back to africa


In the same vein as the last post, just trying to make some work I did last year accessible, as I[m realizing it could be useful (as people email me about it). In the same file as, “less email, more mangos!” So please find the work I did for Welthungerhilfe / German Agro Action in Liberia last year. 10 manuals, mainly pictures, aimed at demonstrating techniques of sustainable agriculture. They are meant to be used in a facilitation context (Farmer Field Schools). More information available from WHH Liberia if you like.

 

http://www.somethingconstructive.net/upa

 

The directory has them both in screen form (the order makes sense) and publishing form (the order does not)

 

Due to a request from some compadres in CEDICAM (Nochixtlan, Oaxaca, Mexico) I could be translating them into Spanish soon. Either way, Ill try to put the Srcibus files online soon so other people can have their way with it.

 

Please let me know if theres any other adjustments you need for your work

– Ankur Delight

Not a traditional post, but realizing through emails I{m getting that I did a terrible job of sharing some of the work I did in Liberia, and some people would like to have access to it. So here is a pdf describing the system I set up for WHH Liberia{s Urban and Periurban (UPA) Agriculture project in 2011. There are some links to it online, but none of great quality.

 

The document is, of course, outdated, but it gives enough of a sense. Basically, QGis is the root, and you can use this Google Satellite Maps Downloader to get large offline data chunks of your African city.

http://www.somethingconstructive.net/gis

There should be a one-page summary and the full document in that directory. If this is useful to you, but harmfully out of date or otherwise wrong, please dont hesistate to email me…

Ankur Delight

Ok. Now that you’re already sold because of the copious and frequent updates from our Monrovian Palace and the lush welcoming tourist industry of Rebuilding Liberia, I need to send out some travel information. Seriously though, a short, direct plug getting to the point of what every email should be telling your heart: “come visit”.

It’s extremely unlikely you’ll have another opportunity to chill in our spare bedroom on an awesome (“a punishing teacher” according to one local veteran) beach, chop vegetables grown by the farmers I’m meeting every day on our new “kitchen island”, and get in a good dose of disaster/humanitarian tourism/understanding. After almost seven weeks, I’m still unclear on how to synthesize many aspects of this experience, but I can say that

a) The people are cool.

b) The vibe is weird.

c) I don’t feel unsafe.

So there’s that. I also have been trying to get at the root of “The African Question”, with little success. You know, “The African Question”. As in, “How’s Africa?, man”. Whereas nobody has ever asked me “How’s Asia?” or “How’s South America” or “How’s North America”. I guess there was a little bit of “How’s Europe”, but maybe that’s because we were taking smallplanes and tinycars and longtrains to visit different countries every weekend or two. I’m trying to understanding this “Africa” consciousness, to what degree it’s invented, to what degree it’s imposed, to what degree it’s embraced. I saw a Liberian guy the other day with a gold bling-bling Africa-shaped pendent on his gold bling-bling necklace chain. That answered some questions. And I tried to voice my questions to a colleague at the German Agro Action office in Tubmanburg yesterday, about why so many nations, tribes, languages, and cultures could be lumped together so often as Africa, and what exactly do they have in common? I wish I had recorded the patience and certainty in his voice when he told me, “You see, we are all on the same continent. That is how we are all African.”

But, you see, it’s the truth.

Point being: This is what you need to visit:

1. Time. Two weeks is good. One week makes sense if it’s remotely “on your way” to somewhere else, or if you’re coming from nearby (Africa, Europe, sailboats).

2. Money. We have most of the expensive things covered (ie housing and cutting boards) and the vegetable shopping and local beer is on the house, so don’t worry about that one. But you’ll need some money for the plane ticket.

3. Plane ticket. We have benefited from the services of Charles Fernandez, specifically getting tickets from and through Brussels. He is apparently based in Pennsylvania, but is very responsive with phone and email:

Charles Fernandez
Travel Consultant
MTS Travel
124 East Main Street, 4th floor
Ephrata, PA 17522

866-315-2136
Tel: 772-283-1298
Fax: 772-283-1539
Email: charlesf@mtstravel.com
http://www.mtstravel.com

4. Yellow Fever Vaccination. This is generally not covered by insurance as it’s a sort of luxury item (yeah right). So it could cost you 100 usd or more. I know. I know. I know. Think of it as a tax. If your local County Health agency doesn’t have it, they will know who does.

5. The Visa. Appsarently, no matter what visa you buy, you get a 30-day visa when you get to Liberia. So, if there’s any way you can just get a 30-day visa from the local Liberian consulate (I didn’t see it on the menu, but then I was stuck on the multiple-entry variety), do that. I’ve heard from people it’s free, which is 200 usd cheaper than what I paid (and was useless to me when I got here). I think the point is, you should have _a_ visa, but don’t need anything more specific than that. Ie: go for the cheapest option.

6. The Weather. The rains begin to end at the end of September, so anytime from October through December would be awesome. We leave sometime around New Years I imagine.

Those are the details. That is the love. I’m writing this from the “Mosquito Room” at the Welthungerhilfe office in Monrovia, so-named because of the Mosquito net propaganda posters on the wall, supposedly. But I can feel the biting at my feet, now up-crossed in the fancy swivel chair, and I’m thanking my lucky stars I took my Chinese malaria medicine this morning… I’m probably 1/3 of the way through my project of research and writing agricultural training manuals for local farmers, due on the 25th of August. I’ve met with some incredible people and eaten some incredible fruits (and vegetables) of their labors, and now begins the time where I must earn the respect I’ve been given and produce something beautiful and relevant to their lives.

together,

Ankur

ps The title is apparently a common phrase here. It means, “Arab Money Never Ends”. Common enough that the phrase ARAB MONEY was emblazoned on a taxi we saw last week, leaving the passerby to mouth the implied “Can’t Finish” to himself in a pleasant chewy wonder.


So it hasn’t been easy, but between the faux busyness and the real business I’ve done a damn good job of not writing (but once) in the last 31 days. I’ve succeeded enormously in not writing about our amazing week in the Italian countryside, now down to its last drops in my memory just as we finished the last drops of our artisanal amazing aromatic olive oil we carried with us, straight from the presser’s hands in Civitta di Bagnoreggio.

I’ve also done a great job – if I do say so myself – in not producing the little audio segments I’ve been assembling out of bleating goats, coughing generators, laughing children, frying chiles, and various other aurals and ends that decorate our West African existence. I haven’t pounded out lengthy complaints and analyses of power dynamics among the different ethnicities, classes, and stati here, though I’m often going over it in my head. I haven’t spent any time on the Humanitarian Industry and what a disaster its existence is in many ways (perhaps fitting, because its non-existence was and would also be another set of disasters). And I certainly haven’t bitched in written form about US AID contractors furnishing themselves 3,000 USD apartments with taxpayer money and then winking and clinking glasses over it.

So I suppressed writing about meeting my neighborhood kids and even the neighborhood farmers (Alfred and Clinton, who are awesome), about running with my new friends on the beach and listening to their songs. I even didn’t make time to write when I was applying for consultancies with the aforementioned Humanitarian Industry, and neither when I got the jobs I wanted (I am now a sort of West African Desktop GIS specialist and Agricultural Training Manual Designer, á la fois).

But here I am,

on the balcony

in the rain,

with sugary juice

and the sweet fragrance

of burning plastic in my system.

And the thing I can’t not write about anymore is the little girl I just meant. I don’t remember her name (I’m terrible with Liberian names so far, I can’t understand why, perhaps it’s true that I’m getting older) but she was small and wearing a green dress (maybe it’s called a frock) and had no shoes and was dragging a plastic garbage can as large as she was, away from my “compound” (the 10 foot high wall that surrounds this three-story cement house, looking over the beach, the Atlantic, the Chinese embassy, and a score of abandoned unpainted concrete buildings that, I have learned, are not-at-all abandoned).

I see the little green girl dragging the big green plastic garbage can and I’ve got nothing to do so I offer to help her and she accepts. I haven’t seen her before and assuming she is a neighborhood kid getting some water or something for her mother. The “abandoned” buildings are probably innocent of running war, so it’s not such a strange idea to get from the neighboring “bossman” compound. But we go past the first inhabited ruins and down a small gully, cross a road, and start heading down a worn path through the bush. I haven’t seen any houses that way – I know the lagoon is up ahead soon – and am curious to find out where she, and I guess we, are going.

But it isn’t until we right up to a stinking pile of plastic and scraps do I understand that we’re not carrying water in the green garbage can but we’re actually a funny not-black man and a small green black girl carrying garbage. I release the can, she tosses off the lid, overturns the contents, and says “Thank you”. I am too taken with seeing the remnants of my way of life to respond.

The same plastics, bottles, wrappers, and food scraps that I haven’t pushed my “family” (6-8 expatriate United States citizens wrapped up in the now-famous Humanitarian Industry) to separate, reduce, or more efficiently dispose of, now right in front of my eyes, and under the bare feet of this small green black frocked girl.

We fed the food scraps to the downstairs neighbor’s goat until they ate it three weeks ago. Now it’s all just a big mess. I save some of the seeds to plant, and reuse all the good plastic bags, and save the beer bottles for local kids who want them, and try to reuse the juice bottles for spice containers. But you wouldn’t guess it from looking at this pile of rubbish, rapidly decomposing and toxifying, at the edge of this local lagoon where my neighbors fish and bathe.

So there’s that. A moment for that. Please, just a moment.

And a strengthened awareness of the immediacy and power of a zero-waste lifestyle, how “humanitarian” it could be for this little girl’s life, and my own. Tonight, enshallah, Kate and I are moving into a new home, just 200 meters away, bordering the same lagoon. I am prepared to reuse, upcycle, save, compost, and burn anything I need to, but I don’t want another piece of my consumer lifestyle to touch the hands or feet of that little girl.

Of course, the only real solution to the Trash Issue is through developing the consciousness that “There is no such thing as away”. “Away” is a fiction. We are throwing our garbage onto other creatures: human creatures, animal creatures, plant creatures, soil creates, planet creatures. There is no away that’s not somebeing‘s home.

okay. Not so cheery. And I’m not even going to make the time to get into a harangue about how REDUCTION (not induction) is the only solution, because I’m going to make some popcorn for my home-coming lover, and dress it with tahini (whose plastic container I will use to store fresh peanut butter from the local market).

one love through it all,

ankur

I figured it out,
finally.

All I need is for
everybody I have ever Loved
to be here
with me
Right Now

Running off the far end of the day
Twilit surf hard hitting the striated sands
at 20 degrees

The cascade of scrambling crabs
diving into the wreck
one after another

Even as their sandy canvas
In its patterns of tan, beige, and charcoal
Watches the salt water wick away,
shade out into lightness.

Of course,
You’re already here.

In the hanging gibbous moon
the imprint of each footstep
each knee high over the surf
and the cheap love of Brasilian sandals
in my hands, I hold you.

It’s as clear as night
that I couldn’t have woken up without you.

No, I would never stand for such a thing

And yet,
every moment that remembers me
who I truly am,
pushes me
to share.

[ ankurbhai delight / congo town / monrovia / liberia / west africa ]

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Let’s get something straight here. There’s going to be a lot of talk about “black” people. Not like “black people like mayonnaise” or anything like that. More like “That black person is very black”. And when I talk about black people, in the following words, paragraphs, days, and months, I will mean someone whose skin is very near to the color black. Not black in terms of race, ancestry, heritage, or anything like that. Black like the color.

Now.

The first image I have is from this morning’s expedition (rolling in the President’s taxi, comme toujours) to Waterside, a district in downtown Monrovia whose streets are crowded with water, running and still, trash, goods, and services. Everything cloth plastic and metal a consumer could consume. Complete with MAERSK freighters on the backs of semi trucks stopping ahead of unload boxes of who knows what all and everything else (too).

At the top of the hill, we see a wildly painted motorcycle with Jamaican colors and two black men stop at a policeman’s request. The policeman (black) puts his hand on the motorcycle, turns the key, shuts down the bike. I can’t hear him ask for money but the President fills me in. As we roll down the hill I turn to see the driver push away the policeman’s hand, start the bike, and go through the intersection. The power is there, but neither just nor respected. One hopes for a connection.

What is most clear to me here, and why perhaps I couldn’t write anything before today, is know less about this place than I do about any other. And, to tilt the ratio even further from understanding – I have been told so much in relation to what I know. So much about the mythical Africa. So much I have been told, been read, and so much I have soaked up just from thirty decades of reading the news and histories.

When I got here, for perhaps the first time in my life, I felt trepidation. I have been told so many times that “Africa” is dangerous. Unsafe. Insecure. I have to be careful. So I get here, to a cheap hot airport, amidst red clay soil, and wait for bags expecting to get robbed or accosted. And what happens? Nothing. Fewer touts and distractions than everywhere I’ve been in Asia, safer roads and fewer drivers than I’ve seen in Central America. Not that it’s not dangerous, it’s just that all of the hype leaves me in a position where I can trust none of the hype. It’s the same story – so much of what they taught me in school was wrong (or plain lies), so much of what I read in the news was wrong (or deceptions), that I get to a point where I desperately want to trust what someone, of us or them I care not, says, and – once again – I can’t.

So here I am, in the one place in Monrovia where I can get some internet, an air-conditioned hotel serving me an excellent (as too oily as it would be in India) plate of vegetable biriyani, and all I know is I’m committed not to talk about Africa or Liberia in any general terms at all.

What I do know, though, as always seems to be the case, is what I love. So that’s what I can talk about today. And this is what I love: the President, the Ocean, and the Market.

The President started off as a humble taxi driver, christened Anthony, born in Liberia, exiled to Guinea and the rest of West Africa during years of civil war, and now back in the country, living with his mother (who never left, all through the war), and driving a taxi. So, to be fair, he was Kate’s driver when she came on her exploratory visit back in March, and was our driver back from the airport a week ago today, last Monday. But pretty soon it became clear to all of us – Kate, Anthony, and myself – that Anthony knew everything that we needed to know, could do anything we needed done, and was fair, just, vigilant, and compassionate in the way a leader must be. So he became the President, and we became his ministers. Naturally, Kate is the Minister of Gender. And I am the Minister of Culture. All the Presidents humans. Well, you know, there’s only three of us know. But good government starts small, that’s our theory.

The Ocean is what keeps it real, pulls my head out of the fog of prejudice and the general sense of Lost that dogged me for the first few days here. I can’t go out at night (it’s “dangerous”). I can’t walk long distances by myself (it’s “dangerous”). But I can go down the Ocean, a five minute walk past the few neighboring houses and children. I cross as the neck of the lagoon, crest a ridge of stand, and mind myself face to face with ferocious blue-brown water, just an eternity of sound and storm and water between us and Brazil, past and present, here and there. Just one eternity. The same red palm oil, the same huge mango trees, the same traditional blouses and hats of the women. So I go to the Ocean, run along the beach and surf, splash up to my knees, dream of frisbees, smile at the couples making out in the sunset, and literally feel myself forget what I’ve been told…

The Market of course is the antithesis of the air-conditioned Internet hotel. Everybody is black and bustling. In the morning all the produce is vibrant, before being sapped by the heat. Here’s a brief catalog of what I’ve found so far:

eggplant (five or six kinds, sized from raspberry to plum, colored white, yellow, orange, and green).

eggplant, four inches long, purple, striated

okra

chiles (pimenta malagueta, like in Brazil), big piles for 5 LD each

plantains (four for 50 LD)

cassava, potato, and other tubers

greens (a whole section devoted to them: the greens from cassava plant, from potato plant, and various others I don’t recognize, all sold as 5 LD for a two-hands-full, or processed through a machine (looks like what comes out the wrong end of a juicer) for use in soup (pictures to follow)

peanut butter (homemade, for use in soup, 10 LD for a small plastic pouch the size of a plum, maybe 50 g)

palm oil (looks just like dende in brazil, 40 LD for 500 mL)

rice from the USA (parboiled and not), China (parboiled and not), and Liberia. we have the Chinese stuff at home, and while it’s tasty and somewhat brown (maybe parboiled but not husked?), it’s also the dirtiest rice I’ve ever had. eight washes and I still feel like I taste something old and musty when we eat it. bought the Liberian stuff today.

all kinds of beans and lentils – including what I recognize as chori from India, pinto beans, and some kind of scarlet runner beans, in addition to black eye peas and other split peas.

generally a trend I’ve noticed in markets all over the world: beans cost about twice as much as rice. seems to imply the conventional nutritional wisdom is that you should cook twice as much rice and beans to get your complete proteins…

*

So there’s that. First impressions of my time here on the third floor of a house, sharing a bedroom with Kate and common space with four other US ex-pats in the NGO world. Listening to the roar of the Ocean and the snap of lightening. The rainy season delivers. I’ll have some audio soon, and recipes to boot. I’m keeping it real. That much we can be sure about. I’m keeping it real.

Also, as a post-script, Kate and I saw “Good Hair” last night. It’s a movie made by Chris Rock about African-American hair culture. I’m hesitant to say “black” hair culture because I’ve just learned that the “black” people in the US, though browner than I am (mostly), are still pretty much brown. These people, all around me, are Black. Like, the color, you know.

Ankurbhai