Friday, December 28, 2012

The Day After Christmas

            The day started off with Carolina, my younger cousin, waking me up at 6:30 to play bonecas (dolls). I had spent the night at my uncle’s house the night before.  By 9:30 I was out the door and went home to a very uneventful afternoon.

Around 4 o’clock the day takes a turn.

             Since my step-dad has been back, he has gotten many invitations to be involved in different projects. Today we went to see two men who want him to be part of their fishing venture. Bissau is known for its abundance of fish(I can attest to that because I’ve eaten fish every single day since I’ve gotten here). They want him to become a partner in their project that would fish 3 tons every 3 days and sell their fish in the local market and eventually expand into selling in Senegal. My step-dad is very cautious about these project invitations, but so far he is looking pretty interested in this one.
My uncle showing us the edge of the property
            The meeting was cut short because my uncle showed up to take us to the ranch. The ranch is all my family has been talking about for the past couple years. It is 600 hectares of land that was passed down to my step-dad when his older brother passed away. We drove 20 minutes or so out of Bissau to Safim where we drove off the main road onto a small dirt road. After about 3 minutes on the road my uncle pointed to a tree and said, "the property starts here.” We continued to drive for  another 10 minutes until we reached the house.
            It was great to finally see what all the talk is about.  The ranch is huge and beautiful! We got to my step-dad’s house on the property and immediately people came up to greet us. There are lots of people living on the property. Marta Alice and her brothers, all who were raised by Avo Alice, were born on the ranch. From the little that I saw, there are rice fields, cashew trees, 50 hectares of wetlands, and lots of palm trees.  We didn’t stay long because it was getting dark, but we made plans to return soon after the new year.
My step-dad's house on his property
            As soon as I got home Isla, my neighbor and her boy friend, Waldir, come by and say “No Bai,” or “lets go.” Having no clue where we are going, but also just being excited to get out of the house, I got ready and we hopped on a toca-toca. We were headed to Barrio Ajuda, one of the neighborhoods in Bissau, where Waldir’s mom lives.
            Waldir’s mom was one of 5 of his dad's wives. He has a total of 16 brothers and sisters, 5 of which are full siblings.  I met a couple of his siblings including his twin brother. His mom brought out a plate of fish and rice, and as a courtesy since they were offering me food, I ate it. Before I came to Bissau my Aunt Elena advised me to never eat at someone’s house I didn’t know. However, from my experience so far, refusing food is like giving someone the finger. You just don't do it. 
         His mom brought out another plate. At this point I wasn't really not hungry, but I could not refuse without at least taking a bite. The meat looked like Goat, so I was excited! But after a closer look I realized it wasn't and when I asked what it was Waldir picked up a foot and said, “Its monkey!”
            Partly intrigued and surprised I picked up some meat and gave it a taste. Monkey meat tastes like how a monkey smells. Or the smell of a monkey is muscle deep? Anyways, after a bite I thought, “Cool, I did it and now I’m done.” Wrong! They kept having me eat more! No one was really eating, it was almost as if they expected me to eat it all. They kept saying “Come, come mais,” or  “eat, eat more”. When I tried to return the pressure to eat it, I received the, “ we eat this all the time so we are tired of it” response. There was no way I was going to eat any more. But Waldir’s mom was sitting there watching the back and forth of them telling me to eat and me trying to come up with reasons why I didn’t want anymore with out saying I didn’t like it.  I felt bad for not eating, but I just couldn’t do it! Then Waldir offers me the monkey foot. Mind you, I don’t even eat chicken wings, so a monkey’s foot is way past my comfort level.  At this point I had to switch to English and tell Waldir privately that I wasn’t going to eat it, but that I would eat another piece instead.  As I ate I received 101 comments on the way I was eating, “ Why are you picking at it, just bite it, put some more sauce on it, don’t look at it, just eat it, its good, why are you taking so long, use your teeth.”
            3 small pieces of meat later I was ready to get the heck out of there. I finally mustered up the courage to just say I was full, so Waldir and Isla finished what was left and we started to head home.
            Isla, Waldir, his twin brother and I were walking back to catch a taxi home when we passed by a discotech (club). They were say that it's a pretty cool spot and that one day we will go check it out. There were a bunch of people crowded in the street outside the club so we started walking over to the side of the road when we heared a loud "bang!".  I know a gunshot when I hear one, so I immediately started moving away from any line of fire, simultaneously amused that I was the only one doing so.  I turned around to see someone running with a crowd of people following. The guy running in front turned around and shoot the guy running directly behind him. I saw the spark coming off the tip of the gun and then saw the shooter take off running, still being followed by the crowd of people who were following him.  At this point I had made my way into one of the small vendor booths on the side of the road. Everyone else was just standing on the side of the road watching. “Does this happen that often that no one runs away??” I asked. Shortly after, another crowd came walking by from the opposite direction. 15 or so people were following the person who got shot, blood was coming down his shirt and dripping onto the street.
            At this point I was in shock at what just happened. Waldir and his brother motioned for us to move and so I, with no hesitation, put a little pep in my step and we made our way to the main road to catch a cab.  Once in the cab Isla and Waldir start telling the cab driver and the other passenger what happened. Their creole was too fast, but from what I gathered they were arguing about whether or not the guy who got shot will live and where on his body he got shot. They started to say that sometimes it’s the young ones who are the most dangerous. They are trigger happy and don’t understand the consequences of their actions.  After a while I stopped listening and just sat thinking about what just happened.
            I walked in the house just to let my step-dad know I was home, but was bed time. Once I got t home they could lock the gate in front of the house, so I walked Isla and Waldir out.  With the words unspoken written all over their face, they said goodnight and I went back inside.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Ogenia gutting chickens
     It's 10 o’clock on Chrismas eve and we are anxiously waiting for midnight. Everyone can’t wait to dig in to the food we’ve been preparing all day.  But Christmas preparations started long before today. Almost a month ago Avo Alice purchased the Balcaho. 3 days ago she began working on the desserts, and 2 days ago they slaughtered the pig in the back yard. Avo Alice goes all out when it comes to cooking. Her ‘go big or go home’ mentality could be attributed to the fact that she was the Presidents chef. And even all this is short of the usual. From my understanding, things died down a bit when her husband passed away 5 years ago.
            The Christmas tradition here is very different from back in the states. At 9pm everyone heads to church for a service. After mass they head home and at midnight every one enjoys their Christmas feast.
             On Christmas day, the tradition for my family is to go to my uncle’s house. Its also his birthday, so we had lunch at his house and spent the afternoon and evening hanging out and talking until it was time to pull out the birthday cake. I had balchalau again, but this time it was made a little differently with milk or some kind of daily product. The pig that was slaughter a couple days ago was in attendance on the table as well.
Avo Alice catching the pigs blood to make blood sausage
            This will have been the 2nd pig I’ve seen slaughtered in a month. But this one was way more intense. Pigs are big! And so a pigs life is a big life to take. At Islas house 7 chickens were slaughtered for their Christmas meal. Killing them was done so casually, I was the only one cringing when it came down to the final moments before the kill.
            A big part of Christmas here your look and attire. While people’s home’s often reflect the poverty in the country, the wardrobe of the people inside the home does not, and that is especially true on Christmas. The day before Christmas a bunch of the neighbors were doing each others hair in preparation for the holiday’s. I jumped in the mix and helped my neighbor Isla braid another neighbors hair in singles. A bunch of the other neighbors and people who hang out on our street came by to watch, in fascination, the American girl braid hair. I had mom’s and aunt’s coming by and checking my braids to see if I was really doing it right.  Fortunately I got the nod of approval, so hopefully that will at least change some of their opinion that American’s can’t do anything. No one has said that explicitly, but it’s just the sense I get from folks when they ask me questions about America.  
            Anyways, with everyone’s hair, make up (for women), and clothing looking impeccable, Christmas came and went successfully and happily.

Monday, December 24, 2012


The Bijago Archipelago is about 30 miles off the coast of Guinea Bissau.  The Archipelago is made up of 88 islands, 50 of them are inhabited. The Capital of the Islands is Bubaque, which is the more touristic island.  The others are less so. My step-dad was born on Orango, which is known for its beautiful beaches. My uncle works for a non-profit called Tiniguena which works on three of the islands ( Formosa, something, and something) which have made an alliance called UROK. I went to Formosa for a week with my Uncle and his family as he closed up work on the island for the year.
           Formosa is a big island.  It is 20 miles long and completely covered in forest and savanna. Surprisingly there are few beaches on the island since the change in tides is so drastic.  There are no cars, so most people get around by foot, bike or motorcycle. From the ports there is a small dirt road that goes from one end of the island to the other.  Small villages or tabankas can be found along the main road. Smaller roads leading off the main road will lead you to other tabankas deeper in the forest. Village sizes range from 5 to 400 people, the total population of the island being 1,400 or so folks.
This is the house I stayed in for the week
            I was lucky if I could find anyone who spoke Portuguese. Most people speak Creole and the native Bijigo language.  While it surely was a struggle to communicate, since I’ve been back I’ve noticed a great improvement in my creole.  On the island I would go for bike rides along the roads and run into kids and ask them questions with the words I knew. My favorite question was “ Bu tene cabras?” or “ Do you have goats?”. As silly as that question might sound, it was a very legitimate question! There were goats everywhere! You could find most domesticated animals like dogs, cows and chickens everywhere you turned. I was surprised that no one was eating them since they were in such abundance. The reality is that there is an abundance because no one is eating them! Most get shipped and sold in Bissau or are kept for eggs, milk, etc. What people are eating is fish. That makes sense because it is an island, but once you've had the fish you quickly learn beef and chicken are no comparison. The fish is so amazing! You become pescetarian without even realizing it!
Contraption used to scale palm trees
This woman is making mats to be sold in Bissau
My uncle works on the island with a team of folks, but his main partner on the island is a woman named Sabado. Her 24-year-old son, Naidi, also works for the non-profit. I told Naidi I was from California and he told me his Dad and brother live in California as well. He wasn’t sure what city he was living in, so we left it at that.  When I got back to the main land my step-dad explained that I knew both his dad and brother and saw them both in Fresno this past October.  Little coincidences like this continue to happen here in Bissau. It’s such a small world! Anyways, when Naidi had time to spare he took my cousin and I around by bike to explore some of the nearby tabankas. I was on a honey search because I heard one of the nearby tabankas had pure honey from the forest. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any, but I did see women making mats, traditional skirts, and instruments used for climbing palm trees.  Everything being made was both to use on the Island and to sell in Bissau.  

My cousin Joao's birthday celebration
           One tabanka in particular, that was a 20 minute motorcycle ride away, is where I was able to try fresh palm juice. By fresh palm juice I mean a man climbed to the top of a palm tree and grabbed a plastic bottle that was filled with palm juice. What they do is tie a plastic water bottle below the palm where they have made and incision. They create a filter using the palm leaves and let the juice from the palm drip through the filter into the plastic bottle. Letting the 2 liter water bottle sit for half a day can fill the entire thing.  I was told that the longer you let it sit,  the stronger the palm flavor.  I have yet to try the wine, but to get to that point you just need to let a bottle of palm juice ferment to the point where you like it. The flavor of the juice was strange at first, especially to my foreign palate. But after a couple sips the combination of the sweetness and palm flavor made for an irresistibly refreshing treat.
      The non-profit Tiniguena is a pillar of sorts. I say this because Bissau is in the middle of a Military coup, so a lot of activist and other organizations ( the UN being one of them) are keeping a low profile due to the nature of their work and its political implications. My uncles work is funded by a Swiss foundation, so financially they are able to keep their work going despite the local politics. Since their work is on the islands they aren't in any direct or immediate danger. Therefore, they can continue working remotely while having impacts on the islands and the city of Bissau. Unfortunately I didn’t see too much of their work in action. It’s the end of the year so they were performing closing activities and closing things up for the Holidays.  My uncle and the crew will be back on the Island near the end of January. The invitation to go back with them was open, so hopefully I’ll have more to share about them soon!

Mortar and pestle used to separating rice grains from the plant

Friday, December 14, 2012

Cashew Factory Part 2

             Boy  I wish I had grown up speaking Creole.  So many important conversations are being had, I kind of know what is being said, and I can’t contribute!
             Today was another day at the Cashew factory.
             My step-dad spent the morning talking to workers and supervisors. After lots of conversation a meeting was held with select workers to go over some suggestions to improve working conditions and efficiency of the factory. These suggestions include getting rid of the lunch and transportation that the company provides for their workers and using that money instead to pay higher wages. The women are working next to the cashew roaster, which is fueled by a fire and they are in direct line of the smoke. Another suggestion was to rearrange some things to move them away from the smoke.  From what I could understand, there were some positive, and in my opinion, questionable suggestions that were made. What was most interesting, however, was watching the gender dynamics in the discussion and decision making process.
            A woman owns the entire operation. She has two men working for her as managers and then there are the workers.  During the meeting it almost came down to men vs. women workers. The women, while being offered a higher salary, were also going to have to take on bigger burden. There was no discussion about the high rates men the men are getting paid. A big part of the ability of the women to do their job is depended on the quality and quantity of cashews that the men process. While the women continually brought up this issue, it did not get addressed. The issues that was addressed was that the women were working too slow, completely ignoring the fact that the women were providing a reason to why they were working so slow.
            Anyways, by the end of the discussion one thing became clear: business is business and social rights are for activists.  As soon as you care about the well being of the workers you immediately put your business in an unprofitable position. At least that’s how it seems for this business. How could you switch the business model so that insuring the needs of your workers are being met is good for business and not the opposite?
            I mention all of this because of what we learned about the company today.  The men are making 1,000-5,000 FC a day, while the women are making 200-600 FC a day. To put this in US dollars, 1,000 FC equals 2 dollars (I’ll let you do the rest of the math). One type of work is done exclusively by men and I would absolutely say is more dangerous. The machine they use could easily chop off a finger if you weren't paying attention and I've already mentioned the cashew shells being toxic. While the women’s work doesn't include these physical dangers, it requires more attention and finesse.  Because it requires more attention, it takes them longer to do the job, and because it takes them longer, they earn less on top of already being paid less then the men.
            What drives me crazy about this is that there is academia to supports the fact that if you give money to the male head of a household, he will give some to the family and spend the rest on himself, or even keep it all to himself. If the woman receives the income, the money more often then anything else will go to supporting the family. This is by no means the case in every situation, but this is the trend. It was hard to see a 17-year-old boy making 3 time more money then his female counterpart, twice his age, who surely has a family.  This is just one example of a small company that’s actually owned by a woman. I can only image what other pay rates are at other places.
            This has been such an insight to the reality of the food-processing world. This is just cashews in one country. What does food-processing look like in other developing countries, with other food products? It made me think a lot about the chocolate industry in the Ivory Coast (If you don’t know, please look into it!). We really need to learn where our food products are coming from. We can never know whose lives are being affected by what we buy, and how, unless we put in a little effort to learn about it.
            After we spent some time at the factory, Francesca came by and took us to another nearby factory. This other factory is about 10 times bigger and it employs 200+ people.  Where Francesca’s factory has 8 machines this factory has 40. This factory has some direct ties with a Turkish company. It is mechanized, fueled by burning cashew shells, and has electric driers. In this factory you start with the raw shelled nut and you end with a polished, thoroughly inspected, and professionally packaged 5kilo bag of nuts that are ready for export.  It was impressive to say the least. 
            Francisca eventually wants to get her operation on as large a scale as this place. The problem is that she is stuck in a contract with a cashew supplier that only gives her 50,000fc more per bag of cashews once they’ve been processed. Essentially she is making a 100 dollar profit for every 20 kilo of cashews. That is neither profitable nor sustainable in business terms.  As of right now that is the biggest obstacle for generating any profit.
            Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the factory. I have to remind myself not to leave the house without my camera! Tomorrow I’m off to the islands for a week!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cashew Factory

When we got back from Gabu we met with Richard and Matt at Francesca’s house.  Richard and Matt are a story in-and-of themselves, but to be brief, Richard is a chemist who has his own chemical testing lab. Armindo, my step-dad’s best friend who is also from Bissau but lives in California, has been working for Richard for 20+ years. Last year Richard went with both Armindo and my family to visit Bissau for 3 weeks. Richard was really moved by his experience and saw there is dire need for access to clean drinking water. He came back for a week to start a water filtration project using clay pot filters.
 Francesca, who is Armindo’s cousin, lives in Bissau and is very interested in Richards water project. I’m not exactly sure what her role in government is, but over her career she has moved from one upper level government position to another. Her Ex-husband was the Ambassador for Guinea-Bissau in countries like Cuba and Portugal. Anyways,  she wanted a chance to chat with Richard before he returned to the states, so she invited everyone over for lunch.
Opened and roasted cashew shells with cashew
Her home is very nice and we had some amazing food.  My step-dad acted as a translator for Richard and Francesca. In the conversation we found out Francesca has a cashew processing company. While my step dad didn’t mention that we are here to try to sell the cashews on his property, some how, someway he got her interested in having him help her turn her business around. You can tell her wealth from the fact that she doesn’t even know how much money she brings in annual with her company! But it isn’t doing as well as it could and given that Bissau is covered in cashew trees, her business has lots of potential
Two days later we arrived at Francesca’s factory.
Cashew nut machine
            I’ve always been interested in understanding where we get our food from, and today really emphasized the importance of that understanding . The factory was small, an old house completely cleared out.  There were men outside working the cashew nut machines, other men working construction, and women inside cleaning up the nuts.  It was loud because the generator was running, but there were no lights. The inside was dark and smokey from the fire used to roast the Cashews. There was a cook outside making lunch (fun fact: most jobs provide lunch and transportation in addition to what they pay their workers).
Before I get into any more detail, there are a couple things you have to understand about cashews. First thing is that they also come in a shell. Not like a peanut shell where you can crack it with your hands, but like a walnut shell where you need some tool to help you open it. But before you can even crack it, the shell has to be hardened. To do this the shell is usually roasted. Presto, you’ve got your harden shell and now all you need to do is crack it to get the cashew nut right? Unfortunately it’s not that simple. The oil from the cashew shell is actually toxic to humans. And since by hand (with a tool or machine) is the only way to de-shell the  nuts, the most common solution to the problem has been to provide the workers with oil for their hands to prevent direct contact to the nuts. Even with the oil, most workers (who work directly with the shells) hands looked like they had been bleached at the fingers. Despite its toxicity, cashew nut oil is very valuable and is the best known natural wood preservative. Potential market? I think so.
Women sorting and touching up the cashews
Once you have removed the nut from the shell, the nut must be roasted again to cook the nut. Then there is a flaky layer that pops up that must be peeled off before you get to the nut. To clean it up you must finesse your way to the nut with a knife and also remove any burn marks. The last step is to sort out any nuts that are not “commercial”, meaning they are deformed, blemished, or not the right size in relation to cashews you find in the stores. 
The process is exhausting and not at all what I had imagined. It got me thinking. If this is the process for a cashew, something I eat pretty regularly with raisins or in trail-mix, then literally every nut (or even other food products) has a multi-step factory process similar (or not) to this. Then scale that to how many cities, states, and countries are involved in food processing and have food processing factories. That's alot! The US has unions that fight for workers rights. But when you see that the nut or product is imported from another country, you can never be sure what the factory atmosphere is in terms of cleanliness, worker rights, or the source of the product. Unions don't exist here.
The final stage of screening and processing the cashews.
            Back to the factory, My step-dad went around talking to all the workers  to get a sense of how they like their job and what they would want to see improved. Since I couldn’t participate due to the language barrier, I walked around with the logistics coordinator. He showed me around the place and explained the process to me in Portuguese.  By then end we reconvened with Francesca and my step-dad gave her some feed back. He is very weary of the workers because he thinks they are just doing the minimum they need to do. He has repeatedly told me Guineans don’t like to work, they just want to get paid. At this factory they get paid by the day, not the hour. He suspect’s people are showing up when they please and getting paid for a full day of work. We are getting up early tomorrow to see what time people show up.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Trip to Gabu

Dominges Ramos is a very famous man here in Bissau, although I’m still not 100% clear on why that is. He is my Step dad’s older brother and his daughter is Ramos’ niece. A couple days ago her husband passed away and had a funeral ceremony at her home in Gabu.  We drove the 4 hours out to Gabu to attend the ceremony.

We were supposed to leave the house at 9am. Ramos predicted we wouldn't leave till much later and true to Guinean form we left the house at almost 1. The drive was long, but I slept most of the way there nestled in between my dad’s heavier set niece and 6 foot 4 nephew.

We arrived in Gabu around 5 and found some chairs to occupy in the back. I can never tell if people can speak Portuguese or not. Since I don't speak creole, Portuguese is my main form of communication. In Gabu you have some people who don’t even speak Creole, only Fula. I spoke with Ramos’ nephew, who, like my step-dad, also grew up in Portugal. He is now living in Bissau and has an export business for rice and other staples from Europe to Bissau.

There were lots of women cooking and that’s pretty much what happened the whole night. I watched as they slaughtered a pig, butchered it, then seasoned and cooked it.  I can’t say I’ve ever seen the process from a whole live animal to a meal on a plate in one sitting. A women I had met days before named Maria brought some fish from Bissau to cook. I helped her out, and by ‘help’ I mean held her flash light while she gutted and cooked the fish. 

The night was incredible. The sky was glittering with stars and everyone was out side cooking and talking. Some folks brought out some drinks and Ramos' neice made a rum infused drink with herbs from the yard and some lime. They also had this crazy coconut infused, sweetened condensed milk drink that is as thick as condensed milk. It was suuuuuuuper strong, but also really sweet to match.

I slept in a bed with 3 or four other people. I'm not exactly sure about the number because people just kept coming and going from the bed. The vultures crash landing on the tin roof woke me up. It was only 7am and the bed was already empty. I got up and joined one of the guys who was sent to buy some tooth brushes at the market. Along the way he gave me a tour of part of Gabu. It’s a small town with lots of houses and huts. The biggest market in Bissau is in Gabu, so we went to check out what all the talk is about.  

After breakfast we headed back to Bissau. We stopped at another market along the way and Ramos’ niece bought milk that looked like runny cottage cheese. Apparently there are things, like milk, that you can only get in Gabu. You can get milk in Bissau but it is boxed and imported from Europe. I’m talking about fresh milk that only lasts a day or two. 

Gabu is the home of many cows and thus, cow herders. My dad told me about how growing up in Bissau he was a cow herder. In my mind I created an image of what that might look like. On the drive home we had to pull over 3 separate times to let heards of 40+ cows run by. My mental image was far from what I experienced.

We also got attacked by women selling food on the road.  I was sitting in the middle and I had bags of potatoes and oranges in my face from everyone trying to make a sale. Competition is fierce! Ramos’s niece grabbed one bag and paid.  We said we were done, but we had to start driving away before anyone would take their arms out of the car. 

To give that some context, on the way to and from Gabu there are stops where police had us get out and show our passports  and identification and ask where we were going. At these stops lots of people congregate because it’s a chance to sell food to hungry travelers. You’ll find bananas, oranges, peanuts, drinks, potatoes, and other tubers. I even saw someone butchering a cow at one of the stops.  But stopping and showing our passport was kind of intimidating.  Sitting in a row on the side of the road are men and women dressed in military uniform carrying guns (not all of them). It felt so informal and simultaneously unpredictable, like anything (good or bad) could have happened.  But apparently they are on high alert since the coup in April. They have cracked down on who is and can traveling with in the county.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Africa e Africa

I was sitting in the living room reading a book I found in Portuguese by Jorge Armado, a great Brazilian author, when in walks a middle aged man I found out to be a Cuban Medical Doctor at a nearby clinic.

Alice introduced me and he immediately began to speak frivolously about Bissau. It all happened too fast for me to get anything from it. But at the end he slowed down and said, "Africa e Africa." Then he looked at Alice and together they looked at me and said, "Africa e Africa!"

Whoa, what does that even mean?

My internet access here is limited, but in a recent web session I found this article. Guinea Bissau: Fear Amid Human Rights Abuses

Almost exactly a month before we arrived at the airport it was reported that "soldiers stormed barracks near Bissau's main airport, targeting military figures and leaving six people dead." Surprisingly, the casualties are not what makes this article disturbing, but rater that a reporter mentions,  "the last time I saw this level of fear among activists and commentators was in the build-up to the civil war in the late 1990s."

I read the article in disbelief! None of that could be going on, everyone here seems to just doing there thing. And I hadn't heard a word about any of this until I looked it up just now!

I talked to my mom about it for a bit. When violence, political corruption, and military coups are part of the norm, things like what happened in the article is probably like hearing there was a death in Richmond or Oakland. Unfortunately, it just becomes the norm.

It's hard to really understand on an outsider surface level what is understood on an imbedded social and cultural level.  Can an outsider ever really understand? I feel like i'm walking around having no idea whats really going on. I guess its the traveler's blessing and curse.

But it did give me some insight: Maybe that's why no one will let me go anywhere by myself and why my step-dad insists I be home before it gets to dark.  The fear is real, but it's so contradictory to what I have been experiencing because everyone is so nice!

They may not talk about the immediate local politics, but Africa is Africa. I take that to mean uncertainty is guaranteed. Lets see if that holds true.