I finally got to writing my Memoirs. In the process, I remembered my many cultural shocks. If you traveled the world over as I did, you may recognize some of your own experiences.
THE “WEST” AND “SORT OF WEST”
- USA: Americans think only they are sane. The rest of the world thinks Americans are insane and they are sane. And everything in America 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 Moroccan invaders.
- Belgium: Toilet paper cut from old newspapers and no sinks to wash your hands. Language either Flemish or Walloon, either way unintelligible. Breakfast: French fries, mussels, and beer (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 and had lovely moments.
- 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 from Spain to Portugal to fight them.
- Italy: Males can’t leave a girl alone. And 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 hoompa.
- England: no menu at all, only rain, and after joining the EU they still drive on the wrong side of the road. Maybe that will change after Brexit.
- Ireland: All Irish have gone to New York to join the Democratic Party. Only Poles and Romanian pickpockets are 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. The Swiss put holes in their cheese to attract American off-shore money. Raclette sits in your stomach for two weeks and causes terrible farts that kill your co-worker in seconds.
- 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 law.
- South Africa: Go 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 the tourists.
- 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 everybody says it’s nowhere.
- 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 that’s why it is what it is.
- Ghana: The only place in Africa on the West Coast that seemed to work because it had 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 beware of the Dhaka “run” if you want to survive.
- India: more of the same, but a little bit more sophisticated and the best food in the world. And heavenly Kashmir should be declared neutral territory for everyone to enjoy, not just Islamists, not just Hindus, not just Pakistanis. 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 for the rest of your life.
- Philippines: Manila TV is like American TV – just as awful. 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. Go visit Bali’s interior to see the real Indonesia and its terraced rice fields. Heaven on earth. But the hotel bills are hellish.
- Hong Kong: British geniality mixed with Chinese Confucianism. Foremost a good cuisine, especially on the street, but everyone wondered how long the good life of one country two systems would last when the Brits handed it over to Communist China. The day of reckoning has come.
- 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 and 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.
- Saudi-Arabia: The place where beautiful women are kept in hiding and your head gets cut off if you dare looking at them when they come strolling out after 11 p.m., or for saying something about their beauty.
- 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, and where I might have stayed if she had said “yes.”
- 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. Beautiful and savvy women, always showing a pleasant smile; and everything stays the same.
- Surinam: Neighbor of Guyana and awfully isolated but Surinamers don’t mind. People speak fluent Dutch (the only country outside Holland and Flemish Belgium that does) as Surinam was a Dutch colony until 1975. My greatest shock was that while speaking Dutch they are not Dutch at all, and their beautiful women bite.
- Curacao: The place to live but too expensive to retire.
- Bonaire: For scuba divers and iguana lovers only.
- Jamaica: The place where I spent my Millennial and tore both of my shoulder tendons when climbing back into my capsized sailing boat, leaving me burdened with lifelong Jamaicanitis.
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