Saturday, 10 February 2018

Pilgrimage to Vietnam

I recently made a scientific trip to Vietnam, a country in central Asia, I knew it as a place of war and every person who knew of my intended trip asked jokingly if I had enrolled in the military. A country with a population of 95 million and a capital city’s seat in Hanoi, which is also the second most populous city in Vietnam. Upon landing in Noi Bai airport and collecting my visa my privilege and monotony of the English dialect got extinguished. I initially thought that the Vietnamese speak Chinese only to realize they have their own language and several dialect which were far from the Chinese symbols. I knew myself as not among the tallest persons but at Noi Bai airport I was towering high above everyone else only slightly falling below some few Europeans octogenarians arriving for holiday in the east. I forgot to mention that while on the emirates air I met with a crew lady supervisor who by my skin colour guessed my origin and with her broad smile we ticked and exchanged smiles for a millisecond before she showed me the aisle leading to my seat. After claiming for my bag at the carousel I headed to the Forex bureau to exchange my US dollars to Viet Dong. I have never been a millionaire but that day I became one after changing each dollar for 22, 500 Vietnam Dong. For once i held in my tiny hand several half million notes in VND currency. Am told that the people from the most populous tribe in my country  the “kikuyus” are everywhere in the globe but this time I found a lady from Vihiga with her European boyfriend on their way to the beaches of the near-pristine coastal environment in the south of Vietnam and hiking in the Vietnams’ mountains. It is unique experience when people of same nationality meet ten thousand miles away from home. So we hugged and bid each other a nice stay in Vietnam as her husband finished changing his dollars to Vietnamese Dong.
The drive from Noi Bai to Hanoi took 45 minutes of dead silence as we could not communicate with my chauffer. Blame our ignorance. 
Fortuna hotel in the heart of Hanoi city

Fortuna Hotel is a five star hotel in the heart of Hanoi with excellent service and respectful men who will greet you with supported hand and call you sir seven times in a ten word statement. I am not sure where Karaoke started but you would be forgiven to think it was born in Vietnam. There are Karaoke nights every day in every big building in the city.
I always hear about people from Cambodia eating reptiles like snakes but I did not know that there are people of Vietnam whose amphibian meat is the frog delicacy. Fortunately during their buffet treats they will always label the food but if you are the kind that’s scoops into food following its aesthetic appearance then you will eat things you have never imagined on the dining tables of Vietnam, the frog is marinated to the appearance of a small chicken drumstick. That’s how at the sight of frog meat and sushi made with raw seafood and rice my appetite for meat and seafood vanished never to come back till when I landed back at JKIA.
If you are a student of anthropology and ethnography you will like studying the people of Vietnam. They are organised and in the city of 10 million inhabitants and over 7 million motorbikes I did not observe a single motor accident.
The unity and the love the people of Vietnam have for their country is unparalleled. During my stay the U23 national football team defeated Qatar at the semi-final match. The fact that the Viet boys were booked for the finals for the first time in history, the inhabitants of Hanoi coloured the city with red flags with a yellow star. Men, women and children flocked the city celebrating the great show of might by the Viet boys. Girls jumped behind motorbikes as boys drove round the town swinging flags high above heavens and patched their cheeks with small flags. 
Vietnam Vs Uzbekistan for U23 Asia cup finals
The excitement was palpable and the police could not for once control the locked city of Hanoi. Coming from a conference dinner I was gifted with a Vietnam flag by one of the celebrants – I still have it in my house – at that time I thanked the almighty for allowing my country recognize dual citizenship since I had a choice of where I would love to call my second home….dreams are valid…
For moments we came Vietnamese

The Viet boys were to be defeated by Uzbekistan during extra time, in a game that was played in a snowy afternoon in China, so they took second place in the Asia football cup finals. However, the Viet boys had inscribed their names in the annals of Asian football history as inspiration for years to come. The visit to north of Vietnam at Serena Kim Boi was an experience to live for. A magnificent place with manicured lawns spacious hotel rooms with clear balconies facing the Hoa Binh Mountains.  
Serena Kim Boi resort, North Hanoi

It’s my norm while in a foreign country to look for my countrymen and I managed to virtually locate a lady working deep in the streets near long Bein Bridge in Vietnam. It’s true everybody is everywhere in this wold and anyplace can be home. I finished my week long stay in the country which has seen more enemies than friends. Fought by the French for independence and the by the Americans during the Vietnam War pitting the northerners and southerners. A country disliked by China as they want the oil reserves in the east Sea region held by Vietnam and claimed by China. A country surrounded by Laos and Cambodia am still not certain who between the two is a friend and who is a foe. A country not far away from Myanmar the seat of hard times, but a country full of gusto and hope ruled under a single party and one can forgive them for they know what division portends in the disguise of democracy. A country where the president is elected by the national parliament and not the common citizen. A country which is a great exporter of shoes and electrical products with an extremely long coast line with myriad of food, vegetables and seafood. If you are looking for a country to visit in Central Asia look no further. I came to you in the name of dog poop but I now hope to see you again as a tourist. Goodbye Vietnam! 

leafy hat worn by Vietnamese while at work

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Escapade to Tororo

When my friend Sam mentioned that we would make a weekend outing to Tororo Uganda, it was like pure Alice in wonderland. Sam’s demeanour can take time to interpret. In his soft and well calculated words you need to lip-read and discern his mood since he affords a smile at unexpected moments. So as he mentioned about our visit to Tororo he was smiling sheepishly and hardly could I tell whether he was serious about the matter. This was Friday and come Saturday he appears with a backpack tightly fastened on his back and in his casual wear barely could I think we were in business. He asked me “ready for Tororo”. I looked at him and asked “were you serious?” and he clicked in his usual sarcastic manner and prolonged my name “nkt….Tituuuuuus” as if the stretch meant next time I should take him serious….i had only one option so I responded “yes I am, what time do we leave?” “2 pm” he said. Since we had this conversation at work in the border town, where the number of motorbikes outdo people by count, I jumped into one motorbike and whispered to the rider “Amerikwai” Now the name of my residence is akin a twisted nickname of the last letter of the acronym USA. Within 7 minutes and few seconds I was getting my gear ready for a journey I knew nothing about…Tororo is a town East of Uganda approachable from the west of Kenya, mostly through Malaba border. However, being Southward of Malaba border meant that we would cross the border through Busia and head north. Despite going to pick my backpack after seeing Sam with his, to my disappointment Sam said that on second thought he could not go with the backpack because the Uganda police may disturb and may confiscate his bag thinking is was a laptop….So he ordered me to leave my backpack behind and my obliging made him offer the second sheepish smile. We walked to the border crossed like street boys caring less on crossing highway while red traffic light is far on countdown. No police cared to ask where we were going or if we had all the necessary documents  including ID card/Passport, and yellow fever certificate. Even though we had all these we lacked the most crucial trans-border pass acquired by neighboring citizens when visiting Uganda. In our interpretation we were not really visiting Uganda, we were going to Tororo, and those two are not synonymous so were in betwixt if it’s a critical document to go for, and we judged on the negative. When we got to the other side Sam almost got into a Scuffle with a BodaBoda rider who ferried us from across the border to the main stage, the cause of the scuffle was he did not drop us at the designated point. Having been dropped far from the stage Sam told me we were to get to Tororo via a motorbike …now Busia to Tororo is 50 Km….I could not imagine lying my butt on a motorbike for one hour plus on a road that was rough squared. However Sam was too optimistic and again I obliged and he smiled sheepishly. We were to use the same motorbike and we so bargained for the lowest offer and we got a customer ready to ferry us to Tororo at 7,000 UGS. After few minutes ride you get to a road as straight as an arrow and we could literary see the road vanish into the horizon in front of us….The motorbike broke down twice on our way and once we helped repair it nevertheless the rider was not keen to give a dime for our service or revise our fare downwards….after one and half hours ride we were near Tororo cement factory in the outskirts of Tororo town and Sam mentioned that we should have lunch since we had not eaten anything while leaving our motherland….Where I come from we do not have a variety of cuisine or so I suppose. My hopes were on Sam since in the last few hours I had realized he knows much about Uganda and their way of life. I could then only wait for him to make and order first and i would tell the waiter “same”. Sam asked for Posho in another name known as Kawunga and when his order came I realize I was Ugali so I changed mine to Matoke which was steamed green bananas (but not Plantain) and served with meat. (This we too eat in Kenya) Naturally, I eat very first even my supervisor knows, but this time Sam beat me at my own game. Within few mintues we were full and on a taxi (in Kenya this means Matatu) headed from the outskirts of Tororo a place with a cool restaurant often visited by Indians and known as Rock classic. This is the place where the fine and the non-fine mingle at the same table. A place for secret silent savagery, a place where vultures vanish vulnerably and a zone for zigzagging zombies. Nevertheless the attraction of the steam bath and the Sauna is heavenly and once you get into the Sauna and start dripping sweat all your problems drip away like drops of liquid plasma. You forget the troubles of eons and see the beauty of life ahead. The sweat slowly make a thin stream from the seating position and slowly you watch if form a river in the imagination of the world and almost dose off in the intense heat as the skin follicles dilate and let off the troubles and traumas of “yester” days. It makes you look yonder and breathe the newness of life. The girls on the side who seem to have seen more heat higher in temperatures than that the sauna hold it longer inside the sauna than men. And one by one the men start leaving the Sauna to sip few cups of coffee available on the table outside. Some drink it with lemon some do it back and conc while others including your truly add a couple spoons of sugar. The steam bath is the next place to get into minutes after the Sauna and as the ladies melt away in the heat of Sauna the men bath in steam. At their very last breathe of hot steamy air, the very last they can hold, they dash out to jump into the swimming pool. I watched in amazement as all this unfolded in my very eyes and I asked “where have I been all this time”. Even though I could not stay long in the Sauna or spend 5 minutes bathing under the steam as hot as hades, I had no iota of doubt that i was experiencing life in hard copy with every imagination of fun unfolding below the bridge of my nose. Being a teetotaler, I let Sam have a bottle of the “Nile” and after seating down to gulp more glasses of coffee to replace the water that drained as our bodies sweat we started our journey back. We did not want to try the massage offered by the Ugandan girls because of two reasons: One it was as expensive as their smiles and second we were not sure whether the seven letter word was meant to be just ‘’that’’. It had started drizzling so we tried to stop the boda boda outside the gate of Rock Classic and many of them declined. We were not sure why and something told me that the gods had told them we didn’t have the trans-border pass. Luck got to us and we got one boda boda who gave us a ride back to Tororo town. Now the clouds had fully gathered and the rains were almost starting to pound. We jumped into one car and negotiated for fare while inside…fare back to Busia border…Within no time the vehicle was full and we started our journey…barely had we gone far than the rains fell like skies had cracks. The vehicle ferrying us got stuck in mad and to make it worse the headlights stopped working… had become dark or why else do you think we had to leave Tororo. The driver of our car told us that he could not proceed with the journey. Luckily we had not paid. I looked at Sam in panic since we were stuck in a foreign land, late at night, without a border pass….Sam looked back and for the third time smiled sheepishly, and I almost got upset. I really wanted him to join me in panic. The Busia Tororo road has no many cars that can ferry people but luckily another car approached us but heading back to Tororo town. We chose to get in and go back to Tororo town trusting that the driver would get another route since the one we were was now impassable by any Japanese second-hand car (or third-hand car especially now that this was in Uganda, where they import vehicles after the end of shelf life). The driver was ready to use another earthen road albeit smooth to ferry the passengers to Busia. That’s how we got back and at 9 pm we were crossing the border back home without the interstate pass. The relieve I got when I made my step into my mother land is equal to the joy of a new mother giving birth to twins….I looked at Sam, he looked back and smiled sheepishly…we bid each other goodbye and we have never discussed our escapade to Tororo to this day…I hope we shall after he reads this story.

Friday, 17 November 2017

The Casbah of Algiers

The Casbah of Algiers is one of the most interesting areas I visited in Algiers…The meandering and curvaceous roads that lead to the hilly fortress makes it difficult for huge vehicles to navigate.
When one gets to the houses of the Casbah you are greeted by very narrow seemingly old corridors that feed into the whitish concrete houses inhabited by low class people of the city of Algiers. The houses around the Casbah have very little ventilation and one has to bend severally to avoid smacking their heads against the concrete roofs. The stair cases on the Casbah go round and round akin going to the high heavens.