2000 years, two religions

January 5, 2019

The recent discovery of a new temple complex nearby (dedicated to the “Flayed” Aztec god—you wore the skins of the sacrificed humans) is a reminder of the rich Meso-American cultures waiting to be discovered, unearthed, and understood.

What so far has been unearthed is spectacular, as we discovered at Teotehuacan, about 30 miles from Mexico City.  A flourishing city of some 200,000 people, what distinguished it were two pyramids, one dedicated to the Sun, the other to the moon—separated and joined by the Avenue of the Dead.  Some of the  buildings still have the rich murals and sculptures we had seen in the National Archeological Museum.

Teotehuacan, built originally about 2000 years ago is apparently similar to some of the other sites—such as Chichen Itza, Palenque, and Monte Alban.  The scale and scope are impressive.  The pyramids of the Sun is the 3rd largest in the world—built as so much of Meso=America without metal tools or wheels). Temples once stood at the top, and like its distant cousin, the much smaller mounds at Cahokia (without stone!), left only artefacts with which to construct the use in the past.  The site was occupied for over a thousand years, and the Aztecs apparently rediscovered and reused it. 

The main avenue (Avenue of the Dead; there’s a real preoccupation with death here—I saw an altar of skulls in the history museum) was once five kilometers long.  What’s been excavated is 2 kilometers, symmetrically balanced with temple-platforms on each side. 

There are obviously other mounds nearby, awaiting rescue from the scrub and cactus landscaping.  A nearby volcano reminds one that perhaps a reason for the abandonment of Tenochtehuan is a volcanic explosion.  The volcano also explains the obsidian, and the use of volcanic stone in the building.

The other “religious shrine” we visited was the churches built to celebrate the miraculous appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe in 1531.  The Spanish (Franciscans were prominent here) had had trouble converting the Meso-Americans.  One compromise, our guide suggested, was to use a cross without Jesus outside the churches.  The padres could hardly condemn human sacrifices if Christ appeared on a Cross. The other miracle was the appearance of the Virgin, in the body of a Meso-American, promising to protect Mexico if they were to convert.  On the site of the vision, there is a church built around 1750 (interestingly, it had to be restabilized after a recent earthquake, while a companion is leaning to the left from the quake), and a much more modern building erected in 1976, where the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe is housed today.  In the churches we have seen since, there is a prominent place given to the Virgin of Guadalupe—and Mexico is at least 85% Catholic today.

2000 years, at least two religious messages near Mexico City.

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Breathless in Mexico City—Literally and Figuratively

January 2, 2019

I’m breathless in Mexico City, and that’s only partly because I’m at 7200 feet, 19 degrees north of the equator, and about 1600 miles from Bloomington.

My physical state is partly due to what we’ve seen and done the last day and a half. Carolyn has had a long fascination with pre-Columbian art, and our library has a nice sprinkling of coffee table books accumulated over the years from exhibits at the Art Institute, but they pale before what we saw today at the National Archeological Museum of Mexico, and the remnants of the pre-Conquest ruins in Mexico City.

David Hoyt thought the museum was equivalent to the Louvre of the Western Hemisphere (he’s a Francophile), but that’s not quite accurate.  The Louvre not only has treasurers of French painting (Liberty storming the Barricades), but European as well (Mona Lisa anyone), as well as Nike and other European paintings and sculptures—at a minimum. 

The National Archeological Museum of Mexico is primarily Meso-American in focus, and that almost is exclusively what is now Mexico.  And what treasurers it has! A 20 ton head from the Olmec period  (bear in mind Meso-America awaited Europeans to introduce metal tools. Southern Mexico had gold, but most of the area used obsidian for all purposes, including knives to kill and extract hearts for sacrifices), huge pyramids and temples and tombs (we saw the excavations of one in Zocalo, the central historic district of Mexico City), and huge stone monoliths celebrating or pacifying the gods—water, war, corn, and maize.  The latter really struck home for me—the region seems to have had abundant crops, far different than Europe.  It was the New World the contributed squash and beans and corn (flour and tortillas), and maguey (the Century plant, good for everything from soap to booze), and chilis—can you imagine Thai food before the European discovery of the New World?   Perhaps the two most stunning rooms in the museum were dedicated to the Aztec (Mexica) and the Mayans.  The Mayans whose crowning achievements are in the Yucatan were a little earlier than the Aztecs.  Interesting to me were some of the similarities with Cahokia Mounds, our Illinois counterparts, which indicated to me that the culture and trade stretch through the Americas.

The Spanish, of course, led by Cortes and an army that our guide insists were dregs from the prisons, arrived in 1521 determined to find gold and treasures, and dethroned (and decapitated) Montezuma and two successors, a period known as the Conquest, which initiated almost 300 years of “Nuevo Espana”, Spain’s prized possession in the new world, to which Spain brought “civilization”—the Inquisition, the Catholic Church, and the Spanish language, among other legacies.

The rest of our day was in the Historic Center, which had been the Aztec capital, destroyed by the Spanish, who erected their colonial capital on the site.  That included a monstrous cathedral (of course), the largest in Latin America.  Built in the 18th century, it’s in the baroque style I greatly enjoy, with an addition in a local style named for the architects that is even more over the top. Our guide said that every time there’s an excavation, something new is found.  The famous Aztec calendar (did you know it’s about 6 feet in diameter?) being one item, and Temple Mayor, the chief Aztec temple, being another now under excavation.  Indeed, looking at the map of what’s known, less that 5%s of the historic sites have been excavated.

  We also visited the 18th century Palace Nacional, now the president’s palace, that had been the home of the 60 or so Spanish Viceroys.  The building houses spectacular murals by Diego Rivera, encapsulating his (mostly socialist/Marxist) view of history—when Rockefeller commissioned him to draw a mural in the Rockefeller center it had likenesses of Karl Marx; the Standard Oil baron paid his friend Rivera, but tore the mural down.  The sketches included Mr.Polk’s war (1846-7) and the bizarre interlude when the Archduke Maximillian of Austria was offered the Mexican throne in 1864 and lasted three years before he was deposed and executed, leaving behind the furniture in Chapultapec Castle that I’ll tell more about tomorrow.

January 3, 2019

Mr. Polk’s War, which could really be called “The war of Yankee aggression”—though “Southern aggression” to expand slavery might be more appropriate.

We’re staying near Chapultapec Hill, which means “Grasshopper Hill”—and yes, grasshopper snacks are available.  They’re not bad with lemon and salt.  Read that as not necessarily good.  Or maybe an acquired taste.  Chapultapec was one of the major battle sites in the Mexican-American War, one which the Mexicans have naturally a different spin on than we do.  About a third of Mexican territory was wrested away—including California, Texas (which had declared itself independent of Mexico, that being one of the casus belli) and much of the American Southwest, for something like 15 million pesos—and a short war.  I remember reading something about it in the new biography of Grant, who was one of the many Civil War participants who cut his military teeth on the battles here, including Chapultapec Hill.  It was one of the major battles because it is a hill above the city (the city itself is 7200 feet high, with 10-12000 foot mountains, some volcanic, nearby. The city, once an island in a lake, has twin problems—earthquake activity (an 8.1 quake 33 years ago severely damaged the cathedral) and the marshy bottom means that parts of the historic center are sinking.

Roughly, the story we were told is that Chapultapec housed the military academy, and General Santa Ana told his army to stand and  fight, then fled with their bullets.  The 100 academy cadets though, stood their ground and perished.  The last 9 became hero-martyrs with a large monument to los nueve ninos in the park.

The castle served duty for the Archduke, who was invited to assume a Mexican throne and put an end to chaos, supported by a French army. Maximilian brought over his own furniture from Europe at the cost of bankrupting the Mexican treasury, which, in part, led to his downfall and execution.  The sumptuous furniture remains as a major attraction of what is now the National Museum of History.  Among the other items I saw were the banner of Cortes (the Virgin Mary) and the banner of one of the founders of independent Mexico, a priest who rallied the troops with the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe, an apparition of the Virgin that is one of the pillars of Mexican Catholicism.

We spent most of the day in the 20th century, in the artistic, political, and intimate triangle of artists Diego Rivera, his sometime wife Frida Kahlo, and the political refugee (friend of Diego, lover of Frida) Leon Trosky. Rivera went to Russia to study, flirted with Communism, and the circles in which he and Frida traveled steered from socialism to communism.  Frida’s bedroom, where she died in the early 1950s had portraits of Mao, Lenin, and Stalin.  Trotsky got Rivera to get him admitted to Mexico (he and Stalin broke after 1924; Trotsky spent time in Kazakstan, Turkey, France, and Norway before living in Mexico.  Rivera asked him to leave the house when he had an affair with Frida (though they stayed friends) but built a house that was an armed camp with live in guards (some of them Mexican police).  He survived one gang attack, but a Catalan Stalinist got access to Trotsky and stabbed him with a pick axe.  He is buried in the compound.

Frida’s house was mobbed—known as the casa azul, the blue house, it (and Trotsky and Rivera’s house/studio are all in an area of town called Coyote, which had been a small colonial village until overrun by the growth of Mexico City.  Before we left, I was reading Howard Kline’s, The United States and Mexico, a 1940s classic; at the time, the population of Mexico was 25 million.  Today that’s yje population of Mexico City. The neighborhood is still pretty quaint, with some homes including the “Casa Cortes” dating from the conquest.  Artists—and tourists—hang out there.

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Finally Louisbourg

August 8, 2018

I’m sitting in the Quality Inn Halifax reflecting on our week-long trip to the Atlantic Provinces grateful that our 24 hour plane delay (due to maintenance!) came at the end of our trip; had it come at the beginning, we might have had to scramble to book new reservations; by and large, we stayed at bed-and-breakfasts that had limited capacity, and this is the busy time of year up here (like so much of the north woods, which it resembles, you have 3 months or so to survive on tourism, now the number 1 industry in Nova Scotia).

Indeed, the decline of the traditional fishing (cod overfished, I understand), and oil, coal, and steel industries were factors that led to the recreation of Fortress Louisbourg, reconstructed as part of a “make work” project in the 1960s, and lasting nearly 20 years.

Louisbourg was the largest French fort in the new world—for good reason.  As the British and French sparred to control, ultimately, the Great Lakes and their access to the Mississippi and Ohio valleys, the deep harbor (85 feet at the entrance), easily controlled entrance (there was only one channel into the harbor) and its ice free qualities suited it well.  The French constructed it after 1713, when one of the many European wars resulted in France ceding Nova Scotia to the British, but retaining Cape Breton Island, which is where Louisbourg sits. 

The location and harbor made it a big trading port—ultimately fourth largest in North America—after Charleston, New York, and Boston. It was profitable for Louis XV, too; the cod generated over 3X the revenue of the fur trade.   As our guide explained, 19 million Catholics in France had 145 meatless days (Friday, Lent, etc.), which generated a lot of shipping. (Incidentally, France still controls St. Pierre and Miquelon in the St. Lawrence, the cod fishing rights being the one thing retained in the treaties after various wars.

The ill-defined boundaries, tensions, and European wars, however, led a British-Massachusetts force to besiege Louisbourg in 1745, and capture and occupy it.  The treaty ending THAT war returned the fortress to the French.  The Fortress (a designation given to an enclosed city) resumed its importance to the French, eventually reaching several thousand fishermen and merchants in the city.  The governor of the province—with really elegant quarters in the King’s Bastion, had, in 1744, over 5,000 bottles of wine in his cellar.

The fortress currently features 1744 persona, before the first siege. One of the female slaves, freed, became the first black woman businessman in Canada. If you come next year, our guide assured us, there will be a reenactment of the six-week siege.  I doubt that the governor’s wine cellar will be available, though.

As part of the French and Indian War, on his way to besiege and capture Quebec, General Wolfe besieged and captured Louisbourg.  As was typical, the British had over four times the army, and four times the navy. This time, fearful that the diplomats would give it back, Wolfe ordered it destroyed.

And so It remained until the Canadian government rebuilt about 40% of it, mostly the residences and shops, to give an idea of what it must have been like to live in the Fortress, or as in the case of many fishermen, just  outside the fort.  There’s two rebuilt gates—the important one in the harbor—but for me the King’s bastion was the neatest building, with the chapel, the governor’s sumptuous quarters, and single officer’s housing.  Married officers built or rented their own houses, and several were rebuilt.  One attractive feature of the New World was that it was healthier==50% of infants in France died before the age of 1; one in six children in New France died before the age of 12.  The garrison, mostly Marines, signed up for 6 years, but many borrowed from officers to make ends meet (9 livres was pay, 7 livres deducted for room and board), and would up extending enlistment to repay debts.

There were various programs, many of them charging a fee: firing a cannon and learning about artillery, for example.  You could also spend a night in one of the rebuilt hotels, or in a tent,  like the ones we have in Troop 19 for our reenactments at Fort de Chartres.

Interestingly enough, the last buildings were in the 1980s; since Canada enacted a law forbidding the building on the original site (to protect artifacts) the Fortress will give you only a good idea of what it looked like—but you’ll have to imagine what 2 ½ miles of walls would look like. 

It certainly makes Fort de Chartes look like what it was—a frontier outpost on the fringe of empire.

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A four F vacation

August 5, 2018

Nearly a week ago, we left Bloomington on my quest to add one more experience to my understanding of the French and Indian War.  Having seen where it started (Fort Necessity, thanks to George Washington), Montreal and Quebec (1759 and 1760), the big battles that determined North America’s fate (France traded Canada for molasses islands), Fort De Chartres, the last French fort to be turned over to the British (and places like Manila, India, and Havana, where British and French clashed), not to mention San Souci, from where Frederick The Great directed his armies, Louisbourg remained—the bastion that guarded the entrance to the Saint Lawrence.

We’re not there yet—tomorrow is our invasion day—but so far, it’s been a 4 F vacation since we arrived in Halifax.  The first F is for forts, and my thirst for forts (and more forts) has not yet been satisfied.  Halifax itself was settled as a fort in the 1740s, preparation for the ongoing wars between Britain and France that lasted the better part of a century.  It has the second largest ice-free harbor (Sydney is larger), and has been the home of the North Atlantic fleet.  The Citadelle, built later, has reenactors

It’s not the only fort here, for the area was a battleground not only between the British and the French, but between New Englanders and the French, and the British and the French Canadians (Acadians).  Indeed, the first settlement (before Quebec) was in 1605 at Port Royal in the Bay of Fundy.  An expedition from Virginia destroyed it in 1611 (the effort to rebuild it in the 1930s included a plan to ask the descendants of the destroyers to rebuild it).  When later generations of New Englanders grew exasperated by French-incited attacks, the Bay of Fundy was closer than Quebec, and expeditions came into the Bay to retaliate.  And so we saw forts at Port Royal, and a neat one near Sackville, that went from Beausejour to Fort Cumberland when it went from French to British hands (It successfully repelled a siege during the American Revolution, otherwise it might be named Fort Washington). Tensions with the United States lasted really until the 1840s, when Irish Americans sought to provoke a war between the United States and Great Britain in order to free Ireland.  Indeed, there are a few islands that are still contested between the United States and Canada—ill-defined as far back as the treaty of 1783.

The second F is for the French, whose history in the Maritime Provinces doesn’t stop in 1763, though there were several attempts to deport the settlers.  Though parts of the area had been British since 1713, French Canadians were able to coexist with the British until the Seven Years’ War.  At that time, the British demanded an oath of allegiance which included a willingness to fight against the French, if need be; earlier French Canadians had to swear the oath and did so with the proviso that they would not be forced to fight the French.  Consequently, the British packed them up and shipped them off to France or elsewhere.

Many returned—after all, families had lived in the province for hundreds of years—but they were not given citizenship until the 19th century.  Today, Acadians are part of Canada’s diverse population, but pockets (many in northern Nova Scotia and on Prince Edward Island) proudly fly a flag that resembles the French Flag, but has a yellow star on it.  The original French settlement at Annapolis Royal was the capital city after the British conquered it until the British built Halifax.

The third F is fishing villages—cute ones that dot the coast and indicate the importance of fishing;  even in 1763 France held out for the right to dry cod on what is still French territory—St. Pierre and Miquelon. Towns like Peggy’s Cove and Lunenberg attract hordes of tourists for their scenery, houses, and ambience.  Indeed, we saw little agriculture until we to Prince Edward Island, a province with about 150,000, resembling for all the world Wisconsin with cattle and corn (and oysters and lobsters and mussels—let’s not get too carried away).  The staff at the bed and breakfast (one of two we’ve stayed at owned by Chinese—my Chinese got us upgraded in St. John) was studying “islands” at the University of Prince Edward Island, and how to develop sustainable agriculture on islands.

The final F is for the Bay of Fundy, and its picturesque rocks (similar formations exist in the Pacific Northwest and Pictured Rocks, but Hopewell Rocks are on steroids) sculpted by the ocean.  At low tide, you can walk around them; at high tide, the 40-foot swing in height covers the bases.  Indeed, the tide in the Bay is the highest in the world, and it is used not only to attract tourists, (we paid $16 to walk over a “reversing falls” where the tide overcomes the St. John River and pushes it upstream), but to generate power.

Tomorrow the fifth F—Finally Louisbourg.

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Scout Camp Again–on the Equator

Scout Camp on the Equator
May 20,2018
I’m literally in the southern hemisphere, having crossed the equator, in a TENT.
Crossing the equator resulted in a discovery of a young entrepreneur. Stationed alongside the road, at the equator, is a sign indicating that you are in the middle of the earth. There’s a pull off with shopping opportunities. The owner of stall #8 came over to take my picture with the sign and introduce me to a young man who—for a substantial fee—demonstrated that water does indeed swirl differently north and south—and at the equator, where it drains straight down. Plus, for an additional fee, he signed a certificate verifying that I had indeed been there. As the retail experts say (and it used to be true), the three most important things in retail are “location, location, location”.
About 10 kilometers east of there (almost on the equator) is the Sweetwaters Tent Camp. But it’s not like the Scout camp we usually attend. There’s concrete floors with carpeting, and an in-tent bathroom and hot shower, along with electricity and wifi (these improvements would definitely benefit Canyon Camp!), with a buffet lunch just after I got here. Right now, I’m looking out at a watering hole where I’ve seen rhinos, water buffalo, and the ubiquitous wart hogs. They told me there was a pride of lions last night. In between the two game drives a day, in other words, the animals are invited to come visit us. I’ve issued an invitation, but since it’s Sunday, they must all be in Church said one of the waiters. It’s also a little chilly and overcast.
In the distance out my front veranda, is Mt. Kenya, the second highest peak in Africa. The camp is fit for a khan, and, indeed, I learned today that the owner of the camp, and the other hotel in this 90,000 acre game preserve, is none other than Aga Khan.
I knew I was going to like this place when the attendant arrived last night and put two hot water bottles in my bed, which kept me toasty all night. That’s another addition I’d recommend for Scout camp, albeit on cool evenings.
The 90,000 acre preserve offers some really good game drives. On our first drive yesterday, we saw 4 lions in one group, and two in another. That’s the first sightings of a cat I’ve had on this trip. On a night drive yesterday (9-1130), we watched a pair of lions for nearly half an hour. The guide said they pair for four days then find someone else, but these two for most of the time looked like old marrieds, not honeymooners. They couldn’t have been more than 15 feet from us. At night, we also spotted a zebra herd that’s an endangered species.
There’s another endangered species here, the northern black rhino; the only two still in existence—both female—are sequestered in a large, fenced-off area. The ranger-scientists here are hoping the ladies can birth via in vitro; otherwise, assuming I see some today, I will have looked at the last representatives….
The preserve also houses a chimp sanctuary. Having worked hard to see chimpanzees in the wild, I was a little dismayed to be taken to a 250 acre fenced area that housed 39 chimpanzees, until I learned that these were orphaned or injured chimps. One, for example, about 30 years old, walked mostly upright—because he’d spent his first nine years in a small cage in Abu Dabi, which gave him no room to play. They really are clever. We watched our guide throw some peanuts (it really was like a zoo, with a big cage!) that the chimp could not reach. He wound up finding a stick which he used to move the peanuts close enough to grab, without touching the electric fence. They are also like fraternity members; they’re cliquish. Newcomers are put in quarantine for 4-6 months before they’re gradually introduced to the group, and still the groups fight if they get together. The chimp area is split by a river, and since chimps don’t swim, the sanctuary can accommodate two groups, one on each side of the river. Even separated, they fight a lot, said the guide, and we could hear them in the bush, as George was contesting power with the current alpha chimpanzee.
The camp sits in the central highlands, one of the most fertile areas in Kenya, and the home of the Kikuyu, one of some 40 tribes that together constitute the country. Jomo Kenyatta, the first president, was a Kikuyu as is his son, who is or has been President.
Well, I’ve got one more game drive, then an overnight and the long trek back to Central Illinois Regional Airport—3 hours to Nairobi, a midnight flight to Amsterdam, a flight to Atlanta, and thence home, hopefully Tuesday.
By Thursday, however, I bet I could have my bags packed and be ready to “bring on the adventure” again!

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Legendary Scouter Baden Powell meets Legendary Scoutmaster Fred

May 19, 2018
I’m in awe as I write this, sitting in a 1927 lodge originally frequented by Lord Baden Powell, founder of Scouting. I was in my room when an attendant came in a built a fire to take off the chill of being at 6,000 feet, south of the equator by 25’. I’m in Kenya, having flown 55 minutes from Kampala to Nairobi, then traveled 150 miles north.
Baden Powell fell in love with this area (saying, “Near Neryi [the nearest town] is near bliss”), and commissioned a house to be built here, which he named, Paxtu. Apparently his house in London was Paxun. I’m not sure whether the Pax refers to “Peace” but I know BP’s disgust with the carnage of World War I led him to resign from the military to devote full time to making the Scouting movement a force for peace.
In ill health, he retired here and spent his remaining days in Kenya at Paxtu. He died In 1941 . The house was then occupied by another Englishman, James Corbett, whose claim to fame apparently was that he killed most of the man-eating lions in India. Today, the home has become a museum on the grounds of the Outspan Hotel. While there’s not much BP in it (a few of his drawings, some furniture, and some clippings), it’s kind of a shrine for Scouts around the world, who have left neckerchiefs and patches. I’m happy to report that there is now a WD Boyce patch adorning the museum, so the Founder (Baden Powell) has a “Home of the Founder” (W.D. Boyce, who brought Scouting to the United States) patch as well. I was surprised when looking at a few of the items to see a Malaysia neckerchief—signed by Eric Khoo; many years ago, David and I had dinner with Mr. Khoo in Kuala Lumpur. It is, as the song goes, a small world after all.
The other Baden Powell site is his grave near the local Anglican Church. While his family had hoped to bury him in England (there’s an empty tomb in Westminster), his choice was Kenya. His wife, Olivia, who lived until 1977 (she was his junior by 32 years), and was the Chief Girl Guide) died in London, and was cremated and buried alongside Baden Powell. ”doing a good turn.” My guide both did a “good turn,” and since one good turn deserves another, was rewarded for his efforts.
Now on to the Scout camp (actually it’s a safari place in a preserve) where I’ll be staying—in a tent! As I said, I’ll be prepared with my snakebite stone.

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Longer than a Wagnerian Opera (not just this blog)

May 17, 2018
As sometimes happens, our scheduled morning visit got canceled: the visit was to a coffee company, and since 72% of the employment (but 22% of the GDP comes from agriculture, and this what L thought would be our only agricultural visit, I was a little disappointed.
But, as I’ve said, you shouldn’t travel if you don’t have patience. And, since Patience is the name of our guide, we do have patience.
As well as a little free time. I’d wanted to go to the Uganda museum, partly because I’m a museum junkie. My record is 8 in one day, but before you say “wow,” I should, in honesty, note that that mark was set in Budapest, where the captions were in Magyar. There was no chance really of matching that here, but I did get to the museum.
I had a guide who explained most of the exhibits. At one extreme was a temporary exhibit about milk, jointly done between Switzerland and Uganda. I noted that living close to America’s dairy land, that exhibit was less interesting than many of the others.
The holdings were relatively sparse, I thought, but included some history of Uganda (and the colonial divisions that traded German rights to Uganda for Heligoland (and a player to be named later?), and the subsequent border adjustments that created Uganda. These were done by the “colonial masters”, as the guide described them.
Perhaps most interesting to me were the artifacts from the Kabacka, the chief of the Burganda tribe, which was the most organized kingdom in what is now Uganda. There was a case with trappings of imperial splendor that were returned to Uganda from the British museum at independence. Another relic, the guide noted, was a copy of a sacred item that still rests in the British Museum. As is true of many areas (think the Elgin Marbles), after visiting a country, you have to go to the British Museum for the rest of the story. On the other hand, the tomb in town was vandalized and burned in 2010, and is currently (still) under restoration.
We’ve nonetheless had two wonderful days of activities: let me summarize some of what I’ve learned:
1) We had enough time to stop at a mall, and discovered where the middle (and upper) classes hang out. It could be in any town anywhere. There was a KFC, for example, and a major South African chain called Superrite, which claimed the lowest prices in Africa. Many of the coffee drinkers bought bags of Ugandan coffee, but they’re going home and don’t have to pack (like I do) for another leg of the journey. The most striking kiosk—one that screamed middle class (or better) was an opportunity to invest in Dubai, for $130,000. Divide by $750, the average national salary, to calculate how many years you would have to work to pay for it.
2) We went to a “cultural show” last night, that was without doubt the longest such event I’ve ever been to. It ranked right up there with Gotterdamerung, Wagner’s concluding saga in the Ring cycle. It started at 7 (we got there around 7:30), and was still going strong at 10:30. The dances were quite long, and the cast had incredible endurance. I saw some ,of the instruments I’d seen in the museum in use, as the format was to represent the 56 tribes (no wonder it went on for over 4 hours!). Good costuming and good choreography. See Mike Shealy’s facebook post if you want to sample it.
3) We had a visit to Stanbic Bank, Uganda’s largest. It’s originally a South African bank, and is headquartered in Johannesburg. The most interesting thing to me was that the largest shareholder is the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), which is a pattern we saw elsewhere. As he told me in the “War Room”—the sign over the conference room where we met—the Chinese come without conditions. Most of what he reported reinforced what we’d heard elsewhere: the demographics (a hope for the future of banking is a young population. Banks have 1.4 million customers, but there are 20 million cell phones in Uganda, which may explain the popularity of “mobile money”. He also stressed, for investors, the relative ease of doing business in Uganda, which has a Ministry of Investment. 100% foreign ownership is possible, and the shilling (this was a British colony, after all) is convertible into dollars.
4) We were able to put some of the pieces of the oil story together with a visit to Tullow Oil, the outcome of an Irishman’s dream with the help of a World Bank loan, becoming a niche player in African oil with a niche in exploration. Thought oil-poor until 2006 when Tullow discovered 1.7 billion barrels of commercially viable oil in the Lake Albert area. What followed was an interesting case study involving 3 companies, Tullow, Total (French), and CNOOC (Chinese), two governments (Uganda and Tanzania), social and environmental concerns (the oil is partly in Murchison Falls National Park), logistics (a 1450 km pipeline needs to be built to get the refined oil to a port; the pipeline needs to heat the oil to 50 celcius, and will be 6.5 feet underground); and financing $12-15 billion; financial risk (though Tullow has an 90% success rate in Uganda in finding oil, the industry average is 25%), It has the makings of a great movie; I volunteered to be Indiana Jones.
5) Three of our visits, as it turned out, dealt in one form or another with agriculture, a sector which employs 72% of the country, and contributes 22% to Gross Domestic Product. Couple that with 30-40% spoilage from harvest to market, and you have the makings of a real challenge.
a) One of our visits was to a US government project, USAID, which in cooperation with UKAID, helps fund an organization that works with farmers in the poorer sections of Uganda. The director talked with us about the kind of successes and her staff of 55 have had with the 7 year budget of $35 million dollars, $7 million of which is spent to help fund local projects. Working with, and sometimes through, local officials, RTI was able to muster 6,000 farmers to get the local community officials to build a new market, for example.
b) The second visits regarding agriculture was to a woman who has earned a variety of awards as woman entrepreneur of the year (Commonwealth 2014 was one, head of a company well named as Delight with branded juices under the Cheers label. Her personality reflected both; her work represented a social consciousness that was refreshing. Her goal was to help women become farmers by teaching them how to farm, lending them money to do so, buying their crops—initially for a tasty mango juice, no additives, and buying their products. At one time, she moved her operations to South Sudan, which has become a failed state ala Venezuela (a woman was 9x more likely to die in childbirth than graduate high school); she lost a lot of money as a result, but obviously has brought cheers to women in northern Uganda.
c) We visited Jankava, the company whose dried jackfruit snack will be featured next month on our Pictured Rocks backpack. Meg, the VP of American chamber of Commerce, who was our host, told us how she wound up in Uganda; a chance meeting with the Buganda queen. A chance meeting with Mr. Jakana led to her working for the trained- at-Texas El Paso Ugandan, who paid for college working in food processing and had started a food processing plant in Kampala. The company has moved from processing and selling fruits to processing and selling dehydrated natural fruits and juices to processing organic dehydrated fruits. She buys from certified organic farmers and wholesales products to retailers and wholesalers elsewhere. Part of her financing came from USAID, and part from crowdfunding. For those who read Machines, Platforms and Crowds, that source of funds will come as now surprise. The Kenyan government helped purchase a packaging machine, and the new equipment will double the capacity of the plant.

Well, it’s getting late, and I need to pack for my trip tomorrow to Kenya. I expected to visit the grave of Lord Baden Powell, the founder of Scouting, when I’m there, and I’ll be prepared, as a good Scout should be. I purchased at the Uganda Museum a special black stone that is supposed to be an antidote to snakebite. I hope I don’t have to use it, but if I do….

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The “Harvard” of Africa?

May 15, 2018

We went back to school today—actually, to two kinds of educational institutions. For about three hours, we shared teaching ideas and research possibilities with faculty from the College of Business at Makere University, which the dean described as the “Harvard of Africa.”
The 96 year old school is the oldest in Uganda, and probably the largest. As we drove on our tour of the campus, I realized that bi universities have colleges for subjects we barely acknowledge at schools of 1800, like Illinois Wesleyan. I liked the Human Rights and Peace Center, a logical outcome for a country that certainly needs both. There was also potential funding for a Center for Private Sector Excellence, which also sounded interesting. And, of course, the programs and degrees in fields such as agriculture, food, and public health.
The College of Business, itself, has 6000 students in degrees ranging from undergraduate degrees in Commerce (finance and accounting and banking) and Business though Ph.Ds. The intriguing degree to me was a Master’s in Public Infrastructure Management, that is a regional degree with Universities in Praetoria and Dakar and involve water, transportation, health, and engineering.
The ambitions of the college are to prioritize sustainable development through research in 1) ethics and corporate social responsibility for growth and poverty reduction; 2) public sector management and social service delivery, and their relevance to communities; and 3) productivity increases, especially in agriculture.
All business undergraduates take a two-week course in entreprenKeurship—with teams of ten. The size of the group is commensurate with the number of faculty and the general size of their classes. Remember the claim that this is the “Harvard” of Africa? Classes are over 100; faculty teach around 35 contact hours per week, and are also expected to do research. However, of the 20 faculty, only 6 have Ph.Ds, mostly from UK universities. Oh, by the way, this “Harvard” has 140 computers for 6,000 graduates.
The other “Harvard” we visited was located on prison grounds, but offered a different kind of “education.” About a year ago, the President initiated a training institute for girls in unused buildings at the prison. Recognizing the need for bootstrap training, he offered space (the barracks of the Nkruhma and Nasser regiments are quartered on the grounds) and the funding for girls who were unemployed, or out of school, or… The program now has 4,089 women for 4-6 month programs that include shoemaking, tailoring, cooking, and weaving. Girls sign up on a first come first serve basis and when they are done, get a certificate and 1 million shillings (about a third of the averagze national income), and depending on the trade, an appropriate machine to startup. Classes were big; the cooking class had about ten at each station, making a pizza assembly line style; In the haircutting class, there were 4-10 at each station with a different girl getting her styling each day. The girls mostly live nearby and get meals and hope; as they come through the prison gates each day, they get a reminder, perhaps, of the “alternatives” were they not enrolled in the programs.
I was thinking about input and outcomes. Which option really is the “Harvard” of Africa?


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Just Like Scout Camp, only better

May 14,2018

I’ll be leading almost 30 boys to Scout camp in mid-June, so what I’ve done the past two days might serve as good preparation.
For one thing, we ate common meals at the Lodge. Admittedly, there was no Paul Bunyan breakfast (thankfully!); instead, we had buffets that included a lot of Indian food. Part of the explanation for the Uganda Chapati and Dal and baked on the spot in a tandoor oven nan (!) is the Indian influence that started in the British period; even more helpful in understanding the fare is that the Lodge is owned by the richest Indian in Uganda. And, as we stop at historic Galena on our way home from camp, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant hotel built by the Kenya Uganda Railway and Harbours in 1923. That hotel had as guests Humphrey Bogart and Kathrine Hepburn during the filming of The African Queen.
Speaking of the African Queen, Sunday morning we continued our waterfront activities (we had a few hours downtime Saturday; I did laps in the pool. Several others discovered that being near the equator and in the sun can be a painful experience). While swimming in the Nile might have been attractive, one look at the 14 foot crocs lining the shore and remembering Captain Hook, and the herds of hippos, the animal that kills more Africans than any non-human animal, left me thinking I’ll do the mile swim at camp instead.
We went upriver on the African Queen (you knew at some point there was a reason to mention the movie; not THE African Queen, but An African Queen) to Murchison Falls (Headline: Murchison Falls but no one was hurt), the 200 or so foot high waterfall that gives the park its name. Docking near the falls, we hiked about 2 miles to the summit where we could overlook the falls, a powerful cascade that is one of many obstacles on the river’s journey to the delta around Alexandria. That was our hike for the day.
Returning to the Lodge, we had a speaker from the Uganda Wildlife Administration, who told us something about the history of conservation in Uganda, and the challenges he faces in running the area. Conservation/tourism is important to the economy (it’s the biggest business in the world); ¼ of the nation is in either national parks or reservations. Ironically, in the 1950s, Uganda’s parks had more visitors than any other park in Africa. The disastrous poaching civil wars, as I mentioned, killed people and animals. For example, the herd of 14000 elephants dwindled to 300; it’s now about 1400. One challenge to this park is that commercially viable oil deposits have been found under the park, and, like so many similar areas around the world, the extraction (if it happens) needs to be monitored carefully. He described meetings and agreements that were designed to extract but protect; one feature I remembered is that a pipeline connected to a refinery would have to be underground—those same elephants would crush it. He also discussed, and we ran across an armed patrol on one of our game drives. He said it’s become less of a problem because many countries have banned the importation of ivory.
On our way back to Kampala, we got another taste of the biodiversity of Murchison Falls National Park, and we continued to work on our Mammals, Nature and Environmental Science badges with a visit to a jungle for a chimpanzee trek. Donning rubber boots, we plunged into a dense jungle; the object—the sighting of our closest relatives. For about an hour, our guide took us through the brush looking for the chimps. I was afraid all we’d get for our troubles were pictures of knuckle prints on the ground (that’s how they travel). Suddenly I heard a racket that I thought was some inconsiderate student group—that’s what it sounded like. There was also a thump, like a chimpanzee thumping his chest. We headed toward where the guide thought they were moving, when, lo and behold, we spotted three or four. One ran across the floor of the jungle in front of us, and when I get the video, I’ll put it on Facebook, but spent the better part of the next two hours, craning to get a glimpse of the mammals in the treetops. You could tell where they were from moving branches, falling leaves, and the sounds.
I saw a little one. You might say he was a chimp off the old block. Oh, you don’t have to. I did.

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A Nile High

May 12, 2018
Being Nile High
As I warned, we are in de Nile, or rather in sight of de Nile, the Victoria Nile (one of the major branches) at Murchison Falls National Park, at 2400 square miles, the largest preserve in Uganda.
It wasn’t always so. Though it was originally set up in 1910, its checkered history included a staging ground as part of the civil wars (it’s close to the border with Congo), at which time many of the animals were slaughtered. The park has rebuilt populations, partly with imports from other countries, mostly Kenya, and culled a rampant and destructive elephant herd. Currently, it has large numbers of giraffes, elephants, monkeys (we have a resident baboon on the hotel grounds who scatters when he sees the maintenance people, but boldly steals from guests; she—it’s a whole baboon family including a really photogenic baby—pilfered a bagged lunch from a table and proceeded to rip it open and devour the food) and other members of what I call the vegetarians—lovers of the grassland and the trees that dot the open savannah. Perhaps the most pronounced feature of the savannah is the sense of space, the expanse stretching as far as the eye can see.
This morning was a “game drive,” starting at 6:15 and lasting until around 10 o’clock that had us over hill and dale, in Land Cruisers (we had to stay on the road) peering into the distance—or up close—for the kobs and Jackson’s hartebeests, water buffalos of various varieties, the elephants, hyenas, and jackals that make the park home. One group spotted a baby leopard, but as I said, we saw mostly the vegetarians, peacefully but warily coexisting. The evening was better since It was partly along the Nile, and the giraffes and elephants in particular came for a drink (the local beer is, naturally, Nile, and as someone quipped, “It’s Nile time.”) It was a little scary driving back in the dark over bumpy roads in an open Land Cruiser.
This was my eight or so game drive, and as I remarked to Mike Shealy, the logistic director of the trip, it never gets old; more than that, it’s a real high (at least a Nile high?)—watching giraffes munching on leaves, then walking left right left (both right legs move then both left legs move), or watching the semi-predators, the hyenas and jackals, circle and await an opportunity to strike.
To get here (and stay in a lodge that gets high marks for “bush” architecture), it took us almost 8 hours to traverse the 150 miles. That’s as the crow flies, though, and we were driving. About an hour of that was getting out of the sprawling city of Kampala (though it did take us thorough the delightful embassy area), and part of it was waiting for the ferry to cross the Nile. Part of it (the last 45 miles or so was on dirt roads, which verified what we’d been told in Kampala—Uganda has infrastructure problems, particularly in the North.
On the way, we drove through a lot of small towns; only 10% of the population lives in the Kampala Entebbe corridor. Interestingly enough, many of them had mosques or madrassas; one of the South Carolina faculty told me he was researching the increasing Arabic financing in Africa—Abu Dabi airfare is under $300 from here.
Second, we saw agriculture that was mostly manual—I saw only two tractors, and one Cat grader—and no horses or cows, though our driver said that in the planting season, cows pull plows. The coops were mostly bananas, and, evoking nostalgia, corn.
Third, we stopped at a white rhinoceros sanctuary. The rhinos were exterminated from Uganda during the wars, No doubt poaching played a role; rhino horns are in great demand in Asia as an aphrodisiac. I’ve been told ground rhino horn costs three times as much as gold.
Rhinos fared better here because interested citizens formed an NGO to reestablish their presence here. Around 2004, they got one from Kenya and one from the United States; their child, the first of what is now a “crash” (take a crash course and look it up in the dictionary) of 22, was named “Obama.” The goal is to have around 40 so they can release them to the parks.
During the civil war, both people and animals suffered; from what we have seen, both are recovering.

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