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Matatu Ride - A Near Death Experience
This Stories are provided by:

Jon Blanc http://kabiza.com
Jon Blanc
Born in Germany at the end of World War II during a bombing raid in a small town (Timmendorfer Strand) nestled on the Baltic Sea. That bombing raid seems to have stuck with me since my life has never been dull since then. I have lived and traveled a large part of this world. Germany, France, United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, Canada, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan.
Being director of Field Operation for a multi-national humanitarian NGO in various parts of Africa. At times we worked with and under the auspices of the UN with traumatized children in Rwanda and Sudan, orphans in Uganda and Kenya and more.
Please visit http://kabiza.com http://kabiza.com

Kenya is coming alive. The morning sun with its rays was caressing the Jacaranda Trees. I smelled their blossoms as I ventured toward Ngong Road. It was relatively peaceful, serene as I walked down the red clay lane freshly washed by some night rain. A few people were up walking like me headed toward their place of work or just off to get some bread at the corner kiosk.
My car was in the repair shop and I had to go to a meeting near the Barclay Bank building downtown and today was going to be my first experience on a Matatu (a mini-bus) and that feeling of serenity and inner bliss, well that would be shaken up too.

This was going to be my day where I entered into the belly of one of the colorful ones (Mayengas), the main mode of transport in Nairobi for thousands. Not just a mode of transportation but an experience that no county fair or amusement park rides in the USA could match. New York may have its Yellow Cabs, London its red Buses, Germany its Mercedes Taxis, but Kenya is unique in a class all of its own with its colorful Matatus.

It looks harmless from a distance - the Purple People Eater
I arrived at the Matatu stop and with about 50 other people stood there waiting for one of the mini-buses to arrive for my trip to downtown Nairobi.
Notice - He is praying Before you ever see one, you can hear it, horns blaring, the speakers thumping away ready to blow at any moment, playing the latest hip-hop music, African reggae or some central African beat that will herald the coming of the colorful ones. When you do see them, they will be brightly painted with pictures and sayings all over them. Ever so often they change the design, and there are even contests for best Matatu art sponsored by General Motors, Kenya. In the past there were pictures of Monica Lewinsky on some,
the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan, Princess Diane, Tupac Shakur and more, all done in bright, garish colors. There are over Kenya has one of the highest accident rates in the world.6000 of them in Nairobi, 24,000 in Kenya (not as colorful in the countryside where they can be small trucks and the like) with names like “Uprising and Da Art of Music”.” They have a poor safety record, at least 1,500 people die each year in Matatu accidents, a ride in one of them is a lifetime experience but for Kenyans it becomes a way of life.

As I stood there, not one but three approached at the same time, it became a race for the finish, side by side, hogging the road…. the noise-level was incredible, the black exhaust fumes would even make Christy Todd-Whitman cringe (Environmental Protection Agency Secretary, USA). There seemed to be no rules of the road, only get to the paying customers first, the conductors with their baggy pants and hats hung out the side door, banging on the roofs and sides of the vehicles, the colors glistened brightly in the morning sun and I was about to get my first ride in a Matatu.

The conductors dove into the crowd trying to usher as many passengers as they could, forget the physical limits of the bus (18 to 24 passengers), They are somehow able to squeeze up to 50 passengers into a 24-seater minibus. How they do it, nobody knows.
A story is told of how a police officer stopped a minibus and, when he realized it was overloaded, ordered all the passengers to get off so that he could ascertain how many excess passengers there were. The policeman stood, mouth agape, as more and more passengers left the bus. After a while he decided to go around the vehicle to ensure none of the passengers were re-entering through another door.

“Mzungu, Papa come here, we are fast, and we will get you downtown quick, American style.” I was shoved inside. It was standing room only, those sitting seemed like they were glued into their seats, there was no room, and I stood with nothing to hold on. As we took off and approached mach 2 speed my body was simply pressed into the throng of people who stood around me. Now I know what a Sardine must feel like pressed into a tin-can, hopefully I would not have to wait until the tin was peeled back by an opener but be able to exit through the door. In order to collect as many fares from passengers, as a rule, overweight people are not allowed, or if they are, they have to pay double the rate.

After a few minutes in a Matatu the senses are numbed, the jostling about, the revving up of the engine, the squealing of the brakes, the sound of hip-hop music, the shouts of the conductor and driver mixed in with protests from the passengers all make one feel you are on an acid trip gone too far, but thankfully somehow you usually arrive.

The driver, was constantly shouting, gesturing, doing everything but driving or so it seemed and I wondered if I should have gone to a church for my last rites prior to this ride. Nairobi's Matatu crews are legendary for their dangerous driving. Intense competition for passengers and hours behind the Art in motionwheel without sleep takes its toll on drivers. The government has tried to step in with laws (limiting color-speed-extra license fees and insurance and mechanical devices that would record the actions of the drivers, at times even wanting to take over this lucrative multi-million dollar business but still the Mayengas, the colorful ones ride the sea of Nairobi traffic like speed boats in the canals of Venice (except there are police with radar on the canals of Venice ). In Nairobi, the police stand on the side of road and have no way of chasing the errant Matatu driver except to write down the license number and if they do stop them, there is always the exchange of a bit of cash to avoid judgment.

Depending on your age, the Matatu ride can be pure hell or a journey that should not end. The minibuses boast the most powerful hi-fi systems. TheLove those flames music systems, some costing up to $2 000, can easily burst your eardrums.
But the youth seem to enjoy the noise. Some pay for round trips just to sample the latest music from the US and some have been known to play hooky from school just to listen to the hottest hits. The older passengers can only grumble.

The ride was a breath taking experience, at times our driver even went onto the sidewalk, across some open spaces to another road, over a round-about island to avoid traffic slow-downs, all the while the conductor was hollering and screaming at people on the side of the road to get on aboard. Ever so often the Matatu would come to a screeching halt, thank God the brakes worked on this one and disgorge some of the passengers which meant a whole new arrangement for the rest of us and me being pressed into someone else. At one time I had an actual seat only to have my face Downtown Nairobi at last.pressed into someone’s backside. I was hoping that the ride would soon be over and I could escape this claustrophobic nightmare and enjoy the wide-open space of Kenyatta Avenue…

One of my fellow sufferers shouted at me “You must be a poor mzungu to ride a Matatu?” I smiled at him and said “I wanted to feel what a near-death experience would be like.”

The trip helped me to see Nairobi in a new light, I had experienced sounds, sights, smells, senses I never knew existed and as I slowly walked out the Matatu the conductor smiled at me and said “Papa, see you next time.” I smiled and thought that I would gladly take a taxi home instead of another joy ride over sidewalks, off-road paths, curbs and roundabout islands...jon

A time to remember?
Sensuality African Style

The day had been hot and long in the heat of the desert like country of Southern Sudan and we were heading back home from a small community for what Life magazine had called the "Lost boys of Sudan." It had been joyous but strenuous work, enduring the This is one of my favorite carvings at my househeat of the sun, with not much shade around. The Land Rover was laboring over another huge rut on the so-called road as Akot my Sudanese escort from the SPLA spoke and said "tonight we will have to celebrate and have dinner at the Lynx. It will be fun, there is music and a disco there also, and lots of beer."

The sound, or rather thought of a cold Tusker’s Beer sounded so inviting. The idea of sitting at a table enjoying some food and discuss the day with my friend was appealing. For a moment I thought of the bulletin I had read declaring the Lynx off-limits to UN associated personnel, but then I loved adventure and had always dared to go where no white man dares to go.

After a nice shower pouring from a make shift 50-gallon oil drum suspended from a platform, heated by the sun, we went to our dinner restaurant? Night had fallen quickly, as it does around 7 PM in Africa and we stumbled across open fields, trying to avoid the thorn-bushes that were so abundant there.

We were in the northern most portion of Kenya, in a place called Lokichokio, where extreme heat was the daily portion, where most of the inhabitants where from the Turkana tribe and many of the women and children walked around naked. Men would often wear a tunic and carry their head rests, a sort of wooden pillow, carved of wood on which they would sit and sleep. Most people survived by keeping goats and cattle, all the while adding new members to their flocks through rustling in nearby Southern Sudan. This was the wild west of Kenya. Where men and boys used AK-47's to guard their goats. What a sight it was, to see a Turkana tribesman in just a T-shirt with a rifle or submachine-gun slung over his shoulder guarding his goats.

But now it was night, and we were heading for a light in the distance, sort of stumbling along in the dark. Soon the sound of music penetrated my ears, Zairian Soukos and American music made their way to us across a small valley. Akot smiled, his teeth shining in the dark. "Soon we will be there." I had heard that in Africa so many times and hours later we would still be traveling."

Soon, thankfully so, we reached a compound that was ablaze with lights. I could hear the hum of a generator, music was blaring and people standing all around the entrance. We made our way through to the gate where we were greeted with a term familiar to places like New York, or Vancouver, BC, "cover charge, my friend." Yes, even here in the desert of northern Kenya modern enterprise had arrived and we dutifully paid a 50-Shilling cover charge and were properly stamped with a date and allowed to enter the inner sanctum of the Lynx.

No words could describe what I encountered in this "modern" restaurant and so-called discotheque. Chic, would be most inappropriate, raw would be more like it.

If one can imagine a large, cleared area of earthy, red, African clay, a few benches on the edges, 4 tables, a barbecue made from a 50 gallon drum. The bar was located in a small building made of wood, iron bars across the front. Akot motioned and we walked up to it, I was ready for a cold beer, after a long, hot day. I asked for one in Kiswahili "Tusker's baridi sana." The old, one toothed woman smiled and said "tuskers moto." I had just been informed that the beer was warm and not cold, true to the style that most Africans like it. No problem for Akot, but I ached for a cold drink, thinking that even Bud-light would be OK, as long at it was cold as I gulped on this heated beverage called beer.

We settled at one of the tables, looking at the scene in front of us. The dance floor was crowded with young men and women gyrating to various tunes coming forth from some antiquated system that somewhere in another life had seen better days. No one seemed to care, though, enjoying the moment, dancing away in typical African style. Most were dressed in nice clothing purchased at the second hand markets nearby. Nearby, being a day away by bus, in Lodwar. A place my son had called "straight out of National Geographic's Magazine," being totally astonished as to what he encountered on a trip there with me.

Akot nudged me to gain my attention as he pointed pointed to a young woman dancing near us, seemingly alone, caught up in her own world, a beer bottle in one hand. It was a fascinating sight as she moved with the music, seemingly one with it. Her movements were different, there was a purpose in her step, a sense of fluidity that one could not help but admire. She turned to us and smiled, beckoning us to dance with her, but with a wave of hand and smile we declined.

She continued her movement of grace and poise. She was dressed in almost Western Style, black pants, a black short T-shirt revealing her slim midriff and a baseball hat that was black, a rather unusual sight. Just then she took the beer bottle in hand and placed in on her head. Akot smiled knowingly, the bottle on her head seemed to take a life of its own and she was able to balance it as she continued dancing. Our food of roasted goat arrived and we ate, watching in fascination, the woman and bottle in perfect harmony, moving together in total graceful balance. It was an amazing sight.

She was a striking woman, coal black skin, tall, almost six foot in height, her body slender. And yet she did not attract the attention of the crowd, she seemed to dance just for us. I thought that the bottle, half filled would drop at any time, but it never did.

Her dance took her closer to us, and now she was only a few feet away, when she grabbed the bottom of the T-shirt and sensuously moved it up revealing her breast. Akot turned and asked, "You like?"

Like was not the right question. It was a rather unusual event and brought different emotions to my mind. Thoughts that roamed through my mind on my walk back to my tent after dinner.

I had been raised in a pietist Lutheran home in Germany. A place where sexuality was a no, no. It had been the forbidden fruit. In America people talked about sexuality, but it was something in ads, it was not part of most people. Most people I concluded were uncomfortable with their own sexuality and saw it as a separate entity.

This young woman seemed to be at home with who she was. She did not have any inhibitions, something I had so often seen in Africa, where people took a sensual approach to life. An approach that allowed them to taste, to touch, to feel life around them, to be at one with themselves including their sexuality. They did not see it as something separate but as part of who they were.

My thoughts turned deeper into this and the why's of it. I thought of various religious traditions, the Song of Solomon in Judaism and Christianity, the sensuality and almost hedonistic approach of Hinduism, the approach of Buddha, the return of Homer to his wife and the bed he made. I thought of ancient Greek Gods and their comfort with their total identity.

For the next few days my mind chewed on these thoughts, my mind went to the ancient dances from every tradition and found that this Turkana woman's dance was only a continuation of a long tradition.

I also came to some personal conclusions about sensuality, one's personal sexuality and approach to life. I came to understand that sensuality was not just about sex, but an approach to life. To taste, to touch, to feel, to sense all the things that come our way. Not to approach life surgically, but to immerse oneself in the moment.

As a young boy, I stood on the 10-meter diving board and was ready to climb back down when I decided to jump, the result was, I enjoyed it. I came to the conclusion that I had missed so much of the essence of life, of the joys of the tastes, the scents, the sounds of life.

I decided to join the dance, the ancient ritual, falling in love with life, with the gifts of life - to keep the bottle balanced between the sacred and the profane - to love - to enjoy the moment - to keep dancing.

The beauty of an orchidPractically what does this all mean to me? Does it mean an open lifestyle, does it mean to give every feeling and sensation venting, does it mean promiscuity? Not at all.

Sensuality, is not something to be expressed in just any way. Like a river there are boundaries for this stream, this approach to life. It brings us to a celebration of two people, who are walking together in harmony and purpose. This is not about immediate gratification, but about being comfortable who I am, including my sexuality, and having a person in one's life with whom the ancient ritual of the dance of love has significance and purpose, as an outward expression of the inner heart.

A few years later, the young woman in Lokichokio has taught me something. She taught me to dance again - to live to the full - not a Hugh Hefner style of life - but an approach that that enjoys the gifts given every day...jon

Medical Care African Style

Every time I drove in Africa, the thought of having an accident and needing emergency medical treatment was on my mind. I had seen enough roadside carnage, bodies simply by the side of the road, in most cases they were still uncovered after a hit and run accident. That is not to say that the driver was responsible for the accident he or she simply disappeared before some angry mob carried out their sense of justice.

If you did have an accident, the care that you might get would leave any Westerner cringing at the sight of needles that had obviously been used before, lack of medicine and bandages, doctor’s on staff and whatever else one can imagine.

A small place - a great work.At Mulago Hospital a large sign greets the visitor, "Report anyone asking for a bribe." Well, try to get any decent care without a bribe. To begin there is a shortage of doctors in Africa since many of those who have graduated have been lured away by South Africa with a program that will make them a lot more money than they could in a place like Uganda where a doctors visit runs between three and five dollars.

If you go to the hospital at night, you are really out of luck. The first thing you have to do is to pay transport cost for the doctor to come, and an added incentive for him to get out of bed. Once he is at the hospital, there is the lack of equipment, the absence of medicine. (Most of it is stolen once it reaches the hospital and often sold at one of the private clinics owned by doctors. When one speaks of private clinic you have to envision a simple room with cement floor, a counter and maybe a curtain, there are of course better places, but for the average African they are rare.)

If you are admitted to the hospital, the story really begins. You better bring a mattress and bedding, toilet paper, have food brought by relatives, medicine has to be purchased and brought to the hospital, be ready to pay something extra for care. I have seen a man sleep on the springs of the bed with no sheets, mattress or anything else. He was lucky however; he was in a hospital.

If you go to a clinic, a doctor’s office, be ready to bring your own needles if you are getting a shot, or want some blood-work done. Many times needles are re-used and in Africa that spells death. Many of my friends brought their own plasma with them in case of emergency and had a supply of needles, medicine and anything else that would make things a bit easier in case of emergency. The last time I went I needed two things, some malaria medicine and a check whether I did have malaria, which meant a blood test and an HIV test for a visa. In both cases I had to have blood drawn. The lab was simply a room with some equipment, the latest I was told, and a bench for people like me to await the results. While I was there a young woman was told she had HIV. There was no counseling and no privacy, she was simply told in front of the other awaiting results. She began to cry and my heart went out to her.

Life and death is part of an ancient cycle in Africa. Life expectancy is short by our standards and the casket makers are busy on Entebbe road in Kampala. All daylong one can see bicycles, trucks and cars taking away another casket, many of them are for children. That is why the African lives out the moment, the here and now. When death comes, there is a time of grief and life starts over again. Even in times of war, the African sees death not as we do, but as part of the cycle of life. While we are here we live to the fullest, not depending on the accumulation of things, but on the heart and soul to celebrate each moment.

If you want to buy medicine, you can do at the pharmaceutical stands from early morning until midnight. No, prescriptions needed. Tell the pharmacist what ails you and he or she will tell you what’s best. How do they know? Well, call it luck, or whatever since most of them have no pharmaceutical training of any kind, but go by their feelings, sell what is available, and whatever other reasons. Often medicine is counterfeit and simply some chemical cakes that are not helpful to the ailing patient, so it is best you buy a brand-name in a package, that is if you recognize the brand name since much of the medicine is made in another third world country.

The West sends medical aid to Africa, but often it is things that cannot be used like the time I visited the small clinic in a Nairobi slum. The place was a clinic run by a nurse, a school, an orphanage and a teaching center for people to use contraceptives in order to avoid AIDS. To begin with, I had to chuckle as Anne Owiti proudly showed me around. In her office where boxes and boxes of condoms made in Europe. Just in front of them was a table with a Bible and next to it a male sex organ made of wood to demonstrate how to use a condom. The contrasts were simply overwhelming, and I thought, "Only in Africa is this normal." IN the same place was a brand new refrigerator. I turned to Anne and said, "You do not have power, do you?" She laughed, "Maybe someday." I knew that soon the refrigerator would be in someone’s house. Yes, this was Africa, and the dear ladies from the European club never checked whether there was a way to plug in their nice, new refrigerator...jon

The African Bargaining Ritual…

Most of us, who live in the West, miss out on one of the most delightful forms of entertainment known to man …the ancient ritual of bargaining. Here most everything is pre-priced, pre-packaged, pre-shrunk and pre-priced. The result is that we miss out on a lot of just plain fun.

Just today I bought some watermelon, strawberries, flowers, vegetables, all commodities that I would have to bargain for in Africa, but here any attempt to do such would result in the manager being called to the check-out stand to handle this strange man who was trying to get a better deal…how sad.

I feel deprived of one of the great joys of my life, the ancient ritualistic dance of bargaining. The moment you land in Africa, go through immigration and customs and reach the street the dance of bargaining begins. Taxi drivers will mill all around you wanting to be of service, shouting out their prices, grabbing your luggage. Those drivers would be very disappointed if you simply agreed to the first price they offered you instead of looking at them while saying….”What do you think I am – A tourist?”

Bargaining gets into your blood, it becomes the great African addiction. It covers every aspect of life in Africa with a few exceptions such as restaurants, gas stations and stores where things are on a price list or pre-priced. Go however into the treat of all treats “The great Owino Market in Kampala with its 30,000 vendors and you can bargain to your hearts content for goods and services that meet your every need. Nothing is pre-priced or pre-packaged; everything is subject to negotiations. Let the fun begin…

Most westerner’s will go into a state of shock as they enter a place like Owino Market in Kampala or the Tuesday Maasai Market Maasai Marketin Nairobi. We are not used to tens of people shouting at us, hawking their wares, services, prices and so on. We might even make the mistake of paying a price that is far higher than what we could get it for and also miss out on the fun of the interaction between buyer and seller something that is absent as we purchase things in the west.

Should you be going to Africa soon, it is best you get an introduction into this wonderful dance of bargaining so that when you get there it will be a lot more enjoyable and profitable for you. To begin with, leave your natural inhibitions behind, do some role-playing where you learn the art of gestulating or making faces of sadness and disappointment and voice fluctuation in order gain the best price in the situation. On top of it all, don’t dress like the typical tourist in your Banana Republic finest, that gives you away as a novice and open to exploitation.

Below you will find some of my memorable, personal experiences in various situations of African life. Hopefully they will give the head start into becoming a great African negotiator and bargainer.

Buying Things:

I was sitting in an outside restaurant with a BBC Reporter from Leeds in the UK, having a nice Chinese dinner watching the activities on the street around us in the Kabalagala area of Kampala when a young boy approached us selling some kitchen knives. I did not need any knives but could not resist the temptation to bargain and have some pre-dinner fun. The boy asked for 15,000 shillings (1997 about 15 dollars). I counter offered with 5,000 shillings. His face became sad and he said 13,000 and that was his best price. I came back with 5,000 shillings and he looked at me with eyes that were ready to tear and said that such a Ugandan Salesprice was not fair and he had to eat. I asked in turn if he would sell these knives to his mother at such an unfair price as 13,000. “Sure, my mother would pay such money,” was his reply. I came back with “You think because I am a mzungu (westerner) I have lots of money, just because my skin is white does not mean I am rich, underneath our skin flows the same color blood, red, so you should give me a fair price of 7,000 shillings. Back and forth it flowed, my reporter friend thoroughly enjoying the scene before him, so much so, that he recorded it for a later broadcast on BBC. That night I became the proud of owner of a new set of knives that I did not need, but the housekeeper, Ruth enjoyed using the next day. The food came as I finalized our deal and I invited the young boy to eat with us, something he enjoyed, all of us felt enriched by the moment.

My son Ryan was with me as went shopping for some souvenirs at Tuesday Maasai Market in Nairobi. It not really a market with Maasai Marketstalls and things, but simply a hill by a roundabout just near downtown where African Crafts are sold to mostly tourists. It is called Maasai Market but most of the people selling their wares belong to the Kamba tribe known for their crafts but there will also be some Kiisi selling soapstone carvings, Turkanas and a few Maasai with their walking sticks, necklaces and bracelets.

This was my son’s first visit and he did not know what to expect, but I told him to let me do the bargaining otherwise we might not get the best price.

The place was jam-packed with sellers of carvings, gourds, trade beads, batiks and everything else Africans could turn into hard cash. Just walking around amidst the shouts of “Papa, buy this or that,” gets the blood flowing something one does not get while walking the wide aisles of Wal-mart.

I was a regular at the Maasai Market and recognized by some of the sellers. One woman in particular offered me some delightfully carved candleholders and other items. She named a price and I responded with a gasp. Having some acting in your background can be of great help in bargaining, rolling your eyes, a gasp here or there, throwing up of hands, are all techniques greatly appreciated in Africa and I can assure you, returned in like manner. The woman was a delightful Kamba who enjoyed the fine art of bargaining and we were rolling along and getting nowhere, when I got out the ultimate weapon in bargaining…the cash I was I willing to pay. I showed it to her and she said, no, wanting the higher price…and then part two of the ultimate bargaining tool…”walk a way.” Only once did the seller not come running after me and I knew I had gone too low, but on this day…money and goods were exchanged and contentment was felt by all.

Linoleum was needed and the best place to buy it was Owino Market in downtown Kampala. Off I went into the belly of beast of bargaining. This is not something for the novice, but for the shrewdest of the shrewd. Here you can find anything from second hand clothing to tools, from medicine to food, from radios to TV’s and more. My task was to buy 20 meters of linoleum and off I went to the section where the sellers of such items dwelt. At the first stall I was able to obtain a good and fair price per meter but as the young man began to measure out my linoleum I noticed something rather strange, he was using 80 centimeters instead of the 100 which would be a full meter. He was shortchanging me, I smiled and allowed him to do his thing and then said. “Now I need 20% off of the price since you shorted me by 20%.” The surprised look on his face told it all, it was charming, but no deal was consummated and I walked by with my full 20 meter roll a few minutes later and we laughed at one another.

Kitu Kidogo – Just a little something:

Not only does one need bargaining skills for goods, but in dealing with everyone from the police to immigrations officials. Salaries in East Africa are quite low and most officials try to enhance them by getting a bit of kitu kidogo…a little something from the people they deal with. It is the cost of doing business.

I made an illegal u-turn in Nairobi returning a rental car on my way to the airport and three policemen pulled me over. I made the fatal mistake in telling them that I was in a hurry to catch a plane to Kampala. They had me. The next thing I knew, I was on my way to court and that could take the rest of the day. So with two policemen in the car I stopped and turned to them. “I have a problem and maybe you can help in this problem. I have a plane to catch, you have things to do – how can make everyone happy.” Fifteen dollars (5 dollars for each official) later I was on my way to the airport. (Since Mwai Kibaki came into power in Kenya things are beginning to change. People are refusing to pay kido Kidogo and even chasing police and taking the bribes they have collected as has been reported in “The Nation.”…amazing)

Bargaining is dealing with people, it is not task orientated but relational. It involves grace, kindness, a bit of humor, cunning, acting and a lot of westerners feel uncomfortable doing it and rather pay the full price and be on their way…”They do not know what they are missing.”

Ugandan hat vendorIt is not something you do gingerly. It is not like putting your toes into the water of a pool and think that you have gone bathing. It is diving into process and taking it in fully, enjoying the moment and most of all the process. I hope you have an opportunity to put some of these things into practice for yourself. Let me know how it goes.

The last deal in Africa…
I walked up to the British Airways counter in Kampala. My luggage consisted of suitcases, wrapped tables and chairs, drums and much more. I placed it all on the scale and prayed for grace. The limit was 70 pounds a suitcase going to North America. I knew I had lots more.

The young woman behind the counter looked at my ticket, took my British Airways Gold Membership Card and then looked at the scale. She looked again and then turned to me and said, “You are overweight.” I looked at her in astonishment, “Me, overweight?” “ No, not you but your things are overweight by 60 kilos, you will have to pay.”

Once more, for the last time the ancient dance of bargaining was entered into. Like the elders of old bargaining for the price of a bride, so I too began to bargain using my skills refined for some seasons. I told her that I was leaving Africa, not to come back and I wanted to take part of Africa with me. I was taken things that would remind me of Mama Africa. She understood, she smiled and said. “In that case, I am making an exception, have a nice journey and thank you for flying British Airways.

Now I go to stores where things are boringly pre-priced, pre-packaged, labeled and no one knows of the fun one can have bargaining. Here it is task orientation, the focus is a thing, there it is a relationship formed that in some cases is much more enjoyable than the purchase and as in the case of my kitchen knives, one might even buy something one does not need, because one enjoys the ancient ritualistic dance of bargaining with words and gestures…hope you get do so soon…jon

Aids-Africa-Dignity and Hope…Thoughts...

AS you read this, 30 million Africans are living without a future and a hope. Their life in its present form is a mere existence and only death seems to hold any relief from the present pain and suffering pf HIV-AIDS. There is no medicine, if there was, the cost would be beyond most Africans and since most AIDS victims can no longer work, they simply await death and in many cases, they die alone.

President Busch in his State of the Union speech (January 2003) addressed the problem of AIDS in Africa, spoke of the 30 million State of the Union Adress 2003afflicted with the deadly disease, spoke of 3million orphans, (Uganda has well over 1.5 million alone) and surprisingly spoke of a total of 15 billion dollars going to 14 nations to combat AIDS if congress authorizes it.

30 million AIDS sufferers, 3 million orphans, and 15 billion dollars. To most of us they are simply numbers, statistics, and figures. What is more important is the fact that there are real people behind those numbers. Living people, fathers, mothers, children, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts, families, clans, tribes, regions, nations. There are lives represented, lives that without help will soon wilt in the barrenness of suffering and dry up and die.

I have met some of those statistics first hand, from young to old, most of them are dead by now, but the impact of their lives is still with me as fresh as the day when I met them.

Since President’s Bush address in which he spoke of making a major impact in Africa with regards to AIDS and some of the other diseases that rob Africans of future dreams, the talk shows on Radio have been buzzing with wasting money in distant Africa and why not spend such money in the USA on Americans who certainly need help first instead of squandering it in Africa where it will not reach the ones who really need help and if it does reach them, it will only be a license for more promiscuity and a further spread of AIDS once they receive medication and help.

As I listened to these callers and talk show hosts’ feelings of anger, sadness, pity swept over me and with it the realization that many Americans have a very limited worldview. For years we have lived protected by two oceans from the reality of the rest of the world. Our local newspapers and media keep dropping more and more International news in favor of relevant local reporting such as latest restaurant opening while our window of the world keeps shrinking away, becoming smaller and smaller and our world view more and more limited by the lack of information which we get from the nightly news and local newspapers and “We are the world – we are the children” is merely a nice song to listen to, but not do anything about.

Should the USA help Africa with 15 Billion dollars? The answer is an emphatic yes. For years, going back to the discovery of Africa by the Western World, Africa has been used as a supplier of raw materials for the Western World. Much of the United States, South America, the Caribbean, was built on the backs of African Slave Labor. Even when one ventures into the Eastern world one would find the traces of African slaves going all the way into China, with India, Islands in the Indian Ocean, Iran and Iraq all benefiting from the men, women and children stripped from Mother Africa. Many parts of Africa became uninhabited wastelands because whole tribes were shipped to places as varied as Brazil and Zanzibar.

When slavery was eliminated, Colonialism with its various hues kept the spirit of extraction of things from Africa alive. Slavery was now in-house and European countries used forced labor to harvest rubber, coffee, cotton, tea, spices, gold, diamonds, copper and countless of other things from Africa while the African lived on less and less, without freedom, liberty, land and the pursuit of a peaceable life.

I am very glad that President Busch has taken this position of helping Africa in its present crisis and it is my hope that other nations, who have benefited and prospered from Africa will follow this lead and example and make a contribution to the welfare and future of Africans.

Africans like the assistant Minister of Health who I met in Rwanda who had only a few months of life ahead of him and wasburying the dead concerned about the well being of his nieces and nephews and their schooling. Like the little boy I met in Kisumu, Kenya who was born with AIDS and even as he was born into this world he was already dying. Africans like the waitress in Kampala, the guard at the grocery store, all suffering from AIDS. I pray to see the day when the business of the casket makers on Entebbe road diminishes and African highways are no longer referred to as AIDS highways and AIDS has been reduced and eliminated.

AIDS SignUganda, with virtually no major help has decreased the new infections of AIDS and all the government agencies, mosques and churches have joined in the battle against this deadly disease. The stigma of AIDS has been virtually wiped out and people, including leaders have freely acknowledged that they too have AIDS and pleaded with others to take steps to eliminate the dreaded spread of the AIDS virus…and yes, it is working. Now with the help from the United States and other countries, with the Drug companies making medicines available at reduced cost, the battle can be slowly won and Africa can live again and then we can truly sing, “ We are the world…”

A few years back I met a woman with two small children in a slum near Makerere University. She was dying of AIDS, and she had not family to take care of her children. She had gone everywhere to gain help for her children since soon she would be gone and all she found was closed doors. She looked at me with tears in her eyes “No one cares, no one cares for me or my children.” My thoughts go back to that day…and I hope we can tell her children…that someone cares…. someone does want to make a difference in Africa…and hopefully we can look beyond money needed to the benefits it will bring to living people who otherwise would die…jon

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