Wednesday, January 27, 2010

January 26, 2010: Facing the giant called “Vesuvius”

It’s 9:30 AM, Tuesday, January 26th, 2010. We are in Naples, the town from which my family departed over 100 years ago for the New World.  

Vesuvius greets me this gray morning.  Vesuvius is calm now.  After all it’s almost 2000 years since it spewed its angry torment over this whole region and froze, for the benefit of the generations who followed, like a single clip in a movie reel, the lives of thousands of people who lived at the base of this one time active volcano.  Life, as it was lived in Roman times, was preserved for us to witness.  Some perverse Roman god, who had hobbies like constructing tiny ships in tiny bottles, sacrificed the humanity of cities like Pompei and Herculaneum, to entertain those who followed with remnants of their art, architecture, engineering, language, and other titillating tidbits. Or, maybe in a moment of perversity, He or She (no god ever took responsibility) preserved these artifacts to boast how easy it is to destroy a world that required so much to create. 

I am filled with thoughts of history this morning, inspired by the blue and busy Bay of Napoli and the sleeping giant of Vesuvius in the distance. Only a few days ago, we were at the would-be extreme edge of what was once the Roman Empire, in Osnabruck.  I was hanging out with footballers and briefly reported the experience.   They are young men who have dreams completely unlinked and disparate from the ambitious men who penetrated the wild lands of Germania to conquer the barbarians North of the Rhine. Sometimes I wonder if anyone else thinks these seemingly random and tangential thoughts that bare no apparent relevance to the present!  Yet I do and I have the temerity to talk of it.

In those times, no one from the “civilized world” could understand the inhabitants of the Teutonic world, Germania. The Romans only heard “barbar” this and “barbar” that.  So they called them “barbaria” or barbarians. They were the Avatars of a distant land, painted, wild, incomprehensible, ignorant, and big, really big to the tiny Romans who averaged something near 5 feet in height, or maybe less.   And it was right there, a few miles outside of Osnabruck, where a prince of Germania, Arminius, a hero revered today,  who had been trained in the ways of the Romans, led three Roman legions and thousands of supporting staff into a trap that ended their lives.  Perhaps 30,0000, maybe 50,000 people, died and the event marked the end of the expansion of the Roman Empire beyond the Rhine River.  The exploitation of a land and a people ended so said the triumphant Teutonic people.  The Romans had different things to say.  Their defeat, one of their few,  was a bitter end to their Northern expansion.  They were humiliated and crushed by wild, undisciplined, painted savages, who had no culture and nothing of redeeming value save the natural resources their land offered the would be conquerors.  Yes, we did just see this story on the big screen, didn’t we, in 3D.   In the much earlier, never screened, and seldom discussed version of the same story, Roman body parts were paraded about the countryside in celebration of the Germanic victory, Roman gold was melted and reshaped to please Teutonic brides, and Roman military equipment and weaponry became the property of a people who still had one foot straddled in the stone age.  Meanwhile,  in Rome, Caesar Augustus, the heir of Julius, considered by many to be the greatest of all the emperors,  banged his head against the marble walls of his palatial home in the Forum, screaming at the spirit of his dead general, Varus, who brought ignominy and perpetual shame to the greatest military power ever known to humankind. In case you’re wondering who wrote this movie script, his name was Tacitus.

As we cover these lands, so rapidly in Kiharambee! it would make Caesar jealous beyond belief, I keep thinking of everything that happened here. We crossed the Rhine in about 30 seconds and barely noticed the experience. Julius Caesar crossed the Rhine, too, actually twice, just to show the Germans he could do it when and wherever he wanted.  To prove his point, he built a bridge in 10 days, crossed the Rhine with his legions, paraded about German tribal lands, crossed back to the Belgium side then burnt the bridge behind him.   Something about my crossing the Rhine at 100 km per hour seems to toss, like hand crushed paper, the accomplishments of one of history’s greatest generals into the waste basket of trivial and irrelevant facts; however, in his time, Caesar's accomplishment was something akin to installing the first trans-atlantic cable.

Why did I ever bother to learn this stuff!!  Here’s another: Two days after speeding across the Rhine,  we drove by Alesia, still plowing along at 100 km, sometimes a little faster.  I know, most of you are scratching your head.  What, who, where, why does anyone care about Alesia? It sounds like the name of a girlfriend who got away or maybe some canine breed.  Alesia is the site of one of the most seminal historical battles in European history. This is where the Roman Army, under Julius Caesar, who chronicled his accomplishments in the Gallic Wars, managed to defeat an army of French people.  In those days the Romans referred to them as the “Gauls,” and the army Caesar defeated was some 10 times the size of his own. He employed a unique, if not bizarre, tactic, that is still studied in military academies.  The technique even has a name which I will spare you.  Those of you who have cravings for facts that have minimal relevance to real life will surely look it up.  Caesar first surrounded the core of his enemy who had fortified within the walls of fortress.  That was conventional enough, but then he built a second fortress around his own army.  So neither could he get into the fortress of his trapped enemy nor could he get out of the fortress he built to protect himself from a gathering enemy. Soon the whole of Gaul, yes every available warrior in France, Belgium, and probably parts of Switzerland, surrounded him. Hundreds of thousands had come to rescue the greatest Gaulic leader of the time, Vircengetorix, who was surrounded by Caesar’s army as Caesar’s army was surrounded.  Rome was facing certain defeat, or so it appeared. Yet, by trapping himself within the walls of a fortress, Caesar gained the time he needed to breech the walls of his enemy’s fortress. In the end, Vircengetorix surrendered, and the Gaulic warriors dispersed. The fallen leader was taken back to Rome, paraded through the streets of the city, and ritually strangled a few years later.  

And that, my friends, may be the shortest versions of two of the most significant historical events in European history:  the Roman defeat in Germania and the Roman victory in Gaul.  Consequentially, today, it can be argued,  France is still Roman (at least by language and culture) and the Germanic peoples? Well not only were they never conquered by Rome (minor victories not included), they, and like minded folk, wreaked havoc and revenge on the world that dominated life South of the Rhine for nearly 1000 years.  In 408 AD, the Germanic tribes of the North crossed the Rhine, headed for   Rome, destroying just about everything in their path, thus precipitating what is commonly referred to as the “Dark Ages.” That’s super-simplified history, but nonetheless, pearls of mostly forgotten memories of a time when this land was as wild and as open as the grasslands of Africa, the ultimate destination of this adventure on Kiharambee!

The historical perspective is head scratching. Europe is filled with so many people, so much asphalt, so many trucks, so much tobacco consumption, so many strange characters walking the streets of Paris, so many Ibis hotels along the roadside, so many petrol stations and huge towers with spewing smoke, so many bridges and tunnels and power lines…..and did I mention the people?  I kinda want to ask the folk I meet:  did you know what happened here one day?  Of course, I don’t.  In part, I don’t want to embarrass myself.  In part, I know the look I’d get. What response might I hear from the concessionaire at the “On the Run” convenient store, or the barman at the White Horse pub in Stamford, or the cabby in London (he was from Nigeria),  or the traffic cop in Germany, or the toll collector at the end of every stretch of nicely paved road in France?  Would there be an answer?  I think there’d be just a look, like, “what is wrong with you dude?” or “I have no time for your nonsense,” maybe, “Are you from some other planet or something?", or perhaps, " Do you have the euros for your road toll or not?”    Anyway, why should anyone give a hoot?  France is France,  Germany is Germany and the Napoleatons will never change their recipe for Margherita pizza.  And why should they?  It’s perfect.

So, those are my thoughts, this morning, on this fantastic day in Naples, after a great cappuccino, some Mozzarella Di Bufula, a bit of Camoscio d’Oro, a little prosciutto, and, a little later, “un po di vino.” 

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Short, Sweet, and Hectic Trip to Osnabruck

Osnabruck, Germany

Since the last missive, we’ve covered many miles indeed.  My last report was titled “Kiharambee!” with the exclamation point and the flourishing, crescendoing “bay” sound at the end.  Never forget the guttural “Juu,” meaning “up.”  Your spirit, like the meaning of the response, will be uplifted and everyone who joins you in the resonant retort will feel the power and purpose of future visions of Africa. Since that report,  Kiharambee has traveled from Peterborough, UK, to London, then Dover, shipped across the English Channel to Calais, stopped over in Gent, Belgium, then winded it’s way some 500 km to Osnabruck Germany.  Brrrrrrrrrr!  I thought we were going to enjoy a kickaround when we got here.  Alas, snow rules!  The grounds are frozen so we watched as the boys from San Francisco, Rawley Masaniai and Lewis Sweeny, under the tutelage of Joe Enochs, an ex-Seal from the early 90s went spinning.  That’s not like “let’s take a spin,” as in when a guy invites a girl for a ride in his new, metallic red convertible Thunderbird or Mustang down mainstreet to impress friends and, of course, the girl. This spinning is all about your legs, spinning on stationary bikes, at amazing speeds, under various resistance and the barking influence of a madman whose purpose is to escort you as close to your maker as you can possibly reach and survive the moment to live another day.

Joe Enochs, for the soccer buffs out there, is a member of the elite class of Seals players who sought his fortune outside American soccer and achieved his purpose.  He became one of the most beloved players in the 100 year history of his German club, Osabruck, represented the US National team, and is now the head coach of that club’s reserve side.  He’s given a number of Seals players opportunity over the years, and many have resided in his home while they tried to make a place in German professional football.  Kellan Wilson, a Seals goalkeeper out of St. Mary’s College, made a good name for himself while here, though prematurely cut his career short.  Nick Murphy, a local San Francisco player, spent a whole year here playing with the U19 squad.  Now he’s back in the US as a central defender for San Jose State.  Anton Peterlin was here, too, for a brief period, but wasn’t noticed.  Two years later, Everton noticed him and signed him to an EPL contract. Whoa!!!  Wait a minute!  Osnabruck didn’t notice him but Everton, a megalith compared to the tiny German team, didn’t spot great talent? Don’t be surprised. It happens all the time.  What is one coach’s rotten fish may be another’s streamlined, voracious shark.  It’s life in pro football.  Now Rawley Masaniai and Lewis Sweeney are here.  Rawley’s got a contract.  He’s got all the “tools,” as they are called, but German football ain’t what you see back home.  Here you’re the technician.  In the States, players like to see themselves as artisans, full of cleverness and creativity.  The German coach doesn’t have much time for such ego-centric nonsense.  It’s all about doing your job, and doing it well.    Lewis is here to get a looksee.  However, the weather has been treacherous and Lewis’ time is short.  He may have to come back another day as the signing window closes soon.


There is much more to tell on this day.  It's the birthday of Linda, Mardi-Linda Subira Cheberen Towett Simpson. It's her 34th birthday.  She is the fourth born of four wonderful children.  So happy birthday Linda.  We're in Paris and to get here we've just driven some crazy number of hours since leaving the UK.  There is a bit of a photo journal at the Picasa site:

Also, check out Facebook page, just look for "Kik Abaot."  I have to tell you all about our escape from the French police outside of Calais and the re-unification with a long, "lost," friend (lost to me anyway), in Paris.  Finally, I still haven't given a quality introduction to the other members of the Kickabout Squad, who are now in Milano Italy enjoying life there with one of Lorrie Fair's legion of football connections.  But all of this will come.  The problems are:  1) Time (there just isn't much) and 2) Internet Connections (and that's another story).  So until I can reach out again, it's "Ciao" for now.  We have to skedaddle our way to Italy and get some real pizza.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


I'm writing from Peterborough.  I promised in my last letter that I'd introduce the Kickaboutafrica2010 team to you.  And here they are.  From the left:  Ashley Paguyo, Eli Sinkus, Lorrie Fair, me (Tom the Blogger), and Maria Perez.  More about team members and the week's activities later.

Now I'd like to introduce Kiharambee!.  That's the white vehicle below with the catcher's mask on its face and the four eyes peering through the mask's grid.  Above it is its name:  "Kiharambee!" with the exclamation point.

Now I have to admit I hijacked this name from someone else.  His name is Jomo Kenyatta.  He's dead now, but he lived for a very long time and as his name literally means, he was "the Light of Kenya."  His motto:  "Harambee."  It's a Swahili word and it means something like this:  Let's work together to build a future for Kenya. Times have changed, and Jomo isn't around anymore. He passed on peacefully after some odd nine decades or so.  There's a ton written about him and he was far from a perfect man.  However, he could speak.  There was nothing like a Jomo Kenyatta speach.  He had a rich, deep, resonating and powerful bullhorn of a voice. Kenyans listened in raptured attention.  A bit like the Brits did when Churchill spoke on the radio in the 40s or we Yanks when Kennedy spoke in the 60s, or at least as we thought we did when film clips nostalgically bring us back to our days of the American Camelot. (Yes, Shona, I know that wasn't a real sentence, but I kind of liked the way it flowed).  From 1964 to 1978, Jomo Kenyatta lit up the Kenyan world with his oratory and that magnificent voice.  He loved his Swahili.  And at the end he'd wave his white hair  fly whisk around his head and shout out "HARAMBEE." But to write it doesn't do the word justice.  Kenyatta would draw it out and finish it with a bellowing "BEE" pronounced like the English word "bay."   And everyone there, sometimes in the tens of thousands, because Jomo loved a public audience, would all, in unison say "juu," meaning "up" or "forward," as it Kenya will rise and be powerful.  But when thousands of people say a word like this it doesn't even sound like itself.  It sounds more like the earth is trembling and the ground might break.  It's more like a deep, guttural groan, but not with a hint of the negativity of a groan.  This was a groan of excitement and exhillaration.  And they would be frenzied, animated, and excited about the future of Kenya.  Then he would repeat it, "HARAMBEE."  And this time he'd prolong the "bay" sound, raising it's pitch from base to tenor.  Again everyone would make the earth tremble and you could feel the power of Kenya's hopes and dreams for the future of an independent, self-governed world of Africans, unshackled by colonial restraints, and the sound would reverberate about the country in every hut, school, office, or open field where there was a radio.

So, in honor of a powerful African with a powerful message, I bring you "Kiharambee!"   You are asking, what's the "ki" all about.  That's a good question.  It's a sign of humility and respect for one thing.  One shouldn't shouldn't quote a great man and  plagiarize his idea willy nilly. Also, one can't possibly put the relevance or import of our whimsical journey through Africa, done in the spirit of "harambee,"  on the scale of true human greatness.  So, I used the diminutive, "ki," to but the word appropriately its place.  This is the "little" or "tiny" project to work together to make the Africa of the future, in the spirit of Harambee, like many of us old Peace Corps hands who used to  work in Harambee Secondary Schools to participate in country building.

So now you know. That's how this hunk of metal, rubber, tubes, cables, glass got its name. It was nicely assembled by Footloose4X4, a wonderful outfit of men and women working in the small town of Peterborough, or "Pedro Hermano," as my youthful brethren have renamed the place since Peterborough, around here sounds more like "Peter Bro."  Shout "Kiharambee!"  Don't forget the exclamation.  And when you say it, see if you can get a room full of people to groan, in base or low baritone, from the deepest part of their guttural anatomy, something that makes the ground beneath your feet tremble a bit.

Okay, now look.  It's 8 AM.  We have to go pick up Kijharambee and Pumba (that's the other collection of nuts, bolts, wire, and glass) and drive to London because we have a date with Chelsea and Sunderland.  I want to tell you more about this rather unique, eclectic, if not eccentric, group of ours.  However, there's no time.  Also, there's no time for editing.  So in the interest of time, the absence in this case, I'm posting.  This week has left few minutes to do anything except prepare so I ask you to bear with me as I scribble my unpolished words and ideas just to let you know, I'm thinking of home.

Tomorrow is a busy day.  We're off to Belgium.  The Pumbaa team (Lorrie, Ashly and Eli) are going to Bruge.  Maria and I are off to see Koen De Smet, a great surgeon, because I have a few questions to ask about the femoral bone in my right hip that he resurfaced six years ago.  It's all good.  I leave you with a question we're facing.  Do we chunnel are way to Calais or shall we brave the anger of a wintry English Channel and ferry our way across?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

January 8, 2010: Most Probably From Somewhere Over the Atlantic

It’s time to start writing what I promised to so many of you.  A blog.  I set it up a while back,  as some of you know.  I even wrote a bit, but I haven’t really started.  It’s none too late.  Our journey has already started.  We’re actually in the air, at least some 35000 feet above sea level and 5 hours out from San Francisco.  That should put us somewhere over Nova Scotia I should think, and just about to hit the North Atlantic skies.  The air outside is about -70 degrees Fahrenheit.  My awareness of the fragile nature of my protected existence seems eerily appropriate given the nature of our planned overland trip from London to Capetown, South Africa. 

The planning for this voyage has been at least 2 years in the making, though the thought of it really started many years ago when I lived in Kenya in the 1970s.  In those days, I saw so many travelers pass through Kenya who had braved the roads across the Congo, as it was commonly referred to.  The stories were sometimes harrowing.  Mostly I heard about breakdowns in the middle of nowhere, forging rivers by wenches, and getting bogged in mud, the extraction from which sometimes required a good fraction of local villagers.  Occasionally I’d hear stories about encounters with hostile Africans, but more commonly I’d hear of magical moments with pigmies in the Congo side of the Ruwenzori mountains, a favorite stop over in those days.  A spark of wonder is created when one hears of adventure.  It must be a universal response. The child within a deeper psyche emerges.  The adult who hovers above in the more cerebral regions of our cortex warns of dangers and concern.  So many people have told me they would love to join me on this trip, but very few, most notably, Lorrie Fair, a young female soccer player of extraordinary talent persisted with her determination to go.

Back in my day in Africa, the seventies,  I was Peace Corps volunteer teaching English in Kenya.  I had time to read much about travelers to Africa.  The great ones are well known: Livingstone, Speke and Burton. They were very unusual men with rare instincts and dogged determination.  Richard Burton was a remarkable man.  It is said that he could speak 26 languages.  He had traveled all his life and had adventures everywhere in the unknown world. There was a Scottish man named James Bruce, who walked from the Red Sea coastline of Ethiopia, modern day Massawa,  to Lake Tana, then followed the river from Tana, now called the Blue Nile to it’s junction with the White Nile at Khartoum.  From there he followed the Nile by foot all the way to Cairo.  It took him four years and he was credited with discovering the source of the Blue Nile.  He did this decades before Livingstone’s journeys into Nyasaland and Tanganyika, now called Malawi and Tanzania.  In 1772, he even discovered Meroe, a heretofore mythical civilization of black Africans, the ancient Nubians who ruled the whole of Egypt for over a century, long before the birth of Christ. If this brief intro captures your imagination, read the Blue Nile by Alan Morehead.  It’s well written and captivating.  Get a volume with the photos.  They’ll wow you.

Nearly one hundred years later, in the era of David Livingstone, John Speke and Richard Burton,  the continent of Africa was still the “Dark Continent” and the source of the Nile was still “undiscovered.” One should discuss  the idea of the discovery of the Nile advisedly and with some sense of political correctness. Africans will frequently remind you they always knew exactly where it was long before Europeans were much more than a group of unruly tribesmen dressed in skins and sometimes nothing at all.  Check out one of the most famous marble sculptures preserved from antiquity, that of the "Dying Gaul."  He wore nothing but a gold torc around his neck.  It’s a refreshing reminder. Eurocentric talk is a pathway fraught with difficult roadmaps, alarms, stop signs and pits big enough to bury oneself in the dishonor of unfetterd arrogance.  The ancients of Europe knew little of Africa.  They were hardly interested in the land beyond the Nubia, named by the Egyptians because the word meant “gold.” Egyptians and Romans also wanted slaves, of course.  Everyone wanted free labor.  Wild animals were important for skins and the circus of the time, the amphitheaters of Rome, where they killed the animals for the pleasure of their patrons.  There were a few attempts to penetrate the Africa that captivated the imaginations of the ancients.  However, their success was limited. No one, not the Egyptians, not the Asyrians, not the Persians, nor the Romans ever got beyond the 4th cataract and Meroe was never conquered by the West or the East.  Caesar Augustus, who lost few attempts to expand his empire,  was thwarted by a woman, Amanirenas, who led the Nubians in war against the might of the Roman Empire.  Augustus had to come to terms with her and never bothered her again.  Nero, it is said, tried to  send an expedition of Romans up the Nile to explore Africa.  However, they never came back. Today there is still talk that they morphed into the Maasai because of the similarities of weaponry, warfare, and a few cultural practices.  The Mountains of the Moon, interestingly, were first described by Phoenicians over two thousand years ago.  Today we call them the “Ruwenzoris.” These are the headwaters of the Nile, so maybe someone from ancient times actually made it to the heart of unknown Africa.  There’s no record of it beyond a brief reference.

In the 1800s, the source of the Nile was the biggest debate in Europe and the discovery of the source of the Nile was considered as big as, well, landing on the moon. Livingstone thought he found it when he discovered Lake Tanganyika; but he was dramatically discredited by John Speke, who demonstrated that the source of the Nile had to be at a higher altitude.  It was his argument that led to the naming of Lake Victoria as the Nile source.  You can read about this, too, in Alan Moorhead’s the White Nile.  Great stuff. One may ask, why all the interest in the source of the Nile?  Was it just the fascination with the unknown?  That was part of it.  Everyone wants to achieve something and make a mark.  We haven’t changed.  We will always have secrets to unveil, if within the atom, within the black holes of space, or at the depths of the ocean floor. But something was more sinister afoot.  If it wasn’t articulated by the brave explorers of the times or by the Royal Society of England, it was on the minds of men who dreamed of wealth.  The real themes were power, control, domination, exploitation of natural resources, and land, lots of land.

Certainly, the explorers who took on the mission of delving into and unveiling the mysteries of the unknown and unexplored Africa did not know what they were actually doing.  They couldn’t have.  Even the most mercenary among those who explored Africa couldn’t have imagined the extent of the consequences of their actions.  One hundred and fifty years later, a mere flutter of a bat’s wing in geological time, consequences of these explorations might cause those explorers, would they have lived long enough to witness them,  to shutter in horror and despair.   If they were obsessed with the wonder of the unknown  and revealing its mystery, many of those who followed them were obsessed with other objectives. A timely movie has just been released called Avatar.  It is a fable-like story that tells the eternal theme of exploitation by those who have and thirst unquenchably for more.  Avatar, fortunately for the make-believe characters, has a relatively happy ending. The exploiters are vanquished.  It’s the ending anyone would like, should he find himself in the shoes of the exploited. If the movie was timely for this blog, it wasn’t timely for Africa. Such a story should have emerged from the Western World a long, long time ago.  Too bad Livingstone didn’t have one of HG Well’s time machines to travel forward.  He wouldn’t have needed to travel far either. Maybe he would never have chosen his life’s work to open up the heart of the darkest part of the dark continent to bring God to those whom he assumed had none.  

Greed and lust are primal motives that so often drive men and women. Would we overpower those basic instincts with thoughts of moral and ethical concerns if we had the crystal ball to see into the future,  to understand the consequences of our own actions?  We are so simple, in the end.  Aren’t we?  We are driven now by what drove us thousands of years ago.  The one difference is that the consequences now of our behaviors have such magnitude and the impact is so much more immediate.  Now the actions of the modern world don’t just threaten others.  Now the “others” are ourselves.

The disastrous effects of global warming on Africa are in progress and as inevitable as the toll of the HIV epidemic.  These are monstrous developments that occurred because we are, sometimes by simple inquisitiveness, but mostly by a parochial desire to survive, destined to do every self destructive thing we can do to ourselves.

Adventurers will never go away.  The thrill and excitement of exploring what is unknown is too alluring for us to repeal its call just because discovery can lead to the excesses of those who take advantage of the explorer's findings.  

And for me to put our journey to Africa on the scale of exploration is silly.  We’re just a small group of simple minded souls who want to learn a little about Africa and, in the end, celebrate with Africans who must anticipate with wonder and amazement the coming of the World Cup to African soil.

Maybe my thoughts wander a bit too much for the reader who follows our journey lured by the romance of travel or simply want to join us on our journey to the World Cup.  However, the history of the initial explorations of Africa have a relevance to our relatively inconsequential, if not trivial expedition.  The closing of a full circle is nearing.  Africa, for 150 years, has been subjugated, exploited, and stripped of it’s material and human wealth by people who invaded that continent for personal gain and without regard to the human consequence.  However, there is a new Africa that is emerging.  It is embryonic, but it is an Africa that is defining itself in an adaptive way that allows it to hold onto it’s beauty and wonder, it’s magic and its majesty.  Yes, parts of Africa may look physically more and more like the world of the people who invaded, colonized, and stripped it bare, but it is and will remain Africa.  No place in Africa is more deserving of the honor of showcasing the Africa of the modern world than is South Africa.  No African country was more thoroughly and severely robbed of it’s soul than South Africa.  And no country is emerging with a greater sense of purpose than South Africa.  Even though I have been there once and only briefly I have witnessed these changes.  Even though the horrific squalor of the sprawling cardboard shanties still exist,  reminding us of the price of Western greed and the long, long road Africa must travel to better the living standards of its inhabitants, there is evidence of a new beginning.  Perhaps the personages Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu are the best of all the evidence of the new Africa.  How do these men, knowing what they know, suffering what they suffered, look at the people who created their misery and say “let’s put that behind us and move forward”?  It is, I’m sure, because of their extraordinary bravery and power of their vision that Africa will move forward, having forgiven but not forgotten that which has threatened their very existence.  

The World Cup may be the most significant event on African soil this century.  A World Cup staged in Africa is recognition by the outside world that Africa is now a part of that world.  Instead of foraging the ground for gold and diamonds and absconding with them to markets in Europe, the Americas and Asia, instead of loading the bodies of children, wives and husbands onto ships for their personal use in distant lands, images, I might add, are as relevant today as they were hundreds of years ago, foreign people are coming to Africa in the hundreds of thousands, and television will broadcast events to the billions of non-Africans, to celebrate a foreign sport that Africans have embraced made their own.  The World Cup, though just a collection of games, will help to begin to heal and nurture the damaged soul of Africa.  Foreigners will bring something overdue, but powerful, meaningful and hopeful to Africans everywhere.

So, as I start this blog and, now have started this trip, these are the thoughts that run through my mind as I wonder why in the hell am I doing this.

How many people have asked me, “Are you carrying guns? Are you afraid? What about the terrorists? What about the civil wars?  What about the hijackers on Kenyan roads? What about the children who carry guns?”  I can go on and on.  The thought of traveling the length of Africa to watch soccer games conjures up some scary concerns.  However, there’s no free ride anywhere.  I can’t drive through Hunter’s Point in San Francisco without feeling a bit concerned for my well-being. West and East Oakland scares the hell out of me.  I'm not driven towards reckless endangerment. Certainly I wouldn’t navigate the countryside of Afghanistan to see a soccer game.  I have realistic thoughts and concerns about our safety.  However, Africa is filled with beautiful, generous and honorable people, just like back home. It is truly amazing how much sorrow and pain can be created by the will of a very few, everywhere in this complex world of ours.  We’ll do our best to avoid the crazies and certainly we expect to have some encounters with unpleasant people.  However, my thoughts are not on the dangers of our travel.  I want to celebrate a great moment in history and be part one of the happiest moments to ever happen on the African continent.

Maria and I will shorty land in London.  A couple days later we will pick up Lorrie Fair and drive to Peterborough, a town near Cambridge where our landcruisers were assembled and prepared for this special journey.  We will meet for the first time  two other members of our overland expedition when we arrive:  Ashley Paguyo and Eli Sinkus. I’ll certainly have more to write about then and maybe we can introduce you to the vehicles who will take us some 20,000 miles to our destination.  

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

January 5, 2010: Maria's First Entry Just Before Leaving

Photo taken at Keith Ratzburg's Wedding Just Before Departure

Some people have asked me why I am taking 8 months to travel by land to Africa.  My reason is simple and complex at the same time.  Tom started talking about this trip about 2 years ago and I thought that this would be too long for me to be without work.  I enjoy my profession as hard as it is sometimes.  I was not sure if I could be there for this trip part of the way.  I was excited because I knew that this was his dream and I felt sad that I could not join in the chance to travel through the east side of Africa.

For those who have never been to Africa it is a beautiful continent despite what you see in the news.  People are friendly and open to sharing what little they have with you.  It reminds me a lot of the hospitality that I have experienced on my travels to Latin America.  Anyway, back to Africa, I was lucky to participate in a Safari a few years ago and it was a humble experience.  I felt like a visitor in the animal kingdom and had a chance to experience the beauty of seeing animals in their natural habitat rather than in the zoo.  This was amazing since I had never done this.

Africa has been a continent that I had wanted to visit since I was 10 years old.  I have been lucky enough to have traveled to Egypt, the land of my dreams.  From there I have also traveled in Sudan and Kenya.  On this trip I hope to see most of the east side of Africa.  This trip was not going to be a possibility for me due to questions of money and of leaving my family for that long of a time.  The one thing that made me change my mind was a death.

An unexpected death can change the way you look at life.  I found out that a friend from the 8th grade passed away and started questioning my own mortality.  I think that one only lives in this world once and therefore should take advantage of life at it's fullest.  Therefore this made me realize that a trip like this would not come by in the near future.  I made the decision almost 7 months ago and gave that much notice at work as well.  I hope to realize the dream that my grandmother only started.

My mom's mom was a traveler at heart.  In a time where women did not travel alone, she went to Europe and the Middle East before passing on much too soon.  My mother says that I have that traveling spirit and I feel that my grandmother will be living with me all the experiences yet to come.  I am taking her on this journey.  I hope to share more of my thoughts and experiences with you as the trip starts to take shape.

One last thing about the trip...Go Brazil!!!!!!!!!

- Maria Perez