Dreaming of becoming a fibre optic millionaire.....
I was utterly amazed by the entrepreneurial spirit of the Kenyans I met in Nairobi last week. I used to think rags to riches stories were only found in fairytales. Well, those fairytales were written in Nairobi. One young man started off selling second hand clothes in a grubby market and now is a millionaire several times over. And not just in Kenyan shillings. Another built his first tin shack 30 years ago. He doesn't build tin shacks anymore.Our host, a jovial woman with a bar room handshake and a laugh to match, gave me a crash course in marriage partners. By the way, I think she should be president. Kikuyu women, according to her, have an inbuilt sensor that detects when a man's wallet is empty. It beeps. Fairytale, I thought.
I found Somali women to be incredibly stunning and graceful. There was one by the hotel pool, up on the seventh floor, resplendent in black and gold jewellery, smoking lustily from a hookah, her face a heavenly vision glimpsed through rolling blue smoke. I was about to walk up to her - to ask for her photo of course - when there was a loud beeping. For a moment I though it was the fire alarm. Then I realised what it was. Somali women have the Kikuyu wallet sensor too.
The elections are over but the street lights in Bulawayo still have airbrushed pictures of Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe plastered on the poles. Smooth faced and wrinkle free, they both look a lot younger and much less worn in the pictures than they are in real life. My daughter asked me at the airport when we arrived last Friday, "Who won the elections?"
I replied, "Mugabe."
"Again?" she asked. I didn't have an answer to that. It doesn't look like anybody does.
After travelling to Zambia a couple of weeks ago, it seemed fitting when I came to Zimbabwe, to see the grave of the man who (for a while) gave his name to both countries - Northern Rhodesia and Rhodesia. Cecil John Rhodes is buried at the top of a gently rising rock dome in Matopos, less than an hour's drive from Bulawayo. (My sister will tell you "gently rising" is a relative term). Rhodes' tomb is sunk into the stone and guarded by enormous boulders with only a simple brass plaque bearing his name. Whatever you may think of the man, his resting place is truly majestic.
Then Thando's dad showed us a large cave, large enough for several pre-historic families. There were rock paintings on the walls. I last saw one of those in Mrs. Sawyer's Class 4 history class. Imagine how much poorer we'd be if the artist's mother had yelled at him and said, "The next time I catch you drawing on the walls you'll be sleeping outside!"
I spent five days in Lusaka, Zambia last week, for work. The highlight of the trip was undoubtedly the four piece hotel band, led by a sprightly old man with only one arm. They all wore red jackets and looked like waiters from a bygone era. The band leader sang mostly Spanish ballads in a Bee Gees type falsetto and my first reaction was, "These guys are awful!" And they were, for the first five minutes or so. Then they started to grow on me, laying on the charm in bucketfuls. By the end I was wondering whether to ask if they had a business card. Or a manager.
Lounge crooners aside, I found Zambia remarkably similar to Ghana with the same dusty streets lined with small shops and small boys riding bicycles with dodgy brakes. Mind you, the similarity between the two countries doesn't extend to soccer. We're much better than they are.
One of the major benefits of returning to South Africa from Asia is that the kids wake up way ahead of time for school. Long may that last!
I tried one of the packets of bath salts from that charming little shop in Ubud, Bali. I came out of the bath feeling like I was doing the moon walk... on a cushion of air. It was very weird. But also very good.
We got back to find the maid (yes, the one who can't cook) had absconded. Here's an extract from my interview with a prospective candidate to fill the position. Juliet is Zimbabwean and was quick to point out that it's Juliet, "as in Romeo and Juliet".
Me: Its a three bedroom house
Me: There's the usual washing and ironing and cooking on occasion
Me: The dog will bite you
On our last day in Singapore we went to Sentosa. It's astounding that a beach resort in touching distance of one of the world's busiest container ports can be so clean and the water so clear. It was one of Thando's favourite beaches too.
We spent some time in the butterfly enclosure but the silly things don't sit still long enough for their picture to be taken. Then I remembered I had a "big boy" camera with continuous shooting at super fast shutter speeds. The butterfly didn't stand a chance.
The macaws were much more accommodating and this white one with the yellow crest couldn't stop saying "Hello!" All too soon it was back to the hotel to get our bags and catch a ride to the airport with another gregarious driver. This one had his radio dial stuck on Abba. "Money…Money…Money…"
You know the rest.
Here are some other pictures from Singapore. I particularly like the one of the girl shooting me, shooting her...
I woke up at 3am after our late night shopping debacle and couldn't get back to sleep. Feeling restless, I decided to go out for a run. There are many cities I wouldn't do that in at that time of the morning but in Singapore, you don' even think twice. It's warm and muggy all day and night - just the way I like it. As I suspected, I didn't get very far before my heart screamed to me to "Stop!" And they say you must always listen to your heart... So it was back to the hotel and a shower and the growing realization that I might have caught flu from one of the taxi drivers who'd told me all about the high cost of living, in between loud bouts of sneezing and coughing.
We ventured out at lunch time to the Gardens on the Bay. It's a huge eco-garden with exotic plants and lovely flowers and all manner of clever innovations to save energy. It also has the mandatory doomsday video of what the world will look like by the year 2100 if we continue to abuse the earth's resources the way we do. It was quite sobering and made me want to start recycling again. Thoroughly chastened, it was off to the Singapore Flyer, a giant ferris wheel with stunning views over the city and the bay.
We were done by late afternoon and all I wanted to do was to crawl back into bed. But we were right next to the Marina Bay Sands and I thought, "We've come all this way….". It certainly makes a bold architectural statement with a viewing deck in the form a cruise liner atop three hotel towers, 57 stories high. A taxi driver - perhaps the same one who'd given me the flu - had told me to say we were going for drinks then we wouldn't have to pay the $25 charge per person to go up in the lift.
It was really magnificent up on the viewing deck at the Ku De Ta restaurant and you couldn't help but be swept along by the vibe. With skyscrapers on one side and picturesque container ships waiting in the bay on a sheet of azure water, it felt like a fairground with a catchy techno beat instead of an oompah band. There were newly weds, tourists and foreign domestic workers on their day off and dressed to impress. Yes, we did have drinks after all and the bill came to less than the $25 x3 we'd have had to pay if we'd taken the normal lift up to the top. So I guess I should forgive the taxi driver for giving me his flu.
We almost missed our flight from Bali to Singapore. I think the gods must have heard our pleas to stay because a truck spilled several bags of construction sand a few kilometers away from the airport causing a tailback that stretched for miles. But we made it, with minutes to spare and landed in Singapore a couple of hours later.
Singapore is much more expensive than Bali and the driver of every taxi we've hired complains bitterly about the cost of living. "Ten years ago, Singapore was ok," said one. "Now you cannot." While he was driving us to the hotel, he got a phone call to tell him of his daughter's A-level results. He was very proud although he tried not to show it. I'd be over the moon if Nathan or Noemi got five A's and a B like his daughter did. Another driver lamented that old people here have to work, literally until they die, eating bread every day because they can't afford anything else. We got talking about the justice system and he confided in me, with some regret I might add, that if you touched a woman's arm in Singapore you could get caned. And then thrown in prison to cool off your backside. I suspect he was more unhappy about that than the prospect of having to carry on working in his old age.
But Singapore is great for shopping and the kids had been looking forward to this part of their holiday with undisguised glee. My cunning plan was to take them late at night to a 24 hour mall in Little India, in the hope that they'd be exhausted and wouldn't keep asking, "Daddy, can we buy this?" or "Daddy, can we buy that?" It was a wonderful ruse that backfired horribly in practice. I ended up the exhausted one with my wallet a lot lighter than when we set out. I remembered what the wise Chinese taxi driver had said to me earlier in the evening. "Ten years ago, Singapore was ok. Now, I cannot."
"If this is the dream God has placed in your heart, who are you to doubt?"