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Monday, November 28, 2005

In line for Europe

Getting back to Europe was an expedition in itself. Friday evening, after a whole week of training – I spare you the details – we drove to the airport of Niamey to register our luggage. When we arrived, there was an enormous cue and the registration office wasn’t even open yet. So we waited in line, practising our most deadly looks when some people made attempts to get in front of us instead of joining the end of the line. When it was finally almost our turn to enter the doors (behind which another cue awaited us), some guy comes out and invites the passengers for Dakar (Senegal) to enter first!

So add another twenty minutes to the hour and a half we had been waiting. Finally, we got in after a check of our passport and reservations, only to discover another cue waiting for us. Thankfully, this one was much shorter. So we register the luggage and ourselves and speed off to the party that was awaiting us. It was a nice party with nice people and good food and good music, but we were all so pooped after that week of training that we just sat there and chatted a bit. This didn’t prevent me from making an ass of myself on the ‘dance floor’ of course.

Anyway, after the party we sped off to the airport again, to catch that night’s flight to Paris, France. We had to cue again, right were we dropped off our luggage a couple of hours before. Then we had to cue for customs and police formalities. Right after that was another cue with a police officer. This gave us access to a next waiting room, where we had to cue… to get into another waiting room. There we had to wait, before we could get in line again for another cue, this time to get onto the tarmac. But before we could enter the big shiny Airbus that was awaiting us, we had to CUE AGAIN. This time it was the aircrew that was curious about what was in everybody’s hand luggage. So finally, up we go on the stairs and into the airplane, where I had to cue to get into my seat. So NINE bloody cues to get into the aircraft, and we hadn’t left the country yet at that point.

Take off was at half past midnight, and the idea is to sleep until you land at Paris’ Charles De Gaulle airport the next morning. Of course, this is merely a joke. You don’t expect that a tall (1.87 m) guy like me can sleep in this baby-seat that one gets in an aircraft? I tried every position imaginable, but to no avail, even though no-one was snoring in my vicinity. The guy in front did manage to step on my foot while he was going to the loo, which really made my night.

So the next morning I couldn’t even remember the in-flight movie I’d seen (The Island) as I was cueing again to enter the fortress of Europe. I must say it was a lot easier in Paris than in Niamey. After we got our luggage (cue, wait, cue again) we were off to the Thalys/TGV (high-speed train) station under the airport. It was 6 o’clock in the morning, it was less than 0°C outside and that meant it was equally freezing inside the train station, which was designed by a certified sadist or someone who was completely oblivious to the winter temperatures in France. Worse still, we had to wait for 45 minutes before any of the cafés or breakfast things opened. I tell you, I never appreciated a hot cup of chocolate milk more in my life. This was a big shock after the warm somewhere-in-the-thirty-degrees weather in Niger.

Was our ordeal over? Like hell it was! I must admit it was a relief that the announced strikes of the French railroads didn’t happen, but instead King Winter was playing with our dangly bits. It was snowing so hard that the speed of our Train de Grand Vitesse was reduced to that of a nineteenth century steam train. We arrived in Brussels an hour late and extremely tired. Luckily, Belgian stations are just a tad warmer than French ones (naaah-nah-nah-naaaah-nah) and my train to Antwerp was nice and toasty, in sharp contrast with the pride of the French rail-roads.

When I finally hit the blankets of my own bed, it didn’t take me more than thirty seconds to enter dream land. No cueing there!

Posted by Bart at 5:11 PM
Edited on: Tuesday, December 20, 2005 7:44 PM
Categories: The intrepid explorer

Monday, November 21, 2005

Dragons

Niamey may be the capital of Niger and quite a big city at that, but it has ample of wildlife. This starts with the omnipresent lizards, that scatter everywhere when you set one foot in front of the other.

Another very present and extremely anoying animal is the mosquito. When the sun starts to set, around 5PM here, they turn up with voracious apetites. They will attack you like a divebomber, and before you know you're covered with mosquito bites. This is bit worrying, because Malaria is quite a problem here despite the general lack of water in the country.

Much larger but luckily much less agressive are the impressive camels that you'll find here even in the city centre, happily annoying traffic. They're quite a sight, but I didn't have the opportunity as yet to take a picture of them. The handlers charge for those anyway.

Donkeys are also a very popular means of transport and can be found everywhere. This inspired me to the following self-developed joke:

What's the difference between a farmer's group, an NGO and a ministry? The farmers ride donkeys and dream of jeeps. The NGO's drive jeeps and shout at the donkeys blocking them. In the ministries, the donkeys drive the jeeps and shout at the NGO's and the farmers.

Pretty good eh?

To continue with the theme of animals, a colleague of mine was attacked by a huge dragon last week. It was sitting on the ceiling, ready to eat her in one bite. At least, that's how she saw it. In reality, it was just a little and very colourful gecko. They're better in climbing walls than the lizards, unlike them they can get on the ceilings and even climb on windows. I saw a lot of geckoes in Central America, but here I only saw one - that wanted to eat my colleague.

And so ends another interesting lesson about the life and times of the people in Niger. Stay tuned for the following commercial messages!

Posted by Bart at 7:47 PM
Categories: The intrepid explorer

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The bart roast is excellent

Traveling to Niger may sound exotic, but a business trip is a business trip. I like the work I do here very much, but I won't bore you with stories of meetings and reports and so on.

I got pretty well used to the heat here, although I must confess I'm less active in the afternoon. It's murderous to go walking around in the full blaze of the sun.

I spent the weekend being lazy, because I really needed to rest. It was calm too, with the German couple with whom I hang around most of the time gone on a 1000 km trip to the desert city of Agadez. My destinations were far less exiting and mostly involved places where I could acquire food or beverages. The food here is by the way excellent, and much more varied than Senegal for instance, where I spend my annual leave three years ago. There you had the choice between rice with chicken or rice with beef during the whole three week trek.

I was also invited by a Nigerien colleague at his place on Saturday, where I met his wife and his darling little daughter of two. We spent the evening talking and watching local TV. Television news is very strange here, nothing much happens here and most of it consists of images of meetings of non governmental organisations (NGO). They practically emit the whole meeting, which is very boring. On the other hand it's also fun to see the looks of utter boredom on the faces of the participants. NGOs dominate the streets here, wherever you go you will see signs announcing their presence and projects. It seems there's hardly any industry of commerce, the economy largely depends on them. Which means something's very wrong with this country. Hence its poverty of course.

My credit's almost gone, so I will tell you later what kind of wildlife you get to meet here in the middle of the city.

Posted by Bart at 7:46 PM
Categories: The intrepid explorer

Monday, November 07, 2005

First impressions

So, I arrived well, albeit with a one-hour delay. Within five minutes of leaving the airport I saw a couple of camels. Niger is a beautiful country, but with the Sahara desert so close by it's bloody hot: between 31 and 35°C. And this is called the cold season here! So far things went great. I had an interesting weekend visiting the city of Niamey, its Petit Marché, the national museum (twice!) and two leather factories, one of which worked in a very traditional (and smelly) way. Photo's are following, but not during my visit. Internet is dead slow here.

Must go now, more info later.

B.

Posted by Bart at 7:42 PM
Edited on: Tuesday, December 20, 2005 7:44 PM
Categories: The intrepid explorer

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Out of Africa

So this is it, all geared up for Africa. I won't be able to post any articles on my weblog, but I think Haloscan will be accesible. So I'll try to keep you informed through the comments under this post. If not, we'll find each other again in three weeks time.

Posted by Bart at 9:18 PM
Edited on: Tuesday, December 20, 2005 7:44 PM
Categories: The intrepid explorer

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

An Apple a day…

I worked with Apple computers before I ever touched the keyboard of a PC. That was the age when Apple already had a Graphical User Interface with windows and folders and icons, while Intel based systems relied on long and often very complex DOS commands. Windows 3.0 was a humorous attempt to mimic the user-friendliness of the Macintosh computers. At that time, I was mostly involved in the editing and page lay-out of our college magazine. I worked on the machines of the faculty’s Media Center or on the Mac of a mate of mine. But when the time came to buy a real computer to replace my trusty MSX computer (remember those?), it was budgetary restrictions that forced me to buy a second-hand 386. I quickly ran out of hard disk space, which led me to the discovery that PC’s can do things a Mac can’t do: you can tinker with them ad infinitum to get as close as you can to what you really want with very little money to spare.

Windows 95 was a big leap of course, but it never was as stable as the Macs were. But I tinkered along, building my own computers in the end with a budget that was three to four times as low as buying a new Mac. And slowly, the difference in quality diminished and PC’s even got ahead of the Macs. At the moment, I wouldn’t dream of trading in my (recently upgraded) PC for any Apple G-whatever. Why would I?

Well, yesterday I bought me an Apple, an I-pod to be precise, or an I-pod Photo to be very specific. With a 20Gb hard drive on which I can put all the music I may need during my coming weeks of travel in Africa. And pictures of my girlfriend of course, to be viewed on the colour display (brag, brag). What kind of pictures, do you ask? Well, that is none of your damn business, is it now?



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