Monday, November 21, 2016

Novembre Zim

My father in law is renovating a lodge on lake Kariba, at Tiger bay. He invited us over for the WE, so we did what all responsible parents do, we took the kids out of school and headed straight for the lake.
So we thought. The car was packed with suitcases and food, the kids in, all sharp, ready to go.
It just would not start.
Bummer. Not a cough, just the dry noise of an unhappy engine.
That feeling when you are at the height of expectation and then it just does not come,... a serious anti-climax.
I saw the day before that our fuel gauge was not working, so went to get some diesel just in case, filled the car . It started. It was just very dry, and parked on a slope, on the sand pit the kids use as their fairy tale land, filled with cliffs and caves. No Diesel no go, Diesel go.
Act 2: ready (again), off we went. Only 60 km up the road, 5 police road blocks later, the cars starts to overheat. F***k.
To make the story short, we go back home the same night.
It felt like karma, maybe for taking the kids out. Or the car's way of expressing discontent at a compliment my wife made on another car, the legendary Landie sensitivity. So, only a day late, with a borrowed car, we get to the lake. We spend the next 4 days in the middle of the bush, kids mostly in the pool, fishing in the evening, just chilled.

We did not catch anything. People believe it is because of the very low level of the lake. The bad rainy season combined with the way the dam is managed and electricity produced empties the lake. There is less water coming in than taken out. The entire lake dropped of over 4 meters. Harbors are nearly dry, with boats clogged in small space, and the entire ecosystem of the lake changed. We did not really see any oxygen weeds or others, which are normally plentiful on the edges and are the breeding ground for fish. No weeds, no fish. But stunning landscapes.

Lots of elies, hippos and crocs. Far too many crocodiles indeed.
The WE in Kariba was welcome. We returned to Harare, to learn that the school was offering the possibility for parents to not bring their children to classes, because the city dumpsite was on fire. The smoke packed with heavy metals, arsenic, cyanide and other nasty things was a bit too close and did not seem to stop at the school compound's boundaries.
Hot stinky and dangerous.

Finally rain came. It has been nearly 8 dry months, and a heavy build up for it, with record high temperatures over the last couple of weeks.
Dryness and heat, the grass brittle, the trees in flower, and many, many fires. Smokes turn the sky pink and pastel when the sun goes down, flames provide exquisite views when they set a hill alight in the night, but they burn, clog the air and stretch the nature to its limits in the last months of winter.
With rain, dust settles, the sky clears up and the nature breathes.
Temperature dropped significantly. 2 weeks ago we were sweating over 34, and rains dropped the air to a humble 15 in a flash. That is as radical as an ice bucket challenge, unprepared, with nowhere to escape.

 Back to realities. Headlines packed about corrupt officials, outrageous salaries of civil servants and party cronies, political wars,... Unpleasant.

The economic situation is dire. There is no cash available, banks only allow people to take 50 usd per day, and businesses 500 usd. People queue for hours to get their money out of banks. Old faceless dollars that you need to scrutinize closely to figure out if its a 1, 2 or 5 dollar-note. It is not easy to live in a place where everyone struggles to have cash, where plastic and cell-phone based payments become the norm. Now there is the threat of the introduction of the "bond-notes", a type of monopoly money, backed by nothing, the government wants to introduce on parity with the USD. People just fear that their accounts will be changed overnight, and that they will receive bond notes, spiraling again in hyperinflation and scarcity, as it happened first decade of the millennium. It is very frustrating to see the way this place is managed and led, the level of corruption and embezzlement. Very sad.

And upon return from Kariba, we just heard the choice the USA made for president and government, and felt the world was in a worst place than the day before. Very disappointing, sad and scary. The rise of populists, extremists and fundamentalists are never good news. The fact that they congratulate each others is also concerning.
I guess it's karma for having the Cubs win this year. Against all the laws of the universe,... heavy toll.
We should head back to the lake, away from civilization, networks and information overload, and live on fish.
Oh, no, I forget, we could not catch fish,...  

Friday, October 21, 2016

Back to Dublin

Tricky times for me in Dublin. There are big changes happening at work, and my colleagues and I are reasonably stressed, angry and frustrated. So the days at the office are very different than what I experienced before. I work with incredible people, committed, passionate,... and they feel like they don't really control the situation. Rather unpleasant.

So after work, i much preferred a pub-evening to a TV/ email night in the B&B.
Dublin's pubs are amazing. People talk. People tell their stories, of their family, the incomprehensible political affairs or passionately mumble interesting series of sounds expecting me to understand. I can get if it is Irish or not. Then, if the accent is too strong and the person describes places and people, I smile and sip my beer, then I nod and smile again.
In Ireland I am the simpleton. 

In this pub I witness the win of Whitlock on TV, quite an amazing darter. I would recommend checking him out, registering in his fanclub and supporting him unconditionally. The guy does things with darts, surgically puts them in the right places, at the right time. It almost feels sad for his opponents. 

Walking on the pier in Dun Laoghaire puts ideas and priorities in place. The two first weeks of October where incredible, warm and clear, with only little wind. loved it. 
I must have mentioned it before but I do not like the sketchbook I have at the moment. I still cannot get around the paper. It's drinking too much and does not dry quick enough, botching. Drinking too much, and I cannot work my ink with water as much as i want. doesn't dry quick enough and the paper remains moist. impossible to work on wet, nor dry. 
I could have guesses, it is, after all a pencil sketchbook, but still. I like to complain: I got the book to try other medias, and just don't do it.

We went walking in Glendalough, a couple of hours walk, an hour outside of Dublin, with spectacular sceneries. The walk was lovely, through an oak forest, then pine trees then the grass and blueberry bushes, tiny purple flowers and unconcerned deers. The mountain (aka hills) went from bright orange to dark green, resting on the two lakes.

Then, in the distance are the ruins of an ancient monastic-town, which used to be an intellectual hub back in the days. As much as intellectual and 12th century Europe can relate. One feat of the place is a long, pencil shaped tower, with a door that is high above ground. Some say the tower was designed to protect the population and warn of invaders, the raids of the vikings were not pleasant or accommodating towards monks.
When I saw the tower, I knew better. I had seen it before. I have watched Rapunzel, and can recognize the tower she was locked in. All my kids have confirmed about it too. I was very glad to have made it to my first real-life fairy tale princess castle. Missed her by a couple of centuries, happens.


actually these pictures were taken in London, in the pub down the road of my very good mates Rob and Ange. Nothing to do with Ireland. the beer looks like a Guinness, but it is not. It's actually a Pressed Rat and Warthog. Great name for a beer when meeting Zimbos in the UK.
the picture looks good here.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

London in ales

September, October,I just got to spend a couple of days in London and in Ireland for work. It has been over a decade since I last was in London. A very faithful city, where changes are measured by the ticketing system of the tube, and the clothes people wear. Very different from the drastic transformation of neighborhoods, roads and communities we can see in Nairobi, Addis or Kolkata. London peacefully breathe when others blow fire!
It was very pleasant to get there, a comfortable feeling to be back where I left.I guess that is Europe for me, comfortably numb, predictable and faithful. Really pleasant.

I also got quite a great news: the Urban Sketcher crew asked me to be one of their correspondent! I am really chaffed, but realized that I had kind of failed to open my black books since early June. I am not a consistent blogger, which is expected. So: room for improvement, and an extra motivation boost on my side. 
I often have grand plans. I can see really clearly things to do and how to do them in my head, but I struggle to make them real. If I give birth to one project for every 100, that is good. Just for Octobre I was planning to go on the Inktobre challenge, learn how to use a hashtag, try to update my blog, to sketch roads and places in London and Dublin, to do some cartoons illustrating the holidays, to paint my daughter’s bedroom (bucket list for over a year), to make a hundred swords (and shields) for my son to sell, to start a comic book,… I guess there are too many things, and too few hours/ days. And I need to accommodate a full time job I love, be present for my family and socializing, discovering new things, walking, breathing.
That would bring me to the pub.
It’s outside of working hours, there is food, socials, pints of beer and the comfort of a place where to sit, talk and sketch. It is the way I cheat, trying to pack as many things as possible in one moment.    

 Pubs in Paddington, pints of ales and English bitters, versatile pub-food and people speaking dozen of languages appreciating the same piece of English heritage, a pub-quizz with mates, ageless carpets and the constant ballet between the gents and the door, for a quick fag and chat.  

 Funny how a drawing tells me stories. This sketch was done after I prayed with a pirate and his wife, on a boat rolling with rum and wine! A couple of hours spend on board of a boat on the canal, invited by a couple to discuss life on the water and sharing stories.


Inputs from my children

I often sketch when I travel, probably because I find more time. When I am home, I let the kids tell the stories in "daddy's books". 
It's much better, and it turns my stories into ours. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Turkey - Antakya

Antakya is on the border with Syria. It use to be called Antioch, the city is as old as history, and you can feel the wisdom of the time in its streets. To live in such closeness with the past makes people somehow more grounded. History teaches changes and shows that with the consideration of time, surviving depends on cooperation, care and support between people. Strength, violence and force are short lived. It is no wonder why fundamentalists and autocrats of all kinds spend so much energy to re-write history, to destroy sites and foundations. Those are signs of their failure.
In the old part of the city, many doors are adorned with blessings and the symbols of the religions of the book, the cross, the star, the crescent. 
My Syrian colleagues told me the stories of their country and of the peace that was existing between the faith, tales of the past and forgotten great men like the Poet Al Ma'arri, of holy sites that are shared between communities, stories of beauty. I found it important, given that now Syria and the region is mostly presented through the lenses of violence, fundamentalism and intolerance. It just puts things in perspective. How small bands of men can do so much harm, how they are so far away from the deep desire of peace and compassion the vast majority of us seek. Fundamentalism and bigotry don't stand the test of time, but they destroy so much. Totally uncool.    


On the other side of the mountain, less than 50 km from Antakya, in Syria, people's lives are destroyed. My colleagues told me their stories, the ones of their families, their friends or strangers. They taught me hope, bad things are always short lived. Inch Allah.
In Antakya-city one cannot really feel the conflict on the other side ofthe mountain. A great part of the population is Syrian, the city is on the border, but life continues as if nothing is happening. People meet, shop, play, smoke, go on with their lives. There are, for sure, tensions, but they don't sweat to the eye of the outsider. Stillness.
And bombs exploded in Ankara, a kind reminder that Turkey as well is involved in the conflict. Every months there are new fronts, and they are feeding more violence, more radicalism, more intolerance. Lybia, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, France, Burkina Faso, Belgium, Syria, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia, USA, Somalia, Kenya, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, the UK,... when naming countries starts getting in the 3 digits. Violenceis widespread, but always you see solidarity, compassion, empathy and greatness.

And the war will stop. I have been invited to share food and good company by friends in the other side of the border. In time of peace.  

Also, in the outskirt of Antakya, carved in the stone of the mountain is one of the oldest christian church. St Peter's Church. It is very impressive to feel 2000 years of worship in the cave. I got to be there whilst muezzins were calling for the prayer, and it all made sense. Another bonus one gets from visiting the church is that you get an indulgence (granted by the pope to all who reach the church). An indulgence being a grant (the pope can give) of remission of the temporal punishment in purgatory still due for sins after absolution.
So I basically am a better man.

People in airports. Killing time in the plane, in airports. Sketching strangers.

Saturday, April 9, 2016


I cannot play any instruments and I cannot sing. I have an amazing voice, the America Got Talent winning type of voice, mind you, but I just cannot remember any words of any songs. This includes the hits happy birthday or Frere Jacques... So, being musically handicapped, I like when people pick up their fiddle, their pipes and start singing, downing beers and sharing music. In Dun laoghaire, I especially like the Mc Loughlin. I feel home there. Pat the bartender recognizes me, musicians are very friendly and the Guinness never dries up.

One of the musician, Rosie had a watercolour set, so I borrowed it to sketch her mates. Really nice.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Sierra Leone... Life after Ebola

Back to Sierra Leone early January!
What a change, how lively it is, the country is back swagging, people go out, beaches and bars are full, what a change from last year, the contrast is enormous, highlighting both the resilience of the people from Salone and the admirable way they changed their habits and life, to respond to the worst Ebola outbreak. 
I have so much respect for them, now we are drinking, we are dancing and playing ball on the beach, that's the way we roll! 
People are back in the streets, gazillions of them, and I could spend some time in the markets and slums of Freetown. Informal settlements during the week and touristy spots on the WE.

One of the pleasure of spending time in slums is that they are full of contrasts. The first impressions are mostly filled with the litter, the smells of fire, sewage, food, noise and durtiness. Then you start paying attention to life, to the kids, the multiple businesses, the youths putting up a party spot, the others playing ball, and you come to the realization that the metal city is breathing and moving. Then beauty comes out. Beauty is shy. It comes in the way rooms are taken care of, the paintings on the walls, the people you meet or, in this specific case, in the work of craftsmen. Facing the sea is the shipyard, and a boat was being finished. I don't know what resonated so much in me. Was it the colours, the size or the story behind the boat? The ship builder told me that it was commissionned to navigate between Conakry and Freetown, transporting up to 25 people, with their merchandises. It was due to be lauched early february. It should be on the ocean now. The boats tell stories of the fishermen, of mobility and the relations people build between regions. The boats and the zinc houses are full of dreams, energy and aspirations. Walking in dirt with heads full of dreams. 

Thanks guys for taking me out to the Whatsapp -and filling a USB with local tunes. A cool venue to dance on nigerian, ghanean, Salone beats, azondo, dancehall, ndombolo and others! So nice to go out! So much more simple than in zim. You don't feel like an intruder, you're a guest and it feels good.

Quincy (previousely known as Paddy's) is another night spot, a bar, dancefloor and pool tables on the beach. I went there because I couldn't not go out. It's Freetown and Ebola is over. You have to dance for life. I was thinking I'ld find people in that popular venue but no-one I knew was there. There was a police-force function, with distribution of certificates and prizes, then the music kicked in.
When I'm alone I sketch. As a man alone in a bar, I draw attention, and the solitude is quickly broken by friendly ladies of the night. I find that drawing enables to switch the conversation, to discuss about something else than love, businness and attraction. We then get to chat about what I am doing, I get to do their portrait and chat about our lives, the children, the jobs, dreams of success and a good life. I like to hear stories of people. I think that in a sense that is what I do. Last year a young girl in india asked me what I was doing. I was visiting her school, in a brick kiln. the workplace of her family. It is difficult for me to explain my job to children, so I said that I am hearing stories from people all over the world and I can share them. In a way I am a storyteller. I am collecting hundreds of stories,  snippets of life from people who have/ are facing hardship and from those who live with empathy and compassion. I collect stories of violence and love, poverty and dreams, neglect and care.
And I see with so much clarity the similarity in the human experience, regardless of colour, gender, religion, group of belonging, environment... humans are designed to love, to help each others, to cooperate and to show compassion. Whatever the situation, be there war, natural disaster, violence... there will always be people who will care and help, regardless of the danger, regardless of themselves.
I met last week a beautiful women, she is working for the catholic church in a war zone, helping to provide health facilities to over half a million people. Under the bombs. On one side you have people trying hard to destroy, on the other you have others that keep on building and caring regardless. They win. She told me that she spoke to the bishop about the extreme situation she is working in, and yet that feeling of being alive, happy and so looking forward to go back in the field. Under the bombs, living surrounded by violence. The bishop said that it was like being in Love. Love make people do crazy things, forgetting themselves and yet feeling in complete harmony and peace.

My daughter can share images from her head, she can put thoughts in other people's heads and dreams. She is 5, she is right, she shares good thoughts. I should do that more often.Kids know things adults have forgotten.