Friday, 21 March 2014

'Early Morning Run in... Conakry'

First light: 0657 hrs
Time start: 0642 hrs
Time finish: 0724 hrs
Weather: 24C
Circumstances: Friday, slowest business day of working week

Post number 7 in the 'An Early Morning Run In...' blog series. Yesterday travelled Freetown to Conakry. 314 kms by road. A journey of 6.5 hours.

A few other numbers;

- checkpoints to negotiate crossing border: 7

- dash (bribes) requested: 7

- cars driving wrong side of main carriageway into Conakry: 48

- car accidents involved in first hour Conakry: 2

- traffic lights working Conakry: 1

A country where I'm older than the average male life expectancy. But, below female. Just.

Many enquired about the recent fire engine wahala. It was repaired. Arrived Freetown on schedule. Sierra Leone apparently deployed its equivalent of the Green Goddess (UK 1950's auxiliary fire engine painted green). Could well have been 2 fellows with a ladder and 2 metal buckets. Painted red, British Army style with 'FIRE' stenciled on the side.

First deployment as a young private soldier 1977 was Edinburgh during the fireman's strike. I was in the Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment. We were sent north to rescue cats from trees and run over them in the Green Goddess on the way back to barracks.

My recent excursion to London (post 5) was working with lawyers. A funny story came to mind from 2005. After spending a busy month in Nairobi, with a group of mostly North American lawyers, there was downtime at the end. We ventured upcountry. Aberdare National Park. We stayed at 'The Ark'.

At The Ark two people a room. The lead lawyer (Lawyer X), my  Canadian roomy, asked what I was doing. My leatherman was out disconnecting the buzzer. Each room had a sign. The buzzer rang once if water buffalo came to the watering hole, twice for elephant, and so on. Big one was 5 rings. A lion. I told Lawyer X we needed a good nights sleep. I'd seen plenty of wildlife in its natural environment. He was disappointed. Understandable really. One time opportunity. Following 10 seconds consideration I finished disconnecting the buzzer.

Lawyers worry about everything. They love to have stuff to worry about. It's their DNA. Earlier Lawyer X expressed concerns about malaria profolaxis. I told Lawyer X not to worry. Nairobbery is 5,500 ft above sea level. Had he seen mosquitos wearing oxygen masks? No, of course not. Another (Lawyer Y) had worries about worms. Should he wear a shower cap in Kenya? Lawyer Y was bald as a Greek monk.

I informed Lawyer X he should sit outside on the decking observing the watering hole. Salted to attract wildlife. The Ark provided chairs, blankets and served soup. Artificial I know. Surely not bad as sleeping and a buzzer sounds, you charge out to see Larry Lion or Eddie Elephant. Lawyer X reluctantly trooped upstairs with his blanket. I reminded him not to wake me on return.

Two weeks later skiing together in the Rockies. Lawyer X began to tire struggling through the afternoon. Going downhill fast, excuse the pun. Lawyer X is fit. He arrived home feeling worse. He was hospitalised. He had malaria. Big time. Lawyer X was convinced my fault. Typical lawyers. Always quick to apportion blame. Firmly believed he was bitten the night on the decking because someone disconnected the buzzer. He went further. Again jumping to conclusions, he blamed me for stating Nairobi was so high above sea level, that precautions for Africa's biggest killer were not necessary. Oxygen masks. It all came out. Lawyers eh? Always something to worry about... Oh, if you're worried about Lawyer Y, don't be. He wore a purple polka dot shower cap. No worms. His polished dome remained intact.

Time to run. Feeling good this morning. This is Guinea. Not to be confused with Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, or Papua New Guinea. Formerly known as French Guinea. That's a lot of Guinea's. Independence from France 1958. Guinea is approx the land size of UK. Population 10 million. Conakry 1.5 million.

My schoolboy French is getting an airing. Put a French joke in? Bien Sur. Difference between a smart fragrant Frenchman and a unicorn? We all know the answer to this one. Nothing, both fictional characters.

Today I have a special guest runner. A friend (not when he's read this). A Canadian. Codename Escargot. 0620 hrs. We meet outside Residence Schaka. Excellent guest house. Highly recommended. Thanks to Kai & Hawa for taking great care of us. Start stretching. Warming up. Mosquito's everywhere. YB (local Guinean driver) picks up as arranged. Short drive to the start point. 15 mins. Traffic heavy.

Not every run starts next to a life size statue of a grey elephant. Especially with a foot raised on a football. It's still dark. It's hazy. Smog. Busy streets. Headlights still on. Opposite is a Presidential Lodge. Belle-Vue Roundabout.

On left the Sierra Leone Embassy. Nice to see it, warm memories of 'home'. Outside a bus marked Freetown. Goes twice a week for about $20. Takes a day. All you backpackers wanting to explore real Africa on a budget? It can be done. Brace yourself for the border experience. Learn negotiating skills for life.

Conakry is stretched out. People get to work early. Might be due to the fact this is 'Protest City'. In Guinea people protest about anything and everything. They protest in Conakry most days. Many protests morph into riots. Way of life. Book a fortnights holiday here, you won't be disappointed if riots are your thing. Could be about power cuts. In fact, mostly power cuts. Could be water shortages. Could be price increases to staples (rice etc). Could be students. Could be political. Could be anything. People here have plenty of spirit and don't accept status quo. However, a serious point. Around 60 people killed in these protests since the country's first ever democratic elections in 2011. Alpha Conde became the first elected President.

Arrive at a meeting in Freetown late, you smile and say traffic. Here, smile and say protests. If none that day, smile and say traffic.

Escargot and I set off a brisk pace. We head north on Prince Highway. On left Rio Tinto office. A huge mining company. Largest sector in the country. Another country rich in natural resources, but overwhelmingly poor. Rio Tinto has been in-country 16 years spending a fortune. They await return on investment.

Mosques aplenty in this predominantly Islamic country (85%). Some good looking churches too. Secular. No issues.

10 minutes in. Going to be great run. Can feel it. Escargot must have wind. Or something. I catch the guy ahead. His name is Ali. Speak some schoolboy French. We jog side by side for 10 minutes uttering the odd bonjour & ca va. He points to the floodlights ahead at the National Stadium. Beckons to follow him. Escargot must have a stitch. Shout back to follow.

Circle the National stadium where the Elephants play. Plenty of pitches (one astroturf with floodlights), about 100 young players playing, being coached. Just notice Escargot has come out this morning dressed as a footballer. Ali peels off. Say our au reviors. Circle the playing fields. These kids are talented.

Smog. It's bad. Takes a while to notice the main cause is amount of fires in the streets. People are burning rubbish. Conakry is the dirtiest city I've visited. Rubbish and filth everywhere. Must be an issue with garbage collection. Maybe Escargot is suffering with the smog. Whatever, he's going backwards faster than a French tank commander.

After a detour time to head back south. Back to YB. Push all the way back. YB has water. 42 mins. Where's Escargot? He'll be fine...

Guinea is a tough place. It's difficult. Have a feeling Guinea will grow on me. Guinea has character. Guinea has spirit. Like it. People are friendly and open. Great bread. Decent coffee. Good restaurants. French wine. All in all, as with most places - some good things, some bad.

Bon journee. No new posts for a while. Maybe photos added to existing posts. Thinking of outtakes / extras - things left out over various posts.

In closing, I'd like to dedicate this to my Auntie Violet. She was a roofer. Raise your glasses. Auntie V, .... if you're up there...

P.S. To my one French friend in the world - of course, only joking...

P.P.S. I need to find Escargot

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

'Early Morning Run in... Hesket Newmarket'

First light: 0640 hrs
Time start: 0635 hrs
Time finish: 0710 hrs
Weather: 1C
Circumstances: Another day in the country

Final morning in England before returning to West Africa. Following London a few days home in the Lakes. The Lake District is a national park in northwest England. About 3 and half hours north of London by train. About 4 days by camel.

Returning to Freetown tomorrow is currently uncertain. International airlines, including BA, have suspended flights to and from Sierra Leone. A United Nations aviation regulator discovered the only functioning fire engine at Lungi Airport had broken down. It's not completely without hope, the Sierra Leone Airports Authority has said, "We are working very hard to fix the faulty gearbox system of the fire engine." Seems reasonable.

Early morning run. The Hesket Newmarket to Caldbeck circuit. Hesket is a small village at the base of the Northern Fells. Village population following a recent passing is down to 249. Also known as God's Waiting Room. Average age 77.

My African friends. What would you make of this sleepy Cumbrian village? Well...everyone is ancient. People move slower. Little urgency. You'll be called 'Love' or 'Pet'. No one uses their vehicle horns. No background noise. Most people have facial hair, even some of the men. Weather is harsh, particularly the winters. Everyone has a caravan, or wants one. The similarity between blizzards and northerners going through divorce? In either case, you know someone is going to lose a caravan.

To my own family down south please remember when you next venture north. "He were a southern bugger" is a legal defence up here.

Another similarity with West Africa. Don't ask anyone for directions, particularly if they smell of manure, carrying a stick or wearing wellington boots. As on the streets of Freetown or Accra be prepared for a 20 minute conversation. Oop north it's an advantage to know the main reference points. Such as, key piles of rubble, bingo halls, sale & auction rooms, coal mines, chip shops, and where factories used to stand.

The jokes. What would the locals say if they read this post? I'm on safe ground here. No-one has mastered the Interweb yet. Anyway, I can't help it, my dad was a clown. He's left me big boots to fill...

The internet and mobile coverage isn't good in this part of Cumbria. A little like Freetown. However, NPA is good. In Sierra Leone NPA - means 'National Power Authority'. Alternatively, 'No Power Anymore', as some might put it.

Time and tide wait for no man. An overnight frost greets me. It's chilly. Let's start running. Head east through Hesket. On my right the village Chapel. Full every week with singing on par with the sounds of Freetown on a Sunday morning. However, less clapping, less hip action.

On my left the village Inn. The Old Crown. The first public house in the country owned by a co-operative. It's owned by over 100 local people and other supporters. A proper pub with real ales. Good morning Stephen & Beverley.

Hesket is in a bowl, much like Freetown. To leave the village you move uphill in any direction. I'm climbing east towards Caldbeck. 10 minutes I haven't seen a soul. With an average age pushing 80 hardly a surprise. A beautiful crisp morning. The lambing season has begun, first lambs in the fields both sides of the lane.

Ah, the first sign of life, a 50 year old Land Rover comes slowly towards me. I receive the customary Cumbrian one finger salute. Not to be confused with other versions in London or New York. Index finger only leaves the steering wheel. A sign meaning everything, including recognition.

Old Land Rovers. My mind goes back. Memories on exercise in Africa during the mid 90's. Local soldiers were taught traditional British Army voice procedure. Every clipped message on the radio ends with 'over'. Allows the other person to speak (currently teaching Mrs R. these trusted methods). One funny message went;

Hello Charlie 1, this is Bravo 1. Message. Over.

Charlie 1. Send. Over.

Bravo 1. I have accident. Over.

Charlie 1. Send details. Over.

Bravo 1. I have rolled the Land Rover over. Over.

Charlie 1 (laughing). Say again. Over.

On it went.

Over the climb a pleasant drop into Caldbeck. Past the turning to Chris Bonnington's house. A local celebrity for his climbing exploits. Into Caldbeck, another picturesque Cumbrian village. Very quiet this morning. I climb out of the village and bear left around the pond. Avoid a few ducks, some sheep poo, some cow poo, and head back towards the centre of village. A few vehicles and dog walkers in evidence. Another countryside day begins in earnest.

Right. 2 miles back to Hesket on the main road. Not exactly a startled gazelle this morning, but not too bad. Head into the sun. Push all the way back. Poo everywhere. I'm a townie at heart.

Strong finish. Back into Hesket. Past the village shop on my right. Good morning Liz, Andy & Diane. Keep up the good work. A gentle warm-down back to the house. 35 minutes. Fairly good.

First 4 runs on this blog were in Africa. The last 2 in UK as a contrast. Back to Africa. The next one scheduled for Conakry, Guinea. I wonder if the fire engine is fixed?

Monday, 3 March 2014

'Early Morning Run in... London'

First light: 0642 hrs
Time start: 0558 hrs
Time finish: 0632 hrs
Weather: 4C (ouch)
Circumstances: Monday morning, business day

This week the old switcheroo. Change Africa for Europe. The 5th in the 'Early Morning Run In...' series. Complete contrast.

I've used quotes to open previous posts. Confucius this time, "Every journey of a thousand miles begins with... some fat cabbie (his name was Sid) moaning about the economy." My experience last evening in Central London...

Feels good back in the cold air of London. Ten days special treats before heading back to West Africa. Fresh milk with my cereal. Morning newspapers. John Lewis. No mosquitoes. No net. A cool room. Fast Internet. Electricity. No generator. Pret A Manger. Not being surrounded by life insecurity. Ah, and a good nights rest. In fact, I aim to sleep soundly, just like my security guard back in Freetown.

You have to miss it. An old sage in Africa once told me, write down everything you think unusual when you first arrive. In 6 months time, it will seem completely normal. Taking breakfast in Khartoum one day, an obese driller told how the previous evening a small plane was landing the wrong way at the airport. The Lufthansa Airbus had to abort the landing, pull up, and fly over the top of the other plane. No one batted an eyelid. "Pass the sugar", was about it.

What will I miss? Fish. Beach. Sun. The people of Sierra Leone. Misfits. My SL divas. I always miss my divas. They're divas right down to their high heels, power handbags and sense of entitlement (in a nice way). As they read this, they'll be mortified. Divas - I warned you. One is hairless, West African style. In fact, bald as a badgers bum. This is Senior Diva. Codename 'Eagle'. Young, or Baby Diva, with a new hairstyle every week and sporting handbags the size of a 2 berth caravan, is climbing the Freetown 'Divadom' chart at a healthy pace. Codename 'Cobra'. Divas, stop reading this blog, off your cell phones and on with some work. We have a business to build.

It's funny. When one is in West Africa, you yearn for home. Paradoxically when the time comes to return (in 9 days time), one embraces it. What Africa gives you more than any single thing? Appreciation. Appreciation, not taking things for granted. Appreciation, small things. Appreciation, how lucky you are. Oh, and that Marvel skimmed milk powder will never replace Daisy the Cow.

I should point out I've mostly African gear with me. This doesn't mean I stroll around London dressed like a Senegalese lottery winner. It means old clothes that have been battered, look OK in Africa, but in London... This trip was hasty and unexpected.

African clothing. I wanted to write to Rohan a few years ago. A terrific UK brand. They had trousers advertised as unshrinkable. They were indestructible. You could do anything to these trousers. Rohan hadn't figured in my Sudanese maid. She turned them into a fashion statement. One embraced by most northern Brit holidaymakers every time they venture abroad, or to the local off license to pick-up a pack of Woodbines on a winters evening.

I realise how bad 'maid' reads. I worked for an oil company in Sudan at the time. Not only a maid, but a driver, gardener, cook, and cleaner. In the interests of fairness, I have all these positions in the UK. It's just that Mrs R. doesn't like it when I call her these things. Oh, and the cleaner in Khartoum. We called her the Special Forces of cleaners. Never knew if she'd been in the apartment or not.

Time and tide wait for no man. Let's start running. The distinctive sound of Big Ben. The start point is outside my hotel. Westminster Bridge. The London Eye lit up to my right. Over the Bridge past the Houses of Parliament on my left. After the misery of humidity in Accra, I now have the spring of a startled gazelle.

London is a beautiful city. In my view the best in the world. I see some appropriately dressed joggers. Thin gloves, thermal layers, running tights, fluorescent tops, hats (toques for the Canadian readership), headphones. Don't see anyone with dirty sand coloured trainers, shorts, 2 short sleeved T-shirts and a polo shirt with an upturned collar. It's a little chilly.

No entertainment. Don't need distractions this morning. Passed Number 10 on my left - all the way to Nelson's Column. Veer left. What a city. What better than running down the Mall. It's inspiring and as if by magic my pace lifts. What's even faster than a startled gazelle? Three-quarters down the Mall Buckingham Palace is coming into view. I come up behind 2 joggers wearing three-quarter length trousers from Rohan, white shoes, with black and white striped football shirts. Sounds like they're from oop north. They're smoking Woodbines. I didn't really come up behind 2 such joggers. Made that bit up.

Left at the Palace. Past Wellington Barracks. Stayed there a few times. Horsferry Road down to the River Thames. Over Lambeth Bridge and follow the river back to the London Eye. Feeling splendid. What's even faster than something quicker than a startled gazelle? Johnny your heart out. Past the Eye up to Greyfriars Bridge at a pretty good lick. The turnaround point. Jog back to Westminster Bridge to warm down. Into Starbucks for a takeaway coffee behind the old GLC building. Phil Collins (Mr Phil - an African icon) on the piped music. Actually, it was Ray Charles 'I Can't Stop Loving You' - been humming it all day. That was followed by Frankie Valli...

Reading the newspapers this morning took me back to Sudan. To an oil compound in Rubkona. I used to stay there. The Camp Manager was a huge fellow. A huge man with a huge heart. Maybe 300 lbs. He'd become concerned by his weight. He decided to run up the attached airstrip every morning. The airstrip was 2.2 km long. Locals called him '2-Man' because of his size. No unkindness intended. Just African humour. Everyone in the village knew 2-Man. Back then the Sudan problems were as now. Tribal conflict. 2-Man was out on the airstrip for his daily walk/jog. At the turnaround, shooting broke out from the bushes. Bored soldiers shooting at birds. 2-Man wasn't to know. He went from doing 20-minute miles to an Olympic sprinter in a heartbeat. He was on the move. As told to me with a great merriment by a chief, the locals hurriedly left their tukuls (huts) with their suitcases thinking an Antonov was landing to evacuate them. The Chief would go into convulsions retelling this story.

In closing, anyone who saw a stranger taking breakfast in a hotel near Westminster Bridge this morning and thought of similarities with a scene from 'When Harry Met Sally'. This is the effect of fresh milk and 9 weeks in Freetown. Nothing more...

See you back in Africa...