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ENCHANTÉ’S TRAVEL ALBUM – INDIA ON WINGS AND WHEELS

GOMETESWARA statue in Balegola – India (Credit Ganga Saran, Calcutta.)

While stationed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, between 1980 and 1984, for the World Bank, we traveled with the two kids, David and Samantha, (8 and 6), through India on several occasions, from east-west to north-south: wonderful and unforgettable experiences. Some pictures you may remember from your own travels in that intriguing part of the world.

How did we travel? By air (it takes three hours to fly north-south), taxicabs, and rickshaws. We visited palaces and temples of artful architecture which showed the richness of India in the Middle Ages and earlier, while Europe was building its own cathedrals and palaces.

We watched the Gometeswara statue above in awe on our way from Bombay (now Mumbai) to Bangalore. The kids were still too young to feel ‘shocked’ by the enormous penis, but on a beach in Goya later, daughter Samantha pointed startled at a live male nudist’s penis because to her big shock it dangled precipitously.

Dave and Sam in front of the impressive Palace at Mysore in southern India, a huge complex designed by Englishman Lord Henry Irwin and built between 1897-1912 after the old wooden structure burned down. Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV and his mother Maharani Kempananjammanni Devi, commissioned  Lord Henry to build it. The royal family lived in these palaces since the 14th century.

A photograph of the Hoysaleswara temple at Belur. Here is where Sam and Dave disappeared in the dark inside. Worried about child kidnapping in India, we found Sam later sitting with a local family, selling mango fruits as if she had become Indian. They did not want to be photographed. When Sam ran back to us I sneakily took a picture of them anyway.

Notice the natural Indian beauty of the young women selling mangos, squatting with – probably – their mother.

The ancient Indian art of temple sculpture is breathtaking. You see much of that art spread throughout South Asia and the Far East (Indonesia).

Of course, we had to visit the Taj Mahal (“Crown of the Palaces” – in Hindi) in the city of Agra while staying with friends in New Delhi who kindly babysat the kids for this trip. Joy is shown with the Taj Mahal in the background. My grandfather, a great-uncle, and father went there too, so it became sort of a pilgrimage for me. For Joy, all travel in India, in particular Bombay and the south where her family hailed from, was an all-out pilgrimage to visit her roots. Her family name in Guyana being Jaundoo, we searched the English language Bombay telephone book, which listed the name Chandoo. In Guyana, it had become Jaundoo. The pronunciation was exactly the same in Hindi, but spelled differently in English in British Guyana.

The inside of the Taj Mahal glorifies Persian, Mongol and Indian art. It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperorShah Jahan (who reigned from 1628 to 1658), to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal (source Wikipedia) Next to the Taj Mahal is the tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah, commissioned by Nur Jahan, the wife of Jahangir, for her father Mirzā Ghiyās Beg, originally a Persian Amir in exile. I’timad was an important Persian official in the Mughal Empire, whose children served as wives, mothers, and generals of the Mughal Emperors.

From Agra we traveled to nearby Fatehpur Sikri, a remnant of the capital of the Mughal Empire in 1571 built by Emperor Akbar, serving in this role from 1571 to 1585 (Wikipedia). It is a remarkable assembly of impressive buildings which excel in structural simplicity.

From there, we traveled to Jaipur to complete the Taj Mahal ‘triangle.’ A historic old town with a remote castle on top of a mountain that one can only reach by elephant.

A ‘Joyful” elephant rider: the elephant seems to like her.

Following are two local Indian paintings we bought in Jaipur. The one with the Hindu figures we could not get because the store where we saw it displayed in the window case was closed. Indian friends of ours – thanks again Anand Seth if you read this blog! – who are from Jaipur purchased it for us later. The other painting displays a typical Indian rural scene as we encountered them on our travels by car.

Back to New Delhi to pick-up the kids to travel to Srinagar in Kashmir, a  state torn by strife between Pakistan and India, now dangerous for tourists. We spent there a week in a houseboat on the lake at Srinagar, from where we traveled around Kasmir with its beautiful scenery that reminded me of Switzerland.

Following are some more pictures of fascinating Kashmir with Joy, Dave, and Sam:

It was great to relax in Kashmir. But on a day trip with a rented car, we got a flat…and no spare in the back! I had to walk to a nearby village to get some young guys to help me carry the tire to a local workshop to get it repaired. The young guys said proudly: ‘Kashmir is Pakistan.’ They were also proudly Islamic. It reminded me later when I sat with Palestinian colleagues looking over the Dead Sea at the West Bank mountain ridge. ‘There is Palestine,” they said, as proudly. Behind the scenic beauty in the world, strife is not far behind.

Meanwhile, Sam took it easy: she ate an apple I plucked from a nearby fruit yard, with the scenic valley and Himalayan mountain ridge in the back.

Next album: Darjeeling and more.

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ENCHANTÉ – SANTA CLAUS AND SAINT NICHOLAS

Are Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas the same or ‘brothers’?

Daughter Sam figuring as Santa Claus at Georgetown Visitation, Washington, D.C.,  schmoozing with Papa John.

The Dutch (and Belgium/Luxemburg and northern France) celebrate ‘Sinterklaas’ (or Saint Nicolas in French) on the evening of December 5 and the morning of December 6 (Belgium/France). In Holland, this is a major festivity, which keeps the children in great expectations of what gifts they will get, on the condition that they behave well. The Dutch Sinterklaas is the precursor of the British/American Santa Claus, which is celebrated at Christmas. Most Americans probably don’t know that, but the American Santa tradition emerged from the Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam, now New York. How this happened is lively described by Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinterklaas)  and I will not repeat it here, but as a Dutch family in the US, we celebrated Sinterklaas with the children when they were young (from 4 to 8) and still believed that Sinterklaas really existed.

Sinterklaas comes around on a white horse that can fly over the rooftops, and drops gifts through the chimneys with the help of his servants, called ‘Black Peters’. The origin for this story is that at some stage the bishop Nicholas moved from Turkey to Spain in the middle ages, and in Spain, wealthy people had servants from northern Africa (‘Moors’) who are brown skinned. The ‘Black Peters’ are nowadays in uproar in the Netherlands because of a culture clash with inhabitants from Surinam and Africa, even though Black Peters were never considered a ‘racial’ matter before. But politics have a tendency to destroy the fun of long-established national customs.

At the time we were on assignment in Bangladesh (1980-1984), the Dutch diplomatic and foreign aid community always celebrated Sinterklaas enthusiastically, and for us parents, the period leading up to it was a perfect time to keep ‘the kids’ in good behavior. Every night they put their shoes out (in the living room) and if they were well-behaved they found a little gift from Sinterklaas. If they did not behave well, they could be ‘punished’ by Sinterklaas when, on December 5, they met him and his ‘Black Peters’ who would put a bad boy in a jute bag to take him to Spain to drill school (of course, if they put one in a jute bag, he was released a short while later).

The main differences between Sinterklaas en Santa Claus are that Sinterklaas rides a horse that flies, and Santa sits on a coach pulled by flying reindeer. Sinterklaas has Black Peters as servants while Santa is accompanied by elves who do not punish children for bad behavior. William Bennet wrote an interesting book about ‘The True Saint Nicolas’ worth reading: https://amzn.to/2LxG8lg

Below follow some pictures of a happy Sinterklaas childhood.

The Dutch Ambassador, H.E. Pim Damstee, receives Sinterklaas at the Dutch Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh, surrounded by expat children, and followed by his ‘Black Peter’.

Son Dave (6) absorbing a well-deserved dressing-down by Sinterklaas, reading from his notes about Dave’s bad behavior he’d heard about. Dave narrowly escaped the jute bag.

Sam, whose behavior was more cautious in the face of possible ‘punishment’ by a Black Peter, walks away happily with a gift.

On return to Washington, years later, the Sinterklaas fun continued for the grandkids, at the Dutch Embassy in Washington, D.C. The festivity is organized by the Dutch club “DC Dutch” in collaboration with the Dutch Ambassador.

The Dutch Ambassador, H.E. Renée Jones-Bos, receives Sinterklaas at the Embassy for the annual Sinterklaas festivity (picture dates from December 2011). We knew Renée when she was a young Third Secretary at the Dutch Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh where we became good friends. We met her again when she was stationed in Washington as Embassy Counsel, and given her brilliant reputation, we were not surprised to see her nominated Ambassador to Washington years later, one of the highest posts of the diplomatic service.  In 2012, she was appointed Secretary General of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the highest level of the civil service, a post she held until 2016 when she became Ambassador to Moskou where she is still today. She was selected as ‘the most powerful Dutch Woman.’ Quite a career!

Son David in animated discussion with the Ambassador, her husband Dr. Richard Jones (UK), a writer, sharing in the amusement.

Black Peter entertains grandson Preston and his dad.

Next, Preston John meets Sinterklaas, expecting his gift.

Sinterklaas hands Preston John, called PJ for short, his gift, Black Peter looking on. No jute bag this time.

PJ’s younger sister, Sadie Rose, takes Sinterklaas and all Black Peters for granted and goes for a snooze. She knows she will see her gift later,

PJ to the contrary is admiring his gift.

Merry Christmas to you all, from Santa Claus!

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ENCHANTÉ’S TRAVEL ALBUM – BANGLADESH

 

We entered Bangladesh airspace on New Year’s day of 1980 for a four-year World Bank posting assignment, with son David (4 1/2) and daughter Samantha ( 2 1/2).  From the air, the territory looked like water all over. The Biman Airways pilot came from his cockpit in his white robe, kneeled down, and bowed toward Mecca for his morning prayer. We hoped the first officer would keep the shaking aircraft steady.

Flying over land-rice field after rice field

Flying over, we saw rice field after rice field and more water.

Approach to Dhaka
Approach to Dhaka airport

The outskirts of Dhaka looked like an extensive garden. But when we landed, all hell broke loose: hordes of Bangladeshi young men offering their services. Our first experience with an overpopulated country where everybody is fighting for a dime (or Taka, the Bangladeshi money). Fortunately, World Bank staff had come to receive us and guide us through diplomatic immigration while our suitcases were loaded on a huge heap outside on an uncovered platform (nowadays that has all been substantially modernized!).

We were put up in Hotel Intercontinental until we found a home a few weeks later in the Gulshan neighborhood to stay. Our colleagues also lived in that expat residential area. It was a large house with a lovely coconut tree-bordered garden, but it took some considerable bathroom adjustments to assure us of appropriate comfort and hygiene…

Backyard by night

At night, with the full moon, the backyard was a dream come true for a Dutchman grown up amidst oaks and beeches. For Joy, hailing from Caribbean Guyana, it just felt like home.

During weekends, especially in December when the weather was dry with warm subtropical temperatures during the day, cool at night, the yard was a wonderful place for our kids and their many friends to have party fun. Below, Joy cutting another birthday cake, with head servant Paul looking on.

The kids enjoyed themselves. Our children grew up in a ‘multicultural’ environment.

Dave and Sam on the left, with their Montessori teacher Mrs. De Souza in the background and top right, Dave’s math teacher. 

Striking features of Bangladesh were its ships on the broad rivers!

My portfolio concerned industry, energy, and banking. A major industrial project included the multi-donor financed construction of an 1100 t.p.d fertilizer company, seen from the air below.

Ashuganj factory
Ashuganj

We traveled monthly with a group of local donor representatives to Ashuganj in a diesel-powered train through the flat land covered with rice fields and small rural villages to supervise construction progress and solve project issues. Below is a picture taken from the train window,  representative of the Bangladeshi flat land scenery.

Next came a natural gas drilling project (needed to feed the fertilizer company), a very exciting experience. Below the jubilant flame when we hit a gas find after a night full of suspension!

Because of the distances and weak road connections, many of my energy trips needed to be carried out by helicopter, which also provided a thrilling opportunity to see the country from the air.

On the way to the helicopter
Railway bridge over the Mega River on the way to Ashugansj

I also followed  American entrepreneurs involved in oil production and visited their projects. See below one of the rigs I visited.

Below the proud Bangladeshi Energy officials, hoping for a break to help their poor and overpopulated country (100 million+ at the time I was there, now grown to 160 million!, the country with the highest population density of the world. The majority is Muslim.) The fellow in the orange shirt was an American oil man.

Other field trips were carried out by road (with local office drivers, who were very good). There we met workers hacking bricks from clay, dried in the sun, and then pulverizing the bricks again for gravel, depending on the construction needs.

What to do if a road is cut by flooding?

Two solutions: go back home or cross in a little boat, and continue with another vehicle waiting across the ditch, which we did and which landed us in a welcoming village with doe-eyed beauties.

They smiled at us when we left, after having handed them a few hundred Takas for posing on the picture.

After four years and many adventures, our two kids had grown up nicely. Here they are, in our backyard, in front of the poinsettia, with bikes we got for them on our R&R trips to Bangkok. 

One last look at our coconut trees on a misty morning in December

And farewell it is, to two of our closest friends, the two of us (Joy extreme left, me extreme right) with Jim Curry, Deputy Chancellor of the Canadian Embassy and his wife, Cynthia, who also hailed from Guyana!

Next: our travels to India.

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ENCHANTE’S TRAVEL ALBUM – V CAMEROON

This is a picture of Katoucha Niane, a model from Senegal, showing the eccentric beauty of African women. After living in Mali and Senegal, she moved to France where she started modeling and became well-known. She lived in a houseboat on the Seine in Paris and accidentally drowned in 2008 at the age of 48. She led a movement against the cruel custom of female circumcision in Africa, which is still practiced in African countries, especially in rural areas.

CAMEROON

On my many travels in Cameroon in the early nineteen-nineties to review and improve the status of the transport network on behalf of the World Bank, I admired the 80-meters (260 feet)  waterfall at Ekom-Nkam. Due to its steep fall, it reminded me of the Kaieteur Waterfall in Guyana (which is 120 meters deep and somewhat wider). It is a beautiful sight in the middle of the jungle because, as the Kaieteur Waterfall, its environment has remained natural.

Not far from there, we discovered a viaduct being built in the middle of the jungle for a road financed by the World Bank (!), where works had been abandoned because of faulty pillars and errors in the investigation of the thermal resistivity of the soil. A huge and shameful “white elephant” wasting millions. That was the point where I got very upset and recommended a totally new approach for a much more efficient transport sector management in Cameroon instead of the piecemeal, uncoordinated development projects. After much ado, it was accepted, though not without difficulty, by both the Government and the World Bank, and became the “Transport Sector Project,” (TSP), including the management of road, railway, shipping, and airline transport. Despite many setbacks due to bureaucratic resistance, it succeeded.

The pictures below were collected by Mr. Jean-Bernard Sindeu, then Chief of the Transport Sector Project Unit in the Ministry of Transport, who directed the critical local steps to move the TSP ahead.

On the road with the Minister of Transport, H.E. Issa Tchiroma Bakari (fourth from left, in yellow robe), a remarkably good man and supporter of the “TSP”. He is now Minister of Communications. The gentleman with the beard, Frenchman Jacques Bret (third from right), was the lead engineer-consultant on my team and a great friend.

Traveling…the many thousands of kilometers, spotting the bad sections and status of often absent road maintenance.

Conferencing stop with the Minister

What happens when roads are not maintained regularly, and trucks are overloaded. This truck driver did not survive.

Road maintenance/rehabilitation underway.

Rural women using the roads on foot to market their goods: we developed built-in separate project components to facilitate marketing and road safety for women.

A stop at a local market where you find amazing things for sale and lots of fresh fruits.

At the side of the road, you see a small class of children being taught or perhaps it was a ‘daycare center.’ Up front a curious young boy. 

Our caravan stops at a road crossing with another market. A child wanders on the roadway. Children often roam the streets in villages but more so in cities. The poor fate of lost children in African cities is very problematic. Les enfants perdus or the street children (orphaned due to religious wars, sheer poverty, and carelessness of parents) deserves a separate blog. See https://johnschwartzauthor.com/blog.

A sector-wide project with five main components (roads, railway, Douala port, shipping and Cameroun air) takes many studies and negotiations to prepare. We often had more than 100 Cameroonian staff attending in the room and endured long days of arduous talks and tiring field trips. But in the end, it paid off.

All beginning is difficult.

Trying to make the point…

Interim talks with Mr. Jean-Bernard Sindeu, the Chief of the Transport Sector Unit, to bridge disagreements. Jean-Bernard became later Minister of Energy and Water Resources and signed some important agreements for Cameroon. Having identified Jean-Bernard in the early stages of the TSP as a capable Cameroonian coworker to become the Unit’s chief, and seeing him rise to the rank of minister was a nice example of “capacity building.”

Dr. Amadou Boubacar Cissé, who in his younger years was already a Director General of Public Works in Niger before joining the World Bank,  ably advocated the importance of a coherent development approach of Cameroon’s road network. Amadou became later Vice President in charge of Operations of the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where I worked with him as well before he returned to Niger to assume the function of Prime Minister.

Another view of beautiful Cameroon and the topographical challenges of its road network. Most of Cameroon speaks French (official language of ‘ Cameroun’) but in the eastern part (along the border with Nigeria) English is spoken, all the ‘fault’ of colonial times when France and Brittain dominated Africa.   

There are many more stories regarding the railway rehabilitation, the rationalization of port management and shipping, and fights (with Air France, a minority shareholder) over money-losing Camair, but the above seems enough to give an idea of how we fared in Cameroon. The project came to fruition in 1996, the year I retired from the World Bank.

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ENCHANTÉ’S PICTURE ALBUM-IV, MORE OF AFRICA

Woman in Kenya

Sorry that ENHANTÉ had to be away for a while due to a surgery in the house, but we are back alive and kicking with more of Africa. Why? Because it’s so big and so intensely fascinating.

Let’s start with that EQUATOR! Learning geography in secondary school, I never dreamt of experiencing being at the Equator. A picture of my dad drew my curiosity even more.

This picture was taken near Pekanbaru on Sumatra. Dad was selling his world’s best Van Vollenhoven’s Beer in what then was the Dutch Indies, now Indonesia.

I followed suit at an “Equator” boot set up in Burundi, reportedly to commemorate the meeting of Stanley and Livingstone in 1871 about ten miles south of Bujumbura.

Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

I worked on Côte d’Ivoire from 1985 to 1987, definitely one of the most intriguing periods in my World Bank life. The country was led by Président Houphouët-Boigny (nicknamed “Le Vieux”), a remarkable personality. In the early nineteen-eighties, he designated Yamoussoukro as the capital of Côte d’Ivoire, instead of Abidjan.  Yamoussoukro was his birthplace. The village was previously called N’Gokro and renamed after Queen Yamousssou who was in charge of N’Gokro at the time of the French colonization. ‘Kro’ means ‘village’ in the local language.

Houphouët was assisted by a French “Technical Assistant” not less illustrious than him: Antoine Cesareo, a gifted and powerful civil engineer, born in Tunisia, who became the Director of the General Directorate of Large Works, and with whom we dealt in all our transport and urban works projects financed by the World Bank. He was, among others, the supervisor for the construction of the Basilica of The Notre Dame in Yamoussoukro, a prime project undertaken by Houphouët. It is reportedly larger than the St. Peter in Rome (which caused friction with the Pope) and cost a fortune that superseded by far the Ivoirian budget. The cost became a bone of contention with the donor community, in particular the IMF and the World Bank, but if it had not been for Cesareo, it might have cost even more. I only saw the leveled construction site (looked like two football fields). It was completed in 1995. It has a capacity for 18,000 followers, but as a rule, less than 1,000 attend the mass on Sundays.

photo credit: Felix Krohn

Another interesting feature of Yamoussoukro was Houphouët’s palace. The whole family lived there. Reportedly he himself lived modestly only in a small part of the building.

More interesting were the crocodiles that populated the groove along the palace. They were a gift from the President of Mali (Côte d’Ivoire has no crocodiles) and were fed fresh meat every day. Once a gardener got too close, got caught and was devoured.

I took this picture in 1985 when Antoine Cesareo accompanied us to Yamoussoukro.

Yamoussoukro housed a huge hotel – also handled by Cesareo – and several other buildings, among others an engineering institute, all generated with the overview of Cesareo’s “Grands Travaux.”

Below a picture of the formidable Cesareo, signing off on an urban project we had negotiated with him and his staff (all French) in 1986. The great Cesareo oversaw personally most of the civil works, roads and other infrastructures in Côte d’Ivoire and became the major cost cutter and anti-corruption activist. 

The amusing aspect – for me as a Dutchman – was that Houphouët insisted on French technical assistance helping him govern Côte d’Ivoire as he had no confidence in his African civil servants. French being the French – including the World Bank staff on my teams – frequently had loud arguments among each other, defending the service they were assigned to, the African staff just looking on, stone-faced. Even while negotiating in Washington – and Cesareo was a shrewd and tough negotiator – I had to calm down the French ‘shouting matches.’

I am signing off on our negotiating results on an urban development project with my good friend François Amiot looking on.

These particular negotiations lasted a whole week till late in the evenings. The last evening, while we were battling the final conditions of the agreement at 10 PM, it had kept snowing heavily over the Washington D.C. area. We didn’t know, but many commuters traveling home got stuck on the highways and had to abandon their vehicles. It was complete chaos. When we finished, our Ivorian guests could not find a taxi. Cesareo and his staff had to walk to their hotel in the deep snow. Cesareo on his black pumps! He was not amused, as we heard. I remember driving home that night to Alexandria on a deserted 395, lined with hundreds of abandoned cars.

   

Left, a glimpse of Hotel Ivoire (Intercontinental) in Abidjan Cocody where I often stayed. The next three pictures show the Golf Hotel located at the Abidjan Lagune. From its beach, I could watch the contours of Abidjan where I had worked during the day (shown below). When I stayed there in 2001 on a consulting assignment with the African Development Bank, Gbagbo overthrew President Konan Bedié who, in the early nineties, had been selected by Houphouët to succeed him (over Wattahara, who had been running the Government during Houphouët’s last days). I had to ‘evacuate’ hotel Golf in haste – with dead bodies in the streets – and could just catch the last Air France before the airport was closed. Gbagbo threw the Ivory Coast into utmost disarray for ten years until Wattahara (a former IMF Director) was finally elected to put Ivory Coast back on its feet.

  

Much of what you see above are state-of-the-art works overseen by Cesareo.

 

Above a few pictures of Côte d’Ivoire’s lovely beaches where one could spend the weekends, eat the best lobsters freshly picked from the sea, and watch Ivoirian parties with fanciful ladies dancing the booty.

Next time  Cameroon

 

 

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