Monday, April 29, 2013

Going to Africa

If making the trip to sub-Saharan Africa hasn't crossed your mind, you're probably normal.  You don't need to go, really.

On the other hand, if you'd like to see it up close and personal, there are some easy introductions.

You can, for example, make friends with a camel in Djibouti;  the little ones are polite enough.  And with a little coaching, you can travel safely for a large part of the country.

There are places with stunning vistas, like the (only) road going north from Doraleh.  It ends at a nice beach and bar area which tourists will never find unless somebody tells them about it.
Bring a friend, of course.  Groups are safer.

It is Africa, and it's often hot, but it's a dry heat.  😀  Carry a case of bottled water with you when you wander around outside the city.  Bring small money for the kids, too.  Most of them will ask very politely for a donation to their family.

There's a stoplight in the city now.  Nobody really pays attention to it, so be careful.

Djibouti is pretty safe, especially if you're in a group of two or more, but don't go to the slum areas after dark.  Driving? It is easy to get comfortable in the moderately paced traffic.  They're a bit imprecise when it comes to staying in their lane, but they're more polite than in D. C.

In Kenya, north along the coast from Mombasa, I stumbled into this flock just minutes from the tourist area.  This is the real world, by the way.  Most of the world lives similarly.

Do not drive in Kenya.  Along one of Kenya's coastal highways, this van is on the shoulder doing about 40 Kph (25 Mph) with a passenger holding on in the open doorway.  They do drive on the left, mostly sort of, but it's a bit non-conventional.  Rent a car with a driver included for the days you want to wander, or join a professionally conducted safari.

Do go see the wildlife.  Hippos are incredible as are the giraffes.

In the mostly-undiscovered Sao Tome & Principe, children play at one of dozens of nearby beaches.  Most beaches are gorgeous and undeveloped.  It's the only country in Africa where you cannot get lost, no matter what.  (It's very small.)  They speak Portuguese and perhaps a few words in English, but that somehow doesn't seem to be a problem for visitors.  A little Spanish is fun; they pretend like you're intelligible, and somehow it works out.

Of the countries in Africa, this is among the safest and perhaps the friendliest as well.  Nice folks, and driving is fairly normal, sort of, if you're careful.

If you're very polite about taking pictures, folks usually will play along.  Kids love to pose for pictures; adults not so much, perhaps.  If you carry a camera you can let the kids use, they'll take fun pictures of all kinds of things that you otherwise wouldn't see and certainly not get photos of.

If you go slow and take the time to talk to folks, some may invite you home for coffee and conversation.  These are friends in Ethiopia, a neighborhood I've visited several times.  They took me home for coffee with mom and dad.  Their English is quite good.  My Amharic is non-existent, but no problem.

If you'd like to understand the world you live in, it takes a little thought and effort.  Just a little is a fine beginning.

Friday, April 26, 2013

APR '13 - Milagrosa community project

Update from Africa today!  Encouraging stuff; made my day.

Our friends are well along with building a community center and preschool.

Nestled in an overgrown former-plantation, Milagrosa is a small community of hard working folks with an associated mob of children. 

The community center/preschool project is their idea and they are doing the work as you can see.  After a year's prep, they offered their plan to our NGO associates.

Materials and other costs were covered by a generous folks in NC.

For those curious about Africa, the Milagrosa community is here on Google maps.
Staged cinderblock for the project

A few miles back from the ocean's edge, Milagrosa is a long way from anywhere to walk and the only transportation is the occasional taxi that makes the trip to the city most days.

Interestingly, despite their small size, the community has a wealth of skilled workers.  These folks have a strong work ethic and are willing to invest personally in their community's advancement.

If you'd like to join in on projects like this one, let me know.  We're connected to folks who actually manage the projects here and in southern Kenya as well.

In Sao Tome, Roberta dos Santos is the
NGO's coordinator.  She's the one who
pulls it all together and oversees the 
Our onsite management is provided by a small NGO (STeP UP) in Sao Tome and Principe and by a church group (Jubilation Ministries) in Mombasa, Kenya.  Both are recommended for their accountability.

We've got about 60 kids on scholarship, total, most who wouldn't be able to attend otherwise.  We'll have 100+ next semester.  We have a number of family assistance projects as well.  These are all places we've been, people we've met, and help is applied directly where it's needed.  Feel free to join us.  You'd be welcome to visit personally. (Leave a comment or a note; I'll get back to you with details.)

Stories from Sao Tome & Principe aren't really complete unless you mention the beauty of the place.  Beaches are magnificent, unspoiled, and undiscovered yet by the tourist world.  Here, some of our friends play in the sand while us old folks relax in the sun.  An impressive culture, gracious people; all of them it seems.