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 It is reportedly larger than the St. Peter in Rome (which caused friction with the Pope) and cost a fortune that superseded by far the Ivoirian budget.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
“Out of Africa” 2. Burundi.
Like Rwanda, Burundi is a small but heavy populated country inhabited by two tribes, the Hutu and the Tutsi. In Rwanda, the Hutu majority killed off the ruling Tutsi minority in 1962 and governed the country until 1994. In 1972, the minority Tutsi regime in Burundi was challenged by a Hutu rebellion, which also had genocidal proportions, but the regime held power, although it was disrupted by several coups afterward. When I joined the World Bank in 1972, I was tasked to develop the Bank’s non-existing lending program in both countries and we had succeeded relatively well when I changed jobs in 1979. In 1994, the tribal conflicts resumed in Rwanda when Tutsi refugees from Uganda took power again after a horrific genocide in which up to a million people lost their lives. It started when the Rwandese president’s plane in which also traveled the Burundi President was shot down while landing at Kigali airport. Everything we had achieved was destroyed in Rwanda’s civil war. In Burundi, it was not much better. Rwanda stabilized in 2003, but Burundi remained plagued by repeated rebellions. Most horrific was the rebel’s and the Burundi army’s use of children between the ages of 10-16 in direct combat. The UN and the African Union had to intervene. Working on most of Africa was tough.
This picture shows me with the driver of the Peugeot 404 at the border post between Rwanda and Burundi in 1975. My Director, whom I accompanied on this trip took the picture.
The old colonial Paguidas Hotel where I stayed. Greek-owned. A Greek restaurant next to the hotel served fatty Greek dishes and meager chicken without meat. At night, ‘single male guests’ were surprised by knocking on their door, hearing a soft female voice saying, “c’est moi.” I suspected they were led to our rooms by the receptionist, who probably got a cut if the ladies found a willing customer. Complaining did not help: hungry families needed to eat and jobs were scarce. Later, they built a modern Meridien Hotel across. But the ‘nightly custom’ of whispers and knocks remained.
First visit of a World Bank Vice President (leaning over on the picture) to Burundi, which I had arranged to ‘put Burundi on the map.’ It succeeded: he approved proceeding with the proposed strategy and project operations. I am the one with the camera hanging from my arm. We were wearing sweaters as the temperature in Burundi (800 meters above sea-level) can be pretty cool. The picture was taken by someone who did not have color film in his camera. We were watching a spectacular drum and dance group performance Burundi was famous for.
I caught one of these fabulous dancers up in the air. Despite all fighting, tribal hatred and misery, the Burundi people showed a remarkable resilience.
Lake Tanganyika near Bujumbura town. Fishermen, mostly Hutus or Twa, a pygmy minority tribe, gathering on shore near their boats to fish sardines, which they dry onshore and sell at the market. A protein-rich fish Barundi people enjoy. At night they use torches to attract the fish which offers a fascinating view of dancing lights seen from the top of the hills on the outskirts of Bujumbura town. Read about it in ‘The Tutsi Queen’ https://amzn.to/2Ny1Ll6. On Kindle, only 99cts.
Lake Tanganyika by day. Across is the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Kivu area, from which Hutu rebels invaded Burundi to unseat the Tutsi regime. The lake is inhabited by hippos and crocodiles. Expats used it for sailing. An expat club was located at the lake, not far from Bujumbura airport. Once, a lady swimmer was attacked by a hippo in the water near the club, where people often took a swim. She lost half her bottom but survived. Coming back at night in my (borrowed!) car from the airport, where I had said farewell to a friend, I almost ran into a hippo crossing the small road. A weird sight seeing such a huge animal emerging from the grass on the right and slouching to the other side. Remarkably, it did not seem bothered by my headlights and just strolled on and disappeared. Had I run into the huge colossus, it would have been certain death.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
I don’t know if some still remember Emperor Bokassa. He possessed three Boeings 707 while the country was dead poor. McNamara, then President of the World Bank, reportedly told him he was mismanaging his country but only achieved that Bokassa got rid of one Boeing. I set foot in this place in 1987, under a new regime but still ruled like a dictatorship. I managed to put a transport sector reform project together of $140 million in which many donors participated. The World Bank agreed to do so despite a major disagreement with the French Government that had committed to financing an earth road right through the Central African rainforest, the so-called ‘4th parallel road’. Construction eventually failed because unrest broke out and the Government toppled, once more. Our ‘TSP’ took off but implementation also suffered from government failure. Some pictures follow below.
The path of the 4th parallel road straight into the jungle. Pygmees and wildlife galore, including bush elephants. I found it an environmental disaster but the French Government – the former colonial power – won.
Supervising the 4th parallel road construction. The French engineer behind me found this job the dream of his life: constructing a road through a completely fresh terrain and on top of that a jungle. In the background a bulldozer hard at work, destroying beautiful tropical trees. But the precious wood got sold pretty good.
Trying to swing with the lianas of a tropical tree like Tarzan.
A waterfall near the forest.
Crossing the Oubangi River separating the Central African Republic from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A favored escape route for bandits and overthrown rulers.
Next time: Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon.
It did not dawn on me until I was at a Jesuit boarding school in Nijmegen, a city close to Germany and one of the centers of World War II fighting in The Netherlands. During the 1950s, a (strictly forbidden) girlfriend Marijke van Steen (probably happily married now with grandkids like me) took me on a bike ride to the Canadian War Cemetery at a small town called Groesbeek not far from where she lived. Having survived World War II as a child (from about 4 to 9 years old), I had intense and often graphic memories of those awful years of being occupied by Nazi Germany. I had seen aviators fighting in the sky, bombers dropping bombs, and German soldiers rounding up compatriots, including Jewish friends, and beating them up or shooting them in the street.
A downed British pilot once sought refuge in our house and disappeared again with the help of underground resistance fighters. I was 9 when we were finally liberated thanks to all those allied forces who fought their way through German armies, deadly fortresses of machine guns, powerful tanks, Junker fighter planes, Heinkel bombers and later the fierce Messerschmitts jetfighters.
While World War II memories remained lucent growing up, there is nothing more poignant to resuscitate those memories when you visit the warriors’ graves. Marijke showed me around.
Though she was a few years younger than I, she also remembered liberation in 1945. Yes, we were the lucky ones and could smile, like the people in the picture below.
Hand in hand we stood in front of all these white crosses while complete silence reigned around us in the Cemetery. Each white cross represented a scream in pain, a futile effort to fight death, a vain struggle to scramble to safety, grasping a twig before hurtling down a cliff or parachuting into a burning sea. Each white cross had comrades in battle, mortally wounded, or severely injured, alive perhaps but impaired for life.
Sitting together on a bench overlooking the extensive field of bright white crosses, we knew it was thanks to those brave youthful warriors we were still alive and could fall in love. When I was drafted into the army and crept through sand or waded through ponds with a rifle above my head, I remembered those who did this for real and made the ultimate sacrifice.
I am the guy with the broad smile in the middle, cleaning my rifle, all of us having great fun.
I was lucky as it did not happen to me, but for many American soldiers, it did, in Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, the wider world. Arlington Cemetery, and the World War II memorial with its European and Asian theaters, are thoughtful places to realize how thankful we must be to those who shield us from harm and keep us safe. It is nice to say ‘peace through strength’, but we must not forget that that ‘strength’ means a lot of brave people, fellow humans, who are willing to pay the ultimate price when they have to, for us to keep enjoying our comfortable lives.
And so Meghan and Harry are married, like “we did.” “Royally.” Meghan, a mixed-race American woman and Harry a royal British prince. A fascinating story many are calling a ‘Cinderella’ story. Well, Meghan was not exactly washing dishes and cleaning house, nor was Joy. Meghan is an accomplished actress and a gifted person, and Joy was a clever and adored World Bank front office staff-assistant. Both are extremely charming. But it does sound a bit like a Cinderella story: Meghan is a mixture of a Caucasian father and an African mother. The gripping marriage scenes under clear skies (what a gift from Heaven to the UK!) beautified this ultimate contemporary event, which would have been impossible some forty-five years ago, when we married.
What a difference! I remember watching just-crowned Queen Elizabeth visiting Amsterdam with her Prince Philip in 1958. (The story goes she met him, a second cousin, in Greece when she was 13 and fell in love with him at that time already, writing letters to each other). The state visit to the Dutch Royal family was all stiff pomp, though cordial. Then followed the problems with growing-up children: Charles and Diana’s disastrous divorce, followed by Diana’s tragic death, Andrew and Fergy’s divorce, and daughter Anne’s divorce from Captain Mark Philips. Her third son, Prince Edward, is the only one remaining married to his first wife (Sophie Rhys-Jones). Queen Elizabeth reportedly acquiesced in Harry’s marriage for love to a US commoner of mixed race because she was tired of facing her children’s unhappy marriages. Harry and Meghan’s wedding pictures show that the royal protocol has fundamentally changed.
I can feel that difference probably more acutely than others: Joy Jaundoo – a Guyanese of East-Indian descent – and I, a Dutchman from Amsterdam, married in Washington, D.C. in 1974.
The only person reacting positively was my mother seeing her picture: “Wat beautiful children will you have.” The majority in stiff Holland was upset and against. “He better stay in America,” one noble uncle said. “Why doesn’t he marry one of our own,” one prominent American uttered (many Dutch said the same). An American friend walked out of the elevator when he saw the two of us together. “Don’t do that! You break your family’s bloodstream forever,” another friend offered. “Why don’t you marry a French girl,” a boss said. In Georgetown Guyana, the reception proved a lot warmer. It was mostly more accepting in the World Bank, an eminent multicultural institution where we worked. “In fifty years the whole world will be brown,” a supportive French girlfriend said. Working in a multi-cultural institution made adjustments to each other’s cultures surely a lot easier!
Guyana beach: Drinking coconut water is an art you have to learn before messing up.
Well, perhaps we had the foresight and were ahead of our time: what would that Dutch uncle say now? However, Meghan and Harry will find that mixing cultures and race does have its consequences. Their children will grow up in privileged circumstances but will still be faced with the fact that they are different from their peers born out of same-race families. As parents, they will have to compromise perhaps more than others. The mixture of different bloodstreams causes unmistakably unintended fallouts: how do the children feel internally towards others, to whom do they ‘belong?’ Do they resent the cards that they were dealt with by their parents’ decision? How do they adjust in their childhood and puberty, can they find a partner in their split world, how do they think about being put on this world still full of bigotry? All children and young adults have growing problems but biracial children perhaps more, requiring close parental attention.
Visiting home in Holland in 1979
We are blessed with two good-looking and successful children, with each showing the ‘remnants’ of our individual backgrounds. At my and my sister’s eightieth birthday anniversary last year in Holland at the Maarten Maartens House in Doorn, they were a tribute to today’s changing world. The pictures below of Joy, our children, family and friends clearly show that we and they are no ”exception” anymore. That has been royally confirmed.
When close friends pass away they take part of your soul with them. Last week two of them drifted away from this earth and were taken to their last resting place, Ruud Lubbers, Dutch prime minister for 13 years (an impressive political achievement), and Frans Swinkels of Bavaria Bier, a well-known Dutch brewery that proudly, successfully, and smartly stayed family-private, producing excellent beer you can buy in the US in every large grocery store.
We had known each other from six years Jesuit boarding school, the Canisius College, closed years ago, in Nijmegen, a town drenched in history, situated at the majestic river the Waal somewhere in the lower middle of Holland. If anything makes you friends, boarding school does: you eat, study, sport and grow up together as teenagers, day and night, and sleep together in dorms like brothers. All very different, gifted with varying talents, moods, and dispositions. You go to class each day and struggle together through exams, some more successfully than others, depending on your given talents, character and drive to persevere. Ruud stood out already in school as a wiser and smarter guy than everybody else. He was part of the school paper team which I headed and contributed insightful articles on domestic and foreign policy. He presided over various school committees. Frans was a calm companion, sure of himself, always warm with a friendly smile on his face, an amiable southerner, quick to compliment anyone he admired. Both true friends.
We kept seeing each other later in a select group of some 25 school graduates. Personally, I met Ruud a few times when he headed student bodies at the Rotterdam University where he studied economics. Then suddenly as the Minister of Economic Affairs, stepping down the imposing staircase in the hall, on the day I was leaving the ministry to take up a new job in Geneva. He found time to join our regular reunions and invite us to his country home. Frans did the same, always supplying us generously with his Bavaria beer. It gave us an opportunity to keep abreast of each other’s life and achievements, share the funny and not-so-funny memories of our boarding school time, the harsh or supportive Jesuit supervisors who eventually drove me away from Catholicism, and take away another day of supreme togetherness.
I vividly remember meeting Ruud as prime minister in his office at the Parliament of The Hague, in a small turrid, called ‘het torentje’, where we chatted like we did at school. Boarding school bond transcends the social levels between people. Who as an ordinary guy can walk into the office of a very busy prime minister just ‘to chat’ like old school friends? He (right in the picture below) was our tour guide in the parliament building, showing us the precious historical rooms where his predecessors and our national founding fathers gathered, debated and ruled. An unforgettable moment.
Both friends were sent off in Catholic churches, with different but imposing spheres of liturgies as I heard from friends who attended, and both with large followings. Being the only one who lives in the U.S., it makes you feel the loss even stronger. Slowly but surely, our little group of close friends is thinning out, reminding you of the approaching after-life that will hopefully bring us all together again.