Tuesday, February 23, 2010

News you can Use?

Was just checking some news articles on Senegal when I came across this one from Reuters. It's not much of a report but it made me laugh due to it's underwhelming content. The article is below with my comments in italics:

DAKAR, Feb 10 (Reuters) - South Korea will build a 250 MW coal-fired power plant and high speed train link in Senegal, the West African country’s minister of international cooperation said late on Tuesday.

First of all, where's the coal going to come from? I don't know of any large coal deposits in Senegal. Wouldn't it be easier and cheaper to use natural gas or even nuclear power? Does South Korea have a surplus of coal these days? Weird.

So when most people are riding along in one of these, maybe alternative transportation makes sense. Note in particular the hubcap...

But where is this train going to be built? From where to where? My prediction? From Dakar to Touba so people can get to this holy shrine faster. This is not Touba, but this times 10 is what the mosque there resembles:

During the first week of our visit in Senegal, everyone was trying to scrape together enough money to make the pilgrimage to Touba. Mouride pilgrims from all over Senegal and beyond pour into Touba for the annual Islamic pilgrimage “Le Grand Magal de Touba.” The population swells from it's normal population of 900,000 to over four million people. Talk about traffic jams! Yikes! But hey, it was a good time to buy souvenires ("half-price today").

More interesting information at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amadou_Bamba
For pictures of the mosque at Touba: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tjhaslam/344494201/

Erratic power supply is a near-constant source of ire for Senegalese. Angry mobs took to the streets to protest at power cuts in the outskirts of the capital Dakar during Ramadan last September, and discontent with state-run utility Senelec is high on the domestic political agenda.

This part made me laugh because it's just the most under-whelming statement ever! I lost count of how many times the power went out in Thies. The only thing you could count on was that it would go out. However, yours truly has a funny incident to regale you with. I woke up one morning in the "middle of the night" and couldn't get back to sleep. I'm laying there awake when all of a sudden the yard lights go out. You need to understand that I was sleeping out on the front porch thus making such events noticable to old "eagle-eyes". Being the contientious guy that I am, I immediately went on alert to any shadowing movements or unusual sounds. I'm thinking this is a good opportunity for someone to try and break in. Lord knows I didn't want to be caught in my jamies trying to fight off marauding hoards!

Needless to say, I spent the rest of the night wide awake worrying about being taken advantage of. Well, maybe not all night. Seems I drifted off to la-la land at some point becuase the next thing I know, it's bright and sunny out. Dragging myself out of bed, I met the lovely hostess of our little abode and commented to her that the electricity went out at some point in the night. She replied, "yea, I turned it off when I got up". Silly me.

Back to the news article...

“(South) Korea has pledged to build a power plant of 250 megawatts, which will help Senegal satisfy its need in power as well as lower the cost,” Karim Wade, who runs a wide-ranging department whose portfolio also includes infrastructure and aviation, told national television after a visit to South Korea.

The minister, who is the son of Senegal’s octogenarian President Abdoulaye Wade, did not say how much the project would cost, which company would undertake the project, when work would start, or how it would be financed.

Another guffaw! Just like a politician! And the President's son no less. Wonder who's angeling to be the next president of Senegal? Hope he can keep a promise better than most politicians!
Last September, the country won $540 million over five years in aid grants from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which earmarked road rehabilitation and infrastructure as priorities. MCC is a US government agency which allocates large-scale grants for development and poverty reduction.

Wow! That's a chunk of change, considering I heard on the radio tonight that World Vision had "only" received $40,000,000 to rebuilt Haiti. How does one get a grant like this?

The president has come under fire from some Senegalese for spending money on showpiece projects while parts of the country go without basic infrastructure, and districts in Dakar suffer from frequent power outages and severe flooding.

North Korean workers are building a 21 million euro ($28.79 million) monument to the African family, a Soviet-style triumphalist bronze figure that looks westwards over the Atlantic.

This monument was the talk of the town while we were there! I didn't get to see (my brother and Dad did), but you can learn more about it at these links:

Nice summary of the issues: http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/senegal/100113/renaissance-monument-wade
Wiki Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_Renaissance_Monument

Karim Wade also said South Korea will help Senegal build a high speed train system linking Diass, where a new airport is being built, and Dakar, around 40 km away.

Oops! It pays to read the whole article. So know I know where the train will run. Makes sense to set up a high speed connection between Dakar and the airport for all us tourist types. And a new airport is sorely needed (refer to my earlier post)! Maybe not such a bad idea after all...
Entering and leaving peninsular city Dakar is often a struggle of several hours on a single choked road, though work is underway to widen the highway.

The one freeway in Senegal is a whole other blog post. When I get some of my nephews photos back, I'll try to post my thoughts on that project! Let's just say that the above statement is at times a gross understatement!

(Reporting by Diadie Ba; Editing by Daniel Magnowski and Keiron Henderson)

Death Haunts Us All

With sadness, I must report that Ngone Ciss, wife of Momar Sylla and mother of Mbaye Sylla, passed away last Monday, February 22, 2010. To the vast majority of my readers, this lady is unknown, just another name. But to many in Senegal, she was a beloved mother, wife, daughter, and friend, a strong testimony to the presence of Jesus Christ in her life. My dad was able to visit the family while we were in Senegal, but this still came as a shock to him and everyone else. Death has been a frequent visitor in my extended family this past year. May I ask that you pause a moment and pray for this family and hold them close in your heart for a time?

This is a portion of an email I received from someone in Senegal:

Ngone has suffered with asthma for many years, and recently was having a lot of intestinal trouble. The doctor wanted to do a endoscope but was concerned about it being too painful so had her on some medication to calm her intestines before doing it. Yesterday she was in a bit of pain, but in the afternoon felt a bit better. Mbaye had been sitting with her, but when she felt better, he went over to the CAFÉ to prepare for SAUL. He is enrolled in the classes. He got a call about 10:30 PM or so to come home because Ngone was not doing well at all. By the time he got there she had already passed away. They took her body to Clinique Barthimee where they confirmed that she was gone. They then sent her body to the morgue at St. Jean de Dieu.
Ngone had made it clear to Mbaye some time back that she wanted a funeral at the church and to be buried as a Christian. Momar's family is very unhappy about this but Mbaye has stated categorically to all of them that he is going to honor his mother's wishes. I am so proud of him. It is not easy and he is asking prayer to remain strong as the Muslim members are making their displeasure known.
The funeral will be Wednesday at the church at 3 PM with interment at the cemetery by St. Jean de Dieu.
Psalms 23

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Picture Tease

Been busy the last few days trying to get some trees pruned now that the sun is shining again. Lots to do so I thought I'd just re-post an email I sent out from Senegal for now. Enjoy!

Dear Friends and Family,

Been busy and still trying to get over jet lag. Lots going on with so many people wanting to see my folks. We went out to one of the villages inland and enjoyed Yasa Poullett, a rice and chicken dish with some special seasoning, onions and green olives and vinager that makes a tasty tangy dish! We certainly haven't starved here! But the late nights and long days are taking a toll on the old body. It was pretty hot inland today and hasn't really cooled down as much this evening as one could hope for.

Going out in the country was more like I remember Senegal being as a kid. The city has gone from about 200,000 residence when I lived here to something like 750,000. What used to be bush is now filled with houses. It's definitely a "3rd World Country" but I am a bit surprised at how far the bigger cities have come. Apparently there is a lot of foreign aid reaching Senegal, a lot of it from China. Not sure what they're after but they are pouring the money into the bigger cities. We did see some villages that are still grass shacks and bramble fences today. Stopped to pick up some water at a roadside store and got mobbed by ladies trying to sell baobab fruit, peanuts, these green bean things and something they make a reddish drink out of (non-alcoholic).

We also saw several of the village churchs that have been build by the African church community which was pretty exciting for my folks. Out host today was one of the pastors and his family. They were so excited to visit with Mom and Dad. Neat to watch. We're supposed to attend church tomorrow which should be another interesting experience. The dedication of a new library and college is next Saturday. I've been told there will be a plague honoring Mom and Dad which will be placed there.

Lots to write about but I'm tired and running out of gas. Everyone is doing well for the most part. My nephew is struggling some with a new cavity that's causing him grief, and my Mom's knee gave out on her this evening for a while. Too much heat and activity. She's doing better after resting. Kinda worried about her ability to stand up to all the activities. We're all supposed to head to the beach later tomorrow for a few days of rest and relaxation. Looking forward to that too. The wild animal park is supposed to be near there. Hopefully we'll see something. I did try to slap a brahma bull on the rump for Rob's sake but he wouldn't let me get close to him! Fraidy cat, fraidy cat!

Oh one more thing. The kids seem fascinated or terrified of my beard - can't quite tell which! Some want to touch it and others seem very timid about it. But I sure get the looks. Played "King of the Hill" with them last night at the big church picnic. They seemed to enjoy the old man making a fool of himself, although I did terrify one kid when I caught him. He was about 4 or 5. I think he was afraid he was going to be eaten alive. Wailed so loud his momma came to rescue him. Of course, by that time I had reassured him that I wasn't going to eat him and he had almost stopped crying. Ah, the casualty of play.

Finishing some laundary and then heading to bed. The hotel is simple but comfortable. That's another story. Hope all is well your way. Some of my mold is starting to flake off. I could almost be grumpy about the heat but after this winter, maybe not.

Bon Nuit,

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Lost Art of Reading

Am I the only one who gets tired of having big companies tell me to "Use our Web site" only to be told by some stupid automated email reply system the same old canned poop over and over again?

Case In Point

Long story short, our baggage was off-loaded in Dakar before we left because the plane was, and I quote, "too heavy". But that's another blog post for a future date. Due to the ineptness of the check-in clerk in Dakar, 3 out of 5 bags were incorrectly associated with the wrong ticket. When our baggage finally did arrive a few days ago, my folks had 3 bags delivered to them and I had 2 bags delivered to me. 1 of their bags actually belonged to them, 1 bag belonged to me, and 1 bag belonged to my nephew. I, on the other hand, was given 1 bag that was mine and 1 bag that belonged to my folks. At least they were now in the States.

Being the good technocrate that I am, I followed Delta's specific advice and sent the following email message to the published email address. I have hidden some information for pusposes of protecting identities:

Original Message Follows:

Claim Number: JFKDL[number]
Claim Number: JFKDL[number]

To Whom It May Concern:

I am in need of further advice on how to resolve our ongoing problem with getting all our luggage delivered to the proper places. This is a bit complicated so please bear with me.

Our luggage was off-loaded in Dakar on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010 due to some problem with the plane being overweight. Unfortunately, the Delta representative in Senegal did not properly tag all of our baggage making it extremely difficult to match up our bags with our tickets. This morning, 3 of our bags were delivered to [names] in [city], Colorado. Only 1 of the bags actually belongs to [names].

One of other two bags belongs to Kenneth Brayton who lives in [snipped], Oregon. The other bag belongs [nephew], who lives in [city], Colorado. All four of us were traveling as a group so the ticket agent just randomly assigned bags to tickets. The three bags that were delivered are related to reference number JFKDL[number].

Most likely, the other 2 bags, which are related to reference number JFKDL[number], will be delivered to Kenneth Brayton in [city], Oregon in the next day or two. Of these two bags, one of them does actually belong to Kenneth Brayton, the other one belongs to [names] who live in [city]. I assume we'll have to deal with this mix-up when these two bags arrive in [city] unless you have a way of intercepting them while in route. My bag is a red and black half cloth/half plastic shell. The other back is black, all cloth. I believe these two bags have name tags on the handles which would help identify whom they belong to.

In the meantime, we need to arrange to have 2 of the 3 bags which were delivered to [city] picked up and re-routed to their proper destinations like this:

Baggage Claim # 7006DL[number]

Pickup from: [names]
[city] COLORADO [zip]

[city] OREGON [zip]

Baggage Claim # 7006DL[number]

Pickup from: [names]
[city] COLORADO [zip]

Deliver to: [nephew]
[city], COLORADO [zip]

Thank you for your assistance in this matter. We appreciate all that Delta is trying to do to get our bags delivered to us. Please let me know what we need to do to help this process along.


Kenneth Brayton

Okay, all that just to set up the next part. This is the reply I got back from Delta 3 days after I sent my original message:

Dear Mr. Brayton,

Thank you for your e-mail to Delta Air Lines.

Please accept our most sincere apology for all the inconvenience caused due to the delayed baggage and for the time it has taken to respond to your e-mail.

Our records indicate that your baggage was located and delivered to you.

If this information is incorrect and you have not received your baggage, please let us know as soon as possible via e-mail or by calling 800-325-8224.

Again, we apologize for the inconvenience this situation has caused.

The Delta Baggage Service Center

Is that just classic or what?! Does anybody read any more? Think I should try "e-mailing" them again? I think not. I called last night and was promised a return call today but so far, nothing. Whatchagonnado???

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Christmas In Dakar

When you land at the Dakar Yoff International Airport in Senegal (see Wikipedia entry for some interesting facts), the plane is parked on the tarmack several hundred yards from the airport building. Just like in an old movie, you walk down a set of stairs, board a bus, and ride to the main terminal. Main terminal hee-hee - there's only one. As we stepped off the bus into the terminal, we were greeted with this little surprise:

That's correct, a Christmas tree! Heck, in a land so dreary that any type of pretty thing stands out, it's pretty common to adimire something for as long as you can. I have no idea when they take down Christmas decorations. We saw a surprising number of them here and there. Surprising because, well, isn't Christmas one of those heathen Christian holidays? Why is a "good Muslim country" celebrating Christmas - the birth of Christ?

By the way, I had to ask one of the many guards if it was okay to take a picture of it. Didn't really want to spend all my time in Senegal looking at jail bars!

Hey, for a pretty funny (sadly) story of another guys adventures in the Dakar airport, read this Salon article called Ask the Pilot. It's too true in so many ways, and pretty much right on, except that for me, it was great fun! Mr. Smith is just a big old party pooper...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

We Have Arrived

Dear All,

It's 8:45 in the morning Senegal time. That's 8 hours ahead of those of you living in Oregon. We just finished a wonderful breakfast with our host A. S. (name hidden) here in Thies. The flight was largely uneventful but the plane was very full! Karen and I sat next to a woman who had a 2-3 year old girl sitting on her lap for the whole trip. Fortunately she slept most of the way and was very good. Delta gives you free movies and TV shows to watch on international flights. Has anyone invented a way to sleep on an airplane yet? Ugh.

After checking through customs without any problem (pays to know the local language) and getting our baggage together, we were met outside the airport by S.N. (name also hidden) and another fellow (can't remember his name). They had a nice big van for us to ride in. We were headed out to Thies where we'll be staying most of our time here. I think it's about 35-40 miles inland from Dakar.

The ride out to Thies was in the dark so didn't we really didn't get to see much yet. We're all bushed and headed for some shut-eye. The weather is wonderful at the moment. Probably mid-70's. Wasn't execting that!

My nephew had his DS swiped out of his backpack at the airport parking lot. He wasn't feeling real good and was tired and just not alert to the mob that surrounded us wanting to help us carry our bags. Someone zipped open his backpack and grabed whatever he could. Lesson #1: keep your zippers shut and your hand on your bag. Karen made the flight from Portland with only minor challenges and is probably the most wupped of us all. Some 6 hours from Portland to New York, followed by another 8 from New York to Senegal. Whew!

Will try to keep you updated as we can. Feel free to share this with whomever.

Off to la-la land,


Several people have been asking me to describe my recent trip to Senegal, West Africa, so I thought I'd try to create this blog for said purpose. Some of you have already read most of what will be posted here but for the rest, well, here it is.

I'm going to start by simply posting copies of some emails I sent along the journey. If the spirit moves and time allows, I may try to expand on a topic or two as we progress along. So as not to overwhelm you with my musings, I'll start sending one post every day or so. Comments are welcomed and can influence future discussions.

Feel free to forward this blog link to anyone you think might be interested.

Enjoy (or not) and Bon Voyage!