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A Day in the Life – Africa Part 1

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The Author at Work in the Gulf of Guinea.

I’m often asked what it’s like to work, fly, and live in Africa. This telling of the story is an amalgamation of some of my African aviation and cultural experiences. Part 1 portrays the working part of our day, while Part 2 and beyond depicts our off time and the cultural experience that is sub-Saharan West Africa.

So, without further ado:

BEEP, BEEP, BEEP!

The beautiful blonde’s smile falters, Wait don’t go.

BEEP, BEEP, BEEP!

Reaching for her hand, I grasp only air, You’re fading away…

BEEP, BEEP, BEEP!

Ah crap, it was just a dream. A smile crosses my sleepy face. But what a beauty … it was a nice dream.

BEEP, BEEP, BEEP!

Groping in the dark, I find the source of the cacophony: my iPhone. Bleary eyed and squinting, I study its face.

4:20am … Ugggh.

Thus starts a typical African day.

Resolved to begin another of my forty-two straight work days, yet not quite ready to leave the warm cocoon of my bed, I check in on a couple of my social media sites. (Love my iPhone; it’s like a miniature laptop without all the fuss.)

4:20am here equates to 10:40pm in the Central Time Zone. Various friends are wishing each other good night. I throw out a few goodnights/mornings.

Fully awake I slide from under the covers into the air-conditioned room’s chilly air. Proud of my manhood, yet concerned the effects of cold-induced shrinkage might become permanent, I quickly wrap a towel around myself, grab my shaving kit, and head for the warmer climes of my bathroom.

Thirty minutes later—showered, shaved, and dressed—we head to work. On this contract, we fly our helicopters out of Malabo’s Santa Isabel Airport.

It’s Saturday, we only have one flight today. Scheduled for a six AM departure, the total round trip should take less than an hour. One of us handles the flight planning while the other does all the day’s flying. We share the load and take turns, either flying or doing the radio/paperwork thing on an every other day basis.

Today it’s my turn to fly. (Beats working for a living.)

Flightplan filed, passengers loaded, and engines started, we receive our movement clearance. As I taxi to the active runway, the non-flying pilot reads off the checklist. I confirm the items and reply in the affirmative.

Centered on the runway, checklists complete, and in position, we receive our takeoff clearance. Announcing ‘Lifting,’ I bring the fourteen-seat helicopter to a low, stationary hover, and after a final check of the instruments and flight controls, tilt the helicopter forward, increase power, and accelerate down the runway. In seconds, we accelerate through 100mph as we climb at 800 feet per minute. Crossing three hundred feet AGL (Above Ground Level), we retract the gear, turn on course, and continue our climb to 2000 feet.

Early Morning in the Gulf of Guinea Oil Patch.

Completing all required radio calls, we navigate to the rigs, land, unload arriving passengers, and load the returning passengers. Departure checks and procedures complete, we begin our return trip to planet earth (or at least the small chunk of it known as Equatorial Guinea’s Bioko Island). En route we spot something vaguely reminiscent of a life raft—low in the water, its white edges surround central dark protrusions.

Dropping to a lower altitude, we turn to intercept and identify the object. At closer range, it hasn’t resolved. Then we spot an identifiable feature. A huge, surreal tailfin is dangling from one end of the mass. Bleached white by the sun and salt, the whale’s bloated skin and blubber are bobbing like a Styrofoam cork. The dark shapes protruding from its center are ribs and decaying entrails. A huge shark dines on the fetid feast. We see pods of whales all the time; however, this is the first dead one for us. Firm in the knowledge that, save a Joana-want-to-be, there are no sailors waiting for rescue, we turn toward the airport.

Onboard radar shows a significant line of showers approaching the airport from the opposite direction. Ordered to hold for landing traffic we orbit two miles north of the airport. This affords us the opportunity to watch as a lifting ship floats a GIANT drilling rig on its cargo deck.

USS Cole Aboard Lifting Ship.

For scale, it’s the same class and size of the pictured vessel that brought back the USS Cole after it was bombed in Yemen.

Finally cleared, and with the impressive monsoon bearing down on us, we land mid-field, abeam our hangar, and taxi the short distance to our refueling point. As we complete our shutdown, the plane that delayed our arrival taxis past. It’s an Antonov AN-124, the world’s second biggest airplane.

World's Second Largest Airplane in Malabo.

For Scale, Here's a NASA File Photo of an AN-125.

Our passengers and cargo are unloaded, and the aircraft is refueled.

With the storm bearing down on us, the maintenance crew moves the helicopter into the hangar. The black clouds are ready to make their contribution to Bioko Island’s annual 300+ inches of rain.

Taking shelter from the downpour, we complete the paperwork, (the work is not complete until the paperwork is). Loading into the company bus, we head back to the compound.

7:30am and the day’s work is complete. This doesn’t happen often, but I’ll take it when it does. I regularly joke that I don’t work for a living. And if it wasn’t for the ever-present danger of malaria, military coups, internment in a third world prison for taking pictures (it has happened), and the(remote) potential to contract a parasite that takes six years of treatment to rid … this would be a cake job.

But I digress.

Where was I? Oh, on the way to the compound we spot a small Isuzu pickup with twelve Chinese laborers in its bed. Equatorial Guinea’s oil production has led to rapid growth and significant improvements in infrastructure. Chinese contractors do Ninety-five percent of the related construction. Ex-Soviet Ukrainian troops and Air Forces in Russian equipment provide military security. Thus I am surrounded by Chinese workers while sharing airspace and ramp-space with ex-Soviet troops and airmen in uniforms and equipment that, two short decades ago, I’d only seen in grainy black & white photos (presumably snuck out of the USSR by Cold War era spies) … who’d a thunk it.

Back at the compound, a few of us decide to head to the Sofitel Resort on the island’s northeast corner. It’s time for some spearfishing and jet skiing.

However, I’ll save that for Part 2.

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Leaving Amsterdam

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‘You have four minutes!’ proclaimed the short middle-aged blonde woman behind the train station’s ticket counter.

Not thinking I had cut it quite that close I stare back with wide-eyed incredulity. ‘Four minutes? There should be more time than that.’

Shaking her head she tells me they recommend international departures arrive one hour prior to departure. ‘But that’s obviously not possible in this case…’ she concludes curtly in her Dutch accent.

Two minutes into my remaining ‘four minutes’ we conclude the transaction. I give a rushed hug and farewell to Naomi, my traveling companion these past four days, and break into an all-out sprint for track 10B.

Roughly two minutes later (according to the clock in my head) I crest the stairs to track 10B. Sure enough there’s a train there.

Approaching I notice the conductors are stepping onto the train. Of course none of them are close enough to speak to. Breaking into a sprint (again) I dart through the nearest open train door.

Knowing I hadn’t had time to verify the train number and sure that Murphy’s Law is still firmly in place, I run through the train in search of a conductor; finally finding one just as the doors slide closed.

Breathless I hand her the ticket. Between wheezes I manage, ‘Right train?’

The train starts moving.

I already know the answer. With timing like this how can it be anything other than no?

Looking up from the ticket, she shakes her head, my intuition proves correct.

Damn!

After reviewing the train schedule for a minute she tells me the train I was supposed to board was pulling into the station when we left. Turns out I had ‘four minutes’ before boarding was to start, not before boarding was to complete.

Uggg!

(Wait, it gets better … or worse.)

She advises me to get off at the next station and catch the next train back to the starting point, stating, ‘There’s one every ten minutes.’ She goes on to tell me that once I’m back at Amsterdam Central I can try again.

Five minutes later I step from the train onto the platform. Crossing to the opposite side I take refuge behind a schedule board. It’s cold as hell (why do we say that? It’s supposed to be hot there, right?), and I didn’t dress for extended exposure to Amsterdam’s December weather.

Studying the board behind which I’m sheltering I see the train should be here in ten minutes. I thought to myself: Self, there’s a train every ten minutes and you get here just after one departs … thanks Murphy!

Five minutes later I wave as my originally assigned HiSpeed train to Berlin whizzes past.

Five minutes after that the station’s public address system crackles to life. I figure it must be announcing the next arrival so emerging from my hidey-hole I walk up to the tracks, craning my neck to glimpse the approaching transport. All I see is my fellow passenger-wanna-be’s heading for the exit.

WTF!?!

Chasing one down I ask what happened. He says the announcement stated a jumper has thrown himself in front of the HiSpeed train and all trains in the area will be delayed at least an hour.

HiSpeed Train … that name sounds familiar.

(Told you it gets better … or worse.)

Working my way to the surface streets I search for a cab or bus. No cabs in sight. The first bus stop I check doesn’t go to Central, neither does the second, or third. Finally I find a busy bus stop. There’s even a bus at it. I ask the driver if he goes to Central.

‘No,’ he says. Then points at the back of a bus two blocks ahead and getting farther. It has the number ten displayed on its rear.

“You need bus number ten.”

Shaking my head I say, “Let me guess, there will be another one in ten minutes.”

Looking impressed he nods, “Ya.”

I step out of his bus onto the curb. It starts to rain. It’s almost cold enough to snow … but not quite.

I refer you back to the middle of this blog, that part where I said I wasn’t dressed properly for December in Amsterdam.

Yeah, thanks again Murphy.

On the bright side, I’ve spoken with Naomi. Having a hunch that things might not work out as planned she is still at Amsterdam Central.

God bless her.

Ten minutes later, icicles hanging from my nose, I board the ’10’ bus and head back to Central (along the way snapping a photo of one of Holland’s iconic windmills).

Lost in Translation.

There are two stops labeled ‘Amsterdam Central’ along the ’10’ bus’ route. As he pulls up to the first I ask the bus driver which one is closer to the ticket counter. He says the first one. So I exit.

This doesn’t feel like the closest side. After walking along the station’s very long front I reach the far end (you know, the one closest to the ticket counter) just in time to see the ’10’ bus pulling away from the second ‘Amsterdam Central’ stop.

Murphy rears his ugly head yet again.

Side Note: I’m not a negative person and while this was a frustrating chain of events, the whole time I kept thinking, ‘Well, at least you’ll get a helluva blog out of this,’ and ‘You’ll get to give Naomi a proper farewell.’

Speaking of … arriving at the correct end of the station I see Naomi waiting for me.

‘Am I glad to see you!’

After rebooking my trip we have thirty minutes to kill (my arrival in Berlin has only been delayed by two hours). Naomi and I search for a Parisian style train station pub. Finding none we settle for a place selling rabbit food and wine.

Sitting down I ask, ‘So how’s your day going?’

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Will We Find ET in the Next 20 Years?

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In a Popular Science article, SETI director Seth Shostak said he believes we’ll detect alien life in the next twenty years. He listed a few ways in which this may come about. Primarily, he believes that SETI’s improving technology and its anticipated ability to search a million star systems over the next twenty years provides the most likely avenue for success.

He also touched on the idea that an alien race might detect the radio signals we’ve been emitting for decades and send a reply. Minimizing the possibility, he pointed out that only a few tens of thousands of stars have been exposed to our transmissions.

If one employs conservative/pessimistic numbers in the Drake Equation, then life is probably too rare and scattered to expect a reply anytime in the next several thousand years. However, if you plug slightly more optimistic values into the equation, you see a galaxy teaming with life.

This later scenario presents exciting possibilities and is an area that warrants further consideration.

Given the relatively slow speed of light (relative to the size of the galaxy) only a tiny fraction of the Milky Way may know we exist. Arguably the most powerful unnatural radio signals humanity ever sent out were our above ground nuclear detonations. Restricted to 186,000 miles per second, that energy has blazed across the galaxy and covered a whopping 66 light-year radius in the intervening 66 years. That’s a bubble of information roughly 122 light-years across.

Big huh?

Not really, it’s only 3/100,000 of 1 % (0.000003%) of the galaxy.

Difficult to visualize? Imagine you shrunk the galaxy down to the volume of the Superdome. Now imagine you’re up in the nosebleed section. At that scale, picture a four-foot-wide beach ball at mid-field. That sphere, a few centimeters over a meter, would represent the 122 light-year bubble of stars exposed to the energy waves emitted from the planet in 1945. It’s unlikely anything outside of that beach ball even knows we exist.

Our galaxy is not as boxy as a stadium. The Superdome’s interior volume is roughly as tall as it is wide. At 100,000 light-years across and only 1,000 light-years thick, the width-to-height ratio of our galaxy is 100:1  Now picture that four-foot sphere from a mile away instead of the upper-deck. And remember that if you’re not in that bubble, all you hear from its center point is cosmic white noise.

Knowing how small the portion of the galaxy is that may know of our existence, consider this: every day that sphere’s radius grows, its surface grows exponentially. In other words, the potential pool of star systems learning of our existence is growing daily, and at an ever-increasing rate.

Complicating the issue is the time a reply would take to reach us. If a civilization decides to beam an instant reply, it will take just as long for us to receive it as our signal took to get to them.

What if 33 years ago—back when that bubble was the size of a basketball—a relatively advanced civilization in our galactic backyard received the signal and blasted a return message our way? We’ll receive it thirty-three years later (today). Therefore, any instant replies beamed in the last 32+ years are still en route.

And that is only if they decide to reply immediately. Considering the signal they received was a nuclear detonation, they may want to listen for a while. After a few decades of I Love Lucy, Gilligan’s Island, Cheers, Seinfeld, and Lost, they decide, ‘what-the-hell let’s say hello to our wacky neighbors.’

Side note: I often muse over the idea that somewhere there’s an alien race agonizing over who shot JR as they painfully wait for the next season of Dallas to reach their planet. Who knows, there may even be a cultural niche of Elvis Presley fans on some remote rock (there’s some bad news heading their way circa 1976).

People and politicians often ask, ‘Why should we spend money listening for aliens? It’s not like they’ll balance the federal budget for us.’ That’s tantamount to a five-year-old saying, ‘Why should I go to school? There’s nothing they can teach me.’ Setting aside man’s innate curiosity and our desire to answer the burning questions—Are we alone? Is there anybody out there?—there are more practical reasons to search.

In regards to social and scientific development, we are assuredly babes in the galactic woods. Any data gathered from alien contact would probably be more enlightening than Pythagoras’ Theorem. Spanning decades, it would be an inefficient discussion, but likely, we would be the prime beneficiary of that interaction. Thus, a tiny-tiny-tiny-minuscule investment (relative to GDP) lands us invaluable knowledge.

In Carl Sagan’s Contact, aliens send us blueprints for a wormhole generator. But saving that, what if they merely said, ‘Hello, here’s the perfect mouse trap’ or ‘free energy and the cure to world hunger’?

 

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A SoHo Grand Experience

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Recent travels found me in Morristown, New Jersey, for a week of flight simulator training. While there I always make a point to visit ‘The City.’ With my return flight not scheduled to depart until Saturday afternoon I had a night to burn and the money to light it with. So when I finished my training on Friday I caught a New Jersey Transit train to New York’s Penn Station (for the uninitiated it’s under Madison Square Garden).

Not being the biggest proponent of pre-travel planning I whipped out my iPhone somewhere between Morristown and Manhattan. Using the map feature I searched my favorite little town in America (SoHo) for a good hotel. Finding the SoHo Grand I booked a room.

If you’ve never been to SoHo you’re probably wondering why I’d call a Lower Manhattan neighborhood a ‘little town.’ SoHo is named after Houston Street (pronounced house-ton). SOuth of HOuston, it encompasses a chunk of Manhattan from Houston Street south to Tribeca’s Canal Street (a title generated from the same naming convention: TriBeCa – TRIangle BElow CAnal). While there are plenty of Manhattan skyscrapers they’re best known for their artists’ lofts and galleries, pocket restaurants and basement clubs.

The gentrified community’s 150-year-old cast iron decorative facades render an old-town-square feel that coupled with its culture gives it a surreal small town air and character.

At Penn Station I work my way to the surface and take the obligatory self-portrait under Madison Square Garden’s marquee. Back underground I board the A-Train, the express that takes me straight to SoHo without all the stops (the damn thing bites me later in the story).

Emerging from Canal station into the light of day I walk north. Passing Maserati of Manhattan (I want one) and the Tribeca Film Festival headquarters/theater (and now you know how it got its name), I step across Canal into SoHo and start looking for my hotel. After ten seconds I figure out I’m standing right in front of it.

What a cool place! An iconic hotel whose recently redesigned interior pays homage to SoHo’s cast iron lineage. The mix of old and new, iron and glass, dark and light is an eye pleasing work of art.

After checking in I work my way up to my room on the fourteenth floor. Opening the door I freeze, Holy shit! What a view! Dropping my bag I walk to the window, unable to believe my luck. Having booked late I never expected to get  … this.

Facing south my room affords me a view of the new World Trade Center! Not off to the side at an oblique angel. Front and center! After studying the view for a few moments I silently considered what horrors these windows must have witnessed that fateful day in September…

After a power nap (give me a break, I’m not old, I’ve been up since 5:30am and I want to stay up till … almost that late) I clean up and head to the outdoor bar on the Hotel’s south side. It’s a cool late summer afternoon. The sky is blue, there’s a cool breeze that has everyone smiling. The after-work crowd is rolling in to kick off the weekend.

Birds are chirping, leaves are rustling, and the sun chases the cool air deposits from your skin, leaving only goose bumps in its wake. It’s a sensation I’ve always associated with spring’s first warm day and fall’s first cool one. It’s early this year, but then again I’m in New York not Texas … go figure.

I chat with the bartenders. When I’m alone I almost always sit at the bar, it’s a social thing. They’re a wealth of local info and usually don’t mind the company. Plus, not being one that enjoys looking pitiful (even when I might be) I try not to sit solo in a busy social environment. The bartenders come through and suggest a couple of live music venues.

The sun has set. En route to Allen Street I find a little hole-in-the-wall Mom & Pop restaurant; the atmosphere uniquely SoHo, the food excellent. Afterwards I continue north and east. Softly chatting arm-in-arm couples, dashing cabs with flashing blinkers, and residential windows open to let in the breeze and let out the sounds of life dot my path.

At the north end of SoHo I hit Houston Street and proceed east. Ahead I see crowds on a busy, bar and restaurant lined cross street.

I’ve reached my destination.

Stepping into Rockwood Music Hall I’m immersed in incredible sound and a warm atmosphere. There’s a live local band on stage. Playing folksy-bluesy rock the whole place is swaying to their rhythm.

Over the hours a parade of talent crossed the stage, each as good as or better than the last. In the dark, would be smoky (in another era) atmosphere I chat with other patrons, swap stories, laugh, and drink.

2:00am … that nap didn’t help as much as I’d hoped; I’m running out of gas. It might be the culmination of an evening and night’s worth of cocktails (either that or I am getting old … nah). Bidding farewell I head for the exit. I’m at SoHo’s northeast corner and need to get to its southwest corner.

It’s subway time!

Along the way to the station I grab a slice of pizza. Culinary crack, it always taste great after a night of drinking.

2:30am I take a subway west to intercept the A-Train south. At the intersecting station I discover the subways are on a construction schedule. The A-Train either isn’t running or it’s moved to a different track. Paper signs are taped up all over the place. (Paper signs? Can’t New York afford a proper passenger notification system?) I read the one at the A-Train’s normal track. It sends me to another level. I go to that level. Another piece of paper tells me to go back to where I started. After a few more diversions (and firmly aware I look like a lost drunk tourist … screw it) I jump on a train I’m relatively certain is going south to Canal.

It’s not…

I end up completely lost. When I finally realize the train isn’t going the right way I get off in an unknown area of the city. Climbing the stairs it occurs to me I have no idea what kind of neighborhood I might be walking into. Stepping from the stairwell onto the sidewalk I did my best impression of someone who knows where the hell he’s going (show no weakness grasshopper). Turning right I stumbled (figuratively) into a busy bar.

I reasoned, ‘How lost can I be if I can find a place like this?’ Thus temporarily un-lost I settled in for a cocktail to collect myself.

4:00am One or three self-collecting cocktails later I said to myself, ‘Self, let’s give it a go again.’ In search of a cab I wander back into the night. It seems there is only one to be had in the entire city. Unfortunately its occupants (drunken coeds) are busy arguing with the cabbie over a five-dollar overage on their bill.

I gallantly whip out a five spot and offer it … if they will just get out of the cab … please.

They decline on a matter of principle, steadfastly refusing to vacate said cab, and suggesting I find another. Through a drunken lisp, one declares, ‘We’re going to sit in this cab until the cabbie (who spoke virtually no English) refunds our five dollars!’

I commented that there wasn’t exactly a plethora of f#*king cabs.

They remained unrepentantly drunk.

4:20am New York births another cab. I jump in. With the still-cackling drunken coeds fading to rear the cab rushs away. Ten minutes later I finally make it back to the SoHo Grand.

4:40am Collapsing into my bed, the Big Apple’s lights staring in on me, I think…

‘What an adventure!’

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The Road to Africa

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Following my three-week biker pilgrimage to Daytona Beach’s Biketoberfest via Panama City’s Thunder Beach Motorcycle Rally I broke camp and along with my new friend Naomi (Nene) hit the road. As you read in my last blog Nene, my new fellow world-traveling friend, was planning to hit New Orleans as the next stop in her great American backpack tour. Having previously decided to hit NOLA for a night or two en route to Houston it was a good fit for both of our schedules.

The trip was incredible. The interpersonal chemistry and easy conversations survived the ten plus hours of road time. We made it to the quarter and spent the next two days exploring the city. Wonderful memories and lots of fuel for my next blog to be sure. (Here’s her blog about it). Had a great time but after two days reality set in and I packed up, bid a sad farewell to Nene and headed to Houston with only two days to spare before my next African work hitch.

Back in Houston I spent the next 48 hours visiting family and friends, packing for a six-week work trip and two-week European vacation, and prepping the truck and trailer for long-term storage. I rented a covered space for the winter. It was big enough to accommodate them both with room to spare.

With all my affairs in order (sounds serious, huh?) I boarded a flight to Paris, France. I do enjoy flying Air France. What’s not to love about an airliner that brings you all the Champagne, beer, wine, and gourmet-ish food you want at no charge? The first time I flew Air France the person in front of me ordered Champagne and a Heineken … at the same time! Amazed, I followed suit, asking if I could have the same. To my delight the flight attendant smiled and said, ‘Oui.’

Nirvana!

Anyway, I digress. Upon arrival I set upon the torturous transit to my connecting flight’s terminal. Where the French excel in the form of culture and dining they more than make up for in their horrible airport layout and transit system. While most airports have trams linking widely separated terminals Charles de Gaul Airport relies upon a bus system whose pickup point takes twenty minutes to get to, then runs every twenty minutes, and whose circuitous routing takes twenty minutes to get to your desired terminal. Thus what takes as little as ten minutes in Atlanta takes an hour in Paris.

Suitably down trodden (by French ground transportation standards) I finally made it to the gate. I hopped on the Air France flight to Malabo, sat back and ordered my now traditional glass (disguised as a plastic cup) of Champagne and frosty mug (disguised as a can) of Heineken.

Nine hours later I stepped from the plane’s cool and comparatively fragrant air into Malabo’s dank, rank atmosphere. While I try to enjoy my time in Africa, I’m quickly reminded of one of the reasons I didn’t want to come back. Regular bathing hasn’t quite caught on. For the most part it’s not a matter of logistics. Many times I’ve picked up local oil workers who have spent days to weeks on well stocked, billion dollar offshore oil facilities with excellent accommodations, private showers, and all the soap you can use. Dressed in their best ‘going-home-to-mama’ clothes they smell like a July to August vintage hobo.

Once again, I digress. On the positive side I’ve arrived on the night the Marathon Oil facility throws their biweekly ‘Quiz Night.’ Knowing I was returning that evening my Norwegian friend Heidi has thoughtfully included me in the invitations she attains from her contacts at Marathon.

Unwilling to surrender to the jetlag nipping at the edge of consciousness I unpack and freshen up. We head to Marathon, crossing from the dirt filmed roads and purely African roadside scenery into the surreally disconnected facility. We drive between homes whose style and landscaping would look perfectly at home in Suburbia, USA. I feel like I’ve received a temporary reprieve from the governor. As much as I love travel and experiencing different cultures and ways of life I do love the comforts of home. So with my true immersion into African culture put off a day we arrive at the quiz’s location.

It’s a fun event that takes place at the facility’s recreation center. Two-for-one cocktails and free food capped off with several rounds of trivia quizzes. After some delicious dinner and cold beers we divide into company-based teams and move to the quiz area. After lots of laughter, and several quiz rounds on various subject matters from inane to insane we end up scoring in the middle. Not that anyone cares what place you come in (although there is a steep punishment for winning – you must generate and host the next biweekly trivia quizzes). Since your neighboring team grades your answers there’s light-hearted scuttlebutt that some teams elevate scores of their rivals to ensure the other team gets to host the next event.

Happy we haven’t pissed anyone off enough to receive that punishment, and pleased with our middle of the road placing, we stroll back to our cars. Subdued, riding in silence, African scenery supplants Suburbia as we pass through the gates … back to reality (smells and all).

I look at my watch’s date window…

Only 41 days to go.

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