A long time has passed since the time I have written to you, and unfortunately, difficulties never stopped. This time I am writing to you from Eritrea, the penultimate country of the mission in Africa. I came here from Sudan with a commercial aircraft, because I have not yet found the solution for my plane. Engine remains damages and mission Flying for Kosovo remains without funds. My exit from the country of Sudan has been problematic and with a lot of bureaucracy. I hope that Eritrea will be better, all though this is the country which until now, throughout my travels brought me the most difficulties in obtaining visa. Now I’m here and I shall soon meet with representatives of the country and submit the request for recognition of independence of Kosovo.
Please do not forget me!
Greetings from far away!
My dear friends,
I hope that this letter finds you all well. I thought that I might take a quick moment to update you on my status down here in Sudan.
I have been doing my best to obtain media interviews, both nationally and internationally while we are awaiting our plane repairs. In fact, some of you have probably seen my latest interview, where I was able to do an interview via internet. Other than that, things with our mission have not been going anywhere at all.
In fact, I feel a moral responsibility and professional obligation to continue to keep you all updated regularly. I do my best to do so in a timely manner, though at some moments it has been harder to do so than others. My belief is that I owe you honest and correct information, rather than to remain superficial and always share just the good times with all of you.
My greatest desire has always been for our mission to be as productive as possible. And when I say ‘our’, that is exactly what I mean my friends. I, James Berisha, am only one man. Two and a half years ago, I committed to serve my country and all of our citizens in the best way that I knew how, which was to share my professional skills as a pilot in order to further the progress of our country. I truly believe in my heart that Flying for Kosovo doesn’t just belong to me, but to all of the Albanian people.
During my travels, I have done my very best to ensure that I knock on the doors of every media outlet that I could find. Whether print, radio or television station, whether turned away once or three times, I have done my best to get several interviews in each country that I visited. When I was denied, I tried again (and sometimes again after that). When I landed in each country, I made sure that every Ministry of Foreign Affairs was aware of my visit. I continued to fight for our purpose and have done what I can in order to break down the bureaucratic red-tape that exists between us and our goals.
There were many times that I worked long hours without any food in my stomach because I was more concerned with making sure that we had fuel for the plane and that our airport fees were taken care of first. I would do it all again in a heartbeat my friends, because it is during those times that I remember why I am doing this, why I am working so hard. It is because of the simple fact that I am not working for just myself, but all of my people.
I feel accountable to every Albanian across our globe. More importantly, I feel accountable to all of our family, friends and neighbors whose lives were sacrificed in the war. When I speak to media outlets, I do so with the purpose of making sure every household in the world knows the name of our new country and knows about our people. When I speak with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, I do so in order to ensure that every single government in this world knows that we exist and that we want to become part of the larger global family. All of this I do, I do in honor of my father and the many others, whose voice can no longer be heard.
As citizens of the world, we deserve the most elementary right to a life of peace, liberty, freedom and justice. All human beings on this planet should have this right. Not one of us are better than another my friends and I want the world to know that we citizens of Kosovo, we EXIST! I want our voice to be heard and I want our country to prosper and our youth to have the option of becoming whatever they can dream of becoming. I want them to be able to accomplish that dream within our borders and not have to go to another country in order to achieve peace and prosperity.
My vision for our country is as large as my heart and there is absolutely no way that I could have accomplished so much, were it not for the moral, spiritual and financial support of all you my friends. Together, we have lobbied over 95 countries together. Again, if I were just one man on a mission, I would have never have been able to come so far. It is because there is a greater power in the energy of ‘we’. I am a pilot and this is how I chose to honor my country. You are my friends, supporters and proud Albanians all across the globe. Together, have moved mountains with our power.
And when I say mountains, I mean that there have been many, many barriers throughout our journey. At times, there have been too many to burden you with. But I can assure that one day, these truths will come out and you will start to see the whole picture. Many of those struggles were personal, but many were systematic. In fact, in nearly every country, I have been to, I have been met with the generosity of the common human spirit. Once I am able to communicate with people one on one, I have found that we all believe in the same human values: the basic right to to safety, a roof over our head, to provide for our family, but most importantly to exist and be free.
One of the major barriers has been in the area of global politics, but I will save that for another day, as that could be an entire book. Instead, let me share with you a few honest words from a very wise woman from Nigeria. She said to me “followship is equal to leadership”, which means that we must all be responsible for our existence. Just as our leaders have a moral and social obligation to lead the citizens of their country, so too must we, as citizens, carry that same responsibility towards ensuring our country’s future. If we have social problems, we must all take responsibility. If we have success in our country, we must all share in that as well. The leaders of a country and its citizens share equal responsibility for the outcome of their society.
We must not be passive in our efforts towards a brighter future. Just as our friends, family and neighbors fought for our basic right to exist, so too must we offer up what each of us has been blessed with. Many of us have gone on to become successful outside of Kosova, let us all spread that success back to our country. If we have a chosen profession, let us use it towards a better outcome for our country, just as I have. If we have a special skill, let us share it with our fellow countrymen so that we all can prosper. If we have been financially successful, let us use it towards gaining a brighter future for our dear country Kosova.
Now is not the time for us to be passive my friends. Instead, we must take our obligation towards our country very seriously. In order for a brighter future, we must labor long and hard in order to bear fruit for our youth. Kosova is starting anew and change is happening, we must take advantage of the momentum that we, together, have built around the world.
As I wait here in Sudan, I must share with you all that it will not be possible for me to continue on with our mission unless I have more funding. I want to thank each and everyone of you for all of the moral, spiritual and financial support that you have given men and I recognize that however you have given, you have given what you could and given from your heart. I also want to thank those of you who have already committed additional funding for the repair of our engine so that we can finish up this portion of the mission.
Folks, we have two countries left in Africa. We can already see that change is happening. Every single person who has heard the local media has heard about our country now. Every Ministry of Foreign Affairs Office that has agreed to meet with me now knows accurate details of our newborn country. I have personally tried have as many one to one conversations as possible.
I believe in my heart that we have gained equal if not more progress than our governmental system in this regard. As you all know, it is sometimes very hard for bureacracies to get along and get to know one another, but one on one, human to human contact is priceless when you are trying to tear town walls and move mountains. For it is only by truly looking into the eyes of another person do you really get to learn more about who they are. It is only through honest, straight-forward dialogue like this that we can make real progress.
It has and continues to be the greatest privilege of my life to be able to work with you all and on behalf of our country. Despite all of the struggles and the many near-death experiences, I will never regret one second of these past two and a half years. I am not the same person that I was when I began and Kosova has changed (though ever so slightly) during this time as well.
It is time for us all to stand up for our country and take our responsibilities seriously. Whether you support our efforts by helping Flying for Kosovo to succeed in our common purpose, or whether you are able to help our country in some other way. It is time for us to stand tall and stand proud as the proud people of Kosova. Our voices need to be heard and we need to express our respect to those that have come before us.
Now is the time for the people of our country to shine. Without each and every one of us actively engaged, our history will unfold ever so slowly. But if we all take a more active role in the changes that are required, then we might all still be alive to see our dreams come true.
I stand before you humbly. I have been the proudest man on earth for the past two and a half years to be able to share with people the facts about our country. Each time I look into their eyes, I can see that they understand our basic human desire to be recognized as a part of the whole, global family. With all of my heart, I wish to continue our mission.
But now is the time for me also to be brutally honest with you. Throughout this mission I have been relying on the strength of each and every one of you. When I was hungry, your spirit fed me, when I was overwhelmed with the barriers that I faced, your words of hope inspired me to keep going and when I was broke and didn’t know how I would pay for a the last drop of fuel to continue our journey, you offered your financial assistance. We have, my friends, done together what each of us could not do alone.
It is been the greatest honor of my life to be able to serve you all in this capacity and I carry each one of you in my heart whenever I step foot into a new country. But my friends, without enough money to pay for an engine for our baby plane, I’m sorry to tell you that I will not be able to to continue on, lobbying on a very personal, very human face-to-face basis.
Of course, I would like nothing better than to continue to continue our mission together, but I also have the obligation to honest and share our financial condition with you. Again, I can never repay you all for what you may have already sacrificed for our mission, but please know in your heart of hearts that we have indeed already moved mountains together.
If we can, let us continue on our path of sharing our country with the rest of the world. Let US be the ones to move our history forward. Together. As a team. As the citizens of Kosova. As the proud, united Albanians that we are.
With the deepest respect and gratitude,
Të dashur miq,
Kam dëshirë që këta rreshta që po i shkruaj tani ju gjejnë mirë të gjithëve.
Përderisa ende gjendem në Sudan, duke u ballafaquar me vështirësi të shumta, e ndjej si përgjegjësi dhe obligim moral t’i përshkruaj të gjitha ngjarjet, përjetimet, të mirat, të këqijat, gjërat e volitshme por edhe ato të pa volitshme. Përkrahjet tuaja morale, financiare dhe shpirtërore janë ato që më kanë dhënë vullnet dhe forcë të loboj për vendin tonë në gati gjysmën e botës, duke kaluar nëpër vështirësi e vuajtje, me të holla e pa të holla, me ushqim dhe pa ushqim, duke kaluar nëpër rreziqe të ndryshme, procedura të ndryshme të burokracisë së shumë shteteve si dhe shumë e shumë përjetime të tjera të cilat më duhet një kohë e gjatë ti përshkruaj.
Unë James Berisha, jam vetëm një individ që kam vendosur ti shërbej vendit tim.
Misioni Flying For Kosovo apo Fluturimi për Kosovën nuk më takon vetëm mua por i takon të gjithë popullit shqiptar. Me plot siguri ju garantoj që unë kam bërë tërë atë që është e mundur dhe e pamundur në këto vende ku kam lobuar, me të vetmin qëllim, që shteti ynë të njihet dhe respektohet nga bota.
Si qytetarë të kësaj bote, ne kemi të drejtë në gjerat elementare dhe duhet të jetojmë në paqe e liri, dhe të kemi të drejtën e të shprehurit dhe vendosjes së lirë. Në të gjitha vendet ku kam lobuar e kam dërguar këtë mesazh, dhe gjithkund kam hasur në njerëz të cilët janë plotësisht pro qëndrimeve të popullit tonë. Por të dashurit e mi, shpeshherë politika dhe interesat e larta i dirigjojnë gjërat, dhe popujt nuk kanë shumë forcë ti ndryshojnë këto rrjedha.
Për mua ka qenë një kënaqësi e madhe të ju shërbej juve të gjithëve dhe të ju dhuroj dy vite e gjysmë të jetës sime si një dhuratë. E kam ndjerë si obligim ta bëjë këtë duke i pasur parasysh ata që dhanë jetën dhe më të dashurit e tyre për Kosovën. Sot, po ju bëj thirrje të gjithëve që të angazhohemi secili me mundësitë dhe kapacitetet tona, dhe le t’i japim botës një shembull të mirë.Një zonjë në Nigeri më tha një gjë që nuk do ta harroj kurrë: “Followship is equal to Leadership” që do të thotë që Përkrahësit (Mbështetësit) janë të barabartë më Udhëheqësit dhe në këtë mënyrë të gjithë ne jemi kemi përgjegjësi njësoj si ata që na udhëheqin dhe nëse shoqëria jonë dhe shteti ynë ka probleme, le të mos harrojmë që edhe ne jemi përgjegjës. Le të mos jemi pasivë, por le ta marrim seriozisht vendin ku jetojmë dhe të ardhmen e tij.
Ishte dhe vazhdon të jetë një privilegj i madh të jem në shërbimin tuaj dhe ju falënderoj përzemërsisht për respektin që keni treguar ndaj misionit, stafit të misionit dhe ndaj meje personalisht. Në fund po ju them që ky mision ende nuk ka përfunduar dhe që ende ka nevojë për juve të gjithëve. Më ndihmoni ta dërgoj deri në fund këtë nismë.
This morning I am on my way from Addis Ababa to Abibjan, Ivory Coast. The flight is over seven hours in length and we have to stop in Ouagadougo, Burkina Faso for a technical layover. Since there is such a long distance to cover, it is more efficient for me to take a commercial flight with Ethiopian Airlines, rather than fly our baby plane across the continent again. If I did that, it would have taken me approximately a week of flying each way (not to mention all of the airport fees, fuel costs, hotel, food, etc.).
It felt good to be able to stop in Burkina-Faso again. Just remembering the great friends and people that I have met along the way in this mission brings a sense of warmth to my heart. I am sad to see that our stop here in Ouagadougo is too short to be able to say hello to everyone here one more time, but in the end, our mission must go on. If you all remember, the reason that I have to go back to the Ivory Coast is that I was unable to visit there back in December, when I passed it early on in our mission. In fact, I had to avoid it all togther and change my travel plans because things in that country were getting very heated and tense, eventually leading the country into an outright civil war. Folks, I have risked my life enough times on this mission, but I am definitely not one to go into harms way on purpose. Right now, it looks like the instability has calmed down some (though only within the past few weeks), so I want to take this visit their before I finish the African continent. A promise is a promise and I want to share our country with their people.
* In Novemeber 2010, Cote D’Ivoire held their first elections in over ten years and the opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara won against the sitting President Laurent Gbago (in office since 2000). While the world recognized the newly elected official, the former ruling party contested the results. The instability escalated until March 2011, when United Nation and French forces stepped in with military action in order to arrest former President Gbagbo (April 2011) and formalize the newly elected Ouattara administration.
It is only now (in a few days actually), that the new President will have his official inauguration ceremonies (May 6, 2011). In between November 2010 and March 2011, it is estimated that nearly 100,000 fled the country as refugees and many human rights violations were reported as coming from both sides.
As we approach Abidjan, it looks very humid and hazy down there. Just a few weeks ago, this country was still in the midst of a full-blown war, with thousands of people dying as a result. All that I can hope for is that no one will shoot me while I am visiting this nearly lawless state and that I am able to return safely back to Ethiopia soon. In fact, since the official Presidential inauguration is only a few days away, I’d like to hurry up and complete my mission work here before all of the public activities begin, since sometimes those can also be dangerous.
As soon as I got off of the airplane, I could tell that things were tense, but that’s okay because I was already expecting this type of thing. All of the passengers from our flight are immediately greeted by the airport police and asked to show our visas, passports and vaccine records before we even encounter the border guards. Of course, I have had a visa for this country since I obtained it a while ago back in Washington DC (so they have no excuses for kicking me out of here), but my vaccine card was a little bit of a surprise and is safely tucked away in my luggage, which has traveled all of this way in the belly of the plane. So, the first thing that I needed to do was to get my luggage, pull out my vaccine card and then travel back to this side of the border in order to go through the ‘official’ entry process. Most of the time, they want you to pass through activities like this so that they can try to make some more money off of you or make your life miserable and slow you down – you know, in order to show that they are the ones who are in charge now. Just as an example, the authorities needed to keep my passport hostage until I completed all of their local demands. Luckily, my bag had made it safely to the dis-embarquement area so that I could finally start this time-consuming process. After speaking with many commanders, chiefs, bosses, etc., they finally let me through the border gates.
Now that I have cleared this first hurdle and made it into the actual country, I have to be very careful as to where I go, where I stay, who to trust, etc. Things here are still very tense and dangerous, so you can’t just go anywhere you want. I took extra caution to choose a taxi driver that looked halfway decent (not too young, not too strange, etc.) and asked him to take me to a decent hotel in one of the more secure areas of town. As we drive through town, it is a hot and humid day. Things still seem tense and there are security personnel all over the place. It looks like I won’t be engaging in my normal routine of walking around in order to get a feel for my new country.
I should have been more prepared before coming here because I had no idea yet that my Kosovar friends here would be so worried about me. Over my travels, I have learned that there are many Kosovars here in the African continent. Most of them work for various United Nations missions and I have met some of them in countries like Congo, Brazzaville, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Chad, Sudan, etc. Though I had been given some contact information about the Kosovars here in this country, I thought that I would just make my way to the hotel today and call them tomorrow, as I really did not want to bother anyone, knowing that they all have their normal lives to live, work to do, etc.
So I owe all of my friends here in the Ivory Coast a big apology, since I didn’t call them before leaving Addis Ababa to let them know that I was coming into town. Little did I know at the time that they were all very worried about me and my overall safety. They even drove to the airport a few times and called each other, asking about my whereabouts and if anyone had seen me. Here I was worried about bothering them and they were all worried making sure I was safe in their country.
Instead of spending the evening with these friends (whom I had no idea were even looking for me), I had the taxi driver take me to a safe, clean hotel in the most secure part of town. I was comforted to know that there was a security gate with lots of safety personnel around. Like I mentioned before, I really needed to be careful here about where I went and how freely I could roam, so instead of dinner, I bought a few pre-packaged snack foods and went up to my room for the evening. On top of having to worry about security here, you always have to be careful of the food that you eat here in Africa, especially as a foreigner.
In places like this (where it is not only unsafe, but the hygiene is not the best), it is often safer to go with packaged foods instead of local cuisine. There have been many times during my travels down here that I have attempted to eat the local food, but have ended up regretting it later in the night, getting sick and/or having stomach problems. Before visiting Africa, I considered myself to be a man with an iron stomach, but nothing can prepare you for food that has been sitting out in the sun all day and already half-eaten by the local insects. I don’t mind having to share my food, but not with a million flies all at once.
Even when they are selling ‘fresh’ meats, fish, chicken, etc., my stomach could never get used to the fact that the food had collected all of the heat and dust and flies from the day before getting to my plate. And it is not much better in the sophisticated restaurants where the meals were between $10-30USD – my stomach still could not get used to the local food preparation. So you can imagine how much worse the local street vendor food is – you are likely to kill yourself trying to live off of that.
So I decided many countries ago to only drink bottled water and when in doubt, eat only pre-packaged food. Even then, you were not guaranteed food safety. I ended up always having to check the expiration dates, trying to get a product that did not have layers of dust collected on it already and always, always, going with a brand name that was manufactured in a reputable country. I can see now why Coca-Cola, Pepsi, etc. are so popular down here. At least you know that they are safe and prepared in a factory that tried to practice good hygiene. So tonight, my dinner is a safe, reputable can of sardines manufactured in South Africa and bottle of name-brand water.
After eating my high-class dinner, I wanted to get a full nights rest. I only have two full days here in the Ivory Coast in order to get our mission work done, so I want to get an early start tomorrow. After a fair breakfast, I found a taxi with the help of the hotel staff. Usually, local workers tend to be knowledgeable in regards to which cab companies are reliable, etc. Sometimes they even know certain cab drivers, which saves me from having to deal with strange and/or unsavory characters all day. But you still have to be careful with them too sometimes.
One thing that I have found here in Africa is that at some hotels, you have to negotiate your price with them – being very specific about what will be included with the price and what will not. Sometimes though, even your careful negotiations don’t mean much. For instance, most of the time I make sure that the hotel includes some kind of breakfast, but despite this pre-arranged service, there have been many times that they still try to bring me a receipt for breakfast. For a small container of jelly and a piece of bread or a croissant with juice, they have tried to charge me anywhere from $7-20USD. It surprises me everytime and, of course, I have to argue with them that this service was included. The worst part is that the staff will look at you all innocent like nothing has happened. But I caught on to these little tricks early on in my travels, so they all know by now that I will not tolerate their nonsense.
You have to be careful and aware of everything down here when you are traveling –the food, the hotel, exchanging money, etc. and especially with your taxi drivers. They are a different crowd of people indeed and since they are all trying to make as much cash as possible in the least amount of time, you have to be very careful with how you deal with them and be very direct about your requests. There have been many times that I have had to argue with them about some exhorbetent, unnecessary charge. I’m actually pretty lucky that I haven’t had more trouble with this matter.
In no time this morning I am off and running. My mission work routine is always the same: get a taxi, run like crazy all day from media house to media house and plead our cause. My taxi driver today seems like a decent person and we spend all day driving through town. I am making good progress too: things are fairly organized and I am getting some good interviews done, thanks to the very dedicated journlists, editors, reports and managers in the media here.
I am amazed and shocked with all of the stories that they are telling me. They have truly been through hell during the last six months or so. Their lives have been in danger constantly, even being forced to hide in many different locations (basements, houses, offices, etc.) in order to try and keep their newspapers up to date and publishing the latest news. The media here explain that they were threatened many times by the police, paramilitary, security agents, etc. who were all trying to eliminate any evidence or truth of the local atrocities. Of course, those in power never want the outside world to have knowledge of local conditions, especially in times of war. They tell me here that the outgoing President did not want to give up his seat to the newly elected leader, which is when all of the fighting began.
All of my new friends here showed great interest in hearing more about Kosovo and our mission. I think that we offered them a sense of hope for what they might become after their recent war has settled down. Many of them told me that during the recent crisis, they often thought about the our past struggles with Serbia and that they gained a new perspective after having war come so close to their own homes. Though Kosovo was known to them before, they found a new respect for us during the recent atrocities in their own nation. They told me that their experiences brought them closer to the struggles of other populations around the world also. There is something very familiar about war in that it forces us all to open our eyes to the world and feel the overwhelming sorrow of others who have faced the same brutality.
My friends, I have said it over and over in my writings that if we could just leave people alone and not bother each other, then we would all be much better off I’m sure. I have learned over time that the best judges of a nation are usually its average citizens. Being amongst the ‘locals’ (who have to exist within a nation’s circumstances) gives you a tremendous feel for how a country is functioning. At the civilian level, you learn about the real issues that people are facing – not just what you hear reported on headline news across the world. If you ask, many times people will be very honest with you about the real problems of a nation, what is going well and what is definitely not working. In fact, the more local people you are able to speak with the better, because you eventually start hearing the same perspective over and over and it gives you a solid perspective of their land.
After traveling so much, experiencing so many different conditions and talking to so many people around the world, I have gotten so tired of the political games that I see: governments reporting only superficial nonsense to the world; the people in power trying to gloss over and hide the real facts and inequalities of their countries; etc. I always prefer to learn the perspective of the more innocent and humble average citizen because they have no stake in trying to manipulate you or try to fill your brain with all kinds of misleading information.
I am sure that some people might not agree with my opinion on this, but I would simply ask them then to prove to me otherwise. From what I can see of our world, there are injustices being done all over that are far beyond our wildest imaginations. From what I have seen, most of this cruelty is the result of one person or group trying to dominate another, so that someone can feel superior to the other, can control the poorer and less fortunate among them. This has been going on for centuries and, sad to say, it will likely continue for eternity based on our own flawed human logic and self-centered nature.
I mention all of these things with sadness, but it seems like these tragedies are part of our human genetics and no amount of therapy can cure this evil virus. The only thing that each of us can do is to control it as much as we can so that we ourselves don’t let it get out of hand. Each of us does have an opportunity to make change in our own life. We all have the opportunity to help another, to be a good neighbor, to offer care and comfort in times of need. If we focus on things that each of us can contribute, then we are all working towards a more safe and humane world.
I understand that this description is not really part of our mission work, but the observations that I have made during this mission have become part of my life, part of who I am and my understanding of the human race. Learning about these things seems to be the only way that I can try to make sense of the fact that we are all from the same basic set of genes, yet we continue to cause harm and destruction wherever we go.
A simple example of my point above is this: many times down here in Africa you see leaders that will do everything that they can to maintain their power, even long after their usefulness has warn off. No matter if it is their 90th birthday or they are no longer able to fulfill their duty (that is assuming that ever did fulfill their duty), they would rather keep their seat in power and pass it on to a family member, their kids, their friends, etc. and continue to keep destroying the lives of their people. Instead of offering an ounce of help to the people, I have seen many times where it is more important for some leaders to continue to pad their Swiss bank accounts (thanks to the wealth of their nations, which the local people never see): building palaces all over the world, using their private jets, etc. All the while their own people are left starving without even the basic necessities like clean, potable water.
So here in Africa, it is usually no surprise to see two temporary, parallel government systems: two presidents, double ministries, etc. In some nations, there is no government at all, so you are left with a lawless country. Here in the Ivory Coast, they have had two governments for nearly six months and the resulting conflict left thousands dead and thousands more fleeing as refugees. But I can’t keep going on here folks because I could fill an entire encyclopedia with facts like this. So I encourage you all to learn about all of these countries that I’ve been to: their history, their conflict, their culture, etc. For now, let’s get back to our mission.
Driving around town, I can see the devastation from recent events: there are gunshot holes everywhere; the national television station has been mostly burned down and looks like hell and, like I mentioned before, the atmosphere is still very tense, with military personnel on every corner. One thing that always surprises me in places like this that have experienced a lot of conflict is the fact that the people always seem so friendly. Despite their own struggles, many of them offer a kind gesture or a simple smile and I have to wonder sometimes how they can have that sort of stamina, when I know that they have been living through hell. Here in Abidjan, they were pretty friendly to the outside world – especially to the French since France and the United Nations had just intervened with military in order to stop the bloodshed.
I am very hopeful for the people of this country, now that they have a new government in place. With some tender loving care, Abidjan could be a fairly beautiful capital city and the entire country could prosper. In addition to being a world leader in the exportation of coffee, the Ivory Coast also has things like cotton and tropical fruit production in its favor. There is no doubt that if the new leaders choose to, the Ivory Coast and its people could indeed make economic progress at a fairly fast pace.
I myself was very productive as far as our mission work is concerned. I completed several interviews during the first day, thanks to all of my new media friends here who showed us great interest in learning more about our country (remember that many of them had just started back to work after being forced to stop for a while under very dangerous conditions). Thank you to my print media friends: Mr. Rodrigue Konan with Le Patriote; Mr. Hamandou Ziao and Mr. Bertrand Gueu with L’Inter; Mr. Jonas Baikeh with Le Soir Info, who was very knowledgeable about the Balkans; Mr. Benjamin Soro with Mandat; and Mr. Alain Tieffi with Fraternite Matin; and thank you to the great people at Radio Nostalgie: Mr. Luise Martin and Mr. Koe Ri Tra Omer – both of them were excellent to work with.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs here was also excellent. Vlora Citaku’s letter was hand delivered to the Minister’s Secretary and I was able to speak with several of the team members there in order to bring Kosovo’s issue into their awareness.
After spending the first night at my hotel, I was able to reach my Kosovar friends, who were all extremely happy to hear that I was in their country and that I was safe and sound. Thank you to Mr. Milot Bujupi, brother to mission team member Fidan Bujupi. Fidan has offered many hours of volunteer work to our cause over the last eight months. Milot also was gracious enough to contribute financially to our mission as well. Thank you to the rest of my new friends for sharing their time, their homes and the comforts of home. It was a wonderful feeling to experience Kosovar hospitality such a long ways from home.
Finally, I was really lucky to be able to attend a party organized by the United Nations,which was something to be remembered – getting to spend some time with people from around the world, eat some great food and get to know many wonderful personalities. Being with friends from home really recharged my battery and gave me some much needed moral support to continue on our journey.
Being in the Ivory Coast was a great experience for me and I met many brave and wonderful people who have gone through hell in the past several months due to the political unrest that was outside of their control. This country will be one of those nations that can recover quickly based on my opinion and there is great economic potential since they have a tremendous wealth of resources from which to utilize. All that is needed now is strong political stability so that they can have good governance and be able to prosper in life. Let’s hope that this dark chapter, brought to them by power hungry leaders, will not repeat itself and that the future will allow these hard-working, goal-oriented people to prosper and live in peace, joy and security.
I have lots of good memories of this beautiful country, thanks to all of the people who became a part of me and our mission. I was even able to visit a hotel that is part of history in the making: the Golf Hotel – where the newly elected President and his government were based until the defeat of the outgoing regime.
Tomorrow is Saturday and I am scheduled to go back to Ethiopia. I am so glad that I don’t have to fly our baby Cessna for thirty hours in order to ge there, even though my commercial airline ticket cost and arm and a leg. As my Kosovar friends drive me to the airport, we say our farewells. Upon our arrival, we see all kinds of official looking planes: Presidents from around the world (including France) are all arriving in order to be here for the historic inauguration of President Alassane Ouattara. I wish the beautiful people of this country a future full of much peace and prosperity.
Another very influential country in Africa is Ethiopia, which is nearly 100 times larger than our Kosovo and has nearly 80 million people. Their capital, Addis Ababa is home to the African Union and for that reason, Ethiopia is sometimes considered the political capital of Africa. This country also has the most stable economy within East Africa. I am looking forward to getting our message out in a country as influential as this one. Hopefully we can share our story here and gain some political momentum in this part of the world. If we were to gain recognition from a place as strong as Ethiopia, than it is likely that several smaller countries in this region may follow the lead. Let’s hope we can make a difference here.
I have also been looking forward to visiting this country for many other reason. Since I am in love with the different cultures of the world, I can’t wait to learn about the ones here in Ethiopia. Since this place is very important to all three major religions of the world, I’m excited to know more about that, not to mention the fact that there are many indigenous cultures here too. That usually means that there are fascinating traditions, languages, dances, foods, to experience, etc.
Flying over this great land from Uganda and Kenya from the southwest, I had to fly over many different terrains during my flight to Addis Ababa – from dry areas to wetlands, valleys, to high hills and mountains (remember that I mentioned in my Kenya description that Ethiopia is sometimes called ‘the roof’ of Africa), etc. I was able to see some of the fascinating, picturesque landscapes of this historic place as I had to fly to elevations over 12,000 ft. at times.
At an altitude of that level, our baby plane doesn’t really want to work hard like it should. At one point, I was near the hilltops of the Ethiopian Highlands and thought I would have to pay a visit to some of the farmers below who, as it turns out, are members of the indigenous Gurag culture. That is the population that resides up here where it is very isolated from other places. They are historicaly farmers and/or tend to raise cattle in order to survive and some of their housing even looked liked huts made with a grass roof. It would have been nice to learn more about their culture someday, but I was not looking forward to landing in their yard because our plane did not want to fly any higher. Luckily, just when I thought I would have to make a surprise visit to some poor, unexpecting family, I approached a valley and was able to start my 4,000 ft. descent into Addis Ababa.
I’m also interested in visiting this country to learn more about it’s history. Ethiopia is known throughout the world as one of the oldest sites of human existence known to scientists today. Further, it has strong ties to all three major world religions. In addition to this being home to the Ethiopian Orthodox community, Ethiopia is considered one of the first Christian countries in the world, the site of the first hijra in Islamic history (when a group of Muslims were counseled by Muhammad to escape travel here in order to escape persecution in Mecca in 615) and has also had a substantial Jewish population (also known as the Beta Israel). One other religion that Ethiopia has ties to is the Rastafari religious moement, which has popularized the Ethiopian flag and helped to spread reggae music across the world.
It is late afternoon when I finally touch down in Addis Ababa. I quickly find a decent hotel within my budget (at least this one has breakfast in the morning) and I go to bed early. Even though you just sit in the airplane all day when you are flying, you have to maintain a lot of focus and concentration when flying an airplane -so believe it or not, a long day of flying like this can be physically and mentally exhausting.
While I am here in Ethiopia, I am going to see about getting back over to the Ivory Coast, which is on the West side of Africa. Since I had to skip that country back in December due to political unrest, I want to make sure that I visit them now that they are more stable. Our airplane will be staying here in Addis Ababa though, because it would take me more than a week of flying to get all the way over there – not to mention all of the brutal logistical hell that I would have to go through. I also have to get a few visas for some upcoming countries, so that will take some running around and more money for sure. My three days here will probably be as hectic as hell and very busy, but I am used to that by now and I like to start seeing progress immediately, so I am willing to put in those long 18 hour days. The first thing I need to do tomorrow is get a feel for the environment.
After traveling to so many countries, you never know what to expect from the media, government, people, etc.. I have learned to be prepared for anything and to be very cautious initially in regards to security and such. After a few years, I have just learned to expect the unexpected and ‘go with the flow’ of the surrounding environment. I have no idea how I will be received here in Ethiopia, so I guess I will just have to wait and see.
It is not long before I start chatting with the local people and find out that this country has a recent history of being under military control. Until 1974, Ethiopia was ruled by Emperor Haile Selassie I, who was overthrown when the country destabilized due to the people’s unrest regarding many of their living conditions. In 1974, a Marxist-Lenin group established a one-party communist state called the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. During that time, especially in the 1980’s, a series of famines affected this great nation and nearly 8 million people faced food insecurity, with one million of them dying from starvation. Once stabilized in the 1990’s, a constitution was finally developed and multi-party elections were held. But stability wouldn’t last long because 1998 a border dispute led to the Eritrean-Ethiopian War, which would last until June 2000, with an estimated 70,000-100,000 people dying as a result. Even today, relations between the two countries remain tense and there remains tight control within the realm of local media. Freedom of speech is still very limited.
So I spend the next two days running to over ten media houses trying to get our cause covered without a lot of progress to show for it. Either the ‘editor isn’t here’ or they say that they are too busy to meet with me. What this means is that a sensitive subject like ours will likely create a lot of tension, which they are trying to avoid out of fear that it could get them into trouble with their government. Ethiopia and Serbia have been trying to build closer trade relations with each other and I can tell that the media people are trying very carefully not to rock the boat.
In two full working days, I have a very hard time trying to convince the media here that our story is important. In my experiences, if you are not able to obtain an interview within two days, then you might as well stop your begging because they aren’t going to give in to you. The more that they can avoid you, the easier it gets for them, so if you don’t get their attention within the first few days, then there isn’t much of a difference that you’re going to make if you keep bothering them.
I did, at least, get two newspapers who were willing to take a risk and cover our story. Thank you very much to Mr. Dejene Tesemma, Editor-in-Chief of the Ethiopian Herald (a government owned agency to my surprise)*. Mr. Tesemma is a great gentleman with lots of field experience who is striving hard for a positive change. He assigned his journalist Mr. Eyob Fitwi to our story, who was very knowledgeable about Kosovo and asked me several questions during the interview. Thank you so much to Mr. Tesemma for his risk-taking and delicate care that he showed to our story.
*Note: On 1 June 2011, we received notice from Mr. Tesemma that Z. Dragan Momcilovic, Serbian Ambassador to Ethiopia, contacted the The Ethiopian Herald to express his anger about the publication of our story. Please take time to thank those brave media sources who are willing to risk their professinal credibility in order to cover our story.
The other newspaper that I would like to thank is the Capital newspaper. Managing Director, Mrs. Teguest Yilma, was an excellent lady with a geat personality. She showed great interested in helping our country. She was very professional and stood behind her words, promising that someone would be calling me for an in-depth interview. The next day, the Editor himself called me. Mr. Groum Abate showed great attention and dedication toward our interview. A few days later I was able to see the article being published which made me even happier. Thank you again to both newspaper teams who took a risk in covering our cause.
Ethiopia only has one television station, which I contacted to no avail. There leadership was very upfront with me and admitted that Kosovo was too sensitive of a subject to be presenting to the public and that he was worried about the consequences that it might produce. He stated that his country was trying hard to improve it’s economy and could not jeopardize the international relations that they had with other nations. Basically this means that Ethiopia and Serbia are trying to build stronger relations in which Ethiopia will benefit from in some way. It’s too bad that our government won’t lobby harder, because if Kosovo were recognized, we could be the ones building these relationships instead.
At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I thought that they were quite receptive for being such a huge nation and knowing their political situation. Though the Minister himself was not there, the Chief of Cabinet, Mr. Tsegab Kebebew was there to greet me. He was gracious enough to spend some time with me and said that our letter from Vlora Citaku will get into the Minister’s hands as soon as he meets with him again. Thank you also to the Minister’s Secretary, whom I presented with a copy of the letter to give to her boss. Despite not getting any solid answers, I was well received within the Ministry and though the Chief of Cabinet did not want to elaborate, he did mention that I could rest assured that there will be further discussion about Kosovo within their office. He also showed me a book about our country which was laying on his coffee table and had been published during war times. It is good to know that we are at least on the minds of local government and that our name is known here.
No matter how hard I tried those two days, these few accomplishments were all I could manage to gain in this country. One thing that I did not like about all of my activities here is that all of the buildings (not just the government ones) required a security screening in order to enter. Not only did this take up a lot of time, but during one of my many visits into these types of offices, I managed to leave my camera behind and lost more than 1000 photographs of my travels. Though I could care less about my camera, I am very disappointed that I lost all of those pictures. Since I like to travel lightly and don’t waste our money on things like souvenirs, those photos were all that I had to show for the countries that I have visited. I went back the next day to try and find it, but it was nowhere to be found (no doubt taken by an eager security guard I’m sure). The worst part of the whole thing is that I had to file a police report and had to waste more time dealing with that type of nonsense.
After those two long days of work with only little progress being made, I refocused my efforts and bought a ticket to Ivory Coast. I am looking forward to going there and finally finishing the West African portion of our mission. That country has been on my mind every since I had to avoid it back in December. Since then, I have been paying close attention to their political situation and looking for an opportunity to go back there. But it certainly won’t be cheap. Ethiopian Airlines is the major airline in this part of the world, so they pretty much set the local prices. But I guess when you consider that the flight will be nearly seven hours from here to there, $1300 ends up being a lot less to pay than all of the money and time it would take to fly my plane there and back.
On the night before I left for the Ivory Coast, I was able to enjoy some authentic Ethopian cuisine, listen to local music and experience some of the traditional dancing of this country. What makes each nation unique is it’s people, traditions, culture, geography, etc. and I could easily spend more time here learning more about this subject, but of course, we are on a mission my friends and I must keep going.
One other thing that I must tell you all now is that the ladies here are absolutely enchanting. I’m not joking when I tell you that walking down the street in Addis Ababa felt like I was walking down a runway full of models. What an invigorating moment to enjoy for sure. Another thing that I keep forgetting to tell you is the Lada is a very popular mode of transporation down here in Africa (which is also the case here in Ethiopia). I am guessing that its because those cars are so cheap and must be more accessible.
As I was traveling all around in my Lada taxi, I was able to see that the economy of Addis Ababa is picking up pretty fast. There was a lot of construction everywhere, with roads being built, infrastructure increasing, etc., which is always a good sign of progress. My time in this town has also shown me that Ethiopia is very much a country that respects outsiders and is trying to build stronger relationships with the world in order to benefit the people of this beautiful land.
I am finally visiting the land of Kenya. For years I have dreamt about this moment. As a child, this was one of those places that I learned about through books and television and could only imagine what it would be like. I am looking forward to seeing some of the notorious wildlife here in this beautiful country.
Remember our airplane is back in Uganda getting some maintenance done to it so I decided to take ground transporation to this country in the mean time. It was only a few hours to the Kenyan border, so after checking on the progress of our airplane, I took a local bus company. Welcome to Africa my friends. Remember that I keep telling you a few things about this continent – like the fact that time means nothing here, things are not always the cleanest and equipment and/or supplies are not in the best of quality…
My bus ride is expected to take seven to eight hours in total and we are already getting off to a late start. The bus is very old, very uncomfortable and has a suspension system in as bad of shape as the roads seem to be. It was quite an adventurous ‘outback’ type ride that I had to take and my bones will never forget all of the pounding that they got on this jarring ride. The only thing we were missing was a view of any animals that you might see on a real safari.
We reached Nairobi around 4:00am, so I quickly found a hotel downtown next to the bus station to catch a few hours of sleep. This hotel wasn’t half bad, there were great people working there and it was right within my budget. It was so nice to lay down in a bed after all of those hours riding in a bus that felt more like a horse’s chariot bouncing you around.
After a few hours of sleep, I was up and ready to attack another full day of mission work. I quickly showered and ate a small breakfast and went to work on finding a taxi driver who was willing to cooperate with my budget and my price. The next few days I spent running around like a madman, going from media house to media house in order to get some good coverage for our Kosovo cause. I need to stop here and thank all of the media personnel here in Nairobi for their excellent work.
I was very impressed with the determination and assertiveness that I saw in the people that I met here. They were really hard workers, strong characters and real go-getters. It looks like Kenya is one of those successful nations that not only has great people, but has great leaders as well.
Thank you to everyone at the Nation newspaper, especially Mr. Eric Shimoli (news editor) who was excited to have me there and offered his support and hard work to help out our country. He has such an awesome personality – very persistent in nature, hard working, very professional, etc. He assigned Mr. Walter Menya to my story right away. Mr. Menya was very helpful and knowledgeable about Kosovo too.
The Nation newspaper is very influential and respected here in Kenya and also has a television and radio station. Teams as dedicated, honest and hard working as this one make a big difference in their world and their communities. Thank you to all of my journalists, editors and their bosses who have helped me in our mission work.
While I was at the headquarters of the Nation (and thanks to the team who introduced me), I met with the head of their national station, NTV, Mr. Emmanuel Juma, who was interested right away in getting me an interview with his sation. Mr. Juma authorized his very determined and intellectual journalist, Mr. James Smart, to do the interview. Mr. Smart was very precise and dedicated and had an awesome personality.
Mr. Smart not only did great work covering our story with his own employer, he also called in one of his colleagues at another television station. Thank you to the television host Mr. Jasiel Njau at Good News Broadcasting or GBS TV, who graciously gave me nearly thirty minutes of airtime to speak about our country’s cause. Not only that, but he called me many times before I left his country to make sure that we could get everything accomplished. Thank you to the rest of the GBS team who were all excellent people to work with: Mr. Michael Onsaga, James Mambo, Ms. Jacquelin Gule (editor); Lilian Kabura; Mercy Munagi, Mambo Nduati and finally, Ms. Winnie Adisa, who helped out a lot.
Another great person was Mr. Charles Kyalo from Citizen TV. He was very helpful in getting Kosovo exposed to his nation. I want to also thank Mr. William Okoth with The Citizen newspaper. He was an excellent journalist who offered his time and attention to our cause.
Finally, thank you to the team at Kenya Broadcasting Company (KBC), whom I got to spend some good time talking with about our country. This station actually belongs to the government, which normally would be a little harder to deal with and to get fair coverage from. However, this great team was convinced right away that something needed to go on the local airwaves about Kosovo so that we could hurry up and get recognized by their country. People like this team make a big differnce in the world – they strive for fairness and justice no matter if they might face repurcussions from their bureaucratic bosses or not. Their broadcast was transmitted the nationwide the very next day and I was able to see it on the evening news. Thank you Mr. Danie Waitere, a political editors who, along with his coworker Ms. Wangari Kanyongo (the journalist who interviewed me) and Mr. Moses Waweru (who recorded the interview). Ms. Kanyongo is a great journalist who is very detailed, humble and knowledgeable. Each person played an excellent part in building a bridge from our nation to the people of Kenya.
Back in the print media, I enjoyed working with The Star newspaper, thanks to their editor Mr. Wycliffe Muga. He had a great character with remarkable leadership skills and gave his time, attention and dedication to making sure that Kosovo would be shared with his people. He expressed a lot of respect and admiration for what I was doing and even brought in his journalist Grace Kerongo to help with the interview. He wanted to make sure that it was collected in both written format and audiotape. People like Grace and Wycliffe are important leaders for their generation and will be remembered for a long time to come.
Over at People Newspaper, I want to thank the editor, Mr. Erick Nyakagwi and his journalist Ms. Ann Wairimu. Ann wrote an excellent article, which I was pleased to see in their newspaper the next morning. Working with great people like that makes my mission work easier and much more productive.
Thanks to Mr. Peter Orengo with The Standard. He knew a lot of information about our nation and was willing to get our intentions out there to the rest of his country.
At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I was pleased to find a very accomodating and professional staff as well. Thank you to First Secretary, Mr. Fredrick L. Matwang’a; Deputy Chief of Protocol, David K. Musyoka and Samson K. Koech, Personal Assistant to the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. They all offered to help us and promised that they would bring Kosovo’s independence to the attention of their bosses.
I was able to get a lot of our mission work accomplished here in Kenya rather quickly, thanks to my taxi driver Mr. Godfrey. He knew the city very well and really helped make my time more productive. It also helped to have amazing and talented media personnel working hard on quality articles, interviews, etc. I know that our issue is certainly safe in their hands and that the people of Kenya now know about our little country Kosovo, all the way on the other side of the world.
Another amazing thing happened to me in this country was that, while grabbing a bite to eat in a restaurant after such a hectic pace of work, I was approached by a small group of people. My friends, would you believe that it was a small group of friends from back home. I was able to spend about an hour with Kadri Abazi, Fitore Hajrullahu and Orman Gogo who all work for the United Nations here in Kenya. The world feels like it just keeps getting smaller to me by the second.
I am very pleased with my visit here in Kenya. It is one of those nations that is successful and where you can see the determination to keep this country moving forward. I have met so many talented and hard working people here in Nairobi. Even the city itself is taken care of. There is lots of great architecture, good roads that are well-organized, nice green parks, etc. You can really tell that this country is a role model for Africa in many respects. It is really possible to see here what can happen when a government reduces some of the barriers to local talent and allows its own people to shine. And let’s not forget another important fact about Kenya – that it is the birthplace of Barack Obama’s father.
After working very hard on our mission here in Africa for seven months now, I wanted to finally take a small opportunity to act like a tourist. There are only a few things that I have wanted to do here in Africa that are once in a lifetime opportunities. One very important wish that I have had all along is to actually get to see some of the African wildlife. Since Kenya is my last chance to see the beautiful creatures before heading any farther north, I wanted to make sure that I would actually get to experience the many animals that this continent is famous for.
It is a Saturday here in Kenya and my mission work is completed. I have found a taxi driver who is willing to take me into the wild and experience the animals of Africa. Though the wildlife park is not far from the city, this taxi driver is a very brave man. Usually tourists rent sturdy vehicles like Land Rovers or Land Cruisers, but my budget is of course, limited, so we will see how well we can get through all of those dirt roads that are filled with potholes as tall as I am. Let’s hope that the animals don’t find us stranded on the side of the road and eat us for lunch.
We arrived to the park around noon on Saturday and my main objective for the day is to get to see a lion in real life. I have never actually seen one in this lifetime, not even in a zoo setting, so you can imagine my excitement today! As soon as we enter the park we start to encounter wildlife. Usually, animals tend to run away from us humans, but these animals must have been already used to all of the tourists. We were able to see creatures like gazelles, buffalos, ostriches, giraffes, zibras, etc… but alas, no lions yet.
My friends, it feels so good to be out here in this open land. Though I love flying more than anything in the world, it is so nice when I get to be on the ground and in the middle of nature. It is where I feel most at home and it helps to recharge my battery from time to time. I’m sure that this has to do with my being raised in the countryside, but this is part of who I am now and is truly a place where I can find true joy. Plus, it helps me get away from the routine things in life and if I didn’t connect with it every now and then I’m afraid that I would start to loose it.
So today is an amazing day for me. I am eating roasted corn and tuna fruit that I bought just before entering the park, the birds are singing, wildlife viewing is great and all of god’s creatures are running free out here. They look as though they don’t have a care in the world and I’m so happy that I get to enjoy them in their natural habitat and not in a zoo where they would be stuck in tiny little cages.
From time to time we stop the car and I am able to get out in the fresh air and feel this place. It is so beautiful; there is a nice breeze blowing and small ponds nearby where you can see the animals stop to take a drink. I am in nothing less than paradise on earth right here and I feel like I could not be happier than this moment.
After a few hours, I see many beautiful animals, but no lions. Some of them are very familiar with us humans and are not afraid to get up close to us. The zibras and giraffes stay close by and pretty much ignore us. They are more interested in grazing and feeding themselves instead. I even spot a bunch of giraffes a few meters from us who are walking one by one behind each other. I could spend days here in this environment, but it’s time for us to start heading back to Nairobi. I am kind of sad that I have not seen one lion all day long, but what can you do? At least I have seen most of the other animals.
On our way out, I spot a beautiful owl with very bright colors. He is sitting right next to the road that we are driving on. It is kind of strange to me to see him so close and to see that he is not even scared of us. He doesn’t even move at all. I even start to take pictures and he still doesn’t seem bothered by our presence. It doesn’t look like he is sick or injured or anything, but he just sits there staring at us and not moving. I go even closer to him and take more photos and that owl still doesn’t move. I at least wanted a picture of this him flying, so I had to scare him off in order to make that darn bird fly.
After chasing him away, I finally see what was really on his mind. He had been guarding his lunch from me. Underneath where he was sitting laid a dead rabbit. That owl was being stubborn and wanted to make sure that I would not take his lunch from him. So, I stopped taking pictures and left him alone to enjoy his lunch. As we drove away, I could see him flying back to his catch.
A few hundred meters later a miracle begins to happen. My friends, an animal that I have wanted to encounter for my entire lifetime is suddenly within my eyesight. Wow! A real-life lion! My heart is beating so fast and I am so excited to be having this experience. My taxi driver quickly pulls over to the side of the road, along with about five other vehicles. Soon, we start to see two more of them. I was both nervous and excited to be near them, but they did not seem to be bothered by having an audience – they were interested in more important things.
We had a front row seat to two lions fighting it out for one lioness. They were fighting and growling and things were getting very intense. The other observers and I were getting all excited. A few times we were scared though, because the lions started getting only a few meters away from us. And there I was in a taxi and all of these other people were sitting around in their sophisticated, sturdy Land Rovers and such. But by that time it didn’t matter much because the lions were more interested in fighting over this lioness thank god.
As we watched, the lioness started fighting back one of the lions while he was trying to chase away the other male lion. It looked like she had made her pick already of which lion was going to win her over. We watched this magnificent site for about an hour before we had to head back towards Nairobi. My dear friends, this was one of the most exciting experiences of my life and I will remember this moment forever.
As we were leaving the park, we got to see another set of monkeys on the way out, just running around free in nature. On my way back into town I start to feel a strong sense of accomplishment in this country – both in our mission work and in my personal dream of experiencing African wildlife. Tomorrow is Sunday, so it will be back to work as I travel to Jinja to pick up our airplane and fly to Ethiopia.
On Sunday morning I wake up and check the prices for a flight back to Jinja, Uganda. That option was quickly out of the question when I realized that last minute ticket prices are very expensive. So I decided to take a chance and check bus prices again. During the last few years, I have had to use many different types of transportation (planes, trains, boats, buses, you name it), but it seems like when you take a bus, you end up finding a lot of shady characters. This is especially the case in the U.S. with the Greyhound busline. But what can you do? When you are broke and trying to save money, you have no other options.
I find a bus that will leave at 8:00pm and it is a different company than the one that brought me out here. As I board the bus, I can already see that it is much nicer than the one that brought me out here. Thank god. Now, I can feel comfortable trying to catch some sleep. That way, I can be ready bright and early in Jinja when I have to deal with our plane. Plus, I will save money since I don’t have to pay for a hotel room.
At 5:00am, we reach our destination, but it is too early to get any business done. Thank the lord that gas stations in Africa (like most businesses) have security guards with machine guns to protect their valuables because I end up having to wait at one for two whole hours before it is finally daylight. I am hoping that today I can get our airplane, head to Entebbe to get our AVGAS (they don’t have any at the airport where our plane is being maintenanced) and start my seven-hour journey to Ethiopia.
Of course, things never go according to my schedule and when I arrive at the airport, I learn that they are still working on the plane. I am dissappointed, but hey, this is aviation and things are never as fast as the speed of the aircrafts themselves. So I try to make the most of my time by cleaning and preparing the plane while the maintenance workers are finishing up.
I was finally ready to go and that is when the big surprise hit me. Being in Africa, you never know what is going to happen, especially when you start to pay your service fees. The bill was close to $5000USD. Holy freaking hell I said. I definitely was not prepared for that as I had budgeted for the bill to be a third of that. At this point I was boiling, but I tried to stay calm.
It turns out that the company was trying to make some extra cash off of my business, but I am the wrong person to try that with folks. As we went over the bill together, part of the problem was that the careless, supposed accountants overcharged me for several things (this is a common experience down here). So the owner of TPSC of South Africa and I had to have a nice little chat about all of the nonsense charges on my bill. After finding the mistakes and negotiating the hours of labor that they charged me for, the bill was still nowhere near what I had planned for it to be and was still around $3500 USD.
I was really upset, but I told the owner that I could not pay the total bill and that my expectations had been a lot different. I told him that I would have to wait for more cash to come in from Europe and that I was totally broke in our bank account. I was very frustrated at this point, but calm as I emptied the aircraft again and left it knowing that I would have to postpone my trip to Entebbe.
Now, our mission was at the mercy of the Kosovo government. Though they had promised me some funding (which was nowhere near my requested amount) a while ago, it took them a full two months to make the decision. Even now, they were still ‘finalizing’ everything and did not have the money ready for us. I ended up waiting another six days in Jinja, wasting time and awaiting someone to execute the order and deposit the money into our bank account. Even still, this was only after intense pressure on our part.
For those six days, I waited as patiently as I could, all the while wasting the money that my brother Nazim had recently sent me. My brother works very hard, struggling to earn his own money. Yet he has always made sure not to let his brother starve down here in Africa. Folks, I get so frustrated when our government has promised us only a small amount of funds and then takes over two months to deliver it while my brother has spent several thousands of dollars on this mission.
Further, I know firsthand that Flying for Kosovo is very well-respected in Kosovo and with Albanians in general, so I can’t understand for the life of me why our government will not help our efforts out more. Our mission is so much cheaper than most other types of lobbying. Not to mention that by me being an average citizen of Kosovo, the governments and media tend to listen to me and our story more than if a government official were to do the same thing. Instead, I see so much money wasted in our government for things that are much less important than this mission. What could be more important than funding lobbying efforts around the world? Especially if it is an effort that is well respected by our country’s citizens? I shake my head at this dilemma quite often.
On Saturday, I finally get word from our assitant Lumnije Gashi that the money is being wired today via MoneyGram. There are only a few hours before the banks close here, so I must hurry to get this transaction completed. And remember, it takes forever to exchange money down here, not to mention the fact that each time that you do, you always end up losing some on both ends of the deal (services fees for the transaction, exchange rates, etc.).
Once I arrived at the airport, I was able to pay our fees in no time and TPSC was very happy to hear the news. I might mention here that I avoided taking a taxi to the airport this time and chose a MotoBike instead. I have taken them lots of times down here, but they are so much cheaper than a taxi, though they do take a lot longer to get you where you are going. At least I can use this money for something more important, like AVGAS.
After I paid TPSC for their overpriced services, I had filed our flight plans, had the plane cranked up and was ready to fly in no time. After a forty-minute flight I was landing in Entebbe at an airport that I can fuel up with AVGAS. It’s late afternoon now and too late to fly all the way to Ethiopia today, so now I have to spend more money on another hotel and wait until morning to take off – more money being wasted. At least now I am out of Jinja and some of the financial pressure is off.
After enjoying a cold coca-cola near Lake Victoria, I headed to bed early in order to get a headstart in the morning. I arrived at the airport by 7:00am, filed flight plans, paid the airport fees and fueled my plane within two hours time. Here in Entebbe, they tried to charge me 2.71 for a liter of AVGAS, but luckily I was able to negotiate it down to 2.51. Since I will need 305 liters in order to fly all the way to Addis Ababa, .20 cents off is not much of a deal. But, what choice do I have? We only have a few countries left to visit with this portion of the mission and I need to get them finished before our money runs out again.
The weather is nice today as I take off for our flight. During the next seven hours, I already know that I will need to cross many different terrains. From water to countryside to mountains, when you have a flight this long you are bound to see a lot of different landscapes. Even the weather patterns will be different – going from dry, hot weather to wet and tropical and back again.
During the last two hours of my flight, I needed to fly our baby plane as high as 12,000 feet above sea level in order to fly over the high mountain peaks. Ethiopia is home to 80% of Africa’s tallest mountains and is sometimes called ‘the roof of Africa’. For a plane our size, this is a very difficult task and I was very nervous that our small plane would not be able to make it that high. Though it was a struggle, it was also an amazing experience to fly that high and to clear those peaks for sure. I was able to see the many beautiful landscapes of Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia.
Just south of Addis Ababa, when I was flying at those very high altitudes, it was amazing to see that people actually lived all the way up here. I was very worried that I was flying too close to them. There they were down there with their crops, farmland, cattle, etc. and because we were already at a high altitude, my baby plane had to fly very low to them. A few times I thought I would be ending up landing in their farmland because the plane couldn’t go any higher.
Thank god I finally spotted a shallow valley before hitting the rooftop of these farmer’s homes. After that, I didn’t have much time to get the plane down a 4,000 ft. descent to be able to land in Addis Ababa. Though it was a struggle to get our plane up to 12,000 ft., it also wasn’t easy to have to descend 4,000 ft. in such a short amount of time. I soon touched down in Ethiopia after sundown and cleared customs in no time. Tomorrow is another busy day of mission work, but I am looking forward to making progress again.
It seems like there are only a few things that I can count on throughout this mission and one of them is this: No matter how much I try to perservere to get things done with precision and dedication, there is always someone or some rule out there that pushes me in the opposite direction. Whether it is more procdures, regulations, requirements, etc. that may end up costing me extra time, money, headaches, frustration and other unneccessary suffering or a few people working behind the counter who do not understand the basics of their job – it seems I am always fighting against more and more barriers in each country. This last time it was the fact that I had to wait almost a week! for my Ugandan permit to come through. Even then, it was almost refused. Were it not for my new friend Mr. Byrne in Rwanda, I would have never made it to our next country. Not to mention the fact that not only did I need one permit to get to Uganda’s main airport, but I also needed another permit from their military. Again, another permit that took forever to obtain and which ended up costing me more money in the form of tips to several people in order to get my hands on – otherwise, no permit at all for us.
So there I was in Rwanda, finally a Ugandan permit in my hands and I’m ready to leave bright and early in the morning with our baby plane. Instead of my sensible plans, I ended up spending the morning waiting for clearance from the civil aviation authority and for money to be sent from Pristina (yes my friends, we are broke again), which always takes at least an hour at Western Union. Despite the actual flight being only two hours long, by the time you spend your morning running around at the airport getting fuel, clearing customs, paying fees, getting weather updates, etc. and dealing with all of these frustrations, your entire day is soon gone before your eyes.
Folks, it doesn’t make it one bit easier when the personnel that you are trying to deal with are people like the old gramma I had to deal with here in Rwanda. That poor lady, you have to wonder how in the hell she could get a job like that when the fact is that she has a very hard time even using the computer that she is supposed to be creating my bill from. Here we are the two of us, me waiting for the bill and her trying to find the right letters on the keyboard and we have me stressing out over the length of time it is taking her and her completely oblivious and peaceful. While I’m waiting, I notice a bible sitting next to her on the desk. Apparently, she must read the thing everyday, but of course, it will not tell you in the bible how to use the computer in the year 2011. Oh my friends, here in Africa time means absolutely nothing. There is never a rush and it’s as if everyone has their whole life ahead of them to get things done, so why hurry it along…
I finally get on my way and am nearly landing here in Uganda. I have just flown over the beautiful and enormous Lake Victoria, which borders several countries and is the largest lake in Africa (2nd largest freshwater lake in the world). I am starting to see some activity up here in the skies – civilian planes, military planes and of course, the United Nations. They are everywhere around here. Remember, per my description of the last few countries, there is a lot of war in this part of Africa. Here in Uganda they have been fighting for nearly 30 years. More on that later…
Here we are again with the stress and the problems. By the time I arrived in Uganda, nightfall was setting in. That means that the airport must have working lights in order for me to land – it is a requirement in any country and any language. The airport that I am supposed to land at had no lights, so I was forced to land at one prior to my destination. It really ticks me off when I have to do something stupid like this, all the time knowing that if things would have gone along as planned, that I would have indeed made my way to my destination. Instead, I have to spend money on a place to stay, taxis, more airport fees – you name it. All because of these nonsense permits and fees at each airport, having to run around and deal with people working in places that they should not be and on and on. I won’t bother to keep venting here – I think you get the picture.
The next day I finally arrive at my destination airport, a private airfield that required two permits to land in. Though it’s not a military airport, the military maintain control over it, so they need to get their money too I guess. From there, I wanted to get straight to work and waste no more time on nonsense. So I hopped a local bus into Kampala, where I shared the two hour ride with local vendors traveling into town with all of their goods: chickens, goats, fruits, vegetables, you name it.
Once my work was completed in Kampala, I spent the rest of the time in my ‘base’ city of Jinja, which is located just a few meters away from that lovely lake Victoria. The locals here report that this is ‘the’ Source of the Nile River, which is the definitely the largest river in Africa, but also considered to be the longest in the world. With a length of over 4000 miles, the river actually runs through 9 different countries in all.
Here, I am able to enjoy a small peace of heaven as I observe the beautiful nature and wildlife that surrounds me. On one of the evenings here I was able to sit at a local camping area owned and operated by Adrift, a local rafting company. This place had a beautiful location right on the river, nice restaurant/bar with lots of vacationers and best of all: a free sunset to enjoy. I almost forgot to mention that several times throughout the evening I encountered many different species of birds and lots of little monkeys jumping around from tree to tree, eating local fruits and making us humans laugh and smile.
From what I can tell, this area tries to bring in tourists to visit the lake and the famous river. It looks like they try to keep people busy with several outdoor activities: rafting, bungee jumping, kayaking, four wheeling, etc. It is nice to know that there are great things like this to enjoy in Africa, even if I only get to hear about them.
Despite Jinja being a little town that has struggled in the past economically, it is still an attractive place to visit. There are nice souvenir shops, a great boardwalk, many restaurants and outdoor markets, etc. They even make a local beer here that is well known called the Nile. My travels here in Uganda have shown me that this is a beautiful country with several natural resources. In addition to Lake Victoria and promoting that as the Source of the Nile (which is sometimes disputed by other countries), they produce a lot of other things here too. Things like sugar cane, tea, pineapple and banana are often cultivated and exported to other countries. Time and time again, I have seen that many of the countries here in Africa could prosper really fast in all aspects of life if the local people were given more control over their future.
Though there are still opportunities for improvement. Here I am at a hotel, sitting right next to the giant and incredible Lake Victoria, where I can hear magnificant frogs, crickets and birds singing, etc., yet I am surrounded by solid proof that cleanliness here in Africa does not seem to exist in the local dictionary. Being on this continent for over seven months now, I have learned to expect to share my room with lots of little friends and critters. From lizards to cockroaches, spiders the size of a dollar bill to tiny little insects, we have all been roommates at some point along this trip. What can I tell you, when you are poor, you have to share the rent with someone.
To give you an example of my adventures, when I checked into my room last night, every wall was covered with smash marks of dead insects killed by the previous guests (and the guests before them, and the ones before them, and so on). This is not the first time that I’ve experienced this type of thing, especially since everyone seems to be terrified of catching malaria. Since a lot of these hotel rooms are only cleaned ‘for show’ and may not be full all of the time, a lot of insects make their way to the empty ones to enjoy feasting off of any food crumbs that may have been left behind. I would have slept fine, except for the fact that around midnight, an army of tiny insects and ants seized my bed. Since I started itching shortly thereafter, I thought that the best thing to do was to go downstairs and ask to switch rooms. Folks, this is what you have to deal with unless you want to pay $300-500 USD/night for a hotel room. With a budget like mine, there is absolutely no way that we can afford that kind of nonsense.
Especially given the fact that our mission has struggled so much financially. There have been many headaches and setbacks over the past two years. On many occasions, I often have not even had enough money in my pocket to buy food for the day. I don’t want to bother you all with the details, but there have been many days that I have gone without food in order to keep our hope and vision alive. In fact, as I am sitting here writing these few pages for our website update, I can tell you all that our mission is absolutely broke again.
During my stop here, our plane has needed some necessary maintenance work done to it. Friends, when I say necessary I mean that it’s something that absolutely must be fixed in order to fly – remember that I don’t even have a working GPS in the plane because I would rather spend the money on something that’s more needed. The work has been finished for almost a week now, but here I sit waiting for money that was promised to me ten days ago from our government. There are many things that I don’t tell you about our mission my friends (mostly because I don’t want to worry you all and my ego wants you to think that the mission is going fine and that I have no problems to deal with), but I am so frustrated right now that I feel like I finally have to share some of it with you all.
After two years of struggling, I want you all to know more about the truth. Were it not for a few key people who have sometimes given me their last Euro, our mission would not have been kept alive. Of course, there are many more of you that have contributed what you could, and for that I will be grateful forever my friends. Thank you to all of the people around the world who have helped our mission in any way that they could. But the following people have been primarily the ones keeping our mission alive:
Lumnije Gashi, though she only makes about 200 Euros per month back in Kosovo, she has sometimes sent me her last one so that I could feed myself until we could get some money coming in a few days later. Velush Orllati; Sevdali Berisha; Nazim Berisha; Albion Idrizi; Qemajl Mustafa; Bedrush Berisha; Naser Shabani; Tom Duhani (and the Detroit Albanian community) and Nail Spahiu – these men have all tried to use many different angles to keep our mission going moneywise. Without them, this mission would have ended long ago.
And let’s not forget that these are all people who are living from paycheck to paycheck as well. But they made sure that I had money to feed myself and move around in order to continue raising awareness in the world about our beautiful nation. Just last week, Nazim Berisha sent me over $2400 USD, otherwise I would not have had any food to eat in Kenya. While $2400 is a lot of money, it goes by so quickly when you have to pay all of those airport fees, a different fuel charge in each country, overpriced dirty hotels (always the cheapest that I can find), etc.
Velush Orllati, Nazim Berisha and Sevdali Berisha alone have contributed almost twice the amount of money that we have received from the government of Kosovo. I don’t want to overwhelm you with this information, but this is the way that it has been since the beginning. Though there is no amount of thanks that I could give and no way that I could ever repay these key people back for all of the ways that they have helped our mission (both in money and renewed spirit), I often get so frustrated that our own government is not helping us out more.
It seems like our government has been ignoring this mission from day one for fear that they might have to admit that one ordinary citizen has done what they themselves have yet failed to do. My friends, I would be a hippocrite if I did not share these things with you and I refuse to fill your heads with some fairy tale story of how things have always been easy and how everyone gets along. The truth is that it has been a struggle to get help from them every step of the way. Remember, I don’t even have a diplomatic passport on to travel with as a citizen ambassador of our country.
From things as basic as letting you all know which country I am in and how the progress is going, the people that work on our mission daily are volunteers who believe in our cause and not the formal government officials. I just don’t get it. I would think that it would be a lot cheaper to pay the travel costs of one person who is willing to lobby for his country than to spend millions of dollars on a public marketing campaign that goes nowhere and has no efffect.
Don’t get me wrong my friends, our government has donated some money to us at times, but sometimes I think that it is just for show and publicity sake. Since I have been around so many governments now, I know that sometimes they like to make things ‘look good’ in the eyes of the public. But the truth is that this mission has taken at least six weeks longer to complete than it should have due to being broke over and over again. And let’s not forget that I do my best to try and make my daily expenses as cheap as possible.
When I started this mission nearly two years ago, I had saved up a lot of money from my job as a pilot in the US. The original intention of this mission was to meet with the media in each country to raise awareness of our cause and to give a voice to all of those people that I met back in the refugee camps long ago. The original goal was to bring our message to people in Central and South America.
Shortly after beginning the mission, I quickly learned that it would also be necessary to meet with the government officials in each country as well. This is where my perspective started to change. The more countries I would go to and hear from, the more that I started to get the picture that the Kosovar government was not doing enough in this department. I am only an ordinary citizen, surely our government had more time and resources to dedicate to such activities? How could it be that I was the one becoming the ‘face’ of our country to these other governments?
When I finished up with the first leg of our mission, I returned to Kosovo. The response that I got from the public was overwhelming. Even some government officials wanted me to continue. Africa was mentioned many times. But I also made it clear that I would need lots of financial help in order to be able to continue. Having depleted my own funds and after the financial struggles that I experienced on the first leg of our mission, I knew that this time it was going to be more strenuous and that it was going to cost way more than anyone could predict. My friends, I was offered assurance that we could do this together. I think that might be the worst part of it all. I always hear ‘yes, yes, yes’ we will help you no problem. But in reality, like I said, I have often been disappointed. Just a simple diplomatic passport would have helped me out tremendously in several countries.
On the other hand my friends, I have to look on the bright side of things. My first obligation throughout this mission has been and always will be to the people of Kosovo. I believe with all of my heart that I share this mission with each and every one of you and that we will have done this together – with our without the help of the government. If I were to have chosen in the beginning to accept the backing of certain political parties or powers in government, then I can promise you something – I wouldn’t have wanted to visit a single country. To me, you the people are the most valuable resource for our country, not the leaders or the political parties that we have. Again, thank you to all of you who have been a part of this operation and who have contributed in many different ways. Please know that it a sincere joy to have you all around. When I get down and discouraged, it is your spirit and belief in our cause that keeps me going.
I want to thank you for letting me share with you some of my frustrations. Sometimes the lack of progress and so much struggling does discourage me. But, that only lasts a short while because I get stronger each time and I know that history will be on our side with this mission and show the true power of our people. When we have been able to sway enough countries to recognize us, it will be through the passion and dedication of our people and not due to dishonest ways like political bribes.
This experience has taught me so many things that it would be impossible to share them with you all. Learning about different cultures, traditions, beliefs, etc. has been absolutely fascinating, yet reassuring at the same time. Over and over again, I am reminded that we humans are so much more alike than we are different. Now, please forgive me as I share some more truths with you.
Sometimes, I wish I didn’t have to be exposed to some things and learn about some of the harsher realities of this world. Having visited over 120 nations now, I am sad to say that life is not always easy around the world. I feel obligated to share some of these shocking experiences with you so that some of you may be inspired to work for more change and resist from being swayed by political publicity campaigns. Please don’t forget that this information comes to me from the citizens that I have spoken with in many countries. As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to believe them any day over what some self-important official tries to fill my head with.
Many times it has been confirmed to me that there are too many power hungry dictators in control who end up destroying their own people’s lives for no reason but arrogance, selfishness, greed, more power, etc. Many of these rulers are nothing but the most egotistical, inhumane, self-centered cowards who are only worried about buying their next new toy (cars, houses, you name it) instead of helping their own people prosper. Based on my experiences, I would even say that about 90% of the governments around the world are self-destructive to their own people.
Don’t forget that I am all for order, advancement, progress, prosperity, etc., but with a bunch of dictators running the world I have so often seen that it is the people of these countries who suffer the most. Over and over, I get reminded of the same type of mindset: the belief that in order to rule a country there can only be one person who knows what’s best (the person at the top, naturally) and not only must they maintain their position because they know it all, but they get caught up in using their power and control in the situation and eventually, come to believe that they deserve to stay in that position forever. They think that their level of knowledge and capacity is the only one that matters, no matter if they have ruled a nation for five years or thirty years.
Forget about the fact that younger generations who might be better educated or have brighter ideas, once these dictators get into their powerful positions, they hold onto it tightly and will do anything to not let it go. They might even work to groom their family members to take over if something should happen to them. In many countries, they still have elections of course. But my friends, I have seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears from the people that these elections are usually just for show. By that time, the people in power are so corrupted that they find a way to rig the election and make sure that they don’t have to give up their power. At that point, you might start hearing about an uprising taking place, or a revolution.
Some courageous soul, or group of souls, come together and make a plan to speak out. Sometimes, unfortunately, they choose violence. But other times, violence is used against them. Either way, this is sometimes how wars are started my friends. On the other hand though, we have seen a lot of positive change recently in some of these countries. In Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, etc. The only thing that will give this world a wake up call, it seems, is when an entire population is trying to start a revolution.
In some of these places, the people have finally had enough. Sadly, some have died over this. But the people still refuse to go back to the way things used to be and they still continue to fight for positive change in their countries. My friends, the people of this world are not stupid. Over my travels, I have met many wonderful people who, no matter how bad the situation may be in their country, I can still see that glimmer of hope in their eyes. It always amazes me to see the amount of knowledge, charisma and character in local peoples. I’ve said it over and over again – many of these countries could be very prosperous if it weren’t for their own government officials trying to fill their Swiss bank accounts with more and more money.
Lucky Swiss people – they have all of this money flowing in from around the world and have the job of keeping all of it safe for these wealthy dictators. At least finally, after so many years of lies and deceit we are finally starting to hear about who has got their money where and who has been lying to their people. I hope you have all heard in the news about the recently uncovered bank accounts of some of them. There is Gadaffi in Libya, Ben Ali from Tunisia, Laurent Gbagbo from the Ivory Coast, Mubarak from Egypt… and the list could go on. All of these men have spent many years profiting off of their people and the world is now seeing the truth of their actions, thanks to some of the political uprisings taking place worldwide right now.
Some of these nations could be living in a paradise with all of the natural resources that they have. From diamonds, to timber, gold and other minerals, petrol, etc… the list could go on, but these same countries are in a total mess, full of misery and struggle. Instead of these resources being the property of the people, these dictators have robbed their country blind and have prospered from the blood and sweat of their own people. They are so lost in the mindset that they know what’s best for their country, that they are blinded by the greed covering their eyes. They think that they are the answer to every possible questions, while at the same time, they just keep building more houses around the world, vacationing in more exotic places, buying their next private jet, etc. They feel entitled is what it boils down to my friends. They think that they deserve all of these outrageous things because they surround themselves with people who will never disagree with them and continue to tell them that they are doing such a great job running their country into the ground.
Often times, the Ministers and Deputies in these countries are just there for decoration so that they can look legitimate to the rest of the world. Since the leaders give these people a little piece of the pie, the result is that there is no one around willing to rock the boat and so many leaders continue to rule way past the point of living in reality anymore. I have found this to be quite common throughout the world my friends and if I did not mention this now, then I would be the same as most of them.
Sometimes I think that people like this must have been damaged in some way before they were even born. How else could someone become so blinded and ignorant of the long-term damage that they are doing to their own country? How else could they perpetrate hainous crimes against their own people in order to maintain their power well past the point at which they should have given it up? Some of these rulers have been in power for many generations and like I said are preparing their family members to take over soon – treating their country like their own little kingdom. Some are way too old to be making smart decisions anymore. Folks, when you are too old to know how to send an email or to use a cell phone, then I think it might be time to retire. I have even heard a few times where a countries constitution has been changed just so that the leader can stay in power.
My friends, too much power and greed could corrupt anyone of us. But may we always, always look to history to be reminded of just how horrible people can treat each other when those two things are their motivators.
Meanwhile, I don’t want to mislead you too much. While it is true that these horrible dictators remain in power in their own countries, it’s even more of a fact that most of the world is well aware that these things are going on. In fact, many ‘first world’ countries have benefitted from these unstable situations around the world. Whether backroom deals for resources or keeping a person in power so that they can ‘maintain order’ in that part of the world, there are not very many governments left around the world who have not been a part of this sad game my friends.
With many of these countries that I speak of, nearly 80% of their population doesn’t have even the basic necessities of life. I have seen many times that people often have little to no access to running water, have to struggle with things like electricity shortages and clinics with no supplies, etc. And forget about paved roads – I am not kidding you when I tell you that some of these potholes down here are as big as your car and very deep.
Instead, the leaders take in more and more money from their offshore deals with our more ‘civilized’ world leaders – often giving them deals on the precious resources that should belong to the people. The saddest part of all of this is that when first world leaders do come to visit these countries, they usually spend all of their time in high class hotels, being wined and dined by the elite. My friends, many of the local people that I have met would not even think about stepping inside of one of those hotels out of fear that they would not know how to act in one of those fancy places.
The leaders around the world, they just visit each other’s protected palaces – being driven around in armored vehicles and all. They never once get to see or experience the daily lives of the local people. Forget about driving out to visit the more rural parts of the country, they don’t even get to see what it is like for common people in a capital city.
They just come to make another deal between government ‘officials’, trying to find a way that they can both benefit from the situation. I don’t think that it is that these first world governments don’t care about things, but more that there is too much benefit in maintaining the status quo. Though some of them may actually try to talk some sense into these dictators, it is pretty hard to reason with a person whose philosophy is based on getting more money and more power and who cares little about how many people get hurt because of their greed.
Folks, I have spent over seven months down here in Africa and I can tell you that misery is present in every corner of our globe and that most of it is absolutely preventable. The experiences that I’ve had have changed me for a lifetime. My personality has changed, my views and values about life have changed and the beautiful people that I have encountered so far have definitely opened my eyes to the harsh realities of the world.
The people that I have met have sacrificed a lot because of these deals – often living off of a small income that they make by selling their goods. And I’m not just talking about putting a sign outside of your door my friends. I’m talking about very dedicated and hard working people who wake up as early as 4:00am to travel into the far-away towns just to sell a few fruits and vegetables and other merchandise in order to bring in enough money to feed their families for the day.
Another thing that I want to mention about my travels here in Africa is this: many, many people down here are still in love with Mr. Josip Broz Tito. My friends, our fomer president of Yugoslavia has been dead for more than 30 years now, but for these leaders down here, he is still seen as an inspiration. Down here, Tito spent lots of money to build their roads and highways back then, maybe put up a few hospitals, powerplants and palaces here and there, etc.
My dear Kosovar people: when our brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents were working hard in those socialist factories back then, part of what they were doing was working to make goods and supplies that would be shipped down here. Yugoslavia exported many things to Africa during that time: basic household supplies, food commodities like flour, oil, pastas, sugars, etc. and other things were sent down here for free on behalf of our previous leader. African schools were provided with books, notebooks, pens, pencils, etc. Roads were built, clinics and hospitals put up… All with the sweat and hard work of our elders.
The main problem hindering our formal recognition down here in Africa is this: for many of these dictators (who have been in office since time began) Josip Broz Tito is still an idol. For many, he was their protector, brother, etc. Even though he has been gone now for over thirty years, ‘Tito’ is still very much alive in the minds of certain leaders. Even though those same roads are the same ones that I speak to you now about having potholes as deep as I am tall. In places like Zambia and Gabon, I have even seen main roads being named after their old friend.
Now, I don’t want you to think that I am against helping out your neighbor or anything, but let’s not forget that all of this help was given through the the sweat and hard work of our loved ones. Today, we are paying a very heavy price for that help in regards to these countries believing in Uncle ‘Tito’ and not Kosova’s independence. It seems like his grave is still stronger than two million people’s voices for some African nations.
Okay my friends. I have said my peace. Thank you for listening to me and letting me share the lessons that I have learned. Hopefully we can all learn from them and work to make this world a better place.
Back to Uganda.
It is a lovely nation both geographically and people-wise. Lake Victoria is beautiful and the wild nature all around me was amazing. Keep in mind though that Uganda is currently having some political issues. Just last week more than five people died during a peaceful protest. The government had tried to disperse them with machines guns and pepper spray. Also remember that this is one of the countries caught up in that web of ongoing war. For the past thirty years, the people of Uganda have been fighting.
One of the organizations, the Lord’s Resistance Army, is well known throughout the world for the human rights violations that they have committed. They are also known for their use of children in their ongoing war against the government (remember, the government isn’t always perfectly innocent either). The International Criminal Court has charged the organization with acts of murder, abduction, mutiliation, sexual enslavement and forcing children to participate in these crimes. NGO’s like the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch and Invisible Children have all been working to stop the abduction of these children. And remember, like Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, etc., these conflicts tend to spill into neighboring countries, so this war and the LRA are now acting in other countries like Sudan, Central African Republic and DR Congo as well.
As far as the media in Uganda goes, I want to take a moment to thank all of the media personnel that I’ve worked with here in Africa. They have all played such a big role in our mission. They are wonderful people who have offered me some of their protection. By coming to their nation, they are put into the difficult position of needing to share our information with their country, while at the same time having to be careful about what they say and how they say it, for fear of possible government repurcussions. So far we have been lucky in that the media staff that I have dealt with has wanted to follow our story and share our information. Often times, all I have to do is raise my concerns to them and these great people raise the issue to the public, which forces the hand of their government to some extent.
Despite the current political turmoil and the severity of current conditions in Uganda (remember five people died during my stay here), the media did an outstanding job trying to cover our cause and spread the word about our nation and its people. So, thank you to Gaaki Kigambo with The Observer newspaper and Mr. Robert Spin Musako, editor of the newspaper Razor, who authorized my interview with his journalist Mr. Patrick Jaramogi; Thank you to my awesome friends at Ggwanga – Mr. Kizito Serumaga (editor) who was excited to write something about Kosovo and have me at the newspaper headquarters and journalist Mr. Alex Lubwami, who had a great personality and wanted to make sure that Kosovo would get nice exposure in his country.
Thank you to journalist Anne Mugisa at the New Vision newspaper and her editor Mr. John Kakande, who were both great as well. Thank you to Melody Kukundakwe and her boss Mr. Paul Amoru with the Daily Monitor for their dedication and help exposing Kosovo’s cause to their country and thank you to the excellent team with the newspaper The East African. This newspaper is very well known locally and is published simultaneously in five different East African countries. Thank you to Ms. Halima Abdallah and her boss Mr. Michael Wakabi for their very respectful article.
In regards to radio, thank you to the team at Vision Voice 94.8mhz – Ms. Siima Kyakuhaire Sabiti and her partner Mr. Kenny Katuramu. They were both excellent radio talk show hosts. Thank you also to their boss Mr. Bill Tibingana who approved our live interview. Thank you to Mr. Ggayi Julius with Radio One 90.0FM, a nationwide radio station. Mr. Julius was a great man with strong values and was willing to help Kosovo get recognized by his country.
Thank you to my new friends with the national station UBC, Uganda Broadcasting Corporation. The chief news editor, Mr. Farouk Kayondo was very knowledgeable, very detailed and very excited to help give Kosovo some exposure in his country. I have lots of admiration for people like him who have tremendous courage and great character.
The team at NTV were also excellent and were able to get our story transmitted the same day of our interview. Thanks to Mr. Atulinda Allan and Mr. Bernard Opwonya, the news producer. Finally, thank you to Ms. Margaret Bugembe Mangooba, news editor with the NBS television station of Uganda, who was willing to get some good exposure of our cause out ther over the airwaves.
Thank you to Eveleyn C. Ngalonsa at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She introduced me to many of her colleagues over there and was able to get my letter from Vlora Citaku hand-delivered to the right people.
Uganda, like many other places has lots of great people, beautiful countryside and lots of potential. Let’s hope that the next time we visit here there will be more achievement and success seen in this great nation.
My next country will be Kenya, but it is a little bit out of order, folks. During my stay here in Uganda, after getting some money wired to our mission, I took advantage of the time that our plane was being worked on and went to Kenya without it. That way I don’t have to spend extra time sitting here wasting more of our time here in Uganda.
My friends, based on my past writings, I am sure that you know me to some extent. By now, you all realize my particular viewpoints about life (values, beliefs, religion, etc.). I find that my view of the world is like a puzzle that, but that it is never finished. I am always learning and with new information comes a new perspective of the world. Right now though, I want to take a moment to mention my feelings about my recent experience in Rwanda. It is something that has created a real impact on my soul and has affected me deeply.
Though I had never been to Rwanda before, never touched my feet on the soil of that land, as soon as I entered that airspace my body felt the difference almost immediately. My whole demeanor shifted as I flew over this sacred land. My dear followers, I could not stop shivering – the power of the spirits surrounded me in the airplane that day.
I could feel the presence of those souls that had lost their lives in the horrible conflict here. I could feel the sadness, the cries, the grief and suffering. I could sense the many tears from the precious innocent lives that were lost. Here, in this amazingly beautiful country of grassland and rolling hills, my physical body deeply felt the atrocity of one of the worst genocides in human history. In 1994, more than a million cherished lives were taken away by one of the most inhumane and cowardly acts that one culture can inflict upon another.
My great friends, this is not television anymore. You are not reading about this in a newspaper or learning about it from a movie, I am here to tell you about my real experience here in Rwanda. I promise you that my entire body and soul were overtaken by the spirit of all of those victimized souls lost as soon as I entered into Rwandan airspace with our tiny plane.
As soon as I crossed the mountains and entered into Rwanda, the tears started rolling down my face – a few at first and then uncontrollably, as I observed every yard of the space below. My mind was going a thousand of miles a minute as I was trying to comprehend what my body was experiencing. That overwhelming presence of spirits moved me tremendously as I tried to come to terms with the magnitude of energy that was sent to me by those souls.
I could feel the children crying, the tears of the elderly. I started to see the people being butchered by blood-thirsty cowards trying to eliminate an entire race. What I was experiencing was more than just thoughts and more than just a physical feeling. Like I said, my entire being and the energy in the airplane were taken over by these poor souls. For a brief moment in time, they helped me to feel some of their pain as I entered into their sacred ground.
**Please see Laurie’s description at the end of my journal entry for a broader history and scope of the entire crisis.
I was grateful that this was a short flight and that I was able to land soon. The sensations that I was experiencing were now driving a need to actually set foot on this sacred place. As I exited my plane after touching ground, the shivering continued as I tried to carry on with my normal activities (securing the plane, clearing customs, etc.). I found it difficult to concentrate on those things when my body was still experience the magnitude of the situation.
To my surprise, Rwanda seems to have turned things around quite a bit. Before coming here, I would have thought that this country was still at its worst, however, that is not the case anymore. I start to find great people and can already see that Kigali is being re-constructed at a fast pace. The country seems to be flourishing like a blooming flower in springtime. There are new houses all around, beautiful roads, a nice airport and most importantly, warm, friendly people that greet me everywhere. It comforted me to know that the country is now regenerating itslef.
This changed my outlook for the next few days, as my mind and body had already been prepared for the worst. Though I have to mention that no matter what happened during my stay, I could not shake the presence of all of those souls that first surrounded me in the plane. At least I was comforted by the fact that the energy that I felt meant that those souls had moved on to a better place.
I am constantly amazed by the strength of human beings. My dear friends, I don’t know how some people manage to do it sometimes. Over and over I have seen in my life that out of some of the worst circumstances, most survivors are able to rise above calamity and evolve in life and eventually find some sort of peace. I can see that the great people of Rwanda are a strong people. Otherwise, I would have seen disaster upon arrival. But based on what I have seen here so far, this nation has a vision for its future, is making drastic changes for the better and is not dwelling on their past misery. Instead, all I can is a society that is turning its life around and moving, building a future and learning from a very hard and brutal past. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people here.
You all know by now that I tend to value the stories that I hear from local people. I tend to believe much more of what the citizens of a country tell me than what the dysfunctional governments of the world report. Over 90% of the people that I speak with in most countries report that their government is destroying their lives, their countries, economy, futures, progress in life, etc. Most report that they notice politicians becoming power-hungry, dishonest, liers, thieves, etc. – the list could go on. Folks, some of you that are reading this may not agree with my assessment, but I can’t be dishonest my experiences. This has been a hard lesson to learn for me, but this is what I hear from local citizens over and over again.
I have been deeply touched by the stories that I have heard here in Rwanda. I have witnessed with my own eyes, the depths of their sorrow. I have learned from many of them so far that it is impossible to meet someone in this country that has not been affected by the genocide either directly or indirectly. To be here and learn about the magnitude of suffering that these wonderful people have endured has opened my eyes for a lifetime and I have learned things here that you absolutely cannot learn simply through reading a book or watching a movie.
Being present, feeling the air around you, watching people’s eyes change as they tell you their own horrific story… it really makes you wonder sometimes about those evil people that still walk among us. We share the planet with these same people who have manage to educate the entire world on just how much damage can be done by cowards who only want material things. It is horrifying to me that small groups of people are actually able to destabilize our entire planet and commit horrible, inhumane acts because of their own greed and selfishness. They are driven by their need for more power and control.
I just cannot understand, my friends, how one evil person or group can be so calculating and confident in their violent and horrendous actions. It is beyond me how more than one million people could be put to death, shot, butchered, maimed in a period of less than three months times – all while the world just sat by and watched.
So many lives were destroyed; every person in this nation was forced to be terrified. No one seemed to know who was next. Not only were people shot and killed, but those that survived often had to flee to other countries for safety. Neighbors, friends and family members were forced to kill each other. But no one could determine exactly who the enemies were. Please take time to look at Laurie’s description below to learn more about the horrible history that these beautiful people have endured. This frightening part of history will affect our entire planet on some level for years and centuries to come.
I am sure that we all have our own perceptions of who is the guilty party in circumstances like this, but to me, anyone or anything that has contributed to this genocide is equally to blame for this atrocity. Planting a bad see or allowing a bad seed to grow are equivalent in in my mind. It is unfortunate that some of our European neighbors (again, see below for Rwanda’s history) were party to the manufacturing of this genocide. Whether it was directly or indirectly allowing the persistance of conditions that created this situation or allowing a madman to rule politically, there is no excuse.
Further, I know that many countries often claim ignorance to such situations. My friends, please know that based upon my experiences and travels, bureacracies as large as governmental entities know things. They must. They maintain their finger on the pulse of all major events around the world. Unfortunately, not only do some of them know about these situations, but some perpetuate them or encourage them to get worse in order to benefit from them. There are many ‘diplomatic’ reasons for such games.
Again and again, and at the bottom of it all, it all boils down to the same goals: selfishness, greed, power, control, etc. It remains shocking to me that the leaders of our free world participate in and allow these things to happen, yet turn around when its over and claim that they have didn’t know anything about it and have done nothing wrong. Shame on our leaders for their dirty games.
I am ashamed for these leaders and for the citizens of these ‘first world’ countries who have no idea the kinds of games that their governments are playing. Make no mistake: this genocide should have never happened and would have never happened were it not for the direct or indirect consent of our world leaders. Whether closing their eyes and turning their heads, or directly benefitting from situations like this, they too are guilty. Whether they could imagine the consequences of their actions/inactions or not, they too must share some of the blame. Millions of innocent people have been victimized by this genocide, whether they were the actual perpetrators or the merely the target of these atrocities.
Again my dear friends, I tend to listen to the stories that I hear coming out of the mouths of local people rather than political figureheads who are trying to maintain their power and control. Please read our historical description below so that you can learn more about how our European counterparts were a part of this world-changing event in history.
Now that I’ve said my peace, let me share with you another part of my experience. To keep it short, there have been two times in my lifetime that I have visted sites of genocide: from the butchering done by Hitler in Germany and here in Rwanda. Coming to this country (especially after the emotional experience that had upon entering) and not visiting one of the genocide sites would be like walking up to a fountain for a drink of water and then not taking a drink.
It is not a very pleasant experience, but sometimes my friends, we must experience these things for ourselves in order to bare witness to these earth-shattering and devestating parts of our history. Though you may not want to visit these sights every day, and these acts of history may not affect your daily lives, visiting them is a way to show respect for and honor the dead who have lost their lives in such inhumane acts.
Visiting these places will open your eyes for a lifetime and leaves scars on your soul forever. Witnessing firsthand the bloodstains and the clothing, the photographs of the dead, the very tools were used to kill people… Seeing with your own eyes the human skulls the bones of children… my heart is getting weaker as I write this and remember my visit. All I can say is that I hope that the world will never let something this horrible happen again.
Yet my friends, history has shown us that this is allowed to happen over and over again. From our own Yugoslavia, to Armenia, to Germany, which I mentioned before… these events all happened while the world was turning a blind eye. In fact, these events are still going on today in places like Sudan, the Middle East, etc.
And for what? Our differences? Our skin color? Our language? Our ancestors? Or is it because we are taught to fear one another and all that is unknown. Could it possibly be that a few select people want more power and control? Or that some countries benefit from teaching us to despise each other? These are questions that we all must personally consider before we choose to take sides in these types of events.
Back to my mission work.
After arriving in the downtown area, I managed to find a clean, cozy hotel with great scenery and more friendly staff. I can already see that there are several tourists here. I guess that sometimes we humans tend to be attracted to extremes in life. Many people have a need to visit here to learn more about the genocide. The other reason that they visit, I’m told, is that this country is known for catering to those who want to take a safari and track rare mountain gorillas up in the Parc National des Volcanos.
After settling in I went for a short walk (which I like to do as soon as possible so that I can learn my surroundings), I can already notice that things here are still tense. The police and military are in every corner of the city: on every block, every street there is a strong presence of security. As it is getting dark, I see people catching the mini-buses to the outskirts of town as their workday ends and they travel home. I make sure to check my comfort level with the crowd. Over time, I have learned to be more cautious around large groups of people like this. So far in Africa though, I have been very lucky in that I have not had much trouble with things like pickpocketing or getting approached by a intimidating group of troublemakers.
During the times in my travels when I have felt uncomfortable, I have been able to divert hazardous situations by asserting my presence and making it known that I will not tolerate suspicious activity. Although many times, I must admit that I myself have tempted my own fate. I have taken buses to the shady part of town by mistake, or have placed myself in unsecure situations on accident, etc. At least in the cases where I have been taken advantage of, I have partially been to blame, as I trusted people who should not have been trusted.
After my short evening walk and talking to the local people, I have no idea how my mission work will be acknowledged here. All I can do since I am here is to try and get our message across in any way that it will be accepted. After a good nights sleep and a crappy, overpriced breakfast, I begin my attempt to get our cause covered by the media and acknowledged by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
I get off to a late start due to trying to chase down the taxi driver that had agreed to a reasonable price the night before. Because of that, I was running like crazy all day, trying to make it as productive as possible with such a late schedule. I want to thank all of the media people who were willing to cover our story. As many of you know, sometimes governments censor their media and that has been the case here in the past. As recent as fall 2010 (when elections were being held) two major newspapers were suspended for six months and were not allowed to cover the story. Remember also that some journalist choose to self-censor, rather than risk persecution from their government.
So thank you to the team at Umwezi newspaper. It was so nice that several of them participated in the interview – Jeremie Bimenyimana, Jean-Claude Afrika, Mr. Rene Anthere Rwanyange and Ms. Carine Kayitesi. Thank you to Mr. Pascal Niyonsaba and Viateur Bzimana, with the newspaper La Nouvelle Releve. Both of them were very professional, friendly and willing to help also.
Mr. Patrick Kambale was an excellent freelance journalist who was willing to share our story with many other newspaper corporations, even though he primarily works as a journalist for Gasabo newspaper. Thank you to Mr. Robert Bond with Iwacu Africa newspaper; to Mr. Asiimwe R. Bosco and Mr. James Munyaneza with the New Times; Mr. Muganwa Gonzaga with The Independent; and Mr. Kayumba Casimiry with the newspaper Rushyashya. Mr. Casimiry had great character and did a good interview to try and get decent coverage for our cause in his country.
Thank you to Mr. Gratien Hakorimana, an editor from TV-Rwanda. He was an excellent gentleman to work with and was very dedicated about getting our interview onto national television.
The folks at City Radio 88.3 FM were awesome. They offered me a live interview that lasted close to an hour and thirty minutes. We were able to cover a lot in that amount of time and Mr. Oswald Muteyeyezu and Mr. Ramesh Nkusi were great talk show hosts to work with. Both of them quickly became my friends. Thank you to their boss, Mr. Kelvin A. Katuramu who actually authorized and arranged our interview. My colleague Mr. Gonzaga, with Radio Flash 89.2FM was also excellent. He too invited me to do a live interview on his program, which I enjoyed very much due to his significant knowledge about the Balkans. Finally, thank you to all of the amazing listeners, the people of Rwanda, who called the interviews directly to chat and who sent a ton of SMS and Facebook comments.
At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, things were well organized and it was great to work with them during my scheduled appointment. Ms. Mary Baine, Permanent Secretary graciously met with me and I was able to hand deliver Vlora Citaku’s letter. I can tell that they take things very seriously, as I have seen in other countries like Botswana, etc. She brought along with her the Director of the European Division of the Ministry to hear our case and formalize our meeting.
Ms. Baine shared with me that she would present the information to her higher chain of command and that her government will be following up on the issue. I was comforted by her mention that Kosovo had not been forgotten and that her country was following our progress very closely. I feel very accomplished as far as getting our message out to this country. Let’s hope that this country will recognize our independence soon so that we can work towards stronger relations with this beautiful nation.
During my last day in Rwanda, I reflect upon the enormity of the history and struggles of this country’s past. I also make sure to remember the incredible progress that they have made to repair things and move towards a brighter future. Sometimes, I wish that I did not have to learn about all of these things in life, but I’m sure that there is a purpose for everything that we do.
I wish that I could say I progressed to the next country in a timely manner. However, Uganda’s civil aviation authority is being difficult in giving me an authorization to fly into their country. As always though, I am sure that I can try to work around this and get through this slight interruption in my agenda.
I want to especially Mr. Dennis J.E. Bryen and our friends at the TPSC maintenance shop in Kakira Uganda. Mr. Bryen was able to pull some strings for me and get me a permit from those civil aviation bureaucrats whose only aim seems to be to lives like mine miserable. One last thing that I do have to mention about Rwanda: I was forced to pay 6USD per liter for AVGAS, which is the highest that I’ve had to pay during my entire trip so far (so I am definitely looking forward to moving on to another country after paying all of those fees).
As I leave Rwanda and fly over more of the country, my eyes fill with tears again as I look down at this sacred ground.
**Based on further research found by Laurie (our English translator, fact finder, editor and transcriber of all of my handwritten journal entries), here is a brief history of the situation in Rwanda:
Rwanda was originally settled by three main groups: the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa populations. Historically, the Tutsi ruled through Kings prior to and after they were colonized by both Germany and Belgium. Everyone lived together fairly peacefully, though Tutsi’s were considered to be of higher class and some Hutu were forced laborers. Occasionally, wealthy Hutu’s would even be granted honorary status as a Tutsi.
After Belgium took over, the King was allowed to maintain control of the region. The Belgian authorities (believing the two parties to be of different descents) enacted a policy requiring tribal identification cards to be handed out. This policy officially separated the two groups as Belgium continued to further Tutsi progress by allowing them more access to wealth and education, thus creating a deeper divide between the two parties and the continuation and deepening of a social class or caste system.
In 1959, the Tutsi King died, which allowed for Hutu revolt and a situation labeled the Rwandan Revolution or The Wind of Destruction. During that time, Belgium gave up their support of Tutsi control (likely because they noticed Hutu forces gaining ground) and began supporting the Hutu party. A decade of ethnic violence began and government and Hutu forces killed an estimated 20,000-100,000 Tutsi’s. The Tutsi’s accused Belgians of being complicit in the Hutu-led violence and tensions on both sides rose from there. The tribal identification cards enacted by Belgian authorities were often used during this time to separate out which tribe was which. Again, Hutu’s and Tutsi’s were very similar culturally, linguistically, etc. and separations seemed to be based more on class than culture, as studies have shown that there is no major genetic differences in the within the two.
Officially, Rwanda gained independence from Belgium in 1962 (which is when Rwanda and Burundi became two different countries). Remember that I mentioned in the Burundi description that ethnic violence happened there as well. From 1962 until 1993, an estimated 250,000 people died in Burundi as a result of ethnic conflict.
During this time, an estimated 200,000 Tutsi’s fled as refugees, mostly to Zaire and Uganda. Violence continued as exiled Tutsi’s attacked from outside of Rwandan borders and Hutu’s retaliated. Part of this was also caused by the fact that once Tutsi’s left the country, they were not allowed to return. The excuse was the Rwanda was becoming overpopulated. Note that Rwanda is a country with the approximate size of Haiti and there are currently an estimated 408 inhabitants per square kilometer.
After that period, there were a few brief years of less violence and more economic prosperity, even though there was still significant discrimination. The population began to increase leading to a competition for land. As a result, the minority Twa population were forced out of the forests and forced to rely on begging for survival.
In 1973, there was a military coup, claiming that the current government was too corrupt, ineffective and violent. Juvenal Habyarimana (Hutu) gained leadership after many top ranking government officials died. At the same time, the economy was getting worse due to lessening coffee prices (a main export) worldwide and increasing food shortages due to weather conditions. Additionally, the French President started calling for increasing democracy in Francophone Africa. As tensions increased, Habyarima was forced to work toward reconciliation between the two parties. The Tutsi refugees were gaining strength during this time and created the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Comprised of mostly 2nd generation Tutsi’s, the group had by this time been trained by the Ugandan army and had real world experience from fighting in the Ugandan Bush War.
On October 2, 1990, the RPF began invading northern Rwanda from Uganda, which was the beginning of the Rwandan Civil War. Two days later it is rumored that the government of Rwanda staged a fake attack on Kigali in order to frighten the population into supporting the war and encouraging them to support suspected RPF sympathizers. 10,000 people were immediately arrested, leading to many deaths. After ten days, locals were directed to begin killing opposition and burning down their homes in an effort to reduce the threat of RPF. Within 48 hours, 350 people were dead.
At the same time, RPF was reorganizing outside of the borders of Rwanda and began recruiting supporters worldwide. From 91 to 94 their troops grew from 1000 to 25,000. In 1991, they launched another surprise attack, leading to a heightened climate of fear in the country. Radio stations became key messengers of propaganda from both sides.
In 1992 a cease-fire was signed, though tensions still mounted. More Tutsi massacres were reported and RFP launched another major offensive in February 03. This caused a ‘panic in Paris’ and France began to get involved in effort to quell the uprising. By this time, nearly 1.5 million Hutu civilians had left there home and and began rallying around their President, believing propaganda that the true intent of the Tutsi’s was to restore the historic feudal system and thus re-enslave them. Habyarimana began implementing genocidal programs against Tutsi’s and even sympathizing Hutu’s.
Fighting continued until 4/6/94, when Habyarimana and the Burundi President were traveling in the same airplane that was shot down. This was the catalyst for the official Rwandan Genocide, killing an estimated 500,000 to 1 million people in a three month time period. The tribal identity cards again proved useful in weeding out which people to kill. Many of the victims of this genocide were innocent civilians on both sides of the war. In some cases, Hutu civilians were forced my military personnel to murder their Tutsi neighbors. Participants were often offered incentives such as valuable goods like money and food. Some were even told that they could appropriate the land of the Tutsi’s that they killed.
During this time 10 UN workers from Belgium became targets of the rage and were shot and killed. As a result, the UN pulled out most of its troops, lowering their numbers from 2500 to 250 until the genocide was over a few months later. They then sent 6800 troops back into the country to address the situation. Meanwhile, the rest of the world continued to turn a blind eye to the deadly situation.
By July of 1994, the RPF had regrouped and began gaining ground. The government forces began withdrawing from Kigali (reportedly due to running out of ammunition), taking with it the majority of the civilian population. RPF captured the capital and other parts of the country soon follow. Approximately two million Hutus fled across the border into refugee camps. One of the largest humanitarian relief efforts mounted, but thousands still died in those camps as a result of preventable diseases like cholera and dysentery.
Many of those that fled across the border were perpetrators of the ethnic violence attempting to flee from prosecution. Though a military tribunal was set up, it was hard to find the perpetrators once they fled to the Congo. No formal uniforms were every used and the perpetrators were loosely organized. The refugee camps soon start to become militarized and the Hutu continued attacking the Tutsi’s. On the other hand, the Tutsi’s (supplied and trained by the Congo) started a revolution in response and continued their attacks on Rwanda.
With the Tutsi’s being funded and supplied by the Congo and the Hutu having higher numbers and better supplies (funding, arms and supplies were sent from France), things continued to be difficult. Both parties continued fighting in Rwanda and the Congo, which led to the First Congo War. Due to regime change, Zaire was renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The BBC reported that “the world’s largest peacekeeping force has been unable to end the fighting”.
Still fighting, the Hutu’s and Tutsi’s were also largely responsible for the start of the Second Congo War (1998-2003), also called the Great War of Africa. This was the most deadly conflict that the world had seen since WWII. By 2008, more than 5.4 million people had died (many as a result of disease and starvation) and millions more were displaced.
During this time the government of Congo felt threatened by Tutsi forces and began using the Hutu’s to instigate violence. At the same time, Tutsi forces had gained control over the diamond center in the Congo and refugees in Uganda sent their own group (many of them refugees from the Rwandan crisis) to help fight as well. Eventually, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Angola became involved (supporting government forces) and Chad, Libya, and Sudan soon followed. Most of these countries became involved due to mutual defense treaties within the South African Development Community.
Things were out of control in the Congo and it soon became a multi-sided war. No longer was it just about the Hutu and the Tutsi populations. International businesses from first world nations began supporting government forces in exchange for business deals in the diamond industry.
Fighting spilled over into Uganda and factions were split, leading to a territorial fight over an area known as Ituri. This is important, because the two ethnicities fighting there began identifying themselves with the Hutu and/or Tutsi population. Borrowed identities and differences led to more than 50,000 additional people being killed in conflict.
In 1999 a six-sided cease-fire was signed. However, there was no disarmament to back it up, so fighting continued. In 2000, the UN was pulled in again as Ugandan and Rwandan forces were still causing conflict. A new government was put in place and the flag, anthem and constitution were changed. The government redrew local boundaries and the economy began growing little by little as a result of increased tourism. Many of the tourists came to visit the former atrocity, but many were also visited to track mountain gorillas.
In 2001, both countries agree to pull out of the DROC and a new President began to take over. Now, both countries and Zimbabwe were accused of exploiting Congolese resources, so sanctions were recommended against them. In 2002, the situation in Rwanda worsened again during the same time that they finally signed a peace deal with the Congo.
Rwanda agreed to pull out 20,000 soldiers, by rounding up ex-Rwandan soldiers and dismantling the Hutu militia. This was a difficult task, however, as those forces had never really been identified in the first place. There had never been any traditional uniform worn and no clearly organized group was responsible for the atrocities. Many of those that committed acts of violence had once been neighbors, coworkers and even friends with the Tutsi’s that they had killed.
As a result of this attempted roundup, ex-soldiers fled again, this time to Sudan, where they were welcomed with open arms. Most were welcomed into the group known as the ‘janjaweed’ (devils on horseback). Of course, we have all heard of the current crisis in Darfur, where Arab and non-Arab populations are fighting against each other.
The situation in Sudan has led to a division within that country (with Southern Sudan now being autonomous region). And, though Rwanda formed a new government in 2003 (and more elections in 2006), the country itself is still trying to recover from the enormous humanitarian crisis. On a positive note, during all of the many years of fighting, the government did discontinue the use of tribal classifications on all identification cards. For a population separated initially by class, the results have facilitated wars in four additional countries and one of the worst genocides in the history of mankind.
April 7th each year is now set aside as Genocide Memorial day and initiates an entire week of mourning for those innocent souls that lost their lives. May all of the victims of this inhumane act now rest in peace and be joined by angels who will comfort and protect them for the rest of eternity.
After paying out money for fuel and landing fees here in Tanzania, I am ready to leave in the early morning for Burundi. Today will be a long flight as I have to travel northwest across the vast countryside and into a new country. Even though it will be long, I am excited for this flight because I will get to see so many new landscapes underneath my wings.
The further I go in flight, the more I leave the hot, humid coastline in Dar es Salaam and head over the mountains in the Mitumba mountain range – the same range that Mount Kilimanjaro is part of. In between that mountain chain and Muchinga range, I am able to fly over some prairie before I end up landing in Bujumbura, the capital city of Burundi. That city is located on the edge of Lake Tanganyika, which separates this country from Congo-Kinshasa, where I was a few months ago. Lake Tanganyika is known as the 2nd oldest and 2nd deepest lake in the world and 2nd largest freshwater lake. Though beautiful I’m sure, this lake seems to be big enough to effect the local weather. That factor and the presence of all of these mountains around me make me a bit nervous about what type of weather I could be encountering later on during my flight.
One of the biggest joys that I get when flying is the ability to be able to view the beautiful nature below. In a small plane, often times you have to fly according to ‘VFR’ flight rules. This means that your flight plan and flying ability must be based on how well you can see (especially when you encounter different weather conditions). In bigger planes, you often have to rely on your navigational system and fly under ‘IFR’ (instrument flight rules) flight plans. The advantage to VFR is that, since you have to be able to see the conditions on the ground anyway, you can’t go too high in altitude, so you get to fly lower toward the ground and see more of the details below. On the other hand, when flying VFR is you are usually not allowed to fly throughout the night, since you can’t visually navigate when it’s dark outside.
I would often have to fly VFR when I worked as pilot up in Alaska. During my three years of flying there, I often was able to search the terrain for local wildlife. Occasionally, I would spot a moose or caribou, but most often I would see black bears and grizzly bears. After awhile, I really began to learn where the local hangout spots were for these animals, based on the time of the day or the time of the year.
Now that I’ve been in Africa for a few months, I feel like I am finally getting used to the landscape here too. I am excited to think that I might see some wild animals on today’s flight. Let’s just hope that our little one engine plane makes it through all of these hours flying, otherwise I’m sure I would make a great appetizer for all of our friends below.
The other thing that I like about flying in a smaller airplane is that I am able to fly over places that are normally not flown over by larger jets. Here in Africa (and in Alaska too), I have been able to see so many places that feel like have had no human contact yet. I love flying over these places because it reminds me that there are actually still places on this planet that don’t belong to us yet and maybe never should.
If you are lucky enough to see the types of places that I am talking about, then you know that as soon as we aren’t around, these areas tend to be home to a lot of animals. Sure enough, when I fly over some untouched prairie land below, I am immediately mesmerized by the local habitat. At first I wasn’t sure what I was looking at down there, but as I dropped the plane lower I realized what I was looking at.
My heart starts pounding as I realize that what I see below are actually giraffes. I love zoos, but being able to see these giraffes in their own habitat and running around like crazy made me so excited. Of course, I tried to take pictures, but that is kind of hard to do when the plane is moving so fast and you are so far away.
There they are, just running around all over the place, like they own the land and don’t have a care in the world. Soon, I start to see more of them. I think I counted about 12 in all. I was the happiest man on earth to be experiencing that moment. Not many people get to see this sort of thing in their lifetime. In fact, I don’t know anyone personally whose ever seen a giraffe (as tall as they are) from above. What a joy my friends.
A few minutes later in the flight I am still excited by what I just saw, but still looking for more local creatures. All of a sudden I start to see a bunch of gazelles that are hunting below. Wow, what an experience! I actually started to feel guilty then because it occurred to me that I was invading their homeland.
Here I am enjoying this amazing opportunity to view them in the ‘wild’ and I am also realizing that just because it is an exciting time for me, they might not think so right about now. With all of the strange noise that they are hearing from my plane, I hope that none of them start to go into shock and/or get hurt because of my intrusion. Sometimes with animals, even though they might not be able to defend themselves against you, they do get agitated and might start to cause trouble in their group because they are so upset.
After all of that excitement, I start flying back into reality. Slowly, I start to encounter signs of human life again and less wildlife. At least it looks like, here in Burundi, the houses are located very remotely from each other (unlike a typical village or settlement that has many houses bunched close to each other). One thing that I keep forgetting to mention to you during this part of our mission is that, here in Africa, a majority of the landscape is very rural and remote and many people live in these remote areas that are not easily accessible.
Things like paved roads, electricity and water are often a major concern to everyday living here on this continent. If you have noticed, during my journal entries I have sometimes talked about things like local diseases and poverty. That is because these are daily realities for most of the people that I have encountered here in Africa. When you don’t have access to clean, running water, then that also means that sanitation starts to become an issue. When people are unable to have these basic necessities, than chances increase for disease to spread.
When you add to that the fact that many of the people that I’ve met live on less than a day, you can imagine the types of barriers that they are up against. They are more susceptible to natural occurrences like droughts or floods. Since most of the people here live a subsistence lifestyle (living off of the land), then they are dramatically affected by these natural disasters.
Even in some of the cities that I’ve been in, you would think that everyone would have more access to these basic necessities. However, you have seen through my journal entries that this is not always true. There have been many times that I have experienced the electricity shortages that they are forced to deal with. Even things like water aren’t available to all of the people in the urban centers. Since many of the urban towns are overpopulated, you tend to have a large gap between what the wealthy have access to and what the lower income populations are able to afford. In some towns that I have been in, up to half of the city did not even have running water. Often times, if you do want a luxury like that, than you are forced to pay more for it anyway because there is such a lack of sustainable supply here.
You can imagine how these ‘little’ problems that we don’t think about start to effect society. In addition to the higher risk of disease, food availability is also affected. Since growing food takes adequate water supply (and not too much or too little, as would be the case in times of flood or drought), then you can’t be very successful agriculturally. When an entire country is affected by things like this, then you start to see where the economies become affected. If a country has no money for development and/or economic improvement, then the daily life of the people won’t become any easier.
Now add to that all of the ethnic conflicts in this region. It is unfortunate that these realities are a fact of life for the many wonderful people that I have met along the way. And I don’t want to mislead you about this continent. It is a very beautiful place, rich in caring and welcoming and industrious people. However, there are also very real problems here too. Imagine how hard life can become under these types of conditions.
Here in Burundi, there has been ethnic conflict for many years. This country shares a border with Rwanda and, as many of you know, that country has also had ethnic violence and genocide in recent history. The fighting stems from two main ethnic populations: the Hutu and the Tutsi.
Burundi became independent from Belgium in 1962. From 1962 until 1993, an estimated 250,000 people died as a result of ethnic conflict. In 1993, a Hutu leader was democratically elected and later assassinated, which started further years of violence. In 1994, a new Hutu President and the President of Rwanda (also Hutu) were traveling together in a plane that was shot down. Both were killed.
These tragedies led to an estimated 300,000 civilian deaths and caused many people to flee Burundi, many of which sought asylum in Rwanda at the time. In 2004 the United Nations took over peacekeeping efforts. However, in 2008 there was an attack on a government-protected refugee camp where former combatants were rumored to be living. Forces for National Liberation (FNL), an opposition group, has been cited by Amnesty International as recruiting child soldiers, enacting violence against woman, and escaping prosecution and punishment of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Reportedly, the UN is now focused on reconstruction versus peacekeeping efforts and many of the refugee camps have been closed. This creates a whole other set of problems, though, as nearly 450,000 refugees have returned. The economy of the country has been destroyed and now there are reports of conflicts over properties now that people are attempting to return to the homes that they left during the conflict.
The media is also an area of society that has been affected by conflict. As the government of the country has been unstable and there has been a lot of ethnic violence, there have also been reports of journalists being harassed by the government for trying to provide balanced coverage of the civil war. For this reason, I noticed that some of them are still careful about what type of news that they cover and how they present it.
After I settled into my hotel and started work the next day, I got to meet some of these dedicated professionals. Thank you to Mr. Didier Bukura, editor of the newspaper Iwacu and his journalist Mr. Tierry Niyungeko. Both of them were very friendly towards me and willing to help out our cause.
Mr. Theirry Ndayishimiye, Director of Publications for the newspaper Arc-en-Ciel (Rainbow) was also helpful. He was an excellent man who had significant knowledge about Kosovo, world affairs and especially about his continent of Africa. He graciously covered our story and shared it with the rest of his country, as did Mr. Kamaro Rene Dieudonne, from Agence Burndaise de Presse (ABP) Netpress. Mr. Diudonne was a wonderful man who was very detailed and dedicated.
At Radio Television Renaissance, I want to thank Mr. Jean de Dieu Nsengiyumva for his help with sharing our cause with the public and his government. He was a very humble man and a dynamic journalist. At TV Salama, Ms. Fides Ndagijimana and Mr. Canesius Ntirampeba were both wonderful. They were very precise, humble and focused during our interview and even came to the airport to film coverage of our plane.
At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Musoni Velo, Director of the European Division, was also very humble. He shared a lot of his time with me and we were able to discuss his government’s current position on Kosovo. He shared lots of details and insights with me, including the fact that he was asked as recent as late 2010 to update his boss about the details and position of Kosovo within the world (current statistics, number of nations that had recognized us already, our economic development progress, etc.). We spent a great deal of time talking about our personal experiences, professional lives, world affairs, etc.
After visiting so many countries, sharing information about my own country and meeting with many government officials now, my perspective of the world has changed tremendously. Understanding more about world politics has been of immeasurable value to me (both professionally and personally) and my eyes have certainly become open to many more details in this big planet of ours. With each conversation I understand more and more just how complex our world is.
Many of us remain unaware of these complexities or aren’t required to think about them on a daily basis, I know I didn’t have a clue before I started this mission. However, each area of our world is struggling with different circumstances. At the basic level, we all want food on our table and a roof over our head, but the higher up you go in government and bureaucracies, the more details, the more complexities get revealed.
More and more I am starting to appreciate what I have been able to do for our country in this respect, because it is through these one on one, personal conversations that I’ve had with so many people, that I have been able to raise awareness and educate individuals about our current circumstances. They too, have also been able to educate me about their own circumstances and through our talks, I am able to share that information with others. Folks, it is only through these intimate and honest dialogues that we are able to make change.
No matter who you are or what material worth you have in this world, we all must start seeing basic communication as a strength. If I have learned nothing else on this mission, I have at least learned how much power there is in not being afraid to have an honest dialogue with another human being. Many of the best experiences on this trip so far have been due to the way in which communication has happened (through a warm smile or a welcoming handshake, etc.). Conversely, some of my worst experiences on this trip have also been due to communication (remember all of that bureaucratic running around that I have to do at the airports because the departments all have different requirements, won’t talk to each other, etc.).
On the other hand (and as I have said before), the people that I have met here have shown me the true wealth of Africa. I have met intelligent, creative, dedicated and genuine people who are determined to survive and fight the odds. Many of the people that I’ve met wish for and work toward having a better life. Like I’ve also mentioned, after meeting so many people from so many countries, the one thing that I do know is that we all have one thing in common: that we want a safe, secure place to live and we want to be able to provide for our families. I believe that any changes that will come to the places that I’ve visited on this continent will come from the spirit and dedication of the local people.
Overall, Burundi is a beautiful, small nation, especially compared to their next-door neighbor – Congo, Kinshasa. Remember that country was about 200 times the size of our Kosovo, but here in Burundi, they only have a land mass about three times our size (though nearly 4 times as populated). It is a small country with much natural beauty. The weather was calm and the topography was very green.
In fact, here I am again wishing I could have had more time to get out there and visit the people in the rural areas and learn more about their way of life. Someday, I would very much like to experience the ‘real’ Africa, out there where people have to live with no paved roads, no running water, no electricity, etc. Oh well, I am a very lucky man already and I suppose that there is always something more in life to wish for.
I have all but one great memory of Burundi. The less than grand memory was because I noticed that I had a few neighbors at the hotel that I was staying. Right outside my door were a few snakes living around just waiting for me to go outside and greet them. On the other hand, that same hotel had reported hippopotamus sightings recently, so how could I let a few snakes ruin the amazing environment that I was in.
The next country I will visit will be Rwanda, another nation that has suffered from the horrible realities of genocide. I am sure that that experience will be hard on me, knowing that I will be walking on the same ground and soil of a nation where lots of blood has spilled in recent years. Though it will be hard, I also am aware that it is very important to know more about these sad realities of life and learn from the mistakes that we as humans have made.
For now though, bless you all here in Burundi.