A Storm in Sikasso

Posted: May 21, 2018 in Beautiful Creation

I move into consciousness, the cobwebs of sleep cling, 

desperately trying to drag me back into warm slumber. 

Leaves on the trees outside begin to rustle restlessly, 

a door deep inside the house slams closed, a branch taps lightly on the window announcing the inevitable arrival.

 

The stillness of the dark morning is broken by the surging wind,

The darkness of the still morning is shattered by a blaze of lightning.

 

The tension builds as the wind picks up, 

hot, silver flashes punctuate the darkness with regularity,

A thunderous roar reverberates through the very walls of the house, windows vibrating, curtains swaying. 

A distant rumble starts to build, 

At first it’s almost imagined, a plop against the pane, a splatter in the sand,

and then all too suddenly the distant rumble rolls in,

as the storm unleashes its soaking savagery. 

 

I walk onto the verandah, the cool air rushes to meet me,

the sky is ablaze, the atmosphere is electric, rain hammering down, thrashing all that it can reach. 

Trees straining, thunder deafening, wind gusting back and forth, reaching all that it can thrash. 

 

Slowly abating, a steadiness sets in, 

rain slowing down, wind dying off, a rhythm develops,

as if a truce between land and sky has been agreed.

 

Flashes of distancing lighting illuminate the turquoise dome of the minaret across the road, 

gently the sky starts to lighten as dawn begins to ease over the city.

A rooster hastens to welcome the lightening sky, as if caught unawares.

 

The gentle rhythm resonates all around, a soulful melody creating calm and peace.

The earth soaks up the rain, a peaceful calmness creating a melody for the soul. 

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The Start of Transformation

Posted: January 23, 2018 in Uncategorized

After an absence of more than 5 years, a dear friend has provoked me to pick up the virtual pen, and share some of my experiences from across West Africa.

This particular story starts while travelling for the umpteenth time from London, Heathrow to Abidjan, Houphouet Boigny.

This flight is both loved and hated. This flight that drags one from the comfort of the European existence, towards the vortex of reality and festering celebration of life that is Abidjan.

Leaving London, passing over perfectly manicured homes, gardens and farmland, seeing the landscape as you land in Paris and then again when one departs a few hours later. This European illusion that wants you to know that all is well, everything has structure, all is in order.

The first hint of something different arrives into view, if you are lucky enough for a precursor, catching a glance of one of the Mediterranean islands.

The Balearic Islands stands out in stark contrast to the continent, as if they were ripped from both Africa and Europe, left with their rough mountain peaks making a defiant statement to the flat lethargic seas which surround.

The first glimpse of the African continent is surreal and mysterious. The northern coast line oozing with Arabic history both past and present. One that is so foreign and deeply unknown to the average westerner.

The intense emotional allure of foreign lands and foreign cultures.

This continent, at first appearing bare but habitable, soon gives way to Algerian and Malian Saharan sands. The touch of Harmattan dust visible on every horizon, dunes and sands stretch for miles in every direction.

As an African coming for south of the equator, one is both excited and confused with the uncertainty this brings. Excited to see this beloved continent once again and yet confused, as if exploring an unfamiliar part, of a once familiar lover. This northern part of the continent, with a history stretching back way further in time, and completely dissimilar to those green jungles and savannah’s south of the Sahara.

The checkered past of conquest and counter conquest. Religious revolution and the dominance and tenacity of the desert people. Staring out at this sand, 25’000 feet below, one can feel the heat of this desert reflecting back mercilessly.

As the plane drifts further south, the terrain slowly starts to change and morph. A few green patches emerge, the flash of a river in the distance. Water, the essence of life, changes the personality of this continent. Habitation becomes more prominent. The red granite dust and soil so familiar across ‘our’ Africa begins to emerge, striking cords of recognition across the cortex of the brain.

Down south we say that Africa burns in winter time. For the northern sphere this is true as well. Once the rainy season is over, from up high, one can see fires lighting up across the land, over this pseudo winter that the tropics experience during the primary four months of the year.

As the sun sets, initially painting the land in deep oranges and red, the land steadily moves from deep blues, maroons and slowly edges to black, as if to hide its true identity.

A reminder that one cannot experience Africa from a distance. She cannot be understood from a lofty height.

To experience her, to taste her joy, her pain, to feel her passion you have to draw closer. One has to descend and dwell among her people. Feel their pulse, listen to their beat and watch her bleed to know the true pain that she is experiencing.

I will leave this post with a musical recommendation. Farafina, by Mousa Traore.

His melodious rapping style captures the heart of this part of West African, with its joy, sweat, blood, tears and political corruption. May his desire to see Africa awaken and throw off the cloak of inferiority, become a reality in the coming years.

A quiet road meanders slowly across to the horizon, the sun shines down warmly and the sky’s perfectly blue without a cloud in sight on this spring day. A hill pops up over the horizon, and as one draws near the skyline clears and little details start to appear. A castle battlement stands tall and proud over whitewashed walls and red tiled roofs, a stone wall is distinctly structured around the village perimetre part of the way down the hill…. This is Montsaraz.
A medieval village fortified by the Knights Templar in the 1200’s to secure against the Moors, if one was to remove the vehicles and street lights, you could be forgiven for believing the village was still living in it’s ancient past.
From the battlement there is an exquisite view of the Alqueva lake in the distance and close by, the intricate details of the village becomes more apparent. Watch your step up the worn rocky steps, especially with a wriggling Savannah on your back.

The tightly packed little homes create small windy narrow cobbled streets. The tiny doors make one wonder if “here do midgets reside?” Below the battlement there is a tiny dusty arena with stone structured stands. It is here that bull fights have been held for centuries and is still used annually. Unfortunately, today it was just Tam and Dave chasing a Sav around with a white tissue in a sandy ring….the “Olé!” being replaced with the cackling laughter of a two year old.
Visiting this region in Spring is fantastic, the weather is good, the roads are quiet and the areas of interest are not jam packed with tourists. Our lonely car was the only one parked in an area clearly constructed for 300 odd vehicles.

A small little chapel sits off from the walled village. This dilapidated building is slowly caving in on itself. The interior’s been gutted and a broken-down shrine is all that points to this being of catholic origin. Faint paintings on the wall are peeling off and the roof is beginning to fall in as well, while not much to look at it echoes of an age when village life was simple, the church managed opinion and the strongest sword ruled the land.

Tam enjoying the history...and sun!

Tam enjoying the history…and sun!

Beauty, tranquility encapsulated

Beauty, tranquility encapsulated

North Atlantic, Vila Nova del Milfontes, Portugal.

Moorish Evora

Posted: March 21, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Evora is a charming little walled city about a hundred and twenty kilometres east of Lisbon. The city dates back to the days when the Romans ruled this part of the world and one of it’s distinguishing features is The Roman Temple, standing in the centre of the city, with it’s proud pillars proclaiming the magnificence of roman design and architecture still 2000 years later. This temple of Diana has a “bloody” past with it being used as an execution ground during the spanish inquisition and then as a slaughter house right up until the end of the 1800’s.
It’s best to find a detailed map of the city before beginning to wonder about, as the maze of moorish designed cobbled streets soon have you criss-crossing your way in circular routes that leave one wishing for a trail of gingerbread crumbs to lead you back to the hotel.

The central square is where most of the one way entry/exit roads lead too. A fountain dating back to the renaissance period forms a main feature. While tiny shops line the periphery and the church forms the main back drop to this social meeting ground. If one has a spare five minutes, stopping off by any of the many tiny cafés for a Delta espresso and Queijada de Requeijão (sweet little “custard cake”) rewards you with a “to be repeated” experience.

One of the architectual beauties of Portugal is the “Sé Cathedral” and it is ironically build within a stones throw away from the Diana temple. This intricately decorated building hosts a multitude of beautiful paintings as well as masterfully crafted wooded lattice work and crafted stonework. while we’re not great fanatics of cathedrals, its continually amazing to see how mankind has build magnificent designs through the centuries.

A short wonder to the southern side of the city bring you to the market place which is inside a munciple building, not far from the wall. The selection of sausage (porco preto), hams, breads,cheeses and fresh produce is enough to make you buy more than you need and makes for a fantastic picnic.

(Unfortunately pic are all on my camera…and not on the bb. Pics to follow!)

Song for the day….. Cheryl Crow – A change will you Good.

Late night packing went down smoothly and after running through the check list to end all checklists for the 10th time, we decided that our passports were not going to disappear and it was time for bed. Five hours later Tam kicks me out of bed to make coffee and 20 minutes after that we’re in the taxi heading South to the airport (Luton, Easyjet to Lisbon).
Travelling alone and travelling with a family in tow is quite different. For one luggage requirements vary massively. The normal backpack has been replaced with two cargo bags, two sets of hand luggage and a child carrier. The peaceful settling down to a glass of wine and a movie replaced by a restless, wriggling, kicking little girl fighting an intense feeling of claustrophobia. Relax fellow passengers, she’s not going to stop yelling her lungs simply through your irritable glances, this is Sav in a good mood ;).

Top song for the day…. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks – The National

(Allowing dad to tap away merrily on the Blackberry)

(Allowing dad to tap away merrily on the Blackberry)

Posted: March 15, 2012 in Sorties
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Well, what started out as a gret intention to record my rambles across the face of the globe has been left behind in the crazyness of life/work and TTT (terrible two tantrums). 

you have the joy and pleasure of looking forward to an update of two tours through the holy land, a week in India and some random days in France and northern Portugal. 

Tomorrow we set off for our first major European tour which is going to take us through Lisbon, across central and southern Portugal finally turning around somewhere near Seville in Andalucia before heading back out of “Lisboa” on the 31st March. 

I’ll update as we move along from one wifi spot to the next….

As for now, it’s time for a final work handover before I exhume myself from the clutches of UK Fresh Produce…. finalise any last minute packing and then head to the airport at 05h00 tomorrow morning.

Wish me luck!

 

6/09/2011……Starting to get really edgy about getting back now, the Tam/Sav deficiency is starting to kick hard now. Today is a vague day. My vague task is to see a new possible supplier, once again getting picked up by a Portuguese only driver doesn’t help my vague historic knowledge of this city or country, but it does highlight the fact that Brazil is big enough for the majority of the population not to learn a second language. 

Being vaguely received at the office, the main sales lady is unavailable to see me, some vague reason about having a baby or something, so I’m left chatting about all matters vague to the logistics lady, who’s soon to take over the sales role….(Should I be vaguely concerned?) A conversation ensues where great phrases such as reliability, supplier/importer relationships, continuity of supply, commitment etc seem to be vaguely unfamiliar to them and one’s left feeling like you’re likely to better off dealing with a commodity trader. They’re keen to show me the farm so we plan a meeting for the next morning. 

Back at the hotel, I’m distinctly aware that if one has to suffer another hotel meal, I  may just lose my sense of humour so after a few inquiries at reception a taxi arrives to take me out to a restaurant called the Armazem Cafe.

This is a very attractively large restaurant that can probably seat about 200 people. The overall decor makes it look rustic without feeling grubby or dirty. A massive sail stretches across the outside seating area and a variety of galvanised masts stretch out holding the canopy taunt. 20h00 and there are very few people around. The beer is proudly cold and goes down well after such a vague day. A couple of musicians are setting up their instruments, doesn’t seem like they’re going to have much of an audience tonight. 

Armazem Caffe

In complete redemption of all other Brazilian restaurant food, this place cooks the best “mal pasada” steak imaginable. By 22h00 the restaurant is packed and the musician are giving it guns. It is hard to beat good talented Brazilian live music, and this is only “little old Juazeira” somewhere on the banks of Rio Sao Francisco. Salute! The next day is Independence day, thus explaining why everyone is out in full force this evening. I am randomly “assaulted” by a group of 17 year olds who are keen to practice their English and sit around the table enjoying the music. Three of them are from Petrolina and the other three are from Juazeira… and so the arguement continues as to which city is the best. By mid-night, the week is catching up and I head for bed. Thank you Juazeira for this noisy display of local culture. 

Inside the Armazem Caffe

Monday, 5th September, 2011. A new day, a new week, a new hotel, a new province, a new grower. A bright and early awakening in the Grande hotel. Don’t be led astray by the name, the only thing Grande here is the magnificent view over the Rio Sao Francisco. There are two regions adjacent to each other in this part of Brazil. Penambuco is the one province and Bahia is the other, and their boundary tends to crisscross over the Rio in this part. Petrolina is the sister city to the north of this river and Juazeira is its grubby little twin to the south. A newly renovated bridge links these two relatives and one can be in either within 5 minutes of driving, depending on traffic. The Penambucans joke that the only great thing about living in Juazeira is that you have a magnificent view of Petrolina.

View from the Grande

 

 If you are ever passing through Juazeira, the Grande is the place to stay. Not because it’s a great place but more because it’s the only place to stay. Foreigners get fairly nervous traveling around this part of Brazil, a reasonably high crime rate and the threat of being mugged makes folk reluctant to experience more and therefore they’ve probably never bother to find an alternative to the Grande. So due to lack of further Intel, I’m stuck in the Grande. Being on the third floor is the main requirement; all rooms are river facing with the most exquisite view of Petrolina.

 

Beautiful Petrolina

Breakfast is full of fruit and yogurt so there is nothing left wanting. I’ve come to grips with the fact that there is just no good coffee in Brazil. I don’t claim to be a connoisseur but I can taste when I don’t like something, I can’t tell if it’s Robusta or Arabica, but I can imagine this is what subgrade Robusta tastes like. It’s been the same all over, so one comes to a state of mediocre acceptance that good Brazilian coffee is all exported.

I’m picked up at 8h00 by a Portuguese only driver, the silent drive to the packing facility is broken only by average outbursts as he tries to explain through hand signal the sights and attractions in Petrolina to me. Apparently the slower and more precisely that you speak Portuguese to someone, the better the non-Portuguese speaking individual will understand you. Portuguese and Spanish are not too dissimilar so I can pick up that the women in Petrolina are much better looking than the Juazeiran’s….hmm must be another Penambucan I’m hand signalling too.

The packhouse is only about 30 minutes out of town. it appears my main contact here also speak brilliant Portuguese and no English…no wait sorry, she spik leetle inglis. Excellent news! Unfortunately eh next two questions stump her, “how you doing?” and, “Are you getting busy?” are met with a massive ear to ear grin and nothing more… Hmm spik viri leetle inglis…

Google translate works really well in these cases so without much ado we were soon having a full out convo, albeit with an odd little delay while trying to correctly interpret Google’s sometime outlandish misinterpretations. I’m getting the feeling this is going to be a very long day. The moment is save by the arrival of Carlos the jackal, ah wait, no its Carlos Chavez, an English speaking Agronomist rocks up and the visit speeds up again. My estimation of time required here drops from 7 days with Google translate to 7 hrs with a Carlos machine gunning us through everything. Magnífico!!

A small packing facility, size grading a weight graded product… (Go figure??) they do about 7 tons an hour. Overall throughput is about 4000 tons a year, majority of their fruit is the more fibrous Tommy Atkins mango variety, but our interest is only in the fibreless Keitt and Kent varieties and then mostly the larger sizes, ideal for processing and fresh cut mango….until it goes brown inside. That seems to be a prevailing problem with Brazilian fruit, all you need to do is look at it the wrong way and it starts going brown. I smiled at every mango I saw, just in-case they were getting other ideas. I’ll know in November if it helped at all.

 

Fruit being size graded

Another good quality packhouse lunch, traditional beans with rice and well-cooked mutton/tilapia and decent salad goes down very well in comparison to the hotel food.

Mal pasada is the phase used in Portuguese to describe a fantastic steak cooked to rare perfection. It appears beyond comprehension to the extremely friendly staff of the Grande hotel that a high quality rump steak is served anything other than in “cooked till dead” state, combine this with deep fried, over cooked chips and sauce-less rice on a side plate and soon one gets the picture that Brazilian commercial cuisine leaves a lot to be desired. Rare is definitely used here in its “hard to find” form and not in the “exquisitely cooked till just perfect” form.

The Nevada Caipirinha struggles to compensate for this sin.

Jam flavoured mango

Posted: October 6, 2011 in Chronicles of Ripe Now
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Yesterday I sent a sample to a customer…. today I get the following feedback…

and I quote:” Hello David

After assessing the sample that was sent in these are my findings.

The colour stage was quite varied; one sample was rather too far along.

The texture on all samples was good, one sample was bruised.

The brix was also slightly high (16%) spec is 11-14%, flavour was sweet with a hint of Jam.

Cheers ”

How do you find Jam inside a mango…?!

Dear Customer….best eaten with added peanut butter….