A Book Review

27 11 2016

Hello George,

Just finished reading your book ‘The Longest Walk’ and just wanted to drop you a line of ‘belated’ congratulation.
(although your walk was some time ago I am sure it is still etched as if yesterday in your memory!)
I noted that you attended HMS Worcester. I was at your ‘competitor’ HMS Conway 1959-61. Went to sea in Donaldson’s, though my sea going career was relatively short. I emigrated to NZ and spent the majority of my working life in the NZ Fire Brigade and am now retired.
I’ve done a few ‘long’ walks myself, though nothing near your epic scale, but they give me some idea of the focus and determination you must have had. I took 5 months and walked from the Mexican border up into Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail, along with through hikes of the UK and the North Island of New Zealand. (I can appreciate your concern over bears, they do tend to get your interest!)
Anyhow, just a quick line to wish you and yours well in your endeavours and to thank you for an interesting read and to offer a delayed and deserved ‘pat on the back’!
Good on you,

Cheers,
George Spearing

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The Rio Olympics

26 11 2016

We are all familiar with the famous Bolt, Phelps and others, but my hat goes off when Ethiopian Almaz Ayana smashed the world 10,000m record (usually expressed in 100ths of second) by more than a full 14-seconds!! Then there is Richard Whitehead with no lower legs who ran 40 marathons on 40 days, then got a gold medal in the 100m!!!!!Another golden-Brit climbed onto a table tennis table… and also earned a yellow card for misbehaviour.  Athletes just a few feet tall had the coolest fashion – huge navy blue greatcoats en route to the swimming pool. Ms. Cox broke 2 world records in two sports, cycle & 400m track. Plus 3 other world records

Largely unknown today but just before the Mexican Olympics (1968) the president there ordered the gunning down of hundreds in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. The criminal parked in a spot reserved for police, no trouble for him. He took me to a cantina for a drink. I met this criminal guy in one of the seedy pueblos, who was in the plaza at the time. Famed Italian journalist was another. She was shot “just where I wanted it,” as she put it. We got to be talking and I moaned about my evening in the scarcely credible jail where I was all but forced by the urgent need to get a drip or two onto my boiling head. Rusty bed springs marked the backs of the guards who lay about there on bedsprings, under clouds of mosquitos. He looked into my eyes. “So, you think the jail here is bad erhh? “Well, after the massacre” I was put into a military prison and the smashed this hand, (he showed me) with the butt of a revolver. Even when it began to stink they brought no doctor.” Today, I cannot go into a lift. Because, you know, if it gets stuck, I will kill everybody inside.” I don’t know why I tell you all this… probably because I will never see you again in my life. I never did.

The big ticket modern Olympics owes a debt to the murderous sicko Nazi and Munich, which was not won by legendary Jesse Owens, but by the scum of Nazi Germany. The PR angle worked!

Watching the Para Olympics has reminded me of some of the Olympians I have known over the years.

One of the great friends of my life was Colonel Vaughan, who lived to be 100, plus 18-hours. Norman had been pretty much everything, including an Olympian. (Lake Placid, 1934) of which he was the last survivor, and represented the USA in the only time they did dog racing. One evening we were sitting in a bar ‘The Fletcher Christian’ in the Alaskan city named by Captain Cook — Anchorage. Of all people to walk through the door was another great American, Eddy Mack. Eddy was born in Chicago with a Polish name, which he changed because he’d been shot 3-times whist growing up in the Windy City. From such a start Eddy went to the Rome Olympics (1960) where his roommate was ‘like the mayor of Olympic village’ – Cassius Clay. Like his friend the Greatest he too won a boxing medal, never mind his hand being broken. “I could (and did) beat that Russian,” he said. Eddy went pro and became an undefeated world champion, with 3 defences.

Dr Willy Banks also represented the USA and in a gold medal winning performance broke the world record in triple jump. He spoke of his friend Carl Lewis who had a dozen Olympic gold medals, but no world record. That was not until the long jump (Seoul) when he broke the legendry leap of Bob Beaman in Mexico. Willy, explained that “You almost got to die to get a world record.” I think that is right. The triple jump is so dangerous that his training never touched it, and then only on the day. When we met he’d just won in Japan the Totto porcelain company games. “Did you get a toilet?” I asked. “Well, actually NO!”

Remarkable Americans all! In UK I was with the family going to do some TV in Maidstone, Kent. The driver had been an outstanding runner, but had smashed his legs in the run-up to Mexico. (1968) But his friend David Emmery won the gold medal 400m hurdles. “He was thinking of me,” the taxi driver wistfully said. “When he broke the tape.”

I was invited to the Savoy Hotel, London. There via a link with the Los Angeles Olympics was the double Olympic Decathlon champion, Daly Thompson. “George deserves it more,” he said. I was never in such an august group again. That was it.

At an age similar to the athletes I had arrived in Rio myself, through the front door – via a ship. So inspired was I by Rio that I ran from the ship all the way up to the giant Christo towering above this most beautiful of all cities.

Just recently I had circumnavigated the Amazon basin. I needed to confirm the destruction of indigenous culture, first-hand. I had used the river system and an alcohol delivery long canoe to reach Iquitos, Peru. There I re-joined Augusto who had first met as a boy in Lima over 30.years before!! I also knew at the time his cousin Raul, who now lived in Manaus, Brazil, so off I toddled. This entailed a trip into Colombia and one of the steamers. I was set to go for 1:00pm. BUT Brazil had different clocks and frantically I raced across the loose planks to the floating jetty only to see the puff of smoke on the horizon. There was no option but to wait a whole month in this jungle hell hole or perhaps. A canoe. A speedboat

I remembered form my sea-days, when as a young man I’d sailed into the port of Rio de Janerio, and at an age (24) comparable to the sporting heroes of today. Back then, full of beans, I ran from the ship up to the Christo towering above us.

Just last year (2015) I had been in Brazil aboard a river Amazon steamer, that a part of a circumnavigation of the Amazon River basin. To get to Brazil I must first reach Columbia, and was taken across the border looking for a streamer onwards. I saw it. It had sailed and was visible, puffing on the horizon?!! Brazil-time was one hour ahead of Colombia! No option, I would be trapped up here, possibly for months. The only option was a speedboat, also about to head down river. The speedboat did not catch-up the boat until the steamer was preparing to leave the riverside shacks. Heart in mouth I leapt clear and was humping my big red rucksack over river rocks on the edge of cloying mud flats. It was going to be very, very close and very, very iffy. I persevered in the thunderous tropical heat and managed to dump my kit on the already rising gangway- just, just… I handed over some Colombian cash and breathed the air off having made it.

I left Ecuador and boarded a large river canoe to reach Iquitos in Peru. I stayed with Augusto, whom I’d known as a boy. Later I was with another friend from 30-years Raul, who lived today in Manaus and held the spirit of Brazil. It was a hot and sticky evening but I was cooled by the forward motion of the motorbike. The old Indian had arrived in the city about the time I was born. Up and down rutted hills and all about the inland port to the famous Opera house where had sung great Sarah Bernhardt. On we went to the university and students played the Girl of Ipanima … but by mass violin!!

The Para Olympics opening ceremony at Rio was the greatest public display of the human spirit I’ve ever seen. Where the elite athletes shone. And this is the Olympics which generated virtually no ‘good press’ became a Triumph for Brazil.

Tickets were being sold at a huge prices, unrelated to the Brazilian reality, but they fixed and brought in a full house, to exceed the take of the vaulted Summer Olympics.

 





Haiti – Trying to make a Fist of my Endgame

26 11 2016

Going Out

‘Was I in heaven?’ I had more or less collapsed into the arms of American Airlines. God, there were no longer insects ripping at my legs. I was not wilting in the stupefying heat. The cracker in the plastic had a plastic stick to wipe the processed cheese. I kept saying to myself “I’m in heaven, I’m in heaven…

Coming in

I had stayed with Iraqi friends in London for a clearer shot at Heathrow. This brought me into contact with an independent train, the Heathrow Express. The cost was 8.95 sterling, but the ticket guy spontaneously cut this to a round “6 quid.” However, I only had about me 3.85 in coins “That’ll do,” he said.

It was a 12-hour stopover in Miami International Airport (MIA). I was wearing my coat, a tribute to England’s summer. Miami, at that hour, still had a few concessionaries open. I tried out my Medway bus ticket voucher to Burger King. The harassed staff were being run ragged, but none-the-less they found space to be polite… and then spontaneously granted me a free coke. This went with the Spunkmeyer muffin I’d saved from the flight. By the way, both the spontaneous ones were black, as were the passengers. It would be a 12-hour wait and MIA had no transit lounge. So, along with the other international flotsam we tried to position ourselves on the dreadful seats, separated as they were by metal bars. Soon we gave up and all curled up on the rock hard tiling before the air conditioning forced us awake.

As we touched down I finished my Times when the plane doors swung open and I was in another world. Right off I was stopped and I was held before I could hand over a tenner (US.) A lively progress ensued because an ensemble of two banjos and a steel drum accompanied our short, sweaty march. “You cannot enter this Republic,” intoned another imperial official. “We must know where you will stay?”

“I’m to meet Marcel,” was all I could say. The desultory officials commandeered my gear and documents and ordered me to find the mystery man. I hesitated, for there must be hundreds in the mob milling about the tatty airport. “Marcel… Marcel…” the mob chanted. Marcel presented himself. A take charge kind of a guy and he scribbled his phone number onto the sweat drenched form I held clenched in my fist. Then it was back into the labyrinth. Sweat poured forth and I was already missing the frigid air of MIA.

For once there was a car for me. My old red rucksack was unceremoniously tossed into the back and we were off. But not quite, as pandemonium ensued when a gaggle of men forced open the bonnet. A girl passed and stuck her tongue out as she swung her handbag which carried the famous motto LOVE. A pickup now stopped. That too also sported the word LOVE and perhaps so, for jump leads appeared only to quickly disappear again. Pushing became the order of the day. I visibly wilted in the pressure cooker atmosphere and how I missed my London Olympics cap left om the plane someplace. Finally, we were off and straight away into Hugo Chavas Place en route to Marcel’s home.

After a bowl of banana porridge it was back out again. My new friends set out to find me a vital hat. Port au prince is one huge exploding heat-dome. I was burning up so much that I put my hand atop my balding head. Getting about is a world class obstacle course. We piled into already filled to bursting ‘tap- tap’ transport, so named for the tapping needed to stop the vehicle, usually by banging a toothbrush! Up to 14 would be jammed in cheek by jowl into a space for 8.

We walked on in the company of two deaf mutes who smiled as they signed to each other. We manoeuvred the broken pavements and stepped over long defunct, slow moving, fetid drains. A canal brought down water from the nearby mountains. Once arriving in the city its vitality ends; crushed by ocean-liners sized loads of trash. So firm was this filthy crust that walkways across had been cut into the oozing mass. The waterways of the capital of Haiti could be the most egregious examples of urban pollution to be found anywhere in the world. And there was another topper for Haiti – domestic corruption. Equality was last, too. Phew!

The following day was to another part of the teeming city, to visit Marcel’s orphanage. The kids had been orphaned by the giant earthquake which took more lives (120,000) than any other in modern history. Some of the traumatised children had actually been taken in by grandparents, but so difficult was it to feed them, that in sad desperation they were brought here. A psychologist had volunteered that Saturday to help these the boys and girls. I did what little I could and so set up a jumping game and then the kids kicked a deflated ball around the old man. Every 10-minutes a clunky pump was needed put in a bit more air. Stevenson had a broken wrist and so we all did something new to the kids, we signed his plaster cast. Otherwise, the boy was fine. None of the kids looked hungry. The whole operation was financed by Yolanda, a remarkable Haitian who’d herself had been adopted and was now living in Belgium. I thought on things. Time hung over the kids like a damp sponge; they needed purposeful activity. These children needed as many options as possible. Democracy Education (if ever accepted?) could give them that. I had no doubts that the kids would respond. In my own feckless lifetime, I had been rejected by all AID agencies and the whole, vast educational bureaucracies. 20-years of failure. The clock was ticking away from me now fast approaching the endgame. I had been made virtually penniless by this noble pursuit. But I was here in Port au Prince — the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. For my hosts I was not at all like the other white guys who’d appeared over the years. For one thing I was near penniless.

Marcel took me to the National Museum of Haiti for perspective. Here is a passage from Henri Christophe (Henry I, King of Haïti) who lived more than half his life as a slave. This is how the French of Saint-Domingue operated.

‘Have they not hung up men with heads downward, drowned them in sacks, crucified them on planks, buried them alive, crushed them into mortars? Have they not forced them to eat excrement? And, having flayed them with the lash, have they not cast them alive to be devoured by worms, or onto anthills, or lashed them to stakes in the swamp to be devoured by mosquitoes? Have they not thrown them into boiling cauldrons of cane syrup? Have they not put men and women inside barrels studded with spikes and rolled them down mountainsides into the abyss? Have they not consigned these miserable blacks to man-eating dogs until the latter, sated by human flesh, left the mangled victims to be finished off with bayonet and poniard?’

The thunder and lightning on the horizon did not in any way reduce, as I’d hoped, the staggering heat & humidity with which I must now bleakly contend. There was no cooling down. I would live as semi-naked as my Creole hosts. Living with the Marcel Jeans was going to be a trip. The people around me were extraordinary: I was aghast when Marcel and his wife gave up their own ¼ ton bed and instead laid out on the hard tiled floor. The teenagers when tired would lay directly down on the hard tiles. With Marcel and his young wife was their son, Johnsley (14) and his cousin from the country, Benchina Belange (16) who arrived late and without hesitation came over and kissed me. Water was at a premium, often the teenager would be seen carrying up to the third floor huge buckets of water. There might be 40 buckets about the place. Benchina would be up early and this morning I ran into her kicking with her bare feet a cockroach out the wash area, then she would go to the single well which served the entire block of flats. Every so often I would stick a foot into the semi-blitzed bath area and there toss cooling water over me, like attempting to cover an exposed nuclear core. Things were not going to be easy but I must hang in if I was ever to make a proper fist of Life’s fast receding endgame.  And there was always the mosquitos! I had never imagined that mosquitos would be such a thing. When I finally woke up, swatted the mosquito INSIDE the mosquito net I had been given, I was startled to find blood, my blood, smeared onto my hand.

Marcel, said that President Astride only had time for this rather stylish building before being toppled by a coup. The former Jesuit priest’s faded election poster was still visible on an upright concrete pillar holding the place up. Nearby the kids played marbles or kick a ball around, goats wander freely. Across the road a whole family of pigs root among the trash and the boar was the biggest I’d ever seen. Such are the sights within the county’s capital – Port au Prince. Perhaps because of the generalized filth Haitians are extremely clothes conscious and I would be inspected before I went out; a time or two being obliged to change shirts, or trousers for the scarcely better faded blue jeans.

Sunrise cast its brilliant light into the room. It was like living in a light-bulb. I would be under virtual house arrest for the duration, this was because of the security situation. Marcel showed me the bullet hole in his arm. The crumbling block of flats from the Astride presidency was near the danger zone and so nothing much existed in the near vicinity. This meant that whenever I needed to go somewhere a ‘Tap tap’ ride was necessary. I would have to somehow get myself onto the always busy Marcel schedule. He, despite the best will in the world, might not get to it for 3-days. This would catch me short on bread & cheese and (French) DVDs. Important because of a lack of reading material. Even then there were the constant power cuts leaving us all floundering for everything during evening hours. In these conditions I would write. No easy thing because the only okay surface was on the ¼ ton bed. I was like Lord Disraeli visiting Balmoral Castle!

The heat of the day would build, dripping sweat would force my shirt off, and I would desperately try to catch a puff of air to cool down. This was hope, not reality. The window had missing slats allowing in foraging, biting mosquitos. Life was a borderline misery. By mid-afternoon I must retreat under the ¼ ton bed mosquito net. Trying to write in this cave proved awkward, causing me backache. Sometimes I was lucky, however, for I could piggyback off someone else’s Wifi in the crumbling edifice. This connection was better than depending on the irregular Haiti net.

On Sunday (smartly clad) I was taken to Church. An aging, toothless lady came up to me and put a scrawny hand out. I hated myself for I could offer her nothing. The sheer anguish on her face was devastating, this poor, mentally disturbed person. Her utter despair led her to cast the shoe-seller’s wares into the dust. Poverty had so quenched the hope of this once young lady where even the tatty dog barked her away. Outside the church lay a lady saddled with an elephantitus foot. At the church a brass trumpet led the service, which was for the most part all singing, arms raised, to be followed down onto our knees in prayer. Over the ladies pitch black hair very fine white lace. One lady toppled over onto her side, arm still outstretched to heaven. The low sun glistened on the uplifted black faces. 90-mins and the service came to a sudden end. Marcel felt let off lightly, the morning service had been 6-hours!

Communication was going to be vital thing for me, and my electric plug from UK drew gasps. “For an electric oven?” they asked. No problem for these versatile folk who simply hacked off the offending UK plug, which fell to the floor with a thud, and wove in a local plug. It worked perfectly! I began to fit more smoothly into the habits of my new home. Marcel’s wife would include me in her cooking. Cold rice was a regular, though a full 80% was imported because of “desertification.” The tree cover was largely gone. Ketchup appeared from the republic which shared the island of Hispaniola – the Dominican Republic. A fine Haitian cook “Senora” took pains to get to me soft food in recognition of my knackered old teeth that couldn’t handle much else. Oh, and I must be careful not to step onto one of the four baby kittens all named: Sparky, Stitch, Ketch & Darley.

I would sit at the heavy table, lift the large colourful plastic screens which dominate every household to keep flies, etc., away. There was a pot of super black coffee, and loud Gospels music played. In the corner Benchina impishly had placed my battered Humphrey Bogart hat onto her head. What a great privilege to join this black, Creole family, they shone with human goodness and kindness towards this burnt-out wayfarer.

Every morning I was awaken at 5:30am by the big, orange Sun on the horizon. This was prelude to the furnace of our day dashing about Port au Prince. My old debit card from Bethel, Alaska, still held something, and by some miracle I got out of the bank with a bit of cash and only must sign 60 or so papers / rubber stamps! Next up was the University. The student I asked thought there might be 10,000 there, but one hundred seems closer to the mark. I was seeking the possibility of perhaps a retired professor. You see, I would need an outside examiner for the kids, as of yet unseen. The lemon-faced secretary indicated there was no such person, but vaguely pointed to an innate fossil sitting in the corner. This man barely nodded as I gave him my spiel (he spoke enough English). He then got up and shuffled off, giving the very impression of a date with the Grim Reaper. This chap defines academics, everywhere.

To recover from the dead university we went to a Haitian sandwich place Epid’or, pity the air-con wasn’t making it. Then it was over to the British embassy. Nobody knew where this was, not surprising, as it was hidden behind the well-marked Embassy of Canada. [A recent Governor General of Canada was a Haitian emigrant. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaella Jean, PC, CC, CMM, CD, FRCPSC (hon). We were left to wait under the broiling Sun. After one hour this got us but (a Canadian) business card. Return was by motorbike. I was surprised after I sat on the pillion and then Marcel clambered on after me, a threesome. My hat immediately blew off, but Marcel caught it! Few Haitians wear a helmet, except for one I saw being carried in a rider’s lap.

July 5th and the start of my lessons, and in Citi Soleil – the poorest corner of the poorest city in poorest country in the Western Hemisphere Getting there was again by motorbike. When the first bike stopped heard that we were to Citi Soleil (Sun City) he declined, not without danger money, which he got. “Cité Soleil in Port-au-Prince, is one of the biggest slums in the Americas. The United Nations said of it “the most dangerous place on Earth.” Indeed, UN Peace Keeping blue helmet convoys would pass us from time to time. I had no idea where the classes would be and in the event found it to be church – a sort of giant shed. I wondered to myself if anyone would come. (Only the day before Marcel, he of the self-improvement kind, roped his family into attending my ‘English ’class.’ Although we lived within sight of one another, nobody came to Marcel’s giant blackboard, and nothing more was said)

Two girls arrived and put perfunctory kisses onto my cheek, and then the rest piled in. Twenty five tough street kids of mixed age, all looking at me in mistrustful silence. None had the money to go to school and that In Haiti meant doom. Sobering. The group were frozen, until I spoke of Adventure. My introduction was interpreted by 22-year old Mathaus Geffrard, a dazzling young man who rather reminded of a young President Obama. Bodyguard Jacque came late, but he brought for me a heavy papaya from his plot. They began to relax when a water-seller passed by. For 50 Gourdes (almost a $1) all the students got a cool, plastic bag of clean water. There is a constant bank note shortage and so the currency falls into an unimaginable state, filthy, crumpled paper. (Gourdes are printed in London.)

I was never comfortable being wedged between Marcel and the rider as the bulk of the rider’s bottom pushed out my knees wide. It would not have taken much by one of the gyrating traffic inches from us, to knock off one of my protruding knees. And of course if the front wheel slipped into one of the potholes spread about then it was curtains. We usually stopped a few doors down, where I found the unsightly word MORGUE. I stuck my head in this stinking place and found open coffins filled to the brim with the trash that girds everything Haitian. Indeed just yards from where we did our lessons, was a concrete watercourse, utterly blocked with trash where grunting pigs and puffing kids both foraged. You can never escape it; Haiti is a country totally given over to trash. Who knows, tens of millions of tons of it.

I returned the next morning; would the students? In fact the number had grown and they were all waiting outside the heavily chained church door a good half hour before the official 9.00am start. The atmosphere by the end of the second day was decidedly glum, however. Sophia, a leader, had put me a hard question. Democracy Education might be all well and good, and for the future and all, but what about their urgent need of the now? These kids were battling horrendous and overwhelming difficulties. Had I not reinforced their despair, they must be close to outright fear. Already Marcel was talking about ending things, right now. What on Earth would the next day bring? I must find an answer. Could I once and for answer the sin that only rich kids could go to school. The next day I decided to incorporate videos of each and every student together with my push for Democracy Education. That is how the third lesson went, and they did agree to come back the following Monday.

The Saturday I jumped at the chance of visiting into the heart of darkness – Citi Solei. Over the weekend I joined bodyguard Jacques, who’s as tough as they come. On the day we were joined by a second bodyguard, and also Mathaus because for his super bilingualism. Every other person we run into seemed to know Jacque who’d grown up here. Although in fact although most all Haitian roads are garlanded with thick trash Citi Soleil was slightly different, the various Zones were largely clear. That is excepting Citi Soleil with its own port of sorts where the ocean of trash reaches right into the Caribbean. The fisherman had their nets out, but scant fish. Perhaps they’d been purchased (I hoped) earlier that day. Once we got away and into the narrower paths running through the ghettoes things became markedly clearer. On one of the walls we saw an old poster of our friend ‘Vote Marcel Jean.’ We drifted on in the heat haze coming upon a neat and painted compound. The nun inside was tottering under her habit, and begged off exclaiming “I am too ill!” What a place.

Morning brought a fried banana and the next issue of the day would getting to and fro to the students by motorbike

Orphanage

It was a full 2-hours of steaming aboard the Tap Taps, packed in like grunting sardines; even poor Haitians found this trying. We arrived at the orphanage and were immediately engulfed by children. Marcel left me with a 2 bottles of (warm) water and a mosquito spray. I was to spend the night here. The sky became very dark and filled with thunder and lightning of Gothic horror proportions. I hoped against hope that it might cool the place down – a bit. Mosquitos were already eating me alive. A cover was placed over a tatty mattress and there I tried to sleep. Puddles of sweat appeared under my thin shirt, so I took it off, dug out my blow up camping mat and escaped to the outside, which indeed was cooler. It was quite uncanny, the mosquitos held off.

The staff of the orphanage were getting about a pound a day. In common, they clearly loved children; they were angels in this adversity. Next day Marcel returned and we all sat around a kiddie table. The reason being Jimmy (10). A brilliant kid coming second in his school class, but Jimmy also had a dark side. He threatened to kill other orphans if they didn’t join him in escaping at night back onto the street. The Saturday phycologist said Jimmy’s problem was genetic. Jimmy’s guardian somewhere else in Port au Prince, but he had thrown up his hands and would not take him back. I scribbled a chit in English ‘We are your true friends’ and I gave it to the boy two choices 1/ Join his (currently crushed) Belgium sponsor and sail from the continent visit me in England, or 2/ Commit eventual suicide by going back onto the street. The boy stubbed his finger on 1/ and we all cheered. Francois sang a song with all the kids.

Then it was again two hours to get back to Marcel’s; we arrived as the power went out. No problem, an old paraffin lamp was set up and we heard drumming outside. A group of pilgrims was passing on the street below the blockhouse to mark the beginning of Christ’s 40 days in the desert. My host shared in the celebration and from somewhere appeared a bottle of Champagne!

The blue helmet First Company of Brazilian Fusiliers had had mixed success as the spear point of UN Stabilization Force. I managed first time, to get into their armed compound following a pretty girl. I was asked to return with Marcel and a Letter. Captain Henrique met us both the second visit. The Deputy Commander, aged 33 is probably the most handsome man I’ve met… and he had heart and would – fingers crossed – be able to help us bring education to ALL Haitians.

Next up for a re-visit was the missionaries whom I’d believed to be Salesion. They corrected me, “Not so Sir. We are the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul.”  That finished our jobs for the day and so I invited the party to a hole in the wall bar, you know, a crude sense of what I call ‘civilization.’ At least get outta the heat. Marcel was none too keen and after paying for the whole group there was pressure from him to finish the drink quickly, before wandering on. I never felt ‘civilized’ at any time whilst in Haiti. That was until Miss Amazon played the flute to my class – ’10,000 Angels.’

Back at Marcel’s the top of the mosquito net was partially blackened by flying ants and then the second evening of thunderstorms. This meant the roads would be flooded next day turning the accumulated filth into marsh.

Modus operande was being whisked across much of Port au Prince on the back of a motorcycle. I grew apprehensive when he began overtaking already speeding rust buckets, but the speedometer dial on his bike was missing along with the covering glass. This guy had a helmet on, but the metal cover had ripped off in sections to reveal the underlying bubble plastic.

I was asked to talk to group with the French acronym OCEAN, an intellectual group of young leaders who met in Zone 18. To reach the place we had walked through alleys so narrow that even I had to slide by sideways. Clearly, in this zone of Citi Soleil there was a real community, one where everyone knew everyone and people lived and communicated on the street. Something natural and sadly, long gone in uptight GB, and even in the rich parts of Haiti’s capital it cannot now be seen. I met the group’s president’s mother, a dear old lady close in age to myself. She had a stomach ache, which she had “suffered these last 4-years.” A medical breakdown in this environment, was from my view too scary to contemplate.

Another Day

Under the crumbling flats some 20 young adults were watching a game of marbles intensely; few places internationally could command such a gathering. Haiti was special. We tap taped to the main city but had to rush back because the assistant to the UN military commander could see us – now. That meant putting down everything, and no chance for me to get dental floss, as none existed in Cite Soleil. Not one motorbike I’d ever ridden had a working speedometer working. Marcel, told me that the Government was suspending the motorcycle taxi for 3-months because, according to Marcel, “They killed too many people.”

A little girl was crying. She’d got a splinter in her bare foot. Marcel, even tried with a pin to get it out. A chap passed by who had two right thumbs. Two men pushed a heavily laden (2-tons) cart with 2 wheels. Another lifted on a wheelbarrow what must been well over 100kg.Citi Soleil is different than other, richer parts of Port au Prince.

The Event

Arriving hours early my friends took me deep into Zone 19. It might as well be Zimbabwe, naked children everywhere, and a narrow enough alley to need walking sideways, folk living in one or two rooms in tight, tight conditions, like in a pressure cooker. Unemployment was 90% and I saw no business save street barrows with toothpaste and other incidentals. Families of fat pigs held sway. It was in this hole in a hole where I had my best meal in Haiti, pounded manioc root with Ton Tonm, a sort of piping hot spicy gumbo. What with the horrifying ambience — a perfect tourist stop! And there was also the solar panelled street lights with which to illuminate the dump!! Upon leaving all the naked kids chanted “Hey You, Hey You…”

Haiti Scholarships had an office floating in a sea of filth and detris. Marcel, had thoughts to clean the place up. For me, this was something like bailing out the English Channel with a saucepan. Undeterred he got Jacques and some crew to give the dump a once over, and later fake office equipment was put in place. This was because Linda was flying in and had imaginations to do an event here. Thankfully, Marcel talked her out of this and 200 Haitians waited in silence at the church where I did the lessons.

Xxx Dressed to the 9s and I even had a haircut and the Pastor did me a full Windsor knot on Marcel’s borrowed neck tie. Linda arrived straight from the airport to wonderful applause, and already Marcel was worrying how to get her to the hotel. (Cite Soleil is notorious — no taxi ever goes there.) Schedules were soon compromised because Linda had got to come Clean Water charity workers to demonstrate the latest bucket arrangement for clean water. They were American (as was Linda) and did not stay till the end presentations I did my stuff by declaring Haiti a HERO Republic because of the only slave state ever to achieve statehood, which entailed defeating, uniquely, 3 superpowers of the day, France, Spain & GB as well. We spent 2 hours and the event was success … but Marcel forgot to introduce his wife!!

The next day Marcel along with Jacque tap tap’d across town to Hotel La Plaza, where Linda was staying. This was some place, with lush tropical plants and trees that the rest of Haiti had largely lost during the last 50-years or so. It was green and refreshing. There was French artist having coffee and Marcel talked, as he does about Haiti Scholarship. Linda appeared with her customary flair and a tee shirt proclaiming ‘Helping since before the earthquake – bitches.’ The $28 meal per person was out of the question and so we settled for a coffee. The room charge was $130 and for that no difference was made to the superheated air and I was – again – bitten up by mosquitos. Was there no escape? Linda had tried to get the UN chief to our event, of the day before. “It’s UN regulations.” They cannot enter Citi Soleil without a substantial police presence or a military escourt. Even local Haitians had consigned the place to an outer hell and God forbid EVER visiting. I didn’t know that Linda was a person for black comedy. She was fuming, an associate’s business venture involved dumping of outside garbage in Haiti. My view was that ”perhaps he actually did succeed?!” You will recall that this IS the world’s most trash strewn Republic.

Linda UN forbidden to go Cite Soleil without a massive, accompanying police or military accompanying presence. Appalled by the business of dumping garbage in Haiti.

 

Back to the Orphanage TYSEA TIMOUN YO SE ESPWA AYITI

Marcel, who never allowed me to be unaccompanied and so was obliged to make the horrendous journey out to Carrifour. What with the epic chaos and out of control traffic. “This might take 4-hours” of sweating it out together with an almost studied intimacy with the other crushed sufferers on the tap tap. The ordeal over we arrived.

The orphanage was the brainchild of Yolanda, although over 40 she could easily sub for Miss Haiti. Her father, Walter who is a white Belgium was a bit older than me at 68, but extraordinary. Right now he was up on the roof! Walter is a fine example of lifelong learning. In middle age visited Russia and became inspired by 6th century iconography and was Belgium’s finest exponent. A truly educated man. Yolanda’s daughter Inaya ABOUBACAR had a Ghanaian name and was worried because she spoke English like an African.

Yolanda’s partner Geert was a fellow sufferer. The ebullient son of a British Army Commando who as a teenager had worked with both the Belgium and the French Resistance. Geert was himself a brilliant linguist and as such was available to put my Adventure talk into French, for that in turn to be put into Creole, the language of the children. Peru inspired me these days, and I even had their flag to hand. So, the kids sat in a circle around a hurricane lamp. (The power had been cut off most of the day.) Perversely, Peru adventures were about being in danger of freezing to death, and here we all were gasping for breath.

After the talk it was bedtime for the kids and Haiti time rot was now to be survived. Hour by long hour until something else broke the misery. The Flemish impressed in their headset lights and they also had underwear! I wanted to lie down, but where? Outside meant invisible insect attack, so that alone forced me into a room. I dragged out my blow up sleeping mat (which I did not have the energy to blow-up.) Pulled a grimy pillow 4off one of the bunks and passed out. Unbroken heat and insect assault drove me wide awake and into the darkness, ripping at my legs. The only relief I could find was some medicated shampoo. (Just the sort of thing bald people carry.) Finally, daylight seeped back into this dank world.

I had something I must do, and when back in the land of the living I, with difficulty, assembled all the staff and with appropriate banners in place, made all staff and visitors Honourary Companions of Peace. Marcel returned and as per, we clambered aboard a taxi-cycle, when it suddenly gyrated and we might have ended up crashed. You see, via my gear ants from the orphanage had also clambered aboard and were eating us alive…!

I was invited to a meal with the nurse’s family. This was from last visit when Marcel had vetoed it – the logistic nightmare, one supposes. I was put onto a motorbike and found myself in 52 Carrifour. What a change! Shops brightly painted, no trash apparent, dare I say the word – civilised. The nurse and husband had a nice house before the 2004 earthquake and then lost everything, including her hospital job, which no longer existed. They had camped out in the rubble and over the years recreated a semblance of a new life. This was markedly helped by six trees which nature had survive. The shade was heaven. Amid cockerels turtle doves, cooed. I was honoured by the best omelette I have ever eaten, but oh dear the boiled banana as it set like soft concrete in my guts. I was poleaxed. “Nurse Guerdy voiced a thought. “Will not Marcel be jealous?”

Marcel shook his head and unusual for him, said nothing the following half hour, during the sojourn back to his home. He broke the silence. The orphanage money was to go through the bank account of Haiti Scholarship. Or I must pull cash from the bank and that “could get me killed.” We changed to a bus and found many a seat had fallen to bits. The long distance buses passed with all manner of folk hanging off the roof. ‘I’d like to try that, sometime,’ I thought. Marcel would probably have had a fit.

Last day was to handover of orphan Jimmy to a shocked grandfather. This drastic action was necessary because Jimmy (12) had cut up hanging clothes with a broken bottle. If he stayed he might murder a kid. The handover was completed at of all places the Soleil morgue. Next stop was the UN fortress where we met the Commander, who accepted Marcel’s project information for passing up the chain. Thence the bike taxi rider, Marcel, my huge red rucksack, a large bag and myself all got on and cannoned over to the General Toursaint airport. It looked like it was under siege. “I must get through, I must get through…” I kept shouting to myself…

‘Was I in heaven?’ I more or less collapsed into the arms of American Airlines. God, there were no longer insects ripping at my legs. I was not wilting in the stupefying heat. The cracker in the plastic had a plastic stick to wipe the processed cheese. I kept saying to myself “I’m in heaven, I’m in heaven…

{So what’s missing at home in 19 Taswell Road? It’s from all angles, the thunderous cacophony of life all around in Haiti. I now sit staring blankly in utter silence.} 

 

 

 

 

 





After many a year I am back (after sundry adventure) to this blog thing!!!

3 10 2016

I have been busy with making videos, but now can begin to this other focus, also.

Here are my videos which are from the heart:-

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsi0yGBVj0xJLmX0kmqZOIw

I will use the visual power to get – what might be called visionary side – out there.





Attitude -by Professor Charles Swindol of Brigham Young University

3 01 2013

ATTITUDEby: Charles Swindoll

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.

Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home.

The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.

And so it is with you… we are in charge of our attitudes.





The Maritime Museum – Greenwich

3 01 2013

A Chinese compass was on display.First discovered by the Chinese, though not used for navigation, but for lining up their dead correctly for burial.

Of interest to American friends is the Naval medal awarded (1653) to Admiral William Penn, RN.

Nobody knows today what the Columbus flagship Santa Maria looks like. The museum even raises the speculation that his first voyage (1492) was not his first to the New World.

The first explorers (Portuguese) were looking for spice, gold, etc. but what they we given was rhubarb … To the Chinese they looked constipated!

The museum tell us that cannibalism was not totally uncommon and they postulate that that was the fate of some of the Sir John Franklin expedition.

… and always heartbreak. “All to find the man I love he’s my jolly sailor dear.”

 

 





Head of the Church of England – HM Queen Elizabeth 11

3 01 2013

Her Majesty is noted for having publicly said nothing of any significance across 60-years. So below is rare:- 

“The concept of our established Church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly under-appreciated. Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusions of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country … The Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities, and indeed for people of no faith to live freely.”