Friday, October 15, 2010


The bluest skies you'll ever see are in Seattle....
Anyone but me remember that song? It was the opening for a short-lived TV show, BRING ON THE BRIDES. My sisters were crazy for the star, Bobby Sherman. I was really young and don't remember anything except the theme song.
Anyway, while I was in Seattle the skies were pretty blue. I understand this happens only in the summer during the seven days that I am in town. I was in Seattle from July 8 to July 15 visiting my Seattle (formerly New York City) friends Margaret, Andrew, and their perfect child.

Like Abidjan, I spent a lot of time outside - walking, eating, and drinking. Unlike Abidjan, I was not making friends with thousands of flies. And the water didn't smell bad. Oh, and Margaret and Andrew were there and we had good conversations and watched bad reality TV. The Lord and Master isn't much for conversation, yet.

Then it was off to LA, where I rented a car and drove to Three Rivers to see my friend Carson, her partner David/Dark, their assorted pets, and Sequoia National Park.
Here I am next to a fallen sequoia and a small waterfall:

Here's Carson atop a big, big rock.

The next day we went to a snow-melt fed river to sun and swim. You know what snow-melt means? It means cold. You know what else it means? One heck of a strong current. I am a water person, and I LOVED this, but the cold and the strength of the water really took me by surprise.

Carson and Dark's dog. Who's a good dog? He's a good dog.

Out of Africa - for awhile now

Goodbye Abidjan, land of winged termites.
No more sweeping up the wings in rainy season.

The day I left Abidjan - June 24 - there were flash floods. My only concern was how would this affect traffic on the way to the airport. Really, you get very focused when it's time to go. I had reservations at a hotel in Paris, folks! I was meeting my sister Pat.

Here is Pat at a cafe near our hotel.

Every time I go to Paris, I climb something. This time we climbed to the dome of the Parthenon. The view was (as is usually the case with places that are popular for tourists to climb) worth it. Though I admit this view of the parking lot is lacking.

I wanted to go to the Parthenon because Louise Braille is buried there. Louis Braille is one of those things I happen to know a lot about. I had an excellent childrens book on him when I was little, and in Grad School, I wrote a play on him.

Braille invented braille when he was 12 or 13. Two theories - he was a musician and wanted to write music; he was a kid and wanted to pass notes in school. I like the later better. He was actually buried in his hometown, but in the 1950's when France finally got around to making braille the official alphabet for the blind (sighted people kept insisting on raised letters - braille was a grass roots movement) they interned him in the Parthenon.
Here is a bust made from his death mask:
And a copy of his signature. Yes, he was blind.
So give him a break on the handwriting.
So, the thing everyone wants to know (everyone who knows about my interest in Louise Braille) is: Is his name written in braille on his tomb?
The answer is no.

I honestly cannot think what idiotic philistine was in charge of the decision NOT to put Louis Braille's name in friggin' braille on the tomb that HONORS him for inventing BRAILLE, but whoever they are, I'm sure they were an arrogant twit. And don't give me any, "Oh, but all the tombs in the Parthenon are the same, blah, blah, heroes of France, blah, blah." His name should be in raised dots, damn it.

Ahem. Happier thoughts. Here is Pat at the Church of St. Sulpice. It has one of the world's largest organs (which sounds kind of dirty). We attended mass, listened to the organ concert, then lined up to go up into the organ loft. I thought it was neat, but I know nothing about organs (again, sounds dirty). Pat, however, played the organ back in her Catholic schoolgirl days, so she had lots of questions for the organist.
I had no real interest, so I took this picture.
And now it's time to say goodbye to Europe.
Posts on my exciting home-leave in the United States of America are on the way.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Alternate Route

I used to always take Plant Road to work, but lately I've been favoring le Rue Alpha Blondy.
Here is the route on a nice day. This is a suburban neighborhood. I pass a church, schools, and businesses such as this drop-off laundry mat.

It wasn't terribly busy this particular morning. Sometimes the line is loaded down with stuff. As you can see, it's all done by hand.

And this maquis. You can get fish, chicken, and bush rat. Call for reservations! They handle marriages, anniversaries, and baptism parties!

One day there was a huge traffic jam. I had never seen anything like it. As you can see, we have three lanes going down the hill. Technically, there is only one lane. It all choked up at the intersection of Rue Alpha Blondy.

Plus you have cars and baccas (small commuter buses) turning on to the road.

From both sides! Honestly, it is not usually this bad. I think there was a big accident on Plant Road this day, so there were three times the amount of cars on Rue Alpha Blondie.

These two guys came out into the intersection and started directing traffic. I tipped them 1000 CFA (Currently about $2).

Rue Alpha Blondy is named for his house which is quite grand. The first time I saw it I thought it was a mosque. Rue Alpha Blondy has been getting worse and worse since I've come to Abidjan. I've been through one rainy season and am currently in the middle of another. The road is deteriorating.

This is Alpha Blondy. I think he should spend some of his money to repair the road. Yes, sure, the government should be doing that, but they aren't going to. He should show a little noblesse oblige and/or community good will.

Just this past week there were some massive rain storms. The pot holes at the Rue Alpha Blondy have become one giant pot hole.

When I drove through this on Friday it was a huge puddle. When I drove through today (Sunday) I could see just how bad the pot hole is. It stretches across the whole road, and is up to a foot deep in places. Sigh. I might have to go back to Plant Road if just for the sake of my tires.

Good Govt Means Good Plumbing

Moronou is a small village located on the highway between Abidjan and Yamoussoukro. We gave them a small grant to restore the village's two wells.

Another success story. They got the money, they fixed the wells, the village has water. Not all of our small grants work out so well. Heck, my first trip to see Self-Help projects in the Western Coastal region was not nearly so positive. That's why we do these inspection trips.

Here is the logo I designed on the well wall. It cracks me up that I keep seeing this whenever I go to a Self-Help project. My guess is that they put the walls and gates around the well to keep the animals out.

The first well is in the market place. Here is the street the well is on (you can see it on the left - the blue building.

Here is our driver Henri buying produce in the marketplace. Food is much cheaper outside of Abidjan.

The second well is across the highway and it's main purpose is to supply the clinic and school. This woman was using the second well to fill plastic bags of water. She will probably sell them on the side of the road to thirsty truck drivers and passengers on buses.

Of course we met with the Chief and Village Big Wigs. They thanked us for helping with the wells. We expressed our pleasure at seeing the wells so well (hah!) managed. They said that now they would like a water tank so that they can have pressurized water. We said that sounds like a great idea, and they can apply for another grant which will be reviewed. We asked for permission to take leave. We shook many hands. We then headed back to Abidjan.

Centre Mie N’Gou for the Physically Handicaped

Ready to Represent!
Here I am at the Hotel President in the capitol Yamoussoukro. I'm ready to head out and view more Self Help Projects.

We went to the Centre Mie N'Gou for the Physcially Handicapped. Before the political crisis it was a top rehabilitation facility for the handicapped. Here's the view from the laundry area.

Sister Miryam is working to bring the place back. The Canadians rebuilt the physical therapy room and donated the new equipment. That is the only part that is being used right now by day patients.

The facility is getting ready to take in borders again. The French Military rebuilt the private rooms. The Somalian UN soldiers refurbished the bathrooms. Still looking for a donor to restore the childrens dormitory.

Sister Miryam is quite the fund-raiser. She is absolutely determined to get the center back to it's glory days. Despite the center's facilities going to pot, she had photo albums full of pictures of children and adults who had been helped. Often it's getting a child a leg brace or an adult a wheel chair.

The US has given a small grant to buy educational materials. Here are the school kits that have been purchased. Books, paper, pencils, pens, etc.

And we bought two sewing machines. This is for retraining education - helping the newly handicapped to develop a new skill.

A gift from the American People! I designed this fabulous sign in about 20 minutes when I first got to Cote d'Ivoire. Now that I'm traveling around I keep seeing it. Had I know I would be leaving such an imprint on the country, I might have put a bit more effort into it.

Where the Chocolate Comes From

This is a cocoa pod.
And that's my hand holding it. Inside are the cocoa beans from which chocolate is made. Mars Inc. get's 40% off all their chocolate from Cote d'Ivoire. Think about that the next time you eat an M&M.

What was I doing in the cocoa region? I was visiting a Self-Help project. A school for the children of cocoa farmers in the village of Petit Yamoussoukro.

Because the US does not recognize Cote d'Ivoire's unelected government, there is no aid to Cote d'Ivoire. However, there are small humanitarian grants to Non-Government Organizations. I volunteered to be the observer for one of these Self Help projects. Petit Yamoussoukro got a small grant (about $10,000 US) four years ago to start a school. They have been wildly successful, expanding from first grade to first though fourth. From one building to four. From one teacher to four. We just gave them another grant to buy desks and "kits" (workbooks, notebooks, pencils, crayons, etc. for each student).

The cocoa farmers were taking their children into the fields with them. Not to work - this wasn't a case of child labor - but because what else were they going to do with them? So, the school was embraced by the community. In fact, the school is so successful that neighboring villages are sending their children. There are now 140 students.

Here's George - the Self-Help Coordinator - standing in one of the four classrooms which are traditional buildings made from wood, mud, and palm fronds.

What is very impressive is that the village cultivates a field of rice and uses the profits to support the school. They are doing well enough to build their new classroom out of concrete.

That's a pile of 12 desks that arrived at the village broken. They were damaged on the road. Below is a picture of the road. This is a good part of the road. It takes a little over an hour to get to Petit Yamoussoukro on dirt roads.

We stopped by the carpenter's shop in Oume and spoke to the carpenter. He promised to send a workman to the village the next week to fix the desks. We also stopped by to talk to the local government official about getting federal funds to help train the teachers. Luckily, George was there to do most of the talking. I just sat and looked representative of the American People.

I (the American People) received a lovely outfit. I got to keep this as it was an official gift from a national, state, or local government (i.e.; the Chief and the school board) and has a value under $335. I was pouring sweat.

And a rooster. I did not keep the rooster. I told George (our Self-Help Coordinator) and the Henri (the driver) that they could duke it out for the rooster. Mr. Rooster is now running around George's back yard.

The nice thing about cocoa trees, is they do not do well in clear-cut fields. They like shade, and other plants. So they are environmentally friendly. Cocoa is such a complex flavor that it has been impossible to reproduce it chemically. So, the production of cocoa is a big concern to US companies like Mars and Hershey. Mars, especially, is investing heavily in Cote d'Ivoire. They want to eradicate any hint of child labor, and make sure that the "witches broom" virus that has devastated Brazil's cocoa industry does not infect the West African trees.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Incinerator/Power Plant/Statement

This is a common sight in Abidjan. It's a pile of trash and garbage. Eventually, someone will set fire to it. I live in a very nice neighborhood and we have trash pile that gets burned every once in a while.
When I was in Vienna, my sister's boss asked me about Abidjan and I brought up the pollution. He immediately suggested that Pat take me to see Vienna's incinerator/power plant. Pat thought that was a great idea. They both told me it was something to see. I thought it would have a big flame that looked pretty at night. Nope, fire has nothing to do with its appeal.
Vienna's incinerator looks like this.This is Fernwarm Wien. Here is my theory. The architect got high, watched Yellow Submarine, and then designed the perfect incinerator/power plant for the Land of Oz.
Unfortunately, there are no tours and there is no gift shop. I would have so bought post cards, mugs, key chains, and magnets. There was a poster in the subway station, and if I could have found it for sale anywhere, I would have bought the poster.
It sits on the Danube River. There are walkways around the whole facility, so you can get a lovely view of the river and the building. It's not in any of the guide books. The guide books need to get cracking.
It is, in many ways, just a normal incinerator/power plant with lots of decoration. But if you're going to have public utilities, they might as well make you stop and stare in a good way.
I think a lot of my excitement/love was due to my current situation. The pollution in Abidjan is so awful, and it really gets me down. Vienna was so clean. And on top of that, they took the time and the money to make their incinerator into a wacky artistic statement. The people of Vienna really love their city.