Saturday, September 26, 2009

FREX 2009

Shortly after our return from Africa, the Fredericton Exhibition opened that first weekend. While at a BBQ at friends place the night before, it was decided that some fun at the FREX was in order.
With wallets in hand and kids in tow, we set off for some thrills. Once we got their, we quickly hooked up with Brendan's friends, Mya & Grace.

Kid swap at the FREX.

With no time to waste, I got Brendan his unlimited rides wrist band, determined to ride everything possible and break even. Well, we broke even and then some.

Brendan had a hoot. The Ferris Wheel, Super Slide, Merry-Go-Round, Truck Ride, Plane Ride , Bouncy Obstacle Course, Train Ride and Crazy Bears are the rides we went on multiple times. Here are some of the pictures showing the fun.

Brendan & Mummy on the merry-go-round.

After the merry-go-round, it was on to the real thing.
We love this picture so much. The look on B's face while riding the pony was incredible.

Brendan going through his pre-takeoff checks with Gracie in the back.

Banking left!

Mya & Brendan on the Ferris Wheel.

We had a blast on the slide.
Racing Dads!
I think I won this one by inches.

As for Tadhg, he enjoyed looking around, chewing the sleeve on his all-in-one and playing with his feet. Actually, I took him over to the petting zoo and he wouldn't stop laughing whenever we petted the animals. Oh ya, I almost forgot, he has started waving back at people. Check out the video.

Autumn days

This is most definitely my favourite time of year. Here's what we were up to yesterday. the weather was perfect and we've settled back into normal life at home.
Picked some flowers from the garden for our table. Including the last of the dahlias from Grandad that we planted way back when and then watched as they grew.Tadhg had a ball climbing all over this thing. He's close to walkin' and talkin'. He'll copy some syllables and says what sounds like cat and dada. And he walks holding one or both hands. It's almost happening too quickly!
Smelling the sweet peas. mmmmmmmmm
Sweet peas on the kitchen table.
And a yummy lunch of pita pizzas and salad. Actually this was the day after when it was a stormy, rainy day outside. Which is why we are still in our pjs.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Some post travel thoughts

Steve and I are sitting here talking. We've been home a week and we've almost finished putting the photos onto our web album. Some friends and family have asked about our trip and we've told some stories. But now we're talking about the best bits, lowest moments etc.

Here are a few high points...
-Approaching Djenne at dusk and watching the sun set over the Bani River as we waited for the ferry.
- Old Segou with its long and layered history and friendly and genuine people.
- Brendan holding court and keeping a bunch of kids captivated with stories of big planes taking off and motorcycles. They didn't understand a word but showed total respect and interest.
-The Niger River crossing in a canoe which broke up a 24 hour public transport journey from Senegal to Bamako.
- Cresting the Bandiagara escarpment on our way to Dogon Country. We could see for miles and the sky seemed so huge.

And low moments/ difficult points...
- Arduous travel in a slow moving, utterly inefficient public transport system. Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh but we had a couple of long, long trips. And the shear frequency of stops for one reason or another was irritating beyond belief.
- The heat, especially on those buses.
- Tadhg being severely dehydrated and me sending Steve out to phone the embassy and find a doctor. Thank goodness for rehydration salts and clean water- he perked up in no time.
- Slight frustration at never really being able to fully be in the moment because of the kids. So he says not that we'd have it any other way and we're not blaming the kids but it was just the circumstances.
- The hardest times were usually just before the boys went to sleep but as soon as they were both sound asleep we'd say, "wow, what a great day" :)

Although these low points might seem significant to some, they were usually far outweighed by something positive and pleasant. For example, although Tadhg was quite dehydrated, the concerned old caretaker man and the helpful nun were wonderful, as was the great hotel we found to hole up in while we recovered!

Prompted by a friend's interest yesterday, we've just asked ourselves, "was it life-changing?"
Well, not quite, but it has certainly got us thinking and talking. We think we got a taste of what life-changing could be. Steve's example is that one of his favourite parts of the trip was walking with Musa in Old Segou, his ancestral home, and talking about his life, family, his history, Africa and its problems etc.. He wished that that could have gone on longer but it seemed that moments like that, (with Diady too) were always too short. We look forward to the day we can spend more time in a place and immerse ourselves fully in another culture. We have a few years to come up with some ideas.

And lastly for now, here are a few other memories that must be recorded.

Billy: (quietly but with conviction) "Jo, stop eating" as a cute little green worm crawled across the lettuce on her plate.
Billy: "classic" Everything, especially every photo he took!

Being asked multiple times every day if I breastfeed the baby and getting big smiles and approval when I confirmed that I did. This also led to many a conversation with women about babies and mothering. Like Steve's chats with Musa and Diady, they were often cut short due to lack of time or my limited French. There was so much more to learn.

stranded jamaican
diabetic in need of money for his prescription
1000 Francs to call my mum
Circuituous route to a different hotel than we wanted. Four right turns make a circle (I saw this coming before we even took one step by the way, hence my aloofness :)

That last was the only one we fell for, or rather went along with because, well, what the hell, we're not doing anything else... and it wasn't that bad. The hotel we had wanted WAS really being demolished and the hotel we ended up in wasn't too bad so no harm done except having to tip a greedy, dishonest man. Although there is the possibilty that he just had a really, really bad sense of direction.

The best pool was at the Rabelais in Bamako. Great shallow end for Brendan to splash around in on his own.

Taxi fare should have been 500 cfa. It is raining hard and we don't really want to walk because we don't actually know which way to go but can't let on to the watching taxi drivers.
We say 500. He says 3000, we scoff, walk away, he says 2000, we say 1000. He scoffs, prattles on about the rain and too much water, we say we just came this way half an hour ago, he says 1500 and is adamant, we say ok and get in. It literally is a 5 minute car journey but the driver goes on and on about the rain. Then the best bit... at the highest point on the road he turns left down a side street and drives 200 yards very slowly down a very bumpy dirt road, turns right, then right again and back 200 yards and emerges back on the same road about 100 metres down, still on a hill with not a puddle in sight and no other reason for a detour, all the while complaining about all the rain... Steve and I are in hysterics wondering whether or not to ask the guy if he really thinks we are that stupid when we arrive at our destination. He predicitably asks for more money because of the rain and presumably that rough detour being hard on the car :) Steve refuses and walks away, still laughing. So I can only guess that the guy has absolutely no sense of direction himself and assumes that everyone else must be the same. Man, that was funny.

Enough now. Better get to bed. Our two Canada World Youth volunteers arrive tomorrow. Looking forward to it.

The mosque in Djenne as the sun rises. We've almost finished putting a huge number of photos on our web albums...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A day in Dakar

Steve and Brendan headed off to find a pirogue to take them out to the little island visible from our hotel room window while I went in search of the fabric market. I hired a nice (for a change) taxi driver for a couple of hours and explored the biggest fabric market I've ever seen. Anything you could possibly want for any sort of sewing project could be found here. There was also a large area filled with tailors, sewing machines squashed in so tightly that I guessed the tailor must have to clamber over the top of them all to get to his machine in the back corner somewhere. And they were all men. The sellers were about half and half, men and women. I tended to choose women vendors to actually buy from as they were a littel less pushy, seemed to be more honest and loved to hold Tadhg while I felt all the fabrics and tried to decide what to buy. I wondered around the sewing area with a plastic bag and waving a scrap of fabric to show that I was scrounging for scraps for free and I managed to fill a bag. I think I came home with about 40m of fabric with no concrete plans on what to make with it all. It was all just so yummy and very West African. One of my favourite parts of the trip was looking at all the clothing, especially on the women. One reason why I bought so much is that it is generally sold in 6 metre lengths- which is the amount required for making a complete outfit- bottom, top or dress and headscarf. In Mali, you don't buy by the metre but by "pagne". It's a french word used all over West Africa for a single piece of cloth about 1 metre by two metres. One pagne was roughly equal to the vendor's outstretched arm span- so buying from a tall gangly man might be a good idea if you want value for money I guess. Anyway, that size is good for almost anything- a skirt, sarong, table cloth, sheet, baby carrier, towel... whatever.

Anyway, enough about fabric. Suffice to say that I have plenty of fabric and now just need the ideas, time and energy to make stuff.

So continuing on with that day. In the afternoon after a nap, we decided to head for the Pointe des Almadies, the westernmost point of the African continent. On a map it appeared to be fairly close so we set off on foot along the beach. Outside our hotel the beach was surprisingly clean but it quickly became clear that only a small section of beach is cleaned and soon we were stepping over fish heads, plastic of all descriptions, dead mice and even one enormous bloated rat lying belly up on the sand. It was utterly disgusting but we carried on anyway. It started to rain as we continued walking through a very run down and dirty neighbourhood and I regretted wearing my flip flops. I was trying to resist thoughts of disgust at how filthy the place was because I hate to be negative or judge people or agree with stereotypes or let my own cultural baggage get in the way but this was unbelievable and I was completely baffled. Steve and I were both in utter disbelief already and then we suddenly emerged from the littered alleyways onto a little coastal bay and we stopped dead in our tracks. It was basically a landfill site right where a little beach should have been. As we stood there looking at all the rubbish and the piles and piles of plastic bottles on top of it all someone opened a back gate of a property that opened onto the bay and just threw a bucket full of watery rubbish out onto the ground. I was flabbergasted. I am still confused. You can say all you want about poverty, lack of education, no other options, poor governance etc etc, but even all of those problems together couldn't explain to me the lack of any attempt whatsoever to keep this place clean. Perhaps the local people were profiting in someway from allowing this place to be a dump, but even that doesn't explain the state of the streets. This is a seriously unhealthy place to live. At that time I was thinking that all that development work going on by Senegalese and foreign NGOs and whoever else, the education reform attempts, trying to end the daaras with their begging children... that none of that was even half as important as just cleaning some of the rubbish up and working out a way to keep it cleaner. And it wasn't just in this neighbourhood. Half of Dakar is the same, the fishing village was the same, Bamako is just as bad, maybe even worse. There is a neighbourhood in Dakar that is actually built ON rubbish. The locals are paid a bit to take it and they actually use it like you would use fill when building a subdivision in Canada. And during the rainy season people die when they fall through all the rubbish floating on top of the filthy water.

Anyway, to carry on with the day. We escaped from the filthy neighbourhood and reluctantly got into an ancient taxi driven by a very dim witted driver who was not all there. We tried to find a geocache but after the driver said about 10 times that it wasn't possible to drive up to the lighthouse, and about 10 times that is WAS possible, we decided to give it a miss and head for the point. When Steve's door opened of its own accord for the third time, while we sped along the road, the driver turned to tell him how to slam it shut properly and as a result of his wild gesticulating and total lack of focus on the road we drifted over onto the other side of the road and narrowly missed on oncoming truck. Steve luckily missed all that as he was focusing on the door. Actually it was a pretty good adrenaline rush. But not a fun one though, especially as the kids were in the car, not strapped in as usual.

The actual point was devoid of people due to the rain so we headed into the Meridian- the poshest hotel in Dakar for a look around and an astronomically priced drink at the bar. Little did we know that the next day we'd be staying at the hotel and living it up with an unlimited allowance for meals, swanky toiletries, a beautiful swimming pool, all compliments of Delta Airlines. They had cancelled our flight months previously but had failed to tell us.

That evening, our last in Dakar (before the plane delay anyway) Steve was again the target of a wannabe scam artist who was actually just a plain thief. When Steve had his wallet open to get a little money out to pay for the guy's scam (basically to get rid of him) the guy actually reached in a grabbed some money and then legged it. Steve chased him down and got most of the money back- I'll need to let him tell the details. But the upshot of it all was that we had had enough of Dakar with its money-grabbing con artists and seriously unhealthy rubbish problem. I almost cry when I think about the state of the ocean off that coast. Don't get me wrong, we loved almost every minute of our trip and met some great people but we were ready to leave Dakar.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Safari Time

Just south of Dakar by about 60km, there is the 40 sq km reserve, Reserve de Bandia. It was established in the 90's and is growing. During our trip through the park, we saw giraffes, a pair of rhinos (although they were hard to see, we did get within 15-20 feet of them), various antelopes, lots of different brightly coloured birds, zebras, monkeys, turtles and crocodiles. Brendan loved the trip and gets really excited whenever he tells us about his day at the reserve.

This is us outside the turtle area at the end of the trip.

Going for a walk to see the giraffes. There was a huge baobab here that we looked too, apparently a thousand years hold and final resting place of at least 125 people. We could see skulls and various bones in the hollow depths inside. Eerie.

Tadhg and mum with the zebras in the background.

Zebras were the newest addition to the park.

Checking out the giraffes.

From The Big City To A Small Fishing Village

Once we landed in Dakar, we quickly decided that we wanted to get out of the big city. Beach time sounded good and instead of hitting a big resort, we decided to spend a couple of nights in the small fishing village of Toubab Dialaw.

Having dinner at the Soba Bade, a cliff-top sea-side restaurant. Brendan running around as usual and Tadhg passed out for a nap.

Playing on the terrace.

Bring the boats back in after a day of fishing. The catch is sorted and sold right on the beach.

Going for a walk around the cliffs with B.

It was really fun watching the boats being launched through the surf. In the two days there, I saw 3 boats get swamped and dragged back to shore.

Siobhan and T on the terrace with the fishing boats and beach in the background.

Siobhan back in her element bargaining for jewelery.

Having some play and naked time in the room while hiding from the mid-day sun.

Having a banana on the terrace.

Some breakfast before a busy day.

Heading Back To Dakar

After our never ending bus journey to Mali, we decided to take an internal flight on Mauritania Airways to save time. Brendan loves planes but once the excitement of take off was finished, he passed out until landing.

Take off out of Bamako, Mali.

Siobhan and Tadhg enjoying the flight.

Me and my boys. Brendan passed out before we even levelled off.

Some convective activity and blue skies.

Turning base leg into Dakar, Senegal.