bought the Deer as a pet for his small daughter, a noble gesture I guess, but what happens when it becomes an adult, if it survives? He probably planned to eat it. The Deer made its way back with us under the seat and I never asked about it.

The second Deer purchase was made by a partner we were working with from Nigeria. On our way back from Kenema, Sierra Leone to Freetown he thought it would be nice to buy a baby Deer for his compound. I just shook my head. He put in the back of the Prado Landcruiser and let it out when we got back. Two weeks later I was back at his home and inquired as to where the Deer was. "Oh, he died right after we got back, well actually a few days after we got back." Wonderful!

It seems like these situations don't usually end well for the "would be" pets. The owners don't seem interested in having a dog and there are very few cats. These people must believe they are David Attenborough, wanting to get close and explore nature. Maybe they should spend a few weeks camping in the wild and get it out of their system. I am not an animal lover but if you like you can begin to pray for the monkey who lives in my compound.

It's Election Time, Run Off Is Tuesday Nov. 8, 2011 - Scenes from Liberia

The President's Campaign Slogan: Monkey Still Working Let Baboon Wait Small
The President's Campaign Slogan: Monkey Still Working Let Baboon Wait Small
Good advice for pollsters.
Good advice for pollsters.

It's Election Time in Liberia

Let's hope everyone remembers this sign on Tuesday. In reality it should be more like, "Ballots not rocks, mobs on the street and setting things on fire." Of course that does not rhyme so much. If the opposition party ends up staying in the race, I'll end up staying home on election day.

Goat Soup
Goat Soup

Happy Thanksgiving From Liberia

Goat Soup for the Holiday

The first Thursday of November in Liberia is Thanksgiving Day. Liberia celebrates New Year, Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas just as the US does. Independence and Thanksgiving are different dates but the concept is the same.

Just as in the US, and other parts of the world, Liberians like to get together and have a big meal with family and friends to enjoy the day. There is no big sporting event on TV like Thanksgiving NFL Football or New Years Day College Bowl games or the Christmas Day NBA game, but then again there's not many TV's here.

Here in Liberia, much like most of Africa, the day revolves around cooking the holiday meal. For this holiday and all other special occasions In Liberia a good dish is Goat Soup, the Liberian National Soup. Prepared correctly is very tasty. Here is the recipe.

Goat Soup

Ingredients

2 pounds goat meat (can substitute lamb or beef, I have no idea why you might want to)

Hot peppers

2 medium onions, sliced

2 quarts water

3 tomatoes

8 ounces tomato paste

Salt, black pepper

Procedure

1. Cut up the meat into 2-3 inch pieces.

2. Marinate with peppers, salt, black pepper, and onion for about an hour.

3. Add water and boil until meat is tender.

4. Add tomatoes and paste and cook until tomatoes are soft.

Thanksgiving From Liberia - Another Helping of Goat Soup

Goat's Head Soup
Goat's Head Soup

Just in case that first bowl of Goat Soup was not to your liking, try this one. Goat Head Soup! For me this is really the only choice. Why would you want it any other way, delicious.

Motorbikes, cheap transport.
Motorbikes, cheap transport.

Motor Bikes, Ride at Your Own Risk

Stories from Liberia

Riding motor bikes is, and always has been, a lot more dangerous than navigating an automobile. There is simply not as much protection and bikes are harder to see. Motor bike riders must do everything possible, as we used to call it during my UPS safe driving training days, to "make sure they see you." This simple means they need to look out for motor car drivers because motor car drives don't always look out for them.

In countries such as Liberia, and cities like Monrovia, motor bikes are not only prevalent as a means of cheap transportation for the owner or rider; they are a necessary means of transport for passengers who need to get somewhere quickly and cheaply. Taxis are not always available and much slower due to having to conform to traffic, so the motor bikes take up the slack.

Their best feature is that it is easy for the motor bike to maneuver in, out, around, through and between traffic. Traffic jams are simply navigated by weaving between cars stuck in the mess. Unfortunately, this is also the worst feature due to the inherent danger in performing these same actions. The key factor in how dangerous is the motor bike driver. The truth is that the majority of these guys do not operate with the, "make sure they see you," mentality.

To make matters worse every driver's attitude in Liberia is that while operating a vehicle there is no other person on the planet. Look before pulling out into traffic, why? Make a right turn from the left lane, why not? Changing lanes on a whim without signaling or looking, it's my road! Open the door of a parked car facing traffic before peeking, what's wrong with that? Rules of the road, didn't know there were any, except one:

"It is the sole responsibility of the oncoming vehicle to make any and all adjustments to vehicles pulling out, turning, going the wrong way and generally driving however they like, so as to not smash someone's head against the pavement. Nothing else matters."

For motor bikes it's the same, only they take advantage of their small size to basically go whenever and wherever they want. If you are driving and have a right to the same spot they are weaving towards, they will simply make another move to dodge you. If you don't see them and they make a miscalculation, well, you hit them or they hit you, plain and simple. Most times these are only minor bike to car finder benders that result in arguments. There are times though that it gets messy and someone, the motor bike rider, is killed. I'm always surprised it doesn't happen more often.

The thing is that this is not just one motor bike at a time. While you driving you are passing or being passed by bikes on your right and on you left all while dodging bikes riding the center line of oncoming traffic. At any given intersection there may be eight to ten bikes all weaving in and out. This means that are actually competing for the small spaces between the cars resulting in motor bike jams in within the regular traffic jams. This at times is something rather amusing and other times mind boggling.

As a motor car driver the most important rule, besides hiring someone to drive you, is to always keep your eyes moving and don't take anything for granted. Do not anticipate that the other person is going to make the correct move. Remember that they are never looking out for you; you must look out for them.

Motor bikes are at best unpredictable and at worst dangerous. I have never taken a ride on one. This all brings me to a quick incident from a couple of days ago. While I was taking a turn on UN Drive, in the safe and sturdy Landcruiser, I noticed one of these bikes weaving in and around traffic with a passenger on back. Nothing unusual here, but as I passed the bike I noticed that the passenger was carrying a pane of glass, looked to be about 20" x 16" or so about.

I guess this could be considered somewhat risky but if there was a crash I doubt that the glass breaking and cutting the riders was going to make too much difference in the area of pain as their heads slammed against the pavement. But here is the fun part; the passenger was not carrying the glass at his side under one arm while holding on to the seat with his other. No, what this passenger was doing was holding the glass with both hands.............right in front of his face!

I howled in laughter as I quickly swerved to miss the next bike pulling out in front of me.

Atlantis Beach Hotel Restaurant and Bar - Places In Liberia

Atlantis Beach Hotel view from the restaurant.
Atlantis Beach Hotel view from the restaurant.

Atlantis Beach Hotel on Mamba Point. Good view and good food. I had grilled fish and chips and cold Becks beer. The good thing is this is close to home. Just a quick two minutes and I'm there and a quick two minites and I'm back home. Seems to be mostly NGO's staying here.

West Africa - Open For Business
West Africa - Open For Business

Doing Business in West Africa

If one is contemplating investing in West Africa, money or time, there is one fundamental question. How hard is it to make money in this part of the world? The short answer is, difficult to damn near impossible. The detailed answer is more ambiguous and unclear. I refer to doing business in West Africa as, "The Meat Grinder."

I spent four years in Sierra Lone, Liberia, and Nigeria observing, working, and doing business. During that period I watched, and indeed participated in, lives and hopes ruined. This includes people who had achieved great degrees of success before making their journey. These same people all suffered varying degrees of failure and financial ruin before departing the Dark Continent's West African Region.

They all became victims of "The Meat Grinder." They all arrived with their heads up, chests swelled, and hearts in the right place. They were all going to make money while making a difference in the lives of as many suffering indigenous people as possible. They all got taken.

In addition to those who dared to come and show everyone how business should be done, is the even longer list of external collateral damage (outside West Africa) to investors, family members, and friends whose lives have been ruined, or at least extensively scathed. It was not just losing money. People's homes have been lost, and families torn apart. There have been numerous arguments, lost friendships, separations, divorces, and stress related illnesses.

On the West African side, the number of employees that were directly or indirectly involved in some of these businesses was in the thousands, not counting extended family counting on these companies. All of them were forced into bad financial states. When hired, they were given something that is hard to come by in this part of the world, hope for a better future. Not only did they lose their jobs when things didn't work out, they lost that hope, personal collateral damage (inside West Africa) from "The Meat Grinder."

There are two books that I recommend for anyone who is contemplating the decision to pursue a business opportunity in West Africa. The first is "The Art of War," by the Chinese General Sun Tzu. The second is "Heart of Darkness," by Joseph Conrad, which was the basis for the Movie "Apocalypse Now." The reason for these two books, because one prepares you for a transformation that has to be undertaken, while the other enlightens on what can happen if that transformation leads you down the wrong path.

What you must prepare for, from the first time you consider a scheme to get involved in Africa, is to become a seasoned General. From the first moment you must prepare for all-out war. The battle must be engaged every day, twenty-four hours a day, three hundred sixty-five days a year. Every person you meet must be feared as an enemy, every single individual person.

The path you must avoid is being drawn into the darkness of Africa, from the constant barrage of those who say they are your friends, your partners, your brothers. They are not. They are there to prop themselves up, tell you a story, drawn you in to an account, and get your money.

Politicians, government officials, business people, your employees, and even strangers will all lie to you and about you. They will misrepresent themselves to you those you do business with and misrepresent you to others, all to further their agenda. Once they get their claws into you, they will use you, use your money, and even, without your knowledge, use your name to their own benefit.

Ultimately, the path you must avoid is similar to one taken by Kurtz himself. To understand Kurtz you need read "Heart of Darkness." In essence, you turn into those who are using you. You are pulled down to the same level of mental and spiritual darkness resorting to the same tactics. You become T.S. Eliot's, "The Hollow Man." I have seen this, and the only salvation is to leave, leave Africa right away.

Those who are from West Africa, this is already their way of life. It is not the dark for them, its expected life, and established business. They have nothing, so at the end of the day they have nothing to lose. There is no fear of rejection, no shame, no moral ambiguity. They are in survival mode at all times.

A quote from "The Art of War."

"So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself."

If you are contemplating investing, doing business, or even just working in West Africa you must know yourself and your opponent, almost everyone, or you will leave uttering the same words that were used by Kurtz at his end, "The Horror, The Horror."

I have seen this, I have seen this.

Cape Hotel Restaurant - Places In Liberia

Cape Hotel Restaurant. Good Sunday Brunch.
Cape Hotel Restaurant. Good Sunday Brunch.

The Cape Hotel is right next to Mamba Point Hotel. They also have a good patio to relax and see the ocean. The food is the best of the three Hotels I frequent on Mamba Point and seems to have the best décor. The Sunday Brunch and weeknight Buffets are very good. Mexican food was best I've had in Africa, which is not saying much when you've been to the Southwest United States and Mexico. You have to take what you can get.

Yes. Cappu.....Hot Chocolate
Yes. Cappu.....Hot Chocolate

Looking for Small Pleasures (2)

Humorous Stories from Liberia

A couple of days ago I posted a story to my site, "Looking for Small Pleasures." It was a story about false hope, smashed dreams, unrealistic expectations and stone baked pizza all based in the wonderfully progressive society of Freetown, Sierra Leone. This would be a great time to read, or reread, that particular tale of woe.

In Monrovia, Liberia, unlike Freetown, Sierra Leone, it is possible to get some things that make life a little easier, such as good food at more then two locations. Liberia has strong ties to the United States and there is a strong American presence here in all facets of life. Having the dollar used as major currency, even though Liberia has its own Liberian Dollar (LD exchange rate of 70 LD to 1 USD), makes things so much better. Still though it is West Africa and someone from Europe or the far West must lower their expectations in all areas of life.

What this means is that there are still times when hopes are risen and expectations heightened because you have been given an en-tray to a small pleasure. A small pleasure is some form of delight, something you were not counting on when you awoke from your thin foam mattress with no box spring bed to take a cold water bucket bath after which you dry off in the heat and humidity with no A/C because there is no electricity and you turned off the generator to save fuel.

The other day, much like my stone baked pizza ordeal in Freetown, I wasn't expecting anything out of the ordinary. I wasn't demanding premium services or products, gourmet food, or cutting edge technology. I just needed some decent coffee while I was waiting. But here is where I made a huge mistake. I made the mistake because Donna Marie Restaurant is a good restaurant with good food, including drinks, pastries, cakes, and ice cream. All around, a clean place with comfortable accommodations and cheery atmosphere. The Lebanese owner and management are on top of most things, and although somewhat slow the kitchen and wait staff are okay.

I was there to pick up a cake, and since it would be another twenty minutes or so I asked for my usual cup of tolerable Nescafe instant coffee with cream. But, just as the waitress left, I went temporarily insane and zipped quickly to the bar to inquire from of her and bartender if they happened to have cappuccino, as it was on the menu. As soon as I finished the question my mind rebelled somewhat, "what the hell are you asking this question for?" My trepidation was well founded as the quick response from the waitress was no, and at the same instant the quick response from the bartender was....yes!

Well great, should I roll with this or shut down my request with a simple, "you know, I'll just stick with the Nescafe." I guess I figured since I was bold enough to come to West Africa in the first place I was bold enough to let this play out to it's logical conclusion and maybe be surprised by a not so logical conclusion.

"I'll take a cappuccino please, if you don't mind, thank you!"

The bartender got on it right away! The waitress didn't seem to worried but most times the wait staff doesn't even know what is on the menu much less how to pronounce the somewhat more international items on the bill-a-fare, such as spaghetti. So my small pleasure, a cappuccino, was at least under construction.

With still fifteen minutes plus remaining on my cake time I sat back down and relaxed with the thoughts of cappuccino plums dancing in my head. So what if it took more then fifteen minutes to complete the cake decorations, cappuccino was coming. In fact, so what if it took another thirty minutes, I would have another cappuccino, and another. Before I left they would remember me as the cappuccino man. As soon as I walked out they would all talk about how much cappuccino I sipped down and whenever I came back in they would ask right away, "would you like a cappuccino?"

It was only a couple of minutes and I could see the waitress already placing the saucer and cup on her tray. "Well, well that's a fairly big cup," I remarked, to myself. Good, I'll handle it nicely. The waitress placed the cappuccino on the table. There wasn't much foam as you usually have in a good cup of cappuccino but what the heck, it's still Africa. I lifted the steaming cup filled to the brim towards my lips and took an extended sip.

"Ahhhhhhhh, Yes!" I exclaimed, "That is tasty. That is about the tastiest............ Hot Chocolate, I have every had."

Careful who's hand you shake.
Careful who's hand you shake.

This Too is Liberia

Humorous Stories From Liberia

There is a small section in one of the Monrovia papers where an image is printed on the front page each day with a short description below it. The picture displayed, and what it represents, is sometimes positive, sometimes negative. The tag line for each picture is "THIS TOO IS LIBERIA."

This Sunday here in Monrovia I was waiting outside of Sunday Service, I wasn't going just picking someone up. While parked in the ally next to the church, I witnessed a young man around his middle twenty's come out of the church stepping towards me at an urgent clip. The man was dressed for his Sunday Service in a gray suit with white shirt and conservative tie, every bit the usual Sunday morning attire.

The young man briskly made his way a few feet in front of the white Toyota Land Cruiser I was patiently waiting in and right behind the small car in front of me. He stopped, quickly unzipped his trousers and began to relieve himself. Normally my first reaction might be to honk the horn, and when he looked up give him the raised hands and what the fuck look. But being West Africa this is normal, nothing unusual, and yes he knew I was sitting there because he glanced over.

When he was finished and quite relieved, his mind immediately returned to his holy endeavors. He began high stepping it back towards the chapel and just before the entrance gate he reached out and shook hands with a large man who smiled widely. I laughed.

THIS TOO IS LIBERIA!

Kendeja Resort - Places in Liberia

Kendeja Resort outside Monrovia
Kendeja Resort outside Monrovia

The Kendeja Resort Hotel and Restaurant is about as good as it gets in Monrovia. It is actually a little outside Monrovia so if you are wanting to stay someplace close to the city to do business this might not be the best place to stay.

If you want to stay away from the hustle and traffic and just relax, this is the place. Nice rooms, right next to the ocean with beach, outside pool and patio, good restaurant.

This is a place where you can feel sectioned off from the rest of Monrovia.

Waiting for a license
Waiting for a license

Steps to Getting Your Drivers License in Liberia

Stories From Liberia

I've done this once before but I lost my wallet last week so I need another license. Here's how it works for all who wait in long lines at DMV. I'm hopful they can adopt these procedures in the States.

1. Have your driver take a copy of your passport (or ID) to the Division of Motor Vehicles and so he can fill out all the required paper work.

2. When they've finished have him come back and pick you up to drive you to DMV.

3. Have your driver, and his man there, take you into the crowded motor vehicle department.

4. Have the man your driver has already worked out all the sorted details with escort you right by everyone in line to have your license picture taken.

5. Get picture taken.

6. Walk out, with everyone wondering why you didn't have to wait, and leave the building while your driver gives the guy some extra chop, chop, zoom, zoom.

7. Have your driver take you back to the office and wait until he gets a call to go collect your license and bring it to you.

8. When he brings your license put it in your wallet before someone sees your picture.

9. When it's time to go home have your driver drive you while you call everyone to tell them you got our drivers license.

10. Do everything possible to not drive in West Africa.

Finished, see simple!

View From Mamba Point Hotel Restaurant Outside Patio - Places in Liberia

View from Mamba Point Hotel Restaurant just down from my house.
View from Mamba Point Hotel Restaurant just down from my house.

Mamba Point Hotel is were I stayed my first two weeks in Monrovia. The outside patio is great to relax and have food and drink. There is restaurant with American Food and a Sushi Restaurant that is not bad at all. Although smaller and a much different style the Mamba Point Restaurant and Bar in Sierra Leone was a favorite hang out for us in Freetown. Only two minute drive and seven minute walk from home.

Chicken for hire
Chicken for hire

Employee, and Chicken, Problems

Humorous Stories from Liberia

I know there are lots of problems with employees in the United States as there are around the world. While I worked at United Parcel Service, I dealt with or observed labor disagreements and entanglements concerning the agreement UPS had with the Teamsters Union and working with their members employed with us. There were various lawsuits for different types of discrimination, harassment and unfair labor practices all the time. The Kansas District was a leader in this department not because we were worse the anyone else but because we had a couple of employees who were pretty decent outhouse lawyers.

In West Africa though we have different types of employee problems as can be seen in the email I have included below. The email, addressed to me and our COO, is from our Forest Manager from Ghana and has over 20 years of forestry experience. He had a small problem with a log truck driver who seems hell bent on revenge. These are not uncommon and at the same time, there is usually nothing to the threats. But, there are instances when retribution has been taken so you can't be too secure.

The letter reads as follows:

Dear Sir,

Mohammed Sheriff was among the drivers that sent the last load to Buchanan port.

He had 2 flat tires; did not stop for vulcanizer to attend to him. He continued to off load and drove from Buchanan port to Bokay Town. The two tires were beyond recognition.

I therefore called for the termination of his contract. He approached me with a letter, pleading for me to take it claiming, it to be letter of apology. I refused it.

I had a phone call from Bokay Town this morning saying, Mohammed Sheriff claimed he has bought 3 fowls to do everything possible to kill me.

Claiming, i have let him loosed his job. The caller further said if i had read the letter, something might have happened to me because, its not an ordinary apology letter.

This is Africa, anything is possible.

Regards.

M.Y.E

Forest Manager

Now I don't actually know what kind of asssassination contract can be carried out for 3 fowls but to be fair it does not take much currency to get things done in Africa. Maybe the chickens were the assassins. Somehow I don't think this one will go through the normal Teamster Grievance Process.

Oceanview Restaurant Monrovia.
Oceanview Restaurant Monrovia.

Oceanview Restaurant

Places in Liberia

I just dined at a surprising locaton, Oceanview restaurant on Mamba Point. It was surprising because I would have never guessed it was there unless someone told me about it. It was surprising because although someone told me, from the look outside I would have never gone in unless they were with me. It was surprising because I would have never ordered food unless they urged me. It was surprising because it was the best food I've had in Monrovia. We had Beef Skewers with French Bread, Crispy Chicken Wings, Barracuda with Rice and Cold Beer. I will be going back.

Fighting in the Streets

Stories From Liberia

A person could not believe some of the stuff that happens in West Africa. I was just in downtown Liberia about 30 minutes ago. The traffic was heavy, so my driver was stuck waiting for someone to pull out of their parking space. Since there is no give and take, no you go then I'll go, no I'll give you a little room to maneuver so everyone can drive on, everything comes to a complete halt. When a small gap opens, everyone from all sides pushes ahead to try to be first. This only causes a bigger jam.

Making matters worse, there are the people walking all around you without any regard for the traffic. You begin to move forward, they walk in front of your car. You start to back up, they walk in back of your car. It is almost as if they are intent on blocking you from moving. The truth is that they are totally oblivious to all around them. Included in this are the boys pushing two-wheel carts, who operate as if they are the only souls on the planet. Any small crack in traffic, they try to squeeze in even if they scrape your car. When you chastise them, they get riled up.

Today the boys with the carts were a little more feisty than usual, and as we inched forward to reduce the small opening they continued to push forward. The lead guy pulling the handle, thus steering, got a little upset at my driver who was cutting him off. They exchanged words, and the push cart guy came around to the drivers window to emphasize his point. Both began to ratchet up the argument, and the push cart guy reached his hand in the window. My driver slapped his hand away. Push cart guy tried to give my driver a long backhand swing and only partially connected. My driver applied the parking brake, put the car in neutral, undid his seat belt, opened the door, stepped out in the middle of the traffic jam, and it was on.

As it usually does it began with a couple of hard pushes. Next it was grabbing and pulling. Quickly, all the bullshit was dispensed with, and the swinging began with round houses to the head and face. Finally, a tangled cluster of swinging fists and legs ending in a body slam in the middle of the street surrounded by cars and on lookers cheering the slice of pure excitement that had been their entire fortune to be witness to. For some reason, the action came to an end as fast as it had begun and my driver, cussing, got back into the car.

Me, I just sat in the car looking forward hoping we could get moving in a few minutes. This was none of my business. I have no idea who won the match, if anyone. When my driver got back in, buckled his seat belt, disengaged the parking break, put the car in gear and began moving the few feet forward available to us, I said, "Jesus Christ Jackson (his real name) I don't really need this aggravation you know." He didn't say anything, but the push cart guy was back at his job also inching forward. The first dance was finished, but these guys, they are so hardheaded they can dance all day.

Luck was on my side and we start moving, in the right direction.

The headless chicken
The headless chicken

Deamon Barber of Mamba Point

Humorous Stories From Liberia

It has now been four days since the ghastly event, four tiring days and sleepless nights, yet I am no closer to solving this mystery. The body has been disposed of, the head, yet to be found.

No one is talking. Three people in the compound, three more people in the building and no one will attest to anything, hearing anything, except me. I heard something! I heard everything; the annoying crowing, crowing, crowing, the horrific shriek, the last cold blooded gasp of breath, the silence.

There is a cast of shady suspects with plenty of conjecture and speculation but nothing to wrap everything together. Hard questions are greeted with small smirks and shoulder shrugs. No one engages in appropriate eye contact while weaving the interpretation of the following possible events.

A wild animal made its way into the compound to wreak havoc in a hit and run charge for its trophy head.

Some evil spirit rode through with the formality of the "Headless Horseman" to conclude a gruesome ritual.

A shocking and evil version of Sweeney Todd made quick work of his victim for the purpose of gaining a "tasty" pie.

This third theory may be close, but it is my feeling that the moment of truth came not just because the motive was to fulfill a culinary craving. If this be the case, the pot could have been stirred weeks ago. No, there was a more irrational motive at play. Anger, wrath, exasperation and even madness all built up over time causing the stalker turned attacker to, at that precise moment, snap.

If the third be true I can't say I can blame the villain who committed this act. I was long since tired of seeing this cock of the walk, always with his boldness and bluster, crowing and spewing his braggadocio. Having been subjected to this over a period of time, I can understand how the unstable may go for the jugular, so to speak.

I actually had my own plans to end this, all be it in a more civilized approach to be sure.

So now my approach to solving this is set. This was no wild animal or horsemen come from the grave. This was a man, and I will discover him. I will sit him down, make all inquires, lay out the when, the how, the why, apply all the pressure until, until, until I hear, "Villains!" "Dissemble no more! I admit the deed! Dig up the ground, here, here! It was the Cock-a-Doodling of his hideous head!

Just give me until tomorrow. Tonight I'm having roast chicken.

My Lair
My Lair

My Lair

Humorous Stories From Liberia

I have officially decided to start referring to the compound where I live as "My Lair."

Now why would I want to something like that? First take a look at the definition of lair:

Lair:

Noun:

1. a den or resting place of a wild animal.

2. a secluded or hidden place, especially a secret retreat or base of operations; a hideout or hideaway.

3. a place in which to lie or rest; a bed.

Obviously I am not a wild animal in need of place to drag my kill or hibernate during my off hours. As for a place to lie or rest, to keep my bed, any old domain, apartment, flat, house or home is suitable for that. In fact, you could even do that at a hotel, guest house or friend's place.

Number two is the ticket here. A base of operations is what I will hang my hat on to justify the classification of my residence as a lair. As for being a secluded, secret hidden place, I can't honestly say that, but it is a fact that I am extremely selective to whom I give information to regarding my home.

Security has explicit instructions to people they let in the gate and more to the point people not, which is everybody unless I have given prior approval. This command was violated a couple of weeks ago and after the bloodletting was completed I doubt it will happen again. After a couple of instances in Sierra Leone, I value my privacy to a fanatical point.

Still though why do I feel the need to call my compound a lair? It's not quite a general term used for one's home, and could even by construed as egotistical, like someone who refers to himself in the third person when talking. Can you imagine the following conversation?

A Friend inquires, "Hey Jim long time, where you living now?"

My reply, "Where is Jim living, Jim is staying at his lair on Mamba Point."

Friend murmurs to himself, "Well Jim is a friggin loser, isn't Jim."

Back to why. Lair was always referenced in the first James Bond movies and quite cleverly used in the Austin Powers spoofs. The term was a matter of emphases for comedic reasons, and it worked exceedingly well due to the fact lair is not used much in American language. I certainly don't remember anyone even uttering the word in everyday conversation or having read it in a newspaper or magazine article during my first fifty-two years.

But now since the raid on and the elimination of Bin Laden the term lair has been used frequently in the last few weeks. So much so that I got tired of reading and hearing it. These other dregs of civilization did not have their domiciles relegated to lair status. They were only captured, killed or found dead in residences, hideouts, hideaways, camps, caves and even bunkers. They were never given the lofty "Lair."

Why is the cowardly, porn stash aficionado, secret tape pontificator that was tracked down been posthumously ordained to reside in a lair? To me the only man outside the James Bond and Austin Powers series' that truly had his own lair was the reclusive first billionaire Howard Hughes.

The question, now amplified, is why would I at this point start referring to my home as my lair. I kept hearing the ridiculous name being used and always cringed, until the other day when I looked at my own compound with high walls, razor wire, locked gates, bars on the windows, security, and my own desire not be bothered and said, screw it, why not?

I decided to embrace the idea that I also should reside in my own lair. Now since I have come to terms with that I can begin to enhance the concept. I can tighten security. I already have those who can run for food and supplies. I can bring in more office and communication equipment so as to work more without exposing myself. When I do have to leave, I can create basic disguises to cover my identity.

This is so easy I should have thought of it well before the individual took a bullet to the head. I am on my way to life as a mysterious recluse hold up in my own private lair. No one will be able to reach me, and once I'm established I will begin to leak information as to strange goings on inside the compound. I may even write a book as an instruction manual for those who would like to follow in my and Mr. Hughes' footsteps.

First though I want to send my bothersome houseboy Moses, who I am now keeping an extra eye on, to check the locks on all the gates and doors, a charge that he will repeat every hour on the hour while making sure my movies are queued up at all times.

For now, I will keep in touch until as such time in the future when I will simply fall off the.....

A good form of payment.
A good form of payment.

Paying the Doctor

Thoughts from Liberia

Today I paid a visit to my new Doctor in Monrovia. As the session was winding to a conclusion the assistant walked in and reminded the Doctor of a phone call.

The Doctor said, "Oh yes, I need to go pick up that goat."

I said, "Doctor, where I am from you don't hear that often."

The Doctor replied, "When you are good to your patients, they are good to you."

I nodded my head and smiled.

Street Carts

Thoughts from Liberia

Saw a guy pushing a small cart today. Looked like a square wooden box with wheels. It was painted blue and on the front is said, "Sweet Cow Meat." Has there ever been a more appetizing statement?

Children in Liberia

Janet, Blessing on her left, and kids from around the compound
Janet, Blessing on her left, and kids from around the compound
On a rampage.
On a rampage.

Elephant With an Ego

News From Liberia

It's often amusing to read stories in West Africa that are, well, somewhat strange. There are unsuspecting individuals getting shot with the African Magic Gun, villagers solving crimes because they "dreamed who did it" during the night, people placing "juju" on those they wish to control, this being just a few examples. In that light is a story that at the beginning seems like worthy news but gets a little off track towards the end. It leaves you wondering why the reporter would even go there. Surly they could have worded it so as to make sure the reader knows that what is being written is just silly hearsay and superstition. That is unless the reporter really believes, or, has another agenda.

The article is titled, "Elephant Attack Resurfaces in Rivercess." Rivercess is a county in Liberia with rich forest areas and abundant wildlife so seeing elephants is not unheard of and I'm  sure that every once and awhile they can get a little riled up when bothered. According to the article this elephant "was attacking civilians and vehicles plying the highways and villages." The reports were not independently confirmed but citizens were saying that the angry rampaging male elephant was causing serious problems attacking farmers and had also launched an attack on a logging company. Okay, now the story is going somewhere.

The article states that the logging company management had to scale back operations for fear of more attacks from the elephant. Apparently the beast was targeting the loggers. I wonder why? Quoting traditional leaders in the county the "wave of the male" elephant may have been the result of the killing of a female elephant, which was believed to be the wife of the male elephant causing the disturbances. I wish I could have been at that wedding. The traditional leaders also alleged that the elephant is annoyed at the way the female elephant was "slaughtered" by workers of the logging company. Really!!!

The article went on to report, "It can be recalled that about a month ago, elephant got on the rampage in Rivercess County and destroyed several villages and towns and even took the lives of some citizens and also attacked the facilities of a logging company." Now here comes the best part as the article winds to its conclusion, "Reports had it that the elephant attacked (sic) was the result of the refusal of the logging company to abide by the concession agreement that it would employed (sic) youth of the county and rehabilitate roads in its concessionaire, (sic) but failed to honor the agreement, something that made the elephant so vex it decided to stall the activities of the logging company."

This pachyderm clearly has political problems. He is very unhappy about how this logging company is treating the people of Rivercess County and he is not going to stand for these unscrupulous acts against the communities and villages. His initial actions caused the loggers to retaliate and apparently they took it out on his wife by offing her in something that might have been straight out of the "Godfather." I can see her severed head lying at the foot of her husband's resting place causing him to renew his round of violence.

It's clear to see. Rampaging elephant disturbing the whole county because some logging company would not do what they were supposed to. You want the real story? The people there are unhappy because the Government cut them out of the Government forest concession so they are causing problems and making up stories. Of course that short synopsis, even if it were expanded into an article, will not sell newspapers in West Africa.

Blessing
Blessing
New clothes
New clothes
Is this thing bigger than me head?
Is this thing bigger than me head?
Nice hair
Nice hair

Sometimes You Forget Where You Are - Stories from Liberia

If you grew up in the midwestern United States where I did you most likely remember how many times your parents told you, or you now you tell your kids, "Don't waste your food, there are starving kids in Africa." Maybe they sometimes referenced another part of the US, Mexico, or South America, but I think most people probably mention Africa when they say this to their kids.

Living in Africa as I do now it is easy to see that jobs and money are scarce so feeding the family is tough. Where I grew up food and shelter, the most basic neccesities of life, are mostly taken for granted. In West Africa there is a daily struggle for those basic elements.

In this light the houseboy I employee, Moses, is lucky. He did not have a place to live before coming to work for me. Moses was sleeping in the small guard shack at the house where he was employeed as a security guard. Sometimes he actually slept on top of the generator at night, even while it was running, so he could keep anyone from stealing the battery. Sleeping on the job, plus the battery ended up getting stolen anyway, got him sacked.

Now Moses lives in a small one room quarters with bath behind my residence. I charge him $10 per month on his $100 per month salary. The reason he is lucky is because if the one room was not there he wouldn't have a place, especially at the rent I charge. On the other hand Leroy the young security guy that also works for me does not have a place to live. Where does Leroy sleep? He sleeps on the ground under the carport overhang inside my compound. Oh yeah, I don't charge him rent, but then he only makes $60 a month.

Leroy has a safe place to stay, food I supply, soap and place to wash his clothes; plus he has a job. Because of this last element Leroy is one up on most young people in Libreia. He has a job! Also Leroy is a hard worker, doesn't complain or get attuide which is sometimes a problem with Moses. This week I'm paying for a small mattress for Leroy. It will be a little more comfortable for him then the pavement.

The final piece of this picture is that Moses has a daughter named Blessing. Blessing was one and a half years old when she was brought back to Moses by her mother. She did this I believe in hopes that we would, to some degree, help take care of her child. Blessing's mother is like lots of young mothers here, they have a baby, are not married and don't really have the means to take care of the child so they do the best they can. The father usually can't help much and even if they can they sometimes don't. Having Moses working for me presented her with an opportunity to have Blessing be in a place were there was a stable amount of, back to the basics, food and shelter. If some clothing and other neccessities resulted so much the better.

I have to point out that Blessings Mother is not an unfit mother or villain here by any means. There are many young mothers who hand their babys off to parents, grandparents, aunts, cousins and even friends because they can't take care of the child. Those who take them seem to do so willingly as part of the natural course of how life works here. The question can be asked as to why I don't just give Moses more money so he can give it to her to take care of the baby or take care of Blessing himself. The answer, NO FUCKING WAY. The money, whole or partically, would be eaten before it went to help Blessing.

So now, due to Moses not being the father of the year or having the extra means to take care of Blessing, I provide her with food, clothing, medicine, and, since she developed a rash on her arms and back, have her sleep in the main house instead of the no fan, no electricity one room with Moses. This is fine with Moses and the fact is that he does his part in watching and taking care of Blessing as does Leroy. Everybody helps and although I provide the funds and do my part with watching and caring for Blessing the credit for 99.9% of all this is my wife Janet.

Janet has taken Blessing in and from the time she arrived as a scranny child to now as the kid who I referrer to as, "The Human food Processor," and "A Water drinking machine," Janet has taken her under her wing to feed, care for, teach, nurse, cloth, discipline and make sure she has what any child wants or needs, at least under the conditions provided.

The other day though is when I forgot where I was. I gave Blessing a slice of bread and butter in the morning, something I was scolded for doing prior to her face being washed, of which Blessing ate half then accidently dropped the remainder on the floor. I looked at Blessing and started to say it, "Blessing don't waste food, there are starving kids in....................oh, wait Blessing, never mind.

You see it everyday. You deal with it everyday. You are a part of it everyday, and still sometimes you forget where you are.

You Want Me to Pay or Else, Or Else What

Stories from Liberia

It's always gratifying to receive a shut off notice by the power company. If your bill is not paid by (Date Here) your power, will be shut off. A reconnection charge of (Amount Here) is applied once payment has been received. Please disregard this notice if payment has been made.

It's downright enjoyable to receive the shut off notification when you never received a statement in the first place, all though you have been begging for it. "Can I please have a bill, so I know how much to pay, so you don't come and shut it off without me knowing?"

In Liberia, there is truly no mail delivery system. What system they have is risky to the point that no one would dare use it for critical mail. There is no statement coming in the mail. What the energy and water companies do is dispatch someone round to give each house its bill. They are not quite on top of this situation when someone new moves in or a new meter is hooked up.

What you then see is no indication of a bill until the 24 hour shut off notice is delivered, somehow this always finds you. At that point, there is no time to amend the bill if it may be wrong. You pay that day or the power is shut off and good luck after that. If you moved into a house that was occupied by someone who didn't pay the month prior, guess what, your going to have to pay that amount also to continue having power. Having the meter put into your name is not possible until the earlier statement has been satisfied. There is no down payment plan so the previous tenant is not on the hook, why pay the last month. Let the next guy worry about that.

Here is the best part. As may be guessed, I received a shut off notice four days before. It just so happens a second meter was installed in the two apartment house a month back to take two readings. The shut off notice was for the existing meter from the last upstairs tennet. No one knows, the landlord, myself or my new upstairs neighbor, who has the latest and previous meter. The old meter has $571.00 in arrears. The upstairs tenet thinks he has the latest meter, to which no statement or shut off notice has been sent. So who owes what? Who's power is on the line here. Who is going to have to pay and how much? What is the landlord responsible for? (He'll not want to pay for anything, by the way.)

Are you asking who had their power disconnected? Who knows? Why, because the power in the Mamba Point area has already been off for seven (7) days. That's right, "Dear Sir, we are going to shut off your power if you don't pay this bill in 24 hours." "Okay, disconnect it off morons, the power is already off. I have my two generators so who cares!" If managed the fuel for the generators will be about the same expense as the power, just a little more attention.

Naturally no one knows why the national power went off in the first place, what the continuous problem is or when it might come back on. Once that does happen, if ever, who's meter will be disconnected? I think we'll find out, and another war will begin.

Liberia Civil War

Liberia, West Africa

Welcome to Liberia
Welcome to Liberia

Sierra Leone Timber Corruption

What are the odds that something will actually come out of this investigation by US politicians. I'll bet nothing. It will not stop the illegal logging nor the degradation of the forests in Sierra Leone.

The environmental problems regarding the forests areas decreasing in Sierra Leone are not due to logging companies, but are the result of unfettered slash and burn methods for local use, the continued exportation for local market lumber, and most of all the lack of a reforestation plan that is impossible to implement due to local Chiefs, District Councils, Parliamentarians, and local officials all wanting to do their own thing.

Their own thing is of course to cut timber to their own benefit, their own pocket, while at the same time spouting on about protecting the forests from logging companies. This cuts out the competition for them and prevents reforestation efforts that is so vital to a logging companies Best Forestry Management Practices.

This investigation will also do nothing to stop the rampant corruption across the board in Sierra Leone. The US, World Bank, and other organizations do send millions of dollars to Sierra Leone. I don't see that changing just because of a little timber corruption, that by the way has been going on for decades.

Go to the 3:00 minute mark on the video. The log the man is chainsawing into a square has a green OR on the end. All logs harvested are marked. That is one of our logs in Masingbi. "TAAKOR." None of this was done with our consent. We were denied the ability to harvest in our own concession and forced out.

Who is profiting from this log? Not us, the timber company. Who paid to build the road, harvest that log, scale and merchandise it, market it, and transport it. Not the guy cutting it into a square? He is working for a local concern that may even being exporting the square illegally, with the help of corrupt officials.

Anyway, good luck Congressman.


Sierra Leone's So Called Timber Industry - Problems in Sierra Leone

This Video gives an account of problems with the Sierra Leone Timber Industry. The only thing is, it does not get to the root of the problem, which is that Sierra Leone does not want a real Timber Industry. If they had a real Timber Industry it would stop all those who profit through their unlawful activities.

When the narrator goes to Masingbi to interview a local activist they are sitting in our log yard, TAAKOR's, log yard. They talk of illegal loggers. Not true, we were logging legally in our own concession granted by the Government of Sierra Leone. When they breached their agreement with TAAKOR and banned logging we stopped. At the same time, people stole wood from our concession but the Government did nothing about it.

Finally, we forced to move to another area in an attempt to work elsewhere. The concession still belongs to TAAKOR. We did not take the good wood and leave wood that we didn't want. All the wood there was good wood, otherwise we would have not spent hundred's of thousands of dollars to move it there. Sierra Leone forests are being lost not to ligament logging companies but to the corrupt government officials and the illegal people who are allowed to do whatever they want.


A Friendly Meeting at the Police Station

Stories From Sierra Leone

Our workers were not getting paid, and although no one in Sierra Leone believed it at the time, the fact of the matter was that we always wanted that to be rectified as quickly as possible, why wouldn’t we?

I put that question to people all the time. Why would Mark and I want to hold back money from workers? What possibly could come from it other than problems, grief, hardship, and danger for us? There was nothing to be gained, because there was no money, especially going in our pocket, or anybody else’s for that matter.

All the plans we made, all our preparations to sell and export wood, all the financing we arraigned, always included paying workers. Along with fuel and parts, the workers were most important to getting product moved. Without them it would never happen.

Each time we were ready to push forward, the Government threw another road block in our way, and the funds needed from sales could not come. In any rigged game, the unchecked cheater will always win.

The problem, at the beginning of 2009, was that we had a plan to pay the workers and we put it in writing. This was a step we always previously refused to take, but on this occasion we were pressured into specifying a date by the Labor Department. We never should have done it, and we never did again. We had a plan in place for funds, but as usual the forces against us pushed back our time table. The date for the worker payments was fast approaching.

By this time we were mostly holed up at our Frasor Street Apartment having already endured mass protests at the Circular Road offices, even having our staff held hostage. A smaller faction of the workforce wanted their long awaited salaries and was not going to let staff leave until they got it. When we finally reached a settlement over the phone they still refused to allow our accountant to leave to come get the cash.

The payment looming was to a much larger group of workers, who were also more radical. They were remints from the monster created by the King of Jui. Once we realized the funds would not arrive in time we began putting out the word through some of our staff to try to soften the blow. We would keep pushing, keep working, keep trying, but we would not be able to make the date. When the payment date arrived they sent two representatives to meet with me at our apartment.

Initially, I refused to see them. I knew nothing could come from it. But then a group begin showing up outside the main entrance that began disturbing the entire apartment complex. It was not looking good. I let the two representatives come up and made sure to let them know I was not happy about what was taking place outside.

They explained their side. The workers they represented did not want to take no for an answer. I said to them, “what good can I do, because no is the answer.” It could not be any other way. I can’t give them something I don’t have right now.

As the worker representatives, they were also under pressure so they begged for me to go talk to those outside. They said that if the workers heard it from me personally they would be more inclined to believe it and not accuse their own reps of cutting a deal for small money.

Usually I didn’t have a problem talking to the workers but I was very hesitant this time. I asked the two, how many were out there now. They said only about ten or twelve. They begged again to help them out, to explain it in person.

I talked it over with Mark and decided to go out. I got outside and began walking the fifty or so meters to the gate and I could hear them arguing and clamoring about outside. I motioned for security to open the smaller gate door. Just as I stepped through a large roar arose as they rushed toward me.

Although it was somewhat a blur I could see most had their copy of the dated agreement and were waving it at me. There were way more than ten or twelve, more like thirty or forty. I was not going to stop and count.

My mind screamed, fuck this, and I moved to step back through the gate door. No way. Two or three blocked me and pushed me away, two or three others grabbed me from behind and pulled. I pulled back but they resisted and pulled me down to the ground.

There I was, on my back outside the gate looking up at several angry Sierra Leone workers as they yelled at me while waving their arms and papers. I thought they may begin kicking and beating me so I quickly jumped to my feet. I was ready to be knocked back down, but it didn’t happen. They weren’t looking for blood, yet. I guess it might have only taken one to get that started by no one stepped forward.

When I stood up, I said nothing. What could I? I just stood there, raised my arms, and gave them a look of, well, what the fuck do you expect me to do now? Inside the gate, as I later understood, our house maid Kartimu was running back yelling, they have Mr. Jim, they have Mr. Jim! I decided that doing nothing was the best course of action. I just stood there, shaking my head, as they continued to yell and argue with each other. I scowled at the two that had met with me upstairs and said thanks, thanks a lot.

After a few minutes I felt things had calmed enough that I could call Mark on the cell phone without someone grabbing it from me. I was not going to be allowed to leave so I was indeed being held hostage. Mark said that the police were coming and he was calling the Vice President. Later he communicated to me that the Deputy Minister of Labor was going to come down to help sort things out. Meanwhile the police arrived and I hung up the phone and said rather loudly to the two officers.

“I want you to arrest all these people for assault. All of them, I have witnesses. Arrest them right now, and allow me to go back inside.”

One of the officers said that the chief wanted us to go down the hill to the station so he could sort everything out.

“Why,” I replied. “I came out to talk to them and they assaulted me. Arrest them and then sort it out.”

After several more back and forth heated conversation I talked to Mark who told me the Deputy Minister of Labor would meet at the station to see what needed to be done. I again turned to one of the officers and said okay, let’s go, where’s the car? He looked at me like I had asked for a space ship. Of course there was no car, they had no cars, but I had to rub it in.

“You have no car? What are we supposed to do, walk down? You’re kidding me, you don’t have a car?”

No one was moving and the officers were not doing anything to encourage the mob in the direction up Frasor Street towards the Wilkenson Road Station. So, I pushed through the angry crowd and at a brisk pace begin the trek. The distance was about one mile I guess, give or take.

Once we got to the main road and began down the hill the mob had caught up and all the rest of the way several of them verbally abused me to the best of their ability all the way there. I wanted badly to respond but thought better of it. They clearly thought they had the upper hand and were going to get something from this maneuver.

I was pretty much given the label of the devil, among other things, by the time we got to the station. Once there, a couple of staff had arrived and the chief got the riled up workers in a group around him outside, the station was way too small for everyone to fit inside. He asked what the issues were and let the workers vent and ramble. I stood outside the group while our Chief Financial Officer, Albert, explained our side. I was looking for my chance to slip out and away.

When the Deputy Minister arrived we had to go inside, but with only just a few of the workers, although it was hell of a time try to keep that number low. I explained our situation and what happened. The workers told their side and their struggles. I have to say here that the Deputy Minister was basically an asshole, especially towards us, and he would rear his ugly head later, but for today he told the workers that this was not the way they needed to solve the problem. They couldn’t just grab someone to get what they wanted.

They of course were disappointed and not happy at all. A couple of them just threw their papers on the ground. I could say I mustered my inner Bill Clinton and, “Felt their pain,” but at that particular time, with the argument still somewhat on the upswing, I was looking for my escape. Nothing more I could say or do. I told everyone I was going outside to use the phone and when one of our staff drove up I waved him over and said take me to home, quickly.

The battles between us, the workers, and the Government were finished for this day, and I avoided getting the shit kicked out of me, or going to jail. Not too bad, I guess.

Tiger’s Illegal Logging

Stories From Sierra Leone

Tiger, with his Chinese partner Mike Gou in tow, came to Taakor with a proposal, and a plan. He knew all too well the difficulties Taakor and others were having in the timber business in Sierra Leone.

Towards the end of 2008 several containers of timber were at the Queen Elizabeth II River Quay Port in Freetown. It was wood harvested, processed, and transported, all under the table. This type of activity had been going on for some time but now those attempting to do legal business with approved timber licenses began filing complaints.

It’s difficult, not to mention unfair, competing with someone who is exporting without a license, proper documents, legal agreements, and thus are not paying fees and taxes. It adds insult to injury when they are stealing wood from your own concession while doing it.

The complaints eventually led to the newly elected President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bi Koroma, who went to the port to personally inspect the illegal containers. As a result, he imposed a ban on all logging activities that included the legal companies approved to operate.

The punch to the gut for these companies, including Taakor, was that the real culprits were government officials in the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS), and specifically it’s Forestry Department.

During the Presidents inspection, it was discovered that some of the containers of wood belonged to Tiger and Mike. Tiger was nowhere to be found at this time, most likely because he was tipped off, but Mike was around. I’m not sure if Tiger couldn’t warn Mike or if he just left him twisting, but Mike Gou was arrested.

He was only incarcerated a short time as the courts told the government that there were no criminal stipulations along with the ban that had been imposed. The Judge told them that there was no law on the books for the charges, and even of there was there was no recommended sentencing.

Tiger and Mike were as responsible as anyone for the initial ban on logging that stymied Taakor’s ability to harvest timber and sell logs. From there, the investors lost confidence and the struggle began. We were told behind the scenes that the ban would be short while MAFFS put new logging policies in place. We continued to operate due to those promises. The ban was not short, it lasted eight months.

When the President finally lifted the ban, the new logging polices were not in line with our concession agreement. The main sticking point was that we now were not allowed to export round logs, and instead forced to speed up our timetable for processing wood. We did not have sawmills or necessary labor to ramp up that phase of operations.

On top of that, we had too much production equipment and workforce for supplying just one or two mills, a waste of machines and money. Our solution for this problem was to seek out those who had sawmilling capability and work agreements to supply them wood for processing, or contract with them to process for our customers.

Tiger saw this opportunity and beat a path to our doorstep. Tiger and Mike had one sawmill, but they needed a place to set it up, a supply of wood, and most important some money to make it all happen quickly. We had already come to the realization that in order to get any of these potential sawmilling partners into production, Taakor was going to have to help them.

We entered into discussions with groups from India, Serbia, Ukraine, Tunisia, Nigeria, China, and of course various Sierra Leone groups. Tiger was by far the most aggressive of the bunch.

Although Tiger was no better or worse as far as his capabilities, he was not as sophisticated as some of the others. He was much more wily, savvy, and street smart. Tiger’s advantage was that he continued to offer help to us in other areas beyond sawmilling.

We did work with more than one group but funds were secured for Tiger to install his mill at our log yard in Masingbi just outside our concession area. This was a prime spot because we had over 10,000 cubic meters of wood there, waiting to be processed.

As time went on and our fight with the Government over our concession agreement was nowhere near resolution, we again found another solution to our sawmilling problem, in Kenema, about three to four hours from Masingbi. These plans did not include Tiger, as he was becoming more of a problem than a help. His operation, and his big plan to piggyback off Taakor, as well as become our parasite, was now in trouble.

Tiger pleaded to move his mill to Kenema but he was not needed, or wanted there. He tried to discredit and bad mouth the Frenchman we were working alongside, to no avail.

Tiger recognized another opportunity when two of the investors came to Sierra Leone to get an update on progress, one of them being the main financier. Tiger regaled them, not with charm, but with cold strategic lies and misinformation as to his capabilities and what he could quickly produce to generate revenue.

Unfortunately, they bought it, over the constant warnings to be careful of Tiger and not to deal with him from the United States. Mark had attempted to make it clear that the way forward was in Kenema where there was not only a saw mill, but Community Forest Concessions where we could work without the Government’s extra land taxes and other restrictions. There we also had a partner with customers.

The Kenema operation would take some time to develop, especially with the rainy season coming. It was an overall plan based on establishing cash flow and getting returns on Taakor’s initial huge investment. Tiger’s operation was for smaller and, supposedly, quicker cash flow. The quicker part of that we knew was debatable and the cash flow part we knew was questionable at best, not the cash, but the flow.

Without our knowledge, our hands-on investor, and Company President Ed, opted to allow Tiger a free hand to process the logs in stock and sell to his local customers while Mark moved forward in Kenema.

Mark and I washed our hands of Tiger for the time being to work on what was really the main goal, although I had to attempt to hold Tiger accountable for what he was doing. I was four hours away from Masingbi so that was pretty much impossible.

What we did not know at the time was that the investor had done exactly what we warned him against. He kept up his conversations with Tiger once he was back in the States. There is one absolute in West Africa, and I guess most anywhere in the world, you cannot run an operation, let alone a company, from half way around the world.

Tiger was running out of desirable wood to process and although we could not harvest in our concession due to our ongoing negations with Forestry and the local District Council, Tiger convinced Ed that there were areas he could fell trees around the concession to supply his mill with the species he needed. He would just get the Chief of each area’s consent, allegedly.

Given the okay, Tiger cut trees, up until the day he called me to meet him outside one of the Government Buildings, where most of the Ministers offices were located. He told me in the parking lot that one local Honorable in the area around our concession had reported him to the Forestry Officers. Then in turn brought the police and halted his harvesting. He said it was all a political ploy by the Honorable because he wasn’t getting any money.

My first action was to say, so what, just stop what you should have not been doing anyway. He then told me that they had seized the skidders he was using. That was a problem, especially since neither I nor Mark had knowledge of their use. Tiger then told me that Ed and authorized him to use them.

Next came the best part, Tiger informed me that they had worked into the concession area, and that Forestry Officials were going to investigate Taakor for illegal logging.

“Great Tiger,” I said, “that’s great.”

Tiger told me that he decided to take an aggressive approach and told the Forestry officials yes, he was logging and may have been in the concession area, but that this was their fault because they themselves had pushed Taakor, its workers, and partners to the brink.

Somehow this tactic had worked to a degree. Tiger was the master of bullshitting his way out of his own problems. I’m sure he either used the hint of corruption, or pulled someone to the side to explain how they could benefit by not pushing the illegal logging. My guess was that person was the newly hired Technical Advisor at MAFFS, Dr. Turay.

Later I learned it was a little of both, but more of the second. Dr. Turay had told Tiger that they needed to conduct an investigation and that I would have to meet with the panel for questioning.

“Great Tiger,” I said, “that’s great, and you are going with me.”

A few days later, I walked up the stairs of the Ministers Building and entered the conference room, a place I had been several times before. Across the large table were five men. I didn’t recognize any of them but Taakor was always a big target at MAFFS anyway. I’m sure some were from the Ministry of Trade and Industry as well.

To my left at the head of the table were four more, including the Technical Advisor Dr. Turay, the Deputy Minister, and Forestry Director Mr. Manseray. After a few minutes two more people joined the group. It must have been a slow morning at the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Food Security.

For our side there was me. Oh, and Tiger was there so as I said, for our side there was me. Tiger sat next to me but for all intents and purposes I could have just brought a truck bumper. I believe he uttered about seven to ten words throughout the two hour plus meeting.

Dr. Turay, trying to establish himself at MAFFS I’m sure, had indeed been in charge of the investigation. He was a smart and articulate guy who had just moved back to Sierra Leone from somewhere in Europe, Germany I believe. He also was the chair of the meeting.

He began by having everyone introduce themselves. When all the officials finally finished, I woke up, stood up, and said who I was. Tiger also mumbled something. At that point Mr. Manseray, someone we dealt with regularly and who knew our situation very well, took the floor. I expected him to be a little sympathetic.

I was wrong. His roll at the meeting was to lay out all the bad things Taakor had been accused of doing, and he delivered as if we were guilty of the all. Mr. Manseray began with the first time I wet the bed as a small child and proceeded from there. He spoke a long time, so long that many of the officials attending got up and walked out never to return.

When Director Manseray finally finished Dr. Turay asked if I had any replies to Mr. Manseray’s comments. I again woke up, but this time did not stand, and began by saying, “I guess you guys have just completely forgotten the fact that we have invested millions and millions of dollars. That we built and maintained roads, dug wells, built churches, contributed money, and hired hundreds of people, all while you have not honored the agreement you signed with us.”

I went on, “We have worked and fulfilled social responsibilities but you stopped us, and we have not made on dollar since being here because of you, not us. There was silence. I hesitated, and then continued addressing many of Mr. Manseray’s points, when I finished, Tiger mumbled something.

At the end Dr. Turay took control and finally delved into many of the problems that the government had placed on us and although we were reprimanded I didn’t have to go to jail and there were no monetary penalties or suspension of our timber license. What good would that have done anyway, they weren’t allowing us to work.

All and all it was a stressful experience and something I would not want to go through again, having a country call you to the carpet and accuse you of illegal logging. Tiger went back to his small operation to begin to scheme his next moves, and for a short time we didn’t bother with him.

Tiger would rear his head again later concerning the transportation, but his leverage with the investor was finished. Ed finally understood and didn’t take Tiger’s calls again. This of course did not mean he would stop meddling or try to run things from the US. It only meant he didn’t do it as much.

Tiger and Mike Gou’s proposal and big plans netted Tiger some money but in the end, it did not work out as well as Tiger hoped.

Tiger and the Stolen Truck

Stories From Sierra Leone

Mr. Eid was not the only source for extra avenues to make money while we fought with the Government of Sierra Leone over being able to harvest timber. There were always various parties coming to us with schemes to put our heavy equipment and trucks to use.

Some of our own staff were interested in bringing contractors and individuals who claimed to have projects for road construction, truck transport, dump truck transport (usually sand), and various construction jobs. Most of the time these people were nothing but small timers who wanted to say they had accesses to our equipment to get the contract, a waste of our time.

One person we were already working with on a sawmilling operation in Mashingbi was a Sierra Leone born Lebanese called Tiger. Tiger was not his real name, and Tiger was his real name. The reason I say this is because his Lebanese name literally meant Tiger.

There were so many people we dealt with that had various strange nicknames, shortened names, tribal names, and various official titles that I never wasted time asking about them or their meanings. I had enough problems already, and keeping that stuff straight did not need to be added.

Tiger was tall with a dark complexion and a very solemn and stern disposition. He was stoic and spoke in a low deep voice with a heavy Lebanese accent. He talked cryptically and liked to use the phrase, “from A to Zed.” He also substitute the word “we” for the word “us,” saying things like, “once they can’t go anywhere else, then they will then have to come back to we.”

To say he was into many things was an understatement and he originally came to us with a younger Chinese partner named Mike Gou, who spoke very little English. I don’t know how they hooked up but Tiger and Mike were always together, and then suddenly they were not.

Later we found out they had been caught with newly banned wood and Mike was arrested, probably unjustly. He got off when they figured out that even if the new law was already legally on the books, which it wasn’t, there was no sentence to impose so they couldn’t hold him.

There was one funny incident with Tiger, funny for me at least. We had been invited to a party upstairs by our neighbor Akin George Taylor, the MD of GT Bank in Sierra Leone. We owed him two million USD so we figured if he invited us we should show up. We invited Tiger to go with us.

There were lots of guest and lots of drink. Tiger the stoic imbibed, and proceeded to get somewhat un-stoic as the evening went on. I lost track of him after a while. Later I needed to use the men’s room, so I make my way to the hall restroom next to the front door. It was a small guest restroom.

I knocked slightly and opened the door. Right in front of me was Tiger, on his knees in front of the toilet, taking up almost the entire room, paying homage to the round porcelain throne. He turned his head and looked at me, although I doubt he recognized or even saw me. I sternly stated for the record, “sorry,” shut the door, laughed to myself and said, “That’s right, fuck him.”

Tiger was able set up his sawmill operation, but he helped with various other problems having to do with the courts, police, and various political concerns. He was a resourceful guy but another character that you had to keep an eye on. He always had his own agenda. An example was when he used his contacts for hiring our trucks and flatbed trailers to transport goods up country and back.

We already knew that transport could be a good business but needed the contacts and someone to monitor it while we, as always, were focused on wrangling with the Forestry Department, Ministry of Agriculture, APC Party, and Government of Sierra Leone to allow our timber business to operate.

Tiger got some transport deals going and put a guy in place to oversee the few trucks we gave him to manage. As usually happens, the initial runs and loads went well. We made some money and were hopeful, if not yet confident, that this business would help us.

Also as usual, as time went on we began to notice that the transport runs began to take longer and longer with the revenue actually decreasing more and more. Something was amiss, askew, and pretty much rotten.

I decided to pay a visit to Mr. Lamin, our guy that watched the truck lot we had in Kissy. Mr. Lamin was a good guy who always seemed to try hard but was sometimes pushed around by those who would lord a little more influence over him, perceived or real. It didn’t matter if we told him he was in charge or should tell someone no, he just didn’t always have the fortitude to influence them.

I told Mr. Lamin to have Tiger’s guy meet me there so I could question him on what the trucks were doing. I wanted to see his accounting of what was happening. He was late of course and his figures, written in long hand, did not add up.

I questioned, accused, and threatened to shut everything down, but Tiger called and said he would handle him. I said okay and told him that if it wasn’t straightened out we were done with the whole operation. We couldn’t have our trucks taking the ware and tare and getting small money for it.

After that meeting the guy Tiger was going to handle disappeared, the trucks runs did not. We began to rain them in as quickly as possible and stop the entire operation. Tiger was blaming his guy for going rouge, and I got word his guy was blaming him for orchestrating the whole thing. No doubt it was a combination and they were in on it together.

One of the trucks was up country, apparently in the Kono District, running loads back and forth for a couple of weeks. Tiger blamed the driver, blamed some of our other staff, and said his man was not being allowed to control it. Meanwhile his man, who had disappeared from us, was still collecting the last of the revenue from remaining runs before the shutdown of operations.

First thing we did, put an arrest warrant out on his man, and told Tiger. He didn’t object because he knew he could contact the police and get them to stand down. But, we still wanted to send the message. We then put an arrest out for the truck driver and delivered the documents showing ownership so the police could stop and hold the truck.

A few days later I got a call Mr. Lamin and Robert Koroma saying that the truck had been spotted carrying a load of scrap metal. The fact that Robert was there was suspicious. We told them to call the Kissy Police and get out there. Sure enough they found the guy at the delivery point and detained him. Once the scrap metal was unloaded they had the truck and driver taken to the station where they detained and questioned him.

According to the driver he was instructed to do the transport loads up country by Tiger’s guy. Tiger said this was not the case and again blamed the driver for taking direction from some of our staff trying to move in on the money. We mainly wanted the truck back and we would just sack the driver. After a couple of hours I got the word that the police were releasing the truck and trailer.

About thirty minutes later Robert Koroma called back and gave me the news.

“Well, you know, they, ah, released the truck, but the driver, he, he, got back in and took off and headed up country again.”

“What? How could that happen? Didn’t you, or they, or someone take the keys from him?”

“Well, we didn’t have anyone, you know, to drive the truck back to the truck lot. So we told him he needed to drive it back and we would follow him, but he took off towards up country.”

“Why in god’s name would you do that? You gave him back the keys? He should be in jail and you gave him back the keys. Great, fuck me.”

I could say I was stunned but in reality nothing stunned me at that point. I just went to my default reaction of yelling and hanging up the phone. So Tiger was partly right, our staff was in on it, which they all denied and blamed Tiger. They were all in on it, Tiger, his guy taking direction from him, and our staff.

We again pressed to have the truck located and eventually got it back. Nothing happened to the driver, other than getting sacked by us, but hell he wasn’t getting paid by us then anyway. We continued to press the arrest on Tiger’s guy but were always told there was no sighting of him.

One day after being told that, I was sitting in the passenger seat of my Toyota Hilux stuck in traffic on Kissy Road. A motor bike was going the opposite way and had a familiar looking back seat rider. It was Tiger’s guy.

I turned my head and watched him literally ride west on Kissy Road into the evening sunset. “No sightings of him huh,” I said out loud. I had his number and tried it. He answered and I said, I just fucking saw you, and hung up. No need for a wasted conversation, enough time and money had already been spent.

Mr. Than’s Mighty Elixir

Stories From Sierra Leone

Most of my life, or at least my adult life, I’ve had a problem. About once every twelve to sixteen months I get sick with the flu. It will mostly happen when I make the long trip home from Africa to Kansas City. The time spent in the air on these trips is usually about eighteen to twenty hours depending on which cities I fly through.

This is not the total travel time as I count it, and most importantly how my body counts it. I have to endure all the preparation and long drives to the airport before even boarding.

All that coupled with the stress of delayed flights, airport crowds, airport security screening, standing while waiting to board, and worst of all, the fact that I can’t sleep on planes, runs my body down. The final injustice to my health is the six or seven hour time difference.

The end result is a body that is ripe for any virus that may seek to invade. When it happens, I’m down for a week, sick, and with a terrible case of bronchitis. The result is an unpleasant heavy coughing to get rid of everything built up in my chest. It sucks, and no matter what medical steps I take, it is only the element of time that ultimately rids the sickness.

Unfortunately, that is not the end of the suffering. For some reason my body does not recover from the bronchitis well. I feel fine except the production of excess flem continues to occur. This means that I continue coughing deeply, for about four to six weeks. I can’t carry on conversations without coughing. I can’t laugh without coughing. I can’t get to sleep without coughing.

I’ve talked to doctors about this and have been basically told that some people don’t recover as quickly. So either I’m one of those, or the doctors I’m talking to are quacks. Nothing has worked to shorten the bronchitis clock.

During this period of agony everyone I come into contact with knows my problem. They hear the deep cough. They experience the interruptions in conversation. They are bothered by the noise and distraction.

They also try to give me solutions. Suggestions range from what foods to eat, herbs to add, special remedy drinks to sip, and medicine to take. None work, but I keep trying.

Because I have an open mind to suggestions, I encountered one remedy that incorporated all of the above, and more. It was presented to me by a business associate, Mr. Than. Mr. Than was a Vietnamese businessman sent to Sierra Leone, and later Liberia, to buy wood and have it shipped back home to Viet Nam.

His efforts, and others he worked with, resulted in some, let’s say, semi nefarious transactions. To this day I’m still not sure if by the time we left Sierra Leone he owed us money, or we owed him. It depends on if you look at the deal from the left, or the right; up, or down, so to speak.

Mr. Than however was a generally really nice guy. He didn’t speak very much English so he always had someone with him as a driver and translator. Of course this person always tried to take advantage, attempting to get me to agree to add some benefit for his own pocket, as soon as Than stepped away from the conversation. His approaches were always met with harsh rebuffs from me.

Mr. Than had a disability that cause a limp, and he had a lazy face on one side. After I got to know him he explained that he had been in a bad accident several years before. He shared some pictures with me of his younger days. He had been and expert in martial arts. We did have several good, although somewhat awkward, conversations.

It was during one of our meetings that Mr. Than presented me with a gift. He had experienced my fits of deep heavy red faced coughing. He had expressed concern on one particular occasion, or maybe just got tired of it, and the next visit he proudly presented it to me, his own specially concocted medical formula.

This elixir was a home remedy. He stored it in a used bottle that I could tell formally contained some brand of cheap whiskey. It was sealed, loosely, with a metal screw on top that was covered with some translucent tape, like Scotch Tape, only not as good. The tape was used because the metal top was not the correct size. It could be pulled off without unscrewing.

Mr. Than proclaimed that this was the remedy for all sickness. He told me I must drink one glass twice pre day without fail. Then, all would be cured. The elixir was medium brown in color and had some green herbs, or plants floating at the bottom. I didn’t even ask what was in it. Mr. Than encouraged me to open the bottle and take my first dose.

I pulled off the top, tape and all, and smelled. It had a pungent odor that ranged somewhere between a strong cough syrup and straight grain alcohol. I hesitated and looked at him trying not to twist my face too much. He encouraged again. I poured about one fourth standard glass full. He said no, more. I poured half glass. He said no. I poured three-fourth a glass full and was not going any further. He nodded his approval and motioned for me to drink.

I drank. I did not sip. I took a full gulp. My heavenly god! I almost went to my knees. It burned. I should have taken a sip. I’ve downed shots of alcohol in different brands, and none were of this magnitude, but this was not alcohol. The taste was not so vile that it made me want to gag, spit it out, or vomit. It was just a strong, strong burning taste in my mouth and throat.

Apparently, the different herbs used to concoct this all-inclusive medical marvel were to not only the cause for the strong taste and burning sensation, but also were the ingredient that attacked the sickness. In any case I really didn’t think it would work, but as I mentioned, I was up to give anything a try, and who knows, if it worked maybe I could become rich. I wasn’t holding my breath, except when Mr. Than encouraged me finish the glass.

I will admit that I did have another glass later that day, as prescribed by Dr. Mr. Than, and then had another the next morning. That was the last I could stand and never tasted it again. Maybe it would have worked but I decided to forgo the twice daily torcher and let old man time do the work no matter how long it would take. Besides, I don’t really know if Mr. Than was laughing at me as soon as he left, and all the way home. Ha,ha. Stupid American, drinking that stuff and thinking it will help him.

The next time Mr. Than came over, he brought another bottle. I guess he really cared, or really loved the trick. I told him thanks because I was almost finished with the first one. So I lied to the nice man, who was doing everything to back door us in wood business anyway. After he left I put the second bottle in the upper cabinet next to the first, far out of reach.

I thought about putting it out to try and kill mice or bugs; even roaches might have crocked on that stuff, maybe self-combusted. Ultimately, I did think of the best way to get rid of it, besides disrespecting Than’s generosity by pouring it down the drain. I carefully doled it out the same way I feared he was using it, for shear enjoyment.

Whenever someone I knew well stopped over, especially if they were looking for a drink, I invited them to have a taste of something different, something unique, something from the far away and mysterious orient, Mr. Than’s mighty elixir.

It did not matter if they took a sip, or a bigger gulp. I would always howl with laughter at the sight of their distorted faces as they quickly moved the glass of magic medical potion away from their mouth and recoiled. It was the worst thing they ever tasted and they refused even one smaller sip. I cherished every moment of it.

Once after signing an agreement with Mr. Than, we took a picture shaking hands together, I suspect for him to send to his company as proof is progress, but I lost it and really wished I hadn’t. I also wish I had a couple of bottles of that elixir; it turned out to be great fun. Thanks Mr. Than.

Mr. Eid And The Guy With The Gold

Stories From Sierra Leone

Mr. Eid was an always problematic and elusive character. On the one hand, he was experienced at his business, road construction and excavation, while on the other he was hard to pin down on financial details and matters of accountability.

Eid was Sierra Leonean, but had spent so much time in the UK that he spoke with a British accent. For many people in Sierra Leone this gives the communicator an air of competence. For this and other reasons, Eid had a loyal following of workers that relied on him to provide jobs, and thus money. No matter how much he might be screwing them.

There was one major component to his business Eid lacked. He did not have equipment. By equipment, I’m referring to heavy equipment such as Bulldozers, Excavators, Road Graders, Dump Trucks, and Compactors. All needed to procure and complete road construction and the occasional earth moving projects.

Taakor Tropical Hardwood had the equipment Eid coveted. This meant that Mr. Eid was constantly at the door gauging our temperature for various projects he was pimping. Procured contracts, obtained through his usually overstated relationship with Taakor, were his offering at our table. Using Taakor’s equipment made these big money projects possible, with Eid taking his cut as the project manager of course.

Eid would secure the projects and of course use his people. He would manage the job and collect the money. He would bring Taakor its just deserts for renting him the equipment. It was always going to be big, big, big money, for everyone.

It’s important to remember that Taakor was in the Timber Business, not construction. Our focus was fighting the Government to grant us the ability to continue in the industry we made such a huge investment toward, Timber. But, we needed funds.

Managed correctly these projects could be a major boost. Hell, even those we fought with in the Forestry Department were pushing us to engage these projects, while they sorted out their every changing timber policies.

My favorite venture in this avenue involved rental of one of our excavators, a deal Eid brought us with Rub Sayie, a Pakistani company who was mining gold at their concession in the Northern Provence of Sierra Leone. Their concession was so far north that at the actual job site, cell phone communication was impossible. Eid used this to his advantage.

This particular project did not involve Eid’s hands on management, only to monitor the equipment usage and holding the Pakistanis accountable. As it usually worked with Eid, the first two weeks saw him bringing Taakor rental fees that made the ordeal worthwhile. Our main concern was that the excavator was being maintained properly.

After two weeks, Eid, and the rental fees, began to become sparse. Phone calls were returned but there was always an excuse. Eid was up country checking on another project. Eid was meeting with his partners or workers. Eid was sorting out a problem in another region of the country. And finally, Eid could not get a hold of the Pakistanis, no cell coverage.

This became his go to excuse for not being able to collect money from Rub Sayie. The main contact, Mohammed, either could not be reached or would not pick up his phone. Muhammed’s brother who ran the site could also not be reached. There were also the occasional stories of the excavator operator not showing up, or getting it stuck in the pond. These were all smoke screens as to why money was not coming.

After another two plus weeks I was able to wrangle the phone number for Mohammed’s brother from one of Eid’s associates. I’m sure the guy figured he was on the site and could not be reached. I called the number right away and shock of all shocks; he answered the phone on the first ring. I introduced myself and he said he was headed back to the site, but gladly gave me his brother’s number in Freetown.

I called that number, and shock of all shocks; he answered the phone on the first ring. This entire problem Eid said he was having tracking these guys down, well it took five minutes and two rings of the phone. Two hours later I was sitting down with Mohammed.

Mohammed was pleasant guy. He was from Pakistan but lived in South African with his white wife who was from there. But, as expected he was not all that forthcoming. We talked and decided to meet again at his house in Freetown.

After our initial meeting, over the next few days, I ran into Mohammed no less than five times. Mohammed at Mamba Point Restaurant, Mohammed at Atlantic Bar, Mohammed waving at me while in line at the British High Commission, and Mohammed with his wife and daughter at the coffee shop on Wilkinson Road. For a guy Eid could never track down, I was actually getting sick of running into him.

I ended up having the meeting with Mohammed and his brother at their house. I got there and found out the reason his brother was not up country was because they were having problems with their concession. The Department of Mines had stopped them from working. Along with his brother, there were several other members of their family at the house who had supposedly been working at the site.

I discovered this after the initial five minutes, when about ten guys in typical Mideast attire, each with thick black beards, came down the stairs and sat around me. None of them spoke, just stared at me, very uncomfortable. I wondered if I would soon be on the internet with a hood over my head. The meeting was due to information that our excavator was being used more than they were reporting and our suspicion that Eid’s operator, and Eid himself, were cohorts with them on this.

We weren’t happy with the arraignments. I wanted them to know it was either give us something right away or we pulled the machine out. Unfortunately for me, their tactics, on purpose or not, forced me to let’s say lighten up just a bit. I told Mohammed that we needed to be paid on a regular bases or we had to bring the excavator back and that he was not to deal with Eid again.

He of course blamed all misunderstandings and lack of payment on Eid. I really couldn’t argue too much with him because that was plausible. Eid would I already knew deny this and blame the Pakistanis. So, I quickly concluded, bowed to the group of not so friendly Middle East mystery men, and made my way out.

There was no change in their operations or the compensation to Taakor so we finally terminated the arraignment. With Eid’s operator there, it was not easy. As for Eid, about the time I finally met Mohammed, he more or less disappeared. He knew, that we knew, he was manipulating the deal to his end, and the Pakistanis were also benefiting.

Eid continued to be a thorn in our side but who there wasn’t. We dealt with him when we had to and ignored him when we didn’t. Later, just like everyone else in Sierra Leone Eid claimed that we owed him money, after all he skimmed from us. Just their way of deflecting, throw the light on the other guy while dancing around in the shadows.

As time went by I continued to run into Mohammed until I finally saw him at the helicopter terminal getting ready to leave with his wife and daughter. Unfortunately, I was not also leaving that day. I don’t know how their gold mining went from there but if I had to guess, I’m sure they continued to have problems. I know we did. They were just bump in our road.

Drugs in West Africa

Stories From Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone and most of West Africa it is very easy to get drugs. I’m not referring to illegal drugs, although I know they also are very accessible, especially if you just want to toke on weed. I’m talking about prescription medication.

In most of Africa a doctor can give you a prescription, written on his special prescription pad, but in reality it may as well be written on the front of your hat. Just go to the local pharmacy, ask for what you want, if they have it they will be glad to sell to you. The only question would be, is the drug real or a fake. Either way, it can be a dangerous proposition.

Ever since I hit forty years old I’ve had problems with pain in my joints. I guess most people begin feeling these types of ailments around that time in their lives. Getting out of bed begins getting more difficult as does standing up after sitting in a chair for a long time. Moving around in general gets harder and the body begins to tire quickly.

Arthritis, brought on by a combination of various injuries and other stresses over time is often the culprit. It’s an affliction that requires lifestyle adjustments that continue as you increase in age.

My particular problem point is my knees, especially walking down stars. I have no idea why going down is worse than climbing, but it got to the point that I cannot make it down a flight of stars without holding onto the railing and moving slightly sideways, like a crab. The knee joints just don’t want to cooperate without eliciting a grinding pain.

I have tried many different remedies with various results, mostly of minimal help. After taking recommended pills, or applying promising rubs or balms, instead of my mind telling my body it should feel better, the opposite happens. I’m always so convinced that these treatments will not work, I don’t even give them a chance.

Not long after arriving in Sierra Leone I noticed that my knees were feeling worse. When I took a trip to Chorthems Hospital for a physical, I told the doctor about my affliction. He looked at them, felt and squeezed, had me walk while he observed, and asked some basic questions. The end result, he prescribed a particular medication in 50 milligram dosages to be taken once per day that he said would relieve the pain. I don’t remember the exact spelling but I believe it was Diclaphen.

I stopped at the hospital pharmacy, or booth as it more accurately resembled, and gave the guy the prescription. He gave me a small box of pills packaged in plastic sealed pouches. As soon as I got home I downed one with some food per the pharmacy booth attendant’s instructions. My mind was again made up that there would be no improvement.

The following day, I was flying high. I felt little pain; up the stairs, down the stairs, all around the stairs. I was ready to run the mile, or join a pickup game of full court basketball. I couldn’t believe it; I had found the miracle drug. I decided not to jump for joy too much as it was only one day, although I could have jumped if I wanted.

I followed the daily dosage and each day the result was the same, very little pain if any at all. I was satisfied. When the supply ran out I went back to the pharmacy and refilled no fuss, no muss, and no prescription needed.

When it was time for my third refill the pharmacy did not have a supply. I persevered, and came back in a couple of days but my pain relief efforts were fruitless. After a week, I was checking around town for anyone that might have my pills. Pain can be a motivating factor, but the promise of an avenue to no pain, even more so.

I did not have any luck until I stopped at a small container size pharmacy just up the street, almost across the street from Mamba Point Restaurant, a frequent watering hole and eatery. The pharmacy was so small I had never noticed it. I stopped fully expecting it to be another dead end.

I walked in, under pain, asked the lady if she had my miracle medicine, and showed her my last box. She went in back and came out saying she didn’t have it. I figured as much and was already turning away when she said, “I do have it in 100 milligrams though.”

“Is that safe?” I replied

“One hundred milligrams will work twice as well as fifty,” she said.

I’m certain this lady was no trained pharmacist, but was giving out medical advice on how to take prescriptions drugs. I on the other had was no doctor and worst of all, was despite. I wanted to be pain free again. I took the 100 milligrams.

As soon as I got home I took one pill. The next day, as far as pain relief goes, she was 100% right, 100 milligrams was better than fifty. I was completely pain free. I really believed at that time I could have entered the Olympics and won a medal.

I decided to take a pill only every other day, as that might make the double dose less damaging, if it was damaging at all. It was working so the desire to continue even on limited bases was strong.

I was still somewhat fearful of the dosage so I scaled back to taking two per week. Even if I had some pain I could look forward to a following pain free day. As time went on I was still unable to get the 50 milligram pills. When the pain would get worse, I took a 100. This went on for two or three months and I wasn’t feeling and side effects so I didn’t worry much.

About a month later I as having some minor chest pain; this could have been due to any number of factors but we decided it would be a good idea to have it checked out. It would also give me a week or so break that was well needed. I made some contacts with a friend in London and got an appointment with both a regular physician as well as a cardiologist.

Two days after arriving in the UK I went to my first appointment, a regular ears, nose, and throat type, although I got the feeling he was a little more than that, very professional. We went through the usual question and answer session; he looked at my medical history, and began the examination while we talked.

The family history of heart disease of course came up, so we delved into those aspects and ramifications for my future. I let him know of past problems with injuries and illnesses. It is then that the joint problems came up and he said that he noticed the medication I was taking for that. I told him about the 50 and 100 milligram dosages. He frowned at me of about five seconds.

“Stop taking that right now.”

I said, “Okay, I was a little worried about the 100 milligram dosage anyway.”

“Stop taking that and the 50 milligrams as well.”

I said, “Okay, but the 50 milligrams was prescribed to me by a doctor in Freetown.”

He replied, “First we would never prescribe 100 milligrams of that medication except in extreme cases, and if we did we would monitor it very carefully. Second, we are very careful prescribing 50 milligrams, usually only for a short amount of time. That medication will tear your liver up very quickly.”

Well, I thought, there you go. I’m just trying to get some pain to subside and I almost take out my liver in the process. I guess that is why drugs are regulated in most of the world, and why you can’t take anything for granted taking drugs in West Africa.

Needless to say that was the last time I took any of that particular pain medicine. About two months after that I met the Deputy Managing Director of MARSEK Shipping in Freetown, guy was from India, and he told me that his wife was on the same drug and they were warned off if it as well. She began taking a natural remedy. I didn’t ask about it.

Since that time I have learned to live with and minimize the pain in different ways, and no, alcohol is not one of them. There are some benefits to being able to get the right drugs in a third world country, and being cheaper is one of them. I now am able to get blood pressure medication and Beta Blockers without a problem. This time I researched and checked things out.

Getting prescription drugs in West Africa is a roll of the dice. I wonder if weed would help.

My Burn and Mr. Hussian’s Magical Medicine

Stories From Sierra Leone

Dealing with Michael West and his gang from Arkansas was not the only activity that needed to be addressed while up country. There was also an operation to attend to. We had logs coming from the Forest to be stacked, stored, and scaled in our log yard in Masingbi.

The rainy season was upon us which required getting as much wood out of the forest as possible before the road conditions were impassable. There was a sufficient amount cut into merchandised logs to gain substantial revenue if we could move enough to the log yard, and then were allowed to ship.

One function that needed addressing was our log truck drivers and how they were treating the heavily loaded trucks on the forest road. Handling gears going up and down the steep and slippery hills with heavy logs was a concern. We had already had several breakdowns and one of Michael West’s favorite saying was, “We’re going to lose a truck a day, a truck every day.”

No matter what anyone thought of Michael West there was no doubt that he was a decent heavy equipment operator and he understood engines. His problem was he was overdramatic, way to egotistical, and thought the world revolved around him. Add a short temper to all that and he could be beyond difficult.

I did see his point though, and couldn’t really disagree with him since three trucks had mechanical problems over the last three days. He asked me if I would ride with a few of the drivers as they navigated the thirty plus mile road into the forest. I agreed. It might give me a chance to get to know of few people.

I talked with the fleet manager, Jack Gulige, and he suggested a guy by the name of Big Lamin. They called him Big Lamin because he was a fairly big guy. I didn’t ask if there was a Little Lamin, I assumed there was.

We got in and started north towards the forest. Big Lamin revved up to the first incline and made his way to the first major water crossing. To pass over it you had to go down a long steep area, make a slight left, go across the narrow concrete culvert packed with dirt and laterite for road, then ascend a steep turn to the left. Not as bad as some spots but still a little tricky.

As we slowed to make our way down to the crossing I noticed a dark brown pick-up truck heading down the opposite hill coming quickly towards the bottom. The truck was beat up and traveling at a fast rate of speed, too fast for the hill. He had what looked like about five to seven guys in the back. All of a sudden he began waggling left and right to slow his decent I guessed.

As he came rambling down the final forty of fifty meters he hit a good size bump. The truck to jumped and he nearly lost control. As he fought to keep the ship steady, his passengers were having a hell of a ride. One of the guys in back literally bounced once in the air and went flying out of the back of the truck. He hit the ground, bounced again, began to roll. I guess while he was riding in back he must have been holding on to some type of rope or long strap, but when he flew out of the truck he didn’t let go.

He still did not let go when he hit the ground. The truck just continued barreling along but he would not release the strap. The beat up old truck dragged him about twenty-five or thirty meters before he either wised up and let go, or couldn’t hold on any longer.

The pick-up truck didn’t miss a beat and just kept on rolling up the next hill. The former passenger laid there slowly trying to gather himself as Big Lamin and I navigated around him. Big Lamin had a deep voice, and as he blew his truck horn he laughed and said, “He was wrestling with the ground.”

I learned later that the truck was a regular on the road and that it didn’t have any breaks. The waggling back and forth was to slow it just enough to keep from becoming air born. It was a daily death defying run from what I understood, that he continued until he claimed that one of log trucks hit his POS pick-up. He was trying to get money, probably to finally fix his brakes.

I was shaking my head as we maneuvered the water crossing and headed towards the forest. My initial ride finished without further incidents. Big Lamin did a good job. It was time for a return trip with different truck and driver, but this time it would be loaded with logs.

For the trip back, I was introduced to a somewhat surlier individual whose name I really can’t remember. I was told that he was a bit suspect in his handling of the inclines. I was not really someone well versed in big truck gears sequencing and shifting so I really could only observe and report back to Jack. I waited as the front end loader placed the final log and the driver did his best to secure the load.

For trips from the forest to the log yard in Masingbi they were not tying down the loads as they do when transporting on the main roads, as per required by law. The trucks were going a much slower speed here, but I made note to discuss this with the Arkansas boys. A log falling off in the bush was just as dangerous as on the open road, and it did happen some.

I got in the passenger side of the truck and we slowly began winding our way toward Masingbi. The ride began on an even keel and the road was dry so we didn’t encounter any problems. The conversation was minimal to say the least, which was okay with me. I figured let him concentrate on his job.

We were about half way to the log yard when we encountered a steep upgrade. The driver slowed a bit and down shifted, I could hear the gears grind, and then all of a sudden, BAM, a loud snap could be heard from just behind us. The truck jerked and came to a sudden halt. The drive shaft had broken off with part of it lying on the ground. We were finished for this load.

I of course was not happy with another truck going down. I tried to call Jack on my cell phone but as happens so much in the bush there was no cell coverage. I cussed somewhat and sat for a few seconds deciding what to do. We could wait for the next truck to come by but I was not in the mood, and that might be awhile. I figured I could walk and hope to get to cell coverage soon. If not, sooner or later someone would drive by.

I opened the door and looked for a grab bar to step down. I didn’t see anything so I reached and grabbed the door and braced my right side against the opening of the doorway. As I stepped out and down, I lost my balance just a bit and swung to the right. I threw my arm out to brace against the side of the truck, right there was the large exhaust pipe, extending upward. The back of my right bicep lay right against the smoking hot pipe. It was instant sear, like a fresh steak hitting the red hot grill.

I jerked my arm away and jumped off the truck. I don’t know how much flesh and skin was left on the exhaust pipe because I was too busy contorting my face, jumping up and down, and cussing my own stupidity and rash actions. I looked at the back of my arm and there was indeed a flesh burn about four inches long and two inches wide, and it hurt.

There was no first aid on the truck and we were in the middle of the bush on a hot and dusty road, in a hot and dusty area. I was worried about the burn getting dirty and thus infected. It was stinging and I didn’t feel like waiting around to see if someone was coming by soon, or if a wild animal might smell my cooked flesh and come for his meal. So, I began walking south in the direction of Masingbi, and what I hoped would soon be cell coverage.

The driver began walking as well several paces behind me. I turned and waved him back and hollered for him to stay with the truck. He didn’t seem happy but so what, he dropped the drive shaft, and they know a vehicle can’t be left alone in the bush where parts and fuel will be stolen. I was on my own, along a dusty dirt road in the middle of the Sierra Leone bush, with the back of my right arm burning like hell.

As I walked I continued to try the cell coverage while relieved that I had fully charged my battery that morning, but still no coverage. I must have walked about three kilometers when I came to one of the villages the road divided. As I walked through the middle of the village, past the cinder block, mud, and sawn plank houses everyone stared. An unaccompanied white man taking a stroll through the village, certainly something they didn’t see every day, or year.

Some of the kids ran out and yelled, abouto, abouto, abouto, meaning white man, white man, white man, something they also did when we drove by in vehicles. The older teens seemed a little more concerned as youth would tend to be but the older ladies were more of less not interested other than me being an oddity. I just smiled slightly, continued walking, and was soon past the small village.

I checked my burned arm, no change of course, and tried my cell phone again, no change, of course. I walked another one or two kilometers and it was getting to about midday so the sun was beating down right on top of me with zero clouds for help. I started to worry about sun burn when my cell phone went off with the sweet sound of Al Green’s, “Let’s Stay Together.”

I stopped in my tracks worried that walking another step would take me back out of cell range and answered with a not so hearty hello. It was Jack asking how things were going. I had nothing but bad news for him, and then asked him to send someone up the road to pick me. I told him they wouldn’t miss me, a white man walking down the road in the middle of the bush in West Africa.

I kept walking and several minutes later Zak Beasley came bounding towards me in the Toyota Landcruiser. I was glad to take a seat and get headed back to the trailer in Masingbi to hopefully get some treatment for my burn. On the way back I called the local guy, Mr. Hussian, who helped take care of many things for us, from cooking meals to suppling items from his store in Mashingbi.

Mr. Hussian was Lebanese, born in Sierra Leone if I remember correctly, and was a businessman of all trades. If you needed something he could most likely get it. He was good with the local people and their customs so he was able to help us out of quite a few tight spots when problems or disagreements arose.

A story I was told about Mr. Hussian that during the Sierra Leone civil war had to take his family and hid with them in the jungle for a great length of time. He was a very resourceful guy and I admired him not only for that, but because he was someone that always found a way forward through all the fog of a situation. He, as many of the Lebanese seem to be, was a true negotiator and facilitator.

Mr. Hussian was very concerned when I called him. He said, Mr. Jim I have just the medicine you need to apply, it’s a local remedy. I can't remember now what it consisted of because I didn't understand it at the time. It seems it was a mix of berries picked in the bush with other ingredients added. I remember my first reaction being, “What a minute Mr. Hussian, are you sure this stuff works and won’t cause my arm to fall off?”

He was adamant it would not only work but I would be amazed at how well. I have never seen a deeper color of purple in my life before or after. It was very thick, but not quite a paste. I guess it was move of a balm like consistency. The burn was still stinging so I agreed and Mr. Hussian applied it covering the wound. No bandage was applied and he said just to relax and it would work.

It wasn’t long before the burning sensation went away. The balm did not harden but did kind of dry up some. The next day I washed it off and he applied another dose of his magical medication. Within the next couple of days I was amazed at the healing process and commended Mr. Hussian. He took a great amount of pride in that, as he did with all his business.

Eventually, not only did the burn heal, the scar that was left also disappeared. The next time I saw Big Lamin was when the Deputy Minister of Labor ambushed me in a meeting where I was unaware workers were invited, and Big Lamin was not laughing that day. The Arkansas boys had the truck taken to our workshop for necessary repairs.

Afterward, Michael West proclaimed, “We’re going to lose a truck a day, a truck a day, Jim.” As it turned out we didn't.

Michael West and the Chief of Sumbaria

Stories From Sierra Leone

There are many issues a logging company has to be concerned with; in West Africa one of the most important is the relationship with the local Chiefs and the communities they represent. Those relationships can affect the entire business in a positive way, or it can force it down the drain.

You cannot have a bad relationship with a Village Chief. You have to make the Chief a partner (I use the term partner loosely) or you should just fold your tent. Many times you have to bite the bullet and meet their requests, more than half way, but sometimes you have to put your foot down at just the right time and place.

If everyone in the operation does not understand this, disaster can occur at any time. The wrong move, or the wrong word, at the wrong time can cause all sorts of problems, delays, and bad feelings.

A second major concern for any logging company is the issue of safety. Logging is one of the most dangerous activities to be involved in anywhere in the world. Working with huge trees weighing tons, even once cut in to logs, cannot be taken lightly. Deadly accidents can happened during any step in the process; felling trees, loading and unloading, transporting, working at the saw mill, or moving logs around the yard.

One of the worst incidents that can happen is a log truck with a trailer full of logs overturning. If someone is in the way when this happens they’re crushed. This can occur for several reasons, excess speed, slippery or bad roads, driver fatigue, and unforeseen circumstances caused by other plyers of the road.

The truth is that if you are in the logging business, and part of that is transporting logs, sooner or later a truck is going to flip. Logs will be spilled and damage will be done to the truck and trailer. The best you hope for is that no one is hurt and nothing else destroyed.

One of the ways a truck is overturned is when a water crossing gives way. This can also happen with an old bridge but that is less likely. The problem with water crossings is that they are subject to rainy season erosion, and that can happen rather quickly once the consistent downpours begin, no matter how well constructed the crossing is.

Probably the biggest and most troubling water crossing Taakor’s logging contractors built was just outside Village of Sumbaria over a good size river. It was built at a curve on the road right before entering the village on the way to the forest cutting area. The government had constructed a concreate bridge a few meters away but it was shoddily done and would not have withstood constant log truck traffic.

The crossing was well built with several culverts for water to flow underneath. It was not necessarily meant to be used after the rains began, especially on a daily bases by numerous tucks. We could see the erosion begin and steps were taken to reinforce it, but time and rain were against us.

The fact there was a fairly sharp turn to be navigated made it more dangerous. Each day two people were stationed; one on each side of the crossing, to make sure the drivers slowed down and to help guide them on the turn.

The back end of the log trailer hitting the curve just right was the important key. If the back wheels missed, the trailer could flip. With the sides of the crossing deteriorating this became more difficult and dangerous each day. Finally, early one morning as a truck with a trailer full of logs was maneuvering over the crossing; a small section gave way right under the back outside wheels.

I was at the camp in Masingbi about 30 miles away late that morning when I got the news. My first question, after cussing loudly, was if the driver or anyone else was hurt. The answer thank goodness was no. Next question, how bad was the truck damaged, the trailer damaged? The answer was that they were not sure about the engine on the truck but it looked like just exterior damage. The trailer looked okay. They needed to get them out, collect the logs and get the equipment to the shop.

I was relived somewhat, although this was a delay, and a costly one. The contractor would have to get the excavator there right away to repair and reinforce the water crossing for continued use.

I went up right away and saw the accident and damage, as well as talk to the driver and contractors. The lead contractor, Michael West, was on the excavator and I think about 99% of the village was there to watch. This was big excitement for them.

Phone calls and reports needed to be relayed and cell coverage there was not good, so I made my way back to the camp to give the updates and assessments. About thirty minutes later one of our people, Robert Koroma, who handled our relations with the communities in and around the concession area came in the trailer.

Robert was educated and intelligent. He spoke with just a slight stutter that manifested itself a little more when he was making an important point, or was stressed. I could tell he was stressed.

“James, we have a big problem.”

“Yeah Robert I know, a truck flipped over in Sumbaria.”

“No, no, much bigger, Michael West called the Chief of Sumbaria a “Mother Fucker” in front of all his people.”

“What? Why? God damn it, Michael West is a Mother Fucker!

“I don’t know, the Chief was asking questions about things and I think about the small mill in the field on the other side of the bridge and Michael got mad and said, well you’re a mother fucker. All the villagers are really, really, mad.”

“Where is he now?”

“He left.”

“Good thing, they might kill him and bury his body in the forest, or just bury him alive. Great, I guess I have to go talk to the Chief.”

Zak Beasley was with me so we got back in the Toyota Land Cruiser; he drove, and headed back up towards Sumbaria. Robert Koroma came along as it was his job, plus I figured it might be good to have someone from the area to keep me from being stoned to death.

By the time we got to Sumbaria the truck and trailer had been pulled out but the logs were still in the river. Most everybody had left the scene of the crime except some stragglers and those who would have been there washing and bathing by the river anyway. I wasn’t so worried about that area. I was worried about activity at the Chiefs home in the middle of the Village.

Three minutes later we were in front of the Chiefs house and everything seemed calm, no one yelling or pointing fingers and more importantly no one with rocks or ropes. I looked at Robert and told him he better go in first to greet the Chief and let him know why we, and I specifically, was there, which was to apologize and grovel.

I waited in the main parlor while Robert went back to talk to the Chief and his aids. He came and asked me to come back. I walked through a couple of rooms and a short hallway and met the Chief and his councilor, or speaker. This is an official position in all villages and was appointed to someone who as a good orator or public speaker. Usually they were good at going on and on and on no matter the meeting or subject.

At the back of the house was a double door that opened to the outside back area. There in back was the opposite of the calm at the front. As soon as I showed myself a line of about twelve to fifteen men began chanting, yelling, and pumping their fists. I got the jest of the message. They wanted Michael West’s head on a stick and I’m pretty sure literally. This continued during my entire conversation with the Chief.

Since he didn’t speak much English, or at least he didn’t let on that he did, I had to apologize to both him and his councilor at the same time, and over the throng in back. I told him that Taakor owed him a debit of gratitude and that I was personally sorry, that I had already spoken to the investors who were appalled and sent their apologies. I gave personal apologies from Mark, I told him we were in his debit, and I promised I would deal with Michael West. Some of this was actually true of course. The main thing was that I had to grovel and really mean it, as much as possible.

He finally accepted my apology, and my apology on behalf of the company. What else could he really do, except throw me to the wolves in the back yard? I made a graceful but hasty exit, from his house, and from Sumbaria.

On the way back to Masingbi Robert suggested I take the opportunity to meet with the Elders of another small village we were working with. I agreed and we sat on the front porch of one Elder’s house in the middle of the village. I won’t go into detail much, they were unhappy with the issue of their crop land that they let us use to plant saplings, but needless to say I was there for a while. By the end the entire village was standing in front of the house listening to the meeting.

When we got back to Masingbi I was worn out. As luck would have it, I was staying with Michael West in his trailer so at least I had that to look forward to. When I walked in Michael was already there. I had to be somewhat careful as Michael was both a small investor in Taakor and an arrogant prick who acted as if he owned the entire company. Never the less, he was an investor.

I told him right away, Jesus Christ, these guys are really pissed and that he might want to not go all the way to Sumbaria tomorrow, or even the next few days. To my surprise he was somewhat apologetic. He said he probably should not have said that stuff but the Chief was being an asshole and getting under his skin. I pretty much left it at that and figured under the threat of physical harm he might keep calm when up in the bush from now on.

True to form though, the next morning while everyone was eating breakfast in mess hall his arrogant and egotistical attitude returned. He began spouting out in front of his workers how he didn’t think what he had said and done was all that wrong.

“I didn’t think I was out of line, right Ronnie? He was an asshole, right William? I don’t feel bad at all, right Stephan?”

He had to be the big man in front of his guys. I don’t know if they bought the act or not, probably so. I also don’t know if he went as far as Sumbaria that day, I had other things to do. We did have several warnings that someone was going to grab him but nothing happened in that regard.

We had more problems with Michael over the next couple of weeks and finally everyone agreed that he needed to go home. We let one of the investors handle it, and also played along with him portraying that it was his own idea.

Poda-Poda Transport
Poda-Poda Transport

Swimming Up Stream

Stories from Sierra Leone

The Freetown Clock area has people everywhere. Some are pushing and shoving. Some are there making noise trying to sell. No room for cars but still they slowly inch their way. This is the Freetown Clock area. There is a large clock tower a school and police station but most of all there are people. It is chaos. Just a block away, but still in the chaos, is where many of the small vans called poda podas pick people to carry around Freetown and up country.

Poda podas are all over Freetown, but unlike the small taxis, they take several people over longer distances instead of the short trips around the city. At the bottom of the small hill from the clock tower is a poda poda staging area. It is not uncommon to see poda poda drivers in arguments there. They scream at each other as they push and shove to get riders aboard or to maneuver in and out. There are also the passengers pushing and shoving to get on or off. Again mostly chaos.

A vehicle must go through the Clock Tower area traveling from East Freetown to West Freetown. What a joy it is. A driver will just hope someone isn't run over, well sometimes winging a few people is okay.

It was at this point where one particular hot and muggy day I witnessed the reality of the problems and struggles in Freetown. It was a small incident in the grand scheme of everyday life and was a few people that were solving, not creating, a problem. I was shaking my head.

The Vehicle I was in managed the confusion right at the clock tower, thank god for the driver, and managed the left down the incline to the poda poda staging area. It was as unorganized as usual, only this time there was a rather curious scene. One of the poda podas had trouble getting started. Now this is not surprising, it happens all the time, all over the city. Nor was it strange to see someone pushing the vehicle to try and jump start the poda pile of junk.

Wat was strange was that they were not just simply poda poda pushing; they were poda poda pushing up hill. The poda poda having problems was half way up an incline. So what are these guys doing? They were attempting to jump their pussified poda poda by pushing it, that's right boys and girls, up hill.

Now wait! I'm not finished. Not only were these three or four guys pushing it up hill for the jump start, the poda poda was still, that's right boys and girls, it was still packed with passengers! I'm not suggesting a couple of people. I'm not suggesting a few people. I mean "packed" with passengers. They could not unload. They could not push downhill. They were swimming upstream just like always. This is the essence of what is always seen.

When I noticed this little scene I looked at my fellow traveller and said, "Ed, if I had a gun I would just shoot myself in the head right now," He laughed, I did not.

The King of Jui, beer and smoke in hand, with two loyal subjects
The King of Jui, beer and smoke in hand, with two loyal subjects
Road running through community of Jui
Road running through community of Jui
Celebration in Jui with the King, Kum Rabbi Kurtz, in the middle of the action.
Celebration in Jui with the King, Kum Rabbi Kurtz, in the middle of the action.
Nice and infected
Nice and infected

The Case of Kum Rabbi Kurtz

In Sierra Leone we had a contractor from the US working for us in the Village of Jui, located just West of Freetown, who oversaw all equipment yard operations. He was a smart guy, an engineer and heavy equipment specialist. He was good at planning and ran his operations efficiently. The problem was he was a drinker. Not many a person end up working in Africa that does not have some baggage.

Things were fine with our engineer, B___, during the first year or so. At least that was the impression we had. Unfortunately, he had been using his position in Jui, just far enough away from prying eyes, to begin building his own fiefdom, all run from his mobile home at the Jui port. His first move had been to hire as many people from Jui, Waterloo, and other surrounding communities as possible, which was company policy and mandated by our agreement with the Community. What he did though, was hire way to many workers.

He then convinced everyone that he needed a larger petty cash discretionary fund to cut down on time and distance when necessary expenses arose. It was not an unreasonable request at the time and he had not shown any reason to distrust his handling of money. With his inflated fund he began to hand out small money to the legion of minions he had hired from the local areas, as well as several local officials and other authorities. This set him up as a money man and ingratiated him to the elders in Jui to the point that they bestowed upon him the title of “Kum Rabbi.”

To be honest, I don’t know if that is the correct spelling, I’m going on sound. I also don’t really know what a “Kum Rabbi” is or what the duties are because I did not really care. To me it was a distraction and a reason for the community leaders to get money from him and get him to do things for them. They played to his ego and vanity.

Kum Rabbi, our engineer, had officially set up his own Kingdom. We began calling him the King of Jui and my own personal favorite, Colonel Kurtz, after Brando’s character in “Apocalypse Now” and the great book “Heart of Darkness.” He thought he was now set, when really he was now set to go over the edge.

The first step in that direction was the assigning of two AK 47 caring police escorts that the head of our security had, again playing to his vanity, convinced him were needed to protect him at the Port in Jui. It was a scam for money. The rifle toting security gets paid and give a percent to the head of security. When I found out I went ballistic. When I subsequently found out they were riding around town with him and presently at Alex’s bar where he loved to go drink, hang with his friend A_____, and pontificate on how the world should work, I jumped in my vehicle and drove straight there.

All I could think about was someone starting an argument and ending up having the two armed security police, allegedly working for us, peppering people with bullets. As I pulled up I saw the two officers sitting against the slightly beat up Toyota Hilux as if waiting for, well, the King of Jui, I guess. I shook my head at them and went inside. Kum Rabbi Kurtz was half in the bag already, holding his patented can of Budweiser, not easy to get in Sierra Leone, but hey, when your minions think you’re important, and you give them money, they can get almost anything.

He was also holding one of his endless chains of cigarettes, which I believe he actually figured out a way to smoke while sleeping. His cap was tipped towards the back of his head and his eyes were glazed over just enough that he had to squint to see who I was.

“B___, there is no way I’m going to let you run around with armed security police, especially at night while at the bars, Fucking hell.”

His body swayed back and forth as he took a drink of Bud and waved his other arm up and down.

“Hell, Jim, it wasn’t my idea to have them. They were assigned to me to protect the supplies at the port.”

“B___, I really don’t care who assigned them to you. It was not approved by me so that means whoever did is trying to either get money from them being there, or they are trying to steal stuff. Either way, I’m the person that will have to deal with it when they shoot someone. And if they are outside a bar, you know, where alcohol is served, the chance of that is greatly heightened.”

“Okay Jim, it wasn’t my idea.”

I went outside and told the two armed policemen/security guards that they were no longer needed tonight, or at Jui ever again, and gave them transport money. They looked at me funny, but after the minion driver confirmed who I was, they took the small money and left. The jig was up, whatever is actually was. A disaster averted

But Kum Rabbi Kurtz was only just beginning. It has to be understood that terminating someone in a key position, and so far from home, is not as easy as it may seem. You have to plan ahead for someone to take their place, explain everything to investors in the States, get them away from the workplace, schedule a flight home, figure out the best way for them to get all their stuff together, pay them, make sure visa and papers are in order, and finally get them out without causing a big commotion. We knew that Kum Rabbi Kurtz, controlling his fiefdom filled with local minions, would be more difficult.

Always on the lookout for a scam, Kum Rabbi Kurtz’s next move was to have a couple of fishing boats built. He also began selling wood to local establishments and in fact sold the wood to build a pier off the aforementioned Alex’s Bar and Restaurant. He used one of the company dump trucks to haul sand around Freetown. When you see one of your dump trucks that should be up county riding down the beach road in Freetown you know there is a problem. Mostly though, Kum Rabbi Kurtz drank. It got to the point that we were not sure if he was pulling all this, or that others had now officially pulled the wool over his drunken glazed over eyes and was using him and our equipment.

When we finally managed to begin shipping logs from Freetown Port Kum Rabbi Kurtz came back to reality somewhat. He was needed to supervise the loading of logs into containers outside the port area for shipment. For a couple of weeks he was okay, basically due to being able to boss a few different people around. The only problem was that these different people were the skilled expats, who he came over with, and local heavy equipment operators from up country. Once the plan was in place they didn’t need or want his input. So, Kum Rabbi Kurtz, without all his loyal minions from Jui to do his bidding, went back to his early morning drinking, that lasted throughout the day.

Plans were now in place to get rid of him. We had meetings with everyone that needed to know, including one of the principles from the States who had been there a few days before, and I might add was too much of a chicken shit to do it while there. Our meeting with Kum Rabbi Kurtz was scheduled the next when we got the call.

“B____ has been injured. His leg has a huge gash and it’s pretty bad. We’re taking him to the hospital, hell he might lose the leg.”

The first question was why was he even there? The next, before the first could be answered, was had he been drinking? The answers were, we don’t know and no, we don’t think so. They were covering for him. Although he was not liked so much, he was one of them, a cohort from Arkansas. We told them to keep us informed and once he is admitted and stable we would come check on him.

When everything was settled and he was in the hospital we went to see the damage. His leg was bandaged and they were getting ready to take him in for surgery; kind of a sobering thought in Sierra Leone. Before he was wheeled off my friend Mark made sure to tell Kum Rabbi Kurtz that he needed to go home as soon as we could arraign it. His eyes got very big and we knew that this was not a pleasant realization for him. He stuttered and stammered as the thought of losing his treasured fiefdom rolled around his confused mind.

“Well, ah, I don’t think I need to go home.”

We told him to think about it as soon as he got out of surgery, but reiterated that going home would be a smart move, besides he could always come back. This of course we knew would never happen. We were going to send him anyway so we actually saw this as a stroke of luck, something we didn’t always get there; I mean other than the possible loss of someone’s leg.

Over the next 48 hours Kum Rabbi Kurtz’s leg was operated on two or three times. This I think should be enough to convince someone that they are not receiving the best of medical attention. When I talked to him on the phone the next day he didn’t seem ready to leave. I paid him a short visit that afternoon and upon arrival was a little taken by surprise. As I pulled into the parking lot there were about ten or twelve of his loyal subjects from Jui hanging around. No doubt they were looking for small money, but mostly probably worried their fearless leader, and gravy train, would either die or leave for the US. I suspect dying was the better option for them because then they could have a big funeral/party that we would have to pay for.

I can only imagine the shock waves throughout his Kingdom of Jui. I never talked to those guys on purpose because I figured they would only ask me of money anyway and I would end up screaming at them, so I nodded as the stared. I made my way to the back of the complex where Kum Rabbi Kurtz’s room was and as I approached the nurses’ station I noticed more loyal subjects milling around. I expected the nurses to at least acknowledge me but they didn’t want to be bothered I guess, typical.

As I passed the second gaggle of minions I felt they were uneasy with me being there, as if I was the grim reaper coming to take their precious Kum Rabbi, the supplier of money, from them. I loved these moments because I didn’t really give a fuck. I took the opportunity to goad them some.

“What are you guys doing here? Is there any possible good that B___ can draw from having you guys lurking around disturbing him? You have nothing else to do?”

They all stared at me. The destroyer of their Kingdom had arrived and they knew it. Just then I noticed smoke coming from the room and as I entered the sight was supremely surreal. Kum Rabbi Kurtz was smoking a cigarette and drinking a Bud in his hospital bed. There were about six more guys surrounding him with a cooler full of his liquid sunshine next to the bed. I now understood part of the reason they were there, beer and smokes.

What the hell. His leg was officially in jeopardy of being amputated, his life was in danger, and he had a group of dirty money grubbing hangers on who he saw as loyal subjects all over the place, and he was smoking and drinking. Everything that could possibly contaminate was in there with the nurses outside letting it all happen.

I didn’t even bother to question the sanity, or insanity depending on how you view it. I got straight to the point.

“B___, I want you to strongly consider going home as soon as we can get the flight booked. Take it from me you are not going to get the right care here.”

He balked, although not as convincingly as before. He was also on the way to a beer buzz so I told him to do me a favor. I asked him to call his doctor back home, tell him what happened, and ask him if you should go back; if he says it’s okay to stay, then no problem. The minions were horrified. Kum Rabbi Kurtz reluctantly agreed and grabbed another beer. I said okay and left.

I waded my way thought the stunned group of Jui Kingdom representatives and walked back to the vehicle. As soon as I turned on the ignition my phone buzzed. It was our engineer, Kum Rabbi Kurtz, the King of Jui.

“Jim? I need you to get me a flight home right away, today if possible.”

“No problem B___. I’ll get someone on it right away. You’re making a good decision, might save your life.”

Instantly, the King was dead and the Kingdom in ruins, perfect. B___ flew home the next day but not before having a few beers at Alex’s while waiting for the hovercraft to the airport. No drinking friends were there to see him off, only a few glad he was going. Several heartbroken and empty pocketed Jui hangers on were with him trying to grasp for some small money to the last. In the end, Kum Rabbi Kurtz, the Royal King of Jui Port, cared not for them, only to go back home to the land of reality.

When he got back to home the doctors opened up a puss and infection filled gash that still had dirt and debris in it, even after two or three procedures in Freetown. They told him that if he would have stayed one or two more days he would have lost the leg, and any longer than that, he would have lost his life. As a final twist, when they did X-rays the also discovered cancer that was still treatable, so his life was doubly saved. No way would that have happened in Sierra Leone. I’m guessing they didn’t let him drink and smoke in the hospital room.

Later, he sued us.

Micks Sports Bar
Micks Sports Bar

Looking for Small Pleasures

Humorous Stories From Sierra Leone

In life you always look forward to small pleasures, getting together with family, meeting friends, having a night out at the movies or sporting event, dining at a nice restaurant or having a relaxing evening at home watching TV while munching on your favourite snack. In Sierra Leone these chances for small pleasures are few and far between. There is no family, the friends are sparse, no movies or sporting events, only one or two places to dine, limited TV and even a relaxing day is not relaxing due to any variety of problems that occur.

But wait! About two weeks ago I was having a drink at one of the local establishments, Micks Sports Bar that I sometimes grace with my presence, and I made a discovery on par with the unveiling King Tut's burial chamber. Micks had installed a pizza oven; one of those stone ovens shaped like an egg those aficionados like Wolfgang Puck use to cook their famous pizzas. I'm sure that Mick's oven was not the same quality but hey you have to be excited that they were possibly moving Freetown cuisine a step forward. When I asked the bartender about the new venture he said they were also thinking of establishing a delivery service. What, pizza delivery? This I already knew was a sure failure but I have learned a long time ago not to give any opinion on business opportunities in Sierra Leone. I was just glad there might be a chance that they had a dish I could look forward to throwing into the mix when considering my culinary options along Freetown's "Posh" Aberdeen section....LMAO.

Fast forward two weeks, it's a Sunday afternoon. That means that our cook has the day off so we have to hunt for food ourselves. It didn't take long for my light bulb to illuminate with the power of the giant batman spotlight. Hey, let's try that new stone baked pizza at Micks place. Okay, great idea! We sent our minions to report back topping options, sizes and pricing. Upon careful consideration we had them order two large stone baked pizzas. We then braced ourselves in anticipation for one of those small pleasures that comes so rarely here. With the traffic along the beach road from Micks as heavy as usual on Sunday our wait was extended for about an hour and a half. We were hungry and ready for stone..... baked..... pizza.

Just for the record, of all the different types of pizza in the world my favorite is the crispy crust stone baked pizza with all kinds of different toppings. The crust is the key. There is nothing worse then a Pizza Hut deep dish pizza crust. A place like Uno's is good, but I'll take the thin crispy crust of a stone baked pizza every time. I had a feeling that the toppings at Mick's would not match those used at Emeril's restaurant in New Orleans but at least there was the that tasty crispy crust. I couldn't wait.

Finally, the pizzas arrived. The minions were not happy due to the traffic but so what, we had our crispy stone baked pizzas. Happy days and wow! Mick's pizza boxes were a colorful red. The boxes were also, unlike most take away food containers in Sierra Leone, sturdy and somewhat inviting, although they seemed small for being large pizzas. Whatever, I was hungry anyway and with this new treat it was time to devour. Our small pleasure was now a big deal. We popped open the boxes and stared in amazement. Jesus Mary and Joseph, is that pizza? Is this a joke? Are you sure you ordered the large pizzas? How much did this cost? Where are the toppings? Did you get Mick's phone number when you were there? Can we take these back and carry a gun with us? Why did they use such a large box for such small pizzas? Is it to late to order Chinese?

We sucked it up and ate them. The crust was thin and crispy all right, too crispy. I could not imagine the box tasting worse, it certainly looked better then the actual pizzas. Most ninety nine cent store bought frozen pizza is better. Anyone in their right mind would trade both of these large pizzas for one hot pocket. The next time I'm at Mick's I'm going to observe them cook one of these and then give a rambling pontification on how bad they suck. I won't ask for my money back just a free drink, or five. So much for looking forward to the small pleasures.

Infant and Mother Mortality Rate - Stories from Sierra Leone

There is no doubt that Sierra Leone has many problems. None are more heart breaking then the infant and mother morality rates connected to birth. They are amoung the highest in the world. The lack of proper medical care is easy to see, just go to the best hospital in Freetown. From experience, I can tell you that after that first visit, there is a terrible fear of getting sick. Not very many of the births are at the best hospital.

If there are any complications to birth in Sierra Leone both the baby and the mother are at serious risk. This video, via youtube, address some of these issues.

For me personally, there is nothing like waking to the ringing of the phone on Christmas morning at 6:30 AM to have one of the people who works close to you give you the news that his new baby died that night before. There is really not much you can say. There is no doubt that Sierra Leone has many problems.

With mustard please
With mustard please

Man's Best Friend

An Adventure in Nigeria

Every major airline has their in-flight magazine and Airk Air is no exception. Airk's magazine, called "Wings" to go along with their slogan "Wings of Nigeria," is very well designed and very interesting. The look and feel is first rate, the pictures are stunning and the articles are professionally written. I didn't really look at it on the flight to Nigeria but enjoyed going through it on the way back to Sierra Leone.

Each issue covers a calendar month and the December issue had a great feature of different festivals throughout the country of Nigeria. Arik is getting ready to open up new routes to London and New York so there was a story on the myths of London and a piece on places to go and see in the Big Apple. All were concise and well written, on par with what you would expect in a quality in-flight magazine to pass at least some of the time on usually boring and tedious flights.

Something you generally see in all these types of publications is an article or two on food you might enjoy while visiting your destination city. Of course there are the advertisements for cafes, coffee shops and restaurants but there is always an article by a so called food expert or maybe a chef that might have a tantalizing recipe to try on your friends when you get home. That way as you serve you can make self-aggrandising statements like, "While we scaled the lower regions of Mt. Kilimanjaro this is one of the special dishes the local people cooked for us, which we of course have prepared with tenderloin instead of goat meat; Enjoy!"

As I flipped back and forth through the pages one such article caught my eye. The food looked delicious. When I read the headline though, I hesitated then cocked my head to the right, squinted, and looked at it again. It read, "A Canine Feast." "Is this dog food," I thought. My interest was peaked to say the least. The author was indeed some so called food expert and this was the first of an ongoing series of food articles that would be done for the Wings Magazine and he wanted something special to highlight a traditional local dish. So the bill of fare he came up with was an old recipe using, yes that's right, dog meat!

Of course I think everyone knows dogs have been a source of food for people in poor countries for years and years. I'm sure they did everything they could to make it tasty. I've eaten lots of goat meat here in Sierra Leone and even had monkey. It was good. But I had to question the choice of an expert putting forth a recipe for these, not to mention dog, in an otherwise high quality publication. Is that really what you would kick off your gourmet series on? I couldn't believe it but then of course had to remember what part of the world I was in. Fortunately the dish pictured that was prepared by the author was not actually dog. He substituted lamb. I took a deep sigh of relief that the picture I thought so delicious looking was not Fido, Spot or good old Rover.

I didn't think of it at the time but I should have taken one of the magazines with me. What I will do, always thinking of others here, is have one of our contacts at the airport try to get a one. Then I can cut out that page, scan it, and post it to my FB wall for everybody. I can just hear it now, "Here boy, come on fella', come on, come on, thats it boy, here's a treat for youuuuu..............Bon Appetit!

Lagos Airport
Lagos Airport

It's A Small Strange World

Stories From Liberia, Nigeria, and....

While going from meeting to meeting one afternoon in Monrovia, I ran into someone I hadn't seen in a few years an unexpected place. He wasn't a good friend just someone I knew from Sierra Leone that I really never would have expected to see again. He remembered me and seemed to have the same general attuide about the whole thing which was something along the lines of hey, weren't you in Freetown?

This got me thinking about some of the other occasions in which I have been surprised by seeing someone unexpected in an unexpected place. By unexpected I don't mean running across someone at your local tavern that usually sips their elixer of choice at the tavern across town; or is for some reason at your chruch when they don't usually worship at the house of god.

I'm refering to seeing someone you know while half way across the country, or even in a different country. It does not happen much which makes it almost shocking when it does. For myself, I have been lucky that I was not in the wrong place, at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing when these occurances have taken place. It has always been a pleasent occurance, instead of a life altering screw up. I pity the people who have had their spouse or boss run into them at the wrong place and the wrong time. Marriage gone, job gone, life gone.

Running into a person you know in another city can at times be reationalized due to certain circumstances. Waiting at the Denver Airport for a flight home from a ski vacation and seeing a person you know on their own trip, especially during the hight of ski season, would not strike anyone as out of the relm of possibility. This has happened to me twice. The conversation is usually about the respective trips with everybody telling tall tales and patting themselves on the back for being with the in crowd that goes skiing each season.

Other times you can understand seeing people (guys that work for you at UPS) at a place you would expect them to go, like Las Vegas, only you didn't know they were going at the same time you were. Even if you knew, you would not expect to run into them (Dunes Casino) in as big a place as the entire city of Las Vegas. This has also happened to me, twice.

There are times that you even kind of expect you might encounter friends. While driving to the horse races in Omaha, someone with your group remarks, "What do you think the odds are that we will see "so and so" up there again this year? "No way, surely not again this year!" Then everbody forgets about it and low and behold, there they are, again. Everybody laughes and talks about what are the odds, again!

Of course everybody has the out of town celebrity sightings stories. Seeing Rodney Dangerfield talking to some people at Bally's casino one year and then the following year seeing him again, this time coming out of Cesars Palace at three O'Clock in the morning, ranks right up there for me.

Alongside that, was when was walking into the hotel on Paridise Island in the Bahamas and passed Bob Hope coming out to his limo, and upon continuing into the hotel lobby seeing Barbara Mandrell gathering her things. Then, walking by the gift shop and seeing Latoya Jackson buying something. Strange? Bob Hope was filiming his Christmas show there that year.

Finally there is my all time great. Running into someone at a place and time that could now way, no how be even dreamed of. When I was in Sierra Leone I flew to Abuja, Nigeria for a meeting. I have written about this in the past and in fact have other stories regarding that trip. To get to the capital city of Nigeria you must fly first to Lagos, the hub of Arik Airlines. In reverse you go back again through Lagos to get back to Freetown.

I had never been to the city of Lagos or anywhere in Nigeria so I certainly had not been to the Lagos airport. Once we arrived back from Abuja for some reason my flying partner and person who arrainged the trip and the meeting, Ambassador Fohay, did not have the final leg booked. While he bartered for tickets I rested in the least crowded corner of the airport watching the bags and minding my own business.

Just then I look up to see a large Nigerian man walking past me about 25 feet away. "Akie," I yelled. He stopped and looked as I quickly walked toward him with the bags still in the corner of my eye. Akie is Akin George-Taylor the former Managing Director of GT Bank in Freetown and now a member the Nigerian based Bank's Broard of Directors. "Hey Jim, what the hell are you doing here?" He was on his way to London and didn't have time to talk much but he did inquire about the 2 million dollars he loaned us. Never fails.

Akie went for his plane and I went back to waiting for Ambassador Fohay to finalize the tickets to Freetown. Luckly Arik was able to squeeze us and a few other people on the already overbooked plane for an additional $100 each. I gathered my two bags and Fohay's, opps he likes being called Ambassador Fohay even though he is a former Ambassador, bags and headed to the check in line. I put my bags down and looked up. The person in front of me turned around and revealed his crooked teeth smile. Eddie Owie! "Jesus Christ Eddie, I thought you were still in Benin City."

Eddie Owie had been the Managing Director of Gava Forest Industries Corporation in Kenema, Sierra Leone. His boss was the man I met with in Abuja, Chief Lucky, yet another Nigeria trip story. Eddie was on the outs and was one of the issue we had discussed during the meeting. He is a good guy and when he said he was flying to visit his wife and family in New York I said, "Fuck Your Eddie," and laughed. We talked for a few minutes and I finally got to my flight.*

When I settled into my seat and before picking up Wings Magazine I thought about being half way around the world from where I was born and grew up, in a country I had never been before, and running into not one but two people I knew and knew well. I can walk through the airport in Kansas City time and time again and see nobody but spend small time in the Lagos Airport and people you know come out of the woodwork.

That tired old saying still holds true but I like to add the additional word, strange.

My Christmas Story (Kinda')

Adventures in Nigeria

This year I want to take time to make sure to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year because two weeks ago I almost didn't make it to the end of this year. That's right, it was nip and tuck and I thought I was finished.

I was flying to Abuja, Nigeria from Lagos on Arik Airlines, a Nigerian owned company whose slogan is "Wings of Nigeria." Actually they are not bad at all and two of the flights were on new airplanes. I had arrived late the night before in Lagos and after getting settled in the hotel I felt obliged to check and respond to emails, sometimes it seems it would be better to just throw the computer out the window, so I didn't get to sleep until about 3:00AM.

The flight the next morning was to be at 8:00 so I had to wake at 5:30. As can be expected the driver did not show on time so we ended up rushing to the airport, I was travelling with the former Sierra Leonean Ambassador to Liberia Mr. Foyah, and by the time we get there we have a problem with our flight to Abuja, which of course we miss. The next flight is at 12:00 Noon so if you have any knowledge of African Airports you know there is no way I can get any sleep. Also Ambassador Foyah loves his cold beer so it's "Jim, how about if we get a Cold Beer while we wait?" Sure, why not.

Finally we board our flight to Abuja, get comfortable, and I am assured at least one hour of sleep. Luckily I'm in an isle seat and there is no one in the middle seat between myself and the Ambassador, ah sleepy time. Now strange as it may sound when on a plane I can only sleep by putting my arms on my lap, leaning my shoulders forward and letting my head drop straight down. I have to be very tired to even fall asleep, and on this occasion I was very tired. If there is any bump or turbulence I wake and doze off again, or just give up and start drinking. This time I'm asleep within ten minutes and wake only to eat the snack they serve about twenty minutes in; then back to sleep.

As I wrote above if there is turbulence my head will bob and sometimes I will wake at least briefly. On this flight, turbulence there turned out to be. All of a sudden my whole body was jerked forward and as I woke I heard, "Bam," and quickly observed the plane dipping somewhat forward and to the right. I distinctly remember saying "Holy Shit," rather loudly and reaching up to grab the seatback in front of me.

With that noise and violent movement the plane must have lost an engine, or maybe two. We're going down for sure and the next three to five seconds were some of the worst of my life. Suddenly there was another shifting of the plane and I leaned forward to look out the window two seats over. Just then I noticed it .............. noticed that .............. well ............... we were nothing more then landing at Abuja airport, and of course everybody else on the plane was calm, cool, and collected.

My first thought was that of wondering if anyone noticed that I, the only white man on the plane by the way, was in shear terror for about five seconds and how hard they must have been trying not to bust out in laughter. How many must have been thinking, "Fly much," or "First flight?" What a moron. Nobody seemed to be staring so I quickly grabbed my carry on bags and moved to the front.

As I was leaving the stewardess smiled and said thanks for flying Arik. I assumed she was expending the usual pleasant good bye but it just seemed she had that twinkle in her eyes that she knew I was the "loser" that thought the plane was going down in flames while preforming a routine landing. As I said, for awhile there it "was," nip and tuck, I swear.

Merry Christmas to all

Nigeria

A markerNigeria -
Nigeria
get directions

Welcome to Nigeria
Welcome to Nigeria

The Liberians and the Bus

Stories From Sierra Leone

Maybe the biggest and most problematic issue we grappled with from shortly after I arrived in Sierra Leone was that of our workers. Most were regular employees, others were part time day laborers, and some were on short contracts.

Workers ranged from unskilled to office staff and management. They worked across the entire range of pay scale and job categories established by the Ministry of Labor in the Agriculture sector. I would certainly not want to get into the intricacies of this system as I would soon bore even myself and have to take a nap.

At its highest number, Taakor employed over 500 workers in Sierra Leone. Because we were in the timber industry we needed workers in the forest that knew what they were doing when harvesting trees. Forestry is the first or second most dangerous work in the world. We required crews to do the initial prospections, to mark the species, outline the cutting blocks, and prepare the plan for the trees that need to be felled.

Following those, were the chainsaw crews with spotters and mates, cross cutters and buckers, those that merchandised the timber, and crews that scaled the logs to determine the cubic meters of timber that were to be recorded for purposes of pricing and taxes.

Many of these were highly skilled jobs that required people with experience. Sierra Leone did not really have a bona fide timber export industry, probably due to the ten year civil war, so manpower with the expertise we needed, and on the scale required, was not available.

One solution to this problem was to hire workers from neighboring Liberia. Liberia had a long history of timber production and exports due to their rich forests, which Taakor had already established a foothold for future exploitation. They too had just come out of a long civil war, but unlike Sierra Leone, a major contributor to financing that war was timber. Also, because of this the UN had sanctioned timber exports there due to the abuse so there was plenty of labor available.

Needless to say, that meant there were numerous experienced workers at all positions ready to work. This was in some ways the easiest solution and in another a problematic one. Whatever the number of workers that came, it would be that many jobs Sierra Leone, and Sierra Leone workers, would perceive being taken from them by their not so deserving Liberian brothers.

It was paramount that the Liberians worked separately from the Sierra Leone crews and we had to hire specific positions, not general labor. Another problem, housing, was solved by making sure that the community and village where they stayed knew that there would be the benefit of an added economic influx. These would be wage earning workers coming to pay rent, buy food, supplies, and in the Liberians case, lots of palm wine.

We knew it would not always be smooth, but it produce once everyone was settled and got to work. The Government was sold because we said it was going to be a short term solution and the Sierra Leonean workers could be trained at the same time. The plan did get off the ground, and did work, until the Government of Sierra Leone put a ban on all logging.

When the ban remained in affect long after Taakor, and other logging concerns, were promised, it became a huge issue for all workers. Investors refused to continue to fund a project that had no target on when it could continue. Without money, we had to furlough wages while asking workers to continue so as to be ready to take advantage when the ban was lifted.

For the Liberians this was an added burden because they were away from their own country, homes, and families. They were there to send money back home and when that does not happen, people back home come to believe you are lying and just spending the money. At the same time you are struggling to survive in an unwelcome place without the money needed.

At the beginning of the ban the workers were behind us, all of them, even to the point that we had to stop them from protesting at the State Building. This was at the request of the Administration, the Vice President, and the APC party.

As it dragged on, and they continued to work, the workers slowly began to turn on us. They needed to be paid no matter what the reason we couldn’t produce. I do have to say here that we, I and Mark, predicted that this would happen. The Sierra Leon workers were a problem we had people in various governmental and political positions to help with them, initially. The Liberians were a different problem. There was no assistance there.

They were the first to become unruly. There were threats up country of attack on the logging contractor’s camp. They said they would begin blocking the road to the forest area and stop vehicles to seize and vandalize them. They refused to continue to work; I can’t really blame them for that.

All this time they also needed to have accommodations, food, supplies, and of course, their palm wine. That led them to begin establishing credit with the businesses and people of Sumbaria where they lived. The Government just needed to let us begin again and ship timber as was the plan. That did not happen.

When things began to reach the inevitable boiling point I happened to be going up country. The Liberian workers found out and demanded a meeting, or they would burn the contractor’s camp the ground. So I set a time in Masingbi, the camp location, and specified that they send two or three representatives. About thirty-five showed up, and not all at the same time.

Controlling thirty-five not so happy Liberians in a meeting is not the easiest proposition in the world, and it was thirty-five to one, as no one else was daring enough to join me in the room, well except Zak Beasley. I think he felt sorry for me. The first question was when are we going to get paid, as was the third, fifth, seventh, etc.?

Since they did not all come at the same time, or on time, each new arrival would ask the same question, when are we going to get paid? There were other issues addressed and after about an hour and a half they were satisfied to the extent that they were willing to wait a small time more. The leader, or at least most vocal, came to me and said, Mr. Jim, you’re our father, and as such, we are pleading that you provide us transport money back to Sumbaria. I had no choice if I wanted the meeting to end by the end of the year.

The overall situation dragged on and deteriorated, including the Liberian problem. It would be hard to pay them and not Sierra Leone workers, might even be dangerous for us. We finally made a deal with them, with the help of the Liberian Ambassador to Sierra Leone, to pay their transport back to Liberia and have them paid at our office in Monrovia as soon as we got the money.

Before we could do that, there had to be an arraignment made with the local business concerns in Sumbaria as to how debits would be paid, otherwise they would not let the Liberians leave. Our people negotiated a settlement where we would list all Liberian worker debits and give to the Ambassador, along with the list of salaries. When salaries were paid, the debits owed would be sent to Sumbaria, the remainder sent to Monrovia.

We next had to transport all Liberian workers, about forty or so, from Sumbaria to Freetown to meet with the Ambassador, a trip of about four or five hours. We had a standard yellow school bus brought from the US, so we decided to use that. *Homer, one of the long trusted Sierra Leone workers agreed to drive. We couldn’t let the Liberians drive themselves as they may have headed straight to the boarder to try to cross.

*Homer’s real name was Abdul, but he was nicknamed Homer by the “King of Jui” because he looked like Homer Simpson, and it stuck.

It was all set. The bus left Masingbi and headed for Freetown. We made sure to try to keep contact with Homer when he was in cell phone range. We were worried the Liberians might try something. What they did do, which should not have been a surprise, was begin drinking palm wine. Half way down, they were certifiable combustible, as was their behavior. Homer did not have an easy time.

When the bus finally arrived in Freetown they headed straight to the Liberian Embassy, not far from where we lived. The gate to the Embassy compound was opened and for some reason Homer pulled in. I think we warned him not to do this but I can’t be sure. By that time he probably was not thinking straight.

Once inside the compound the Liberians stumbled out and immediately hijacked the bus. They refused to allow it to leave until the settlements for salary were made. We were not happy but could really do nothing and what were they going to do, sell it from there. The Ambassador was a friend so we knew he would not let anything happen to it.

Since they were technically on Liberian soil inside the Embassy the Sierra Leone authorities could do nothing, but what we did arrange was to have a couple of police by the entrance in case any of them came out. Then, we could have them arrested for theft. Although I didn’t personally check on this I believe police were there the first and second night, to no avail.

I do remember that the third day, a Saturday, I was driving up the street early afternoon towards the Embassy to go eat lunch and low and behold what did I see, a group of about seven to ten of the Liberians walking down the hill. They recognized who I was and all began smiling and waving, like we were long lost friends. I blew my horn and waved back. I’m sure they were looking for small food and beer or palm wine. I shook my head and said, fuck me.

The next few days were spent arraigning the money to pay transport, and as it turned out some of their salaries in order to get them to leave. They were staying at the Embassy and the Ambassador was getting tired of them being there. At his request, Mark and I went to meet and finalize the deal.

The last sticking point was the debits owed to the Sumbarian vendors and businesses. We sat with the Ambassador and he asked to have the representatives come in for the workers. As was the case with my meeting in Masingbi, they all began filling in. The Ambassador stopped them and instructed them to go decide on three of four representatives. They went outside, right next to the office window and begin arguing with each other.

After about fifteen minutes the Deputy Ambassador, Mr. Johnson, laughed and said, “They can’t decide.” Somehow they came with a small number and we worked out the process to ask each worker their debit owed so as to compared it to their salary. The Ambassador would sign off, that way no problems later in Monrovia.

They walked in a line in front of the Ambassador and he began by asking the first worker’s name, then checking the salary list we supplied. When the worker acknowledged, the Ambassador asked what his negotiated debit in Sumbaria amounted to. When the guy told him the Ambassador look at him in blank astonishment and said, that’s more then you’re salary owed. How could you allow that to happen?

After a few more of those same debit circumstances, the Ambassador admonished all of them for their foolish and embarrassing behavior. Mark and I just sat there with small smirks on our face. This did not surprise us but no need for us to say I told you so. We concluded after some time, got money to all of them and made certain they understood that they were not to stay in Sierra Leone, although I think a few did.

The majority went back, and straight to our office in Monrovia to begin raising hell. They were not going to wait for their money without showing a stand for their families and friends there. Our partners called and complained, several times. It was their problem now, thank god. We were left with a bigger problem, the Sierra Leone workers at our throat. We did get the bus back.

Komba and the Stolen Hilux

Stories From Sierra Leone

Many of the problems Taakor had as a company, and that I dealt with personally, were all do to the fact that we were unable to pay our people for a long period of time. When something like that happens it really does not matter the reason behind it, or that people are not getting compensated for the work and the services they provide. The main point is that they can’t put food on the table, a roof their families head, provide clothing, or send their kids to school.

That’s it. That is what we all want, to provide for our families. In Africa the family unit, which extends to many, many people are all reliant on whoever can bring in money or food. Even a single young man or woman is required to do what they can to contribute to the whole family. Many times a source of income is provided by one person, and then everyone continues to rely on that single source, right or wrong.

When that source of income dries up there are major problems. That is when bad things begin to happen. Strikes and work stoppages are a normal and expected outcome. Who among any group of people will just keep the faith and work on without being compensated for a long period of time? Unruly behavior develops very quickly. Why would someone take instructions and orders, or take kindly to being held accountable when there is no pay for the job being asked of them.

Finally, uprisings, theft, and vandalism occur. When work has been done and there is no compensation on the horizon, then what does one have to lose? Someone just takes a little fuel and sells it, or they take a battery, or a tire, just to get some money. Sometimes they get together and use a truck to haul sand, or cement, or people for some payment and split it. It becomes, I’m owed and my family has to eat, I’m taking this for that reason.

It’s easy to argue that this is not the way to go, or that it is not morally correct, but when the belly is empty and the wife and family is at your throat, people do what they have to at times. I saw way too much of this and not only is it frustrating from the business side of things, it’s stressful and even sad looking at the other side at times. You are basically watching both the business and the people slowly sink into quagmire that continues to churn and churn.

With this scenario on full brew, one morning my driver, Komba Yamba, came to the house and I instructed him to go into town and take care of some business. I don’t recall what the assignment was but I remember that it would take about two to three hours. Once completed, I needed him to come back and pick me up to go to a meeting at one of the banks. He left and I went back to my phone calls and other work.

After about two and one half hours I gave Komba a call to follow up and make sure he was on his way back, usually a requirement to make sure to get this done. He replied that he was on his way. Another hour went by though so I knew there was a problem. We were having some difficulties with Komba getting off track lately anyway, so I called again, this time annoyed.

“Kombe, where the hell are you? You said you were on the way here.”

“I’m not coming back.”

“What do you mean you’re not coming back? Where is the vehicle?”

“I’m not bringing the vehicle back. I’m keeping it until you pay me all the money you owe me.”

“So, you’re stealing the Hilux then?”

“No, I’m not stealing it. I’m keeping it until you pay me.”

“Komba, think about what you are doing and saying right now. First you can’t take a vehicle that is not yours for the pay owed, and second your pay is not even close to what the Hilux is worth. You’re stealing the vehicle and I need you to bring it back right now.”

The conversation went on but the result was that Komba refused to return the vehicle. I called some of the Sierra Leon staff, including Papa and Prince, two of the more influential management personal to try to talk some sense into Komba. The truth was though, that they could have very well advised him to do it as far as I knew.

In the end they said they tried to talk him into bring back the truck but to no avail. I let everyone know who needed to know, and we contacted the police to be on the lookout. This was on a Friday early afternoon. There was no movement or progress the remainder of the day.

The next morning I attempted to call Komba and he actually answered the phone. I remember I was at Mamba Point Restaurant getting ready to meet someone and told Komba that the investors wanted me to do everything possible to find him and get him arrested. This was a lie, I didn’t need any investors advice on that, but wanted him to understand it was serious. I told him to bring the truck back.

Komba refused, and said that it would be easy enough for him to go up country where no one could find him. I said yes, that was true but is that how you want things to go the next few months? Running around up country, hiding from everyone, how is that going to get you paid in the end? He said he didn’t care, he wanted his money.

Nothing happened on Sunday, but Monday morning I got a call from one of our people, Mr. Lamin, who said he was at the police station in Freetown. He had gotten a call from Komba. Komba had gone to the police with the truck and wanted to lodge a complaint, telling them that he had the truck because Taakor would not pay him. Great, I said, do they have him under arrest? I already knew that they did not.

Mr. Lamin told me that the police wanted me to come to the station and answer questions as to why we had not paid Komba. I went ballistic over the phone. I told Lamin that no way I’m coming to the station so that the police could try to strong arm me into giving Komba, and them, money. This was a case of theft of a vehicle and I expected them to arrest him and give us the truck back right away.

Mr. Lamin was in the middle of it and he danced around some stuttering about how they need to understand the situation. He put one of the police on the phone and I told him there was only one thing he needed to understand, that I was having our lawyer come straight there to explain things to him and that I was not coming to the station.

I hung up the phone and called two different lawyers who both called the station. It still took about three more hours of Mr. Lamin’s time and the truck was not returned until the next day, but we got it back without paying the police any money. Of course they did absolutely nothing to Komba, except let him go.

These situations were always tough to deal with because you understood the problem but the other side did not. They always assumed that we actually had money and just did not want to give it out. The problem was, there was no money and no matter how many trucks they stole, or problems they caused, or lawsuits the brought, that fact was not going to change unless their Government gave us a fair chance to make that money. In the end, they never did.

Small Small

Stories from Sierra Leone

I was so enraged that I slammed the staple machine down on the desk. In Africa it’s not called a stapler or staple gun, but a staple machine. It has moving parts so the name seems accurate, but also does not exactly fit because they don’t move without human pressure.

It’s like naming or describing other mechanical devices or machines here, they seem to just strip down to the essence of what it is or does, such as motor car, motor bike, torch light or staple machine.

There are other words or phrases, sometimes referred to as broken English that do much the same. Instead of “turn off the car,” one would simply state, “off the car.”

Here, a person would not ask, “Please stop the car so I can get out.” Instead they would say, “Let me step down here.”

When a member of your party is leaving to use the restroom, they don’t announce, “I’ll be back in just a minute,” they would instead hurriedly say, “I’m coming,” as they are walking away. This always amuses me.

My favorite use of a word here is “small.” How much milk would you like in your coffee? “Small.”

Is Mr. Jones in, I have an appointment. “Wait small.”

Good morning, how are things going today? “Small, small.”

Is that enough whiskey in your glass sir? “NO, small more.”

When I arrived home from Liberia after being away for two years I took my wife to her first movie at a large screen theater. We got popcorn, candy, and drinks at the concession stand. I ordered a coffee because it was February and I asked the teenager working the concession for some cream. When he asked me how much I replied, without thinking, “Small.”

He stopped and looked at me, probably thinking, does he want me to change the size of the drink. I caught myself right away and said, “Just a little bit please, thanks.” I like using “small”, small more.

Just as a side note, the restrooms at the theater had the kind of towel dispensers where you wave your hand over a sensor and a section of towel comes roaring out. My wife came out after her trip after the show laughing. She couldn’t figure out how to get a towel from the dispenser until a little girl showed her the magic trick, just wave your hand over it. The number of sensor activated devices in Africa is small, small.

The staple machine survived the blow to the desk. Most likely because it was one of the few accessories that I brought with me from my last visit home. There are just some small things that make life easier and for me, a good staple machine and quality staples is one of them.

Other items I brought back were a wireless computer mouse, two metal kitchen whisks, non-stick frying pan, a plastic device to core a pineapple, good zip lock bags, a thick towel (gift from my wife), and a new computer, all small, small items that make a big, big difference.

With my quality staple machine in tack, I opened it to verify the reason for my rage. It had run out of staples. It’s been a long time personal struggle for me whenever I get on a roll working and I run out of staples. I don’t know what it is but this temporary road block sets me on fire.

I have at times screamed obscenities and flung the failing staple machine across the room. I guess it’s the interruption of a routine, or maybe the impediment to accomplishing a task. I like my flow of work to be effortless and I have in the past asked my assistant to check the staple machine each morning to make sure it has plenty of ammunition.

I guess this seems like a big deal over a little thing but we all have our breaking points, and no matter how hard I try I just can’t seem to control my anger when the staple machine lets me down. I’m working on it though, small, small.

Mr. Eid And The Guy With The Gold

Stories From Sierra Leone

Mr. Eid was an always problematic and elusive character. On the one hand, he was experienced at his business, road construction and excavation, while on the other he was hard to pin down on financial details and matters of accountability.

Eid was Sierra Leonean, but had spent so much time in the UK that he spoke with a British accent. For many people in Sierra Leone this gives the communicator an air of competence. For this and other reasons, Eid had a loyal following of workers that relied on him to provide jobs, and thus money. No matter how much he might be screwing them.

There was one major component to his business Eid lacked. He did not have equipment. By equipment, I’m referring to heavy equipment such as Bulldozers, Excavators, Road Graders, Dump Trucks, and Compactors. All needed to procure and complete road construction and the occasional earth moving projects.

Taakor Tropical Hardwood had the equipment Eid coveted. This meant that Mr. Eid was constantly at the door gauging our temperature for various projects he was pimping. Procured contracts, obtained through his usually overstated relationship with Taakor, were his offering at our table. Using Taakor’s equipment made these big money projects possible, with Eid taking his cut as the project manager of course.

Eid would secure the projects and of course use his people. He would manage the job and collect the money. He would bring Taakor its just deserts for renting him the equipment. It was always going to be big, big, big money, for everyone.

It’s important to remember that Taakor was in the Timber Business, not construction. Our focus was fighting the Government to grant us the ability to continue in the industry we made such a huge investment toward, Timber. But, we needed funds.

Managed correctly these projects could be a major boost. Hell, even those we fought with in the Forestry Department were pushing us to engage these projects, while they sorted out their every changing timber policies.

My favorite venture in this avenue involved rental of one of our excavators, a deal Eid brought us with Rub Sayie, a Pakistani company who was mining gold at their concession in the Northern Provence of Sierra Leone. Their concession was so far north that at the actual job site, cell phone communication was impossible. Eid used this to his advantage.

This particular project did not involve Eid’s hands on management, only to monitor the equipment usage and holding the Pakistanis accountable. As it usually worked with Eid, the first two weeks saw him bringing Taakor rental fees that made the ordeal worthwhile. Our main concern was that the excavator was being maintained properly.

After two weeks, Eid, and the rental fees, began to become sparse. Phone calls were returned but there was always an excuse. Eid was up country checking on another project. Eid was meeting with his partners or workers. Eid was sorting out a problem in another region of the country. And finally, Eid could not get a hold of the Pakistanis, no cell coverage.

This became his go to excuse for not being able to collect money from Rub Sayie. The main contact, Mohammed, either could not be reached or would not pick up his phone. Muhammed’s brother who ran the site could also not be reached. There were also the occasional stories of the excavator operator not showing up, or getting it stuck in the pond. These were all smoke screens as to why money was not coming.

After another two plus weeks I was able to wrangle the phone number for Mohammed’s brother from one of Eid’s associates. I’m sure the guy figured he was on the site and could not be reached. I called the number right away and shock of all shocks; he answered the phone on the first ring. I introduced myself and he said he was headed back to the site, but gladly gave me his brother’s number in Freetown.

I called that number, and shock of all shocks; he answered the phone on the first ring. This entire problem Eid said he was having tracking these guys down, well it took five minutes and two rings of the phone. Two hours later I was sitting down with Mohammed.

Mohammed was pleasant guy. He was from Pakistan but lived in South African with his white wife who was from there. But, as expected he was not all that forthcoming. We talked and decided to meet again at his house in Freetown.

After our initial meeting, over the next few days, I ran into Mohammed no less than five times. Mohammed at Mamba Point Restaurant, Mohammed at Atlantic Bar, Mohammed waving at me while in line at the British High Commission, and Mohammed with his wife and daughter at the coffee shop on Wilkinson Road. For a guy Eid could never track down, I was actually getting sick of running into him.

I ended up having the meeting with Mohammed and his brother at their house. I got there and found out the reason his brother was not up country was because they were having problems with their concession. The Department of Mines had stopped them from working. Along with his brother, there were several other members of their family at the house who had supposedly been working at the site.

I discovered this after the initial five minutes, when about ten guys in typical Mideast attire, each with thick black beards, came down the stairs and sat around me. None of them spoke, just stared at me, very uncomfortable. I wondered if I would soon be on the internet with a hood over my head. The meeting was due to information that our excavator was being used more than they were reporting and our suspicion that Eid’s operator, and Eid himself, were cohorts with them on this.

We weren’t happy with the arraignments. I wanted them to know it was either give us something right away or we pulled the machine out. Unfortunately for me, their tactics, on purpose or not, forced me to let’s say lighten up just a bit. I told Mohammed that we needed to be paid on a regular bases or we had to bring the excavator back and that he was not to deal with Eid again.

He of course blamed all misunderstandings and lack of payment on Eid. I really couldn’t argue too much with him because that was plausible. Eid would I already knew deny this and blame the Pakistanis. So, I quickly concluded, bowed to the group of not so friendly Middle East mystery men, and made my way out.

There was no change in their operations or the compensation to Taakor so we finally terminated the arraignment. With Eid’s operator there, it was not easy. As for Eid, about the time I finally met Mohammed, he more or less disappeared. He knew, that we knew, he was manipulating the deal to his end, and the Pakistanis were also benefiting.

Eid continued to be a thorn in our side but who there wasn’t. We dealt with him when we had to and ignored him when we didn’t. Later, just like everyone else in Sierra Leone Eid claimed that we owed him money, after all he skimmed from us. Just their way of deflecting, throw the light on the other guy while dancing around in the shadows.

As time went by I continued to run into Mohammed until I finally saw him at the helicopter terminal getting ready to leave with his wife and daughter. Unfortunately, I was not also leaving that day. I don’t know how their gold mining went from there but if I had to guess, I’m sure they continued to have problems. I know we did. They were just bump in our road.

CPO and the Stolen Pipe

Stories From Sierra Leone

As the General Manager or Managing Director of a company you are really responsible for just about everything that goes on, sometimes no matter whose fault. In Sierra Leone this includes when someone working for you goes off the rails and does something nefarious or even against the law.

It is at that point, even if you don’t know anything about it, you discover that at any time the police can show up to question you, and sometimes try to detain and take you to the police station for to further their quest for some money.

One morning, when I had been in Freetown for about two or three weeks, I was getting ready to have a meeting with a couple of the staff when our security chief, Prince, came in and told me the police were there to talk to me.

I responded with, “why?”

He told me that they had questions regarding some pipe that had been stolen on the road going out of Freetown on the Eastern side of the city. A company was installing a new water pipeline and it was alleged that some of our people had loaded up four or five sections of the pipe stacked along the road and took off with them.

This had, again allegedly, happened at least a week before I arrived. I told Prince to tell them I wasn’t here at the time, and ask how I could know anything. He told me that since I was the General Manager that they needed to speak to me so I could answer questions.

I made a couple of calls and Prince went to talk with the officers to explain that we would look into the situation and find out if any of our people might be involved, and get back to them. I’m sure he probably gave them some small money for their trouble, which for them was more important than actually finding the culprit anyway.

When I asked about the incident later, what had actually happened, there was no doubt that Taakor’s main instigator of all things shady and underhanded, not to mentioned down right criminal at times, was the man behind the missing pipe.

His name, or really his nickname, was CPO. His real first name was Abdul I think, I never heard anyone call me that, and I have no idea what his last name was. Picture a short stocky guy about 35 years old, with a good sized gut, round head, and squinty, beady eyes. CPO always wore his clothes a little too tight, especially when he slipped on his muscle shirt. When you asked him a direct question he gave you a smile that made it clear you really didn’t want a direct answer, and he wasn’t going to give you one anyway.

He frequently donned a green cap that was about a half sized to small on his top side. He and covered his feet in long pointed shoes as are fashionable in Africa. It gave him that big shoes clownish appearance most of the time. He looked like a cross between a Hobbit and a penguin.

His appearance was dusty, like he had just gotten off a motor bike ridden down a dirt road, even when he would ware his occasional too tight suit. He spoke English, Broken English, Pigeon, Krio, French, and whatever else might get him a few extra for his pocket.

CPO was a bag man, and a walking question mark. You never knew what he was really up to because he worked in the shadows, behind the scenes. He liked the nickname CPO because people thought it might mean Chief Police Officer, although he had nothing to do with the police, except pay them off when needed. I’m 99.9% sure he handled Kalonkos and night fighters, or more to the point, he was a pimp.

With CPO, it was anything to make a Leone, and he was for hire to anyone at any time to do almost anything, including threaten someone. I’m not sure about maiming or murder but I do know he could find someone to do that if needed. He was a valuable man at times and a liability at others. Most of all, he was someone you had to keep an eye on at all times, yet strategically take your eye off of at others.

He did not really work for me, or the company, but I had to, at certain times, instruct him and control him, or try to. He paved the way to cut through a lot of red tape, but you never knew when the blow back might hit you. He could be a real pain in the ass.

I can’t remember the amount of times he was using one of our vehicles and I would call him and say, “CPO, where the fuck are you?” His favorite response was always, “I’m on my way coming,” and then would hang up the phone before you could ask anything else. An hour of two later I would have to call again and ask, “CPO, you said you were on your way coming, where the fuck are you?”

Needless to say CPO was always on thin ice and finally did cut his own throat when he took funds to purchase parts for us in Conakry, Guinea and didn’t return until over a week later, without the parts or the money. After that, no amount of begging was able to get him back in the game, at least with us. No way I every worried for him after that though, he had plenty of hustle.

As for the stolen pipe, CPO was the man. We had apparently needed culvert up country for the water crossings and our shipment was still on the Atlantic. CPO went out one night with a truck and some guys and got us some very expense and valuable culvert pipe, and it was put to use.

The police were too lazy to travel up country to investigate; the company must have not given them any money for it, so they were stonewalled. Occasionally someone would come around asking questions but that was mostly to try to get some small money from us.

It turned out to be just another unneeded problem and distraction. In Sierra Leone dealing with the devil, and there was more then one, was sometimes just part of doing business.

Obama in Africa
Obama in Africa

Obama in West Africa

Stories From Sierra Leone

Here is a short story that tells something about what people here in West Africa think about, and how they view the President of the United States. While living in Sierra Leone I frequented a Lebanese coffee shop down the street from my apartment. There aren't to many coffee shops in Freetown and this one as you might guess does not compare with Starbucks or most others in the States or UK, but they have better then average pastries and coffee.

There is a TV hanging from the wall near the cashier, looks like it's was made in the 80's, and it usually has CNN or other news stations playing. On this occasion, there was a Lebanese man sitting at the table below the TV with a young boy who I assumed was his son. The boy looked to be half half so his mother was probably from Sierra Leone. He was a cute boy, had to be no older then 5 and was sitting quietly while eating a roll and drinking juice. All of a sudden a news story came on about Obama and the boy looked up and began chanting, Obama........ Obama........ Obama........Obama......

It used to be said that Muhammad Ali was the most recognized man on the Planet. He would go anywhere in the world, Europe, Africa, Middle East, even China and crowds would gather to try to get a look, cheer and call out his name. I don't know if Obama will have the popularity Ali had, Ali was a sports figure so there was not so much political baggage, but in Africa he is going to be a huge roll model to young black children. The child in the coffee shop has no idea about politics, but he knows what his parents and his friends are talking about, Obama.

Love is Wicked - Brick & Lace

Music in Sierra Leone

Not long after I arrived in Sierra Leone I heard this song. Then I heard it again, and again, and again. For months this song was played on the radio and on young peoples various music players. I like the song but it did get a little old.

The two singers are sisters, not from Africa but from Jamaica. The song was so popular in Sierra Leone that the pair made a small concert appearance at Country Lodge Hotel and Restaurant in Freetown. It's not a song you will ever hear much but I have to put in here as a fond reminder of my arrival to Freetown.

Alex's Restaurant and Bar
Alex's Restaurant and Bar

Dance, Dance, Dance Episodes (The Back Around)

Humorous Stories From Sierra Leone

Most of the time by just, "people watching," you will experience small moments that will make you smile, or frown, or even become down right angry. In addition there are the few people watching moments that will make you laugh your ass off, even if it's just to yourself. The Dance, Dance, Dance Episodes, a creation in my own mind only, are what I refer to when I see people who are having a good time at a festive occasion and decide, or are forced, to get up and dance but are not really the dancing type.

These occurrences usually happen at weddings, anniversaries, birthday parties, New Years parties and other like events. Clubs don't count in this scenario except in extreme cases because everyone is there for the dancing, plus you can hide in the crowd and the darkness of the dance floor if you're not so good. At clubs you don't stand out so much and most people have had a few to drink, so they don't care. Last night was a New Years Dance, Dance, Dance episode that I have titled, "The Back Around Version."

The stars of "The Back Around Version," are:

1) Lead Female: The hot, Hot, HOT Lebanese girl. She's in her mid to late twenties with long black hair and wearing a thigh length shiny light brown dress. Very nice indeed! Just as a quick note; there is a substantial Lebanese Community in Sierra Leone especially in Freetown. They mostly frequent the same places and don't mix too much with others, somewhat tight knit.

2) Lead Male: The Nerdy looking Lebanese guy. Black framed glasses of course, probably in his early thirties, not a bad looking guy, light colored button down shirt, dark slacks, he is somewhat rumpled without looking like a slob.

3) Supporting Male: The Older man, again Lebanese, who is still a go getter. This guy looks to be in his mid sixties, is about six foot three, not thin but also not fat. He also wares a shirt, long sleeve knit pullover, dark slacks and a snappy looking drivers hat, the kind where the bill buttons down in the front. Unlike his younger co-star of this episode he is sharp and hip, even though he is in his sixties.

4) Background Cast: The average looking Lebanese woman. Looks to be about the same age as the Nerdy Lebanese guy, with an average looking beige dress, average looking hair, average looking face, average looking everything. She is the perfect counter to the hot, Hot, HOT Lebanese girl but not her rival.

The setting:

Alex's Bar and Restaurant located right on a cove next to the beach in the Aberdeen section of Freetown. The restaurant has a bar area, an outdoor dining patio, and a sheltered dining area open to the outside used more extensively during the rainy season. Their food is usually very good, their drinks are just what you are looking for, with a cliental mix of ex-pats mostly from Europe, some scattered Asians, a few local Sierra Leonean and Lebanese and like me one or two Americans will show up from time to time.

The Scene:

It is not unusual for Alex's to host special events like wedding dinners and they

always have special arraignments for holidays such as this New Years Eve bash. On this occasion the patio is filled with people dining, dressed for the party. There is a DJ playing appropriate upbeat music for the occasion and everyone is having a good time. There is a small area used for a dance floor on the patio and once everyone is finished with diner a few people take advantage and move to the music to have some small fun shaking a leg. Nothing unusual, no Dancing With the Stars candidates but also no real stiffs either. So although it's people watching time nothing interesting happening, yet.

Action:

Just after Madonna's song, "Like a Prayer," begins, a new group dares to take control of the dance floor. Up steps Older guy, Average woman and hot, Hot, HOT Lebanese girl followed up by Nerdy Lebanese guy. Older guy begins right in shaking it with Average woman and man he can hold a beat and move it around. Average woman is, of course, average. It's clear that hot, Hot, HOT Lebanese girl wants to dance as much as Older guy but she is being a little more reserved because she is dancing with our hero, Nerdy Lebanese guy.

Some background story:

I know you have all seen a version of Nerdy Lebanese guy dance at some point in your life. If you're your own Nerdy Lebanese guy I do apologize but damn, come on now, you need to stay off the floor and make sure your wife understands this also. If your not married and have a girlfriend don't worry she won't be seen dancing with you until you're married. If your not married and don't have a girlfriend go ahead and queue up the next video game.

Just in case you don't know him though these are the guys that dance stiff legged, back straight, shoulders slightly humped over with their arms at a ninety degree angle pumping back and forth slightly, like pistons not quite in sync; and at the same time shuffling their feet while stepping forward and backward. All these movements are meant to be in rhythm with the music but unfortunately, well, they don't understand what rhythm is.

Back to the action:

So hot, Hot, HOT Lebanese girl is dancing and looking hot, Hot, HOT but is somewhat concerned about Nerdy guy and what he might do next. Older guy is having a great time moving around Average woman who is, of course, average. It is clear that hot, Hot, HOT Lebanese girl would like to switch partners so she can dance and have fun without being potentially embarrassed but so far Nerdy guy has not made any damaging moves. He is out of his element though and the impending doom is lurking, you can feel it, and hot, Hot, HOT Lebanese girl can feel it. She's dancing as close to Older guy as possible so anyone looking may conclude they are the real pair and the other two are just, just, "Out There."

Then, all of a sudden, it happens. The house of cards come tumbling down. Actually it was like they were hit by a hurricane. Nerdy guy made a move that I have seen only a couple of times before but it seemed as if he had been perfecting it over a period of years. If it was an Olympic event he would be a gold medalist. I call the move, "The Back Around." Nerdy guys performance of the move? Here goes; start with stiff legged dance step and shuffle slightly in front of his hot, Hot, HOT dance partner, then swing slightly around to the outside and stiff legged dance step and shuffle backwards, like a back peddling corner back in football, only much more slow and awkward. Then don't stop and come back, keeping your partner aware that you are still on the floor, but instead continue back around behind your hot, Hot, HOT partner to where she can't see you and it seems to her at that moment that she is dancing alone, not good.

Nerdy guy completely nailed "The Back Around," the first time, leaving hot, Hot, HOT Lebanese girl with a blank look on her face. She had been caught off guard because she was not paying attention to her Nerdy guy dance partner. She couldn't bear to look and now it cost her and she was hung out to dry. When she turned around, I'm sure to see if he was still out there, Nerdy guy, using the stiff legged dance step and shuffle, came back around in front of her. The look on her face was a, what in the hell are you doing, look. Nerdy guy was oblivious. It was apparent she was very apprehensive about continuing so she danced even closer to Older guy, who by the way was the hit of the parade, and Average woman who was, of course, average.

Nerdy guy settled back in to the stiff legged dance step and shuffle, while hot, Hot, HOT Lebanese girl got a little more comfortable, probably thinking that move was a once in a lifetime jig. What happened next? BAM! Nerdy guy hit her with his patented move again, only this time he gave it the Emeril Laggasse and kicked it up a notch. I had never seen this sophistication of bad dancing before. Nerdy guy was able to stiff legged dance step and shuffle back and around and spin to a stiff legged dance step and shuffle forward then repeat the move again in a seamless motion combining both bad dancing and high comedy at the same time. His hot, Hot, HOT dance partner was not laughing. Nerdy guy was a master, a master of embarrassment to any dance partner.

It took only a few seconds for hot, Hot, HOT Lebanese girl to work her way into cutting in front of Average woman and maneuvering her in front of Nerdy guy. Older guy was eating it up, it didn't matter who his partner was because he was the king of the floor in this group. Older guy continued to trip the night fantastic while hot, Hot, HOT Lebanese girl was loosening up and having fun just dancing and looking, well you know. Nerdy guy continued the perfection of his stiff legged dance step and shuffle back around moves, but for Average woman it didn't matter. She was so average that having someone who disappears behind her was I guess common place.

Wrap up:

Madonna's Like a Prayer is a good song and I enjoyed it but watching Nerdy guy bust a move was the highlight of my evening. When the song finished everyone went back to their table. The next time hot, Hot, HOT Lebanese girl came up to dance? It was with Older guy. Nerdy guy mostly made his way conversing with other party guests the remainder of the night. Average woman, I didn't notice her again. I wonder why?

Yummmmy
Yummmmy

Try This for a Great Breakfast

Stories From Sierra Leone

This morning I was served a hearty helping of memory lane on a plate. It has been quite some time since I have enjoyed one of my all time favorite breakfasts.

It was about once or twice a month depending on what problems we were trying to rectify we would meet with Parliament Chief Kanagbaro Sanka Bi Kurr at his house facing the gulf in the Aberdeen area of Freetown.

Meetings were always about the same starting at eight o'clock in the morning. Mark and I would come right on time the Chief would always be about fifteen minutes late getting dressed. We would wait with a cup of coffee or hot tea and Chief would come to greet and welcome us while we were heaping praise on him. The three of us would sit in the Chief's living room and tackle the problem de jour. Afterword would go to the breakfast table to enjoy the same meal.

The Chief always had one of his wives, same one each day so I guess only she resided at the Aberdeen home, make hot tea accompanied with milk and sugar, small loafs of bread that could have been a whole meal themselves and boiled chicken served in gravy.

That was not all! The "feast a resistance," each and every meeting was not just the stimulating conversation about the Chief's education received from Southern Illinois University and time spent in America; it was the portion of what turned out to be my favorite recipe for breakfast. A mighty helping of sardines mixed with onions, pepper and mayonnaise that were best eaten with the helping of bread.

This traditional course may seem a bit strange as an opening meal to those from the United States; fact is that it is closer to something we would eat for lunch such as a tuna fish sandwich with onion. In West Africa and Sierra Leone, it is quite common.

How could something with Sardines obtain the position as one of my favorites, lofted alongside the likes of Eggs Benedict, Strawberry Pancakes, German Pancakes, Ham and Cheese Crepes and the grand Garden Omelet with Fried Potatoes, Toast and Coffee? It got there because I made the mistake of being gracious.

The first time we dined with Chief I made sure to eat a couple of helpings and then one more when Chief insisted. I should have said I was filled to the brim, but the truth was I was pretty hungry that morning. Mostly no one else was eating the sardine and onion spread, and I wanted as I said, be as polite as possible.

For each meeting, we had after that Chief made sure to have plenty of sardines and onions on hand because he knew I liked it so much. He would always say, "Jim I know this is your favorite, so I had plenty made." Everyone laughed, albeit for a different reason, Mark because he knew I had to eat it all, me because I knew I had to make it look as if I wanted to eat it all, and Chief because, well I do not know why he laughed.

So I ate it all at each and every meeting. I also made sure to eat plenty of bread and drink plenty of hot tea to wash it down. The truth is that I do not mind the meal but just not so much of it.

This morning I finally had it once again, but this time I toasted the bread and the results were profoundly better. The dry, toasted bread complimented the texture of the spread and the salty taste just enough along with the coffee to make everything go down just right. Yes, it is back up there as one of my favorite breakfast meals to eat, a, well, once or twice per year.

Please, this Sunday prepare a significant breakfast for yourself and your family. It is easy:

2 cans of sardines.

1 medium onion.

2 boiled eggs.

Dash of hot pepper.

Take all these and mix to your desire and feast on toasted bread with strong coffee.

Enjoy!

Alex's Bar Area

A good place to meet Jack or Jim. Daniels and Beam of course
A good place to meet Jack or Jim. Daniels and Beam of course
African Magic
African Magic

African Magic Gun

Stories From Sierra Leone

In my office high above the Freetown hustle and bustle, it was not unusual for my staff to come to me with ridiculous requests and off the wall information.

Most were simply passed off to someone else or stamped with a comment of "I do not even want to hear about that." On one particular occasion though it went a bit further than my normal blank stare, attitude of dismissal, and strong suggestion to get the hell out of my office as quickly as possible.

On this particular day, one of the staffs comes in to explain a couple of banking transactions and almost as an afterthought mentions that there is a man, a guy that apparently worked for us, outside downstairs that was shot.

"Shot? What do you mean shot?"

"By African Magic Gun!"

"What?"

"Yes, it is very powerful. People believe in it."

"Really! So, do not let him in the compound gate!"

"No, no he is already in the compound, right at the bottom of the stairs."

"Why? Why would the security let him in the compound? Tell them to get rid of him, now!"

"We need to send him to the doctor."

"No, we do not need to get him to a doctor, we need to get him out of the compound."

"Yes, yes but these people believe in this."

At this point, I knew I was fighting a slightly losing battle and needed to change my tactics.

"Take me down there so I can see this guy!"

"No, no Mr. Jim we just need to send this guy to a doctor, you do not need to involve yourself with this African Magic."

"I don't?" "Then why bring this to my attention? Look, I'm not giving this guy any money to go to the doctor for getting shot with African Magic or any other kind of Magic, unless Magic Johnson shot him and I doubt Magic Johnson is in Freetown this week. I'm going downstairs, and if this guy is not bleeding I want him out of the compound."

A few seconds later I'm standing outside with my so called educated staff member. He showed me a shirtless man lying under the stairs. He was mildly convulsing. I motioned to the brain dead security guards to come over.

"Why let this guy through the gate?"

Blank stares.

"I want this guy out of the compound right now!! I don't care if you have to pick him up and carry him."

Blank stares.

"I don't care if he is dragged out! You let him in so if he needs to go to the hospital you take him, and pay for it."

Now they looked at each other.

"If someone can not show me the African Magic Gun this man was shot with, or the Juju man who shot him, you guys will not be working tomorrow or ever again, UNLESS YOU GET THIS GUY OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW!"

Finally, some progress as they began helping the man to his feet.

The guy leaves without much assistance from the security that let him in. He also left without the small money he, and his unknown internal contacts, were hoping for. Never saw the African Magic Gun. The person who shot him, never found.

Children in Sierra Leone

With Grandmother in the village
With Grandmother in the village
Harmattan Winds
Harmattan Winds

Eating the Desert

Stories From Sierra Leone

Today, thanks to the Harmattan Winds, I'm eating the Sahara Desert. It's in my mouth, in my eyes, on my face, its covering everything. I've washed five times today but the dust and grit is all about. Standing on the Balcony of our third story apartment building I can usually see a panoramic view of the vast Atlantic Ocean. Most days it is virtually impossible to tell where the blue sky meets the equally blue ocean on the distant horizon. Most days you have a chance and it's fun to have the horizon play tricks on your eyes. Not Today!

The Sahara, located in Northern Africa, is the largest desert in the world and covers over 10% of the African Continent. It ranges from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Red Sea and down to the Highlands of Ethiopia covering over 9,100,000 square kilometers. Oh yeah, it also has lots and lots of sand.

The Harmattan is a dry and dusty West African Trade Wind. It blows south from the Sahara into the Gulf of Guinea during the winter months, between the end of November to the middle of March. Along its journey it picks up sand and dust and can at times blow hard enough to push dust all the way to North America. In West Africa it can severely limit visibility and block the sun for several days.

As you may have guessed, today is one of those days. It's like a cross between a giant dust cloud and a rolling thick brown fog. Everything is brown, everything. My mouth is brown, the railing is brown, the tile balcony floor is brown, people's moods are even brown. Today all I could think of was Downtown Julie Brown, Jim Brown, Paul Brown, The Cleveland Browns and the Brown Cow from the "How Now Brown Cow?" nursery rhyme. I wish George W. Bush were here. He could echo his immortal words, "You're doin a heck of a job Brownie!"

All this brown has made my eyes as red as a Sahara Sunset. I just wish I didn't have to eat it

Kissy Road. Always a traffic jam.
Kissy Road. Always a traffic jam.

This One Tops Them All, How Would You React?

Stories From Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is a third world country. If "fourth world country" were a commonly used term, Sierra Leone would be a fourth world country. Enough said. If you don't know what that means do your research. For the most part me trying to explain it here is pointless. I will give one example though. I know a waitress in Freetown that earns 150,000 Leones (Le:) per month. Le:150,000 is $50 US Dollars, per month! This is not a bad salary here.

Sierra Leone is also somewhat still in the aftermath of a 10 year civil war. Things are normal now, no real unrest, elections that went off without much problem, improvements here and there, small small. But there are reminders, such as people without hands or parts of their arm that were chopped off. Cripples who sit either on the ground or in wheel chairs along the road. An over crowded capital city from citizens that fled the fighting up country to come for the safety of the city where they stayed because there are no jobs or sources of income in the villages and towns.

The result is that Freetown has thousands and thousands of young people who walk up and down the street selling everything you can think of. They come right up to the window of the vehicle and the only thing you can do is ignore them. They sell Sunglasses, kitchen towels, prepaid phone cards, newspapers, bread, cookies, crackers, car mats, tools..........I could go on and on. Right behind these street walking merchants are the small almost make shift shops made from wood and zinc or shipping containers who are selling the same items. I always wonder why the shop merchants allow people to peddle the same items right in front of their stores, but, this is Freetown.

Along with this confusion there are the people who beg for money. Old ladies up to 70 and 80 years old who come up to the window with forlorn faces gesturing to their mouth wanting something for food. Cripples who follow you in their wheel chairs in slow moving traffic no matter how much you shake your head no or ignore them. Young boys and girls, maybe 5 or 6 years, leading blind or crippled adults right up to the car window to beg. Do you think these young kids are doing this on their own, or are the adults forcing them part of the two member team? Many who have had arms or hands chopped off or mangled come right against the window asking for money. At first it's disturbing but in a short while it becomes a little bit meaningless and you don't pay attention, then finally it actually becomes annoying. It's part of the deal of being in Sierra Leone, nothing you can really do about it. What you can't do is give money because then they swarm you. Every time you come back you are surrounded.

Every once and awhile you still see something that does disturb and make you think. Everyone knows that new born babies need extra special care. They are fragile and life for them has to be protected by their mother. Sierra Leone has a very high infant mortality rate. Health care and facilities are few and not in very good condition. It's a struggle from the start, babies here already have two strikes against them.

So what would your reaction be when a women comes up to your car window while you are stopped in a traffic jam on busy street and begs for money while holding a baby right against the window? A baby that is at most only two (2) days, yes days, old. Heavy traffic, people pushing and shoving everywhere, exhaust, dirt, dust, trash, sun beating down at midday, nothing but a tattered and dirty blanket. Not the ideal setting for a new born baby who is crying and most likely starving or at least very hungry.

The reality? It was most likely not the woman's baby, but a friend or family member's who was either lending it out as a prop to make money or maybe did not know it was being used. The thing was that this woman had another new born wrapped on her back. It was hard to tell how young this one was. My guess is that this was probably her baby, who knows, maybe she was using both and switching them from time to time.

The question still remains. What would your reaction be? How would you feel when a young woman takes an innocent new born baby who can't even open its eyes, struggling in its unknown and much more harsh new environment, and puts it to your car window and begs for money? Then continues to follow you down the street. Do you reward her efforts? Do you believe the baby will really benefit if you give the woman something? Most likely not, but who knows. I won't say how I felt or what I did or what the other two people in the vehicle with me, Mark and one of our Lebanese partners, thought or did. I will say this, I was not shocked or outraged. That might tell you something about this place. It was enough of a disturbing site to cause me to consider it later that day, which also tells you something of how hard this place can make you.

The truth is that life can be cheap in Sierra Leone, especially for the new members of the family.

Children In Sierra Leone

Kids on road from Masingbi to Sumbaria
Kids on road from Masingbi to Sumbaria

Ishmael Beah

Beautiful Beaches of Sierra Leone

The Brutality of the Civil War

Beauty and the Beast

Sierra Leone is blessed with beautiful beaches, mountains, forests, and overall landscapes. Even with the rough roads a trip almost anywhere in the country will result in views that are at times stunning and breathtaking. The coastline along the Western Peninsula is one of the few places in the world where the coastal beaches have a backdrop of mountains so closely surrounding them.

Sierra Leone is also trying to recover from one of the most brutal civil wars in the history of Africa. From 1991 to 2002 forces armed with drug induced child soldiers fought each other for control of the country or at least control of each parties area. The results can still be seen as you move among the population and throughout the country.

With all its beauty and natural resources Sierra Leone is still one of the poorest countries in the world, thus meaning that among all its wonderful landscapes there is always a chance that the beast could reappear and rear its ugly head. I hope for the sake of the people that enough continual progress is made so that never happens again.

No. 2 River Beach
No. 2 River Beach
Me relaxing at No. 2 Beach
Me relaxing at No. 2 Beach

No. 2 River Beach - Scenes from Sierra Leone

No. 2 River Beach is about 45 minutes outside Freetown. The road is a little rough so the ride there is not exactly pleasant. The beach is usually not crowded and sometimes almost empty. I made about three trips to No. 2 and although I enjoyed the excursions the ride back to Freetown almost always dampened the experience enough that it was hard to convince me to return.

The food and drink were good and as any beach outing it is always best to bring your own cooler with drinks. My favorite is always to sit and relax while others partake in swimming in the ocean. The views, as with all beaches in Sierra Leone, is fantastic. White pristine sand with a background of plush green mountains. I don't think there is anything in the world that compares.

I can't recommend going to Sierra Leone just to see No. 2 and the other wonderful beaches and that is too bad. Your missing out on beautiful and peaceful experience. If for some reason you must come, by all means take time to explore the beaches along the Western Peninsula and the Lakke, No. 2 and Tokeh Beach areas.

Cross at your own risk
Cross at your own risk

The Green Tank

Stores From Sierra Leone

One of the first Sierra Leoneans employed by TAAKOR Tropical Hardwood was Mr. Mohamed Baryoh. Mohamed was a former bank auditor in Freetown. Like most people in Sierra Leone, especially the somewhat educated or skilled workers, Mohamed was looking for something better than a low paying position at a bank.

Working for TAAKOR gave him a chance at a good long term salary and hope for the future, so he jumped at the opportunity. With his bank experience, Mohamed was able to set up and take care of most initial banking matters for the Company until a CFO or Accountant could be hired.

Mohamed was also vital to Human Resources and some political aspects of the company. Most important to TAAKOR, Mohamed was honest, trustworthy, and got things done fairly quickly.

The icing on the cake, he had a car, no small issue in Sierra Leone. It was a green Mercedes Benz, 1973 if I recall correctly.

One important side note to this, Sierra Leone is a graveyard for all vehicles that find their way to that country. Cars, trucks, motorbikes, it matters not because it is only a matter of time before they break down, are abandoned, stripped of all usable parts, and then finally sold for scrap metal.

The Mohamed Mercedes had not met this fate and at its rate of survival, it may take a while before it has to be buried. Not only was this a fine luxury automobile in its day, it was without a doubt as well constructed as any auto of its time or thereafter. The Mercedes was no longer bright and shiny; and it had a few dents, dings, and rust spots. But, it ran and ran; we called it, “The Green Tank.”

There were several occasions after I arrived in Freetown that I was forced to surrender my own designated vehicle, a white Toyota Hilux, to some of our self-proclaimed logistics experts to run for parts or supplies. I referred to them as drivers, but titles are everything in Sierra Leone so each driver referred to himself as the logistic officer.

These errands would usually take all day and often be stretched into the evening. Tasks in Sierra Leone are easily planned but not easily predicted, so it is always necessary to have a Plan B, and a Plan C. I always knew that when I let someone use my vehicle, no matter if the trip should only take fifteen minutes, it would turn into an extended expedition into the unknown.

The coachman, and whoever was riding shotgun, always made a point to be “noticed” while driving around town, and usually would pick up a few fares for pocket money, even though it was against policy. Traffic was usually so bad that when questioned, unless you had them followed, they always had that built in excuse, even though we were aware they knew their way around most of the congestion.

This meant that towards the end of the day I may not have a ride home, and I was not about to sit at the office and wait for a return that might have me stranded for hours. The green tank was always my Plan B, or C. and whoever was using the Hilux would bring it to the house later, after I made several angry phone calls of course.

On one particular Friday afternoon I called Mohamed and told him that I was ready to go home and needed a ride. We would be leaving our office at 164 Circular Road; an address that will be repeated throughout this collection of stories, and would began making our way up the winding hill toward the junction at Hill Station Road and Spur Road.

Once there, if not halted by the always on the lookout for some money police, we would take a left and continue traveling upwards on Hill Station Road. Our home was among several being built right behind the new American Embassy. The road past the Embassy entrance to the house was bad and the owner was behind on several finishing details on the house, but it was a livable abode.

Mohamed picked me up outside the office and our trip went as described to the junction, the police didn’t bother us. Mohamed took the left on to Hill Station Road and we moved about 1000 feet when, out of the blue, one of the many pedestrians along the road decided to partake in their favorite games with the green tank. Most people call it “Chicken.”

These games are almost always are won by the pedestrian because, well, who wants to run over somebody and go to the police station in Freetown. So, the driver is forced to stop, if possible.

In Freetown, all of Sierra Leone, and West Africa for that matter, people walking along the road are everywhere, easily outnumbering cars in the city. Some are waiting for a taxi, or a puta puta bus, or hoping for a random ride. Usually they are just walking to where they want to be.

Most walk just off the road, no sidewalks of course, while many make their path on the road where cars have to dodge them from behind. It is no fun driving, especially at night.

Among these walking pedestrians, there are hundreds that will take on the daily challenge of that age old game of chicken with their fiercest rival, the motor vehicle. Since the first car came to Africa there has been a battle for control of the streets, which the every bigger and faster motor vehicle has taken control.

Its sheer size, speed and ability to just trample the pedestrian give it an intimidating edge.

Only the moral ambiguity of the motor vehicle’s operator; selecting good over the evil of maiming or killing a fellow human, is what the pedestrian can count on to maintain his ever shrinking position on the roadways.

In other words, when you see someone walking down the middle of the street that person is daring you, the operator, to slow down and drive past him safely, or completely stop if needed, before just running him over.

The average pedestrian plays the game of chicken by standing on one side of the road in a ready position, just like a stand up start in a sprint race. His aim is to gauge the speed of the cars and when the opportunity presents itself, bolt across the street to the other side. Sometimes this is achieved without the cars having to slam on the breaks, sometimes not.

The pedestrian gains a small win if he or she makes it across unharmed and the driver of the car is forced to pump the brake at least once. A major victory is achieved when the driver comes to a screeching halt while almost going into cardiac arrest.

Someone might think that this is not really a game but merely people trying to get across busy streets on their way home or to work. The reason I know this is not so, because I can’t count the times when someone has done this when there is no vehicle coming up from behind their chosen contestant.

The pedestrian could wait for the car to pass, then safely mosey across at their usual leisurely pace. Instead, they shoot across right in front of the only oncoming car on the road, then act oblivious to the fact that the operator has to slam on his breaks while thanking god he is not flying through the front windshield.

Oblivious turns to incredulous when the driver lays on the horn while cussing and screaming at the pedestrian who just notched another victory on his belt. Sometimes the victor even rubs it in a little by dismissing the driver’s complaint with a wave of the hand. He knows the lazy driver is not coming after him.

Once Mohamed and I made the turn onto Hill Station Road we encountered several people who seemed cocked and in the ready position for their daily game. The traffic was heavy so it seemed no one had the guts. But, all of a sudden a seasoned veteran emerged. A young girl on the driver side of the road made a faint at crossing the road right in front of the Mercedes. It was a good one; Mohamed quickly applied the break bringing the car to a stop. She notched a win without even endangering herself.

The girl, maybe nine or ten, looked right at us and didn’t move. Mohamed hesitated until he assumed the girl would not cross and then pushed on the accelerator slightly. As soon as the car moved the girl shot across the street, like a young deer at night. Mohamed reacted again as quickly as possible, this time slamming on the breaks.

The girl was right in front of the Mercedes’ hood ornament, her terrified facial expression revealing her predicament. She made a final leap. Thud! The cars passenger side front bumper hit her about the right thigh area. She flew about ten feet onto the side of the road, partially due to the impact and partially because of her attempted leap to safety.

Almost as soon as she hit the ground she sprang to her feet, turned, and looked right at us. Her eyes were wide open; her facial expression could only be described as completely stunned. I don’t know if she was scared or could not believe that she had been bested. Mohamed had scored a victory, without apparently killing anybody in the process.

It took about three seconds until the girl realized what had happened and probably felt some pain on the side of her leg. She sat down and began wailing loudly, more out of fright than anything else I’m sure. She had to at least have a good bruise and I was hoping nothing else. As expected, a crowd formed immediately and began getting riled up. Why not, most of them had nothing else to do so a little excitement and a chance to stick their nose in somebody’s business was a welcome stroke of luck.

I sat on the passenger side looking straight ahead for reasons that I would think are obvious to anyone. The first person to be mobbed if I involved myself would of course be me. Mohamed began to get out of the car but I grabbed him. “Do not say anything about TAAKOR Mohamed, understand?”

Mohamed acknowledged with a grunt and got out to check on the girl who was still crying but seemed to be okay. His first task was to argue with about fifty people that had no business being included. I remained in my seat looking straight forward, moving only my eyes to see what was happening. The girl was just shook up.

The police showed, two female officers, and someone took the girl to the hospital just in case. This of course would cost money that would come from me (TAAKOR), but nobody needed to know that. That knowledge would have at least tripled the price to take care of all this. Once things got settled Mohamed got back in the car, accompanied by the two female police officers who got in the back seat.

“They are taking me to the police station,” Mohamed proclaimed in a little deeper version of his already husky voice. I turned and looked at the police officers in the back seat.

“Yeah, ah, I’m not going to the police station.”

Silence!

“This man was giving me a ride home and I want him to take me there before he goes anywhere.”

The officers just looked at me and said nothing. Mohamed turned and asked them in Krio if it was okay to drop me off up the street near the Embassy before going to the station. They said something to him that I didn’t pick up; Mohamed shifted into gear and we were off.

About half a mile up the street a young man bolted across the street in front of us. I turned and looked at the two female officers, pointed at Mohamed and said, “So, you’re taking him, to the police station? They only stared at me.

The girl was fine and we helped Mohamed with the hospital bill. Let the games continue!

Alex's
Alex's

Learn from History or........

First Day in Sierra Leone

My first night of sleep in Freetown was sound, mostly because I was worn out from the trip. The Cabenda Hotel was hot and damp. I had to change rooms twice because the air conditioners did not work. There was no doubt, I was no longer in the United States. My body was not as yet used to this kind of heat, heavy and humid. Sleeping without air conditioning would have been miserable, even as tired as I was.

My first full day was spent endurance riding around Freetown and its surrounding areas. My friend Mark, who brought me here to help keep operations and administration in check, wanted to show me the Western Peninsula to see some of the beautiful beaches. He was mostly getting me used to the city and its outlying towns.

Most striking to me were the rough road conditions. I was bounced up and down and side to side for several hours, on mostly city streets. It was not only uncomfortable; it was also time consuming, dodging giant holes in the semi paved streets and rattling across washboard ruts on gravel roads. I was forced to hold on to the overhead grab bar above the passenger window to remain stable, resulting in a numb right arm.

The beaches though, were some of the most beautiful on earth, and almost untouched. There were no homes, hotels, or businesses along the coastlines as far as the eye could see. The turnoffs down to the beaches were rough, really just paths instead of roads.

Between the main highway and the beaches were sometimes small villages with huts and a couple of cinder block buildings, like churches or town halls. On the beaches were only locals who were fishing, building wooden fishing boats, cooking on open coal pots, and going about their daily business.

Building resorts or secluded getaways along the Western Peninsula seemed like a smart investment. If done properly, a way to bring tourism and promote the country and its beauty, not to mention create jobs. Offering paying customers the ability to relax, swim, fish, and soak in all that beauty of West Africa could bring opportunity, and money.

On the other hand, what a shame it would be to build anything that obstructed the calm ocean breeze and the scenic coastline filled with palm trees and pristine white sand being soothed by the ocean waves. All this, set upon the background of the green mountains, was as relaxing and serine as any spot I had seen in the world.

It was a stark contrast to the rough and tumble city, overcrowded with people and poverty, filled with deteriorating buildings left from the ten year plus civil war. There, it was struggle and strife, do what you can to live and to pray for the best, pray, because to just to hope for the best is not possible.

Late in the afternoon we arrived back in Freetown and our first stop was a restaurant bar called Alex's. Alex’s was located in a section of the city called Aberdeen just a couple of blocks from Freetown’s Beach Road, and vast Atlantic Ocean.

Along the Beach Road, unlike the Peninsula, there were restaurants, a few hotels, and open air bars right on the beach. It was a big gathering place, especially for the youth on Saturday and Sunday afternoon and evening. Several months later the government closed all the open air beach bars to enhance the scenery, or at least that was the reason given. I’m sure money was somehow involved.

Alex’s was almost entirely hidden, if you didn’t know it was there or weren’t looking for it from across the bay, no way you could ever find it. The building was constructed of bamboo with a palm leaf roof, something you would expect to see in pictures of Africa. The bar and part of the restaurant was covered, while the patio was open and overlooked a cove named Man O’ War Bay that was always dotted with local fishing boats.

A few homes and a couple of hotels could be seen along the cove, as could the giant hovercraft docked on the shore a few hundred meters away. The hovercraft was another choice for those making their way to Lungi Airport, if they didn’t wish to seek the heart stopping adventure of the “You bet your life Helicopter Service.”

For diners, plastic tables and chairs were set in the warm sun on the patio, as well as under the cool shaded palm roof. For drinkers, like us, bamboo stools awaited at the bar. I was delighted, not only to get an ice cold cocktail, but to be done bronco riding for the day. Thankfully the stools were padded, although rather thinly.

The owner, Alex of course, introduced us to a couple of Americans who said their names were Jack Daniels and Jim Beam, interesting fellows, one from Tennessee and the other from Kentucky. They had come to Africa to make money for sure, but to mostly inspire people’s outrageous ideas, and we were glad to meet them, although they did seem somehow familiar.

Our barkeep slid our drinks in front of us along with two cans of Coke a Cola. You pay for the drink, and you pay for the can of coke. The first lesson in ordering any cold drink in West Africa is to ask for additional ice, it's doled out like gold. I know it sounds stupid but the ice is just not as good as in the US. Without this demand, you'll be drinking warm Hooch and Coke half way down the glass.

It took only a few seconds to get into our second drinks, and as they were being poured, I asked where the men's room was and excused myself.

Almost all bathrooms in Sierra Leone, public or private, have a worn and dirty toilet with a sink that might, if you are lucky, have running water. Usually the toilet does not flush so there is always a rubber barrel of water with a small bucket to pour with when you are finished. The smell is always at least unpleasant. Sometimes there is a bar of dirty soap but paper hand towels are usually not an option, although some will have tissue or toilet paper to dry hands with, best not to wash your face though.

Alex's bathroom was not exactly foul, but untidy enough that I concluded my business as quickly as possible. I reached for the door handle to exit and gave it a turn downward. It did not work. I jiggled it, pulled and pushed it, even cussed it. It did not work. I was locked in. My first day in Africa, in Sierra Leone, in Freetown, in a public place, and I was locked in the men’s bathroom.

This, I immediately thought at the time, was the revenge of an old friend of mine, last name of Spaulding. "If you don't learn from the past, you are doomed to repeat it." It was not my past, but the past of Mr. Spaulding, who had performed the same embarrassing act several years ago when he locked himself in the bathroom on his first day at a new job.

His embarrassment had been the butt of my ridicule and laughter for years. I never tired of getting a tremendous kick out of telling the humorous tale at his expense. Now it was I, upon my arrival at a new position, who suffered the lonely fate of unwittingly being imprisoned in the toilet.

I tried the door a couple more times, again with no luck. I didn't want to pound on it, thus letting other patrons and bar employees know what had happened. I couldn't use my cell phone to call Mark because he had just given it to me that day and I had yet to program any numbers.

What I did do was cuss Mr. Spaulding, although that didn't help my situation either. There was only one course of action, pound on the door and cry out like a small child that didn't know how to wipe his own rear end.

“Hello, hello, hello, anyone,” Bang, bang and bang, I knocked on the door. Finally, somebody came. They seem perplexed, as they inquired as to what could be wrong while I was hollering that I'm trapped in the men's room. They tried to open the door and sure enough it did not work.

The guy goes to get someone else, who in turn has to get someone else. Soon half of Freetown is outside the door wondering what is going on. It wasn't until Alex himself was able to pry the door open that I was able to step out of my crap house coffin.

Everyone returned to his routine, Mark shook his head, and I sat back down at the bar. The ice in my Jack and Coke had melted. Screw the ice, I drank it anyway. First day and first lesson in Africa, when trying something, even as simple as a door handle or light switch, expect it not to work.

Your bet your life helicopter service
Your bet your life helicopter service

Troubles, Right from the Start

Arriving in Sierra Leone

It did not take long. I’m not referring to my flight from London to Freetown, which was by the way two hours late, landing at 11:30 pm. I’m referring to the fleecing I took upon arrival at the hands of my designated contact person, who had been given strict instructions to make my entry as smooth as possible.

As soon as I stepped through the plane’s hatch, the muggy Sierra Leone climate hit me. The air felt heavy, musty. The lighting was poor, not just on the tarmac, but all around the airport. Beyond the airfield was only darkness. I could feel a sort of impending chaos ahead of me.

The pilot did not pull the plane up next to the mobile enclosed walk way, they had none. No one boarded the bus to take us to the terminal, because there weren’t any buses. So, after everyone took stock of their surroundings, my fellow arrivals and I were prompted to move, much like a sluggish herd of cows, towards the dingy terminal.

We walked, lugging our carry-on bags, several hundred meters. I remember thinking, “this is the closest to feeling what it would be like taking a journey back in time.” With each step my adrenaline level increased.

I had assumed, wrongly as it turned out, the task of the person meeting me was to walk me though immigration, help find and carry my bags, walk me through customs, and then change one hundred of my American dollars to Leones (Sierra Leone Currency).

With this money he was then to buy my ticket for the ten minute helicopter ride to Freetown and give me the change. I knew it wouldn’t be a cakewalk but this all seemed fairly simple enough to me. It wasn’t simple though, because the person meeting me had another agenda.

I believed then, and still do, in most countries people know how to greet and pick up a traveler at the airport that they have never met, especially if that is their job. You stand, where you can be seen, holding up a sign on which you have written their name, in big bold letters. I even made sure they told this guy to do this.

I looked for him, and looked, and looked; but there was no one, nothing. Next thing I knew it was my turn at the first passport check.

The man in the little booth looked and me, checked my passport, looked at me again, and said,

“You don’t have visa.”

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, it was the perfect indication of events that would haunt me for two years. Of course I had my visa. I pointed this out to him, but without the same confidence I would employ later in similar situations.

He wanted to intimidate a stranger for some money. I was warned of these tactics but actually experiencing it for the first time was a little bit unnerving. I hesitantly held my ground; he gave in, stamped my passport and let me though.

Inside the gate the first wave of chaos hit. At least four young men rushed me yelling questions in part Krio, part English. They were talking too fast. One of them figured it out and applied more English, coupled with hand signals. They wanted to gather and carry my luggage, for small money, or large if they could get it.

Where the hell was my help, the person taking care of me? I stumbled around making my way to the baggage claim area. No lines anywhere, just more chaos. Somebody grabbed my shoulder and I turned around.

“I’m Abdul,” the man said. “I need some money for change to give the guys in immigration,” which I had already navigated.

Abdul was roughly five feet seven inches tall, had a slightly lazy left eye with an inch long scar under it, and was dressed in a short sleeve suit. This type of apparel is basically matching pants and light suit coat that is buttoned with the top one or two buttons left open. The suit jacket has short sleeves and is worn in Africa without a shirt underneath. It projects a business appearance while providing cooler comfort for the hot and humid climate.

Abdul’s suit was somewhat dingy and wrinkled, like he had either had a very hectic day or that he had not cleaned and pressed it lately. The truth, as I observed later, was that he not only neglected to clean it, he had also worn it for several straight days. This was to be a very common site when meeting “want to seem important,” Sierra Leonean businessmen or officials that were not so important.

“Abdul, you’re supposed to change money for me and get a helicopter ticket; and what about my bags?”

“Mr. Jim, give me two hundred dollars. I need to give these guys some money and buy the ticket.”

I gave Abdul the money. He left and came back about ten minutes later. I asked him for the change. This was the precise moment that my two year struggle for accountability and control of outgoing money began. Abdul had been told exactly what to do but still had to chop what money he could, from me, his new boss.

“No Mr. Jim, I need to give some as we go.”

Since I had just arrived, I decided not to fight with him. I was tired and wanted to get my bags and get to the helicopter. Once across the bay, I would let my friend and partner handle Abdul.

We found my bags, after fighting among more chaos at the baggage carousel. It seemed that, “waiting your turn,” was not a known concept. I guess Abdul was too important to carry bags because he got another guy to load them on a cart, which also gave him another chance to screw me for more money.

We headed towards customs and I felt somewhat at ease since I had someone to smooth the way through the pushing and shoving, cutting in line, and random arguments. When my turn arrived I put my bags on the table and a big guy who was dressed like a third world dictator at his trumped up inauguration looked at me with a frown, most likely reserved for all fresh meat in the country.

They had me open up the bags and went through them, albeit without really looking too hard. Seemed they just wanted to get me passed and move to whoever was next. The dictator look at me as said something in a rough deep voice.

“You di af ting di cler?”

I looked at him and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

He said it again and I looked at Abdul who stood there like he’d never been in the country before. The dictator repeated it again. I shook my head.

“I don’t understand.”

The guy, now annoyed as hell, said, “You di speak English?”

I said, “Yeah, but I don’t understand what you are asking me.”

He repeated himself again, I looked at Abdul again. The guy said something in Krio to Abdul.

“He’s asking if you have something to declare, like money.”

“Okay, I understand, but since you have all of my money, no I don’t have anything to declare.”

I looked at the dictator who didn’t see any point in pushing things with nothing to gain. I’m sure Abdul gave him some grease later. Abdul’s silence was to see if I would come with anything so he could eat more of my money he was holding.

Abdul bought my helicopter ticket and I again asked him for the change. Of course there was none. I looked at his lazy scared eye and shook my head. He then sat next to me in the semi open area as I waited to for the helicopter to arrive, probably to look for another opening to get money.

I looked over at a young lady who sat next to me on the flight from London. She was meeting her husband who she told me worked for a telecommunications company installing what she described as high speed Internet connection in Sierra Leone. Unless her husband was working at the US Embassy, high speed internet and Sierra Leone, as I found out later, was not happening.

The young lady looked miserable, like she had reached her destination and now wanted to leave, right away. I felt sorry for her because there was no one to greet or help her, one of the problems of having an airport located in a place accessible only by ferry, hovercraft, or helicopter. Abdul was a petty hustler and pain in the ass, but he did at least point me in the right direction, even though he chopped some of my money in the process.

Abdul made a special point to ask me to make sure to put in a good word with my friend, and boss, Mark. He wanted me to make sure and tell him what a good job he did and remind Mark that he was owed some money for all this.

I asked Abdul if he knew that Mark and I were good friends for over thirty years. I asked Abdul if he really understood what I was going to tell Mark. I asked Abdul if he was sure there was no money left over from the two hundred dollars I gave him. The questions didn’t faze him.

He ate about eighty dollars of my money, which he would for sure here about in short order.*

*As it turned out my, and Mark’s, patience with Abdul ran out a few months later after pulling similar stunts and then demanding to be paid more. We replaced him with a young female who did us a great job for us at the airport.

The helicopter, Russian made and operated, arrived with a load of passengers leaving Sierra Leone. They seemed to be stepping a little livelier then me and my fellow arrivals. The helicopter’s service reputation had already preceded it, far before I even planned my trip.

It had only been a couple months before that the Togo National Football Team had been killed being transported from Freetown to the Lungi Airport after a match with their Sierra Leone counterparts. Their helicopter dove straight in to the ocean. The incident caused flights to be cancelled for several weeks, as well as some strained relations between Togo and Sierra Leone.

This meant that the helicopter transport was basically a one way ticket to either eternity, if you crashed in the Atlantic, or hell on earth, if you made it and landed in Freetown. Mark, who had taken the helicopter right before the Togo players, always referred to it as the, “You bet your life, helicopter service.”

I presented my ticket and boarded what was really a cargo helicopter full of, well, cargo that included passengers and their luggage. Everyone sat against the sides on flip down seats with the bags and boxes, held down with cargo netting, filling the middle of the cabin. There were open windows, seat belts, and a looped strap hanging from above for each passenger to grab on to.

Where I sat there was a protruding metal tie down that was sticking me in the lower back. Nothing I could do and certainly no one to complain to, especially since the major concern was making it across alive, so, no room for amenities.

The pilot flipped a switch and the main rotors spun and whirled. The noise level elevated. The wind began whipping through the cabin. We experienced lift, then thrust, and when I next opened my eyes, I was, well the best way to put it, not in eternity.

Sierra Leone; Open for Business
Sierra Leone; Open for Business

The Beginning

Leaving for Sierra Leone

Weather conditions, February 8, 2008: Snow, wind, bitter cold. I had arrived at Kansas City International Airport to board a flight that would eventually take me to Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa. Looking back, I wish I could have seen the harsh weather, and delays it caused, as an indication of the problems that would follow during the next two years.

The entire Midwest was in the middle of a terrible snowstorm. Flights throughout the area were being delayed or cancelled, including those scheduled to arrive from O’Hare Airport in Chicago, my first layover. I was forced to settle into a personal two hour holding pattern, waiting on my flight to the snowy, freezing, and bottled up Windy City.

I passed the time snacking on expensive stale airport food washed down with overpriced cheap bourbon, wondering how this was going to play out. When my scheduled flight finally arrived, the passengers were informed the plane had mechanical problems, not related to the weather, forcing yet more delay, and more bourbon.

Eventually, amid my alcoholic induced haze, I heard the announcement for boarding. My stomach was already queasy; my brain taxed. I glared at my watch and knew my scheduled three and a half hour layover in Chicago had evaporated. I was worried about missing my connecting flight to London.

Those worries were soon confirmed once everyone was boarded, as the captain announced O’Hare Airport was landing about ten percent of their usual air traffic per hour. There would be more delays.

In the air, the flight turned pleasant enough considering the abominable snowman was having his way below. There was a short one hour of confined relaxation that ended abruptly as the flight closed in on Chicago. We were slotted into the dreaded holding pattern above O’Hare, left circling an airport under siege from a giant white out.

There was nothing to do but squirm in my seat and wait, and oh yeah, hope. I remember wondering how many other passengers were feeling my pain. I refused to look at the time until we began our descent.

Mercifully, the plan began heading downward. I dared a glance at my watch. Some of my tension was released and I gained some small confidence I would make the bus to London. Some hustle would be required, but my hopes brightened, and I felt I was up to the O’Hare Airport sprint challenge.

My new found confidence lasted about three minutes when the airplane, gaining speed towards its designated runway, abruptly pulled up. The pilot had aborted the landing part way down.

“I’m screwed,” I blurted out loud.

“There’s no way I’m going to make it!”

The guy sitting next to me offered support and encouragement but I would have none of it. The pilot announced that they couldn’t move the planes off the runway quickly enough. We were back to our holding pattern and I was back to missing my flight to London.

Once we finally did hit the gate, I gave it hell of a try. I ran, dodged, jumped, and even pushed my way through the terminal. I finessed, as much as is possible post 911, through the security luggage check point.

I made an all-out sprint the final yards to the designated gate. I could see the Airbus to London still sitting next to the gate as I ran up to the British Airways counter. It was to no avail. The ground crew was in the process of deicing the wings. preventing any further boarding. So now what?

I had a three day layover in frozen Chicago because flights from London to Freetown were only scheduled twice a week. It seems people are not flocking to Freetown, Sierra Leone. Hell, for me, had frozen over.

Alas, at the end of my mini Chicago vacation, I headed to Freetown. After three days of lying around icy Chicago I would not taste anything close to biting cold for another four years.

The accounts that follow, “Stories from West Africa, Part 1 - Sierra Leone,” are stories of my two years as General Manager with TAAKOR Tropical Hardwood Co. (SL) LTD.

TAAKOR was a logging company that made a huge investment in the timber industry in Sierra Leone, based on promises from a notoriously corrupt government, in a less than third world country.

When I arrived in Sierra Leone later that same night, there was a ban on all logging activities. I was pulled into a position that I would be unable to fully perform, for a company that was unable to operate. It went downhill from there.

Regardless, I spent two years there, two years fighting the Government, logging contractors, various village Chiefs and Elders, workers, banks, vendors, and our own management. It was a roller coaster that brought frustration, but also, in the end, a great amount pride.

Throughout that two year period, there were many tales ranging from humorous to heart breaking; and sometimes dangerous. None of them are, “Tall Tales.”

These stories are my dealings with the people I met, and the battles I fought to help make the best of what turned out to be an impossible situation.


Sierra Leone

A markerSierra Leone -
Freetown
get directions

Welcome to Sierra Leone and West Africa

Sweet Salone
Sweet Salone

True Love In The Garden District

Humorous Stories From New Orleans

Most of my life I have been viewed by friends and family members as a rather "cold hearted," individual regarding true love, romance, and even relationships in general. I of course don't agree with those who wish to misjudge me in this manner. I view myself as being realistic in matters of the heart and finding happiness. But this morning, at a time and place I would have never imagined, I witnessed true love in its purest and most reverent form. It uplifted my heart and spirit enough to make me believe that two people can be truly meant for one another.

Each day between five and six in the morning I get out of bed and walk two blocks to the St. Charles Athletic Club for my morning cardio workout. This morning I arrived a little after five and spent thirty minutes on the treadmill, not my favorite due to knee problems but other machines were taken. When finished I quickly toweled off and wiped down the machine, see I do have a heart and concern for others, then headed out the door and down to the street below. I walked out to St Charles and took the right around the building to Terpsichore St. where I live. I walked past the back parking lot on the right and the Prytania Park Hotel on the left thinking of nothing but taking a shower, changing, and heading on to the plant. It was going to be busy day as usual focused on what I needed to get done.

I was still recovering from the workout and as I got towards the end of the block and the cross street, Prytaina, I heard a strange sound. It sounded like a girl or woman in distress. This being New Orleans my first thought was someone was attacked and injured or even shot. Or maybe it was just another drunk who was waking up with a worse then usual hangover. I continued on slowly trying to focus on what or who it might be. It was still dark but the sound was coming from the small park area that runs right down the middle of Terpsichore for the length of the block. Being New Orleans I was also concerned that someone might be trying to lure me into being mugged and robbed so I was careful. I moved toward the sidewalk on the left side of the street and walked forward looking into the bushes that circled the area with park benches and large square concrete blocks placed for people to relax and enjoy the park.

Another loud groan! Another couple of steps forward. I angled a little more to the left and moved a little closer now looking out of the corner of my eyes. Just then I saw the whole picture. It was not a woman in distress but a man and a woman engaged in what can only be described as the purest form of intimacy between members of the opposite sex. They were not exactly hidden behind the bush if you were looking from my angle coming up the street. Anyone driving by would not have been able to see, which I guess was their concern, if they indeed had a concern. In my younger days I would have yelled something immature right away just to disturb them, and believe me they already knew someone was walking by. But no, now my first thought was more toward how wonderful it was to see two young people in love and enjoying each others company. The event even uplifted my spirit. I would never be crass enough to go into positions (him sitting on a concrete block with her on top), or state of clothing (half undressed), or even sounds being uttered (moans and grunts by her) but I can say that true love and romance is still alive and kicking. This couple must really be in love to do it in a park in the middle of the street at five thirty in the morning. I am truly glad for them.

The only regrettable part was that when I snuck back with my video camera they were already gone. My chance to capture this beautiful moment and share it with the world was also gone. I don't know if I will ever again witness this expression of true romance much less capture it for others to see. You never know, love is everywhere if you only take the time to look, and sometimes even when you don't want to look.

This also proves something I always say, only usually it refers to The French Quarter and Bourbon St. You never know what you will see in New Orleans. No matter what happened yesterday or today you will be sure to see something different, astonishing, or even shocking tomorrow. The problem is there is nothing that is all to shocking after you've been here awhile

Bourbon House - French Quarter

G.W. Finns - French Quarter

My Grand Experiment Part 2

Humorous Stories From New Orleans

Cannon's Restaurant has been in business for over 18 years offering a blend of New Orleans and traditional American cuisine in a casual atmosphere overlooking St. Charles Avenue in the Cities Garden District. In other words it's a pretty nice place with a big bar area and good food. A perfect place for a speed/pre-dating event, I guess.

One problem, only eleven people showed up this night for the giant merry-go-round. If the group would have been myself and ten females it would have been great with me; or if it was ten guys and one female I could have put in my six minutes clocked out and left, wham bam.............well you know. The break down was an almost even 5 guys and 6 girls, or I'm sorry, 5 men and 6 women everyone being adults and all. Of course I surveyed the field before the starter pistol went off and when it did the bullet unfortunately missed my head. There was no choice but to sit down and move on.

I got my name tag, I was Jim, and pulled the number 1. I guess that was in case there was several Jims in the throng of guys crowded in the room. I was given a "Match Sheet" to write names, notes, and then circle either "Let's Talk!" or "No Thanks." This sheet was for me to take from table to table then take home so I would remember who I talked with. No one else would ever see the sheet. The funny thing was at the top it asked for your first name then your badge number. Humm! If no one else will see this and I'm taking it home why do I need my name or badge number on it, besides I think I could remember that I was the number 1 a few days later if someone threatened me harshly enough. If the quality of people at this was such that they had to check the top of their sheets every so often to make sure it was theirs I was in trouble. Also, did I really have to circle "Lets Talk" to remind myself if one of the women there happened to be Julia Roberts?

I figured I should play by the rules though and was instructed to sit at table number 1, how about that, where there was a blond lady in a pants suit who I had noticed earlier looking like she was having reservations about being involved. Mr. smooth got off to a rocky start when I sat down and she introduced herself. I replied, "I don't think we're supposed to begin talking until they sound the bell." As you can tell I was not going with the serious approach. She replied, "Well I was just introducing myself." Right then I knew I couldn't have cracked her ice with a sledge hammer. Turns out she was a legal assistant, I'm guessing closer to the 55 range, who made lots and lots of important decisions every day. Things were going better until about the five minute mark when she stated she was divorced from a marriage of 25 years and had three children, to which I had some kind of weird mental meltdown and asked her if she was a grandmother. Her all important "Match Sheet" actually caught fire as she continued crossing my name off her list.

Thank god the bell rang, ding, ding, ding, and it was time to move to table number two, but not before I reached over to shake her hand and knocked over the large pepper shaker, thereby setting a Guinness Book world record. A trifecta of faux pas in a mere six minutes. Table number two was a new day though, only the lady there had the skin color of a vampire. I switched into high gear and stayed focused to sail through the six minutes without getting bit or having to order her a bloody Mary just in case. She was very nice but as the time ran down I could feel table number three looming like Mt. Olympus.

Table number three as it turned out was without a doubt the nicest lady there with the best personality anyone could ask for. She was from Brooklyn NY which gave me something to talk to her about having spent some time there and having a good story about getting stopped by the police while sitting at a light going the wrong direction on a one way street. The only problem, she was about 300 pounds. That of course gives you a testament to her personality that she was there willing to meet new people without fear of rejection.

Table number four was also a nice lady who was a dental assistant and gave me a scolding for not getting the root canal I needed about eight months ago. (I'm probably opening myself up to more repercussions and scolding by writing that.) I laughed and asked her if I could borrow $2000.00. It was an enjoyable six minutes and I actually thought that after a rough start, although there really wasn't anyone I was interested in, this wasn't to bad. Then I got up and turned towards table number five.

"This lady must be a librarian by day and a recluse by night," was my first thought as I sat down and introduced myself. I was wrong but not by much because she was a CPA who was changing careers to become a Pastor. She said she believed that everything you did lead into the next part of your life. I haven't figured out how being a CPA leads to a religious calling yet but it did make me wonder what my life held next after twenty years of heavy drinking in various bars, I thought it best not to ask her opinion on this though. She was very intelligent and I wanted to say to her, "You seem like a very smart, very nice lady but why not loose the library glasses, get an expensive hair cut and style, throw your wrap away, go to Dillards for a little shopping, and smile just a little bit. You can't convince the lord's sheep to follow you without at least a little dash and pizzazz. When the bell rang I woke up, lifted my head up off the table and moved on.

Finally, table number six. It hadn't exactly been a gauntlet but I was ready to wrap it up. First I had to go through none other then my personal favorite, an artist. Most of the time these people tend to shun everyone else while they also pretend to live on the edge of society, so I couldn't understand why she would even be at this event. She began by purposely going over my head with a couple of painting terms that I wasn't familiar with and I countered by bragging that I had been to the NOLA Museum for the Femme, Femme exhibit, to the French Quarter Vatican Mosaic showing, adding that I discussed how there were hundreds of colors and hues in each mosaic with the convent's resident artist, then finished with comments on New Orleans Architecture. I doubt I impressed her but she didn't impress me either so it was a stalemate as far as I was concerned. Maybe I'll see here selling her stuff on the street somewhere.

So after a few closing instructions on what you could do with your "Matching Sheet" I headed for the bathroom, no, not to use my sheet then flush it! The event had lasted about one hour only because it began ten minutes late. Will I contact any of the six women, no. Will any of them contact me, I have no idea but there didn't seem to be any type of connection with anyone at all and who knows what each woman is telling their friends about me. Did I waste my money, no. Will I do it again, maybe one more time if an event meets my date and time. Will I post another blog entry when I do, you bet. What other reason would there be for attending?

My Grand Experiment Part 1

Humorous Stories From New Orleans

It is more of a dare then an experiment, but it should be entertaining. What the hell am I talking about? Next Tuesday night at Cannon's Restaurant on St Charles Ave I'll be participating in a game that I would have never imagined participating in; one I'd normally consider a waste of my time, and one I'm still not convinced will be. Once again, of what do I speak? Drum roll pleeeeeeeas, speed dating, or as they call it Pre-Dating.

I can hear it now. HaHaHaHaHaHaHa, and why not. These are the events I usually find to be a disaster, and as I mentioned above a complete waste of my precious time. After about three weeks of prodding by a couple of my married partners I took them up on it almost as a way to shut them up. So we'll see. I'm not sure I'll be able to do it by the 6:00 check in time (my prearranged out).

So how does this work? I have no idea, but according to the brochure, participants meet in a sectioned off area of the restaurant. They are greeted and given a name tag. Now, right away this is something I can not stand. What is wrong with introducing yourself, having the person remember your name, and if they don't, cross them off your list. "Hello Jane Doe, my name is Jim, nice to meet you. First question, what's my name? Don't know? NEXT!" Besides why wear something snazzy if you have to plaster a large white sticker on yourself?

After being branded with a hot iron at the door, from what I believe, you go to each table where you speed date (talk to)participaints of the opposite sex, or I hope they are people of the opposite sex. I better double check that before Tuesday. There are six minutes of scintillating conversation with each person, perfect as far as I'm concerned because I can usually see well before that if I have any interest in being friends with a person. My main concern during each of these six minute interviews is that I do not, a) start an argument, b) start a fight, and most importantly, c) call someone a, well, terrible name.

In case you are wondering everyone at this event will be around the same age, this one is 47-55, which for me could be a disaster. When I am at work I'm dead serious, no sense of humor, but when I'm not working, not serious at all. So should the procedure be serious and dull, or relax and risk offending everyone's sense of taste, not to say that I'm on the young end of this age group. What if everyone is 55? I'll feel like I'm talking to my Grandmother, before she passed away I hope. Maybe I'd be able to get together with someone for hot tea spiked with Geritol followed by a can of Ensure for dessert?

Once you have had a chance to talk to everyone you fill out scorecards, then take the option to contact someone through the people putting on the event or via email. What I would like to have for my $32 is a copy of everyone's notes or scorecards on what they thought of me. That would be worth the money good or lousy.

How will it all come out? I'll probably post a blog entry after the event as to what happened and if things did not go well that will be all to the better. I've always enjoyed telling stories of disaster, there seems to be more interest in the race when someone crashes and burns, so stayed tuned.

Irene, Stella, Muriel and The Two Sisters - Why I Love New Orleans

Stores From New Orleans

I'm ruined, and there is not a damn thing I can do about it, all thanks to Irene's, Muriel's, Stella's, and The Court of the Two Sisters. Others have contributed but the final nail in the coffin was driven as I said my goodbyes at Irene's one Saturday night. My taste buds will never be the same. In case you haven't guessed I am of course talking about a few of the finest restaurants anywhere. Restaurants that indulge your culinary delights to the point of realizing no other city matches the culture and cuisine of New Orleans.

You may believe that I'm merely speaking of the fantastic food. If so you're slightly in error. You must also consider the atmosphere, the ambience, the service, and the tradition. Remember these jewels are nestled in and around historic old buildings and neighborhoods where you are reminded of both Spanish and French rule before the Revolutionary War and the birth of our country. Remember also that they are along the edge of the Mississippi River where explorers, settlers, and pirates travelled in search of adventure, treasure, and new beginnings, a place where cultures clashed and birthed the Cajun and Creole mix this area is famous for. Apply the virgin American Spirit and you can begin to see why this city and these eateries grab at your soul.

I love finding and enjoying dishes with unique tastes and spices. Until now my taste buds have gone unquenched. What I've found here is my Holy Grail, my Garden of Eden, a place with so many unique restaurants and cafes that it is almost impossible to branch out to every one of them. In trying you limit your ability to broaden the culinary love affairs you have already developed, it's maddening. Places like San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Atlanta all have their own qualities but New Orleans takes the French, Spanish, and African cultures then melts them all together using the passion and spirit of the Deep South to create an unequalled experience and zest for life. The irony is that a city known as the "Big Easy" is also know for throwing the best parties anywhere.

At present there are almost 1,000 restaurants in the New Orleans area, about 200 above the pre Katrina level. There are a few bad and several average but most are very good or they don't survive. A few like the above mentioned establishments are world class. Stella's is the newest of the group and was rated as one of the top 5 restaurants in the city. Of course you will want to make sure to bring at least $100 per person depending on how many drinks you have. My first course there was a risotto that was so good I joked to the waiter that I may want to order more, he replied, "You may laugh but I had a gentleman in two weeks ago that requested I cancel the remainder of his order and to bring more risotto." I told the waiter I understood completely. I didn't cancel the rest of my order though, thank god.

So, I'm able to eat at restaurants weekly that most people never enjoy in their lifetime and I haven't even scratched the surface. I still have to sample notables like Brennen's, Broussards, Galatoire's and the world famous Commander's Palace where Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse began their careers and went on to open their own famous restaurants such as NOLA, which I have enjoyed, and K-Paul's. These restaurants are not hype, they're the real deal and why the number one way to entertain in New Orleans is to eat. Just as I said, the Garden of Eden, where you're welcome to sample the forbidden fruit anytime and there is plenty of it. How can I ever live anywhere else, I'm ruined!

Carnival and Mardi Gras

Stories From New Orleans

It begins every twelfth-night, the 12th day after Christmas. It runs until Fat Tuesday or as everyone knows it "Mardi Gras". Mardi Gras is the last day of Carnival, the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Carnival season in New Orleans and Mardi Gras day in particular is an event that everyone should experience at least once during their lifetime. Parades and festivities run throughout the Carnival season but the real fun and huge crowds begin the Saturday before Fat Tuesday. They do not stop until policemen on horseback declare the festivities over at 12:01AM on Ash Wednesday when at that time they unceremoniously clear Bourbon St. and the French Quarter of the hordes of dismayed and resistant revelers.

Carnival and Mardi Gras is celebrated all over the world including a few cities throughout the U.S. such as Mobile, AL and St. Louis, MO. Even my hometown Kansas City has a small parade. In South America Rio De Janeiro, Brazil probably has the most well known celebration of Carnival consisting of unique dancing and elaborate fireworks displays, but in the U.S. New Orleans is the King of Mardi Gras and the Carnival season. Parades, floats of all sizes, colorful costumes, beads, doubloons, king cake, alcoholic beverages, great food, big crowds, and general merriment are all staples of the celebration. Parades can be any size from a group of 20 to 30 club (Krewe) members who hire a band to lead them down the street, to huge parades that have been held annually for the past 50 years. The biggest and most spectacular are Endymion, Zulu, Rex, and Bacchus which this year featured James Gandofini, better known as Tony Soprano, as King of Bacchus and also included Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

Last years celebration was very much watered down due to Katrina with most of the population more concerned about rebuilding their lives and homes then having a party. Tourists were unable to attend because the city was not ready for them. This year was a whole different story. Huge crowds consisting of locals wanting to have fun and show how far they have come, to regular Mardi Gras visitors who wanted to return to the party, to first timers who have always wanted to see the party. What they all got was a resoundingly successful Mardi Gras celebration.

For me it was both grand and hectic. I live two blocks off the St. Charles Ave. where the Uptown parade route begins as it flows through the Garden District towards Downtown and Canal St. From Saturday before Fat Tuesday through Mardi Gras, four full days, traffic is jammed packed and there is no parking, not good if you live there. Coming home means fighting thousands of cars and people each day going to the same place you are with streets blocked off and police telling you where you can and can't go. By Monday I had it figured out and if I'm in the same place next year I'll be good to go. The great part was I could walk just two small New Orleans blocks to see the parades, then go home for awhile, then return for more. This is a big advantage over the thousands that have limited bathroom facilities and a place to rest for short periods. These people are there all day and into the night. When I left my apartment around 6:00AM each morning people already lined the street staking out their spots with many camping out each night to safeguard their area. It's taken seriously.

Sunday night was the main event, Krewe Bacchus, the biggest and most think the best of all the parades. Many of the floats were so long it seemed they couldn't possibly make the turn from St. Charles Ave. onto Canal St. Thousands of people lined the some 60 blocks along the parade route to catch beads thrown from the floats and witness the spectacle. Of course many were there just to be a part of everything and drink as much as possible. Even with that there were very few problems for the police considering size of the crowd.

Once the last parade was over, and even well before, many headed to Bourbon St. to smash and fight their way through the crowds of people moving up and down the street. Each balcony was lined with partiers throwing beads to the throngs below. Some balconies were rented by companies throwing promotional items. Bacardi and Captain Morgan hats were crowd pleasers. Trojan condoms were thrown while hired employees walked the street handing out even more packets. At every intersection the bible thumpers stood with signs, bibles, and pamphlets trying in vain to get anyone to listen as thousands brushed and bumped by. And of course there were the girls exposing their breasts for anyone to see and take pictures of. It never took much encouragement and once it was clear someone was ready to lift her shirt a gaggle of men would gather around to hoot and holler as they raised their camera phones to record their encounter with a short, fat, ugly, bare-chested female. The good looking girls who exposed themselves were always safely on the balconies.

There were always sideshows to witness. Drunken girls passed out while their boyfriends try to get them up while at the same time trying to keep everyone who is stepping over and around from trampling them. People one after the other slipping and falling on broken piles of beads as if they were novices on skates. Policemen pushing belligerent young drunks by the scruff of their necks off Bourbon to intersecting streets to either force them to leave or escort them to jail, people being nailed on the head right and left by beads thrown from above. And my personal favorite the 6' 5" guy staggering down the street being pushed to and fro yelling "I'm so fu*ked up, I'm so fu*ked up," then staggering into another bar for more liquid refreshment. By the time you made the five or six block walk up and back you were completely beaten, bruised and worn out. I can't think of a better way to spend an evening.

There is a lot more to Carnival and Mardi Gras then I have written, just a small snapshot of my first encounter. To truly experience what goes on and what goes into Mardi Gras you have to come here for yourself. It's not easy or cheap but it is worth it. Carnival and Mardi Gras will be here next year and long after. Even Katrina could not stem the party tide.

New Years Eve New Orleans

Twenty-Nine Years Later

Twenty-nine years ago I accompanied my uncle on his yearly New Years trek to New Orleans, had to talk him into taking me. I was 19 and of course on the 31'st we went to the French Quarter and Bourbon St. Although I frequented all the regular bars in Kansas, remember then the drinking age was 18 and discos were the place to be; but New Orleans, The French Quarter, and especially Bourbon St. were a whole new experience. The three things that stood out were the people, (lots of weirdoes), the prices, and the crime, four people were murdered that night. I didn't have the time to experience a lot of the French Quarter and so I didn't remember much more then what I just mentioned. Oh yeah, I do remember having the best tasting steak ever at some small hole in the wall restaurant downtown. The great tasting food has not changed but unfortunately nether have the other elements.

Now that its 2006/2007 and it's my first New Year living in the Big Easy I had to return to Bourbon St. and The French Quarter for the celebration, this time armed with a digital camera. I already spend a lot of time in the French Quarter, living only a few blocks away, so I knew the terrain and didn't need to see any new sites. My plan was to take in as much of the New Years Eve as possible, take as many pictures as I could stand, then get the hell out before the 200,000 showed up in Jackson Square for the concert and fireworks over the Mighty Mississippi. Remember I'm not 19 so I'm not as tolerant towards sober people as I used to be, the drunks are ok they have a reason to be rude. Also it was the first real New Year Celebration since Katrina so I was sure it wouldn't' be just tourists and college football fans.

Bourbon St. was not so much different then a regular weekend except there were a lot more people. Drew Brees and Reggie Bush were everywhere, or maybe it was just their jerseys. The Saints played their final regular season game during the afternoon. They're headed for the playoffs so the fans took the opportunity to attend the game, revel in the Saints greatest season* then move right into the New Years festivities. Sounds like a pretty good plan to me. By the way the Saints didn't "back'at ass up," into the playoffs like the Chiefs so the fans could rest easy and bask in the glory for a change. From what I heard Chiefs fans were on there knees selling both their soul and their first born for a mile high miracle melt down, and for once Mike "The Rat" Shanahan had to eat Limburger.

*As most probably know the Saints topped that season by winning the Super Bowl two years later.

I got to the Quarter about 2:30, ate lunch and took in the crowd. The weather was perfect, 70 degrees with a slight overcast sky making the light jacket I wore a little too much. I took pictures until my batteries went low, bought more and kept going. I'm not big on taking photos but since I wasn't drinking it gave me something to do while experiencing the sights and sounds. Unfortunately still pictures do not convey the important elements of sound and smell that make the Bourbon St. ambience so alluring. Stand in the middle of any intersection and you're presented with a mixture of four different styles of blaring music competing with blurred and imperceptible crowd reveling, stale beer, cigarette and cigar smoke, and thank god a whiff of the recipes being prepared in kitchens belonging to the finest restaurants anywhere. That's the oddity about Bourbon St., you'll see a one man beer stand selling cups of liquid courage for a dollar, right next to Galatoire's serving only coats and ties with reservations, right next to Larry Flint's Hustler club and sex shop serving those with, well you get the picture.

The sites are on par with the sounds and smells of course. You'll see anything from young black kid's tap dancing for money, to elderly men and women walking with canes and dressed for a night on the town, to strippers standing at the doors to their establishments enticing guys to come in. The majority though are young people in their 20's and early 30's with drinks in their hands and happy looks on their faces Their quest is to walk up and down Bourbon St. as much as possible while yelling in slurred speech on their cell phones to friends back home.

"Yeah! I'm on Bourbon St. Yeah! Right now, on Bourbon St. Yeah! Aaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!."

Then they take another swig and head into the next bar. Dotted in between all this are the various hustlers, hucksters, pickpockets, and professional party girls that are regulars around the French Quarter. My favorite are the party trash(girls) that go from guy to guy trying to get free drinks, and who (you) knows what else. I swear the same girl asks me to buy her a drink each time I'm down there. I was hoping to get a picture of her but with everyone there I'm sure she had talked some drunken sucker into something.

The day and evening was fun and I got a good amount of pictures. I couldn't get as many shots of individuals as I would have liked due to there being so many people. Every time you began to snap a shot someone walked in front of you. It couldn't be helped which is a reason I don't usually take a camera to places and events like that. It's a waste of time because you end up missing all kinds of interesting things simply because your to busy trying to capture them. It was worth it I think.

New Orleans

It was at the age of 19 that I was first introduced to the Big Easy. I traveled with my Uncle over New Years Holiday at the end of 1978. The French Quarter and Bourbon St was quite a different site for a young man from the Midwest. Lots of College Kids from Penn St. and Alabama were there for the Game that would determine the National Champion in the Sugar Bowl. On the downside, there were four murders my first night there.

It was the Disco era. I remember dancing at a club in Fat City located in the suburb of Meterie LA, where there were several clubs of a relatively nefarious nature. Mostly I remember eating a Rib Eye Steak bursting with seasonings and flavors I had never tasted before. The restaurant was a little Steakhouse just off the French Quarter. That taste, that wonderful taste, never left me.

I was now going back to New Orleans. Katrina had wreaked its havoc a little over a year before, so I did not know what to expect. I ended up staying for two fantastic years.

Arriving before return of business and tourism was a benefit. There was virtually no waiting at even the best restaurants. During my time there, I was always on a small mission and finally one day while driving just east of the French Quarter, low and behold there it was. The small steakhouse I dined at twenty years ago. I had not remembered the name, but I knew it as soon as it popped into sight. The Cresent City Steakhouse had just reopened. I ate at Cresent City that night.

Bird of Paradise, New Orleans, is a lens about my time living and working in the Cresent City, as well as my thoughts on restaurants, bars, hotels, and other places of interest. I hope the stories are entertaining because it was enjoyable for me to stay there; I can not wait to go back.

Please Let Me Know Your Thoughts

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