Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A tiny African country ...

Along the road from the airport where you arrive ....
In Sao Tome for the umpteenth time, the sun is shining, it's 85 degrees, and I'm warm all the way through.  Nice.

Sao Tome & Principe is one of the world's smallest countries; a couple of islands in Africa's Gulf of Guinea.  Blessed with a tropical climate and beauty, the place is unknown to most folks.  Poverty encumbers most of the population, but the prolific forests produce bananas, breadfruit, jacque, and mangoes.

It's the end of the school year here at the elementary school.  The principal and teachers begin final exams for the fourth graders.  Today, it's Portuguese language, grammar, and literature.  Tomorrow, it's math, science, biology, and geography.  They have 6 years of government funded education.  After that, it's expensive and most don't have the opportunity.

Outside the city, friends walk me through their newly expanded garden.  What do you call it when it's about 500' square?

They've put a lot of work into cultivating the land they have.  Bananas, corn, green beans, okra, manioc, and several things for which I don't have names.

Manioc (or cassava root, photo left) is a big deal in Africa.  It's the basic diet for around 500 million people.  Good for carbs, no protein though.  Here in Sao Tome, it's a fill-in with the rest of what the land produces. 

Oh, and sugar cane.  It grows well here.

Dad has run a water line to the area so they can irrigate during the dryer season if they need to.  They're on the equator and on an island, so the rain is fairly reliable, fortunately.

Five kids, all but the youngest help in the fields.  The youngest would gladly join in, but she's just too small.  Three schools for the kids, one a mile east, another two miles west, and the last a couple of miles beyond that.  There's a bus for the two farthest schools.

 At the southernmost shore of the island, an incredible beach is at the end of a long trail through the forest.

Out for a day's adventure with a bunch of local teens, we've made this trek before, but they like it.  The palm trees provide a mid-day drink and snack.  A couple dozen coconuts go in the back of the truck for mom when we get back.

Nino and Mulere down by the shore

Gorgeous place, wonderful people.  Here's how we wound up here.
A good place for adventurous tourists?  Absolutely.  For the faint-hearted?  Hardly.  This is the road less traveled.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The 2/3's World

Those of us in the developed world have little idea how fortunate we are with our running water, electricity, health care, employment, and accessible food.

Much of the world offers things we've never seen up close before.  Here in the Horn of Africa, the terrain is rugged, the climate is harsh, and the trees are shaped funny.

The thorns are 2" long!
The shape, it turns out, isn't what the tree had in mind.  The trees are shaped that way by camels who prune the lower branches.  Here while I watch, a seven-foot tall camel reaches up for the tiny leaves nestled among long thorns. 
Camels are not particularly friendly; I'm told they spit, although none have in my presence.  Yet.

This juvenile camel belongs to some friends of mine; she sings like a gurgling drain pipe.

The children invited me home to meet mom and dad and siblings and camels.  Gracious folks in a difficult place.  They're fortunate though to have three camels and several goats.  It's what you do here instead of a bank account.

Dad and one of his camels; he's holding some pictures I brought from an earlier visit as a friendship gift for him and the family.  

Pink seems prevalent in the wardrobe today; couldn't pass up the cute photo opportunity with one of the family's younger members.

We wave goodbye in hope of 
meeting again later this year.

Their simple home; you can see the absence of vegetation here, and water is hand carried, of course.  This is what life is like, more or less, in one version or another, for most of the world.  Those of us in the developed world have little idea how fortunate we are to have running water, electricity, health care, employment, and plenty to eat.  Little idea at all.

OK, what comes next? 

She's holding a sparkly ball that lights up; you can see the light on her chin.  Laughing right up until I pull
 out the camera, then suddenly serious.  Sweet folks; they graciously made a place for me in their day. 
We even went in my truck (about 12 of us) down to the beach for a swim.
Just looking around; my African friends live in a world where their
 income will always be small, perhaps $1000 - $3000/year.
 Healthcare will be rare; and for their babies, survival will be
20 times less successful