Next: Science is now so complex that we can no longer ask What? We can now only wonder Why?

This Blog used to be about the question: What is Science?
Now, it asks: What is Happiness?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Here's to Jack!

Ok, so every so often someone crosses your path and out of the blue make ripples in your psyche.

This time it was Jack Picone.
Sounds like the hardass hero of a 60s detective novel and you wouldn't go far wrong if you imagined a character from a Dennis Lynds tale. For, like Dennis' detective, 'Dan Fortune', Picone is a photographer with a heart, whose work is underscored by a personal need to grasp what it means to be a creative character in society.
And some of Jack's society takes us on a sometime horrifying, sometime querilous journey through, amongst others, many of the war zones of recent history. Add Art to Reality to the Photographer's eye to the emotion of a critical moment, to the heat of conflict, and the ease of dying, take it out, frame it, show it and we are left with as much the question of what it is that drives the man behind the camera as the images we are given.
Jack's website is a generous offering of his work, including a feast of his features. This is a website that begs to be part of a bedtime laptop and tea session.

Have a look yourself.... ......

But the occasion of my meeting Mr Picone and spending some illustrious hours crawling the Indian eateries of Nairobi a few days ago has made me ever more aware of how much a photograph is as much about the photographer as the subject.

There is a vast difference between gazing at just the images of the much vaunted 'Longnecks' and then hearing the photographer talk about the extra-image story. These are Kayan women (a cultural group who have migrated from Burma into Thailand) who adorn themselves with neck-elongating rings.....end result >> great tourist attraction.
But once you have read the accompanying text to his images, or heard Jack's story of the day the women took their rings off and went 'jolling' in look at the pictures again and they have quite a different ring. (xtp).

Anyway, whilst in conversation with young Jack, I perchanced upon a shared interest - oh, wouldn't it be nice to fly aeroplanes.....just to get to see what it is like....

So, one thing lead to the next and I, inspired by the idea, resurrected my flight simulation habit, dusted off my aviation manuals, reconstituted my IVAO membership and gingerly plonked myself online at a very busy Brussels International Airport. For a few hours I just watched and listened to the radio chatter that took a virtual world into the virtual virtual and watched as plane after plane took off and landed, all under the very serious control of a stranger I will never meet in person.
I thought about filing a flight plan....maybe to Milano, a short hop, but broke out in a sweat at the thought of my rusty coms skills. Wait till Friday and fly from an African airport....
I recalled once when Sarah, my daughter, flew SAA from Cape Town to Frankfurt. I went online and duplicated the flight for 11 hours.
The next day I commented on the great sunset and orange clouds she saw before landing....'How the heck did you know that?' she said.

Sometimes the 2 dimensional world we create is as good a memory maker as the 'real' one.

Nuff sed!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Once they were Jap Crap..

There was a time, in my memory, when the riders of British bikes looked at us cheapos on our Yamahas and Suzukis and yelled, 'Jap Crap'!
And they certainly did not go round corners quite like the Triumph Bonnys and legendary Norton Featherbeds. But, in time, they watched, copied and improved and now Jap bikes are world leaders on the race circuits of the world. Pretty damn expensive to boot.
Now, life in Kenya can follow 2 well heeled routes, depending on the financial cushion between you and the potholy streets of Nairobi.
If you are in the employ of USAID and happen to be stationed in Kenya, you get an automatic 60% on top of your US $ salary. Whilst Kenya is outrageously expensive (about on par with Washington DC), this kind of income enables you to experience the world from the comfort and build quality of at very least, a Toyota Land Cruiser....built for Africa...driven mostly by first world NGOs. This also allows Kenya to get away with the most unbelievable prices for most things. Take a bottle of cheap $3 SA wine (Chateau Libertas, Fleur de Cap). These are at least $20 (R140) a bottle here. An average pizza at a nice Italian restaurant will cost R90-00 ($12-00) and fuel is over R12-00 a litre.

If, you are a South African whose currency is weirdly losing ground against the Kenyan Shilling, and you NEED 2 wheels to be happy (and mobile) then your buck is best spent by buying a bike in SA and riding it here, because everything is about 100% more expensive here. Yes, you can get small cheap Hondas and KTMs but, guess what, they are made in China. The Jialings (like I own in SA) seem inferior here too. I was told that there are real Jialings and fake Jialings.

So here I am, desperate to get cheap transport (ie a motorbike) and (as seen in earlier blog) have run scared from the corrupt and opportunist second hand market to the seemingly safe haven of a new bike.

So, I got the new TVS 125 on Friday.

Today I decided to give it a thorough check (done 75km).

This was motivated by a light bulb popping out its socket after the plastic holder melted.
The more I dismantled, the more I checked, the more horrified I became at the shocking quality of manufacture. I am actually lost for words. Bolts seem to made of pewter and stripped as they exited the nuts.
There and then I made the decision to remove anything that shone or clicked and replace it with homemade panels and second hand Jap switches. This way, I can ride a minimalist bike and as soon as I can find a good Jap bike I will replace all the bling and sell this disgusting piece of crap.
The question is this: Much of the research I did on the net re the TVS Victors was praising the bike for its quality and reliability. Could it be that TVS is sending inferior models to Africa? If so, then I fear the oncoming recolonization of Africa from the East.

So you don't think I am imagining things have a peep at these images.....

The chrome is so thin that 3 days of riding is enough to wear it down to copper.

The paint job on the tank has overrun on it and when I queried a dent in the tank at the shop, the saleswoman said, "What's wrong, it's only a dent."

Horror of horrors, I tried to adjust the chain and the adusting bolt just stripped as I tightened it back in again.

Are they made of chocolate or what!

the battery was half empty and the terminals had clearly not been checked since they left Pune.

On top of all this, the main headline news in Nairobi, is that South Africans are slaughtering their fellow Africans. There seems to be a mass amnesia of the years during which our subcontinental neighbours hosted the exiled resistance against Apartheid.

In a desperate attempt to find some sanity, I visited the German embassy to see if I could get a visa to visit the land of maintained technology and maybe just touch the paintwork of a travelling Aprilia...smell the exhaust of an 1150 BMW or stroke the head of a real KTM....

When the Askari at the security heard I was from SA he said, "What is wrong with Africa! Why are we killing each other?!" I muttered something like, "Well, if zenophobia doesn't get you, the Oriental bikes will."

Nuff Sed.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Wanna be a TVStar?

Yippee! Finally on 2 wheels (with a motor) again!
As I mentioned before, my BIG New Yrs Rezz from '08 is to get more mobile in less time. That means travelling more and further and being ready to hitch up my horse in under an hour, no matter where to.
My dear late Grandfather (Oupa Benny Boy) used to get all glassy-eyed when he told us tales of the Boer War (1899 - 1902). 'The best years of my life' he always said.
What I really remember most was his telling how they always had to be ready to get up at the drop of a hat, or the first sign of Tommy (Brit soldiers) approaching. Out of bedroll and onto horse as quickly and quietly as possible, and then melt into the night, to live to fight another day. That is the stuff I found the most exciting.
So, I took the leap and bought a brand new, 'made in India', TVS125 Victor. Life in Kenya will never be the same again! I am planning my first trip, as soon as the little beasty is run in...and that is to Tanzania down past Kilimanjaro. Wow! Woopee! Will take lots of pickies and put them on my blog.
Ida is also 'in haar skik' so to speak, as she has finally got the car of her dreams...see the pix!

There is connecting thread in this story.
In 1911 my Granddad headed up to German East Africa (now Tanzania) with a friend and spent 2 years having East African adventures, based on his cousin's apple farm in Arusha.
Arusha is the target of my first '125 in Africa' ride. Don't somehow think I'll find the cousins though.
When I was to return to Nairobi a month ago, friends and family expressed concern for my safety. People are killing each other up there, they exclaimed. Sadly, from here, all I see is 'people killing each other down there.'
For heavens sake, Africa, Myanmar, Sri Lankar, Iraq, Palestine, the list never seems to stop. STOP THE KILLING!!! Is the veneer of civilization really so paper thin?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Kenyan Corollas

I thought I could get away with having a cell phone without a camera. But recent events in Nairobi have made it clear that I need to upgrade to the Nokia E61i. 'i' standing for 'imaging capability'.
Otherwise, the E61 that has been my faithful techno-companion for the last year is perfect - global internet, cheap calls, wi-fi, Skype, music, movies, Excel, Powerpoint, Word, GPS, the list is endless.
However, where it fell short by having no camera was on, having no pictures because of lack of proper camera and unwillingness to drag a R24000 HiDef video around I am now asking you to....

....Picture the Scene.

Nairobi. River Road.

For those not in the know, River Road is the dark and lengthy equivalent of Warwick Triangle in Durban, South Africa. Or maybe some of the more illustrious parts of Hillbrow in Joburg (SA). The main difference is that River Rd is perported to be dangerous after dark, whereas the equivalent SA experiences are dangerous anytime.
Notwithstanding, this is a foreign place for pale skinned me and I have been regaled with tales of horrendous adventures down River Road by equally pale skinned males inextricably attached to competitive and focussed NGO women of note.
(Come on! You've got to have some risk in life!)
(Author's note: If you are unable or unwilling to take the River Rd safari there is a great book by local writer 'Mwangi' called 'Going down River Road'. It is only available at Savani's Bookshop at the new and very upmarket Nakormatt Westgate Mall. where you can enjoy up and down escalators and the finest capucchino outside 'Dormans'.)
Anyway, back to reality.
After 6 months of delaying my return to Nairobi through the endless endgame that comes with fine film making back home in SA, I returned to my emotional home of 82 Kyuna Crescent, Westlands, Nairobi.
Ida is well pleased at my being back as she has been soldiering on here, all alone with nothing between her and the wild Savanah but a huge veggie garden, big raptors, the occasional monkey and three delightful girl animals, Kinky, Mandu and Tuscany.
Then there is Steve, 'Wunder-gardener and house man', who is even more delighted at my return because it means leave for him, at last.

Steve works weekdays here at Kyuna crescent, having been one of the main reasons we chose this piece of Kenya to dwell in. He was the Askari (guard) here whilst the property was empty. In his spare time he created and nurtured a huge vegetable garden in the bottom third of the property.
It was natural for us to request of the Owner, Mr Patel, a local steel industrialist, that Steven should remain under our employ as we were fully aware of the benefits of a talented gardener and the nutritious products of his labour. Mr Patel would hear none of it as 'Steven is one of my best workers.'
However, after some strategizing and offer making we realized that our South African normality of paying decent wages to working folk would finally persuade Steven to opt for a green-fingered future and ... us.
An income of R600/mth ($80) is average for a 6 day week in Kenya. This is illegal in South Africa and indeed was even in the darkest days of Apartheid. It's something called 'minimum wages'.
Thus it was that Steven graduated from being a Kenyan 'house boy' (as is local useage) to being a trustworthy and self-managing man of many talents at the Smith-Jooste residence in Kyuna Crescent, Nairobi.To start off we would peep out of the bedroom curtains and watch him at work in his garden, seemingly oblivious to the fact of new management. Then the 'greens' started appearing at the kitchen door, chopped up Skuma-weeky. So called because this local spinach variety grows on the side of the road with voluminous abandon and the saying goes that if you are hungry before the end of the problem...skuma weeky shortens the week.This somehow grew to Steve preparing basic meals for Ida when she worked late and now with some culinary direction from memsahib Ida, Steven has blossomed into a Courdon-bleu chef of note, complete with monthly subscription to a local gourmet recipe magazine. Seems like the lad has found his true calling.
So, Steve, a few weeks back is peddling his ubiquitous black 'Hero' bicycle back to his house in the Eastern part of the city when wham! he is knocked down by a Mutatu. (local minibus taxi driven mostly on the pavement and somewhat excessively).
Steve is ok, but the bike not.

So, I get back to Nairobi and Steve starts to arrange his annual leave. Being a liberated man, it is clear to him that now that Bwana Smith is here, Memsahib Ida has a cook and bottlewasher.
For the last week before he heads off to Kisiiland to see his parents, his wife and two young kids come and stay at Kyuna. Ida and I are feeling ebulient about Life in general and hugely appreciative of Stevens' general bonhomie. So, we tell Steve that we are going to get his bike fixed or ... maybe..get a new one. The huge toothy smile that greets the second option seals the deal and I suggest he takes me to a bike shop en route to the bus station on the morrow. We all agree that Nakormatt (close, smart supermarket) will be much more expensive than the (how much Steve?) 6000 Shilling price at his shop.
Early bells and Ida and I emerge to a Toyota Corolla laden with suitcases, family, striped shopping bags, water bottles, and a very eruditely turned out Steven, all ready to hit the road.
By the time I discover where Steve's bike shop is, we are already in River Road. Mistake number one. Never ask motoring advice from someone who has never driven or owned a car. River Road traffic is akin to the greater unwashed of the world being dumped into the traffic around the Arc de Triomf. Fortunately Kenyan Corollas have a nifty button that pulls the wing mirrors into the body so I manage to narrow our footprint as I try to imagine how I am to find parking and then load a bicycle into the car.
That's when it happened. Wisps of steam coming from the bonnet. I see something half way up the windshield - it is the heat gauge needle. I hit a left, onto a lucky flat bit of pavement and go into automative survival mode. It's been a long time since this happened....but it's all coming back to me...don't open the radiator cap - it will explode. Do open the cap, else the radiator bursts. The three Mutatus behind me are hooting now - I have stopped on the taxi access ramp. Back in the car, start it and park it up on the pavement. Makes no difference to the pedestrians as they walk in the road anyway.
Somehow between my Masaai blanket and the vicegrips that I carry everywhere I go I gently ease off the steam pressure and persuade Mrs Steve, who by now has, kids and all, exited the car, to give up a bottle of their drinking water. The proper way I recall, is to run the engine while slowly pouring in the cold water. What I don't know is that Kenyan Corollas lock themselves when you start them and close the doors.
Ohoh! The doors lock, the radiator cap is gripped in the teeth of my vicegrip, inside the car, the water is now funnelling out of the open cap like a New Zealand geyser and all of River Road is wondering what on earth this mad Mzungu is doing here anyway. I grab the battery terminal and pull it off - easily, as such things are never tightened on Kenyan Corollas. The engine does not stop! I then grab at the plug cables and eventually all is quiet, except of course for the River Road buzztrack. The driver's window is a tweak open, my arm can only go in to the elbow. Steve tries, he pops his elbow thru the gap and opens the door, his arm now firmly stuck in the window. I have a moment of sheer horror as I wonder which way to press the electric window button. Will I release his arm or chop it off?
With both his arms intact, no bicycle and a newly completed tour of the backstreets of Nairobi, Steve and family head off for Kisiiland...and I, eye on the heat gauge, head back up the hill.
Nairobi's roads have now reached saturation point. The rate of imported Japanese Toyotas arriving is exponentially faster than the rate the new Chinese imperialists are building roads. Well, rather the Chinese are funding the building and the Kenyans are building. The Chinese are clearly after the ample raw materials and trade opportunities and the local road builders, well, shall we say, are building..slowly. The biggest delay seems to be that every time an extra lane is levelled and laid out alongside the freeway into town, an equal amount of time is spent piling small rocks onto the cleared area. Why? To stop the Mutatus using it as an overtaking opportunity of course. Then the next day the stones are all taken off so the builders can build and so on and so on.
So it's Friday and the mother of all jams is building up. I decide to take a back route because there's only one difficult 3-way stop as the car is overheating imminently. There appears to be some sort of accident in the middle of the intersection....Cops all over the place, 2 cars stopped in the middle of the road....I spot a gap and hive off into a Shell garage, get out the car, now pulsing with steam and walk back to the corner to check out the scene. Well, no accident, just a police road block and a clearly highly irritated Italian trying to appease a recalcitrant policeman alongside a huge Pajero, so new that nothing in the world could possibly be wrong with it. I start to imagine the conversation.."My friend, eet ees making a beeg problem here for the other cars. Maybe I can help you out a leetle with some nice Palermo vino, some nice girls with thighs like ravioli...""Are you trying to bribe me sir! I trust you are aware that we in the Nairobi City Constabulary view such actions as being counter to the ethics of our profession...."
Dream on Smith, dream on.I return to the car, loosen the cap, drain the steam, fill it up with water and try to start it. No luck, I pack my bags and walk home, happy at last.
20 minutes en route, I get a call from Ida to say she has severe chest pains and is rushing to hospital. She tells me to get a taxi and meet her there. I run there and get to the the Aga Khan Hospital 1 and a half hours sooner than the taxi would have.
For the next 3 hours we experience a different world. Gentle caring medical staff, efficient and fast tests and treatment for Ida. R800 later, an ECG and blood tests confirm no cardiac infarcations, just extreme fatigue and stress. We head off home in a hired Kenyan Corolla, delivered to the hospital by Josephine of African Adventure Travel.

We now have 3 hired cars, 2 Corollas and a Rav 4. Out of all of this Ida hopes to get a long term hire deal on a small 4x4. It is increasingly obvious that Kenyan Corollas are not the best way to dodge potholes. Their wheels are just too small.

Wind forward to Monday. We have successfully got rid off one Corolla. Ida is about to drive to work in the Rav. I notice the one stop light is faulty so I check the fuses - 2 of them are jimmied with wire. The car will not start. I check the battery. The terminal is broken and jammed on with a nail. I pirate fuses and a battery from the Corolla and get Ida off to work and get down to connecting up our inverter in my workroom. Why, I don't know. There has not been a power out in weeks here.

Maybe this is where all our load shedding in SA goes to. But somehow I don't trust this Indian summer. It's bound not to last.

Welcome back to Nairobi.

budgie - May 2008

p.s. Found another RAV today. Half the price of the troublesome one and twice as good. It's even got 2 large sexy spotlights on front. Did a serious test drive, tried the radio for BBC World (Thank god!) and are now holding thumbs that we will at last have a vehicle reliable enough to take all our 2008/2009 visitors on, come on you lot...come and visit. The return fare ex Dbn is only R4300-00 and you'll be collected from the airport in a shiny silver 4x4, you'll be accommodated in the Masaai room with a gentle view of our very own Maragetti river reserve and enjoy daily free breakfasts in our treehouse diner.

In the meantime I am continuing my search for 2 wheels. Today I did the tour of the bike shops, from Yamaha to Jialing. Good bikes available, mostly out the box models that we no longer see in SA. So if you want a classic Suzuki TS185 (like I lusted after in 1971) then Kenya is the place. There is one problem however. The process of getting your legal number plates (registration) takes up to 6mths after buying the bike. It appears that the delay has increased from 6 weeks to 6 months since they computerized the process. Now there is total computerized chaos. I also now understand why so many bikers are riding around with no number plates!
If you feel that the above is a touch of Afro-pessimism, well I guess you are right. However, once you are familiar with how things work here, it can be a really cool place to be - especially if you thrive on 'Do-it-yourself'.
Someone like Clive Read would manage perfectly and end up living a life of luxury with lots of wildlife issues to get stuck into. (see
Me, I'm still trying to work out the balance between the first world and third world Smith. Can they co-exist? I suspect they can...but it will take some more months of problem solving and low crime to really get good at it.
Meantime...what are you waiting for...come and enjoy the wonderful and friendly folk here, the safe-by-night feeling and the endless variety of great restaurants....and bye the way, we have uncapped satellite broadband from Stuttgart in Germany.

Lesson Learnt exe!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mombasa & the Kilifi girls!

Seeing as my 2008 New Year's rezz is 'more balance..more mobility' I started my 2008 Kenyan tour of duty with a Mombabsa Sandwich.
Recipe: Take 2 glorious hot equatorial days on either side of a feel good/do good film project (2 heaped days). Preferably get someone else to pay for the hotel by reminding them how cheap a free meal really is. Finally add a 45min turboprop flight on either end, make some new friends and try out the HiDef on your new Sony.
The Mombasa Serena has to be a best kept secret...price of a holiday Inn in SA due mostly to the lack of tourist interest in Kenya at the mo'.

The trick to travel is to find a job where you get paid in kind. The moment money comes into the equation there is a sudden loss of interest in seeing the world. But if the former is the deal then you have no option but to ... opt for the lifestyle of an errant gigolo.

And this is where balance comes in. The filling of the sandwich comes with slightly different accommodation - a touch closer to the real Mombasa.

So after soaking up some deserved luxury Ida & I headed off to meet Anthony and the Kilifi Girls....where we stayed for the next 2 nights, complete with a loo that seemed to have sunk into the ground and lost its lid.

The real difference of course between the 2 overnight experiences lies in the young people we encountered. At the smartipants hotels I saw endless bored EuroYouths playing ping-pong with Euro-music plugged into their ears. The hotels are designed to make it totally unnecessary or desireable for anyone to want to leave and explore the outside world. I guess they make more money that way.

Despite such cynicism on my part, it really was rather jolly to lolly around on deck chairs and sip cocktails and after all, this is also a very real part of the East African Safari experience...better still if you can juxtapose it to another world just outside.....

At the Kilifi Girls' Home, the kids are all ears and eyes for anything new. They hang on every word and engage all visitors with pure love. This is all packaged in a remarkable and very Waldorfian sence of self discipline. Ida and I were amazed at how unregimented, yet disciplined the 36 girls were. We had a truly memorable time there and cannot wait to return.... see
In addition to being home to 36 girls, the orphanage is run as a bio-sustainable enterprize with solar power (which needs some attention!), a small farmyard and biogas from the animals. It is a real opportunity for first world enviro-techies to interface with a project with potential.
The philosophy of the home is to give young girls (many of whom have been rescued from a life of child prostitution, begging and abject poverty) access to the best education possible to maximise their chances of getting into university. These girls can now have dreams of not only a better life but to one day be opinion leaders in their own country...

I chatted to 2 lasses who are keen to be pilots, showing them FLight Simulator on my laptop.
One, Brenda, who has never seen a plane close-up, asked such astute questions about aviation that she is clearly a talent waiting to happen. At a very young age she was taken from her home near Lake Victoria to Mombasa to be sold into prostitution and servitude but ran away just in time. She was picked up on the streets and spent some nights in police cells until 'Uncle' Anthony took her under his wing. Now she has dreams of flying. It is truly moving to have an opportunity to be part of this transformation.

Filled with the joy of sustainable living, I returned to Nairobi intent on setting up my alternative power system. At the moment it is a battery inverter system but in time I hope to convert to solar which will be more in keeping with the spirit of sustainable energy. All this activity has not gone unnoticed as seen by the interest it is gettin g from our local monkey population. Or maybe it is the sheer beauty of Ida's rose garden......!@?