Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dinosaur Walk


Last friday, we woke up before the sun rose, to start a boy's trip back in time, tracking dinosaur footprints in the Mana-Angwa bush. 
A couple of months ago Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe organized a conference about zimbabwe's dinosaurs, which was very interesting, even if it was difficult to understand clearly if these dinos were truly indegenous zimbabweans or just Gondawa's colonial settlers. I guess the ministry of indegenesation is working on that one. At the end they might just benefit from the greek status. 
The speaker, Dr Ali, passionatly spoke about how people (including him) found exceptional signs of dinos in the country, including skelettons and footprints. I am going to zap on the technicalities of the types of sauropods, teropods and layers of rocks in which they were found. At the end I found out that there was an excursion organized to go find and see some of the bones and footprints. 
How excellent!
5 to 7 hours drive from Harare, four days camping in the middle of nowhere, in National Parks, under the leadership of a flamboyant geologist, tracking footprints of animals who disapeared millions of years ago. Really cool. 

So my mate Rob and his boys joined in with me and Seb and a dozen other curious good people. 
And the trip was really worth it! It was incredible to see those prints, set in sandstone in the riverbed as if the beasts have wandered there yesterday. 

Bordering the stone formations were the sauriens prints were, we could see, fresh in the sand and mud, hundreds of tracks of elephants, kudus, hyenas and other animals so we could really visualize the dinos walking, as if we just missed them a minute before. 
Ali explained how these were formed, with tons of great 12+letter words such as sedimentation, jurrassic and mineralization, giving small details that really made us see and imagine the surroundings, 200 millions years ago! 
The fact that the prints are in the middle of the bush, in an actual river bed added to the magic. 
It was really impressive, very visual. There were tracks from the teropod type of dinos (like the T-rex and allosaurus) and enormous sauropods ones too (the brontosaurus type). 
And as a bonus, the walk and country were spectacular, we got to see a petrified forrest, the stars under the moonless sky were incredible, and the company was excellent. 
I have to admit that my cooking has been better, but hey!

Oh, and we managed to keep beers cold until the end. That's more than a bonus: its a skill, a talent and it makes the difference between life and good life. 
And we did not get mauled by a lion (althought the kids are still persuaded that a leopard tried to get into their tent whilst we were socializing around the camp fire).  
And they all got to drive the landie, which is quite a great experience when you are 12, mwhahaha. 

So a good trip it was, back in time, just a great way to spend a WE: time travelling, learning new stuff, camping and walking in the bush, great company, and unlimited sky above.
the only thing missing was a group of friendly swedish lingerie models,
my lovely wife

Monday, July 28, 2014

a sky a day keeps the doctor away

So my week's mentor, Prashant Miranda (re)commanded us to watch the sky and draw a sky a day. 
Well I should say that it is actually nice to do.
Especially since right now, winter in zim is synonymous with blue sky and total absence of clouds, which makes it somehow easier. 
So I finished my first batch and enjoyed it so much that I made my small boxes for the next one. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Practical guide to exit N'djili airport, Kinshasa

Getting out of Kin is a mild headache that takes time and cash. To the difference of my previous airport experiences, this one was the most procedural and long. 
Going to/ out of the USA is a pain, and immigration/ security officers there are really wearing the mask that fits their job. We had in that regard a wonderfull experience coming to Chicago after 46 hours travelling. We got to see and understand the humanity of a uniformed man who kept it professionnal whilst my 2 year old was relieving herself and was abundantly defecating on my wonderfull wife. They could only get clean after we completed our turn for the immigration interview. Obviousely no assistance could be given, it must be too much of a risk being in contact with kids (0,2,4 year old), or carrying luggages (too heavy and propably dangerous). 
There are other aiports where people are known for their capacity to make you feel guilty of something, whatever that might be. 
N'djili airport provides none of these guilt-moments: people are friendly, respectfull, facilitating the process for families and elderly people, really good in that way. And that humanity and contact makes the entire experience being tolerable. 
The Challenge of N'djili lies in the Kafkaian procedures one has to undergo to board the plane and get out of the country. Probably the most complex system I have been through.
My advise: spend the necessary 2'500 FrC (2.5usd) for an airport man who will help you going through the procedures step by step. Best money ever spend. 
It took me more than 3 hours with the help of the airport man to get everything sorted and be able to board the plane. The lenght was partially due to the no system situation, so all the tickets and luggages had to be done by hand, and partially due to the 17 controls and indispensable procedures that are strenghtening the belief that going in a plane is something special, one really should deserve and not consume. 
I join here some of the steps. The guide is for those who do not want to pay the airport guy, because they feel adventurous, or too stingy to pay him, or uptight on their right "not to have to rely on someone", generally combined with lavish criticisms about the way things operate here in the Congo. There was a frenchman in that category, I think that he spend his 3 hours getting angrier and angrier and telling everyone around how useless things where. Poor guy, he will make his shrink and heart specialist rich and happy. I feel you just poison yourself getting upthight for such small details.
In a way, unlike most aiport, N'djili provides entretainment and makes sure you keep busy and occupied from the moment you get there to the moment you jump in the plane. They make the wait go smooth, no need to feel bored sitting on an uncomfortable airport chair. Just for that I was happy to pay my 55usd exit taxes, althought I would have preferred if they were named them "Ndjili Entertainment and Occupation tax to help bored people wait for their planes".

Street girls in Kinshasa.

Well, I guess it will be one of the first time I have mixed my professionnal life (or wife, really) with my sketching affair. Being under enormous pressure to draw everyday by Danny Gregory and fellow Sketchbook Skool professors, and being busy with work during the few hours when I am actually awake, I jumped on every opportunity to sketch whilst working. Make sense?

Last week, I had the opportunity to start a research on factors that could improve the reintegration of girls living in the street of Kinshasa (for more details:, and I have been working with the team and girls of Centre Anuarite.

There are an estimate of around 10'000 girls (under 18) living in the streets of DRC's capital. Life in the street for girls often is synonymous with abuse, rape, prostitution and violence.
Not a great place to live in. Many have been kicked out of their house, being accused of whichcraft, because their parents left of died or because they were not welcomed by the new step-parent. Many  ran away from home, not feeling loved, not finding food or being beaten and abused. Whether they choose the street or did not have the choice, they are living a tough life. Friendship, security, protection is essential, fitting in with the street and its values, activities and priorities as well.
These girls are strong.
Along with other organizations, Centre Anuarite is working in creating bridges between the street society and the mainstream society, trying to get the girls out of the street. There are no quickies for that one. 
We worked on visualizing change, and setting up personnal goals in life. We asked the girls to represent how they see themselves in 10 years time. The youngest was 10, the oldest 16. 
They dream of becoming doctors, air-hostess, teachers, nurses, president, judge... Strong positions for strong women, very terribly far away from what reintegration programs push forward, realistically: learn functionnal skills, sell goods, train in coiffure-couture-cuisine, and get married. 
They need to dream. It is important that someone, somehow, shows them that they believe in them, and in the way they wish to see themselves, it is the first step to positive change: picture yourself. 

 Part of another exercise we did was to draw a body-map, a picture representing themselves, and their feelings (what hurts, what helps), doing so we want them to identify their strenghts and the obstacles they are facing. To be able to focus on their goal/ dream, and to identify the obstacle standing in between, along with their strenghts and people who can help and support is essential. 
Walking blind is not really helping to change. 
Art, drawing or doodeling to represent feelings and stories is an important tool to communicate. Generally adults are far more reluctants to do these exercises, whilst children just love it. There is a great reading for those who want to bring visual learning to the boardroom, it's The doodle Revolution by Sunny Brown. 
So, Centre Anuarite is a semi-open shelter for girls, were they can come and go or stay for a while. The social staff (nurses, psy, social workers etc.) also works six nights a week in the street.   
They go were girls are working at night, trying to give them some informations about drugs, protection, people who they can turn to, sexually transmitted diseases, etc. They also distribute condoms and provide some health support, through their ambulance. 
Going with them in some sites was a reality shock. I had the opportunity in my life to walk in many streets were children are living and are involved in commercial sex, but I had not yet witnessed such numbers. Those social workers are truely amazing and they deserve incredible respect. Their job is incredibly hard for it relates to the limits of their society, to personnal histories, to gender divide etc. I am always amazed meeting people who choose to work with the cast-away. 
I hope I will be able to do something positive for them. Really.
In a time where social and cultural spendings are going down worldwide, where budgets are thight, were military spendings increasing and the focus is to "save" the liberal economy without really adressing its shortfalls, the first people to feel the cuts are often the ones who are holding communities together and making sure we live in societies that are caring for those who are not "fitting", as if we all "naturally" fit in. I believe that our world is increasingly creating outcasts, and putting the responsibility of failure to conform on the individuals. In that way, artists, social workers, community activists are the first to go or to be seen as "unessentials". 
Strange world. 
And the situation of steet children is not sexy anymore, people have heard about it and we do not like to see things over and over again. Results are slow to come, projects are drafted for the short term, it often feels like fighting a lost battle. Yet there are people who devote their life trying to do good. 
What I have the honor of doing in Kinshasa is also happening down every street in the world, whether in Brussels, Toronto, New York, Rio, there is no places without its demons.  And there is no places were there are no one feeling they should do something, from volunteering for an organization, doing street art, helping out people they don't really know with small gestures or great commitments. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

First days in Kinshasa

Well, I had to travel a bit and start a new field consultancy, so days have been a bit hectic. I did not really dare to scan and use my work time to upload, but now I found a connexion and took pictures of my sketches.
So here are the sketches of my journey from Harare to Kinshasa, airport and plane.

In the plane, for once I was next to a lovely lady, but i did kept a bit untalkative, I was sketching and she was sleeping. She did enjoy the drawing in the end and helped me talking thru a zealous immigration officer, the 3:am kind of one who suddently want you to open all your luggages. She said that he should be ashamed to bother zee aartist, hahahahaha.
Loved it.

We went to watch the Grand -finalee at the the german embassy, which had 2 big screens, I was in the middle of the 2, following the game and sketching the crowd, for the first 20 min. Then Argentina got a bit too close. So some people's expression are showing stressful expectation/ joy or dispear, depending who i was looking at and the phase of the game. The first 20 min is in this picture.  So are the remains of my first beer.

That is the street view from War Child's office where I have been working yesterday. On the left is the mighty Congo River. Today I could not find a moment, I was actually talking and holding meetings, which made it a bit tricky to say "sorry folks, you do understand that we take a break now, I have a smoke and a sketch urge". All the best were ever you are in the world.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bob Ross, Picasso and Jim Henson for the road

Could not resist. For the amateurs, its not their best one, but its the most content-appropriate to this blog, could also have put the ninja turtles vs renaissance artists, but then...

Then came Jim Henson and he is right. Artwork by Gavin Aung Than @

Friday, July 11, 2014

Week in sketches

It has started, and I do quite enjoy being back to "skool", really feeling that I have to follow what a digital professer tels you to do, over the internet. It somehow pushes me to complete activities and get back to sketching in a bit more systematic way. Which is good. 
The first week of Sketch book skool was set under the tuition of Danny Gregory, and here under are the consequences of my week on paper. Two lessons for last week: 
- sketch something that is meaningfull for you, focus on the feelings it brings. 
- Sketch your day, journal your life and enjoy. 
 I am still struggling finding time to do so, and the distractions such as the world cup are not helping.  
Today is friday and I now am following the next lesson, its really fun. I think that the assignement for next week is : Draw Outside and Try colour pencils. 
Haha, and my challenge is that next week I am running a workshop, in Kinshasa.  First time I will go there.
So no way I can find "confortable" spots, places I am familiar with or people to come along on a sketchcrawl. Great challenge indeed. Will come back next week.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sketchbook Skool

I am registered to attend the next semester of the Sketchbook Skool and it is quite exciting. It is starting tomorrow, yeah! It must have been at least 15 years since I took art classes, and I never followed anything online. So two good reasons, two new things!
My kids also are very thrilled, and have said that they will do as I do. It can only be good. I am really looking forward to hear from the teachers, the group, and have a bit of pressure in responding to my skechbook calls.

As well, the next worldwide sketchcrawl is happening on the 12th of July. If you want to send them the location where you'll spend the day sketching, do it here:
On my side, I'll be between airports, travelling from Harare to Kinshasa.

So I'll post soon.