Saturday, October 10, 2009







It's Not a Boy! It's Not a Girl! It's a Land Cruiser










I feel like I’ve gone through childbirth.  Yes, I know, I’m a guy, I’m not supposed to be able to feel things like that, but I can’t fight the imagery.  I’ve waited anxiously for months, researching the overland blog literature, discussing my choices with the experts, and more.  What would she look like?  Of if he's a "he," will he be a gay "he" or a straight "he"? I really wouldn't care.  My liberal inclinations wouldn't permit it.  Would we give our new baby a name as do so many overland travelers who had a “Skully,” or a “Gus,” or a “Harry”?  Then suddenly, as if all the discussions and worry came together, a sort of embryonization,  Paul Marsh of Footloose 4X4 called me and said, “I have it. It’s a Toyota!!”  Not a girl, not a boy.  It’s a Land Cruiser. Model 80.  The Land Cruiser, our new baby, has a great history in Africa having survived the test of time.  There I go, humanizing a collection of nut, bolts, steel and wire, like I believe in Transformers or something!  


Seriously, this is a good birth, and I'll stop the anthropomorphicizing (don't look it up, I created it, but it means pretending a heap of metal is a kid) for a bit. Here's what's important: Parts for this vehicle are available all along the route from Cairo to Capetown.  We’ve purposely selected a slightly vintage 1996 model because it has fewer electronic parts (i.e electronic repairs are computer dependent) than newer versions of Toyota's overland capable vehicles.  The experts say the Land Cruiser has fewer breakdowns than the very popular Landrover.  In short, it is the most rugged, reliable, fixable, and comfortable vehicle to meet the challenges of the African road.


Details make all the difference.  Six years of driving in Africa gave me ample opportunity to learn that unexpected and catastrophic potential lies before the traveler each day when he or she gets behind the wheel.  Years ago, we were six hundred miles from our Mt. Elgon home when a few miles outside Malindi,  a picturesque Arab village on the Kenyan coast, when a valve snapped and ripped at hole through a piston head in milli-seconds. Black smoke spewed in the rear view mirror of the VW van and my heart sunk through my chest and bounced like a dead cat on the floor mat. We were severely low on cash, facing a major engine repair, and I had three days to get back to my teaching post.  Fortunately, my wife (now deceased) had secretly squirreled away 35 shillings (five bucks!! Eureka!  I love you Agnes Chengek).  A friend towed us back to Silversands beach in Malindi where we had already camped for two weeks. For three dollars I acquired a salvaged VW engine head off a backyard parts pile at a local garage.  I disassembled and reassembled the engine on the sands of the campground.  Five days later we were back home, where I had to answer for the two days of work I missed.  


Here’s another mishap that comes to mind: One thousand miles to the Northwest of Malindi is Murchinson Falls, a crack in the earth  through which the whole of the Nile rushes then crashes in a foamy explosion on the waterbed at the base of the falls.  It’s a spellbinding natural phenomenon whose roaring cry seems to be either in unison with or in response to the tumult and chaos in one of the most lawless regions of the planet. This is the land of the Lord’s Resistance Army, the pariahs of Northern Uganda who terrorize, rape, mutilate the local inhabitants and kidnap their children to turn them into their “soldiers.” At the time of my last visit, Idi Amin was in his first year of doing to the people of Uganda what the Lord’s Resistance continues to perpetuate on a smaller fraction of the same population. I was decades younger then, a bit naive, and a little more fearless, a gentler way of saying “stupid.”  Idi’s boys were everywhere, just waiting for a knucklehead like me to come driving by.  After crossing the river downstream from Murchinson by manual ferry, we headed for the town of Gulu.  Suddenly, the VW did one of those spooky things it liked to do.  The steering wheel turned but the wheels didn’t bother to respond.  My wife used to remind me that there are plenty of witch doctors around to account for these unusual, seemingly inexplicable events.  I wasn’t a good listener as I preferred to defer to rationality.  In many instances, I was vindicated by the discovery of some cause.  This was one of those circumstances. We prayed for a solution to our predicament, knowing that preying soldiers could pass by at any time.  After  poking around the undersurface of the van, I found that the linch pin connecting the steering wheel shaft to the front axel had snapped.  I found a rusty nail on the roadside, a welcome discovery given the remoteness of our location.  I put the thing in the linch pin hole and, voila, the driving wheel once again performed as the engineer designed it.  


The point is this: when one travels in Africa, shit happens.  So, the vehicle with which one chooses to travel is a decision of no light weight.  Now, if I may digress for a moment to complete a thought on the subject of witchcraft:   When a writer verges off topic, he may enrich the reading experience but runs the risk of disorienting the reader. The subject of witch craft was part of my everyday life while I lived in Africa.  It brought into conflict two very divergent cultures as embodied in the personages of me and my wife.  On this matter, let me assure you there is more to say; however, as interesting as that subject is,  I don’t want to veer too far off theme, our choice of vehicle for traveling the length of Africa.  May I leave you with one thought:  rational thought was not always the victor in these conflicts.  There were plenty of humbling experiences and, if time and circumstance permit, as I’m sure the months to come will provide, I’ll return to this theme and share some humility.


One may ask:  how does one prepare a vehicle, purchased unseen, prepared in England, for a trip across Africa from his home in San Francisco?  Certainly, it’s not easy and truth is I won’t know how successful my choice of vehicle is until many months have passed.  My confidant in all matters relating to the choice of vehicle and its preparation is Paul Marsh, a South African gentleman I have never met.  All I know of Mr. Marsh is what I’ve read, what people have told me, and what I can deduce from conversations with him.  In a court of law, it’s like making a case from circumstantial evidence, which in this case seems quite ample.  Mr. Marsh is an engineer, who has made a similar trip as we are making three times.  In addition, he has turned his expertise, experience and training into a business called “Footloose4X4.”  The reader can refer to his website, http://www.footloose4x4.com/, and forage a bit for more information should it be of interest.  Mr. Marsh provides me eyes, ears, touch,  experience, and access to vehicles.  If I’ve chosen well, the results will prove the choice.  


The vehicle is a 24 volt, 24 valve, 4.2 liter diesel, with automatic drive.  Of these features, the only one meaningful to me is the automatic drive, which means that if necessary Maria, who is  intimidated by her unfamiliarity with a stick shift, can drive.  One thing we’re assured: this vehicle won’t look much like it does now when we hit the road in January.  The all-terrain wheels, the roof rack with a roof tent and storage box sitting atop the vehicle, will make this look seriously safari ready.  There will be a bull-nose grate thing built across the front.  The bull-nose will be strong enough to push things out of the way that need to be pushed and the grate will stop the rocks that get hurled at you by passing vehicles on African roads covered with every manner of rock and stone.  in the front of the Land Cruiser, there should be a winch to get us out of mud and water.  There may even be a smoke stack looking thing which isn’t for smoke at all, but is intended to catch air that is a little less than the usual dusty.  On the rear will be a couple of spare tires.  There will be added gas and water tanks in areas you’d never see.  Inside there will be a fridge, an elaborate electrical system for plugging in all our electronic goodies, a water purification system, and more.  We’ll even have a small kitchen and who knows, possibly a washing machine.  However, don’t let your imagination run too wild.  It’s called a Sputnik, because it looks like a Russian satellite, and it’s completely mechanical.  I’m sure you’ll hear more about it if we decide to get the thing.


In the 1970s I traveled the width and breadth of East Africa in a 1959 VW van that literally fell apart at times when I hit bumps indelicately.  I can still see the faces of East African police laughing their asses off when they stopped me on the roadside. They monitored vehicles for improper equipment, especially lights, but also basics like bumpers, and rear view mirrors.  Well, my bumper sagged a bit and sat askew, one side nearly scraping the road.  My freely spinning rear view mirror was a replacement item from a junk yard and the indicator lights on the front never worked.  What’s more they had a penchant for falling out on rough roads because of the extensive rusted body frame.  The side doors didn’t shut very well and we used to tie them from the inside to secure them.  If the policeman asked everyone to exit the vehicle, the tenuous system became evident.  My best coping tool back then was a serious self-deprecating diatribe on my bad fate.  I cursed the fact that I ended up with such a vehicle.  That I could do this in Swahili made the situation seem especially surreal and the officers couldn’t help themselves but to roar with laughter. They just couldn’t believe an mzungu (Swahili for white man) would travel around in such a beat-up hunk of rotting metal. I fear I may have set back the image of white people in that region, well, at least the image they had among the Africans.  You know... new cars, clean clothes, shaven faces.  Anyway, in all my years of traveling around, I never got ticketed.  Maybe they didn’t know where to start with the citations.  Maybe the humor of the situation helped a bit to lighten the normal gravity with which they approached the public. Anyway, for me to resort to the safety and comfort of a overland ready Land Cruiser seems a bit strange, awkward, and uncomfortable.  I feel like a sellout, but then, the idiocy of youth tends to get replaced by things like common sense and practicality over time.  I’m sure my fellow travelers will appreciate that I’ve grown up a bit.  


To give you an idea what the Land Cruiser will look like, I have a couple of photos.  This first one shows many of the common accessories that are added to overland ready vehicles.






A second photo shows what a roof tent looks like though I believe ours will be a different model:




When our as-yet-unnamed member of the kickabout family has grown up a bit, I'll make sure you get to see it with all accoutrements.

Ciao For Now!!





Thursday, October 8, 2009

African Road



African Road




What draws me to you so?
The grace of your undulating line?
The rhythm of your dance?
Your blood red countenance
Glistening when wet?
Limbs of trees and dangling vines,
Reach to touch me as I ride you 
Enticing, Caressing, Entangling.
Have I surrendered to your seductive whim?
Would you have me, forever?
Transfixed by the thought of you, 
Like some school boy
Obsessing over his first love?
Maybe you are not woman at all
Maybe you are the sorceress,
Mchawi
Bewitching charms
Beguiling, making me stupid,
Until I call it love.
Is it?….Or just some awkward passion?
Lust!…Something sloppy like that!
Did you reach into me with some invisible hand
And with your finger press that part of me
That longs to ride you so, to feel you 
As  if  you are  woman?
Yet you are not…are you?  
You’re just a road…an African road,
Clay and dust, mud, holes, and rock, 
Born on the backs of sweaty black men
Who stripped the earth clean of creation 
To reveal the pungent and fertile lines of earth’s sweet organ.
You make men drowsy with your siren’s song
Playing their willful pride
Then you absorb them like they’re nothing
As if they never had an idea why or what it is you really are
Since men think you are just an African road 
A convenience 
That leads someone, somewhere, to do something
That you know is of no consequence whatsoever
Mocking those who use you knowing full well you use them
You seduce, manipulate, and cause men to forget themselves
To give into you…
And in so doing, you are what every man wants, 
Yet no man has or could have,
You are the African Road.






Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Lot of People Ask Why?


Why would a retired doctor drive the length of Africa to watch some soccer, even if it is the World Cup?  Why doesn't he stay in the comfort of his San Francisco home,  ice up some cool ones, switch on the HD TV, kick back and watch it all, including the instant replays in brilliant detail on a 52" Samsung LCD?  Why would anyone give all that up,  drive 20,000 miles (the average drive from London to Capetown), voluntarily subject himself to months of nights in a tent on a car roof, his butt bouncing by day on washboard roads, the dust, and dirt, and sun, and more dirt, the inevitable axle grease that never seems to clean from the finger nails, the constant threat of malaria, bilharzia, dengue, amebic dysentery, the interminable waits and inevitable indifference of officials at border crossings and, for that matter, everywhere you encounter them. And who hasn't heard the stories of  armed and angry Somalis roaming the badlands of Northern Kenya like banditos in a bad Spaghetti Western? And what about the child abductors of the insane Lord's Liberation Army?  Who's crazy enough to drive within a hundred miles of those knuckleheads.  Most American's don't pay attention to what's going on in Africa, in spite of the recent resurgence of interest in that continent by anti-Obamites who think our President was born there.  If all one knew about Africa could be summed up in ten lines quoted from CNN ribbon news, one might guess that anyone who'd willingly travel across Africa suffers from pathological reality distortion or is potentially suicidal.


Almost eight years ago, Allen Hopkins, soccer enthusiast extraordinaire and the most irrepressible and talkative soccer player who ever spent time with the San Francisco Seals (that's my team), challenged me in a public debate that was published on Fox Sports News On Line service.  Allen eloquently laid out all the reasons why World Cup 2010 should happen on American rather than African soil.  I was more than a little shocked at his argument.  How many voices for soccer have come from the American Black community and there was Allen talking down the chance of Africa to shine in the biggest spotlight of sports. Allen knew I'd take him on.  In my rebuttal I made it clear why.  I love that continent and the people who live there.  It's a love that overcomes every kind of imaginable objection to traveling and living there.  I've already done that, for many years.  It's not that I'm naive or uninformed about the dangers of living in Africa, but I am practiced.


In response to Allen's challenge, I made it clear that his argument that the World Cup shouldn't happen in Africa was logical and loaded with good facts, but he missed the point.  The World Cup is not about dollars and TV ratings.  The World Cup is about transcending that which divides us.  What else brings Iran, North Korea, the Sudan and Cuba, to drink from the same trough as does the United States and Israel?  Not everyone makes it to the biggest trough of all, the World Cup, but everyone drinks, and no one says "no."  The day an Arab country faces off against Israel in the World Cup may be a day of reckoning on this matter and that day will inevitably come. My bet is that on that day the desire to compete on the field will push the politicians aside and the athletes will play.  The desire to play seems to trump just about everything and that's why this event, the World Cup, must and should happen on African soil.


Here's an excerpt from my rebuttal to Allen's argument:


"Africa... loves soccer with a passion Americans don’t really understand.  Maybe the image of Willie Mays, the child, hitting a ball with a stick on the streets of Brooklyn conjures up emotion that is reasonably close to the passion that children have for this game in Africa.
"I once watched a game on the island of Mombasa, in Kenya, played next to an old Portuguese fort that overlooked the Indian ocean. The field was about 40 to 50 yards long, but irregular without one right angle to a corner. It was all dirt, with rocks jutting from the ground here and there. There wasn’t one flat area. It was near the island’s edge. One sideline was jagged rock and the slope down to the water. Another was the wall of the fort. One goal line was half way up the hill towards the shops that surrounded the fort. The other goal line was at the end of the angle where the fort met the water.
The ball had no cover. The player’s had no shoes. The goal was made of tree branches, unequal in size, knotted with rope and crooked in construction, barely able to survive a shot on the post.
"The players had uniforms, amazingly. One team was green. The other was blue. Every square inch of space that could be occupied by fans was, and there may have been 1000 people crammed into a total space that might be sufficient for 75 people to stand without touching one another. Yet no one cared about any of that. I, and my children, all soccer people, watched this game in utter disbelief from the top of the fort’s wall. When the Blue team scored against the Green, you might have thought for a moment, a goal has scored in a World Cup match.
"Sure, if FIFA has any sense at all, they will listen to people like Allen Hopkins and they should take his advice. On the other hand, if FIFA listens to the people of Africa, I don’t think there’s a better choice. Besides it’s about time Western World gave something back to Africa.
"So to hell with all the reasons why the World Cup shouldn’t happen in Africa. If there’s any continent in the World that needs the World Cup, if there’s a continent that can show it’s love for the game, and if there’s any continent that would show it’s appreciation for the games being staged there, it’s Africa."


I recently contacted Allen, who now works for ESPN.  I'm not gloating over the fact that FIFA decided favorably for staging the games in Africa.  Actually, I think Allen is secretly pleased with this development.  I told him that we need to continue the debate.  "I'm going," I said.  "You should come, too.  Tell your guys at ESPN they need to be on this."  It's simply the most historical event in the history of the sport, if not one of the most historical events in the history of time.  



Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Introduction
Kickabout Africa 2010
A World Cup Dream Whose Time Has Come
(for current blogs click on the month in the right column)


The photo: Near Abu Simbel, a football pitch was created by the crew of the Kasr Ibrim cruise ship a few yards from crocodile infested waters of Lake Nassar and many, many miles by ship from the nearest city of Aswan, Egypt. We are surrounded by the sands of the Sahara and the waters of the Nile. One week earlier, a local fisherman was eaten on the shoreline visible in the background. If you only could have seen the terrified crew running to save Maria, their client and the event's photographer, when she neared the lake to take a look at an old, abandoned ship! Other than the crocodile drama, on this day in January 2007, all was as it should be when playing a great sport, in the greatest of settings. While tourists tour, the crew played football. Generous by nature and custom, true to the international spirit of the game, they invited blogger Tom Simpson, to join them on the pitch. It became the inspiration for an amazing trip of a lifetime, the topic of this blog, a celebration of the World Cup on African soil, Kickaboutafrica 2010.

Kicking Off

We kicked off January 9, 2010, from where-else-but England, the reputed home of the game that has captured the competitive imaginations of all who kickabout on planet Earth.  After roughly 20000 miles of sand, savannah, rivers and rifts, we will cross the goal line of South Africa in time for the World Cup.  We'll dribble our way through Europe to Syria and through Jordan,   Cruyff from Aqaba to Nuweiba in Egypt, wall pass by Cairo, then juggle along the Nile to Khartoum. From there we'll head our way to Ethiopia, then make a long run along the "Eastern Path" to South Africa, scoring Chilenos in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, and Botswana. We'll safe pass to Uganda, Ruanda and Burundi time, weather, politics and fortune permitting. We have many goals to score.  Watch our pile-on celebrations at the flag pole after each goal celebrating that, for the first time, the World Cup will be on African soil.  You'll see set piece goals at soccer clinics,  scored through spontaneous creativity, or by practiced design, in schools, refugee clinics, towns in remote areas, wherever there's an open piece of Africa. We only need a ball and the willingness to say "let's play."

Our destination is South Africa and the event is the World Cup.  As we prepare for this once-in-a-lifetime journey, this historic event that will bring smiles on all faces across the majestic continent of Africa, our thoughts are on the kickabout. This is a personal journey, fully funded through the pockets of the principle travelers:  Tom Simpson (that's me, the blogger), Maria Perez and Lorrie Fair.  However, the journey has caught the attention of others who would like to recast the attention in the direction of worthy projects taking place on the African continent.  Some of these projects we will visit.  In some we will participate actively. And maybe we can assist these projects by bringing them to the attention of businesses and philanthropists who want to make a difference. For more about the goals and purpose of this part of our kickabout, particulary the work of team member, Lorrie Fair, check out www.thekickabout.org.




Some People Ask Why? Why Go? Why Africa?


Why would a retired doctor drive the length of Africa to watch some soccer, even if it is the World Cup?  Why doesn't he stay in the comfort of his San Francisco home,  ice up some cool ones, switch on the HD TV, kick back and watch it all, including the instant replays in brilliant detail on a 52" Samsung LCD?  Why would anyone give all that up,  drive 20,000 miles (the average drive from London to Capetown), voluntarily subject himself to months of nights in a tent on a car roof, his butt bouncing by day on washboard roads, the dust, and dirt, and sun, and more dirt, the inevitable axle grease that never seems to clean from the finger nails, the constant threat of malaria, bilharzia, dengue, amebic dysentery, the interminable waits and inevitable indifference of officials at border crossings and, for that matter, everywhere you encounter them. And who hasn't heard the stories of  armed and angry Somalis roaming the badlands of Northern Kenya like banditos in a bad Spaghetti Western? And what about the child abductors of the insane Lord's Liberation Army?  Who's crazy enough to drive within a hundred miles of those knuckleheads.  Most American's don't pay attention to what's going on in Africa, in spite of the recent resurgence of interest in that continent by anti-Obamites who think our President was born there.  If all one knew about Africa could be summed up in ten lines quoted from CNN ribbon news, one might guess that anyone who'd willingly travel across Africa suffers from pathological reality distortion or is potentially suicidal.


Almost eight years ago, Allen Hopkins, soccer enthusiast extraordinaire and the most irrepressible and talkative soccer player who ever spent time with the San Francisco Seals (that's my team), challenged me in a public debate that was published on Fox Sports News On Line service.  Allen eloquently laid out all the reasons why World Cup 2010 should happen on American rather than African soil.  I was more than a little shocked at his argument.  How many voices for soccer have come from the American Black community and there was Allen talking down the chance of Africa to shine in the biggest spotlight of sports. Allen knew I'd take him on.  In my rebuttal I made it clear why.  I love that continent and the people who live there.  It's a love that overcomes every kind of imaginable objection to traveling and living there.  I've already done that, for many years.  It's not that I'm naive or uninformed about the dangers of living in Africa, but I am practiced.


In response to Allen's challenge, I made it clear that his argument that the World Cup shouldn't happen in Africa was logical and loaded with good facts, but he missed the point.  The World Cup is not about dollars and TV ratings.  The World Cup is about transcending that which divides us.  What else brings Iran, North Korea, the Sudan and Cuba, to drink from the same trough as does the United States and Israel?  Not everyone makes it to the biggest trough of all, the World Cup, but everyone drinks, and no one says "no."  The day an Arab country faces off against Israel in the World Cup may be a day of reckoning on this matter and that day will inevitably come. My bet is the desire to compete will push the politicians aside and the athletes will play.  The desire to play seems to trump just about everything, including the residual and current effects of colonialism, apartheid, slavery, an HIV epidemic,  and tribalism (to mention a few),  and that's why this event, the World Cup, must and should happen on African soil.


Here's an excerpt from my rebuttal to Allen's argument:


"Africa... loves soccer with a passion Americans don’t really understand.  Maybe the image of Willie Mays, the child, hitting a ball with a stick on the streets of Brooklyn conjures up emotion that is reasonably close to the passion that children have for this game in Africa.

"I once watched a game on the island of Mombasa, in Kenya, played next to an old Portuguese fort that overlooked the Indian ocean. The field was about 40 to 50 yards long, but irregular without one right angle to a corner. It was all dirt, with rocks jutting from the ground here and there. There wasn’t one flat area. It was near the island’s edge. One sideline was jagged rock and the slope down to the water. Another was the wall of the fort. One goal line was half way up the hill towards the shops that surrounded the fort. The other goal line was at the end of the angle where the fort met the water.

The ball had no cover. The player’s had no shoes. The goal was made of tree branches, unequal in size, knotted with rope and crooked in construction, barely able to survive a shot on the post.

"The players had uniforms, amazingly. One team was green. The other was blue. Every square inch of space that could be occupied by fans was, and there may have been 1000 people crammed into a total space that might be sufficient for 75 people to stand without touching one another. Yet no one cared about any of that. I, and my children, all soccer people, watched this game in utter disbelief from the top of the fort’s wall. When the Blue team scored against the Green, you might have thought for a moment, a goal has scored in a World Cup match.

"Sure, if FIFA has any sense at all, they will listen to people like Allen Hopkins and they should take his advice. On the other hand, if FIFA listens to the people of Africa, I don’t think there’s a better choice. Besides it’s about time Western World gave something back to Africa.

"So to hell with all the reasons why the World Cup shouldn’t happen in Africa. If there’s any continent in the World that needs the World Cup, if there’s a continent that can show it’s love for the game, and if there’s any continent that would show it’s appreciation for the games being staged there, it’s Africa."


I recently contacted Allen, who now works for ESPN.  I'm not gloating over the fact that FIFA decided favorably to stage the games in Africa.  Actually, I think Allen is secretly pleased with the decision.  I asked him if we can continue the debate.  "I'm going," I said.  "You should come, too.  Tell your guys at ESPN they need to be on this. It's simply the most historical event in the history of the sport, if not one of the most historical events in the history of time. Come and be a witness.  Come and celebrate!!'  \