Archive for the 'positive' Category

23
Jul
09

African Cuisine for the die hards…

chillies 03

Do you like spicy food?
Do you plan to go to Nairobi ?

I recommend Handhi’s to you. It means “clay pot” in one of the Indian languages and the restaurant serves a number of dishes using these clay pots. The variety and quality of the food is superb and among the Indian restaurants in Africa that I know I rank it within the top 5.

Those of you who chose to sit inside the restaurant instead of at their terrace, can see the cookes at work through a hugh glass wall that separates the kitchen from the main restaurant dining area.

In East Africa it is mostly the Indian cuisine that offer some very spicy dishes.  The African dishes in this part of the continent are generally mildly spiced. In West and Central Africa however the African dishes can be extremely spicy.

poulet yassa

Poulet Yassa

In Senegal you can order Poulet Yassa, stuffed chicken with lemon and onions served with rice and you have a choice to have some yellow chillies on the side and mix these with the food.

poulet yassa 02

Africans enjoy their food most when sharing a dish with their family or friends.

Pepper sou[

In Nigeria,  Pepper Soup can be made of any kind of fish or meat depending on your preference.  If you are a Non African Adult with strong taste buts you may try it, but I recommend you take a very small sip first to see how you respond before going for the big spoons.

Pepper Soup

These are just a few examples since spicy food is very common in the West- and Central African cuisine.

Those of you who are not used to chillies should start carefully.  It is an acquired taste that you develop over time and gradually you can deal with larger quantities of chillies or use stronger varieties of chillies.
The Naga Jolokia and the Red Savina Habanero are the strongest versions and contain the highest levels of capsaicin 800.000 – 1000.000 and  350.000 – 570.000 respectively. The Naga Jolokia originates from North Eastern India and holds the Guinness World record. Compare this to white pepper that has 500 units of capsaicin or green tabasco sauce that has about 600 to 800 units.
The Scoville scale measures the heat levels in food by measuring the amount of capsaicin present.

chillies

One of my colleagues from Europe asked me if she could have a sip of my crab soup I was having at a restaurant in Dubai that had made some special orders on our request. Four of us were living in or originated from Africa while we had  two Europeans with us that evening ,my colleague being one.
We had ordered two separate bowls of crab soup, one hot one not. I warned my colleague and told her that this was seriously hot. She insisted.
The next 10 minutes or so all the waitresses were running back and forth to calm the effect of the chillies.
When she recovered somewhat and regained her ability to speak she started to call me names and asked me how someone could enjoy something like that ? We felt sorry for her but at the same time we could not stop laughing either. When she ran to catch her flight she was smiling again.

If you like spicy food I advice you to learn the traditional name of chilly for each country you visit. If you go to a local restaurant as
a Mzungu (white man)  and ask for very spicy food, you may otherwise not get what you ask for. Since not every European or American that visits Africa can handle the intensity of some of the dishes, waiters are careful and will bring you a very mild version of what you requested.
In Nigeria I asked for red chillies and got sweet red peppers instead. So I asked the waiter the name of red chillies in Yoruba. Now I got my “atta rodo”, as they call it and  every time I visit a restaurant in Nigeria and ask for fresh chopped atta rodo I am in business.

An Indian friend of mine once advised me to have some raw onion on the side whenever you are not sure of the food you are about to have. This simple addition will keep you out of trouble in most cases. I realized the effect of it when on another occasion I had dinner with four of my colleagues in a nice restaurant in Ghana. We all ordered shrimps and lobster, the specialty of the house. I was the only one who ordered a salad on the side with some raw onion because I happen to like salads not so much because I questioned the restaurant or its food.  Our host, a Ghanaian did not approve of my addition to this dish, since he felt you should not mix the taste of the fresh seafood with anything else.
The next day all four of my colleagues, including our Ghanaian host were not feeling well and had to run to the bathroom a few times for a couple of days. I was very happy to have ordered my salad on the side and remembered the advise of my Indian friend.
Since then I have made it a habit to order some raw onion every time I doubt the quality of the food.
If you think about it, the Dutch dip their raw herring in chopped raw onion. If you order a steak tartare the cook will propose raw onion as one of the spices to mix the meat with.
I don’t have the scientific proof to back my story but in all the years of my travels all over the world I have hardly ever had food problems and I am grateful for the advice of my Indian friend.

Back at Handhi’s one evening we had ordered more food than we could finish and before we left one of the guests asked the waiter to wrap the food.  I was a bit surprised since all of us were very satisfied and unable to finish but I was soon to learn another lesson of the African way of live.
We walked out of the restaurant and the guest who was carrying the bags with wrapped food saw a poor person walking by.
Without even thinking twice he gave some of the bags to this person.  Before we reached the car he had distributed the remaining bags to a few other poor people that we came across.

Have you ever considered asking to wrap the food to give it to a total stranger in the street on your way home?
I admit I had never done so before but I suggest you try this and I am sure you will enjoy the  experience…

© Desi Lopez Fafié

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22
Jan
09

The Characteristics of a Leader

This is not a commercial for London Business School or INSEAD.

I was visiting the Masai Mara in Kenya and while we passed through a small Masai village I met with the village elder. A tall young man in his early thirties.
He took me around the village and explained to me how the community lived. Their most valuable items were their live stock and they had a place in the middle of the huts that was made of branches with a very small passage for the cattle to go through.

Cows were kept inside the huts with the Masai itself.
Wild animals could otherwise come and attack the cattle.

I entered one of the huts. There was no window and it was pitch dark inside. I was taken by the hand and lead to a small place that served as the living area where the family would come together to cook and to eat. Food was made on open fire inside the hut so the smell of smoke was intense to say the least.

The elder showed me the spots on his skin where he had put out burning sticks. He also showed me his teeth, or what was left of those and explained to me that he pulled his teeth out.
These somewhat horrific exercises are part of the rituals of the Masai to train the men to withstand pain.

Once back outside some of the other Masai men came and they formed a circle and one man at the time stood in the middle and started to jump two feet at the same time and managed to jump at least high enough to pass his waist line over the heads of those standing around him. The man was of similar hight as his neighbors in the circle. Each of the men took a turn while the others cheered the man jumping.

We concluded our visit at the school in the village. The children were having their break and were playing in the field.
When the elder had shown me the classrooms I asked him if it was alright to wait until the children came back from their break.
I wanted to see a class in action. The elder stepped outside and called the children back to the class.
I felt sorry for the children to have put a sudden end to their break. In a few minutes the classroom was filled with smiling and curious faces staring at me.

The age of the children ran from 3 to 12 years. A second classroom was under construction and once ready the elder children would move to the new classroom but for now they had to share the available room.

On the blackboard different topics were explained for the different age groups. One age group at the time took a turn to answer some of the questions.

The elder asked the older boys to explain to him what the characteristics were of a Leader?
Hands went up and a boy age 9 started:

A leader has to be honest, has to have a goal and must never put his men at risk.

Another boy took a turn and added a few more traits he felt were required to be a true leader like discipline and the need
to understand the strengths and weaknesses of himself and his men.

What I heard from these very young children made me realize how much we can learn from the Masai who have no television, no computer, no internet connection and yet are teaching the fundamentals of leadership to primary school age children.

I wonder how many 9 year olds in Europe or the US will be able to explain without any hesitation what the characteristics of a leader are. Some may not even know that the word leader means…..

At times I ask myself who is better off ?

© Desi Lopez Fafié


04
Jan
09

Eagerness to Learn

A boy of about 9 years old walked along with us up the hills in North West Ethiopia. We were on our way to visit some monasteries that were hidden in the slopes of the hills. This way the orthodox Christian communities protected their places of worship from the eyes of different religious invaders. Some of the monasteries were so well hidden that you almost had to fall into them before you could actually see them. Lalibela is probably one of the best kept secrets of ancient Ethiopian times and the construction is believed to have taken about 20.000 men 40 years to complete.
A hugh square trench was hewn from solid rock. The hugh mass of rock that remained in the middle was consequently chiseled out from the inside until a monolithic church was formed.
Similar to places like Petra in Jordan, in the case of Lalibela, twelve churches were rock hewn and connected to each other by tunnels in the late 12th to early 13th century.
A “draft” project was constructed first and collapsed in part. With the lessons learned a second complex was built successfully.
The river Jordan separates the two complexes.

During our climb the boy who had followed us for some time now was talking about life in the village.
I asked him where he had learned to speak English so well because most of the locals spoke very broken English or only Amharic. He told me he had learned English at school.
So I asked him why he was not at school. He told me that you needed a pen and a notebook to attend classes.
Unfortunately he had run out of both and his mother had no money to buy new materials for him.
So I asked again, how much he would have to pay for a pen or a notebook. One pen would be 2 Birr, and one notebook 6 Birr.
If I were to give you 20 Birr what would you do with it, I asked ? He thought about it for a moment and answered me that in that case he would buy four pens and two notebooks. That added to 20 Birr.
I realized that the boy had also learned some basic arithmetic. When I gave him the twenty Birr, ( 2US$) I asked him how I would know that he was going to use it as he had told me. He said that he would come to my “hotel” and show me the purchased items.

The boy ran back to the village and kept running until I lost sight of him.
I started to understand why Ethiopia produces so many good marathon runners.

We were in a remote area a couple of hours drive from a small airport about 800 kilometers north of Addis Ababa and throughout the fields you could see UN bags of milk powder that the UN planes had dropped. A burned out military tank reminded us of the war that had taken place not so long ago with neighboring Eritrea.

The area was extremely dry. Flies were trying to get as close to your eyes as possible to pick up some of the fluid and the only way to keep the flies away was to sweep a branch of a tree back and forth from your left shoulder to your right one. At night it cooled down to almost chilling temperatures because of the altitude we were at while during the day the sun was burning.

In the center of a village five small one-bedroom lodges formed the “hotel”. You had to go outside to use the shared shower. In the middle of the place was an open space covered with a straw roof that served as the dining room.

We arrived in the late afternoon and were welcomed by the owner of the lodge who asked us what we would like to eat that evening and what kind of breakfast we would like the next morning so that he could sent people to villages nearby to get the necessary ingredients.

After dinner we enjoyed the traditional coffee ceremony that Ethiopia is famous for. It’s said that coffee originates from Ethiopia.
Coffee beans are washed and roasted on charcoal and the guests are first invited to smell the aroma that is released from the roasted coffee beans.
Next the beans are ground. A clay pot with the coffee powder and water is put on the fire until the water boils.
The first round of coffee is served in small cups to the guests, as it is the strongest version. Two more rounds of coffee are served, each time releasing a milder version since more water is added.

While the coffee is being prepared incense is lit to chase the flies.

The next morning we woke up at 5 AM because we had a long trip ahead of us again. The boy was already sitting in front of our lodge with his notebooks and pens.
He told me that his mother had invited us for a coffee ceremony at her place that evening. A small cross made from stone hanging at a piece of rope was the gift
his mother insisted us to accept because we had given the boy back the opportunity to attend school and with that his future.

Rural life in Ethiopia is harsh but makes very honest people.

Back in Addis Ababa a child was asking me money at a traffic light. Instead I offered a pen I had in my pocket. The child took the pen and looked confused.
Probably the child had never seen a school from the insight. Some elder children shook their heads and explained that they wanted money instead.
It seemed to me that the influence of the big city on children in Addis Ababa was similar to that of New York or Madrid.

© Desi Lopez Fafié


09
Dec
08

US Peace Corps members speaking Bambara

During a meeting in Bamako earlier this month I was impressed by two young Americans who work for Junior Achievement as members of the US Peace Corps speaking Bambara, a local language spoken in some parts of Western Africa.

Although it is often said that those who speak English make little or no effort to learn a different language, since the whole world speaks English anyways, you may have run into native English speaking nationals that have learned to speak Spanish or French.

I have met a few Americans and Irish in the past who learned to speak Dutch.
Dutch is difficult to many foreigners because of some combination of vowels that are unique to the Dutch language and because of a strong pronounced G that comes from the back of the throat.

Meeting a new generation that comes to Africa learning local African languages is very encouraging and I am sure that it must have made a world of a difference for both the two as well as for the communities that they are working with in their mutual acceptance, understanding of and respect for each others cultures.

Six of the foreign languages that have been imported into Africa (Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch) are widely spoken in the respective regions.

Arabic mainly in the North of the continent with French as a second language, an evolved version of Dutch in South Africa, Portuguese in five countries, Spanish in one. The remainder of the region either speak English or French.

There are hundreds of native languages in Africa, some of which are only spoken, not written. It is not unusual to find even hundreds of languages in just one country. Nigeria and Cameroon are good examples.

Speaking the language makes a difference in enjoying the place anywhere in the world. The more one invests the more one will get in return.

Foreign languages can be considered as a tool. In a world where distances become increasingly irrelevant, we use the language for business or for leisure during our holiday travels.

In some countries in Europe people take it for granted that one speaks a few languages and socially this has limited added value since most of the people speak at least a few foreign languages anyways.

When two similar cultures meet, it is easier to measure respect and it is less likely to get confused even if foreign languages are involved.

In Africa investing in a local language will yield respect and lasting friendship. Speaking one of the imported languages is a minimum. If one really wants to integrate into a local community learning the local language is probably the best way and it will help to discover elements of the culture that otherwise would remain unknown.

If one speaks a local language in Africa the local community will value this different. It will be seen as a token of respect and open mindedness. Cultures are very different in this case and it is very easy to be misunderstood or to misunderstand someone. Language therefore becomes more essential.

The young Masai is using a western cell phone, but that does not change the fundamental culture of the Masai.

One of the two Peace Corps members has almost completed his term in Mali, and will soon go back to the US to finish his studies and told me that he hopes to get back to Africa to put his studies into good use. Maybe it was due to speaking Bambara that a seed was planted for a tree to grow in the future.

If you have read my earlier post, I mentioned the fact that people either don’t like the region or they do.

© Desi Lopez Fafié


30
Nov
08

Balance the view and opinion on Africa

Originally from Europe I have traveled and worked 5 continents over the last 32 years but nowhere have I found any characteristic to be as intense as in Africa.

The climate, the distances, the opportunities, the smiles and tears, the differences, its people and the list goes on.

Every day I meet people who like myself live and work in Africa. Some are new to the region, others have been around for many years, like me.

More often than not, when I ask if the picture people had in mind before arriving to the continent corresponds to the picture they see with their own eyes, the response I get is NO!

The most positive things people can think of when talking about Africa are some Safari images that they recall from a holiday brochure.

Overall the picture has a strong negative disposition fueled by what the commercial media presents on a daily basis to millions of people around the world.

This unbalance has a very serious impact on many fronts.

Some do not like Africa for various reasons and decide to return after a while and when I ask why the bottom line is the intensity of the conditions.

When I ask those who do like Africa to the extend that they have decided to stay and call Africa their new home it is interesting to hear that it is because of the very same intensity of the conditions.

Those who return to their countries of origin will often confirm the public opinion out of discontent with their experience. Having been there of course the weight of these stories is significant and if there were people in their circles considering to explore Africa the chances will dim after an evening listening to friends who came back. All the positive experiences that they had as well seem to have been forgotten.

When visiting friends and family often those who decided to stay in Africa get skeptic ears from their audience who are being overwhelmed with negative news by the media.

The media treats Africa in general as if it was one large country where in reality Africa consists of 54 nations. When something therefore happens in one corner of the continent, it is presented to the world as if 54 nations are affected. This has become a pattern with very negative consequences.

I think it is fair to say that Africa is probably one of the most resource rich continents on the planet. In any case rich enough for the US and China to currently compete in securing their shares of it.

Collectively, those who came from overseas and those who are native have a chance and a responsibility to tell the untold about Africa in order to create a more balanced view of Africa.

Investors, business men, tourists and anybody that can make a positive contribution to trade and commerce in general and therefore add to the economies in Africa are very sensitive to the public opinion and the perception of the region.

I have decided to create this blog to open the floor to those who would like to share their positive experiences in working and living in Africa.
Today the internet offers a wonderful tool to tell the untold, on a voluntary basis, non commercial, unfiltered, uncensored, directly from the source.

Hopefully this will trigger the curiosity of potential investors and business men and women to explore Africa and start to consider it a serious opportunity.

In case you are interested to know about my own activities in Africa:

I work for an American Software Company and on a day to day basis I am responsible for our operations in Africa.

I am a member of the board of Directors of the Corporate Council on Africa. This organization promotes trade and investment between the United States and Africa.

I am an adviser to Africa Investor, a UK based organization that promote trade and investment in Africa.

I am a member of the Regional Board of Directors and Vice Chairman of Junior Achievement. This organization helps children around the world with their education efforts.

In one of my capacities I have asked one of the former Presidents of the World Bank at one point to ensure that the results of World Bank funded projects would be published on their Websites.
Both successes and failures but than at least one of the largest funding institutions operating in Africa would start telling the world.

The African Development Bank has implemented this good practice. I hope the World Bank will soon do so as well.

What I found is that like everywhere else in the world, customers in Africa expect value and service from their business partners.

If someone comes with an open mind and with respect for the individual it does not matter where in the world one is to do business or enjoy ones stay in a foreign nation. This is not different in Africa.

If you apply this common sense in doing business in Africa, you will find that the opportunities are immense.

The majority of the people in Africa are very young and eager to learn. With today’s new technology it is possible to reach out faster and to larger numbers of people using available resources from the diaspora or from other partners in the world to build local capacity, which in my opinion is the number one priority to accelerate wealth creation.

I invite you to share your successes for others to follow. It might be helpful for those considering Africa to learn from our experiences.

What works, what to plan for that one would not consider in other parts of the world.

Please come and see for yourself, rely on your own judgment and decide if Africa is the place to be.

© Desi Lopez Fafié





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