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.
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.
Travel to Africa and learn what distances mean. Starting with the continent’s size, it’s mind-boggling.
I begin with this map because few people realize how big Africa is. Just flying north-south over the Sahara takes a good 3 hours!
Most known for safaris and wildlife, the continent was marked by the famous TARZAN pictures with all types of animals crowding the screen, and movies like The African Queen and Out of Africa. Though on our business trips we saw several wildlife parks and walked through jungles, our work led us mostly to colonial-built capitals to talk with governments and the private sector and visit development projects in towns and the vast interior. While we were often struck by poverty, financial mismanagement and corruption, tribal and religious wars, health issues, women’s suffering and child abuse, we could not escape the beauty and magnificence of Africa’s scenery, and the personal warmth of the many Africans we met in so many of its 55 countries, of which 43 below the Sahara.
In this blog, we only show pictures of Africa’s beauty and some of its people, leaving the ‘political and socio-economic issues’ aside.
Let’s start with RWANDA – The first African country I traveled to. It was quite an experience: I was allowed to witness the plane’s descent to Entebbe, Uganda in the cockpit, in the early morning hours, and was thrilled when I saw the tropical landscape appearing. Only to find out at the airport that my luggage was left in London and that my connecting plane to Rwanda was delayed by a day or two because of bad weather. I still wore my sweater from cold Washington D.C. Spending 24 hours or more in my ‘hot-costume’ in a simple hotel meant enduring the first hardship of World Bank travel.
But we arrived in Kigali, finally. Rwanda is a populous place because of its fertile soils, but very poor.
Flying in over northern Rwanda is a bit like looking at the Alps from afar: mountainous with volcanoes, sometimes active with disastrous results.
The Virunga mountains in northern Rwanda near Ruhengeri resemble almost the shape of the Mont Blanc from a distance. In this area live the mountain gorillas. In 1975, I saw a few of them in the early morning hours, led by a small team organized by Dian Fossey, the American primatologist who lived there and studied these gorillas. Her work was made into the movie Gorillas in the Mist in 1988, three years after she was mysteriously murdered.
Dian Fossey – Credit Liam White-Alamy, picture borrowed from a 2015 BBC report by feature writer Melissa Hoogeboom.
The Nyiragongo volcano near Goma-Gisenyi at the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo taken in 1975. It had a two-kilometer-wide lava lake which fractured in 2002 and devastated a huge area of farmers and wildlife. Some 150 people got killed. The lava almost touched Goma. The volcano’s shape has changed as a new, lower level volcano arose near the old volcano. So, this picture is sort of a ‘relic.’ Nyira was also the name of the Rwandese Princess refugee I helped flee from Burundi later (see The Tutsi Queen in Some Women I Have Known – Kindle version: https://amzn.to/2L9U5rD).
Joy in Goma, on a “points trip” with me to Africa in 1979. World Bank professional staff were allowed to take their spouse on a business trip once they had spent 500 days (well, they said ‘nights’) away from home! Well-deserved. Dapper Joy had to take care of the 2 kids and drive through snow and ice while hubby was doing business in warm Africa.
Joy with me in Ethiopia near Addis Ababa in 1979.
Rwanda – reviewing progress of a tea-plantation project.
Rwanda – Getting stuck in a muddy earth road on our way to supervise works – 1975
Negotiating the price for help to get unstuck. My Italian teammate Melegari was good in negotiating with the villagers.
Rwanda – Construction of the Kigali-Gatuna road financed by the World Bank, which is part of the transit road to Mombasa, Kenya. I criticized the sharp angle of this part of the road which on the other side of the picture had a descent of at least 45 degrees. But the engineers shut me up because that was not ‘my business.’ The descent turned out a cemetery for African truck drivers, whose vehicles had often inadequate brake systems. But in the Bank, as a young officer, you don’t get medals for critique.
Rwanda – a local market in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.
That’s it for now. Next time: Burundi, the Central African Republic, Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).
Books to read:
Kirkus Reviews recognized Francine’s perseverance and that of the miners she stands up for and gave the manuscript a resounding positive critique. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/john-schwartz/francine/.
Just one click takes you to a good read!
Audrey – A Cherished Memory: A personal story of how I met Audrey. Proceeds of this two-story booklet (at Amazon.com) go to the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund. https://amzn.to/2JOcjL4
Enchanté has published the last story in the series Some Women I Have Known, entitled Nyira The Tutsi Queen, the cover of which appears below.
Managing a French Import-Export company in Burundi, a small country in the middle of Africa, John van Dorn gets intrigued by the sudden appearance of a dark-clothed woman whose shadow approaches him while overlooking Lake Tanganyika from a hill nearby the town of Bujumbura. Mesmerized by her regal demeanor, he is spurred to unveil the reasons for the melancholy in her ebony-colored eyes. Then a cascade of events unravels that puts him in a dire position, trying to protect her from annihilation in tribal conflict and a coup d’état. A suspenseful story from beginning to end.
The cover design is by Melanie Stephens of Willow Manor Publishing in Fredericksburg, Virginia
The photograph is an original from Bujumbura but unfortunately we were unable to trace the photographer to ask permission and to give him/her credit.
Read it on Amazon.com http://amzn.to/1toVoF4 for the ridiculous price of $0.99 or thereabout depending on where you are. If you do not have a kindle, Amazon.com installs it on your PC for free in a jiffy and you will have access to thousands of other wonderful stories and books.
Enchanté has been busy with two manuscripts for publication in a not too distant future, and will resume posting blogs again shortly.
All the best, John
I have traveled and lived in quite a few places and endured numerous cultural shocks. Looking back, I understand better why we humans from different places do not always understand each other and get annoyed with each others behavior. Living and traveling in other countries offers you a different perspective on life and is certainly enriching, but it is not always easy to absorb. Below follows an abridged list of my cultural shocks, but it is by no means exhaustive.
If you have your own list, please let me know, and I will publish them! It’s fun to know how we look at each other.
THE “WEST” AND SORT OF WEST
- USA: Americans think only they are sane. The rest of the world thinks they are insane. Depending on which side of the Ocean, the rest is right.And everything looks and tastes the same and their girls are xenophobic.
- Russia: Taking a bath is against the rules, unless you do it in vodka.
- Holland: Bikers don’t look right or left and run you over yelling YOU are stupid. Plus ample dog poop and the only place where I got robbed three times over the years by the same people. Guess once. Starts with an “M”, Holland’s most popular ethnic invaders.
- Belgium: Toilet paper cut from old newspapers and no sinks to wash your hands. Language either Flemish or Walloon, either way unintelligible. French fries, mussels and beer for breakfast (or “rouge”, red wine). Lots of smokers.
- France: Toilets with black holes, no seats and pissed-over footsteps and no sinks to wash your hands. Plus subway stink is the world’s worst. And heaps of dog and pigeon poop. Food is way too expensive and waiters are rude. And French love is a myth. Americans in Paris made that up because they don’t know what love is either, only in the movies. But I made some very good friends.
- Spain: Males can’t leave a girl alone. Females are locked up 24/7. And I can’t sing serenades in Spanish.
- Portugal: As many windmills as in Holland. They look spooky. Don Quixote traveled to Portugal to fight them.
- Italy: Males can’t leave a girl alone. But females eat too much pasta. And there’s too much pigeon poop, too.
- Germany: One menu only: bier, wurst und sauerkraut. And too much hoompa poompa.
- England: no menu at all, only rain, and after joining the EU they still drive on the wrong side of the road.
- Ireland: All Irish gone to New York to join the Democratic Party. Only Poles and Romanian pick pockets left.
- Scotland: Rain, cold weather, smoking chimneys and nobody speaks English.
- Switzerland: Swiss French unintelligible; Swiss German unintelligible, Swiss Italian, well, who knows; I don’t speak Italian. Traffic priority signs for frogs, cows and turtles. Puts holes in its cheese to attract Americans. Raclette sits in your stomach for two weeks and cheese fondue a bit longer causing an outbreak of fumes not liked by others, especially not your co-worker.
- Rwanda: Twice destroyed in thirty years with old colonial help.
- Burundi: Twice destroyed in twenty years with old colonial help.
- Central African Republic: snakes in and/or under your bed, wasps in your toilet, and pygmies running between your legs.
- Cameroon: The food looks great but you can’t eat it.
- Congo-Kinshasa: Everybody cheats.
- Congo-Brazaville: Nobody cheats. It’s forbidden by the law.
- South-Africa: Visit a shopping mall to get shot at and run for your life.
- Tanzania: Dar es Salaam has too many SUVs and nobody knows how they were paid for.
- Kenya: Wildlife is for tourists and the airport road is to kill them.
- Ethiopia: The table cloth is edible but you wouldn’t think that when you go to bed.
- Mali: That’s where Timbuktu is and when I got there I finally understood why.
- Guinea: Why for heaven’s sake did the colonialists put that country on the map?
- Ivory Coast: Must be called Côte d’Ivoire to show it was once French and because of that it has been good at destroying all it had been given.
- Ghana: The only place in Africa on the West Coast that seems to work because it has a direct KLM flight from Amsterdam.
- Nigeria: The one place in Africa that should work but doesn’t. Night flight out to safety.
- Bangladesh: Delicacy: cockroached curry. Eating with your fingers; spit reservoirs in every corner of every corridor; toilets are bastions of urine, providing the main perfume in office buildings; and getting the Dhaka run if you don’t survive it (most of the time).
- India: more of the same, but a little bit more sophisticated. And heavenly Kashmir should be declared neutral territory for everyone to enjoy, not just Islamists, not just Hindus, not just Pakistanis, or whatever. Just let it be.
- Malaysia: A mushroom garden with millions of multicolored edible mushrooms and a McDonald’s in Kuala Lumpur. What a place to live.
- Singapore: The country that everyone wants to ape but only Singaporeans know how to run.
- Taiwan: The only place where China is not China but everyone speaks Chinese, and a tree you can slide through to become rich if you don’t fear getting stuck in the middle.
- Philippines: Manila TV is like American TV – just as awful. Only in the countryside you find its beauty, but you may get struck by a typhoon.
- Indonesia and Bali: Djakarta is like Lagos, but outside the city Java is a jewel. And on Bali they serve the best suckling pig on earth. Driving off the main roads you see the real Indonesia and its terraced rice fields. Heaven on earth. But paying the hotel bills was like hell.
- Hong Kong: British geniality mixed with Chinese Confucianism. Foremost a good cuisine, especially on the street, but everyone wonders how long the good will last.
- China: More bikers than in Holland, and I never had real Chinese food before, not even in Amsterdam or NY China Town.
- Macao: Beware! Bought my wife a sapphire ring that turned out a piece of colored glass.
- Japan: Plastic food in the window is for show but not for eating. You must bow when meeting people in the elevator. And even a GPS can’t find where you’re going
- Hawaii: advertised as little Asia but no, it’s pure America. So good to be back, or is it?
- Saudi-Arabia: The place where beautiful women are kept in hiding and your head gets cut off for saying something about it.
- Lebanon: A Falafel tastes as good as a bomb.
- Jordan: An oasis in the desert and the only place in the Middle-East where I could ride a horse, have dinner in the open with a lovely woman, and feel at home.
- Guyana: Loud. Loud dogs, loud crickets, loud vehicles, loud music, loud people but great curry and the best rum in the world. Drives on the wrong side of the road because the British stole Guyana from the Dutch in the 100 year European wars and when it changed hands from England to Holland, the Dutch Governor did not know what left or right was because he drank too much rum. Since Independence everybody drives in the middle of the road, so I stay inside or take a cab. Beautiful and savvy women, always showing a pleasant smile; and everything stays the same.
- Surinam: Awfully isolated but Surinamers don’t mind. Fluent Dutch speaking Guyana (the only country outside Holland – apart from Flemish Belgium – that does): the greatest shock was that they are not Dutch at all, actually quite the opposite, and although pretty, women bite.
- Aruba: Nice but too much beach.
- Curacao: The place to live but too expensive to retire.
- Bonaire: For scuba divers only and iguana lovers.
- Jamaica: The place where I lost my Millennials and my tendons tore when climbing back into my capsized sailing boat, leaving me burdened with Jamaicanitis.