James is currently in Sudan.
Archive for the ‘Videos’ Category
My friends, let’s get the most important question out of the way: Mauritius is most definitely a true vacation destination. You could absolutely find everything that you need here in order to have an enjoyable, relaxing holiday. Whether your with friends, family, or even alone, this country should definitely be at the top of your travel list and I recommend a visit here at least once in your lifetime.
I don’t want to sound so sure of myself, but after traveling as long as I have, you start to pick up on these things. Many times, my travels feel like a day to day routine and I often forget to take time to enjoy the places that I visit. But once in awhile, a place will amaze me, and Mauritius is one of them.
I have visited over 100 countries now in my lifetime and have had the opportunity to experience many different people, places, environments, etc. I hope that you all know by now that I am a big fan of nature and that the tropical climate is my favorite. I also enjoy learning about new people and cultures, food, traditions, the friendliness of local people, etc. However, many times I am so stubborn and determined to get our work done. I get so distracted by making sure that there is always progress being made and I often find myself busier than I’d like to be. I forget sometimes to enjoy life a little more and relax a little so that I can try to enjoy some of the places that I’m visiting. When I don’t take a second to stop and breathe in the experience, I just keep going and these once in a lifetime moments become unappreciated. I become so focused on getting things done and moving on to the next place, that I often don’t realize that I am missing so much that is happening around me. But, it’s hard to change a hyper and stubborn personality like mine.
Due to both Madagascar and Mauritius being islands, this part of my travel will have to be done on commercial airliners. Mostly because it’s cheaper that way, but partly because it’s more efficient to leave my plane on a previous island and just island hopped from there, over this big blue Indian Ocean. Mauritius is a tiny island in the middle of that ocean, over 500 miles East of Madagascar (even farther away from the mainland).
The airline out here is called Air Madagascar and we are scheduled to make a stop on the island of Reunion. As it turns out, Reunion is a French-controlled island. Without going into too many details, bigger countries like France, England, Spain, Portugal, USA, etc., still try to keep their conquered territories from time to time. Particular islands are often still territories of these nations and are used for political purposes and/or to keep up the monopoly game that they all have going on. Never mind if people might have inhibited that place beforehand, it’s business as usual out here as bigger governments try to force their rules and governance onto the smaller, less equipped civilizations.
You would think that island hopping down here would be as cheap as it is in places like the Caribbean, but it’s much more expensive. Even though you are forced to stop in another country/territory on the way to Mauritius, the prices do not reflect any discounts for such detours. There is a large group of people on this flight from France who did not expect this situation. It reminds me of my recent trip back to the States on Ethiopian Air, when I was disappointed at all of the stops we had to make. At least on this airline they offer food, which is quite different from all of those cheaper, lower-cost airlines in the US and Europe.
After arrival into Mauritius, I was quite pleased to see that this airport was very nice and clean. I can already tell that this is tourist hot spot because they are playing island music over the speaker system and you can see tourism advertisements all over the place. Even the border agents looked friendly and seemed ready to assist and welcome you to their country. For once, a country that is welcoming and not intimidating.
One thing that I never remember to be prepared for is the customs question about which hotel I will be staying. Since I never know beforehand, I always forget to prepare a good answer for them. This proved to be a little bit of a hangup here in Mauritius. The border agents were very insistent that I name a place. So I made up some nonsense name to give him. Because he hadn’t heard of it and didn’t know it’s location (it didn’t exist), he assumed more information than I gave him and I ended up just saying yes to it so that I could get the heck out of there. Otherwise, he was ready to send me over to a reservation agency to find a place so that it could be placed in my formal documents. This is the part of traveling that I hate, all of these nonsense rules, etc. On the other hand, the agent was very nice about things and did remind me that this regulation was based on my safety, so that they could find me easily if anything were to happen while here in the island. I guess that this might be helpful at some point, like in places where all of those tsunamis have torn through.
Shortly after this exchange, I was ready to find a taxi. What I was absolutely not expecting, my friends, was to hear the astronomical prices that they charge to take a taxi into town. Apparently, we are about an hour away from there and a typical fare is between $50 and $70 USD, even though the island itself is only about 90km from North to South. I’m guessing that they don’t serve champagne on those taxi rides, though for prices like that they should.
Luckily, and again, thanks to our common humanity, I was offered a ride into town from my new American friend Mike. We had started chatting before clearing customs and mentioned that he had arranged for someone to pick him up, so he offered for me to ride along. Friends, you all know me by now, I never say no to such warm generosity.
Once in town, I soon realized that my friend Mike was accustomed to the more comfortable things in life. He was here to work for the US Embassy (unlike myself) and, therefore, had access to a much fancier hotel for the night. I, on the other hand, disappeared from there quite quickly after learning that the hotel was nearly ten times by daily budget. So out of here I go, searching for a dirty, nasty, old hotel that fits my nearly broke budget.
My friends, I have to admit that I would will never in my life miss this part of our mission. I can’t even share with you some of the ‘hotels’ that I have been in because they have been so horrible. Rest assured that hotel charges are not where most of your money goes that gets donated to Flying for Kosovo. If I didn’t always look for the cheapest bed in town, I would never have been able to afford to travel this far. Trust me, if I were allowed to sleep in my tiny airplane I would (both to save costs AND because it would be much safer and more comfortable than some of these ‘hotels’). But, bureaucratic nonsense wins out again and what can I do but hope and pray that I don’t catch a disease like malaria from somewhere.
It was very late when I got to my old, rundown hotel, but a small enjoyment was waiting when I was able to deal with the terrific elder gentleman working at the front desk. He was a great character. I hit my head on the pillow and woke up a few hours later ready to face the day. Ladies and gentlemen: sometimes the universe deals you a good hand of cards.
I awoke to Mauritius on a Sunday morning. Since there would be no media houses and/or government offices open today, I was actually able to take a day off from the mission and enjoy this beautiful island. Normally, if I were on the mainland, I would have used a weekend day like this to fly to another country so that I wouldn’t waste useful weekday ‘business’ time to do so.
The other reason that I would use the weekend time to fly is because some of the places that I have visited are quite a rough place to be. Some of them have been quite difficult and they aren’t always the safest places either. But that is not the case here in Mauritius and I have to tell you that I am going crazy with enjoyment to be able to explore this island today.
It is a beautiful day out and there is lots of sunshine to soak up. Right outside of my hotel there is a street market and across the street is the bus terminal. It feels like all of Mauritius is just steps away from my hotel door. I am excited to see what types of things await me.
The first thing that I notice is that the majority of people here look like they are of Indian descent, followed by Europeans, then African natives. I later learn that this mix is partly because people from India and China were initially brought here by the as slaves by the French. What a pleasant surprise that to find out that the dominant culture is Indian, as that is another culture that I enjoy very much. Aside from the awesome tasting food that they make, I have a lot of respect for their culture.
One reason in particular for this is because of Mr. Vikrant Brar. Mr. Brar was one of my early aviation mentors back when I was learning to fly jets. In addition to being a great aviation teacher, he became a wonderful friend and I will cherish our experience together always. We flew together for over a year to places like Mexico, US and Canada and during that time he fed me his great Indian cuisine hundreds of times. Not to mention the fact that he was also an excellent cook.
I met Mr. Brar when he was assigned to be the chaperon on my first experience of flying a jet. I am positive that, were it not for all of the things that he taught me, I would not have near the amount of confidence of flying that I have today. Though he had quite a tough character (as do I sometimes), we always managed to work through our differences. Though our opinions didn’t always match, it was a very valuable experience for me to have a type of working relationship where you can be professional, even though you don’t always agree. To this day, his words and teachings follow me where ever I go. It is his voice that I hear when I’m flying all of those hours in the sky.
So there you have it friends: the main reason why I am fond of the Indian culture. The other is that I have great memories from meeting an Indian couple back in Guyana. It was there that I met my new friends, Champ and Seeta, who were kind enough to invite me to an Indian religious ceremony. What a beautiful experience, and of course, there was lots of tasty food there to enjoy as well.
Because of my experience with the people mentioned above, I am feeling quite comfortable here in Mauritius. At least I know a few things about the culture (and enough to know that it is one that I enjoy). I have found that the people of India are excellent people, with lots of great family values, traditions, food, etc.
After filling my stomach full of great Indian cuisine, I decide to take a bus to the Northern point of the island. It turns out that this country is very small and it only takes about an hour to get to the North side from my location here in the South. This country is about 1/5 of the size of our Kosovo and has less land than 1000sq. miles total.
As we traveled north, there was a lot to see. I ended up taking a lot of pictures to remember this place. The weather was excellent today and I enjoyed viewing the beautiful countryside on our bus ride. The rest of the people on the bus were very friendly and I am learning that everyone here is very welcoming to tourists. What a relief compared to some of the countries I’ve been in. Mauritius is the second largest financial center in Africa (aside from Johannesburg in South Africa), so I guess that they are used to having lots of outsiders here that bring them lots of money and investments. Many times it pays to treat outsiders with a little bit of respect.
Aside from that, they do a very good job marketing themselves as a tourist destination. I can see why. I am in paradise today. After I arrived at the north side, I was able to take a much-needed walk along their magnificent beaches. There were lots of people out and about, so I was able to enjoy seeing things like family gatherings, religious services, etc. Not to mention the fact that I’m absolutely in love with the soft ocean breeze here. Again, I highly recommend this tiny country as a very enjoyable tourist destination.
In fact, Mauritius reminds me a lot of the islands in the Caribbean, especially Nassau and Paradise Island (where Atlantis hotel and casino is located). It is very touristy here and tropical. The only difference is that there are not as many casinos here as there are in the Caribbean, which of course is fine with me. The only gambling that I need to be doing is the gamble that I take when I enter into a new country and into the unknown.
After a few hours of soaking up the sun and getting a tan, it is time to board the bus back to Port Louis in the South, where my hotel is located. A day like this goes by at the speed of sound and I sort of dread going back into a downtown area. At least I was able to enjoy a refreshing walk on the beach, have a few inexpensive, delicious snacks and observe the local customs.
One of my favorite things to do in the tropical countries is to buy food and drinks from the side of the road. I am absolutely in love with fresh fruits and juices and I really enjoy interacting with the local street vendors. Usually, the food is much cheaper at these locations, not to mention how tasty it can be. One of my favorite things to buy this way is fresh coconut milk. It is so delicious when it is freshly made.
So back on the bus I go, headed for my hotel. But it is still pretty early in the evening when I arrive back to town. Lucky for me I notice a boardwalk here, not far from the hotel. The longer I can stay away from my crummy accommodations the better. What a contrast I find, as the boardwalk seems to be quite an elegant and upper class shopping area – very clean, nice shops and restaurants, parks, benches, etc. It is here that I notice all of the effort that this country goes through to keep things clean. The locals tell me that that there is a whole government department that focuses on the environment and making sure that things stay presentable.
After a short walk, it was time to go rest and prepare for the battles of tomorrow. I hand wash my shirt before going to bed so that it is dry in the morning and ready to be ironed. Now that I’ve spent a day recharging my battery, I’m ready to work full force today and make some progress on our mission objectives. The only thing that I need to do first is to catch something to eat from one of those street vendors, since this hotel doesn’t offer a breakfast service. By 9:00am, by driver (Mr. Imran Deedor – a great gentleman) and I are ready to conquer the town. All I have to do is to be the decision-maker.
When you are dealing with the media, often times they keep bouncing you around. Sometimes, its because they don’t necessarily have a journalist assigned to world political affairs. But other times it is because the writers are in the field and trying to cover other, more local stories. Sometimes they are late to your appointment and some times they don’t show up at all. It is not uncommon for me to go to a particular media house 3-4 times during the day, trying to get our story covered.
I do this running around because it is very important that we get our mission covered by the local media. That is one of the primary objectives of our mission and for each visit to a new country. The goal is to get as much publicity as we can for Kosovo. Remember, aside from the travel costs, this is all free publicity. We don’t have to spend a dime on advertising if we can get our story published in the local media. This coverage would be worth millions of dollars in the US.
If it were not for all of the wonderful teams that I have worked with, the wonderful editors and journalists around the world, our mission would have been impossible. We would have accomplished nothing and the local people of each country would not know about our beloved Kosovo. These talented people, with their broad array of experiences and vast knowledge of the world, all share the same compassion for other human beings.
Generally, my experience with all of them has been nothing short of superb and it has been one of my biggest joys to have met so many great intellectuals. We owe so many thanks to them because of their dedicated amount of attention to our mission. Their coverage and willingness to cover our story has been priceless.
Here in Mauritius, Mr. Gilles Ribouet, with L’Express newspaper was a great person. Very detailed, patient and clever journalist. He knew about all of the trouble in the Balkans and had lived in France before, so he was very attached to Europe in general. Thanks also to my friends at Le Matinal, who interviewed me and shared with me valuable information about their country.
Thank you to Mr. Michael Jourdan, with Le Mauricien. He is originally from Belgium and is a wonderful human being – very detail oriented and cares a lot about Kosovo’s well-being. He would very much like to see our country gain momentum in the world. Mr. Jourdan gave our mission and Kosovo an entire page of valuable space in his newspaper in the hopes that our information will reach many people and increase their support for our recognition.
Mr. Noor Adam Essack, with Le Defi Media Group was also very helpful. Since he had previously lived in England, he was quite familiar with our concerns. He even worked with many Kosovars in his past, which must have made an impact on him because he could still remember their names after all of this time. Mr. Essack is a man with great personality, book smart, and very specific and focused in his questions. It really helped our interview that he had such a tremendous amount of knowledge about Kosovo already.
Thanks to the Director at the national television station, Mauritius Broadcasting Company, Mr. Datta Raymond. He was able to organize an interview at his station, which is the only television station representing this great nation of over one million people. Finally, I would like to thank Mr. Neil Linley Appadoo, is also a news editor.
In the realm of radio, thank you to Radio Plus (Centre 97.7FM, Nord 88.6GM, and SUD 98.9FM). Mr. Newaz Noorbux organized my interview there and Mr. Leevy Frivet was my interviewer.
At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs they were very professional. Their protocol was not too difficult to navigate and they were also cooperative (which always helps). They made it possible for me to meet the second in command underneath the Minister. He was an experienced official who was well versed in global affairs. This was due to the fact that he had been the Ambassador for Mauritius with many different countries. Our meeting was very cordial and professional, though I sensed that he might have been relying on some earlier, outdated facts and figures.
He did, however, admit that Serbia did not treat us right and that this fact should be addressed. He also discussed with me the fact that his nation is one of the many within the African Union. According to that organization, all members have agreed to oppose any separation of nations and territories. He gave the example of Kashmira in order to make the point that this issue is a very sensitive topic.
When I offered debate and asked him how he would be able to live with a group of people that killed his father, killed 10,000 people of his ethnicity, limited free speech, religion, ability to practice and study in their own language, etc., or how he would feel if his people were ruled by 2-3 % of a population who are different from him. He was unable to give me a direct answer and chose to go back to discussing diplomacy, etc. Since he has had a career in politics, I guess that it is hard to change those mindsets. But then I remember that there are many types of people within one government and that each one of them has different opinions on the subject, which could eventually work in our favor.
In this respect, I am glad that the media houses have been friendly towards us during our mission. They have been a tremendous help in exposing our side of the story to the rest to the people of the rest of the world. Because of them, opinions and decisions can be made by a much larger group of people and not just those officials at the top.
Ms. Citaku’s letter was hand-delivered, which is part of what we came here to do. We can’t force nations to change their decisions. We must keep doing our job, speaking up, raising awareness and showing the world that we can be successful. By doing these things we will begin to convince them of our permanence. We must not rely solely on our fairy tales and high hopes, but send a message with our actions. Creating a stable government, showing economic progress, reducing rumors of organized crime and corruption and respecting human rights – these are all actions that we can take to show the world that we are serious about becoming a country.
I have nothing but good memories of this nation. Its beauty and its great people created a calm and relaxed atmosphere in which to work for a few days. To me, the wealth of a nation is based on its people and not necessarily the material and/or economic wealth. You could be the richest person in the world, but if you don’t have the magic or charisma to go along with it, you don’t have any wealth in my eyes.
It is the last night here and I will be sad to see this country go. I am able to enjoy one last walk this evening around the boardwalk and enjoy the scenery. Though our mission has to keep going, I am convinced that I will have to come back and explore this nation further in the future. Enjoy their beautiful beaches, get to know more of the local people, relax and enjoy some of the nice rum that they are known for, try to spot one of those dodo birds that I have heard about here, etc.
One thing is for sure: this country could definitely provide a relaxing vacation for anyone, whether with a family or alone. If you time it right, you could even catch a reasonable deal on the travel arrangements. I highly recommend visiting this beautiful island to all of you. May all of the local people here in Mauritius be blessed and continue to prosper.
Very short distance today between Swaziland and Mozambique, but there is a huge difference in the infrastructure, organization, road system, cleanliness, etc. The changes between these two countries are quite noticeable. I suppose that part of this may be because Mozambique is a much larger country with many more people in it. It’s comparable in size and, whereas Swaziland had a population of a little over a million people, Mozambique has well over 22 million. I would imagine that it’s a bit harder to keep things neat and clean with so many people.
It’s so refreshing for me to be traveling north my friends. Just knowing that I am on my up the continent of Africa and have reached over half of the continent gives me a small sense of relief that this portion of the mission will be coming to an ending at some point. It helps me stay focused as I can now see a small light at the end of the tunnel.
Another thing that makes me happy here in this country is that I get to travel along a small portion of the Indian Ocean coastline. It is refreshing and there is a different feel to it than there was on the Atlantic side of the continent. And its actually a bit warmer here than in Swaziland.
I am feeling comfortable already and am sending thanks to God for the few Spanish speaking skills that I have acquired over my travels. Since this country was once a territory of Portugal, Portuguese is the official language here. Though I definitely don’t have many skills in speaking that one, my Spanish is allowing me to get by fairly okay and at least helps me get my point across so that I can get my mission work done.
Remember, there are tons of different languages being spoken here in Africa every day. Luckily, the culture here is that there is also a lot of trade going on across countries and cultures, so the people tend to pick up on each each others languages fairly quickly. Even though they may not speak it perfectly, it is usually possible to carry on a brief conversation or make business transactions.
That fact has been my saving grace down here. I am especially fortunate in the arena of all of the media communication that I have done. Many of the journalists that I meet generally speak in their primary language, but because of their familiarity with either English, French or Spanish, we have been able to get by and I have been able to get my point across as far as the mission work is concerned.
Regardless of language, I have learned over the past two years that the most important qualities to have when communicating with others are those of tolerance, forgiveness, understanding and compassion for others. When you present those qualities, it often translates into showing respect for the other person, no matter what their culture is, what language they speak, what race they are, what country there are from, etc. When this magic happens, you end up finding solutions to many problems that may come up along the way.
I arrived in Maputo in the early afternoon and attacked work right away. There have been lots of times, folks, where upon arrival to a new country, I don’t even check into a hotel right away because I am trying to make my brief stay as productive as possible and get our message delivered to the people and the government in the most efficient and effective way possible. As a result, I am usually able to get my work done fairly quickly by taking advantage of official office hours, etc. to work and then do my personal business after hours in order to avoid spending days and days in one nation. Remember, our planet has 192 countries and if I ended up taking my sweet time then James would never finish anything, so I have to get to work right away when I arrive in each country and be as efficient as possible.
There have been many times where I don’t see anything in a country except what their media houses and Ministry of Foreign Affairs offices look like, unless I have to take a particularly long taxi ride in order to get there. This work is often in the capital of each country and so I am only able to see these two privileged perspectives as opposed to spending more time with the local people and exploring more of the regional nature that I would like. But my friends, we have to get the word out about Kosovo to as many people as possible and the way our mission runs, almost broke all of the time, I don’t want to take up our precious time or finances acting like a tourist. We have a serious request and I am on this mission in order to present our case for recognition to the rest of the world.
The media houses here in Mozambique were actually very receptive to our cause. Thank you to all of the wonderful journalists here who have helped our people by using their professions and positions in life to help us gain strength and recognition around the world. Thank you to my friends at the newspaper Noticias, Mr. Alcides Tamele and Mr. Aboobacar Amade for their valuable time in their help in sharing our mission and our cause with their country.
A big thank you to my friends at the national radio station, Radio Mozambique and Mr. Aderito Lipanga, a very detailed journalist who was well spoken and a very humble human being with great character.
Thanks to Mr. Adilson Mahomed Dos Santos Taju, with STV television and the newspaper O Pais, for his meticulous work and dedication to delivering a high quality story that would have great impact on his people. He actually had something prepared and played on television within just a few hours of our interview. And I can’t forget to thank Mr. Francisco Carmona, Redactor in Chief with newspaper Savana, who had lots of knowledge about Kosovo’s past history and our problems in the Balkans overall.
Finally, thank you to the wonderful team and Televisao de Mocambique (TVM) for their interest and to Mr. Admiro Feliciano and his cameraman Mr. Samuel Canda for their wonderful work during our interview.
At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Antonio Bambissa, Directory Adjoint (Deputy Director) for the Europe and America’s Division was gracious with his time, even though I had no prearanged meeting scheduled. Vlora Citaku’s letter was hand delivered to him and he assured me that if there was anything that he was able to do in his power within the Ministry that he would do so to help further recognition of Kosovo as an independent nation.
Most of my taxi drivers were okay here in Mozambique, except for a few dishonest, unreliable, greedy drivers. I have been very lucky, folks, that this hasn’t happened to me more often during my mission and that, in general, most of my drivers have been quite helpful. I do want to thank Mr. Denis Vilancules though. He really helped me out during my stay in his country and helped me to gain the most productivity from my very short visit here.
After working on this mission for the last two years, I have been through so many changes, challenges and experiences, but one thing that does make me happy is to know that a majority of the nations that I have visited so far actually agree 100% that we should be considered an independent country. Two years ago, I would never have guessed that this was true.
But this does not mean that we should stop working on this cause now just wait for things to happen. We must still continue to demonstrate to our world that we are serious in this area and that we are ready to begin a relationship with all of the nations around the world. We must also take this opportunity to continue building relations with the countries that we have already visited. This does not mean that I should have to go back to every one of them for a follow up visit, but that each and every one of us begin to think of ways that we can contribute to furthering our nations position worldwide.
As Albanians and Kosovars, we each have a duty and an obligation to demonstrate our capacities to the world so that they will continue to hear our message. We must all use our individual talents that we have been given so that we can further contribute to society, the world, humanity, peace, etc. As a new nation, we have no choice now but to do our part and demonstrate to the world that we can show strength and perservere in being recognized and that we actually have the capacity to be stable politically, economically, socially, etc. We need to continue to harness the power that we have within all of our individual abilities in order to demonstrate to the world that, as a nation, we can become a contributing member to the world community and that we do not intend to settle for mediocrity. I hope that you all will find your own individual ways to help our country become stronger in these areas and live up to what we all know our Kosova can be.
Back here in Mozambique though, it looks like this country is trying to grow stronger as well. It is unfortunate, but this country maintained a civil war from the late 70’s through to the early 90’s. Because of that, there were many people who fled from here as refugees and the economy was not as strong as it could be. I see here though that they are trying to improve things since then and that there is great potential for future growth and success. There are many dynamic, hard working, welleducated, aware and wonderful people here too, like Kosovo, which puts both of our countries in a position to progress in a positive direction. All that remains to do is to put all of our talents to work and to use so that our nations can play an even bigger role in the world – for Kosovo with Europe and for Mozambique with Africa. Despite the common struggles that I see, things could turn around fairly easily if things move in the right direction.
Maputo overall seems very well develped, except for a few improvements that might need to be made here and there and looks fairly similar to any other European city that I have seen. There is some construction being started which is a positive sign for their economy I would guess and the locals tell me that most of the people who fled during the civil war have returned, which is also helping the economy to grow. It definitely takes a village to grow a nation and progress cannot be gained when there are only a few people here and there contributing to efforts such as this. There is tremendous opportunity to be made if we all begin to realize that we are all responsible for our future success and that we each have certain strengths that can be given towards leading us in that direction.
The next country for me will be Zimbabwe, which I am looking forward to visiting and seeing what progress has been made their after the sky rocketing inflation that they experienced a few years ago.
God bless our neighbor Mozambique.
It is a small relief to finally arrive here in Namibia. I have been waiting a long time to be able to touch down in the last country on the western side of this continent. The only western coastline after this belongs to South Africa, which will be the southernmost tip of Africa. What a joy to reach this point.
The only other thing that I knew about Namibia before landing here was that there has traditionally been a strong German influence in this country for many centuries and that a lot of things down here work like a clock (always organized and on time). In the early days Namibia was known as German South West Africa (later South West Africa, when it was taken over by South Africa). Several Germans stayed on here and this was later one of the countries involved in Apartheid (legal racial segregation). While much of the white population flourished, many of the natives did not fare so well and the previous genocide is still remembered here today. In 1990, the nation was able to win independence in the Namibian War of Independence and has since been under self rule (though it still maintains strong economic ties to South Africa).
This country is huge my friends. For a land area the size of Texas and Louisiana combined, there are only a little over two million people here. That turns out to be about 3 people for every 7 sqare miles of land. In other words, people here are very spread out, unlike our tiny country of Kosovo.
Because it is so vast, many people still have a lot of room to farm here. But most people rely on subsistence as over ½ of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25/day. Though mining for diamonds and other minerals is popular (similar to the last few countries visited), there is still a lot of outside aid that comes to this country. Since Libya and Cuba provided a lot of help during the war, Namibia tries to maintain good foreign relations with them as a result.
As I approached Namibia’s airspace, I could already see the vast, untouched land below. I could see no civilization for miles, except for a farm or two sprinkled here or there. It was so beautiful and green everywhere and very flat looking. Remember, part of that Kalahari Desert from Botswana is here in Namibia and there is another desert land here as well known as the Namib, for which the country is named. That desert is considered the oldest in the world.
I have to stop here and again thank our friend Jean Philippe van Nyen whom I met back in Sao Tome and Principe. Remember that he requested that I receive a diplomatic passport through his organization, OSJ Ecumenical Knights of Malta. It has been a tremendous gift that has worked out very well for me. It is now much easier to travel and has really cut out a lot of the bureaucratic nonsense that I hate. Here in Namibia, it allowed me to clear customs with no problems and in no time at all.
Catching a taxi was a bit of a different story. I quickly learned that taxis in this country are not cheap. Though I did try to explore other options, it turns out that buses here are nonexistent, which meant that I had no choice but to pay the steep asking price of $50 USD for a ride into town. It was nearly a 50km distance into town, so I guess that this price might compare to what it costs to get a taxi from Prishtina to my home in Brestovc. Last time I took a taxi there it was 35 Euros, which is pretty close to the price here in Namibia I suppose.
After all of my travels, I have learned a thing or two about how to save money though. Thanks to god for that knowledge, otherwise I would have remained broke and stuck in some place like Mauritania. After taking so many cabs and having been a cab driver myself, I have gained some knowledge on what types of bargains can be made, how to cut corners in cost, etc. I have found that if I am not vigilant, everyone starts to see me as a walking money sign. Remember, these taxi drivers, they sit sometimes for many hours waiting for a passenger and once they get you, they want to charge you all of those astronomical prices. They definitely don’t like people like me who know a thing or two. Once they know that how persistent I can be and that I will not take any crap, they start to reconsider their asking price and we tend to get along just fine. Basically my friends, they mostly just give up arguing with me and agree to my demands in order to make at least a little bit of money, which is always better than none. This time, they finally gave up trying to get the full amount for a ‘solo’ taxi ride. Since I was not willing to pay their asking price just for a ride into town, we worked out a deal where other people who were as poor as me could share the ride and the cost. So after rounding up another passenger, we all agreed on a total price and were off to town.
On the way, I see that Namibia has a beautiful road system, very clean and neat everywhere that you look. Our taxi driver was now acting as our tour guide and ended up giving us lots of information about his nation. One thing that I learned was that these people seem happy to have received lots of rain this year. It turns out that their government regulates water here and when there is not enough rain, it limits people from their water supply. Actually, Namibia is one of the few countries in the world to specifically address conservation and protection of natural resources direclty within its constitution. But the people here, they don’t seem to like being limited in their water usage, so they are very happy this year to have more than enough.
During our short drive to town, I was also starting to get a feeling like I was taking a ride somewhere in California in the spring time. The sun is out (no surprise since they get about 300 days of sun per year here) and the topography is the rather flat, much like that of the golden state. I am feeling a lot of charm to this place. I see a lot of true nature here and it looks fairly wild too. Everything is green and apparently it has been raining quite often here lately since it is now the rainy season.
We arrive in no time at all to the capital of Windhoek. Such a pleasant ride with enough time to get a feel for the nature that exists in this part of our beautiful planet. The taxi driver dropped me off at a local bed and breakfast which was within my budget and not far from the city center. Shortly after check-in I was off to a nearby mall to find an internet cafe in order to update my team on my whereabouts. Though I ended up getting there around close, the workers were nice enough to let me stay and use the computer while they cleaned and closed up shop. In a lot of these African countries, everything closes at around 17:00 or 18:00, which often makes it difficult for me to finish up some of the work that I need to get done.
Friends, I could not believe my own eyes when I walked out of that place. Directly in front of me was a bright and shiny sign with the words Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in beautiful, mouthwatering letters. It was like the heavens parted and I literally got chills down my body from missing home so much. Without any further thought I went straight for their comfort food and had one of the best meals that I’ve had in a long time.
On my way back to the bed and breakfast, I was trying to negotiate a price with the taxi driver for tomorrows drive around town. He agreed to 350 Namibian dollars for the day (which is around $50USD), so I decided to hire him (even though I was getting a strong negative vibe at the time). In the morning, he had completely changed his tune and was trying to charge me triple the price that we had agreed upon, acting all innocent and unaware of our agreement. To cut it short my friends, it ended up being my worst experience with a taxi driver since I began this mission.
After getting that mess resolved, I finally started my day by heading to the media outlets and then to the Ministery of Foreign Affairs. The first and greatest people that I met that morning were the wonderful team with the television channel ‘One Africa‘. Those people were excellent, very nice and just a happy group of people. I owe a big thank you to Mr. Willem Snyman and Ms. Kudakwangu Chisweto who were both amazing to work with. They gave me an awesome interview for their tv show and were very professional. I could start to see here part of the German-style work ethic.
Thanks to the rest of the media here, Mr. Nico Smit with The Namibian who was very intelligent and dynamic with a great personalitiy. Thanks to Mr. Kae Matundu Tjporuro and Ms. Albertina Nakale with New Era newspaper for all of their great help. Thank you to Mr. Tafanji Nyirenda and Ms. Belinda Apollus with team at 100 FM Energy Radio who were all amazing people to work with. Lastly, thank you to Mr. Nghidipo Nangolo with the newspaper Informante for his dedication to publishing something that would make his government pay attention to details and remain on their toes.
At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I found a very professional team as well who were willing to help and hear me out. Thank you to Mr. Pinehas Aluten, the personal assistant to the Minister. He took our letter from Vlora Citaku and offered to forward it on to the Minister.
I feel fairly well at having accomplished many things in just a few days of work here in a nation like Namibia. I will miss this country very much, especially the nature. It is so beautiful and wild looking and remains very much an untouched and remote part of our globe. I should mention here the best part of this whole stop over.
On the way back to the airport, I was able to see a bunch of monkeys hanging around on trees. The most amazing part, though, was that from the highway I was also able to some gorillas running wild and free out there. Real, live gorillas my friends – in nature and not locked up in a zoo somewhere. To me, it is things like this that have no price tag. There is no price that you can pay that would equal the pure joy that I get from experiencing this kind of nature. The beauty and wild looking creations made by higher powers are something that we can never replace and I will rememer this about Namibia for years to come.
Further down the road I was able to stop and take a few pictures of my raw and natural surroundings. I spotted many more monkeys out there playing around and having a ball. I am very blessed to have experienced these moments and it helps me to forget some of the struggles that I have been through.
As a reminder, Namibia is the last nation on Africa’s west coast and I am leaving here, which is something to celebrate. Next country is Lesotho, which is a small, tiny nation surrounded by South Africa. After that will be South Africa, which will be the southernmost nation on the continent. I am excited to know that after that, I will be on may way north and working my way toward home.
After my mechanical stop in Lubumbashi, I was on my way to Zambia and very excited to hear the sound of my airplane working well again. Thanks again to the team at ITAB in Lubumbashi for everything that they have done for our mission.
Compared to my last flight, the flight to Lusaka, Zambia was a short one. I arrived around noon to find great weather and beautiful countryside. As I was flying over, I could see lots of farmland and farmers taking care of their crop. Later I learned that this is typical of rural Zambia. It’s weather is considered tropical and the rural populations tend to rely on subsistence farming tosurvive.
What a difference I felt upon landing at this airport. The runway was excellent and I could already see from the outside that this airport was more modern than the last one. Once inside it felt like any European airport. Things seemed to be working well, everything was well kept and clean. The terminal was modern and everything was well organized. Such a big difference between two neighboring nations.
In no time I was out of the airport and off to the hotel. What a joy it was to take a taxi ride to town. The driver had a uniform on and his car was nearly brand new. After I arrived at a hotel within my budget, I was off in another taxi to get some work done before days end.
One thing that I didn’t expect here in Zambia, was to meet people from back home. Mevilda Jerjlija and Indira Jerlija were wonderful ladies from our country who have been living in this country for about 40 years or so. What was interesting about meeting them, was that I was reminded yet again that even in Africa, there are people from our country who are successful and work hard to prosper in life. I never cease learning lots of interesting thigns through my travels, things that I would have never even thought of beforehand.
Things like seeing throughout Africa that ‘Tito’ was quite popular here and seems to be somewhat of a local hero. Many times now I have seen roads being named after him. Remember, our former nation was visible around the world back when it was strong enough and at one time had lots of embassies. Now that we have all split up and Yugoslavia does not exist, Serbia has taken over that real estate and has sold some of it. Our former embassies are are prime real estate in some countries. Here in Zambia, I got a chance to visit our land myself and it seems like an excellent location, just closed down and waiting to be sold. I’m pretty sure that any money that is made through those transactions goes right to Serbia – or do you think that they might split the money with us and the rest of the former Yugoslavia? What do you think my friends? I highly doubt that we will ever get anything from that. Maybe it’s because no one has ever thought about this? I can imagine that our people and our government might not be aware of such things.
Thanks to all of my media friends and their bosses here in Zambia for their time and dedication towards our cause. Thank you to the team at Muvi Television: Ms. Corinna Paolini, Mr. Paul Shalala, Zefaniah Zulu, Costa Mwansa, Brian Mwal and Betty Nguluwe. They all played a big role in talking about Kosovo on their talk show for hours and hours. They were great about expresssing to their people and our government that the people of Kosovo would like to be accepted as an independenc nation by their country. Thank you to the local radio station staff: Ms. Monde Phiri with QFM; Mutale Kani with Radio Pheonix 89.5 FM; and Lweendo Himdonde Chiko with Radio 5 FM, 89.9 Mhz. Thank you to the newspapers: Charles Musonda with Daily Mail Zambia; thanks to Linda Myondo, David Mataka, Charles Chisala; Elias Shilangwa with Monitor Newspaper Zambia; Roy Habaalu with The Post Newspaper; Obert Simwanza with Times of Zambia and finally, Mr. Anthony Mulowa.
Thank you to Mr. John Mulutula at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was comprehensive in our discussions and mentioned that he supports the people’s will for independence in Kosovo. He dedicated a lot of his time and agreed to hand deliver our letter from Vlora Citaku to his boss the Minister himself.
Mr. Mario Kandalu, my taxi driver was wonderful with a great character. He helped me a lot and knew the city well.
My friends, Zambia is a very nice place and quite functional. Though outside of the urban areas, many people still live on less than /year, the cit I’m in still looks clean, organized, has a good infrastructure. I can see that lots of progress has been made since Zambia was known as the British protectorate, Rhodesia. I had a great experience and it is a place that I would feel comfortable living in for a little while. The people here are quite nice and friendly too.
Another thing that I really liked was to look at the nice blue color of the high octane AVGAS. I was able to fill my plane with it which gave me a small sense of joy. The bigger joy that I got though, was that it was very cheap – only US for a liter. The only place cheaper than that so far in Africa was in Malta.
The next country is Botwsana. It will be the first country on this trip that hasn’t need a landing permit to land our plane.
Happy Independence Day!
Another long flight today (more than six hours) from Douala to Bangui, the capital of the Central African Repulic. More importantly though, most of the flight was spent flying over dense jungle. While most of this country is savannah (flat land), I am flying through the south side of the country, where there tends to be more jungle. Folks, that is a lot of time to spend flying over lions, tigers, giraffes, elephants, monkeys and thick forests!
Many times I have heard stories from other pilots about crashing in the jungle. They say that the chances of being found are slim because the trees of the jungle end up covering sight of the airplane from above. On top of that, in remote places like this, any type of search and rescue would take forever, since they would have to use animals to travel out here and not cars. Thanks to God that my baby plane’s engine held out and didn’t quit on me. Otherwise, my wild friends would have been having lunch with me.
During the last two hours of my flight, I begin to see more signs of human life and activity. Particularly, I start to see lots of fires. This is a surprise to me, but at this point, whatever I see here is a surprise to me. Since I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would ever visit this part of the world, I didn’t have any idea of what to expect here. It looks like in this area, the farmers have a tendency to burn things I guess.
I’ve also notice that this country is very rural. Though it’s large geographically (about 60 times the size of Kosovo), the population is only twice the size of our country. It looks like most people live in tribes and live a subsistence lifestyle, relying on livestock. After landing and being in town for a few days, I also learn that the country is about 50% Christian (there are a lot of missionaries in this part of Africa) and the next major religion tends to be the indigenous beliefs. It appears that Islam is only a small portion of the belief system here.
I might mention here that I was also struggling during the flight with my navigational system. My GPS (global navigational system) stopped working during the last hour of the flight. This was great news, since it was also getting dark and now seemed to be the time that I remembered the fact that this part of Africa has many electricity shortages. Not only did my navigation system stop working while flying over my friends the lions and tigers, but by now it was complete darkness around me as I could not see very many lights below and there were all of those fires as I mentioned. It felt like I was flying into a smokey little ghost town.
Whew! Thanks to God that I landed safely in Bangui. The airport is smaller than I anticipated (and only half of the landing lights were working) and looks deserted. There isn’t much activity going on for this being an international airport. Oh well, that makes it faster for me to clear customs and get a taxi. Here in the Central African Republic, I did not have a choice in which taxi I would take. It was ordered for me by the military police. I guess this country has has some politically stability issues for quite awhile, which explains all of the police and UN workers I see.
I am starting to noitce more and more that there is a lot of UN presence in this part of Africa. I’ve been seeing more and more UN planes lately. From what I can gather, this country in particular seems to rely on the UN for a lot of their services. There also appears to be a lot of ‘other’ ways to make money here, like moving alcohol, diamonds, ivory, etc.
After a good night’s sleep, I wake up to a rather lazy day. It is Sunday, so I can’t get much done as far as the mission goes. So I spend the day trying to catch up on my writings, doing laundry, checking emails and making phone calls home.
On Monday, I was off to a good start, thanks to all of my media friends in the country. Every country that I go to now, the media people become my main contacts. On top of the taxi drivers, which help me to learn about their country, the media people are a great resource when it comes to learning about local life.
Here in the Central African Republic, I quickly learn that there are not many media houses. That must be due to having such a small population and being so rural.
Thanks to my new friends in the media here who gave me great interviews and for all of the interest that they have shown in covering the mission and Kosovo’s independence. Thanks to Mr. Samual Turpin, who authorized my interview with Radio Ndeke Luka. I like that name because because it roughly translates to ‘lucky bird’ or ‘bird who delivers a message’. Mr. Turpin has worked in many countries and was very knowledgeable about Kosovo since he worked there during our conflict and was in charge of establishing one of our radio stations there. Also thanks to Mr. Fred Yapendet, the journalist with a great personality who actually did the interview with me.
Since radio is a huge media resource down here, I also went to Radio Nehemie. Mr. Jean-Piere Nambate Dounia was very knowledgeable about Kosovo. It was nice to hear that some of the listeners were asking if I could do the interview in Sango, one of the local languages. Even if I was able to do that, I hear that there are over 80 ethnic groups (all with their own language), so it would still have been hard to be understood by everybody.
My third radio interview was with Mr. Keven Junior Zackou-Wangui at Radio Notre Dame (there’s a history of French colonialism here too). I owe him a big thank you for his in-depth interview.
At the newspaper Le Confident, Mr. Banale Fleury and Mr. Etienne Madondabou helped me do an interview and at Le Citoyan, it was Eddy-Stephane. Mr. Samba Ferdinand and Dotte Geoffroy Hyacinthe were the great personnel at the Le Democrate newspaper and Mr. Jimmy Nzecko and Mr. Sylvestre Krock at the newspaper Hirondelle were also very helpful in getting the word out about our mission.
Finally, the Director of the National television station, Mr. Michael Ouambeti authorized his journalist Mr. David Nvale to interview me.
At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Attachee de Protocole du Minister, Ms. Viviane Nancy Dalemet had a great personality and was very persistent in getting me a meeting with her boss, the Minister himself, Mr. Antoine Gambi. During that meeting, Mr. Gambi gave me undivided attention and was very pleasant when discussing our mission. He mentioned that his personal position on Kosovo was that self-determination is a right that everyone should have and that he agrees with our independence. However, their file on Kosovo must go to his government so that they can make a decision as a group.
I hope that my visit to this remote and mostly tribal country will make a positive change here as far as Kosovo is concerned and that a decision will come out of this beautiful place soon.
Speaking of decisions, I find out that on this coming Sunday is when this country will have its next political election. As I mentioned earlier, this country has a history of political instability. This election alone has been postponed numerous times.
On a lighter note, I cannot forget to thank my taxi driver, Mr. Bruno Zoua. Though he ended up changing prices on me throughout the day (despite having agreeing to a set price in the morning), he was a trip to spend time with as he had the personality of a space cadet.
I am glad to have made progress here after wondering if I would ever make my landing. It was nice to spend my time here with humans instead of my friends the wild African animals. The next country up is Chad.
God Bless the Central African people.
I’m still enjoying the progress of this mission so far, despite the extreme stress encountered nearly every time that I have to deal with those nonsense permits required in every country.
The way that I figure it, it only takes basic math skills to understand that it would be much better to eliminate these nightmare permit requests. By doing so, these countries could have many more airplanes land at their airports, which means that they would also put more money into the local economy through the other fees required upon landing (parking fees, fuel charges, etc.), not to mention the money that visitors would spend for such simple things as taxis, hotels, restaurants, etc. Instead, the complicated process of gaining permits inhibit people from landing in these countries because all of the bureaucratic paperwork, pre-planning, back and forth requests, various waiting periods, etc., which all lead to a miserable time for the pilots that do land here.
I guess that many of the countries that I’ve visited so far are basically broke, so maybe they think they are bringing in money through all of these fees and hoops that they make you jump through to get there. In reality, they could make much more money being friendlier to incoming pilots and their air visitors. Instead, less airplanes coming in means that no extra money can be brought into their economy. Not to forget that it isn’t just this country with all of these complicated rules, there are many that I’ve visited that have the same sort of process for entry. Again, my basic math skills lead me to believe that these practices work to destroy the countries financial base and hurts their own people through trying to stick to an ideology that is not working effectively.
Needless to say, I did encounter these struggles in my visit to Cameroon. Despite all of the official requirements for entry, I ended up having to work around these. The permit that I was approved for was only intended to allow me to make a technical stop in Yaounde, the capital. Usually, a technical stop allows you to make a stop out of necessity only (refueling, diversion flights due to weather, stopping for physical needs, unpredicted circumstances, etc.). However, I was able to land in Douala instead. I am very lucky that I was able to stay three days there, since I did not have the right permit to do so.
Upon arrival in Douala, I was met by friendly people with a great sense of customer service. Thanks to my new friend, Onana Denis Gaeian, I was well taken care of. He spent half of the day with me, helping me get everything taken care of at the airport (getting fuel, paying my fees, flight planning, etc.), providing rides to and from the nearest hotel and assisting me with arranging a bus to the administrative capital of Cameroon, Youande
It’s always a good feeling to be in a foreign country and have someone local whose willing to help you out. Mr. Gaeian brought me to the bus station in Douala so that I could travel to the town of Youande, Cameroon’s administrative capital. The bus ride was an additional four hour ride that night. After flying 7 hours straight and dealing with airport paperwork both before flying and upon landing here, I ended up not getting to Youande until after midnight.
After a good night’s sleep, I awoke ready to face the tasks of the day. As usual, I hired a taxi driver – this has become a necessity in order to get anything done in a timely manner in regards to our mission. My driver today, Mr. Daniel Kenmene, is another very humble and wonderful person. He knew the town really well and was very pleasant to spend the day with.
In two full days, we were able to accomplish quite a bit together (even if we were running around like madmen). While we were going from one media house to the next, we didn’t even have time to eat a proper meal. Instead, we lived off snacks from sidewalk vendors in order to make the best of our time and get the most accomplished.
Thanks to the great people at the newspaper ‘Le Jour’, the journalist Mr. Beaugas-Orain Djoyoum who interviewed me and his boss Francois Xavier Luc Deutchoua; To Mr. Hugues Marcel Tchoua, with the government newspaper, Cameroon Tribune; Mr. Alphonse Nkoa-Anaba with Radio Anaba 87.0 FM. A big thank you to Mr. Georges Alain Boyomo, who wrote a wonderful one page article at the newspaper Mutations, and his boss, Mr. Leger Ntiga, who authorized its publication; The newspaper Le Messager and Ms. Nadege Christelle Bowa for her great in depth interview; Mr. Jean-Patient Tsala (another great person who knows Kosovo past and present really well) and our interview with ‘magic FM’ – that was and interview that I will remember for a long time; The great team at radio RTS Radio Tiemeni Siantou 90.5 FM who gave me another great interview –Mr. Eugene Messina, Eric Boni Face Tchovakeu. We had lots of fun talking about many great topics, from the culture similarities and differences between Africa, Europe and Kosovo, as well as other topics of life in general. Finally, I don’t want to forget my appreciation for the awesome team and Canal 2 of Cameroon – Ms. Cathy Toulou Elanga and Marius Kouosso. Both of them had a great personality and were a joy to speak with.
I’d like to say one additional thing here, in regards the African media. I have been continually surprised at the receptiveness of the media here in Africa. I am, of course very grateful and appreciative of their time and attention to our cause. They are such an important part of helping to raise awareness of our nation, our people, and our future. They have published and transmitted many excellent articles, radio transmissions, electronic transcripts and video reports. I never gave much thought to it before traveling here, but the media here is much more receptive than some I have encountered in the past. Folks, it saddens me to admit this, but this portion of our mission has been much more successful in getting media coverage transmitted to the rest of the planet than the coverage from our own country, where my heart is. It seems like Flying for Kosovo should be the primary focus of our media in Kosovo, as far as getting the word out to the rest of the world, especially since it would be so beneficial to our people and nation to know about these other countries in the world and how we can build better relations with them.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs were all very professional and respectful, I owe them a big thank you for having organized a meeting with me on such short notice. Mr. Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, General Secretary at the MFA was extremely knowledgeable about Kosovo’s independence and the desire of our people. He said to me “Mr. Berisha, we all know that Kosovo’s independence is irreversible and that [Cameroon's] government can’t deny that, but that they would have to be careful on how to proceed with this delicate matter in order not to create a situation that would damage his countries interests and position in the world. Vlora Citaku’s letter was hand delivered to him and he assured me that the Minister himself would get the letter shortly. It was the Minister himself who initially authorized Mr. Ngoh to see me. He apologized for not being able to receive me personally (and on such short notice) since he had The Vice Minister of China in his country at the time.
The city of Youande looks very nice. A lot of the buildings have French-style architecture. Again, the French were very involved historically in developing this part of Africa. Even today, it is French and English that are the official languages of Cameroon. The best part of this town, however, was the boulangeries, or French bakeries. What a treat my friends! Many of you might not know this, but I have lost weight on this trip due to my bodies intolerance to certain of the foods that I have tried. So I thought I was in heaven being able to eat a fresh, French pastry here.
On to another country and it continues to amaze me how fast that we humans can adapt to a new life and new surroundings. It’s been more than two months now that I have been on the go, flying all Africa and I’ve been able to see some really fascinating, beautiful, unpleasant and chaotic things. You name it, I’ve probably seen it.
But no matter what you’ve seen in the past, no matter what spoiled, rotten lifestyle you’ve lived beforehand, pretty soon, people and faces all become the same to you: human. Within a few days, you start to get the hang of the newest culture and your body and mind begin to fit right in. You begin to identify the differences and commonalities in each place: similar traditions, different lifestyles, similar climate, different geography, more or less organized than the last place, clean or chaotic looking, etc.
Here in Burkina-Faso (which was renamed in 1984 and roughly translates to ‘men of integrity’ or ‘land of honest people’). I’ve met some great very warm and wonderful people who are known as Burkinabe.
It looks like there has been some progress here as far as infrastructure (nature, parks, monuments, buildings, restaurants, etc), though not too much within the government. Blaise Compaore has been the sitting President for the past 23 years. I also see that there isn’t much work here. Many locals tell me that they are used to going to Cote d’Ivoire or Ghana to work seasonally (though recently there has been some tension with Cote d’Ivoire).
It’s hard to learn a lot about a country though, when you are moving at the speed of sound. So the easiest way for me to learn about each culture is through conversations with the local taxi drivers. From them, I learn all sorts of things from them about their country, culture, lifestyles, traditions, etc. They are my University. I even pay tuition with all of the fares that they charge me.
Here, my new taxi-driver friend is Mr. Issaka Zoungaana. He is calm, friendly, down to earth and readily admits that he has no education and has never really been to school. Still, he is a nice person who is trying hard to make ends meet for him and his family and it makes me happy to help him gain some money. Despite not being very comfortable all day in his car, it was kind of funny that it was as squeaky and creaky as my friend’s car in Senegal.
Though this country has already recognized our independence, I am making a stop here anyway. I have found on my travels that just visiting and expressing thanks to these countries is very beneficial. This has been confirmed to me many times so far, since people will recognize me and stop me on the road, to start talking to me about our country Kosovo, usually at border checkpoints and with officials at the airport. When I meet with the media and local officials, they are always grateful to hear from us and about our appreciation for their country and it usually ends up with more local talk being generated us. It’s an indirect way of lobbying to these countries that are often closely connected. Especially here in West Africa, many people have family members in surrounding countries, are married to someone from another country and often cross borders to work in a neighboring country. So these stops really help to build relations and get our name out there.
The media people were absolutely amazing here. They really appreciated the fact that the people of Kosovo respect them and have a place in our hearts for their country. Mr. Issa Bebane, an excellent writer who is an apprentice at the newspaper L’Observateur, wrote a two page article that his boss agreed to publish. My great friends at the Sidwaya newspaper were excellent. Mr. Gabriel Sama not only interviewed me and wrote a one page article, he was kind enough to introduce me to the entire office staff of Sidwaya and give me a tour of their facilities. His bosses, Mr. Ibrahiman Sakande and Mr. Rabankhi Abou-Bakar Zida, were very humble gentlemen who were happy to authorize the article. My other friend, Ms. Dembele Francoise at Le Pays newspaper also wrote a good article (authorized by her boss Mr. Mahorou Kanazoe) and the television station, Canal 3 also did an in-depth interview. Thank you to Mr. Mahamadi Ouedraogo for his time and attention and his boss Mr. Soulama H. Innocent who authorized that one.
Finally, thank you to the radio stations here, which are very popular due to the historical importance of the oral tradition. Ms. Salamata Lankoande with RTB (Radiodiffusion Television du Burkina) was awesome and very professional, with both European and Burkina values. She usually lives in Germany and has been doing work down here for the past four months. Thanks to her boss, Mr. Arsene Evariste Kabore who authorized the interview. Mr. Francois Yesso with Pulsar Radio 94.8 gave me almost one whole hour of radio talk live on his station with all of his great working team there.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs here were very appreciative of Kosova’s people and took comfort in knowing that we have lots of respect for them. I was able to meet with several of the Ministry’s personnel, including the Minister’s secretary. However, it was a very somber meeting since they were all sad to have started a new year after just losing the Minister’s wife, who passed away on the first of January.
Lastly, I would like to recognize the friendly staff at the hotel Bellevue. They were very respectful and appreciative and showed a great sense of customer service. They were great examples of the sense of compassion that I’ve experienced in this country. It would be my joy to come and visit the people of this wonderful country again. They are very open and willing to talk to you and don’t hesitate to make you feel at home and comfortable in their country.
I reached Cotonou (the coastal town in Benin where all of the major facilities and international airport are located) in the early evening and tried to find a hotel somewhere near the city center so that I could get things done faster in the morning and not have to drive for miles and miles wasting time. This was when I found out the hard way that the traffic at night in the capital is miserable. This seems to be a common theme in these West African countries and so is the common shortage of electricity. But when you are a visitor like me, you only find this out when you end up in the middle of a blackout.
The hotel I found was okay, except that I started freaking out when I saw all of those mosquito’s flying around all over the place. The more I travel in Africa, the more paranoid I become ever time I see a little mosquito because I am worried to death about catching malaria. Since the disease is carried by mosquito’s, I am constantly spraying myself with bug spray and praying like heck that I don’t get bitten! So I beg the reception desk here at the hotel for some bug spray so that I could spray my room and go out for a few hours until the poison has killed off the mosquito’s and faded away, otherwise you have a big mosquito like me dying in there.
The next morning, I wake up early and find a taxi. Here we go, off and running again. Since it’s the end of the year, I need to get stuff done quickly before they close everything down for the holiday. Thanks to my new friend, taxi driver Michael Bidouzo, I am being driven around from media house to media house for my interviews. Thanks to God that the main language here is French. At least I was able to converse with everyone.
The first media person that I meet is from the newspaper L’Autre Quotidien. Mr. Brathier Leon was wonderful to spend time with. He wrote an excellent article that was published the very next morning. I learned a lot from him and always find it interesting when I am able to see the world through the perspective of someone else. Even though we are from different countries on different continents, Mr. … is an educated man who shares the same principles that I do about wanting to live happy and free. What a great conversation we had. He had a very interesting view of Russian politics, explaining that Putin and Medvedev were running the government over there like political gymnasts, switching places all of the time to accommodate the outside world.
Thanks to the rest of my media friends who did interviews and are now friends of the Kosovar people: Maximin Tchibozo, Director of Publications at Le Matinal, who authorized Mr. Wilfred Noubadan to give me an interview; Mr. Samuel Amoussou and Eric Djekpe who were very nice at the newspaper, Le Beninois Libere; Chimelle Gandonou and Euloge Rolland Gandaho with the newspaper Le Matin; the excellent team of journalists at the Ocean FM Radio 88.7, Ms. Carine Doukloui and Mr. Ricardo Loic Kpekow; Ms. Sonia Megbemadu, who organized an interview with the funniest and greatest team at Golfe television, Mr. Rock Williams Segnissou and Gaston T. Afaduhouande (who, in less than a few hours, had our mission and our request to the government of Benin transmitted on the evening news); and finally, Andre Dossa and Imourane Issifou with the Canal 3 TV of Benin.
After meeting with the media, I was able to meet with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs himself, Mr. Jean-Marie Ehouzou who is a very humble man who took me into his office with no pre-arranged appointment. I was able to hand deliver Vlora Citaku’s letter to him as he was explaining his government’s position on Kosovo and the reasons that Benin has not recognized us yet. He mentioned that he was following our progress closely and personally agrees with our independence. He did mention, though, that there are some reasons that he had to wait a little longer and that Serbia and Russia, were also (of course) trying hard to lobby against it, which we already know.
The people of Benin are very nice. They appear open-minded and very aware of world affairs. Cotonou seems to have a very nice infrastructure, much better than some other West African countries and they are right on the coast, so the view was also beautiful. But aside from the main cities (Contonou and Porto-Novo), most of the country relies on subsistence farming (with the tropical climate down here, they are able to produce a lot of cotton to export). Though this country has a little ways to go to catch up with more developed countries, I see a lot of motivation in the local people to make they country progress.
I’m happy that I was able to make some excellent accomplishments in Benin. I learned a lot from these wonderful people. Good luck to the great people of Benin.
Time to change countries again. Next up: Mali.
Though the main language here is French, there have been many cultural influences and it is a country with a rich cultural history. In fact, the countries in this area of Africa were once known as the ‘slave coast’ because they provided trade access via their sea ports. This particular country has a big port and still has lots of merchandise and containers that are coming and going from all over the world.
I am also finding that this part of Africa is not centered religiously around either Christianity or Islam. Both of those religious views seem to be a minority here as indigenous beliefs represent the largest religious group in this country. This makes sense when you realize that in this small country alone, there are about 40 different ethnic groups and I have met only wonderful people here in during my short stay.
Since Togo is a small country, I hope to finish my mission work quickly and be off and running. The next morning, I found a taxi driver for the day. Mr. Kazmirt Pedomey knew the city very well and was driving me from place to place in no time.
Thank you to all my journalist friends and their bosses. Mr. Gabin Koissidjin with the newspaper Forum De La Semaine. Regis Talikpeti and Joachim Kokou Loko and his boss with the newspaper La Matinee and Dounia Le Monde, Didier LeDoux with the newspaper Liberte. My good friend Erik Gato for his radio interview and who really took pride in his work in studying each of his discussions on the radio interview.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs were wonderful when I went there. I met with the Minister himself, Mr. Elliot Ohin, who was very receptive and Vlora Citaku’s letter was hand delivered. Mr. Ohin seemed really enthusiastic about things and life in general and knew Kosovo’s case in detail. I’m unable to give more details of our meeting due to privacy concerns and other sensitive reasons.
Economically, Togo seems to be doing okay, but there is always room for improvement. Politically, the country has a slight history of political unrest. The most recent being with elections in 2005 when more than 400 people were killed and 40,000 Togolese fled to neighboring countries.
I enjoyed my short visit here and wish all the best to this country and it’s wonderful people.
By far the best organized welcoming has been here Lausanne, Switzerland. I guess it is fitting since this is the place where I first started down my path as a pilot. Aside from my young life in Kosovo, it is Lausanne that I consider as the place that has made me who I am today.
Our great friend Tom Duhani from Detroit had organized a wonderful homecoming with our Ambassador Naim Malaj and all the diaspora. More than thirty people were present and I am very grateful that the airport officials in Switzerland were understanding and kind enough to allow us the freedom to gather and celebrate this very important milestone.
As I was approaching the Swiss border, tears of joys began flowing from my eyes. Many, many times during the mission I thought this day would never arrive. All of the struggling that has happened over the past year seemed to disappear as I hugged all of the family and friends that welcomed me home. Having my nieces and nephew beside me again was priceless – the powerful emotions of the moment will be engrained in my mind for many years to come.
It is a joy to know that our mission has touched many lives and has become part of their lives as well. Thanks to everybody for the great dinner.What a joy this has been despite the year long struggle. Next stop is Kosova with a technical stop in between.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you all.