Adieu 2010...Welcome 2011

A long, sometimes difficult year is approaching its end, only a few hours left of this 2010 so full of hopes and dreams, but that turned out to be rather different from what I could have expected.

Worse or better? It's hard to say. It has definitely been an intense learning experience that I feel started even before, back in 2009 when I flew home to South Africa after spending the summer in Europe, came to its climax around March and April 2010, and got dramatically ripe in May when I decided to leave Cape Town and set on this Cape to Cairo journey of mine.

I'm now in Kenya, spending New Year's Eve in the peace of Kakamega Forest Reserve: not many people around, simple food, great hikes, and the opportunity for some good one-to-one time with myself, taking stock everything that happened in my life this year. Ups, downs, pain, loss and new light and purpose too.

Kakamega rainforest at sunrise, by Melanie Szirony

The end of year is traditionally a time of reflection, so here are a few thoughts I will mull over tonight and that I'd like to share:
  1. I've just purchased my air ticket from Nairobi to Addis Ababa, my gateway to Ethiopia, the next country along the road...but am a little bit disappointed that I'm not traveling overland, the first time (and hopefully last) on this trip.
  2. Said that, I've also extended my Kenyan visa, so I should have time to travel north to Lake Turkana anyway... just need to find a lift on a truck after Maralal I reckon, no public transport up there.
  3. On a different note, it comes to mind now that last year I was watching the first sunrise of 2010 in Cape Town, on Muizenberg beach sharing a bottle of champagne with Claire...many things have changed since then, but am still here, a whole lot of inspiring extra experiences in the bag, and looking forward to another year worth living to the fullest.
  4. Yes, it's been a roller-coaster ride this 2010: many ups and downs, thrills and chills, but in the end one of the most dramatic, life-changing, and min-opening I've had in a long while. For some time after leaving Cape Town in tatters I thought it was going to be my classic annus horribilis, but I have a feeling that I'm going to remember it as an annus mirabilis instead.

"All energy flows according to the whims of the Great Magnet.
What a fool I was to defy Him.
Never cross the Great Magnet. I understood this now..."
-Hunter S. Thompson

To all my friends and readers, old and new, near and far, I wish you a very happy beginning of a prosperous new year. Stay Tuned, I will see you on the other side.

An African Christmas

Well, it's Christmas today, even if where I am it doesn't really feel like it...30°C as a daily mean temperature, deep into the Kenyan countryside straddling the Equator somewhere around Mt Kenya.

An African Christmas on its way to Italy

The last few days have witnessed another shift in perspective, yet another lesson I've learned from the road and the way I'm going about this journey of mine. Something clicked on Wednesday, December 22, the day after the last full moon, which happened to coincide with winter/summer often does that actually happen? Probably rarer than blue moons I reckon. Oh, and there was a total lunar eclipse too. But I'm not an authority on the subject, so I'll leave at that.

More importantly, I realised that I haven't been enjoying my time in Kenya as much as I could have so far. Since I've arrived on December 9, I've been rushing around between As and Bs, seeking the destination rather than enjoying the traveling in between...beside trying to sort out my visa for Ethiopia as I was talking about in my last blog post.

But on Wednesday, after my umpteenth email to the Ethiopian embassy in Pretoria was bounced, I tossed a coin: flying was the verdict, and I'll go with it. Suddenly the clouds in my head cleared up, and I saw myself jumping around getting ready for the road ahead. Even if that first stretch will be a runway rather than the sand tracks of northern Kenya.

Merry Christmas y'all ... Ethiopia here I come.

In Nairobi...thinking of Cape Town

And so I've just spent yet another month on the road, today it's been seven (7) months since I left Cape Town and started my journey across much of Southern and Eastern Africa: May 12 to December 12.

I'm in Nairobi at the moment, trying to sort out my Ethiopian visa before the Christmas case you don't know my predicament, which I share with oh-so many overland travellers I've met: Ethiopian embassies in Kampala and Nairobi are not issuing visas for onward northbound travel these days, so since I want to stick to the road and avoid flying, I need to
  1. courier my passport to Italy, 
  2. have the visa issued by the Ethiopian embassy there, 
  3. then have the passport sent back to me...
 hectic? yes...but this is also Africa, and very much part of the journey.     

Muizenberg Village Street Fest Today!

On a different note, as the title of this post suggests, I am thinking of Cape Town today.
As we speak the peeps at Communitree are organising the latest of their renown Street Festivals in Muizenberg, the new, up-and-coming, arts centre down the Southern Peninsula.   

The event's menu looks inviting, with scores of live music and painting, interactive activities, exhibitions, theatre and what not, so if you happen to be around town looking for something cool to do on your Sunday, look no further.

And once again, thumbs up to the creative minds of Cape Town.

0° 18′ 49″ N

Up and down Africa, along a somewhat tortuous route, and crossing the equator one, two, three times, maybe imaginary line that is, in the end, the most meaningful of them all. Will it be downhill from now on? ..It does feel like it in a way.

Below is a tribute in pictures to Uganda, a little great country, the 7th out of 14 on my African trip, and which has turned out to be a nourishing place for my blossoming new me.

Enjoy, and Stay Tuned for more. 

Nyama choma (meat) sellers on a bus, between Kabale and Kampala.

Spoonbills and boats, Ssese Islands.

Mama Africa, Ssese Islands.

On an morning stroll, Ssese Islands. 

Under the shade of an African tree, Ssese Islands.

Child from the village, name unknown, Ssese Islands.

Sunset over the bay and dugout, Ssese Islands.

The water as we pass (no colour added), Lake Victoria.

You and I in the morning, Kabale.

Jetty, Rotunda market, Lake Bunyonyi.

My postcards will fly, Kabale.

Street-side tailor, Kabale.

The Professor, Kabale.

Independence's not for everyone, Kampala.

A tale of three neighbours

Uganda. Rwanda. Democratic Republic of Congo.
Three massively different nations, in size, history, and current state of affairs, they meet not far from the equator, in the area aruond the Virunga volcanic range.

Mt Sabyinyo (3,634m) seen from Mt Muhavura (4,137m), Uganda

Silverback and bamboo shoot, Mgahinga Gorilla NP, Uganda

Sorghum seller and her earnings, Bunagana market, DRC

Child and local immigration officer, Bunagana market, DRC

Photographs of genocide victims, Kigali Memorial Centre, Rwanda

Frangipani flowers, Hotel des Milles Collines, Kigali, Rwanda

In the least locally

From La Stampa, Tuesday, October 26.

The observer turns subject

Somewhere in north-western Tanzania ...

The other day...

Five months gone: a brief update

So, it's been nearly five months since I left Cape Town: the World Cup came and went, I haven't kept my promises of updating this blog more often, let alone starting that new blogazine project I was talking about two posts ago....besides, I'm still in Tanzania, only the fifth on my 15-country, Cape to Cairo trip.

Pole pole they'd say in Swahili, slowly slowly, an expression that many non-Africans like to think sums up all that makes the continent not working properly. At least, according to Western standards.

But pole pole also means "gently, softly, quietly; be calm, take it quietly, don't excite yourself, never mind; take it easy."
Yes, things get done in their own time, sometimes they don't, but so what? Perhaps, it is us, busy little ants that we are, who should take it a bit easier, slow down and appreciate the time we believe we don't have, the opportunities we usually don't seize, the stillness we ought to get to know and honour.

And now what?

I am in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.
I've been here longer than I had expected, but this another story altogether. I am finally ready to leave, and will do so after the weekend. The plan is now to head north towards Moshi and Kilimanjaro, to check it out but not to climb it, then west, reach Kigoma on Lake Tanganyka, turn north again and push through Rwanda, the DRC, and Uganda.
In December I will be in Nairobi, where, as I might have mentioned, I should have a gig helping out the guys at the iHub.

Apparently I am 2297 miles (3697 kilometres) from Cape Town and 2499 miles (4283 kilometres) to Cairo. Not bad. If I was going in a straight line.

Stay Tuned.

Where is Dani? trip and the World Cup

Today the 2010 FIFA World Cup begins in South Africa, and a month ago tomorrow my Cape to Cairo overland trip began in Cape Town. I felt it was time I'd write up a short update.

I am in Siavonga, Zambia, a sleepy little town on the northern shore of Lake Kariba. My trip so far has taken me through South Africa, but very quickly, then three weeks in Zimbabwe, an incredibly moving country that susprised me at every corner: Great Zimbabwe, Harare, Chimanimani, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls...finally I got to Zambia in the beginning of June, crossing over the mighty River Zambezi, and via Livingstone I've reached Lusaka and then Siavonga.

I am staying with an old friend of mine, an Italian volunteer who works in the micro-credit business. I rest, I eat well, I marvel at stunning African sunsets, I drink local beer...and that's pretty much all I do at the moment. Heaven!

But talking a little bit of World Cup, I've heard mixed reviews so far: some say it's madness of an electryfing kind, with colours and excitement, and others that it's quickly becoming hectic and weird. Discuss.

Something good is defnitely coming out of it though, as the picture below clearly shows, an example of public art sponsored by World Cup money. Happy days.

 Football Mama, by Claire Homewood, Cape Town. 

Stay tuned.

Africa calling: Cape to Cairo begins

Yes, the time has come to hit the road again, and this time for an extended trip along one of the most fabled and classic overland routes: Cape to Cairo across 15 East Africa nations.

I've been dreaming about this trip for a long while, but after moving to South Africa in early 2009 I sort of slipped in a dangerous comfort zone that made me procrastinate for months. Up until two weeks ago I was still unable to decide whether I should stay or go, afraid of missing out either way: on one side I had this great journey in front of me, but on the other it felt silly leaving South Africa right when the World Cup band wagon is coming to town.

In the end, unexpected and rather dramatic changes in my personal circumstances turned out to be the encouragement I needed, after which a decision was easily made. I am leaving Cape Town tomorrow, Wednesday 12 of May, and will cross the border into Zimbabwe on Friday 14, a day before my 29th birthday. What a great present, huh?

From there I'll follow a somewhat windy route via Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somaliland, Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, and Egypt. Or at least this is the planned route, but I know that changes will happen along the way.
Estimated arrival time is December, then I feel I should spend winter in northern Africa or southern Europe before making my way up Italy and get back home by spring 2011.

I am working on a new publishing project while on this trip, and will soon post a link here to a new blogazine that, at least in my vision for it, will be interesting in content and cutting-edge in design.
I am travelling light this time, with no mobile phone nor laptop, and will carry only my compact camera with me. I will be uploading images on Flickr and posting the occasional update on this website, so stay tuned and keep an eye on my movements.  

Only those who risk going far, know how far they can go.  -T.S. Eliot

Hustling my mind: of choices, writing, and other things

So in the end my short story didn't make the cut and won't appear on Issue Zero of 48 Hour Magazine...bummer. Click here for a list of all contributors. The actual magazine will soon be available to buy from MagCloud.

And here's my short story, have a read through and please let me know what you think. It's a first, (self) published attempt at fiction — inspired by real-life events and people. Enjoy. 

Hustling my mind: of choices, writing, and other things 

The author didn’t know what to write.

He had been thinking about the subject the whole night, probably in a very dreamy, unconscious way, but surely he had. In the morning, after the alarm he had set for 6am, and which he had snoozed a few times, went off again at 8 o’clock, he was still sleepy. This time he pressed the stop button instead, but seconds later his eyes opened wide and he thought: “Why don’t I write about this, about my struggle to write anything true because I haven’t experienced enough? Not enough prostitutes, late night drinking, sleazy taxi drivers, gambling…not enough hard-edged journalism, cynicism, nosing around, and asking uncomfortable questions…I didn’t come across hustling per se, but I could write about my desire of writing something nonetheless, and describe the places where my internal struggles have taken me. Yes! That would be bold and true writing…wouldn’t it?”

Then he closed his eyes again.

The little demon of sleep that sits on people’s eyelids, and keeps them shut in the morning when one really ought to be up, was pleased. He, as usual, was doing his job properly and with immense gratification, assured of the strong pull that a snug bed and the warm body of a woman have on a man’s mind. But something today was obviously nagging at the author more profoundly. A big seismic event took place under the feet of our little naughty friend. He was surprised.

The author opened his eyes again.

“I could write about getting up after a late night, bummed that this project came up all of a sudden and I now find myself with this big conflict, really wanting to write this piece on one side but….why? Well, because it’s interesting, it’s innovative, it’s unique, it’s Issue freaking zero, and it’d be great to be in it. Ok, that’s my ego talking, but it feels good right now being here writing what I’m writing, which I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but it’s a start. Too personal? Maybe.

“The alternative that buzzes in my head and that makes me uneasy is the fact that I have other, more urgent stuff to write, but it seems like I hit a block of some sort. I wrote a couple of hundred words over several days and still can’t finalise even one single piece. I’m really sad about that because that project is interesting too, but it feels like my heart is not in it.

“Are my readers still there? I wonder, because I am writing about stuff that I know, you know? My issues as a person and as a writer. Ego and Self. My Shadow, ever present, but…”

The author stopped. This whole long stream of consciousness that came up and out of his mind is good stuff, true stuff, if fits the motto: Be bold, Be free, Be truthful. Is it art? Will he be universal while talking about a microscopic truthfulness…?

Then the phone rang.

The author hesitated because he was in the middle of a sentence. Mentally hustling a set of dice — because he was very curious after all and wanted to know who the fuck was calling at this time — he decided to answer.
“Wrong number probably,” he thought, and then hit the little green phone icon on his cell phone and said: “Hello?”
“Hallooo?” somebody said on the other side.
“Yes, hello?”
“___________”, an Asian-sounding voice said in an unfamiliar language.
“Sorry, I think you have the wrong number.”
“____________! _____________.”
“Yes, this is Dani, I’m afraid I can’t understand a word of what you’re saying, you have dialed the …”
The man hung up.
“Typical,” thought the author, but now his mind went back to the task at hand.

Again he wondered whether his readers would enjoy this little story: and how about the magazine’s editors before them? Let’s see: autobiography, about writing, personal subject matter, stream of consciousness…
”Still,” he thought. “It is linked to the theme, I know that, you know that, surely lots of people will feel that.
“And all that I written so far comes from a very true experience of mine: depression, darkness, writer’s block, and then help, therapy, hope, new strength, trial and error. Three pages every morning, it doesn’t matter what you write, or how you write, but only that you write. It is sort of a diary, but tackled first thing in the morning instead than at night, and never re-read again. It’s worked so far in unblocking my creative self, but still haven’t written anything worth publishing. Is that my goal?”

The author caught himself thinking aloud and stopped again. It felt like lines were getting sort of blurred here between author and subject of the story, the narration of the former, and the thoughts and words of the latter. “Is this ok?” he thought. “Will people get it?”

Besides, in talking about the morning pages he had been writing (almost) every day in the last couple of months, he had gone over today’s limit — three A4 pages that is — and now his pen was sitting somewhere in the middle of the fourth, or just before.

“I wrote four, sometimes five pages before”, he said to himself. “That’s not an issue, but I’ve stopped because I really am not sure on the direction this story is taking. Where did I start and where am I going to finish?”

He still had in his mind images of dice, coins, chance, and randomness that he and Jon had discussed the night before: follow coincidences, dare your lucky star, toss a coin and let it decide for you.

“Shall I do that now? Heads or tails to determine whether this story carries on or stops here?”

He hesitated.

He felt he was more afraid of a yes, a nudge to carry on rather than a halt. Because he didn’t know what to write. But he knew it would be a splendid way to end or continue his story. Very edgy. He wondered whether Luke Rhinehart had actually rolled any dice at all while writing his novel The Dice Man

“Ok,” he thought after a moment, and got up to get a coin, a R5 coin, big and heavy, a golden disc surrounded by a band of silver. On one side a great African buffalo, its head down and thrust forward as if charging an invisible enemy. The word RAND stood out below the bovid, striding the line between gold and silver. That would be his tails.
He turned the coin in his hand and looked at what would be heads: the New South Africa’s seal, a big stylised bird, its long beak looking west, crowned, and with its wings spread wide and upwards, sitting on an elaborated coat of arms, a shield with people (natives?) in it, and spears, and a few barely legible words under it: !KE E:  /XARRA //KE. Khoisan.

The nicest coin to hold, as South Africa is not as lucky as other countries, Britain for instance, when he comes down to coinage.  “I miss Pounds,” he thought and then he tossed it in the air.

Oh yes, the buffalo will mean continue writing, clearly because the charging buffalo represents the stubborn determination of carrying on, even against all odds and one’s will. The national insignia on the flip side will mean stop writing, right there and then, because it’s the only other option left.

The author tossed the coin. 


48 Hour Magazine - written today, published tomorrow

I have just submitted a short story to Issue Zero of 48 Hour Magazine, an innovative experiment in publishing. The deadline for contributions is in less then four hours — 4pm PDT — so hurry if you're thinking about it.

The concept strikes for its simplicity: a professional-looking magazine is put together in less then 48 hours, from getting stories written and pictures shot, to edit and layout, print and distribution. The first 24 hours after the common theme is announced are open to contributions from anybody in any medium, then editors will spend another 24 to have a glossy magazine printed and ready to be bought on demand from MagCloud.

The topic chosen for the pilot issue is HUSTLE: "where the quick-witted trickster meets the Protestant work ethic." It looked fun so I took up the call. And so did over 1,200 other people, writers, poets, photographer, illustrators, chefs, and pirates I presume.

I can't wait to see the final product. And look forward to Issue 1 already.  

Different takes on 3D modeling

Today I've stumbled upon two very interesting examples of what levels has 3D modeling reached these days, and I'd like to share them here.

The image above is by American photographer and model maker Michael Paul Smith, whose work I came across thanks to this article on The New York Times.  
Using scale-model cars mostly from the 1950s and ’60s, a few handmade miniature sets and his camera skills, Michael Paul Smith has created a town, Elgin Park, that exists only in photographs.
The accuracy and details that Smith puts into his work is breathtaking, and seriously makes the pictures of his model look like real-life shots: I've tried sending a couple of friends direct links to the Flickr slideshow and just one person realised they were models right away. Many of them also have real buildings, trees, and other objects as their background: these are usually at least half a block away to give the right sense of scale and perspective.

The image above is by Canadian 3D artist Stephan Brisson, who used Maya, mental ray, and Photoshop to conceptualise, design, model, render, etc. this fantastic place.

Here too, the sheer amount of details is striking — bordering astonishing — and many features clearly require a high level of digital skills: look at those air bubbles! See more 3D digital art (best of) on the Society of Digital Artists' website here.

What's also interesting is that these two very different approaches to 3D modeling have both an important part to play in today's art world. On the one hand you have the traditional take that we've all experienced, in a way or another, through miniature train sets and car reproductions: touching because so real. On the other it's intriguing to discover how much you can do with computer programs, some of them as popular and widespread as Photoshop. And with such beautiful results.

Design + Layout: new in Portfolio

After moving to Cape Town at the beginning of 2009  I've rediscovered my design and layout skills, and after playing for some time with InDesign — and some Photoshop features I didn't know about — I've landed a couple of design jobs: books, dissertations and posters. Visit my portfolio on Flickr here.

Out of Sight for Justin Brett — art catalogue

Live music posters for The Melting Pot Social Club, Muizenberg, South Africa.
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