Video included


Monday, Jan. 12
Back in the States

Now that I’m home with a fast WiFi connection, I’m uploading hundreds of photos and videos I took during my trip. Thought you might want to see a few of my favorites that didn’t make it onto the blog already. Turn on your sound!

A video of the sandstorm my travel companions and I hit in Timbuktu:

Here, my Cameroonian village family celebrates after I delivered more than $1,000, contributed by readers of this blog, to pay school fees. Those moving lights are glow-in-the-dark bracelets worn by people who are dancing. The sounds? Singing and cheering.

This Malagasy man showed me the process of creating silk, which later is used to weave scarves, from silkworms’ coocons. Here, he hangs the coocons out to dry.

Drying coocons is part of the silk-production process.

Drying coocons is part of the silk-production process.

Kumasi’s open-air market is, I believe, the biggest one in West Africa. I walked around it for hours just watching the scene and the people.

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Tuesday, Dec. 16
Andasibe, Madagascar

The piercing howls woke me from my sleep.

I fumbled for my watch — 1 a.m. — and then let my head fall back onto my pillow to listen.

The high-pitched sounds resembled something between a car alarm and whale calls, several whines overlapping. Nestled in a bed in a chilly bungalow just outside Andasibe National Park (park #5 for me here!), I knew immediately what I had heard: the cries of the Indri lemur.

Mama Indri with baby on her back.

Mama Indri with baby on her back.

The Indri, at around three feet tall, are the largest of the nearly 60 lemur species that still exist in Madagascar, and, well, anywhere on earth, since lemurs don’t live anywhere else.

They’re also, I would argue, the most human. In addition to being the size of a child, they’re the only lemurs with short tails and also the only ones to give birth to just one baby instead of several at once.

While some lemurs resemble squirrels, rats or other rodents, running on all fours across tree branches, Indri jump from an upright position, like monkeys, as far as 10 meters.

The mammals are a must-see in Madagascar, I’d been told by travelers and locals alike. So on my way back to the capital, as I completed the eastern part of my loop around northern Madagascar, with just five days left in country, I detoured to see the Indri.

It didn’t take our guide long to spot them in the forest on account of the low hum the family was producing early this morning. After we stood for a while on the ground beneath them , craning our necks to see the mother carrying a baby on her back, they began marking their territory with those crazy howls. It was so loud I wanted to cover my ears. Instead, I took this video; it’s the audio, not the visual, that’s interesting:

We also glimpsed several other species of lemurs, including the diademed sifaka, which exists not only just in Madagascar, but also only in this one part of the country.

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Sunday, Oct. 26
Limbe, Cameroon

The man working behind me at the Internet cafe confused me.

He looked African and he spoke Pidgin, one of the local languages here, with the owner of the shop. But when he conversed in English — we were in one of Cameroon’s two English-speaking provinces — he sounded American.

I wanted to know his story. And I didn’t have to look hard for a reason to talk to him; the two of us were the only clients working in a small, unventilated room designated for laptops when the power went out in the cafe. We sat there together in the dark, both of our computers glowing with battery power but no Internet connection.

“Guess that’s it for my work,” I said. And then, “So, where are you from?”

He was Cameroonian, he explained, born in the English-speaking northwest province, but went to high school in Scotland and university in the States, in Maine. Now as he spoke I could detect a bit of a Scottish accent.

But wait… backtrack. “Maine?!” I exclaimed. “I went to Colby!” I knew he would be familiar with my alma mater since he had spent time in the state. He had graduated, he told me, from the University of Maine.

And so I had found another Mainer. Mathew and I left the pitch-black cafe together, feeling our way along the walls to find the door, and crossed the street for a drink at a bar. Even without electricity, it was open for business.

There we reminisced about New England and talked about my experiences in Cameroon. It was odd, conversing with someone who sounded American, who understood American culture, who didn’t invite me for a beer solely because of the color of my skin, but who also understood the nuances of Cameroon. He had a unique perspective of his country and was happy to share it with me.

When I told him about the news story I’m writing on polygamy, he responded with tales of growing up in a two-wife household, explaining that even two women didn’t satisfy his father. The man also had two girlfriends outside the home.

Lexi and Mathews eldest daughter.

Lexi and Mathew's eldest daughter.

Mathew and I parted ways that night, but met up again in the morning so I could meet his wife and daughters and explore his side of town. It was one of my last days in Cameroon, and we spent it well.

First we drove to took to one of Limbe’s beautiful black-sand beaches to complete a fun errand, collecting rocks for a friend of Mathew who was building a garden. He had requested stones from Limbe specifically for two reasons: they’re a beautiful dark color because of a long-ago volcanic eruption, and they’re wonderfully smooth from the pounding of the waves.

Mathew (right) and his cousin collect stones on a Limbe beach

Mathew (right) and his cousin collect stones on a Limbe beach.

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Saturday, July 26
Segou, Mali

So much of life here revolves around prayer.

Most people who live in both the countries I’ve visited so far, Senegal and Mali, practice Islam, which calls for prayer five times each day. Imagine if you had to stop what you were doing five times every day to pray?

Everywhere I look, I see people, mostly men, praying on prayer mats or preparing to pray by washing their hands and feet. Yesterday, the bus I took to Segou from Bamako stopped about two hours into the three-hour ride for the sole reason of giving passengers a few minutes to pray.

The cool thing about prayer time is not the sight, but the sound. Mosques conduct the call to prayer over loud speakers, so everyone in town can hear it. In some towns, the mosque also sends out a five-minute warning to give worshipers a chance to prepare. The call occurs so frequently it seems (well, to me, anyhow) like it’s always prayer time.

Several of the places I’ve stayed have been close to a mosque, which means I was awaken by the 5 a.m. call to prayer, nice and loud. To give you an idea of what it sounds like, I took this video of a mosque on Goree Island, near Dakar (you may need to give it time to load):

Friday, July 18
Nioro, Senegal

The rainy season in central Senegal just began a few weeks ago. Folks who live here are always happy to see the skies open up, since many depend on agriculture to make a living.

Check out the reaction of these kids when it poured this afternoon! The loud noise in the video is the rain hitting the sheet-metal roof.

I’m staying in Nioro, near the Gambian border, with Chris, a recent Colby College (my alma mater) graduate who is serving in the Peace Corps as a business volunteer. He lives here with a Senegalese family, so I’ve joined their clan — two parents, four young kids and a cousin — for a few days.

Chris, who goes by his Senegalese name Moussa, has introduced me to some excellent Senegalese snacks. At the market this morning, we sucked on frozen bissap, or hibiscus juice, then slurped smoothie-like drinks called Buy (that’s Wolof), made from Monkey Bread, the fruit of the baobab tree.

His Senegalese mother has prepared the best food I’ve eaten so far in the country. Here’s the group during lunch today:

Lunch -- rice and fish balls -- with Chris Senegalese family.
Lunch — rice and fish balls — with Chris’ Senegalese family.

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Sunday, July 13
Dakar, Senegal

Back in Saint-Louis, I ventured into the shop of a weaver who was using an elaborate loom to create beautiful cloth. He explained they’re used as table place mats.

I took this video then but couldn’t post it until now. For some reason, I’m having trouble uploading videos onto Flickr; some upload easily and others don’t, and I can’t figure out why. Anyhow, I finally was able to post this video, which shows the loom and fabric. Pretty cool.