Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Corruption, Spy Glasses,and Knickers,

I could be forgiven for nearly peeing my pants when that momentary tsunami of fear swept through. Awash, I floundered to gather my thoughts while being escorted from Guayaquil Airport's Departures Lounge and down through long corridors and across the tarmac towards Security Inspection in the baggage loading building, a harsh functional affair with several security guards lined up awaiting me. Chappelle Corby probably felt as wet pantied when she got hauled up with drugs she maintained someone had hidden in her boogie board cover. Gee, imagine her thoughts as she got done with those drugs and then copping 20 years in a Bali prison! 20 years and she may have been innocent. Wow! This is your life now girl!

Maybe we should have invested $5 to have our bags wrapped by those bright orange giant glad-wrap machines at the check-in? Maybe someone has stuffed drugs in my bag? Maybe 20 years awaits me....?

We had heard the "McIntosh" in amongst the repeated Spanish gibberish announcements, but ignored it each time: if they wanted us then they'd better use English! Eventually we did front up once the English announcement was made calling me to report at the departure gate for our flight .
Blithely thinking we may just be getting an upgrade for the long flight home after 4 weeks in Ecuador and Galapagos Islands, the guts was knocked out of myself when I was told I must accompany the English speaking airline official as my already checked in bag was to be searched by Security! What on earth for!
"You must come to the Security Inspection immediately!"
Kay said later that I looked like a man going to the firing squad - the colour had drained from my face!
Yeah well, I was caught unaware, and natural to think the worst: I'd read too many travel stories of people having drugs found in their bags.

A bag I recognised as ours lay on the table between the airline official and myself and the seven bored looking security guards, one whom addressed me in Spanish.
"Is this your bag Mr McIntosh?" the airline official translated to me.
"No Senor." I could manage that much Spanish.
"Your passport please."
"My passport is with my wife back in the lounge Senor. You did not ask me to bring it."
A hurried conversation in Spanish and the airline official goes off to retrieve my passport.

Why would they want to search my bag? What had the checked-in security scan picked up?
I'm thinking "I wish I could video record this situation. Who knows what is going to happen?"

Damn, my spy Sunglasses were just the gear I needed now in case things turned nasty, but I couldn't because they were now recording some corrupt official back in ....
(.... can't tell you that as may incriminate a friend.)

Check these out-
On our travels I carry a pair for video filming in situations where a camera may be a target for thieves. The pinhole between the lenses above the nose bridge is a camera; battery and 2Gb mini SD card are in the side frames.

Corrupt tender process.
 In Ecuador a friend showed interest in these as his sister works in a business that is to purchase heavy excavation machinery: a few contenders vying for million dollar contracts. His sister is being pressured, and losing her job has been threatened by a government official if she will not buy from a certain supplier - backhanders are thought to be involved. My friend was to attend a meeting between his sister, the corrupt official and the hopeful supplier. These are just what he wanted to record the meeting and expose the official's corruption! I gave them to him free as he's a genuinely nice guy and his sister should not be forced into being part of the corruption. Hopefully I'll be able to report back on the outcome.

Corruption is endemic in many countries. It's part of life, accepted practice that if you want to make a deal someone gets a slice of the action as a backhander or facilitator.

Suva Fiji, many years ago, a late night bar, whiskey and soda being poured, myself guest of an ex-mayor of Suva, with a prominent building company owner; we three discussing the just finished night's meeting where the spokesperson had addressed around 100 business and government officials - the subject: Stamping Out Corruption!"

"It's not corruption. It's 'speed' money. I don't pay the bureaucrat to do anything illegal - I just pay him to have my contracts on the top of his huge pile of papers each morning!" hissed the company owner. "The government bureaucracy is so slow it costs thousands of dollars in delays to work. I pay someone off to have my contracts get through faster, which saves the government money in the cost of building their hospital  anyway!"
Interesting point that - speed money. Bribery, or corruption...or just a facilitating fee to an underpaid, inefficient public servant who knows that if he does speed up his work rate - the 'speed' money will slow down.

So an underpaid official leverages his position to ensure supplicants offer up the cash!

Just prior to flying to Ecuador, I had read on a Tripadvisor Africa forum thread of a corruption incident. "Madam, I am the official. I can hold on to your passport until you miss your plane. $100 please."
The writer of the post went on to say she paid up.

While waiting for my passport, these incidents and others came to mind. Petty official corruption. 

How do we mere ordinary travellers combat official corruption? 

Perhaps there is a way!
Miniaturized secret surveillance technology is so small, almost undetectable, very cheap, and so readily available these days!  Spy pens and spy key chains are now being sold as low as $29 if you shop around.
Now imagine being able to record when a jumped up toad of a corrupt border official extorts cash from you?

Wouldn't you be doing everyone a favour by recording it, uploading it to YouTube and plastering the incident across social media and embarrassing his bosses to take action against him, and in doing so making it known we can all now do the same?"

We can fight back against them! We ordinary people can discipline them and help put an end to this corruption!
Soon every official is going to become aware that anyone can be carrying a small surveillance device and think twice about their wee scams.

Sure many readers are going to protest about this post. But it is already happening- there's a huge amount of them sold. Who do you think is buying these cheap $25 pens? It's a multi-million dolar business.  This technology is with us - we are going to have to learn to live with knowing that at any time someone may be videoing you.
As with any new technology, there is always an upside and a downside. 

The upside is that we can help stamp out corruption in many places by secret surveillance and uploading to Youtube to expose this extortion.
My expansive train of thought about what I was possibly facing was broken into as my passport arrived and the questioning started afresh
"Your passport says you are a shoemaker. You seem to have travelled many places for a shoemaker."
"Yes Senor. I have." . Border officials have asked this question before. Do I launch into how a shoemaker's passport is nearly full of visas? He'll just up the bribe demand anyway.
"Is this your bag senor?"
"No Senor. It is not my bag."
"Your name is on this bag."
"It is my name on the check-in luggage tag but it is not my bag senor."
"If your name is on this bag, it must be yours."
"No senor. It is not my Bag."

The security inspector opens the bag, reaches in and pulls out... ladies clothing!

"This bag Senor...whose bag is it?"
"My wife's bag Senor. Obviously the checked luggage labels have been placed on the wrong bags when we checked in together, Senor."
(He probably thinks I'm a very weird guy....)
A very quiet security inspector makes a quick cursory check of my bag and signals the inspection is over and I am free to go...back to the departure gate and a very worried wife who was ready to ring the embassy!

Wow, did we have a grand laugh as our tension released with gales of laughter when I told her it was her clothes that were pulled out! Passengers must have thought we were very weird!

NB: Not at any stage did any Guayaquil security inspector make any gesture of bribery. It was just a random checked-in bag inspection I was told later. This story is about how I thought, reacted and perceived possible events at the time, and I do not wish to slander the guards who keep our airlines safe.

As for my spy video sunglasses, well I truly hope they do the trick and help unmask that government official who is corrupt! 


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Travel Photo Thursday: Feb 9th. Interesting light.

Photography can be so frustrating at times. I stumble around with settings, then get so annoyed I just flick to Auto and relax and leave it all to the camera to sort out!
In the course of experimentation, particularly in low light situations, I have learnt never to delete anything but wait until I bring them up on computer...and then I can be pleasantly surprised!

Here's a few unexpected results, often because I have not checked what setting my Canon SX10is was on. 
I have now upgraded to the recently released Canon SX40HS which captures a better pic in low light.

Damaraland, Namibia.
Wrong camera setting but I love these colours: so cooling after a hot day's slog building rock walls for water point protection from desert elephants.

Chobe River, Botswana.
Lone Namibian fisherman. Late afternoon overcast skies created this peaceful scene's light.

Lake TanaEthiopia.
Eerie light of early morning boat trip to island monasteries. My camera program select button was on wrong setting.

Luss, Loch Lomond, Scotland.
Love the delicate colouring of this low light scene.

Travel Photo Thursday is on again where travel bloggers post up their great pics from around the world. 
Join us! 
Head over to Nancie's Budget Traveler's Sandbox and post up your travel photo and link into the fun! Get around everyone, share and leave a comment so we know where to return the love! 


Sunday, February 5, 2012

An Unusual Journey.

Unfettered by not needing to write to an editor's expectation or a publisher's style or format, sometimes the weirdest journeys are undertaken by writers who then allow their imagination to soar or explore different ways of telling a story or expressing concepts. When I crafted a few lines together little did I know that my poetry would end up as a song on YouTube and played on Radio in South Africa and the USA!

Last year I was supposed to be progressing through a travel writer's course. Many people like myself sign on with the hope of eventually making it through and breaking into being a published travel writer, hopefully creating a career and earning an income: I don't have that as a motivator.

Prior to signing on, a friend told me it wasn't for me: "You should look at a Creative Writing course." A few weeks into it, I realised Red was right! While it was an excellent course for its stated purpose and objectives aimed at anyone who wants to become a successful published travel writer, I found the course was too narrow for me. Not many editors consider poetry a suitable style for destination travel writing: little wonder there's so many boring travel publications out there. Back then poetry had raised its tentacles and grasped my mind and took over my imagination as an unrealised and unknown need found expression. I had to explore this completely new field! I found it far more exciting.

So it was that my simple attempts at poetry -although feeble at first- were noticed by a few bloggers in various groups I was invited into: they wanted more. Thanks guys!
Interesting to note, my second poetry attempt has had over 4,700 reads.
Song of the Tui.

5 months ago I was asked to write a poem about a colour, to place on a new website here 

I knew I had to write about ''RED".
Red eyes tell us when someone has been crying; red also signifies blood; and if you have seen the glory of an African sunset you'll never forget Nature's display of reds and fiery oranges! All these ideas I knew I could bring together in a simple poem.

Much of the inspiration for those lines came from this photo taken in Chobe National Park, Botswana, May 2011.
The early evening sunset on the Chobe River shone Darth Vader's light sabre across the water, captured by my Canon SX10is on ''Sunset" setting.  I took dozens of pics of this stunning display.

Investigating an elephant poaching report the following day further inspired the lines.

There is an ongoing tragedy escalating in its intensity for Africa's wildlife.

1. Rising demand in Asia, particularly China and Vietnam is fuelling poaching of much of Africa's animals: rhino and elephant are being very badly hit.

2. Loss of wilderness areas as the human population grows; each new family needs its plot of land to grow meagre crops or graze their cattle. Eradication or control of tsetse fly (the sleeping sickness carrier) while a boon for mankind means death for wildlife as it allows cattle to be pushed into areas where up to recently the fly has been valuable in keeping man and cattle out of.

3. Trophy hunting of lion. Usually the best trophies taken are the male in his prime just when he's taken over the pride and fathered the new generation of cubs. Shooting the pride male means a younger male will take over, and he will kill all the cubs sired by the previous male to ensure lionesses come back into heat so the new alpha male's genes are passed on. A trophy kill of a pride male leader is not just 1 lion killed, but is a death warrant for many young cubs also. Lion population in Africa has dropped from an estimated 200,000 in the 70's to less than 20,000 today.
How many nations and organisations use the symbol of the lion, the king of beasts to project power and courage? Don't they realise it's a doomed beast?

 3. Rhino are under threat of extermination in the wild and some specie will be lost to us if escalating poaching is not brought under control.

4. Elephant poaching is increasing as rising Asian affluence creates more demand for ivory ornaments, chopsticks and signature seals.

5. There is now a growing problem with Carburofan poisoning of carcasses. A poor local cattle or goat herder wants to kill any predators, like lion, cheetah or leopard. A poisoned-laced carcass attracts and kills predators, and the scavengers of their carcasses also. It is cheap, and undiscriminating.

All these issues I sought to encapsulate in these words-

Africa's Red Sun.

Africa's red sun is crying,
As its blood seeps out around.
Its wildlife is dying
As man spreads across the ground.

A hunter pulls the trigger,
At a lion's roaring sound.
A once majestic tawny beast,
Struck by that killing round.

Africa's red sun is crying,
As its blood drips on the ground.
The symbol of all that was proud and strong,
Now nowhere to be found.

A poacher drugs a rhino.
Can you hear that dreadful sound?
The chainsaw roars, into its skull it bores.
Another horn is China bound.

Africa's red sun is crying,
As its blood flows on the ground,
As its mother dies, the baby cries.
Another elephant brought down.

A herder poisons a carcass,
Leaves it lying on the ground.
Very soon, the grass is strewn,
Dead wildlife all around.

Africa's red sun is crying,
As its blood floods o'er the ground.
When will we find the place and time,
To share Nature's playground.

I shared the link to Africa's Red Sun -  to a few wildlife conservation groups on Facebook. People liked it- one site had over 50 onward shares!
Vin Gallo, a musician from South Africa took up the words I sent him, created the music -which was amazingly close to how I was singing it to myself!- and posted to Youtube this incredible video.

Africa's Red Sun Is Crying will also be used in a wildlife conservation commercial Vin Gallo has arranged to be aired on South African radio each hour this week to publicise -

International Rhino Music Day, February 12th at 
Emerald Resort and Casino in Vanderbijlpark, near Johannesburg, 2pm - 5pm.

 Africa's Red Sun Is Crying has also aired on Radio  WEKT in Kentucky!

Where this song goes from here- well who knows?
It's been an unusual journey!

Help protect and conserve rhino here-
Save our rhino on Facebook


Thursday, February 2, 2012

After the Harvest: We'll all be gone!

Photo by Jim McIntosh.

Always before us
our ancestors wandered
roaming so freely
our wilderness home.
For millions of years
we could all walk together,
but man has destroyed them,
now all of that's gone.

Once we could wander
beyond highest mountain,
and across green savannah
we could all roam. 
There was a time
when we all walked together,
until man's exploitation has
destroyed our green home.

There are these rivers
that flow wide between us.
There are these oceans
of knowledge unknown.
If we could converse,
would you believe us?
How you've poisoned this Earth
that was once our green home.

And always before us
we rhino have wandered,
roaming so freely
in Nature's kingdom.
But now in this short time
as they gather vile treasures,
after the harvest
we'll all be gone.

Now we must flee
to hide beyond mountains.
And the green savannah,
no longer our home.
There was a time
we would all walk together
until we saw your reflection 
and could see what you've done.

Now we must flee
to hide beyond mountain.
Now we must flee
the poacher's chainsaw.
And now we must suffer
the cruellest of slaughter,
for the Chinese Medicine
they harvest our horn.

And after the harvest...
and after the harvest...
and after the harvest...
we'll all be gone.

Thanks to Ray Wylie Hubbard for the inspiration!
Can't find his "After the Harvest" on YouTube but this is a favourite also.