Africa First

Blogging my journeys through this exotic continent!

Places to Visit When in Africa

vic-falls-bridge1[1]Having lived here in Africa for almost 5 years, I can safely say that I have been to some of the most beautiful places on Earth. Nothing compares to the experience of being up close with wild animals. I remember how beautiful yet frightening it was to see a gazelle being chased down by a lioness. How the poor gazelle tried to outrun its predator but failed.  I remember feeling grossed out seeing a wake of vultures feeding together at a carcass. I have learned later on that vultures are the only animals that can stomach eating rotten flesh and that they help prevent diseases spread by rotting corpses.   I have seen the smiles of locals and how accommodating they were. I have visited some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and believe it or not, they are in Africa.

Despite the negative picture the media paints us of Africa; we cannot deny that it is a beautiful country. It has been my home for the last 5 years. In the years that I have been here, I can safely say that I know some of the best places that travelers need to visit when they find themselves itching for a little African adventure. Check out the list I made below.

TABLE MOUNTAIN

Where: Cape Town

Table Mountain is named as such due to its appearance—it is a flat topped mountain that overlooks Cape Town. Just like any hiking trip, the climb can be very hard and taxing, but the view from up the mountain is just spectacular. You can see all of Cape Town from up there. If the idea of hiking up the mountain does not appeal to you, don’t worry; there’s a cable car service to the summit.

ROBBEN ISLAND

Where: Cape Town

Robben Island is famous for many things such as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also home to the prison where South Africa’s prisoners hid during the Apartheid era. Nelson Mandela was once imprisoned in Robben Island too.  According to Africa’s history, that Robben Island was once a leper colony, a place where mentally ill patients were sent and a defense training base.

Usually, the people leading the tours to Robben Island are former political prisoners who have a lot to share of Africa’s political history.

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK

Where: Phalaborwa

If you think the view from the Table Mountain is spectacular, then wait till you visit Kruger National Park. This place is the very definition of breathtaking. It boasts of a diverse collection of flora and fauna—336 types of trees, 34 types of amphibians, 49 kinds of fish, 112 different kinds of reptiles, 147 kinds of mammals, and a whopping 507 different species of birds.

THE CRADLE OF HUMANKIND

Where: Krugersdorp

Situated just 50 km away from Johannesburg, The Cradle of Humankind is made up of a complex of limestone caves where scientists have discovered fossils dated back to the birth of humankind. It is said that man’s earliest known ancestors evolved from the Cradle of Humankind.

I hope this list can help you guys if you ever decide to visit Africa. It is a place that will leave you with some amazing impressions and wonderful, unforgettable memories.

Gorilla Trekking Tips

One of the most unforgettable experiences I’ve had while living in Africa would have to be the time when I saw mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Up close.

The first time I was invited to a Gorilla Trekking party, a few years ago, I did not hesitate to say yes. I wanted to go even though I was uncertain as to what I would see or how I would feel. I said yes, in the spirit of adventure.

When I first saw the gorillas, I felt as though I were meeting some old, distant relatives—albeit more hairy than me. I took a lot of photos of the gorillas, but then I had to put my camera away so that I could just observe them. Please note that I was just a few feet away from these animals. I watched them without bars, fence, glass or rumbling safari car. Nothing stood between us and the gorillas and they calmly let us watch them. Up close, we were able to get a glimpse of what it is to be part of their world.

If anyone of you decides to go on a safari adventure in East Africa, do consider visiting the mountain gorillas in Uganda, Congo or in Rwanda. Gorilla trekking is fun, but it is unlike traditional safaris as it requires more active participation. My advice is that you plan ahead so that you won’t come unprepared in case you face challenges along the way. If you do push through with Gorilla Trekking, here are some helpful tips to make your experience a memorable one.

WEAR THE RIGHT CLOTHES

When picking out clothes for this activity, remember two things: muddy trails and changing weather. You might want to wear shirts made of synthetic materials that dry quickly. It can get quite warm and muggy in the forest, so be sure to wear comfortable clothing. If you and the group stop to rest after a few hours of hiking, it’s best to cool down with clothing made of fleece. It’s also necessary to bring a raincoat or a waterproof rain jacket as rainstorms normally happen in the forest. Always wear pants made of synthetic material. Avoid wearing shorts.

WEAR THE RIGHT FOOTWEAR

I’d suggest wearing above the ankle boots. You’ll likely walk through ankle-deep or even knee-deep mud and everyone knows this is no fun. Sometimes the mud could even suck the boots right off your feet so wear gators over your boots.

BRING ENOUGH FOOD AND WATER

There are no stores where you can buy food and water on national parks so, be sure to pack a liter of water and some snacks with you. I suggest packing energy bars as they don’t take up too much space in the bag and they can stave off hunger for a few hours.

These are just some of the things you need to know when getting ready for Gorilla Trekking. Once you’ve reached the destination, be sure to take a lot of photos to document the success of your Gorilla Trek.  Have fun!

 

Birthday Barbecue in Africa

Our son’s birthday is nearing in a few weeks and I’m getting pretty excited about throwing him a party. Planning a birthday is really exciting but it’s expensive and can be very tiring as well. Good thing I have my wife help me out with the party planning. Parties won’t be complete would good food and I ask our son what kind of food he’d like to have on his birthday and he said without any hesitation: “I want barbecue and ice cream!”

If there is one thing in the world that I would not tire of eating every day, it would be barbecue. I reckon my barbecue addiction must have rubbed off our son because he seems to love it just as much as I do. Now, I love barbecue but here in Africa, particularly Johannesburg, it seems to be a national obsession. In fact, men here seem to take pride in barbecuing. There’s even a reality show on South African TV called “The Ultimate Braai Master”. Braai is the Afrikaans equivalent for barbecue, I guess.

I’m pretty excited about barbecuing meat for my son’s birthday only I have a teeny problem with that—our barbecue grill broke a month ago. We could just buy barbecue from the nearest barbecue joints but our son wouldn’t want that—he’s always bragged about how his dad makes the best barbecued pork briskets.

Fortunately, my friend, Kade, volunteered to help us out. He owns an electric smoker, which he claims, is a lot better than traditional smokers. He said I could borrow it if I don’t have time to buy a new BBQ grill. I was a bit confused because, as far as I know, smokers are used for smoking meat. How would that help me with grilling barbecued meat?

We went over to Kade’s house and he showed me his electric smoker. Electric food smokers, he said are efficient and versatile. They can smoke, grill and barbecue meat, fish and vegetables. He showed me how the device works and I can say I’m pretty impressed. The fact that this smoker can be used indoors was impressive as well.

Learning how to operate the smoker was easy so I got the hang of it in just a few minutes. I thought the vertical electric smoker couldn’t impress me more until Kade showed me how to barbecue meat using it. He just set the timer and said we could leave it alone and the meat be done by then. He said I could just set the device and let it do its own thing. With this I could cook barbecue while watching TV, surfing the net or talking with my friends on the phone. Who invented this device? I want to give him/her a big thank you hug! Haha!

Because I got curious about electric smokers, I did some research and learnt a lot of useful things about it on the internet. It seems that Wikipedia has got everything you need from reviews to basic information about electric smokers. I’m definitely getting an electric smoker, but for the meantime I’ll be using Kade’s for my son’s birthday bbq party. I can’t wait to start using it!

Simple Ways to Put a Smile on African Children’s Faces

Lots of children in Africa need your help. Your simple help will surely light up their sad faces.

When you think about African kids coming from depressed regions, it might be difficult to picture out kids who are happy just like kids in some other parts of the world. You can’t blame them. They experience extreme poverty, lack of potable water, inadequate nourishment, financial problems and many more. Thus, it would be great to somehow bring joy to these kids in any way possible.

Join a medical mission

This is not something that you should be afraid of despite the news about health risks in Africa. Before you will be sent for this mission, you will be fully prepared. You will also be vaccinated. You will stay there for some time and you will only assist medical professionals unless you are one of them. Africa is in dire need of better health care. Thus, volunteering for a medical mission and spending some time going to these depressed areas would mean a lot.

Donate items in kind

There are certain organizations that don’t just accept cash, they also accept items in kind. This includes clothes, canned goods, toys and many others. If you don’t like donating money, then you can go for this option. For sure, your donations will go a long way. You also don’t feel pressured with the amount since anything that you don’t need can be given to the organization.

Volunteer for a tutorial program

Education is also one of the biggest problems most Africans face. The continent has countries with low literacy rates. In some areas, only a few schools operate. Thus, even basic literacy skills are not available for the students. By volunteering in this program, you give them the chance to learn even through an informal course. During the program, you can teach them how to do simple arithmetic. You can also provide games for self- improvement. You might even want to play some English movies especially those with comedic values. Teaching them how to use a computer is also an important thing you can do. For some of these kids, computers might be something that is totally alien to them. Once you have provided internet access, you can open some educational sites. You can also open funny websites to give them something to smile about. Check out caddyshack quotes here for them to laugh some more.

The satisfaction in giving

You might not get any material reward for volunteering or doing acts of charity. However, once you see the smiles on these children’s faces, you will realize that everything is worth it. You have a lot more in life while some others don’t have anything. Thus, to give a part of what you have would be very meaningful.

Some areas in Africa have seen rapid improvements in the last few years. With the efforts of the local communities and foreign aids, these people no longer suffer in the same way that they used to. If given the chance, don’t hesitate volunteering over and over again. We have already gone a long way, but there are still a lot more things needed to be done.

How to Help Someone Who is Recovering from an Injury

It takes time before someone fully recovers from injury. However, it becomes faster with your love and support.

If someone met an accident and he is still recovering, it might take time before he gets back in shape. This is why it is important to have someone guiding the patient during the recovery process. This will not just hasten the recovery, but will also make him feel that he has the love and support of people around him. This article covers some of the most useful tips that can be done to help the patient recover fast.

Be extra careful in feeding him

If possible, try to prepare home cooked meals instead of buying one outside. By then, you will know what goes into his food and if the ingredients are safe enough. Sometimes, patients have special dietary needs as recommended by their doctors. Therefore, this must be faithfully followed. Otherwise, it could take some time before he heals. The kind of food that he eats will contribute to his speedy recovery. Make sure that the food is balanced. It should be rich in Vitamin C and Iron. You should also watch the calorie content of the food. Take note that during the recovery period, he is not doing any physical activity. You don’t want him to gain weight during the process.

Keep the patient hydrated

Water is vital for faster recovery. When the patient is hydrated, his kidney works well. Thus, it becomes more effective in cleansing the toxins in the body. When patients suffer from extreme pain, he might just end up sleeping all the time. Thus, you have to remind him to stay hydrated every now and then.

Allow the patient to practice using the injured body part again

This might take time, but it should be done gradually. If he breaks his leg and cannot walk for some time, you might have to train him every day with small steps. You can do this until he can learn walking again. However, you need to be extra careful. When you are always there to do this, the patient might not have the courage to do it on his own. Therefore, you need to allow him to recover as well and try things out without your guidance.

Provide him with comic relief

As always, laughter is the best medicine. Therefore, you need to ensure that he is relieved from stress with comedy movies or funny online videos, like sharing funny caddyshack quotes such as the best caddyshack quotes of all time with him. You will surely make him recover easier with these funny quotes. They are extremely hilarious and anyone who reads them will definitely forget any pain that he bears. You can also vary the material that you use just to avoid the novelty from wearing off.

It might take weeks or even months for an injured patient to fully recover. It will not just eat up your time and effort, but also your patience as well. However, you just need to remember that you are helping someone you love. Thus, you have to do whatever it takes for him to recover fast.

Help Africa by Donating Faucets and Change Lives

Everyone knows just how difficult it is to get clean drinking water in Africa. For some African countries, people have to walk long distances just to get clean water. Of course, water is essential for survival. This is the reason why thousands of Africans die each year due to dehydration and other diseases. If only these people have access to clean drinking water, they would not have suffered a lot.

The good thing is that you can now help save them. There are lots of organizations around the world dedicating in saving Africa by providing access to drinking water. Researches are also being funded to ensure that these people will transform their limited resources into something everyone can benefit from. If you want to be a part of this help, then you can support these legitimate organizations. You can donate money or other items that can be used by Africans.

Donate Kitchen Faucets

For most African families, having a clean drinking water is not easy. They have to queue with other families just to get one. Therefore, if they are given a drinking water line direct to their homes, it can really help them. They won’t have to suffer walking long distances anymore or stay under the scorching heat of the sun.

Of course, it does not just take a faucet to help them. There must be a clean water source. There must also be water lines available. However, by donating faucets, you can now help them in one way or the other. You don’t have to do everything. You just have to do something. For sure, your help will go a long way. Imagine having donated a dozen of these faucets. Given your financial resources, it might not really be a big deal. However, for these people, it means a lot. You can check out the best kitchen faucets to donate here.

There is hope

Some people might think that Africa will stay the way it is. However, this is not really true. The continent has gone a long way. With the help coming from various countries and the efforts of Africans, this problem is gradually being solved. Yes, there is still a long way to go before it is over, but there is hope for the problem to end.

Go to Africa

If you really want to see how huge the problem is, you can visit to Africa and go to these places. Find out how people there live and see the problem for yourself. You can volunteer in some mission programs and help in certain projects. There are medical missions available. There are also construction projects on going. You can also go for tutorial missions. There are also some programs involving cleaning the community. You can volunteer in this program if you don’t have specialized knowledge in medicine or education. You can also donate cleaning items that can be used for the mission. For instance, you can check out the best steam mop at http://www.thesteammopguy.com/.

Once you have done your share, then you will be satisfied with your decision.

My Experience with Knives in Africa

When I was in Africa it seemed every male, and many females too, had a knife. Because of the utilitarian nature of the implement it was deemed acceptable for a woman to have a knife for skinning, for chopping in the kitchen and even for killing the odd chicken for the evening meal. Men, though, had the real knives for hunting, and the real knives – if you can call them that (I think you could just as easily call them swords) – for clearing brush and defending themselves: yes, the machete. I often found myself feeling quite intimidated when meeting a band of young workers coming out the bush each of them well-muscled and carrying a few odd things on their backs and, inevitably, a machete in hand. Indeed in the crazed mass murdering that seems to grip random African nations from time to time the machete is the tool of choice for frightening, and more, villagers and the perceived “bad guys”. I shudder to think of it. I’ve included a picture of the dreaded machete with this post in case you are unfamiliar.

So, anyway, an African woman friend of mine during that time gave me a small African knife of hers as a sign of friendship. I’ve used it a lot and still treasure it, but it has its limits when I’m camping, so lately I’ve been exploring the world of knives a little more online. While searching for the best fillet knife I came across a site that has comparisons of different categories of knives – fillet, survival, pocket knife, folding knife – and have almost settled on a fillet knife plus a survival knife. A good fillet knife doesn’t have to be too heavy so there shouldn’t be too much extra weight when carrying it on my back with camping gear, and if I want to travel really lightly I can take just the survival knife. One of the good things about the fillet knife is that it will get lots of use in the kitchen between trips. And, regarding the kitchen, I’m on the hunt for the best rice cooker I can find since the last cheap one I had finally gave up the ghost with some strange electrical burning smell last time I used it. I think I bought it while on a short trip to China when I was becoming a rice aficionado. I still love to have a different rice every time I cook it. In fact, I think I have more than a dozen in rotation right now. My present favourite is a brown organic rice from India.

But back to knives… I’m not sure what my poor (financially poor, but not poor in spirit!) African friends would think of one of the fancy modern knives with all their bright plastic and extra doo-dads. I expect they’d be politely impressed but more comfortable with the one handed down from their grandmother with the blade slowly disappearing from sharpening. Hopefully if and when I get back there I’ll have something to show off to them, and find out in person what they think.

How to Brew a Great Cup of Tea Anywhere in the World

I am a huge tea drinker, and when I first started traveling, I noticed that my favorite beverage would taste different in different locales. At first I thought it must have just been me, that I was imagining things, but after I did some research I found that I wasn’t crazy after all. It turns out that throughout the world, there are two different types of water – hard water and soft water. The difference between the two has to do with their chemical makeup and it can affect taste. However, both types of water have can be beneficial for different things. The reason why they have formed in this way is because of several different reasons and this includes the location from which they came and the types of minerals and ingredients that they contain.

Hardness

Water often contains a different ions and these may include magnesium and calcium. These are contained in the water in small amounts and will define whether the water is hard or soft. The water may also contain limescale in various quantities and this will also have an effect on the taste and feel of the water when it is used in different ways. One can often tell hard water from soft water as hard water will often have a somewhat chalky taste when it is consumed – where water is extremely hard, people generally buy water softeners to take the hardness out of the water. If that the case for you, you can do the same – read water softener reviews like these and buy the right one for you.

Benefits

Soft water and hard water generally come from different sources – hard water typically comes from a groundwater source and soft water comes from a open water source, such as a river or lake. Surface water often contains fewer minerals and is less acidic and water treatment plants have an easier time making it taste correctly. It’s amazing how humans are able to sense even the most subtle flavors – the difference between hard and soft water can be very small but it can still be picked up on by most people.

Differences

Despite these differences, soft water isn’t necessarily better than hard. It all depends on how you use it. If you are making a cup of tea which has a very subtle flavor, then you may wish to use hard water to bring out the subtlety of the tea. If you use soft water for this then you may find that you lose flavor and vibrancy. If you are simply drinking water on its own then some people prefer soft water – although you may have noticed that many bottled waters actually have mineral put into it after treatment has been done. Because water softeners use salt to remove water hardness, some people think that softened water tastes a bit salty, which is not good at all for my tea!

Overall I’ve found that to brew my ideal cup of tea no matter where I am, I like to buy the same brand of bottled water – Dasani – because it gives me the same result every time. Problem solved!

Cooking Made Easier with Sharper Knives

Most of us have been there, we are in the kitchen preparing dinner and we reach for a knife to cut a tomato, only instead of actually cutting through the tomato, it ends up barely piercing the skin and creating a giant mess. Not only is using a sharper knife a lot more convenient, but it is also a lot safer for the user than trying to cut with a dull knife, as a sharp knife requires less pressure and elevates the chances of the knife slipping and causing injury. I just went through this bad cooking experience with my dull knives and my top-rated manual sharpener I decided to write this post. Below are easy to follow steps which will drastically improve the sharpness of your kitchen knives and leave you cutting like a culinary genius in no time.

The first step to sharpening kitchen knives is to purchase the best Japanese water stone you can afford (also known as whetstones). A whetstone is fine grain stone which is specifically for sharpening knives. A whetstone is often regarded as the easiest, and safest, way to sharpen knives. Once you have your whetstone, lay it flat on a cutting board, or other non-slip surface, with the course side facing upwards. From there you will need to firmly grasp the handle of the knife in one hand, while holding the ends of the blade to the surface of the whetstone at an angle. One will then need to apply a medium amount of pressure to the blade and slide if forward, and then across, the whetstone. Slide the knife left to right approximately ten times. Next you will need to flip the whetstone over to the fine side, and repeat the process of sliding the knife left to right at an angle approximately ten times.

For an even sharper knife it is recommended to then proceed to use a honing steel. A honing steel is also referred to as a sharpening steel, or butcher’s rod, and is a cross section of steel which has abrasive ridges to help sharpen knives. For the final steps of sharpening your kitchen knives, simply apply eight to ten strokes per side to the honing steel, being sure to hold the knives blade at an angle. Proceed to rinse the blade off with water and carefully dry it off with a towel.

Regardless of how much money you spent on your knives, knives are not very beneficial if they are not properly sharpened. It is recommended to sharpen your kitchen knives every 60 days, depending upon how often you use them. If you use your knives on a daily basis they may need to be sharpened once a month. If you have a quality knife sharpening system it will not take much time. Remember, a sharp knife is not only easier to use, but also far safer, so be sure to keep your knives sharp at all times and soon you will be dicing and chopping like the professionals!

My Trip To The Netherlands With Some Luggage Problems

According to some people you got the travel bug or you don’t. In my case I most certainly have it. I have visited so many places over the years that I’m not able to count them all anymore. Some places I visited twice already, but I still try to discover new and exotic destinations all the time.

Most recently I went to the Netherlands. I flew with KLM as this is their national airline company and I can’t complain, except for the fact that I couldn’t take my carry-on luggage with me on the airplane. It seems KLM (and most European airlines for that matter) has some stricter carry on size limits than those used by most American airline companies.

It’s my own fault because I checked the carry on rules for American airlines and not European or even international airlines. I didn’t think there was any difference between them but now I’ll know it for the next time I take an international flight.

So eventually I checked in my luggage and stepped on the airplane without my carry on. Luckily the flight was pleasant with a movie and some food during flight. After several hours I finally arrived at Schiphol Airport. From there my journey through the Netherlands could begin.

My first stop was Amsterdam. I think most of us know it for its drugs policy. Yeah, that’s right, you can buy it legally over there. Why do you think it gets so many visitors a year?

In Amsterdam I visited Madame Tussauds (there is also one in London), the Nemo Science Centre, the Van Gogh Museum, the Home of Anne Frank and of course a coffee shop. The last one is a bit mandatory when visiting this Dutch capital.

I stayed at a youth hostel and there I met some Danish girls with who I could get along really well. We agreed to keep in touch and who knows maybe my next trip abroad will be to Denmark. It’s always better if you already know some people in the country you’re visiting. They can guide you to the spots in their country that are really worth visiting.

The others cities I visited while traveling through the Netherlands were Rotterdam, Den Haag and Maastricht. I went to Rotterdam mainly because I heard that it’s an architectural highpoint. I did see some special constructions over there, but I don’t think it was worth to stay there for 3 days. Den Haag on the other hand was totally worth it. It carries a lot of history and the Dutch government is located here. My last stop was Maastricht were I shopped my heart out (every girl needs her shopping days, even on vacation). There were a lot of clothing stores by local brands. I did buy a new sweater and some pair of shoes. I could have bought there a new carry on luggage that would comply with their size limits. However I didn’t find what I was looking for immediately and I thought it would be better to compare some carry on bags based on reviews before making a purchase decision.

My trip to the Netherlands was a rather short one, but I must say it was a good one. I’ve seen some interesting things and got to know some interesting people. But next time I’ll buy a new carry on bag before departure.

How A Yeast Infection Almost Drove Me Away from Africa

Africa is one of the most beautiful places in the world and I love living here. I’ve been living here for almost five years, and I don’t think I’d ever want to go back. I mean who wouldn’t love it, great weather, great food, incredibly friendly and fun people and animals roaming freely (animals that people in other parts of the world need to go to a zoo for). It truly is amazing here but there are two things that make me miss home. These are the high crime rates in Africa and the terrible health care system.

The crime rate isn’t that bad seeing that I always stay in safe areas when travelling. When I’m at home, we always make sure to lock the gates, doors and windows (as you’d do anywhere else I guess). As long as you’re sensible about your personal safety, then this is not really a big issue. I do get scared when reading the newspapers sometimes though but we do live in a safe neighbourhood with many other expats!

However, the health care system in Africa is a bigger issue. Finding a good doctor in the public healthcare system can be quite a mission. There’s been a few times where I needed medical attention and finding an affordable doctor was nearly impossible. It’s fine if you have the money to pay for the best doctors, but if not, you’re pretty much at the mercy of a highly underdeveloped public system to take care of you. For example, a few weeks ago I suspected I had a yeast infection, and tried getting an appointment with a doctor. The waiting list was 2 months. I’m not sure where you are in the world, but I suspect it’s not as bad where you live as it is here in Africa. Anyway, I couldn’t see a doctor within a few days as I would have done back home – which just wasn’t acceptable. I was in major discomfort and really needed some medical help.

I finally was able to see a nurse at a local hospital, who diagnosed me and suggested some treatments – but could not prescribe me anything as in Africa, only a qualified medical examiner can prescribe drugs. So I did what anyone in the 21st century would do, I typed in my symptoms on the Internet and found some yeast infection treatments I could buy without a prescription. I ended up reading a Yeastrol review online which I ended up buying. Luckily this eventually cured the infection and I didn’t need any more help.

Now this was something I could use a home remedy for, but if it would have been anything more serious, I would have been in trouble. You really don’t realise the practicalities like this when moving abroad to a less developed country. I know a few people that live in other parts of Africa that don’t have this problem, so I guess it depends on the part you live in but it does scare me somewhat. But despite all of this, I don’t think I really want to move back home!

Africa and Conflict Diamonds

As you all probably know, conflict diamonds are an enduring problem in Africa. I guess a lot of Americans first heard about this particular issue through the movie Blood Diamond – but it’s actually been an ongoing problem in the region for a number of years, and it persists to this day.

For those of you who don’t know much about the issue, let me just give a brief explanation. Conflict diamonds are diamonds that are mined by warlords in various regions in Africa. These diamonds are generally end up being sold to consumers in the western world. The problem is, the profits from these diamonds are often used to fund military conflicts. The funds garnered through the sale of conflict diamonds allow warlords and despots to prop up their violent and oppressive regimes.

This is not an issue that is specific to a particular country – through the years, conflict diamonds have been the source of funds for brutal dictators and warlords in a variety of African countries, including (but not limited to) Angola, the Ivory Coast, Both Congos (RoC AND DRoC) and Liberia. While the UN and other international organizations have taken steps to try and curb the sale of these diamonds, their efforts have been baby steps at best. According to my friends and contacts on the ground in various countries in Africa, efforts by international organizations have proven woefully inadequate. If you don’t believe me, read this scathing criticism of the UN’s Kimberly Process – written by the Guardian newspaper in the UK.

So, what can we do to combat this problem? In my opinion, it has to start with consumers. If demand for diamonds dropped significantly, then the prices of diamonds would also plummet. The lower the prices of diamonds, the less money there is flowing into the hands of the suppliers. Did you know that the world diamond supply is actually restricted by all the large suppliers in order to artificially inflate the value of diamonds? It’s basically a cartel – which is not surprising, given the unsavory characters that supply the raw materials.

The way that consumers can help push back against the sale of conflict diamonds is simple – don’t buy diamonds. There are a whole bunch of e equally beautiful alternative gemstones that are excellent replacements for diamonds. In fact, many of these alternative choices are actually both rare and less expensive than diamonds are (because diamond prices are artificially inflated). I linked an infographic in this post (image credit to The Semi Precious Stones Guide) – you can use this infographic to check out a wide variety of great looking diamond substitutes.

While there’s no guarantee that the specific gemstones you end up buying aren’t also ‘conflict gems’, it is much less likely that this will be the case. This is because a lot of these other gems are rarer and thus more expensive to mine; they’re also often cheaper than diamonds. This basically means that the profit margins on these other types of gems is significantly lower than that of diamonds, which in turn means that the profit hungry despots who’re running the conflict diamond trade have little reason to focus on these other kinds of gemstones.

So, when you next find yourself shopping for an anniversary gift or an engagement ring, I strongly urge you to avoid buying anything with diamonds in it. Little by little, we can all work together to cut off funds to the despots and thugs that are profiting from the conflict diamond trade.

Riding Freedom Trail for the First Time

When I was living in Africa, biking was one of my most favorite past times as well as my primary form of transportation. My friends and I would ride our VeloMoFo fixed gear bikes when going to nearby towns. When we had time off from work, we'd take out our mountain bikes on biking trips in provinces.   

In my second year in Africa, one of my friends asked me if I wanted to go with them on a biking trip to Freedom Trail. I wasn't too familiar with it back then but because I'm always up for an adventure, I immediately said yes. I was curious as to why he said I'd have to join him in the "conditioning rides" he would be taking in the succeeding days. I wondered why we had to practice for the biking trip in Freedom Trail since we rode our mountain bikes all the time.

My question was answered when I got home and researched on Freedom Trail. Apparently, Freedom Trail is meant only for experienced mountain bike riders because it is comprised of 37,000 meters of uphill and downhill trails and 2,350 kilometers of dirt road. It spans across South Africa and offers fantastic mountain views and vistas.

I was both excited and terrified at the same time. I wasn't an experienced mountain biker and I wasn't sure if I had the endurance to complete such a challenging biking trip. Nevertheless, I decided that I had to at least try before I accept that it was beyond my amateur biking skills. Besides, my friend was going to work with me in building up my strength and endurance before we head on to Freedom Trail.

Over the next two weeks, my friend and I rode our bikes on nearby dirt roads and hills for a couple of hours a day. At first I couldn't even last 30 minutes riding up the hill but after a week of non-stop practice, I had enough endurance to ride my bike up the steepest mountain in our area for 1 whole hour.

On the day of our Freedom Trail biking trip, I knew I was ready. We drove to Pietermaritzburg a day ahead of schedule to meet up with the other bikers who were going to join us as well as rest up for the long day ahead.  We were up before sunrise the following day, had a hearty but light breakfast, and then we were on our way.

I won't go into every detail of the ride because this post will become too long. But one thing I will tell you though is Freedom Trail is not for the faint hearted. The uphill and downhill trails are treacherous and it takes a lot of endurance to be able to complete the entire trail without stopping. However, it was absolutely worth it because of the magnificent scenes that surrounded us throughout the ride.

In the 5 years I lived in Africa, I had the privilege to ride my bike on Freedom Trail for a total of 8 times. It never failed to amaze me each time I was able to complete the trail. If you're a biking enthusiast, I highly recommend that you try Freedom Trail if ever you find yourself in Africa. I guarantee it will be an experience you will never forget.  

Hunting in Africa

In my time in Africa, I had the pleasure of experiencing a great many number of things that were novel, interesting or breathtaking. One of the many incredible experiences that I had was hunting.
Now, first off – I know what you’re thinking right now. How inhumane – there are so many exotic and unique animals in Africa, why would you want to kill any of them?

The truth is, hunting animals in many places is one of the ways that we as humans can help preserve and sustain certain species – for example, I know that in the US, when there is one kind of animal that surges in numbers suddenly, state governments will often lengthen the hunting season on that animal and remove any limits – this helps quell the population numbers of certain species in check, which helps protect the animals that are lower down in the food chain. For example, hypothetically if there were suddenly a million extra lions in Africa, then all the animals that Lions commonly hunt would almost definitely be in jeopardy. So culling the numbers of one type of animal can often help achieve balance in the food chain.

Anyways, I’ve tried both hunting with a gun and hunting with a bow. Hunting with a gun was fun, but I’ve shot guns before both in the US and in Africa, so it was nothing special. On the other hand, learning how to shoot a bow was exhilarating to me. I’m not sure if my brain has been melted by reading/watching the Hunger Games, but learning how to shoot a bow and trying to hunt with it was one of the most downright fun things I’ve ever done in my life. I didn’t end up actually successfully hunting anything, but my experience in Africa (South Africa in this case) was awesome enough that I’ve decided buy a bow and go target shooting when I’m back home and I have time.

Does anybody have any recommendations for bows? I’m probably going to buy a recurve bow, I haven’t tried a compound bow but the stuff I saw on youtube makes it look very unnatural/unauthentic. This archery site recommends the Martin Saber as their top choice in the recurve guide here. If any readers know anything about archery, I’m very open to suggestions, as beyond my dreams of being Katniss Everdeen and my brief unsuccessful hunting experience, I really have no clue about any of this stuff. The Martin Saber on Amazon seems to be a little expensive for a complete neophyte. Some other sites suggest something called the Samick Sage for beginners. This one is a little more in my price range.

Apparently Jennifer Lawrence uses something called a Hoyt Buffalo in the Hunger Games movies – I would love to use the exact same model as her, but it seems like this bow doesn’t exist on Amazon at all. I can’t even buy in on the Hoyt website itself, which is silly. I have to ‘find a dealer’, which seems like a loads of hassle.
Anyways, readers – I’m open to suggestions for bow choices.

The Things I Loved While In Africa

Being uprooted from your home country is not an easy thing to adjust to, especially if the culture you’re being transplanted to is really very different. This was what happened to me when I moved to Africa more than five years ago. At first, I thought that the adjustment would be easy. I was after all, moving to a more civilized part of town, with all the developments and comforts that I was used to back home.

But moving wasn’t so easy after all. I miss the atmosphere, the people, the things that I was so used to doing; including watching the Epic Soccer Training Program at the nearby university (click to see the training videos) where the one of the best soccer teams in the district trained on a regular basis. I never played soccer in my entire life but I have always watched soccer games since I was young. The practice is exhilarating to watch and reminds me of my family. My Dad and my siblings had played soccer in our backyard since I could remember.

So imagine my surprise when walking from the office one afternoon, I saw a group of teenagers practicing soccer by the field. The part of Africa that I’m in is not dry and deserted. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s the area of town where the universities are and where the centers of commerce and business is located.  These were high school or maybe early college students who were playing soccer and I must have stopped to watch them for more than half an hour. A colleague of mine must have seen me and asked me what I found so interesting about those boys.

I just told him that they reminded me so much about my family back home. I also did a bit of research and checked the schedule as to when the boys would be back to practice. I figured maybe I could prepare them some refreshments afterwards. I was part of the academe anyway and introducing myself to these boys should not arouse any suspicion. Besides, as I was an expat trying to make new friends in a foreign land, it should not be too bad.

So to cut the long story short, I became the supporter and one woman cheering squad of these boys. I was also an unsolicited coach (not that their coach wasn’t giving them great advice) who stayed there with them no matter what the weather.  However, since I was Caucasian and burned easily I needed to beef up on my skin care regimen. I was careful not to buy just any product in the market. I did not believe in the Lifecell scam even for one minute, (see here), since I was able to try that product personally before I left for Africa. I was pleased that the product was shipped to my location and I ordered lots of them to make sure that I kept my skin hydrated and protected from the harsh African sun.

Of course, I also make sure that I apply sunscreen before I watch any soccer game or practice. Just making sure that I don’t age faster than necessary.

Here in Africa, We Don’t Worry About First World Problems

There was a time in my past when one of the biggest things that pissed me off was a flooded basement. I used to live in New York City and back then, being a top executive living in a nice apartment complex meant that my problems were simple and even funny. There was once a time when our building suffered from a leaking pipe and there was flooding all over the basement. I did not really keep a lot of items there, save a few old chairs and some papers that I had really been meaning to throw out but was too lazy to do so. You know, when you have the luxury space and you are a single woman living alone, having extra space in the home is not an issue.

It was my first time to experience having a flooded apartment so I had to call the best water damage experts in the city and have them clean up my basement. Since I had the resources to burn, I had them treat the apartment for mold and mildew and kill out possible spores. I also threw out the items which were submerged in the flood water and decided that I will be able to replace everything in just one day of shopping in downtown Manhattan.

Thinking about these things made me smile. Now that I live in Africa and my life here is more simple and less complicated, I sometimes miss these first world problems. I am not poor here, my life is comfortable; however I see how the locals live theirs and they seem to be content and happy with whatever they have. A flooded basement is nothing compared to the hard life of people here. Water is scarce in the poor villages and it pains me to see that what I considered as murky floodwater is actually something of an oasis for them.
Human rights is also a big problem. There are areas in the continent where women are still sold as slaves or married off against their will. They are seen by their parents as pieces of property – sometimes the cow is considered more valuable than the daughters. In New York and other parts of the US, it would have been very easy to just call a personal injury lawyer if someone has spit on you or called you names. There was a friend of mine who hired a lawyer from this Tampa law firm just because a man at a bar called her a slut.

The work I do here is aimed at improving the lives of women and children in the villages. I am not here as a missionary nor am I a teacher; I am here mostly to do research and write up policies that could make an impact on how they live many years from now. In the process of learning about them, my eyes have been opened as well. I have learned to value the freedoms I have taken for granted in the US – access to clean water, a good judicial system, the freedom to date whomever I want and wear whatever I please. In Africa, first world problems are the least of their concerns.

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