5 cents

Pre-Africa: Itinerary, Inventory & Informatics

November 2, 2007 – NYC & In Flight to Amsterdam

This is the first entry of our East Africa travelogue. We haven’t even left the ground yet. Needless to say, I’m chomping at the bit. Besides running a marathon in New Mexico in September, I haven’t left this here island since last January when we were in Morocco. That was also as close as I’d been to Africa. Jess has already been to Africa twice this year, and each time I’m like the dog left back in the apartment that sniffs her feet when she returns to try to make sense of where she’s been.

Here’s the plan:

Nov 2 – 3: fly from NYC to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia by way of Amsterdam and Khartoum, Sudan.

Nov 4: a day in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where we'll eat some food and visit Lucy.

Nov 5 : travel from Addis to Mekelle, Ethiopia and then to the village of Koraro.

Nov 8: travel from Koraro back to Mekelle.

Nov 9: fly from Mekelle to Addis and then Addis to Kigali, Rwanda.

Nov 9 – 10: go to Ruhengeri to hang out with Gorillas.

Nov 11 – 14: Mayange, Rwanda.

Nov 15: travel across the border to Ruhiira, Uganda.

Nov 16 – 17: Ruhiira village.

Nov 18: travel from Ruhiira to Entebbe, and then fly to Nairobi, Kenya.

Nov 19: drive from Nairobi to Garissa, Kenya.

Nov 20 – 22: village of Dertu, Kenya.

Nov 23: travel from Garissa back to Nairobi.

Nov 24: a day in Nairobi.

Nov 25 – 28: on Safari in Masaai Mara.

Nov 28: back to Nairobi.

Nov 29 – 30: travel from Nairobi to NYC (with a 12 hour layover in Amsterdam).

I should probably mention that while we are going to these “Millennium Villages,” I am not affiliated with this project. Jessica is. I am just along for the ride and volunteering my services where needed. My opinions and observations herein are my own. I have no agenda other then to observe selfishly. I can only hope that by relaying these observations people might take an interest in Africa, rather than take pity, as it seems there is already plenty of that going around.

In packing for Africa, we are conflicted about bringing gifts and offerings of food and other items. By westerners showing up like Santa Claus, it sets up that expectation and reliance. But at the same time, if someone expresses an interest in what I have, even if it is the shirt off my back, it seems rude to not be in a position to part with it or barter with it, so I am trying to bring things that I can leave behind. Granted, I won’t be trading my MacBook for a goat, though that sounds like a fair enough trade.

Here is what I am bringing:

* Macbook with 52.2 GB free space.

* Extra battery, cord and adapter

* Canon camcorder and 15 x 60 minute DVC tapes.

* Casio digital camera with extra battery.

* iPod loaded with 30 GB of music and an earbud splitter (so Jess can listen in)

* 2 binoculars

* Petzl headlamp

* pair of Sambas & a pair of Adidas running shoes

* 2 pairs of pants (nice enough to look respectable when meeting important people and thick enough to keep mosquitoes off). Will need jeans for day in Amsterdam upon return.

* 1 pairs of shorts & 1 pair of swimming trunks

* 5 T-shirts of drab colors (to not attract attention to lions)

* 2 utilitarian button-up dress shirts

* 2 long sleeve button-up dress shirts (to keep mosquitoes off)

* light jean jacket

* anorak

* 5 pairs of underwear

* 5 pairs of socks

* NY Mets hat

* 2001 subway series knit cap

* mini-Leatherman

* books:

Lonely Planet Guide to East Africa

Tortoise manuscript by James Lewelling (to be published in Jan 08)

Matigari by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

The Mzungu Boy by Meja Mwangi

The Beautyful Ones are not Born Yet by Ayi Kwei Armah

Abyssinian Chronicles by Moses Isegawa

In the Trickster Tradition by Peter Nazareth

Stars of the New Curfew by Ben Okri

Feather Woman of the Jungle by Amos Tutuola

small French dictionary

* Toothbrush, toothpaste & razor

* various sundries: raisins, powerbars, nuts, trailmix, gum, beef jerky, fig newtons

* Malarone (for malaria)

* Lots of mosquito repellent wipes

* Ciprofloxacin (emergency anti-biotic)

* a dozen or so pens & a sharpie

* 4 writing tablets (always good things to give away)

* watch with alarm

* passport and visas

Here is a picture of all that will possess me.

possessions

And there’s me. I weigh 170 lbs at the time I’m leaving. Of relatively sound mind and body. For the first time in my life I'm growing a stache, but I'm about to shave it off so I look how I look in my passport and not an asshole, which is only an effective protective mechanism in NYC.

Derek avec moustache

And then there’s Jess. But it’s more like I’m a subset, a stowaway in her suitcase. Here she is before, packing.

   Jess before

Here’s a recent video I took of a day in our lives in NYC and our apartment and at work to give a perspective of where we are coming from. I just got the cam corder for Africa and was messing around with it and iMovie so I wasn't trying to figure this stuff out later.

Any trip to Africa where you think you are helping or trying to do good is inevitably riddled with hypocrisy. The amount we pay in rent for our apartment could probably feed a village for a month. When we go out to eat in our neighborhood, we are hard-pressed to find something for under $20 a person. This could probably feed a family for a month in Africa. And then there's the cost and environmental implications of flying there. Should we not be going at all? By the way, since this is not a typical blog there’s no way of posting your 2 cents, but if you email me, I’ll post them.

My knowledge of Africa to this point is only based on indirect information received: books, media, music, pictures, movies and data. For example, here are two information-driven views on Africa and the world.

The World Remapped According to Preventable Death

The World Re-Rendered According to Preventable Death

 

The World Remapped According to Books Published

Word Remapped According to Books Published

I spent my final few hours back home, skyping with a colleague of Jess who was trying to help me install this program, OpenMRS, on her computer. OpenMRS is an online database for entering medical and health information. Hopefully I can at least show it to the various sites we are visiting, and help them to implement it.

Information is interesting to me. Whether it is information architecture, what I do for gainful employment, to the creative shaping of abstract information into art and literature. Statistics, especially when displayed in effective displays like the maps above, can be very interesting. But we also become quickly desensitized to and detached from statistical data. Each day a headline of the number of dead in Iraq becomes an expectation. We hear about the number of people dying in Sub-Saharan Africa due to diseases or genocide, pause for a moment and say "that sucks," then continue on with our day. It is only when things become more granular that you can really fathom the implications. When you know one of those numbers. When that statistic is you. Looking into this medical database, I came across individual records that came to life. Individuals can have concepts associated with them, and these concepts are diseases or ailments. Diseases or ailments that would really suck if you had them. And there's a lot of people—people with names, people from places—in this database. How do you present this data so people can grasp what it means? Especially when you are competing with all the other information and data out there that is screaming to be heard?

This is what I was thinking about as we were waiting for our flight. Here we are waiting at Newark.

waiting at Newark

This is our last glimpse of Manhattan for a month.

flying over Manhattan

Directly above the wingtip and below the clouds is a strip of green that is central park. In the middle,  there is a tall white building against the reservoir, the San Remo. We live in the shadow of that building. It is a nice place and we are lucky to live there. Sometimes you have to get away and look at where you live from the outside to realize this.

 

Pre-Africa: Air-Born to the Motherland (reading Amos Tutuola)

November 3, 2007 – En Route Amsterdam to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

I thought Americans ate big breakfasts... I had a "royal" breakfast in the Amsterdam airport: eggs, salmon, croissant, roll, toast, yogurt, granola, and fruit. It cost me $20. Took my first malarone pill with it. Neither Jess or I really slept over the Atlantic. Feel kind of shitty. They let people smoke in the airport in Amsterdam. That alone would prevent me from living there.

On other end of the spectrum from the statistical health information I was talking out above, is purely creative literature and art. On the way to Amsterdam, I read Feather Woman of the Jungle by Amos Tutuola. He is from Nigeria, West Africa, which is not in our itinerary. There is something very compelling about his writing. Technically, in the context of the "rules" we have made for the English language, he might not be a good writer, and literary snobs have been known to call him a "primitive". Like his other works I've read, the book is riddled with "mistakes". Here are some passages from the book:

"At the first instance, she thought that they were persons but were pretended to be like that of images that moment when stood before them. When it remained six days for us to leave for our village with all the monies that we had saved and also with several expensive dresses, etc. that we had bought. One morning, after we had carried the cola-nuts to the market. As we left Ashabi in the hut, to prepare our food. But soon after we had left for the market, the Jungle Witch rose her usual changeling ostrich to the hut."

The "mistakes" are all his, not my transcribing errors. Here is another passage, taken verbatim:

"But you will safe your brothers if you can endure the pain. The pain is that you will pretend to be dump for the period of two years. But if you talk a single word or you simply make "ah" within that years or before that period expire, your brothers will certainly remain as images for ever. To be dump for two years is the only medicine which can change your brothers back to their former forms. You see, if the rest images had sisters or anybody else like your brothers, who can pretend to be dump for that period, they will not remain as images for ever."

And it goes on. On one hand, it's distracting and hard to read and I find myself having to reread sentences to try to figure out what he meant. But on the other hand, something about it feels so raw and urgent and convincing, like they are words gushing from straight from him unfiltered without time to self-edit. The world he describes is not scientifically feasible, yet he writes with such conviction, that it is all, in a sense, true. He paints a world from dreams. Time is also warped. In one paragraph, he'll describe minute-by-minute details, and then two years will pass, and then it's back to the minute details of another immediate scene. Lots of strange and wonderful things happen.

Whoa. We just hit some turbulence and for a second I thought I would throw up on this laptop. Airplanes are just as far-fetched as some of Tutuola's inventions. Yet these huge hunks of metal manage to fly.

I can't remember who published My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, but Feather Woman of the Jungle was published by City Lights in 1962. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was the editor. It's commendable that they didn't "edit" Tutuola's language. Though I wonder, what he did do as "editor". Feather Woman of the Jungle is not quite as good as Bush of Ghosts are Palm-Wine Drunkard, but still a fantastic read. I'm glad that Amos Tutuola didn't die of malaria. The world is a better place with his books, and my life has been significantly enriched reading him.

I'm also reading a manuscript by James Lewelling entitled Tortoise. It's what's on deck for Calamari. I read it once before. Twice before actually. This time I'm just proofing. Speaking of editing. Not that much needs to be edited as it's pretty clean. But even if it did, do books need editors? Artists don't need editors to touch up imperfections in their paintings. Artists have curators. That's essentially what an editor should be.

Right now we're flying over James Lewelling. He lives somewhere down below us in Abu Dhabi. In Tortoise, he is on a plane flying somewhere, so it seems relevant to be reading it. He sits next to a big beefy guy who eats his meals for him. I'm sitting next to my little Jess, who was sleeping most of the time and now she is reading up on the comparative energy and protein content of cereals, legumes and tubers.

I lied. We are nowhere near Abu Dhabi. We are actually over the Mediterranean sea. I watched as we flew the length of Italy. Here's a picture of the Alps of Northern Italy or Switzerland.

Italian Alps

We are going 907 km/h. Our altitude is 11,227 meters. The outside temperature is -53 Celsius. We are headed straight for Libya. Maybe Egypt. Near the border.

Now we just crossed the northern coast of Africa. It's very bright and flat and tan colored. I don't see any signs of civilization.

We flew over the oceanic sands of Libya and Egypt into Sudan, criss-crossing the Nile. The Libyan desert looked like the moon surface. We crossed the Nile one last time at Sunset and landed here in Khartoum, Sudan.

sunset over the Nile

Now we are waiting on the tarmac for the plane to continue on to Addis Ababa. We'll get in late.

 

(c) 2007 Derek White

Five Senses Reviews