Saturday, 15 December 2007
Fortunately, it gave me time to tour the city and trek to Giza and see the pyramids on camelback. Check out the photos of the pyramids and Cairo.
Saturday, 3 November 2007
Saturday, 27 October 2007
Thursday, 23 August 2007
JK was lucky - or unlucky depending on who you are - enough to partake in Malabo's Hash Walk ritual on his 35th birthday. Word got out to the organisers and when all was said and done, JK found himself sitting in a cooler of ice and freezing cold water while the Hashers sang to him. When the chanting was over, hey had to chug a beer while everyone poured beer on him. Poor JohnnyK!!!
Wednesday, 15 August 2007
Although he was late coming, when he finally did decide to make his appearance, he was in a hurry! He arrived on August 14 at a good weight of 8lb 3oz. We wish Alex, Melissa, Enzo, and Julian all the best.
Sunday, 10 June 2007
According to Lonely Planet, "the diminutive Equatorial Guinea is a slowly developing speck of a country that has few tourist attractions aside from its shorelines and jungle interior. It attracts adventurers looking to get off the beaten-path and explore a bit of the unknown."
While, BBC News reveals, "Since independence in 1968,
In recent years the former Spanish colony has become one of sub-Saharan
Large oil and gas deposits were discovered off
Politics: President Obiang seized power in 1979; rights groups have condemned his rule as one
But few people have benefited from the oil riches and the country ranks near the bottom of a UN human development index. The government has started a scheme to divert a share of oil revenues into social projects.
The corruption watchdog Transparency International has put
For initial photos of Equatorial Guinea, click here.
Sunday, 3 June 2007
Once in the regional capital of Reims, we checked into our discount hotel beside the train station (OK, we travel, but we economise too!) and quickly made a beeline for the Mumm champagne house. Touring the absolutely vast underground cellars containing somewhere around 20 million bottles was a revelation (see pic below). Of course by the end our throats were parched, craving a sampling of the bubbly elixir. Thankfully we were rewarded by very generous tastings. From there we went straight to Pommery. Its cellars were even wackier and deeper, chalk full (pun intended -- the soil is extremely chalky) of modern art installations (see pics) along with another 25 million bottles. The sampling at the end was just as tasty and generous.
After a nice meal and a laser light show (look above) to celebrate the opening of the TGV speed-rail line to Reims, we inspected the glorious cathedral lit up in the night (look left). The cathedral was the site of many, many royal coronations and retains all of its grandeur to this day. The next day we contuined our elixir pursuit by driving through the "route de champagne", admiring the countryside and eventually stopping in to Moet & Chandon, home of none other than Dom Perignon (in the town of Epernay).
Shortly after that our one night and one and a half day adventure was over. We would certainly go back in a second -- at the very least to find the winery that makes "Cristal", every gangsta's favourite bubbly! ;) Booya!
Thursday, 31 May 2007
Wednesday, 30 May 2007
Monday, 28 May 2007
Tournai is near the border with France, about a 1 hour train ride from Brussels. Mel and I went for one of our typical weekend day-trips to celebrate her (alas, temporary) return from Rwanda. The UNESCO World Heritage city centre was the obvious highlight, with the not two, or three, but five Romaneque towers of the Notre Dame cathedral being the standout. The main square (pictured above) was also a classic showpiece of Flemish architecture (the city is francophone, but the look is decidedly Flemish). More pics here.
Sunday, 27 May 2007
- Rwandans LOVE to give long speeches. I am not exaggerating or talking about 10 minutes. I mean hours!
- Rwandans - like their Ugandan counterparts - switch "l" with "r" and vice versa. So, in Rwanda, I am known as "Merani". When John came to visit me at UNDP he informed them that he was "son mari" but what they understood was "somali".
- Rwanda has the highest percentage of females in parliament in the world.
- Plastic bags are illegal and you can get fined for carrying one.
- Rwanda is a small village. Everyone is linked and everyone knows everyone. So watch what you say and do!
- Rwandans have bad cell phone manners. This is made official when the President bans all cell phones at any event he is at (cameras are allowed). When a cell phone rings in a meeting, it is usually followed by the person bending down, covering their mouth and speaking which actually amplifies their voice!
- Women and children feel the need to pull my hair out of its roots. Then when I turn around they act like they have no idea what just happened!
- Finally, while walking by some less well groomed locals with a stench that turned my stomach in a million ways, I realised I must have extraordinary olfactory glands.
Sadly our time together was to be a fleeting sparkle in our hearts. The Government of Equatorial Guinea was ready to issue my visa so that I could travel to an unknown island (for the most part) in the Gulf of Guinea in Central Africa. I was about to embark on yet another journey. I was going to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea to work with the UNDP as the Programme Manager of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Sunday, 20 May 2007
Getting down was easy enough since Brussels is the only European city with a direct link to Rwanda. The week flew by, with plenty of social events (I had to meet all of Mel's posse), and work (I was given a little office at the UNDP), but less touring (it was tricky because Mel was working the whole time and Kigali, while a nice city, has virtually no "classic" tourist attractions).
I did, however, take a day trip to the countryside to see Rwanda's Volcano National Park. The weather did not cooperate (but that is on par with Mel's entire time spent in Rwanda), but I was amazed by the beauty of the landscape nevertheless. It truly is the land of the (very lush) thousand hills. Other highlights included a "farewell Mel, welcome John" party at Melanie's place, meeting her hyperactive pootch Nala Shani, visiting the Genocide museum/memorial and spending time with Mel herself.
Sunday, 6 May 2007
Saturday, 5 May 2007
Thursday, 19 April 2007
Sunday, 8 April 2007
A few days later, Melanie, Janet, Erica, Toshi, and Lindsey crammed into a van and headed for Volcano National Park to trek the endangered mountain gorillas of northern Rwanda. The following morning, they woke up bright and early and headed for a gorilla briefing at the ORTPN base camp. It was also at this time where they selected which gorilla group to follow. They decided upon the Amahoro Group due to their numbers and location in the mountains. All seemed well until Erica was the first to be stung by the forests' nasty nettles! Her hand was red and stinging. The guide quickly found the curative plant and rubbed it on her. That began the copious screams by all trekkers stung by nettles. There was almost no body part untouched by their secretions. The highlight of the Gorilla Trek was when one of the gorillas decided Erica looked fun to play with and rammed his fist into her kidney. She tumbled to the ground in a huge silent cry of pain! To see Melanie's photos of the gorillas, click here.
Erica and Janet's Out of Africa adventure ended shortly thereafter and they headed back to Leuven and Amsterdam respectively.
Thursday, 5 April 2007
The stain of genocide is ever-present in Rwanda
Sunday, April 01, 2007
BUTARE, Rwanda - The taxi is not supposed to be on the road this morning and the driver has to do some fast talking to the policeman who pulls him over. The driver explains that he is taking his passenger to the genocide memorial at Murambi, 28 kilometres away. The policeman lets the taxi pass.
Every Wednesday it's gacaca day in Butare, a day when a citizens' court meets to decide the fate of people accused of crimes against their neighbours during the genocide of 1994. During the morning on Gacaca day, all business ceases.
There is no getting away from the genocide this day, if there ever is. The first stretch of road goes beside a valley in which men wearing pink uniforms are working.
They are prisoners, some of whom will have their gacaca moments and others of whom already have. The following day, at the
On Friday, it is the 13th anniversary of the start of the genocide. On April 6, 1994, the president's plane was shot down and this became the pretext for a slaughter that began immediately, so well had it been planned in advance.
For three months, people were murdered, with the enthusiastic support of the state, at the rate of 9,000 a day. The international community watched, didn't see and certainly didn't act.
Every year, there is a week of remembrance in
In one of those small-world coincidences, a man now on trial in
At Murambi, a former technical school three kilometres down a long dirt road from the town of
Some women are seated on the ground working and you can hear them laugh. Looking over you see that beside them, on a tarpaulin, are bones and skulls. In
Outside the first room in one of a dozen long, low brick buildings, pop music is playing on somebody's portable radio. The room is full of decomposed bodies covered in lime.
The room was a classroom. Now it has four large platforms on the floor, each covered with bodies in the poses in which they died. You are led to the next room and see more, and then to the next, then to another building with more rooms. One room contains nothing but the remains of children, some with holes in their skulls.
There is a room with just skulls and bones, another room in which clothes, most of them red, probably from the dirt, hang on lines.
Somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 people were at Murambi in April 1994, told by the authorities that they would be safe there. Then the militias came, threw grenades into the rooms and finished their work with machetes. It took four days.
Of those killed, 27,000 have been exhumed and reburied; 1,800, or parts of the 1,800, are on display. The rest are in mass graves. French troops installed themselves at the site in the aftermath of the genocide. On top of one of the mass graves they constructed a volleyball court.
It is a little detail that will live on, bitterly savoured by generations of Rwandans.
There is no signage in these rooms at Murambi, no panel displays, no narration. A woman who speaks no English and a little French shows you from room to room, offering no commentary. After two buildings she is replaced by a man, who is a survivor and has a deep hole in his forehead.
Neither of them says much, which is all right. Maybe it's better if there is nobody to explain it.
Charles Gordon is teaching at the National University of Rwanda as part of the Carleton University School of Journalism's Rwanda Initiative. © The
The national ceremony, under the theme 'We should remember the plight of genocide survivors while fighting for their justice', will be presided over by President Paul Kagame at Murambi in Southern Province on Saturday the 7th of April 2007.
Friday, 23 March 2007
For photos, click here and here.
Saturday, 17 March 2007
I also had the opportunity to meet the relatives of my sister's boyfriend, Malcolm: Toinette, Michael, their 3 children (Daniella, David, and Joshua), and Dandy (Malcolm's sister) hosted me for a few days, took me sightseeing, took me shopping, fed me, sheltered me, etc. They were great hosts! I was very happy to meet such a wonderful family.
I also took a tour of Soweto. What an interesting experience! I saw Nelson Mandela's old house before he was imprisoned and where Winnie spent her days while he was in prison for 27 years, Winnie Mandela's current house, and Bishop Desmond Tutu's house. I also saw the real Soweto townships and met some of the people living there. It was incredible to learn that some of the most expensive houses are located in Soweto .... and of course, some of the poorest! To see my photos, click here.
Monday, 12 March 2007
Our 3.5 days together were spent exploring the coast and the wine country by rented car. Despite the fact that the South Africans drive on the "wrong" side of the road, not to mention the perpetual warnings about car-jackings and theft, we managed quite nicely. The drive to the edge of the continent at Cape Point was other-worldy, reminiscent of some of the dramatic coast-lines and blue waters of the Mediterranean. Some of the beaches looked absolutely glorious, despite the uber-frigid Atlantic water temps.
Hanging with the African Penguins at Boulder beach was a highlight. The penguins came dressed in their best dinner jackets...(ok, weak joke, sorry). Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope were spectacular, although the winds were so monstrous that the svelte Mélanie was almost hurled into the air on our climb up to the summit (slight exaggeration for dramatic effect). But no wonder there have been over 600 documented shipwrecks around that bend over the last 400 years.
We also headed inland to Stellenbosch to do "the posh thing" and taste some wines. Actually, we were more into finding spectacular locations to have a nice meal accompanied by good wine and tremendous views. We were especially lucky at the Sylvanvale winery (pic below, taken from the winery's restaurant terrace). I should also add that South African wine was a revelation to me. Yum.
And just in case you're wondering, we did not fall victim to South Africa's infamous crime (although we do think the wheel on our car rental was punctured on purpose one night; fortunately we did not have to deal with the problem until the following morning -- in daylight). Ironically, the only time I was "threatened" was in Paris at the airport train station awaiting the TGV (Thalys) back to Brussels. I was approached by four totally emaciated mid-20 something men in broad daylight on a relatively busy platform. I could not understand what they were doing, since clearly it would have taken all four sets of their atrophied arms to pick up my 20kg suitcase. After encircling me (not kidding) they pulled out their customs official badges, as if they were the FBI. It was a bizarre public spot check of my bags and passport. I must have been looking particularly swarthy after the 10.5 hour flight from Joburg. ;)
For our "best of" pics (note: not all are yet uploaded), click here.
For all our South Africa photos, click here
Sunday, 4 March 2007
MK: Melanie and Lindsey - 2 of
The journey involved several stops along the way, not to pick up additional passengers (because we were already over capacity) but to purchase much-sought after food items: brochettes, cartons of buttermilk, grilled corn on the cob, donuts, etc. One female passenger was either starving and had not eaten for months or bored, because she atecontinuously (devouring six brochettes, two cobs of corn, and a donut or two) during the entire nine hour journey (yes 9, you read correctly).
The fiasco at the border (there is definitely a difference between “law-abiding
Just when Lindsey and Melanie thought they were nearing the finishing line and could see
Tuesday, 27 February 2007
MK: This little baby girl is the latest addition to the Kotsopoulos family. Her name is "Nala Shani" and she is part Ethiopian Wolf although she was born in Rwanda. She came into this world around the 15th of January 2007. She is absolutely adorable, even if she cries, whines, howls, and pees a lot!! Any tips on training or raising a puppy would be much appreciated.
For initial photos, please visit my Picasa Web Albums. To see Nala Shani's mother (Shiba) and her siblings, please visit Jared's Flickr set.
Sunday, 11 February 2007
Thursday, 8 February 2007
I would like to introduce you to Rwanda's Angels: Lindsey Rae, Melanie Jane, and Adriana Ilieva (aka Melanie's house mates). They are taking Kigali by force!
Greece provided us with the usual pleasing combination of family-values time, some exploration time and lots of eating time. We indulged in several Christmas dinners and enough Greek desserts (inlcuding my Aunt Dina's world famous "kourambiedes") to satisfy a small platoon. After a few cloudy days at the beginning, we also got our usual dose of Hellenic sunshine. We capitalised on it by renting a car and exploring part of the Peloponnese (specifically the prefecture of Argolida). Before we set off for Nafplio, our hub, we spent a night at the country home of my cousin's fiancé. They (Aggeliki and Evrikos) are amazing company and I must say it was with sadness that we left them the following afternoon!
Nafplio is a sensational Venetian-inspired city -- a must for any visitor to Greece. The fortress Palamidi, which overlooks the town, is also a highlight. From Nafplio we took day trips to the ancient theatre of Epidaurus, hung around the east coast taking in the sea views, and eventually made our way up to Ancient Corinth. We spent New Years in Nafplio too, which was a tad wacky, since things were unexpectedly low key. In fact, it was an uber-bureaucrat (i.e. bland) on a stage in one of the city squares who announced the New Year a good two minutes before it actually occured!!! This was accompanied by initial silence (or disbelief, since we were all looking at our watches), then expectation, as we awaited some sort of rudimentary fireworks show. Alas, no show was forthcoming. Some music was played, some peculiar people danced, we ate some cake, and then it was over!
The next day we decided to honour La Kootchina (aka Bill Mertikas), with a visit to his maternal village, Nestani. I must say I had to eat some humble pie, because I was expecting a backwater and instead found a beautiful village nestled amongst some spectacular cliffs. I even danced a zembekia in Bill's honour. From there we concluded with a short visit to Tripoli -- a city that leaves a lot to be desired.
For Flickr pics from Greece (i.e. our best), click here.
Click on the names for Picasa pics from Athens , Nafplio and the rest of the Peloponnese. Family pics here.