Friday, November 25, 2016

18,366 Kilometres by Road

If you're afraid of flying, getting home to see Mum in Nigeria when you live in the UK, can't be easy!

A year ago I was contacted by Chinedu for help and advice about a trip to Nigeria from the East Midlands, UK.  I was a bit confused by the situation, here I was telling a Nigerian how to get home, but he'd never been home or attempted a long overland journey!  There were so many questions, particularly in regards to being fearful of completing the trip; however many times I promised him he would love it, he was convinced he was about to travel to hell.

18,366 Kilometres by Road: An Adventure Trip from London to Lagos and Back to London by Land by [Chinedu Vincent Akuta]

He made the trip, had some wonderful experiences, met a lot of people, travelled many thousands of kilometres and finally made it home, taking scrupulous notes along the way!

The result is a wonderful book of his experiences, the reality of obtaining visas, dealing with transport and having the time of his life.  He didn't just go to Nigeria by road but he returned by road too!

I've never plugged a product on this blog, but Chinedu deserves as many sales as he can get, it's on Kindle as well as a beautiful paperback copy that's sitting proudly in front of me!

https://www.amazon.com/18-366-Kilometres-Road-Adventure-ebook/dp/B01M8MB3J9

Proud to have been able to help him, hoping to see him on a trip south soon!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Le Monde isn't a propaganda machine it seems!

Thrilled today to see an article in the French press.

http://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2016/04/29/un-vent-de-colere-contre-le-quai-d-orsay-souffle-sur-le-sahel_4910753_3212.html

Yes, it's in French but no doubt google will be your friend to translate it.

It talks about the government's security warnings (this could apply to most Western governments) that they continually shade parts of Africa.  Red means the region is extremely dangerous and off limits which then downgrades to grey, yellow then green.  This isn't to say that there aren't dangerous areas that you really shouldn't be stepping foot in at the moment with AQIM or Boko Haram in situ, but as I've always said you need to keep an ear to the ground locally.  Reading the news, listening to the radio etc isn't going to give you the real lowdown on the local situation, local residents will!

This was put to the test last week by the company 'Control Risks' who 24h after the event, warned their clients that the Bouna region had flared up with a mail entitled "Côte d'Ivoire - Northern border areas: Clashes in Niamoue underline potential for violence, need to avoid non-essential travel".  In actual fact this situation was a small affair that I heard about a few hours after it happened and was in touch with UN contacts who were then alerted to it and see if it was a repeat of the situation in March 2016.  It wasn't, but two Lobi who refused to stop at a checkpoint in Niamoin (not Niamoue) and were shot, unfortunately there was a revenge attack against the gendarmes involved who also lost their lives.  A very local incident that unfortunately sent unnecessary alarm bells ringing elsewhere!

So back to the article; the African nations implicated Mauritania & Mali are mentioned amongst others, a little annoyed that their nations are ablaze with red and yellow on their maps.  Yet Belgium, parts of France remain green and therefore 'safe', as does Turkey.  Where's the logic after all the attacks in Europe and Turkey?

However, it's also widely known that if you do travel to these red zones, many travel insurance policies are invalid should you need assistance.  It really doesn't help tourism, nor peoples feelings and fears about this wonderful region of Africa.  This has been a pet hate of mine for some time now, it's unnecessary to throw a blanket over a whole country, yes, there are problems that come up from time to time as they do in Europe. Like many of my friends, I feel safer in the West Africa region than I do in many big cities in Europe!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Should we be baking on All Hallows Eve?

A little miffed whilst sitting at home in France tonight, my kitchen door is being knocked on every few minutes whilst my neighbours children come trick or treating.  I'm thinking of what is (not) happening in Abengourou right now, there's no trick or treating and receiving bon-bons is rare!
Cocoa tree
However there are those children that are in the bush, working on the plantations that produce the cocoa to be made into chocolate for cheap Hallowe'en sweets; it's another annual prime time for chocolate companies to make a good profit.  This afternoon I went out and bought sugary non-chocolate sweets (I'm sure their parents won't thank me!) that are more likely to make our local dentists rather rich!

I don't want to be seen as someone who is scorning this age old tradition, I throw myself into it every year making sure all the children in this small village in France have something when they come to my door.  But in my confusion, I've just researched it further as I really don't know much about it or where it came from.  Interestingly there's no mention of chocolate but more talk about the aforementioned sugar in the form of toffee related products.  In France they mention that they used to put out milk by the graves of loved ones, with our holiday 'Toussaint' (All saints) tomorrow it makes sense.  Ireland now have a baking tradition for Hallowe'en with a fruit cake.

The Hallowe'en food list from Wikipedia

So why has chocolate become a part of the trick or treating game?  I'm just thinking of the supply chain, which starts in our neck of the woods around Abengourou and across Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana, thankful for organisations like Slave Free Chocolate who are trying to assist via chocolate companies, CREER in Abengourou  to do more monitoring and educaton for the children involved in child labour.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Tourism in Banfora

It's been mentioned before, the tourism business in Burkina Faso is horrendous.  Due to the terrorist attacks in January in Ouagadougou, Burkina seems to have lost its glint as a destination.  The whole region is still suffering from the Ebola outbreak despite having finished, it's a sad state of affairs.

Arriving in Banfora in the dark, I negotiated for a moto-trike to take me to Hotel de la Comoe, having stayed here before on several occasions I decided to return for a quiet few days.  There wasn't anyone else staying here, I had a choice of several rooms at 6,500CFA but in the dark I couldn't get my bearings around its lovely courtyard.  The owner remembered me when he came out of his room and I was happy to have returned.  After a shower in a terrible bathroom with a loo that didn't flush & hadn't been cleaned in ages, I went out to a maquis a little further down the dusty road.  Wonderful maquis that did the most incredible goat brochettes, great staff that were very helpful; I had my dinner and wandered back for a much needed sleep.
Banfora was looking remarkably abandoned!
Unfortunately my sleep was broken most of the night, I realised the room I had was next to the road and from about 4am I was intermittently awake.  Finally at 7am I gave up, got up and went out to find breakfast.  On my return, I saw the owner again who asked how I slept, I said that it hadn't been that great & there were problems in the bathroom, would I be able to change rooms?  Unbelievably he went off into a fit of rage against me, yelling abuse that I had the nerve to tell him that the room was terrible, which wasn't exactly what I said.  It was appalling, I was horrified by his outburst and got ready to pack and find somewhere else. Amidou who works there during the day, also remembered me, he was standing there in horror at the scene of his boss and talked to me afterwards.  He persuaded me to stay, found me another room and moved my bags across the courtyard, he told me that his boss has been like this to many people.  Little wonder that the place was empty!
A totally changed McDonald's compared to my previous trips:
https://west-african-skies.blogspot.com/search/label/banfora
The following few days were spent walking around town, revisiting McDonald's restaurant which sadly has changed beyond recognition with it's food and front facade; getting lost one day which found me being driven back by a gendarme who decided I needed rescuing.  Making friends with Fatime who had a small restaurant down the road & would cook my breakfast, a lovely lady who was married to an Ivorian, since their divorce she had returned with her 3 children to Banfora.  We talked for hours about Ivorian and Burkinabe politics, West African culture and shared food; although I didn't go as far as eating the offered butterfly chrysalis, a step too far for my taste!  I spent each evening at the goat brochette maquis who totally spoiled me on my final evening.  However during all this time I didn't meet one other western tourist in town, it was sad that people are keeping away.
Butterfly chrysalis's with onions
Finally my final morning I went to get the bus to Ouagadougou, from next door to the best patisserie in town, lovely cup of coffee and croissant before departing on a long 6-7 journey in comfort.  We had a break at Boromo, another enjoyable Burkinabe town where I last stayed in 2014 but unfortunately I didn't have time to spend a few days at this time around.

Thankfully I discovered the wonderful patisserie on my final day in Banfora!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Lobi country

It was a scenic drive on rough roads to Loropeni for 45minutes or so, it was Saturday and therefore market day.  I got out at the station and asked about transport to Banfora.  Ahmed was at the station, he wasn't at all pushy and seemed to genuinely want to help; surprisingly for me, I let him take me under his wing and we walked about 200m to where an old Mercedes minibus was parked.  He organised a front seat for me and we went to find some shea butter in town as I'd forgotten to pick some up in Bouna.

Loropeni on market day
He took me to his house, his mother with some other women have created a little cooperative and had shea butter in abundance.  I paid for a kilo, a little more than in Bouna but I was thrilled to find these women taking the initiative to create their own enterprise.

Shea butter
Finally on the road again, I said goodbye to Ahmed who had been incredibly helpful for the hour or so I was in town and I was looking forward to getting back to Banfora.  I had been told it would be a 4h journey, as usual I was stupidly hopeful it would take that long or less, it in fact took us 6 hours on horrendous roads at times.  My front seat was incredibly uncomfortable, the back of it didn't work so I had to sit bolt upright for the trip!
Transport to Banfora
After 5 hours we reached Tiefora, I hadn't eaten all day, bought a baked plantain, some severely roasted sweetcorn which was inedible and we set off again at sunset for Banfora.  It had taken an hour to get what seemed to be someone's house contents off the roof.  

Tiefora at sunset
Finally around 7pm we rolled into Banfora, it was good to be back, a town I have always enjoyed!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Chance encounters

Having slept off a horrendous headache, I got up to find something to eat.  The young guy running the hotel on the edge of town told me that the nearest place was back where I'd unceremoniously arrived from, about 3km the other end of town.  Without any transport or the back of a bike to ride on, I wasn't too keen walking there in the dark as the heavens had opened during the afternoon and there were large puddles all over.  However he kindly offered to go and find something for me, I sent him off with some money and he returned with a whole chicken and a bottle of beer.  Two problems to deal with now, I had a whole chicken that I wouldn't possibly be able to eat and a bottle of beer without a bottle opener.  My new friend took half the chicken to eat and gave me his knife to open the beer ... it was some knife, I was glad we were on talking terms!!!

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The knife - bottle top opener
The following morning I was up and ready for the Ouagadougou bus to pick me up from outside the hotel.  Due to leave the bus station at 8am, it was running late but I finally boarded pleased to be en route once more, aiming for a few days of rest in Banfora.  We headed for the border on a fairly rough road, the bus driver did incredibly well in the conditions and finally got us to the Ivorian border, Saturday 13th August I was sadly leaving Cote d'Ivoire once more via the Koguienou border!
Stunning countryside, tough road conditions from Doropo
Probably the third or fourth person to descend from the bus, I heard a massive shriek of my name from about 200m away ... it was the Anti-Drugs gendarme from the border at Tatiekro thrilled to see me again.  I went to get my passport stamped out of the country, the police surprised to see 'une blanche' at this little-used border who knew a senior officer were in a bit of a state by my presence! Consequently they stamped me 'IN' and gave me back my passport, I pointed their mistake out to them & within 30seconds I got an exit stamp and lots of signatures all over it!  I returned to talk to my favourite anti-drugs gendarme whilst waiting for the other passengers to clear immigration.

Bus to Ouagadougou at Koguienou
We set off again for the 4km or so to the Burkinabe border post, en route we picked up a young guy of 20 or so who got on & sat the other side of the aisle from me, staring at me intently.  He had been smoking quite a bit of weed I'd imagine, it was only 9am but I've never smelt so much marijuana from one person.  Descending at the border in Galgouli, I took my bags with me, I seriously didn't want anything planted on me at a border crossing.  On entering the police station where I'd be stamped into Burkina Faso, I saw an Ivorian car parked outside and two men inside who I presumed were in this car.  On entering I heard my name once more, it turned out one of them was a neighbour in Abengourou who knew me from a maquis where I often have an evening meal!  Within an hour I manage to meet two people who I've met before in a very remote part of West Africa.
Only transport out of Kampti
The other passengers were incredibly friendly and one man helped me when I asked where I should get off the bus to continue my journey to Banfora.  Kampti they all said!  30 minutes after the border I descended in Kampti where I was assured I'd find transport to Banfora.  I found the only transport in town which would take me as far as Loropeni, with 12 women sitting in the back of the pick up, I was offered a front seat with the driver in surprisingly comfortable conditions.





Sunday, October 16, 2016

Finally heading for Burkina Faso

So we headed out of Bouna, the taxi was full, 4 of us with the driver.  The road was good, it didn't have tarmac but was well graded for the first 50km or so.
The rest of the journey wasn't too bad at all, the road wound through villages and the red earth new with the morning dew sped up at us.  A few large puddles we continued on, until I heard a noise; looking into my front passenger wing mirror I realised the rear bumper had detatched!

We helped fix the bumper back on and set off again for Doropo.  Passing more villages.


Finally arriving in Doropo, I met a Burkinabe who told me that after Friday prayers in a few minutes, he'd be ready to take me to the border in a gleaming silver BMW.  I told him I'd be waiting after he exited the mosque and that in the meantime I'd wait in a nearby maquis.  However, for the second time on this trip my bags were firmly locked inside the vehicle, a crowbar was set to action!


I waited and waited, ate lunch, removed my bags from his BMW, waited and then did some more waiting but it became clear he wasn't wanting to leave soon.  I headed to the end of the road having been the centre of attention for all in Doropo who hadn't seen 'une blanche' for years it seemed and joined a Mauritanian family nursing a splitting headache!  After a while the Mauritanians became annoyed that nothing had moved despite my protestations to the Burkinabe who had promised to get going after Friday noon prayers at the mosque, they went to see what the problem was on my behalf.

Centre of attention in Doropo

It was clear he wasn't going to leave soon,  The family found a moto-tricycle to get me to the other end of town with my luggage, I sat in the back.  This has to be one of my worst experiences, being driven through the centre of town, the market where all & sundry had a good laugh at 'la blanche' seated in the back of the moto-trike going through town.  If my headache hadn't been so bad I would have been more alert but at that moment I just wanted to find a bed and sleep.  We finally arrived at the only hotel in town.  At 6pm I was awoken by the BMW's side-kick, he had been told to find me, he'd been given my hotel room number by the watchman and I was fast asleep.  When I opened the door and he told me that we were now leaving for the border (that closed in 30m) I wasn't amused but neither was he as he had lost a paid seat in his vehicle!  I went back to bed for another forty winks!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Return to my Koulango family


Sheep waiting with us at the northern Bondoukou police barrier
After a long six hours in the massa, trouble with the police for some of my fellow passengers south of Bondoukou followed by further problems with the anti-drug gendarmes at the northern Bondoukou police barrier, we rolled into Bouna.  It's a lovely drive, Tanda is a pretty town, stunning valley after Bondoukou then driving alongside the National Comoe Park sometimes spotting monkeys on the road.



Thrilled to see the hills of the Boukani region as we sped ever northwards after Bondoukou, I was looking forward to seeing my friend's family in Bouna.  Previously met the extended family in early April 2016 towards the end of the fatal conflict that occurred between the Peulh (Fulani) and Lobi people; where an estimated 70+ people lost their lives (official figures put it at just over 30 but it was indeed far more!).
Photo taken whilst in Bouna in early April 2016 after the conflict
Arriving at the bus station, the town had a different atmosphere to my last visit.  People were going about their business, the refugees had dispersed and returned home after almost three months in camps and there was a positive, calm air.  Greeted by my Koulango friend's younger brother as my friend was in Abidjan having had lunch together the day before in Abengourou.  We walked back to the house, part of a 'cour' behind closed gates, the extended members of the family all live in separate dwellings around a rectangular courtyard.
One of the three refugee camps in April 2016 in Bouna, housing 3,200 refugees in town

A wonderful welcome as I came through the gates, the different members of the family came out to meet me and then scurried around to get his house ready for me.  No one was aware that I was arriving!  Totally spoilt, I walked into the sitting room, air-conditioned with a television showing the 2016 Olympics from Rio.  I felt as if I was in total luxury, we don't have much at the centre for CREER not even tiled floors!  After a much-needed shower to rid myself of the dust, I headed five minutes away to an excellent restaurant where I'd eaten in April to be greeted by the staff there.

An early start, I needed to have my meetings finished by 9am to have any chance of getting transport to Doropo and onto Burkina Faso.  Firstly with the head of social services, he was thrilled to see me back waiting on his office doorstep since before 8am, unaware I'd come back to town and we had an interesting meeting, he was keen to listen to our ideas to assist trafficked children that found themselves in the Boukani region.  As Ghana and Burkina Faso are both under 100km away, it's an area that can find traffickers with children crossing the border.  Next was the police, again it all went well but unfortunately the officer I'd met in April who agreed to be CREER's representative for the region was on holiday in Abidjan.

As I left the police station, my friend's brother was outside on a motorbike talking to a friend of his, I hopped on the back of the friend's bike who drove me back to the house whilst a seat in a taxi was being organised for Doropo.  Quickly packed up my things much to the sadness of the family particularly the children, the youngest of which told me he was coming with me!  The taxi arrived within minutes, I said my goodbyes and left ... to be driven around town looking for other passengers for the 2,000CFA 1.5 hour journey north to Doropo, the nearest town to the border.
My taxi north to Doropo

Saturday, October 8, 2016

De-railed journey north

After a month back in Abengourou dealing with matters for C.R.E.E.R the thought of the return journey to catch my flight from Ouagadougou was one that I'd been looking forward to for years.

There's a train that plies the Abidjan - Ouagadougou route and several times I came close to boarding the train to go between the two.  This time gave me a perfect opportunity to travel north on the train, the weather in August isn't too hot so the thought of a 30,000CFA first class seat with a possible destination of Banfora in Burkina Faso for a few day's R&R filled me with joy!

Ten days before I was due to leave I started asking about the departure days.  Luckily our Prosecutor's bodyguard's neighbour in Abidjan works for SITA Rail, so a call was duly made and I decided on when to leave.  I then had to find a friend in Abidjan to go and buy a ticket for me, a taxi driver who has become a good friend over the years & had saved me in Bassam during the 2010/2011 crisis was ideal and I gave him a call.  This is where it all started to go wrong.

I discovered another friend, a Burkinabe, had gone to the station with my taxi driver friend to find the train was full until 25th August, a week after my flight from Ouaga departed.  My plans were de-railed quite literally (and in early September a freight train went over the bridge near Dimbokro which collapsed whilst it was still on the steel framed structure!)



Plan B was put into action.  To return to Bouna in the north eastern part of Cote d'Ivoire and cross the border a little further north.  Bouna is a 400km journey from Abengourou, I tried to find a lift with friends north but that didn't happen.  A friend from Bouna called the 'massa' (minibus) station in Abidjan and arranged that the driver should stop and pick me up in Abengourou on his way north. A stop Bouna was ideal as I needed to talk to various people in town about trafficking and our transit centre.

I had already visited Bouna earlier in the year in April during the conflict between the Lobi and Peulh with some 3,200 refugees being looked after by the UN in various camps around town.  They were also in the King of Bouna, Djarakoroni II's compound who I was formally introduced to, enabling permission to enter.  A good friend is a senior figure in town and asked me to visit during the crisis in case there were trafficked children as refugees which there weren't but we assisted the UN organisation OCHA with a meeting of all the main townspeople.

Finally the day dawned and I went by taxi across town to the bus station area and waited in a kiosque where we were aware that some Beninois children were working and presumed trafficked. Waiting for the massa to arrive, initially it was due at 9am, it didn't arrive until after 11am, finally on board with 20+ others, I was in a front seat and we headed north.


Monday, October 3, 2016

Back to my second home

Deposited by my Ghanaian Immigration official near the Tatiekro border just a kilometre or so from Dormaa Ahenkro I discovered without any surprise that transport was sorely lacking.  There was a minibus without any passengers, the village was incredibly quiet apart from two boys who offered me a ride to Agnibilekro on the back of a bike.  "How much" I asked, 15,000CFA Madame ... well this Madame doubled up laughing and kept walking with all the luggage to find the Ivorian immigration post!

I got to the post, a run down dwelling with the ubiquitous steel framed bed with it's ever-present filthy foam mattress.  A few officers were standing outside whilst two uniformed officers were behind the desk. Upon opening my passport, seeing all my Ivorian stamps I got a hearty welcome back and received an entry stamp with the minimum of fuss and no mention of espionage!

Back outside I was offered a chair and we discussed transport options, a few taxi's were due to come to the village.  It was a Sunday afternoon so I didn't hold out much hope, but having done the journey from Ouaga in 3.5 days at this point I was raring to get back to the centre in Abengourou.  The most senior officer (an anti-drugs gendarme) asked me what I was up to in Cote d'Ivoire to be in and out of the country so much.  I told him about www.creer-africa.org and we had an excellent conversation about trafficking, he and some of the others took my business cards for the centre and promised to spread the word in Bondoukou where they were based.

Finally a few taxis went past, I was told to ignore them but five minutes later small car pulled up, my new found friend asked him to return when he had dropped his passenger.  I got in and was told it was 4,000CFA to Agnibilekro, after a lot of goodbyes we set off down the dusty road for a tense 40 minutes to reach Agnibilekro, the road is known for 'coupeurs de route' ambushes by bandits.


We got chatting and I arranged for him to take me onto Abengourou, I was too tired to get a minibus in Agnibilekro, wait for it to fill up before we would set off again.  He gave a very fair price for the final 40 kilometres on newly tarred road and we had a long chat about his dreams, a young guy of 24 with an entreprenurial head on his shoulders.  Finally around 4pm in mid-July 2016 I was in front of the gate at the centre, with a very surprised children's assistant thrilled to see me back!

PS.  In August, Abengourou sadly lost it's Head of Customs, he was assassinated near Tatiekro for what reason I don't know ...

The Crazy Gang's Mushrooms & Ghanaian Espionage

Dormaa Ahenkro was a real eye-opener.  Used to being in border towns & usually wanting to get over the border and not hang around, I was confused by this town, it's wealth and atmosphere.

Generally in West Africa, I try to be 30km from a border, they're not the most safest of places to be and can get volatile.  The Elubo (Ghana) Noe (CI) border further south is one border I ensure I'm well away from at night.  However, Dormaa Ahenkro was the 'Silicon Poultry Valley' of Ghana as I exclaimed to a friend in Accra that night over the phone.  The town was obviously wealthy, people were lovely, incredibly laid back and I found a gem of a little guest house complete with French electrical wiring (no more problems with my French plugs going into UK type sockets!).

After a feast of jollof rice and chicken at the 'Canteen' I found a taxi to return me to the guest house with the thought of a long restful night of sleep.  How wrong I was!!!  I was sitting in the garden's  concrete gazebo in the dark when an Obruni caught me relaxing with a Star beer.  Absolutely shocked to see an Obruni in this little unknown corner of Ghana, I started talking to him.  He was German and in business with a Ghanaian setting up mushroom farms.  The business partner soon joined us, we had a hilarious evening of chatter which went on far too long before I found my bed again.

In the morning, I was invited to join them for a mushrooms & moringa breakfast, absolutely delicious, all cooked on a small stove in the gazebo which was still littered with the previous night's beer bottles!  They asked me to go with them to meet a local chief and promised to drop me at the border shortly afterwards.  By 9am we were ready, my bags were in their pick-up and I went into the guesthouse briefly to pick up my small backpack, on my return I discovered they had locked the car keys into the car.

To put the situation into perspective, the Ghanaian business partner didn't drive and didn't realise this could happen (the keys were in his jacket in the pick-up), their driver didn't have a clue about mechanics & it was Sunday morning, so the whole town had already gone to church.  One of the boys of the guesthouse found some wire & we started trying to break into the pick-up to no avail.  The town's main mechanic was sent for, one of boys went to find him, he eventually turned up with most of the male congregation of the nearby church ... Meanwhile, my new found friends aka 'The Crazy Gang' settled back into last night's chairs in the gazebo with cold beers ...
The centre of Dormaa Ahenkro
By 11am we were finally on the road, I was given a tour of the town with some lovely old colonial type buildings then off to see the Chief.  The meeting went well and we headed for the border, 8km from town.  I went directly into immigration, I was told to take a seat and hand over my passport so he could fill the form in; he was quite young & junior in rank.  This is where it started going wrong, I told him I'd fill the immigration form in (last time this happened in Ghana in about 2007 it took them 4 or 5 attempts to fill out a card without a mistake and wasted 45minutes or so!).  He thought for a moment and opened my passport, he went through every Ghanaian stamp in my passport, of which there are many and then asked me to show him my work permit.

At this point I was a bit miffed and surprised by him, usually the junior officers don't look too much; however I have nothing to hide.  I asked him why he thought I was working in Ghana, he told me that I must be working in Ghana to have come through so many times.   I made it clear that I don't have any job in Ghana.

"So you are a spy" was his next question!  Trying to figure this out in my head.  Here was a junior officer now accusing me of spying on Ghana, for who? why? when (it's not as if my 2-3 day transits gives me enough time to do any spying).  I laughed at him and asked him why he had come to that conclusion as he was opening his desk drawer.  His manner changed & he was looking rather flustered, it turned out that there weren't any immigration forms ... this changed the situation as he went to another cupboard in the office, then out to the waiting room but the forms it seems were nowhere to be found.  They had run out!

He returned, semi-apologetic saying that he would call his senior officer but still wanted explanations as to what I do in Ghana.  I ignored this and asked him what I was going to do if there weren't any forms, because I wanted to be in Cote d'Ivoire as much as he didn't want this 'spy' in his office.

Eventually an arrangement was made and I escaped his office with an exit stamp in my passport to add to the other hundred or so in there!  I found the Crazy Gang behind the little Duty Free shop drinking some more cold beers & then discovered that we couldn't go over the border in the pick-up as the 'Obruni' couldn't leave Ghana and was the only one able to drive.  My immigration officer found us all there and asked what the problem was, we told him, he offered to drive me to the Ivorian border and suddenly became very friendly, my espionage status was obviously downgraded!!!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Long road south

After a relatively normal trip back to Abengourou in April this year via my usual Accra route, I found that summer airline ticket prices were astronomical for July to both Accra and Abidjan.  However prices to Ouagadougou were somewhat more reasonable and as a follow up needed to be done for a repatriated child, it made sense to fly Air Algerie south via Algers (an airline that I've always preferred over Royal Air Maroc).

Landing in Ouagadougou close to midnight it was sad to see the lack of tourists, clearly demonstrated by the lack of taxi's available.  Amadou seemed to be the only one around so after some easy negotiation for a price to the St Leon area of town, we shot off on the 5m journey.  As with every trip to Ouagadougou I stay in a small cheap auberge behind the cathedral and as with every arrival, they were all asleep!  Finally waking Alidou the watchman, I paid Amadou, took his number and found my small room.  I then spent an hour in the courtyard talking to Alidou over a Brakina and discovered the horror of what the January attacks had done to the tourism business.  I was the first non-African to stay there since January, a place I've known for 10 years and always busy with budget travellers but only 3 rooms full that night, 2 Burkinabes and myself; I was stunned and upset how bad it had become.

After making several calls about the repatriated girl, it became clear I wasn't going to be able to see her.  She had vanished, unknown if that she was in Ouagadougou or had been trafficked again!  Sadly I walked with my luggage through the hot, dusty streets to the Rakieta bus station for Po and then the Ghanaian border.  Unusually the bus was late, due to a lack of fuel before Ouaga, over an hour after it's scheduled time we finally boarded with the inside temperature showing 45°!  I was sad to be going this route south, hoped to have gone east first to the girls village but it wasn't meant to be.

Just prior to a bridge where I'd had problems before with the police, the drivers mate told us all to turn our phones off.  When I enquired it was made clear that the area has had problems with bandits on the road.  We made it into Po without a hitch, I was happy to think I could make the border before it's closure at 6pm.  With a Burkinabe lady headed for Accra, we scoured around for a taxi to get us to Dakola, the Burkinabe border.  Soon enough we made it to the border village but go find it blocked by trucks waiting to clear customs, I'd never seen it so busy and our driver was unamused at not being able to find a route through! 




The clock was ticking and I really wasn't filled with joy at spending a night this side of the border, eventually we made it through, I raced into the immigration building where one lady officer remembered me and ran out again to find an argument ensuing between the police and our driver.  I begged them to let us continue the 1km in the taxi to the Ghana side ... heads shook, I tried everything to persuade them.  It was only when one of them heard I was due to sleep in Tenkodougo (a small town near the girls village to the east of Ouaga) and what had happened to her, that they let us go!

Ghana was the usual gruff immigration post, TV blaring, officers sitting around ... eventually i was stamped in!  I trudged off to another known bed, 300m from the border post is a small, clean lodge that isn't bad value for money in the small tourist town of Paga, better known for sacred crocodiles than accommodation!  Unfortunately their brilliant kitchen had been closed a while ago, so I sent out the boy in charge to find some jollof rice and chicken.  Wonderful jollof rice but a chicken thigh I could have bounced against the wall!!! 

The following day, I was at the station by 5.45am, in a taxi by 6am and south in Bolgatanga before 8am.  Here I ran into trouble, the driver left me at a trotro station with air-conditioned vehicles.  I paid for my ticket and was bluntly told I was paying the same for my luggage, knowing these typically Ghanaian antics for the 'Obruni' travelling public, I ignored him, ready to negotiate just before departure.  To my horror another 'Obruni' showed up, young girl from Germany or Sweden and immediately handed over the requested amount while I was saying No to her when they quoted what they wanted.  An argument ensued, I handed back my ticket and walked off, very annoyed.  Luckily arriving in the taxi station I spied Emmanuel who'd driven me in the shared taxi from Paga, negotiating a price for him to drive me directly to Tamale, we set off!

Tamale is my favourite place for Chinese food in the region!  However I was going to try to get onto Sunyani or at least Techiman today.  I just missed a trotro for Techiman pulling out so headed to Ghana's government bus company, Metro Mass Transit's station to find a bus boarding for Sunyani!!!  Chinese looked to be off the menu until I talked to the driver who had sold every seat.  I waited to see if there was anything spare, watched it pull out and walked off to find a tuk-tuk to have lunch, at the Chinese!   The hotel I usually stay at has seriously gone downhill, one lady was really sullen, so I headed next door to Hamdallah Hotel to find a lovely room that was cheaper!

Back at the trotro station by 0530 the next morning I had to wait almost 3h for the Techiman trotro to fill.  Yet again, two Obruni's showed up.  Yet again totally ignored me; maybe I'm getting old but before there was a spirit between travellers however it doesn't seem to be the case in Ghana or else I look so worn out from travelling, they stay away?!?!?  These two missed asking to get off at Kintampo Falls so when we stopped at the last stop in town the driver asked me to ask them to get off! 

Almost 6h after leaving Tamale we arrived in Techiman where I found a shared taxi for Sunyani, another hour away, this driver definitely had F1 aspirations but he was a safe driver so I didn't squawk as I would normally!  Dormaa Ahenkro is the town just before the border east of Agnibilekro, I hadn't had any money since Tamale, luckily found a convenient cash machine in Techiman. So on arrival in Sunyani, I agreed to pay for 2 seats for myself to Dormaa if the driver would wait whilst I found food; 2 hard-boiled eggs, a handful of groundnuts and a small packet of biscuits all guzzled at 4.30pm ...

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Voluntourism

Voluntourism comes in all shapes and forms.  In neighbouring Ghana it's become a profitable business for many charitable organisations that doesn't always direct the money where it should to help the NGO in question.

People of all ages from gap year students to retirees are paying what I would consider phenomenal amounts of money to 'help'.  They often arrive without skills that would be of use to the NGO in question for short periods of time that really doesn't merit their presence.  At the end they return home with photos on their social media pages surrounded by 'disadvantaged' children and another box ticked on their CV.  It's really quite sad.

Imagine the shock when a volunteer is offered the chance of a 3 month placement without paying a fee; just their flights, visa and daily costs.  Room and board included to assist a centre with trafficked children, references are obligatory as is a current police check.

An Australian art teacher was given this opportunity, previously known via their professional life in Khartoum, Sudan and more recently in Cairo, Egypt.  A reference was obtained and the police check held on file.  The objective for this volunteer was to work with the children allowing to express themselves in art whilst keeping an eye on the overall running of the centre and finances.  Very kindly money was raised to gain art supplies and buy paint to create murals at the centre, or so it said on the crowdfunder website.

Unfortunately it all changed on arrival; quickly deceived by a (now former) employee, communication was limited with the organization's board due to the employee's greed and deception.  Knowing that this volunteer had already spent time in Africa, the presumption was that the volunteer would see the reality of what was actually happening.  Sadly not! 

However, things took a turn for the worse when the volunteers website was discovered.  Firstly personal details of the children and their origins were put online (thankfully the former employee didn't carry out the correct research so the child's village is some 200km away from where they thought).  The NGO's own motorbike was used without authorisation to go miles into the bush with terrible consequences for its wear and tear, particularly on the engine. Then upon leaving the paintings done by the children had been removed so that they could be sold online ... https://theartandsoulproject.wordpress.com

People close to the organization are disgusted by this behaviour, numerous messages were sent to the volunteer which remain unanswered.  There was one minor change, that the money raised by the pictures will go back into the project.  However the former employee is currently being interviewed by the police for a variety of matters, despite this conduct the two still seem to be in cahoots!

Whichever way you turn, volunteering isn't as simple as it looks!

PS. June 2016, our former coordinator was held in police cells in Abengourou for two nights for blackmail.  Only when he agreed to return the money did he escape a prison term! 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Politics

I try to stay out of politics generally but there are a few bugs in the system that still haven't been ironed out in Côte D'Ivoire.  Having said that I doubt they will for a few decades yet.

Currently there are a lot of government posters condemning corruption by government officials, asking the population to report it.  It's a massive change from the other side of the border in Ghana, where even when petty corruption is reported, you are given a smirk and the matter is ignored.

Back in August 2015, going through a 'barrage' (checkpoint) our minibus was stopped for ID checks.  Those that didn't have ID were asked for varying sums of money.  On ringing a police chief the matter was dealt with swiftly, correct fines were applied and receipts given.  Of course not every minibus will have a passenger who'll make the calls!

In Abengourou the roads were savagely torn up 6months ago, the dust has been so bad ever since everyone is forced to breathe through a tissue or cloth, wear a (now illegal) plastic bag over their head; respiratory problems are rife.

During a chat with a restaurant waiter who was wiping down a dusty chair, a job he has to do several times a day, we got chatting about the situation.  I pointed out that when the Mayoral elections come up everyone has the choice to vote.  His attitude was that no matter who you vote for, the bigwigs around town will ensure that a well-known personality will get into office.  A 'lowly' waiter will never have the chance to help make a change.  This is certainly true in Ghana which I've watched getting corrupter by the month but I do feel that Cote D'Ivoire is making progress in this area, to let everyone contribute ...

Africa as a continent needs to wake up and change from internal corrupt systems before neo-colonism sneaks in and takes over whilst in-country squabbles take the front page ...

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Never the right reasons for hitting the press

The last few days has seen the dark side of the region in the news.  It's a worry as so much has been lost in tourism over a few years.

The situation in Mali with Al Quaeda (AQIM) has been an ongoing problem that dissuades tourists from coming to the region in the first place.  Then the Ebola outbreak happened which made thousands of potential tourists cancel their trips to the whole continent, ridiculous really when you look at the distance from the affected West African countries to Europe and the distance from the sub-region to East or South Africa.  A group had got together using the hashtag #Unite4WestAfrica during the outbreak to try to attract more tourism and educate potential visitors but sadly to little effect.

However earlier this week it was announced that the Ebola outbreak was officially over.  The world breathed a sigh of relief.  It is reckoned to have cost West Africa US$3.5 Billion in lost business and tourism to date.

Yesterday a new confirmed Ebola case cropped up in northern Sierra Leone, unfortunately the world press heard about it too; 1 step forward, 10 steps back.  Not that we shouldn't take Ebola seriously but the devastation it has caused to the region is unimaginable.

Last night, AQIM's offshoot group,
al-Murabitoun are purportedly behind the attacks in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou.  The same group were responsible for the Radisson attack in Bamako, Mali back in November.  Yet another 'safe' country is going to be damaged by the press reports, government warnings and public worry. 

Currently sitting with a group of Burkinabe friends in Côte D'Ivoire, we're all shocked by the events which seem to be ongoing as I type!

I for one won't walk away from the region nor will I be threatened by terrorism which could have easily have happened at home #Unite4WestAfrica

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Togetherness

I've caught up with a lot of friends and acquaintances over the last few weeks.

Currently sitting in a 'kiosque' to get my supper of spaghetti and liver, formerly run by Ghanaians here on the Ivorian coast I've known 10 years.  A man came up to me to welcome me back; his name is Kofi and he's Ghanaian too.  I recognised his face but that was it, he told me the story I heard earlier today, the Ghanaian family headed by Kwame have sold up and headed home.  Having known their eldest since she was 2 years old, I wanted to know more.  They've left their beloved dog, Lucky here who instantly came up to say hello to me (and any scraps I might have for her) and the building Kwame the father put up is now in pieces. 

They sold their little piece of paradise near an incredible beach for 14million CFA to go home to Ghana, where they won't have regular electricity or water supply, unlike here in Côte D'Ivoire.  I wonder due to the economic development in Côte D'Ivoire they've decided to take their money and build something better for themselves in neighbouring Ghana which has an ailing economy?!

Back to Kofi, he amused me by saying a phrase I've only really heard in Mali in September 2015 'on est ensemble' or 'we're together'.  However I have to question myself, did I only just start hearing this in Mali, particularly in the village more than just in Bamako or has everyone been saying it to me for a while and I've just not noticed?  Kofi must be the second or third person since I've been back.

On est ensemble ... against neocolonialism and any jihadist forces ...

Sunday, January 10, 2016

First fickle fortnight

Had a very tough time since arriving in Abengourou on 23rd December.

Wonderful trip from Abidjan to Abengourou; courtesy of one of the elders from the Cour Royale.  He remembered me and found me a little bewildered in Adjame at 7am waiting for a 12pm bus, that was due to have departed at 7.30am!  His clean, air-conditioned, 4 wheel drive vehicle made the dusty journey very easy; particularly with a breakfast stop in Adzope!   Lovely warm welcome back to Abengourou from many people including friends and many police officers!

On arrival back at the centre, the day turned sour.  News concerning an important local person hadn't been passed onto the team in France and I found that we had been put in a very difficult predicament.  Added to which our Coordinator had already created a long list of problems that needed to be dealt with.  Within an hour of arrival I told him to take the festive season as leave and asked for him to return on 2nd January.

During the day it became apparent all our documents were missing including the legal ones concerning the children in our care.  After sending a message it was clear that a game was being played, one that could cause a multitude of problems for the future.

To cut a long and difficult story short, I found myself asking the Prosecutor for help prior to the new year.  Christmas was a sombre affair, my mind going through the endless lies that had been woven, the divisions that had been created and worst of all, discovering that my room had been used as a 'chambre de passage' in my absence whilst children were in the centre!

The beginning of 2016 rang loud and clear, I was back at the Prosecutor's for his first day at work.  Asked to return at 16h I discovered our Coordinator had filed a legal case against me personally.  The Prosecutor wasn't in the mood to listen to another woven web of lies and asked for my complaints.  I left his office feeling renewed and hopeful that the end had come but I had more to deal with the following day; email account password changed, paperwork still not returned and our Coordinator on a very slippery slope to trouble after yet another phone call to the Prosecutor!

Since 7th January, life is almost back to normal.  My general opinion of people here in Côte D'Ivoire remains unchanged, there are good and bad in all societies.  The Coordinator is unemployed and gaining a terrible reputation locally, but most of it I can put to one side.

The evening of 7th January, our neighbour Paul who is also a taxi driver had visitors at midnight intent on stealing a motorbike.  He called the police and locked himself inside with his wife and small child, the visitors had a Kalashnikov and pistol between them ... They left & were not found by the police, so still at large.  Paul is blaming FRCI and the arms that are still circulating in the country post the 2010-2011 crisis!  On a positive note, had they had bullets they probably would have fired, so we hope they don't obtain any!!!

Life goes on, all will be well!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Bizarre Border Day

After a 36h stop in Accra and a rather short night due to a party, departure alarm was set for 0530.  It proved to be a bad idea to try travelling to Cote d'Ivoire with my 'little brother' Charles Sablah from Nima after only 3.5h sleep!

Grumpiness set in right at the beginning, particularly when a man on our VIP bus was spotted boarding after departing Kaneshie, a preacher!  7 long hours later incarcerated on 'religious' transport our arrival at Takoradi was over 2hours late.  This was partly due to the fact our driver didn't seem to know how to get into 3rd gear, we crawled most of the way in 2nd with the engine groaning under my back seat!

Arriving at Elubo, the Ghanaian side of the border with Lampard, a driver I've been using for a few years; the hunt was on for a private Ivorian car.   We were looking to hitchhike and get as close as possible to friends living in Bassam for the night.  Lucky to spot someone with an empty car, he offered a lift despite being at work at the border.  The Ghanaian border guards all remembered me, shook hands & asked why I wasn't staying for longer.

On our way between Elubo & Noe which was heavily blocked with trucks waiting to get through customs we exchanged pleasantries and chatted about all things Ivorian.  Whilst crossing the bridge I made mention of the children that cross and a village I'm aware of ... He confirmed it all and the fact he's involved with trafficking .. Alarm bells were ringing, our conversation had been in French, he then asked Charles in Twi what I'm doing in Cote D'Ivoire, of course he'd not understood our conversation.  It all became a little complicated!

Arrival at Noe, big welcomes from the border guards who I've built quite a rapport with over the last 2-3 years with this team ... Then to bump into a colleague who was also heading towards Abidjan with her young family for Christmas.

I'm now in CI puzzling how to move forward at the moment.  Today is Sunday, tomorrow I'll probably be making a lot of calls in relation to our new 'friend' ...

Monday, December 14, 2015

Hiatus for a reason

There's been a hiatus from the blog, but certainly not from travelling.  Since that last post, I've probably made 15-20 trips to West Africa and a few to the east of the continent including a short trip to Burundi to see friends on the spur of the moment whilst in Uganda for aviation work.


Lately the focus has been very much on C.R.E.E.R (www.creer-africa.org) that was set up in 2010 and finally operational in 2014 in Cote d'Ivoire as a safe house for child trafficking victims.


Leaving again in a few days for West Africa looking forward to seeing my 'little brother' who just got married.  I've mentored him over a few years whilst he built up Nima Tours (www.ghana-nima-tours.yolasite.com) in Accra, Ghana.  Charles will be joining me on the overland trip to Abidjan and then up to Abengourou for Christmas along with a US friend.  I'll be posting updates and thoughts whilst over there, hopefully not like buses coming all at once!

Have a great festive season in the meantime!


Friday, February 3, 2012

Accra warmth

Flying back to Accra was like a dream, I've often 'knocked' Ghana preferring Cote d'Ivoire but there's a lot going for Ghana too!  Landing in the warmth of Accra's evening, I was in my element, thrilled to be back!

Algeria had been cold, I didn't expect it to be so similar to the temperatures that are found at home in France, but it was chilly & I had packed 'warmer climate' clothes on the whole.  Should have done a little more research!!!

Accra's balmy & humid temperatures were perfect.  With the biggest smile on my face I cleared immigration & went out hunting for my 'priority' labelled bag, which as usual in Accra, was one of the last to find its way through!

I made my way outside to wait for the BA crew (my oldest friend was the SFO on the flight) to come through & joined them on the crew bus to go to the hotel for the night.  Everyone was exhausted, it was a difficult flight for the crew taking-off mid-afternoon & landing at 9pm GMT; lots of demands by passengers on flights like this.  I think there was only one member of the crew that succumbed to bed, the others all joined my best friend & I outside around the pool.  It was a late night but my first in two months I could sit back & relax!

The following day I took my oldest friend down to Nima to meet Charles Sablah of Ghana Nima Tours.  http://ghana-nima-tours.yolasite.com

Charles is a young guy in his 20's living precariously, desperate to better himself & has set up walking tours of Nima.  An impoverished slum where most tourists are too scared to go.  He did a fantastic job & introduced her to a small school that teaches the children in French & English.  She was thrilled to see it all & is currently setting up collections via her children's schools to take to Accra when she is rostered to fly back.  Charles' tours are now a feature for BA crews & with continued focus he should do well as he's being interviewed by 'Time Out' magazine in Accra.

With the BA flight leaving just before midnight, I left her to sleep mid-afternoon & went off to meet someone who I had been in touch with since the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire.  I was generously offered a room there during my time in Accra & my host was a real gentleman ensuring I had everything I needed.  Importantly in my own economic constraints, I had a room in Accra to stay in whilst I had business meetings & the conference to attend.

My welcome on my return to Ghana Civil Aviation was outstanding; the ladies at reception were both very pleased to see me.  A surprise for us all that I had returned so quickly after the WAFRIC conference.  I had meetings in & around the airport all week then Saturday dawned with the conference speaking promise.

The main reason for my return was to support the Aviation Club Ghana http://aviationclubghana.ning.com/ which is run by a group of graduates & under-graduates of the University of Ghana at Legon.  I was impressed with this group in October, but what they had created with this conference was outstanding.  Some prominent local speakers from the aviation industry, a room full of students from High Schools and University with live internet streaming.  http://www.thebftonline.com/bft_subcat_linkdetails.cfm?prodcatID=6&tblNewsCatID=63&tblNewsID=10494

Sunday I got my usual driver to take me to Kaneshie station to get the VIP bus to Takoradi, I ended up on an excellent ADB service for 11GhC leaving at 9am & arriving at 1pm.  Finally after a tro-tro from Takoradi & a taxi from Agona Junction I was back in Busua!  Arriving at Busua Inn, it was perfect, calm, warm with a breeze but I wasn't sure if I was in the right place.  I was meant to be meeting up with my friends who also own Ezile Bay & staying over at Ezile next to Akwidaa village.  With James the manager expecting me, I put my bags down & waited for them to return from Ezile.

I had got it wrong, but decided to move over to Ezile the next morning.  Ringing Ezile from Agona Junction, the line actually rang as the reception is terrible over there I discovered that they were on their way back to Busua.  Back to the Busua taxi rank at Agona Junction to some surprised drivers & back to Busua for a few hours.

Eventually I spent 3 days and nights at Ezile.  The culmination of stress & lack of sleep left over from my two month Algerian sejourn caught up with me.  No internet, weak phone signal (or climb to the top of the hill on the edge of the bay) and no electricity meant I had days with nothing to do but swim in the wonderful bay that doesn't have a rip tide unlike the coastline nearby.  Early nights, that sent me to sleep with the finest freshest food (mainly fish from Akwidaa village) cooked up by Comfort & watched over by Danielle.  I slept so soundly every night with the waves crashing on the shore 10metres from my cottage door, it was paradise!

I have to admit on the 4th morning I started getting jittery, I hadn't checked my e-mails, not received any calls ... it was time to head back to Busua & Accra ultimately.  It was a sad drive back to Busua for the night (where there weren't any important e-mails!) and onto Accra the next morning.

My final day in Accra, I returned to the conference which was busier than the week before & spent the last few hours in the Fiesta Royale Hotel winding down.  The board of the Aviation Club Ghana returned me to the airport, where I got a flight back to the cold of Europe.




Monday, January 9, 2012

Forfeit

Flying to Algeria I had mixed emotions.  Thrilled to be going to do a job I adore, there were a few loose ends that weren't entirely tied up in regards to my conditions there.

Invited up to the cockpit on the flight, French registered aircraft, French crew, who often speak to Algerian ATC in French.  Not sure who was more shocked, that the captain put me on the frequency to first contact Algiers ACC or the Algerian controllers hearing clear English from a female voice!!!  The F/O repeated our greetings & we approached Algiers & it's bay on a fairly clear day.

Greeted by some colleagues at the airport, we drove across town to my new abode.  I found myself sleeping in a room that was (& would later be) a classroom on a childs bed with a matress that fitted 70% of the bed frame.  Being rather tall, it was uncomfortable to say the least but I kept quiet for a while.

The situation got worse on an almost daily basis; repetitive menu twice a day from a filthy square hole known as the kitchen.  I was moved to another room, where the windows were so rotten, the rain created large pools of water around the room.  Although water was also an issue, not knowing when there would be water to have a shower I was continually juggling my life around to remain partially happy & totally sane.

I've painted a horrible picture.  It was terrible but on the upside I have to say that the Algerians I met were the most wonderful, hospitable people.  They agreed that they couldn't live in the conditions I found myself incarcerated in.  They were shocked by the situation; the only time I was genuinely happy was when I was instructing training courses.

However, I was also happy when I left Algiers & headed east to the town of Setif, about 4hours away by train.  Spending the weekend there with a colleague & seeing the incredible Roman site of Djemila was a fantastic escape.  On the return train trip to Algiers going past beautiful countryside, I received a phone call admonishing me for leaving Algiers without permission & being a troublemaker having taken a colleague with me.

Of course, my wanderings now seriously curtailed made life all the more difficult.  I had forfeited my usual trip down to W.Africa & to do more for CREER to go to Algeria (money was also an issue though!).  By the time Christmas day arrived, I was probably at my lowest point in as long as I can remember.

Suddenly a few things fell into place.  The course I was instructing was due to finish on 5th January, my best friend & 777 pilot had a trip to Accra on 8th January & the students from the Aviation Club Ghana were asking me to speak at their conference.  Between the flight timing & the course finishing to make the flight I made it clear I would leave Algiers on 6th January.  It gave me time to fly home for 15hours to change suitcases, fly to the UK & spend a night with family there before continuing onto Accra ...

I was free!

The final weekend in Algeria was New Years; with Algeria having a Friday/Saturday weekend, we also got Sunday as a public holiday.  I decided to go off & visit the beautiful town of Tlemcen in the west of the country near the Moroccan border.  Absolutely stunning, myself & a colleague spent 24hours there after a long day travelling via Sidi Bel Abbes.  The following day we met up with the third member of the team who got to Oran by train & together with an Algerian colleague & his brother saw out 2011 in 'Le Titanic' ... an aptly named Spanish influenced bar restaurant!

Saying goodbye to the Algerians that I had made friends with was no mean feat, if it wasn't for them, I would have left weeks before!  I'm indebted to them for being the wonderful group that they were!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Life has to go on ...

Following the WAFRIC conference, life had to continue.

However it was incredibly difficult, the board were overjoyed with the success of the conference but there was a massive divide following the fact that I had to host it alone.

The concensus was that the majority of the board would have to resign as we had made a variety of offers to keep the flag flying without success.  WAFRIC is now without the main members of the board which is sad; but out of bad must come good.  A new organisation for ladies is due to be formed to continue the work that had already been started.

On a personal level I had put so much work into the organisation, in my own time conferring with stakeholders; my own business suffered.  Struggling for a number of weeks, I finally decided to sub-contract in Algeria to save my business.

The glass is always half full and it was a close call!  I managed to get an Algerian visa in a morning & a week later I was flying to Algiers as a consultant in aviation training.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Proud, is too poor a word ...

Last week I was in Accra, to host the 3rd Annual Conference of Women Aviators in Africa - wafric.org

Despite a lot of difficulties, the conference was a massive success!

Students came from Ghana, Nigeria & elsewhere ...... professionals flew in from Seattle, USA, Dakar, Senegal & Germany, Ireland & other locations - it was a strong show of support both male & female to get more youngsters into aviation; but particularly female aviators from W.Africa.

Proud, is too poor a word.

There were ladies with us who had got there by bus from Lagos, endured hours of surgery for a disablement I've spoken about before; others who had flown in from South Africa, the USA via Nairobi & other locations to meet us and drive forward the presence of women in the avition industry.

Air Commodore Kwame (Victor) Mamphey, Director General of Ghana Civil Aviation Authority made the keynote speech, well received by all, followed by a strong address by Dr John E Tambi, NEPAD (African Union) trying to demystify the concept of women entering the industry.  Following this Patricia Mawuli made an impact on all present with her story of entering the industry & mentoring the three pilots that followed up with their stories.

http://avtechacademy.blogspot.com/2011/10/avtech-at-wafric-conference.html 

Jessica Cox the 'armless' US pilot confirmed at the very last moment on landing at Kotoka, Accra's burgeoning airport and arrived 20minutes later!  Her speech & presence had a profound effect on everyone there.   To see Jessica meet Lydia Westi who had already spoken during the morning session, watching this young 16 year old Ghanaian pilot with one good arm meet Jessica had me in tears.

Lydia is a student at the AvTech Academy, part of www.waasps.com and proving to everyone that if you can dream it, you can believe it, as WAFRIC's President Kajuju Laiboni instills into everyone!  After two days at the Accra conference kindly sponsored by Ghana Civil Aviation at the Fiesta Royale Hotel the third day was an outing for the delegates.

The AvTech Academy www.waasps.com hosted the most incredible day at their Kpong Airfield having been an integral part of our logistics & other crazy matters to get this conference on the road.  It had people talking prior to our arrival and now for days afterwards.  One of the delegates forgot it was his birthday due to the love of flight.  Six international delegates were sponsored by www.waasps.com to fly with their crew!

A few press reviews:
http://www.modernghana.com/news/353540/1/three-more-international-airlines-to-ply-ghanas-ai.html  
http://www.modernghana.com/news/354796/1/gcaa-improves-infrastructure-to-reflect-status.html
http://www.ghanabusinessnews.com/2011/10/02/we-must-see-beyond-people%E2%80%99s-physical-disabilities-%E2%80%93-jessica-cox/ 
The WAFRIC board are so proud of what has been accomplished, to get more young women into aviation, West Africa will be the first WAFRIC chapter with a determined team behind them!
Special thanks have to go to all the ladies in Ghana, Jonathan Porter of www.waasps.com  http://bradtghanaupdate.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/flying-near-akosombo/, Ghana Civil Aviation Authority, Boeing, Aelex Law Firm, Landover (Nigeria), Charles Sablah of 'Put Jah First' & his walking tours of Nima, Accra  http://bradtghanaupdate.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/walking-tours-in-accra!  
Without their support, West African aviation lovers particularly the ladies might not stand a chance of getting their passion across!!!
My only hope is that C.R.E.E.R will get established soon to provide mechanical engineering to youngsters who might want to move into aviation at a later date.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Yako 5th August in Abidjan & an update

5th August: No gunfire, just a simple accident with bus No19 apparently trying to avoid a collison with a car on the FHB bridge in Abidjan.  Simple isn't the word, it went off the bridge into the Ebrie Lagoon beneath, killing 12 passengers at last count and injuring 9 that were taken to the CHU at Treichville.

Yako a tous; a massive loss of life in a peaceful era in Cote d'Ivoire; not sure if that's the final count.  The fatal 12 deaths are enough.  The bridge judging by the photos released it's a mess and needs reinforcement again.

Trying to be upbeat, www.medicineonthemove.org has some great news about their project along with www.waasps.com having been at OshKosh in the USA a massive aeronautical conference.  'The Calling' the documentary video by Rex Pemberton was screened, judging by the trailer, a sponsor of tissues was probably doing well there!  Here's the trailer by Rex Pemberton  http://medicineonthemove.org/index.php/media/videos/the-calling
Incredible, moving story; if you've not clicked above for almost 4minutes of trailer, you really
don't know what you are missing!  Their young lady, who isn't as abled as the rest of us; 
continues to improve having recently had another operation!  She'll be flying us all soon! 
However a 'product' of www.waaspscom  gave an impressive interview about women in 
aviation and Ghana:
http://www.aopa.org/aopalive/?watch=NlMmZwMjp62dn23PfhuLyLy9ckwog1Ix 
 
http://wafric.org is building up to their 3rd Annual Conference, hard work but very determined 
to get more young ladies interested in aviation!  Hoping to have a massive turnout in Accra 
in late September! 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Who knows of a female pilot in Africa?

I do!

There are many, but as not as many as there could be.

A few years ago it was estimated that there were 6% of females in professional aviation; I believe & hope that this figure has risen over the last decade.

However many children in Africa have no idea; they look above them and believe that the 'driver' is a white male.

Slowly wafric.org is changing this concept.  Women Aviators in Africa has aviation professionals from Africa & beyond who want to make this idea a thing of the past.  In late September 2011, WAFRIC will be in Ghana, the first time to step foot in W.Africa.  Proud to be there, to manage their 3rd annual conference from afar, they will hopefully enlighten others & encourage those in aviation to open up the notions of other young ladies to join the profession.

It has to be said that www.waasps.com is doing just that, a small airfield north of Accra teaching young & predominantly female pilots to fly.  This has to be commended, a small airfield with a boss that has a passion that I thought I had, but he's overshadowed me!  Not just that, but this airfield is teaching Ghana's first disabled pilot (I really hate that word - disabled).  The lady in question has been in hospital for a few weeks now getting surgery, she can only get better I hope!

WAFRIC had another lady from Nigeria, for a few years she was disheartened.  Her father was certainly not going to allow his daughter to follow a profession that really wasn't for a lady!  Bit by bit with help from outside sources, his mind was changed & he agreed to pay for her training in South Africa.  Unfortunately she's still in Nigeria due to visa complications despite that her training was paid.  We endeavour to get her flying & eventually a commercial pilot!

There is a massive need now for 'wannabe' pilots to be trained, the flying generation is getting older on a worldwide scale.  Recruitment drives will be stronger shortly, taking newly qualified pilots on & encouraging them to obtain their ratings as the older generation retire.

WAFRIC hopes to see the un-abled-bodied-person in the skies during the conference in late September ... there is so much to do across Africa, not just for women but for the ladies that are undergoing life-changing operations!!!

Join us, or if it's not possible,we're always in need of funds to get the students to experience flight!!!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Confused ...

It's not just me; it's 'friends' on twitter too ...

Friends don't understand the French involvement in W.Africa, in the past during independance and the current situation.  Living here & travelling regulary gives me an insight into how the politics & economics of the region works.  I was personally shocked by a pre-independance map I had the privilege to see, no countries were marked, just a great expanse of French territory with Nigeria & Ghana outlined in pink.

So, France seems to be very much involved in current economic affairs in Cote d'Ivoire as well as being dual spear-heads on the assault against Ghaddafi.  Russia & China vetoed out of both UN sanctions ... Russia had already signed via Gazprom (?national energy company) with Gbagbo; did they also come to an agreement with Libya?  My head is spinning!


That's the first part of my confusion ...


The second involves a young boy aged 15 now; he's at school, 'college' in Cote d'Ivoire who came online to talk to me after knowing me for 5yrs+.  When I quizzed him about being in a cyber cafe rather than at college, he told me that his teacher died yesterday.

Later I chatted to the director of the children's centre he lives in to find that the FRCI had killed his teacher.  I am confused.  I thought Cote d'Ivoire was calm now without any problems and certainly not government forces killing people.  Maybe I don't have the whole story, but it's worrying ..

France is now firmly re-implanted in Cote d'Ivoire.  I'm sure Sarkozy would like to be elsewhere in Africa particularly W.Africa.  The French left as the English did but the difference being that they left taking a lot of infrastructure & blue prints with them upon independence.  It's left W.Africa needy for French assistance.  This might explain why there is an influx of W.African French in France as a tweeter reminded me.  The fact that the infrastructure was torn out didn't leave much for those who wanted to re-build the country.

I hope that the same will not be said in the near future in Cote d'Ivoire if it all goes wrong; however the First Lady is French ... time will tell.  Having spoken to French special forces posted there during the crisis, I do wonder!

Yako mes amis

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

L'avenir or the future

Gbagbo was caught, IB was shot and this week Ble Goude is coming out of his shadows - could make for a great movie ...

Personally, I'm concerned, I will admit to being a French resident but am worried about the future French involvement.  I can see Cote d'Ivoire being a semi-colony of France which wasn't the objective during independence.  Last weekend I was talking to a French soldier who was in Bouake from December until April, with a few others ready to make a strike, they left before Gbagbo was captured or the strikes were made across Abidjan.

French Special Forces aren't to be messed with, this one left with his colleagues before it all got nasty.  We were in touch whilst I was there, hence I knew movements & my personal safety whilst I was in situ.  The messages I got whilst on the ground were difficult to deal with; I couldn't disclose the situation earlier due to the situation of their mission.  I felt sometimes like I was on a knife edge knowing too much possibly, but wanting the best.

I was there when things weren't that bad when you compare with what happened in March & April.  Predominantly I was there for C.R.E.E.R, to have a meeting with the Mayor which took a month to arrange, at the same time I needed to go to Burkina Faso for work.  I never got there, I'm now in a difficult situation; C.R.E.E.R isn't as it should be especially for our partners in Canada & I'm without work - which in France without a salaried position isn't funny.  It means that I must continue to search for work, I don't get any social help & am close to shutting down my business ..

So where to go from here?  I don't know .. we're now submitting papers without any assistance & hoping for the best; I believe it will work out, C.R.E.E.R will be an entity shortly in Cote d'Ivoire:   We have to be soon, I'm right behind that but any assistance is a bonus!

C.R.E.E.R needs setting up soon, our future director saw kids of 10 or 11 on the streets armed with guns.  The Mayor said that he needs time to get his political career sorted; it's now 10 months since our first meeting with him (prior to the crisis) to get this going.  I realise & know that this is not a political issue but surely the future of Ivoirian children are an issue???

Someone prove me wrong please!

Yako mes amis; surtout a Yop et a ailleurs!!!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Is this the start???

Of something new?

A new government without enemies?

A new country heading to re-grow it's economy?

A different life for the children?

I don't know.

But it feels like Ivoirians are 'free', I wish that it's all true, but it's early days yet

With the death of 'IB' yesterday, maybe this growth will happen, the children will see some sort of stability, maybe we can get C.R.E.E.R fundraising motoring - who knows?!

Sisters, brothers, YAKO - we're not the same but we have to unite in this new world that is Cote d'Ivoire; I'm not Ivoirian but to see the country stabilize & grow would make me very proud!

Tomorrow is 'the royal wedding' which makes me mad that the world press will be there but yet so few made it to report on the conflict with the exception of AlJazeera & BBC ... all those that did make it to Cote d'Ivoire during the conflict should be proud to have shown the reality.

I heard today that the genocide was very real, people found cast in concrete whilst they were alive ... it's all shocking but I hope that they will live very long lives to pay for this!

A final word in French from an Ivoirian friend involved in C.R.E.E.R

Ouf enfin la guerre est finie en CI, et le travail pour la cohésion sociale est aussi en train de se faire. La paix est de retour en côte d'ivoire , on peut l'affirmer sans faux fuyant . D'ici quelques temps on ne parlera plus de conflit , le pays pourra donc se lancer dans sa phase de développement économique. Mais les nombreuses victimes de ces conflits ont été les enfants qui n'ont pratiquement plus de repères parce qu'ils ont plus de parents et sont donc exposés à tous les vices de la vie . C.R.E.E.R veut offrir à ces enfants un nouvel espoir à un avenir meilleur en leur apprenant un métier à partir d'une formation et aussi assurer la prise en charge psycho-éducative de ces enfants . 

Yako mes amis!