Brad’s Blog

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Mongolia update

June 20th, 2010 · 3 Comments

We are now about a month away from departure for Mongolia.  Things are coming together nicely. 

We have plane tickets, train tickets, Mongolian visas, and we’ve looked at Ulaan Baatar on GoogleEarth.  That should about do it, besides the extra large bottle of Imodium we need to pick up.

Actually, we still need visas for our 5 days in China on the way over.  After a lot of searching, we found a Regina travel agent who could help us with that.  Thank you CAA Saskatchewan.

To get a Chinese visa, you need to have someone hand deliver your application and passports to the Embassy in Ottawa, or one of the consulates (Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver).  And they have to show up at precisely the right time with precisely the right amount of payment and enough left over to pay for the parking meter outside for an indefinite period of waiting time.  Then they need to go back 4-5 business days later, deposit sufficient funds in the parking meters again, pick up the passports, and then courier them back to you.

The Mongolian process was much easier – we just couriered them to the Mongolian Embassy in Ottawa, and the next week we got a package back.  However, this is one of those times you wish you were an American – they don’t need visas for Mongolia at all.  They can just show up.  Hopefully the recent opening of a Canadian Embassy in Ulaan Baatar will make a difference.

It is possible that the kids are getting excited about the trip, but we think they have the last day of school on the brain.  That’s next Friday.  Then the older two go off to camp right away for a week, followed by Tommy’s first ever week at camp the week after.  Then after a week at home all together, off we go.

Plus, it is also possible that the idea of fermented mare’s milk (Honey – it’s time to milk the horse again!) and boiled sheep testicles (I hear they’re offal) has them somewhat wary.  And we haven’t even told them about the deep fried scorpions and grasshoppers you can buy on the street in Beijing.  Gotta save some surprises.

→ 3 CommentsTags: Mongolia · Travel

Mongolia – Summer 2010

May 17th, 2010 · 1 Comment

As many of you know, our family makes a point of going overseas each year to volunteer in a developing country.  You can read more about our 2008 and 2009 trips to Niger here, but this summer we are going to Mongolia.

In Mongolia, we’ll work with a microfinance NGO that provides small business loans to Mongolians working to support their families, we’ll provide some planning advice to an agribusiness project in rural Mongolia, and work with government officials to improve their assistance to Mongolian businesses looking to connect with North American companies.

More details are coming soon.

Where’s Mongolia?  Click here for a map.

→ 1 CommentTags: Mongolia

Working on Projects

February 16th, 2009 · 1 Comment

During our first 2 weeks in Niger, we spent time in Niamey working on projects at Sahel Academy and various SIM facilities. At Sahel, Brad found a high speed Internet connection in the new library and set himself to work on business planning and financial admin issues, and Lynette carried out a bunch of duties, such as supply teaching (grade 9/10 social studies, grade 9/10 English, grade 11 Chemistry, grade 5/6, Grade 3/4 Art, Grade 7 Art, and Grade 8 Art, librarian, playground supervisor, mover (helping a lady unpack in her new apartment), shopper, cook, organizer & administrator. The kids went to school for a few days – Tommy with his 3rd cousin Joel, and Annie in the class with her grade. Jack went to Tommy’s class to help as a tutor.

The boys came back oblivious as to who was in their classroom, but Annie knew all the names of the kids in her class, and most of the details of what had gone on during the day.

School starts at 7:30 am, when it is still sort of cool outside, and ends about 2:30 pm, when it is good and hot. We would eat lunch there with the school kids.

During the off hours, we were responsible for getting things organized for the group of 10 people coming from our church toward the end of our stay in Niamey. So we would run around town collecting various groceries and supplies from various places. Cucumbers from that guy on that corner, pineapples over there, and Coke around the corner.

The cheese came from the store known locally as “White Shack”, which unfortunately for us was neither white, nor a shack, nor called “White Shack”. After several tries and several sets of directions, we discovered that “White Shack” was really “Azar’s”, that it was red brick, and that it looked nothing like a shack. It is owned by a Lebanese guy with the nickname “Cobra” who has a ponytail and sits by the till. Here we bought ground beef (much leaner than the lean stuff we buy at home), cheese, mosquito repellant, rice, sugar and a few other things.

Haddad’s is another place that is owned by Lebanese guys. It is close to the Petit Marche (the little market). The trouble is that we didn’t have a map, and the street it is on is one way the wrong way to get there easily. We ended up just driving around the approximate area, trying to drive in the legal direction of each street, and it was just when we gave up and turned back toward the river and the bridge home that we spotted Haddad’s on the right side of the street.

[photo of Jack in Haddad's coming soon - once FTP works again]

We pulled in and ran into its air conditioned comfort. Inside, it was jammed with people and groceries for sale in a space about 2/3rd the size of a 7/11 store back home. It had carts, so we grabbed one and headed into the store. One whole aisle was dedicated to alcohol, including a $1,500 bottle of cognac in a special display. Oenophiles will like the idea of the $5 French wines further down the aisle, but not caring about the booze, we bought large boxes of Foster Clark’s powered drink mixes from Malta, orange juice from Lebanon, 10 frozen chickens from France, and 15 cans of tuna packed in water from Paris.

The amazing thing about the stores here is the number of diverse places things come from. I saw boxes of Wheat Thins marked Product of Canada next to displays of skin whitening soap from Nigeria and a multi-national Coke display of Coke products in cans. Regular Coke entirely written in Arabic from an unidentifiable Arab country. Sprite in French and Arabic, possibly from Lebanon or Morocco. Diet Coke from Indonesia. In another store, regular Coke in 500 mL plastic bottles from Burkina Faso, Diet Coke in plastic bottles from Nigeria, and cans of Coke from Togo (not the town in Saskatchewan).

By comparison, everything we buy in Canada seems to come from one plant in Toronto, or because of packaging rules, gets to be marked as a product of Canada, even though it came from somewhere else. Now that Canada’s getting a new set of packaging guidelines, I’m looking forward to seeing where the stuff I buy really comes from.

→ 1 CommentTags: Niger · Photos · Travel

Blogging in the dark

February 14th, 2009 · No Comments

So we’re sitting here at 10 pm in the pitch dark, blogging by the glow of laptop screens spread around the room and out on the porch. This is the third or fourth power failure today, and the second since the sun went down. The last time the power came on, a huge cheer was heard going up among the public neighbourhoods surrounding us.

Of course, this posting cannot be posted until the power comes back on and powers our Internet connection. Without electricity, we’re back in the pre-electrical era, with laptops whose value can be calculated by their remaining battery life. Soon, we’ll have a bunch of expensive door stops and paper weights.

→ No CommentsTags: Niger · Travel

In praise of ceiling fans

February 8th, 2009 · 121 Comments

Not many people know this about me, but I have held a long aversion to ceiling fans. Maybe this is a reaction to growing up with my parents, who love them. Not for me the 1980′s rumpus-room-chic fan with wooden blades inset with lattice work. Not for me the blinged-out fans adorned with bulbous lights and gee-gaws. And besides, I live in Canada, where it’s winter half the year and you just open the window to cool things down.

But here in Niger – oh my goodness, things have changed. Here, the ceiling fan is my best friend, and the faster I can get it to turn the better. It may sound like a DC3 is revving up in the room, but these things create the closest thing to wind chill factor West Africa has to offer. And that’s a good thing.

Now these are not fancy ceiling fans – photo coming soon. But like my economist friends like to say, nothing adds utility like utility. And around here, ceiling fans are a utility. Every room has got one, or ten or twelve. And they’re all going vigorously. And it’s the cold season.

There are some risks, mind you. No jumping is allowed, particularly for tall people. Indoor hockey is out. And you should be careful not to tip your head back too far to get that last drop of Coke out of the glass bottle, because it might be ripped from your hands by an incredible force, and swept by the fan-made gale into the corner of the room. And if the big diesel-powered generators across the river that generate most of this country’s electrical power go out, it won’t be long before the resulting quiet in the room is replace by the sound of rivulets of your own sweat running down onto the floor and creating a hazard for passing children and elderly people. If that’s not utility, I don’t know what is.

There is now no ceiling to my enthsiasm for fans. I might even be their biggest one.

→ 121 CommentsTags: Niger · Travel

Photos posted to Facebook

February 7th, 2009 · 2 Comments

I used Facebook’s nice photo upload tool to load 59 photos to my Facebook page from our trip over here and Morocco.

The drawback is that I think you have to be my Facebook friend to view the photos, so you might need to add me as a friend.

If you’ve never heard of Facebook, send a text message to a teenager and ask about it.

Here’s a link to my public Facebook page to get you started.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Germany · Morocco · Photos · Travel

Neat photos from Chad

February 6th, 2009 · No Comments

Not that Chad – Chad the country.

These photos aren’t mine or in Niger, but they might as well be. They are certainly representative of things we have seen.

Both pics from:

→ No CommentsTags: Photos · Travel