Sunday, December 28, 2008

Danger in Johannesburg

Johannesburg is repeatedly rated as being one of the most dangerous cities in the world. When I first visited in 1998, I immediately noticed all of the gated properties with bars on the windows. I was advised not to walk anywhere, and I didn’t. At the very least, I could have been robbed, but I was more concerned with being raped or killed. Peter Greenberg quotes some interesting statistics about the city in his book Don’t Go There: “From April 2006 to March 2007, there were 611 murders.” From 2006 to 2007, there were 2,332 carjackings and “from April to December 2007, there were 1,353 rapes and indecent assaults.” In fact, Johannesburg has earned the reputation as being the rape capital when a report cited that one in five men admitted to having sex with a woman without her consent. Despite the danger, I have always enjoyed myself there, visiting the local malls and restaurants. I just made sure to take a taxi everywhere. It must be horrible though for the people who live there. Two of my friends—one male and one female--said they would move to another country without hesitation if they had the opportunity.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lonely Planet Hotel Bookings

When planning a trip, there’s nothing more convenient than booking a room online, but Lonely Planet has taken this convenience to a whole new level. Their website offers the visitor the opportunity to book accommodations in 24 African countries such as Algeria, Djibouti, and Ethiopia. Since I have been researching a trip to Mali, I found listing for Timbuktu. While most could not be booked online, if available, contact information (web sites and e-mails) were provided. The reviews certainly reinforced my assumptions that the choices would be limited in the desert town would be limited and basic. I was surprised though to see that Visa and Mastercard were accepted at such a remote location. One review states that the hotel is a hot 20 minute desert walk to town but nestled in the sand. Another equally inviting review describes the hotel as providing “cool relief from the relentless sun and insects.” Despite these less than complimentary descriptions, I still find the destination alluring. It’s just a matter of time before I book online for a stay in Timbuktu.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas in Africa

I have always wanted to visit Africa at Christmas. And who wouldn’t? It was 81 degrees in Johannesburg yesterday. The Drifters trip I was exploring—the 9-day Coastal Explorer--would have been perfect. I would have flown into Cape Town and then travelled along the coast to Durban and then flown out of Johannesburg. The tour would have left plenty of time to hike along the coast and swim in the Indian Ocean. (The current is strong, and there is always a danger of sharks, but it’s a risk I have taken before.) I would have spent Christmas and New Year’s there and would have had a chance to visit my friends in Knysna. When I initially checked, the airfare was $2,400. (The same flight today is $2,900). The most I’ve ever paid to fly to Africa so far was $1,700, and that was painful enough. The tour, on the other hand, was very reasonable—only about $1,000. If the daily news about the economy weren’t so bad and had I not just gotten my hours cut at my part-time job, I might have been willing to pay the price. As it stands now, I check the airfare every day, hoping for a dream deal.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Birding in Africa

I never had an interest in birds until I went to Africa. While canoeing on the Zambezi river, I saw my favorite bird for the first time—the Carmine Bee-eater, a vibrant multicolored bird. I have also enjoyed wonderful sightings of African Fish Eagles, Flamingos, and Pearl-spotted Owls, the smallest in Southern Africa. In order to better prepare myself for my next safari, I have orders a DVD set from These three DVDs feature videos of over 500 birds with their calls. I’m anxious to see how many I already know and learning more about some rare finds. The Southern African Birding site also offers a wiki describing many locations to go birding. A worthwhile blog that features African birds is Charlie Moores has some great shots.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Malls in Johannesburg

What All-American woman doesn’t love the mall? And, when I travel to Johannesburg, that’s one of the first things I do. The Cresta Mall is actually within walking distance of the Drifters Inn where I usually stay. One of my favorite things to do is visit the book store, Exclusive Books, and load up on travel essays about Africa. Then I visit one of the restaurants there and have one of my favorites: Welsh rarebit with a local beer. I’ve also been known to grab a bit of biltong to nibble on as I browse. As you can see from the photos, the mall is as modern as any in the States: Visiting the mall is also a perfect activity for killing some time before my transfer to the airport at the end of the trip. I have also visited a more upscale mall—the Sandton, which required a taxi drive, as well as the Eastgate.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Butternut Squash Soup

Nothing says Africa to me like butternut squash soup. It’s as common in South Africa as French onion soup is here. There are two ways to make it. One version calls for cream while the other uses stock and a bit of butter. You can also buy it in the supermarket. Campbell’s makes a great low-fat version and Wolfgang Puck makes a creamy and fattening alternative. I’ve made it at home, and it’s quite easy, especially if you buy the frozen butternut squash that is already cut into chunks. You Tube has a great video “Butternut Squash Soup,” which also suggests adding croutons as a garnish.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mama Africa Dies

My mother called me to tell me that Mama Africa died. Not only had I not heard the news yet, but I didn’t know who she was. An article in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian “Miriam Makeba Dies in Italy” (Nov.10) describes the highlights of her life. I learned that Harry Belafonte not only helped her get her music recorded in the United States, but that she was also married to a leader of the Black Panther party, Stokely Carmichael. A You Tube clip highlights her fight against Apartheid: “South African Legend Miriam Makeba Dies” (10 Nov 2008). Another clip talks about her Soweto homecoming when she was finally allowed to return to her country because of Mandela’s invitation: “South Africa Mourns Miriam Makeba” (15 Nov 08). “Pata Pata,” one of her most popular songs is also available to view: “Miriam Makeba - Pata Pata.” She is truly an inspiring woman.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Biltong is South Africa’s version of jerky, but it gets more interesting. In addition to beef, you can also sample versions made of game and seasoned with peri-peri (spicy) seasoning.

South Africans commonly eat it at sporting events with beer, but I find it a great snack anytime I’m there. In fact, I defied the no-food-in-the-tent rule and found my bag covered in ants the next morning. What a waste of such a delicacy!

Once one of my tour guides made it, and it was fun being part of the process. (Several recipes can be found at I even had a South African friend mail me some as a gift once. If you want to try some from a local distributer, you can order it at It’s not cheap, but then nothing good is.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Michael Palin's Sahara

Watching Michael Palin’s four-part series Sahara reinforced my desire to go to West Africa. Beginning in Gibraltar, he travels to Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia. While the Sahara is harsh, the landscapes are beautiful. I realize that there’s not much in Timbuktu, but I am still determined to go. Since I have already visited Tangier and Egypt, I feel ready to enjoy more of the Arab world and then venture further south into “black” Africa. Gap Adventures runs tours to Mali, but not past March because of the rainy season. Many of the other tour companies are expensive. Things just aren’t clicking.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

African Literature

While earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in English, I was only exposed to one work of African literature: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Over the past ten years, I have read a great many non-fiction works, but not as many pieces of fiction as I would like. It looks as if I will have the opportunity though since Rutgers Camden is offering a course in the spring entitled South African Literature. The professor, Tyler Hoffman, will also lead a trip to South Africa in March. While I won’t be able to make the trip, I am hoping to take the course. I already have a copy of the syllabus and am researching the authors. One of my resources I am using is The Companion to African Literatures by Douglas Killiam and Ruth Rowe (2000). I would love to teach a world literature course at my high school and devote a unit to African literature. Students need to read more than just British literature.

Monday, October 20, 2008

African Shower

The first shower I took in Africa was at the Drifters Inn in Johannesburg. The tiles were made of African slate, and I loved the look so much that I had my friend tile my shower in a similar fashion. Now, twice I day, as the steamy water washes over me, I imagine that I have just arrived in Johannesburg and am about to embark on a new adventure.

My most African romantic shower was in the Delta in Botswana. We didn’t get to camp until late so our guide heated water at the campfire and filled a bucket strung up to a tree. We showered by candlelight while friendly brown mice ran at our feet.

On another occasion in the Delta, while taking a bush shower during the day, I had warthogs watching. I wasn’t frightened, just a bit self-conscious. Because there were thirteen others people who had to shower, we had to conserve water. The best way to do that was to get wet, then turn the water off, soap up, then rinse.

I enjoyed my most deluxe shower while staying at a luxury safari lodge. The walls were clear, and I showered while baboons and impala frolicked outside. I also had the option of bathing in a sunken tub that also had a huge window overlooking the bush. Fortunately, I was an invited guest and wasn’t paying the $1,100 a night price tag for such decadence.

The longest I’ve gone in Africa without a shower is three days. I was camping in the Serengeti in remote areas without facilities. What sounds like a horrific experience actually wasn’t so bad. We could still brush our teeth and freshen up with economy sized containers of Wet Naps. Ironically, when we finally reached a proper camp, I chose to relax at the bar while most of the others ran to take a shower. I figured the cold shower could wait until after I enjoyed a cold beer.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


I was in Egypt in July when this photo was taken. These two crocodiles--the one I'm holding and the one on my hat--are the only carnivores I saw on my whole trip. I tipped a local at one of the ruins a few dollars for the the priviledge of holding one. It actually wasn't my first time. In 1998, while on a crocodile farm in Southern Africa, I held one a bit smaller who was much stronger. I could barely hold its snout closed, which made me wonder if my Nile buddy was drugged to ensure his docility. While canoeing on the Zambezi River, I've seen many crocodiles along the banks, big boys too, but on the Nile, they are virtually extinct. Many of the passengers on my Nile cruise looked frantically for a siting, but to no avail. I must admit that it is an incredible rush to see one in the wild while paddling within 20 feet of them in a canoe just inches from the surface of the water. It's even more exhilerating (or frightening) on the rare occasions that one must walk in water that I knew contained these creatures.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

African Safari Photo of the Day

Under I Google gadgets, I added the African Safari Photo of the Day. Now when I turn my computer on in the morning, the first image I see is of Africa. The visual imagery gives me the courage to face the stresses of daily life. It's also a reminder that there is a wild, beautiful place that is just nine months away. I considered a nine-day jaunt at Christmas, but I couldn't rationalize the $2,500 airfare for such a short stay. Being able to enjoy another three or four weeks in the bush will be worth the wait.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Coffee in the African Bush

Who doesn’t cherish a hot cup of coffee in the morning, especially on a Sunday? I certainly do, and I have never enjoyed one so much as I have in Africa. While on camping safari, I wake in my tent to the sound of the tour guide pulling out a coffee pot from the truck-- the unofficial alarm clock. I lay in my sleeping bag listening to the sounds of the Carmen Bee eaters before stuffing my sleeping bag and deflating my mattress. I slip on the clothes that I have laid out on my duffel bag. After putting the tent down, with the assistance of my tent mate, I walk to the circle of khaki chairs that served as a barrier against the African night. Maybe there were hyenas lurking about, maybe elephants so softly trodden. The remnants of last night’s fire are reduced to ash. As I drink my steaming coffee out of a tin mug, the other campers join me. We later eat cereal from the same mug before washing them and driving off on the dusty, bush road.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

African Healing Dance

I certainly don’t kill myself going to the gym, but I do try to exercise when I can. When I’m at the gym, I enjoy lifting weights, doing yoga, and swimming. I also like walking, rollerblading and biking. Sometimes I even pop a Pilates tape into the DVD player at home. While browsing through the DVDs at the library, I found another exercise tape that I want to try—African Healing Dance. The host is the lead dancer of the Damballa dance troupe who demonstrates traditional African dances. Supposedly, it is supposed to improve my physical and emotional well-being. I don’t see how I can go wrong since the woman looks fantastic in her traditional skirt and halter. I might even wear the same since I brought some African cloth home on a previous trip. I can’t see myself having her rhythm though, but who will know if I do it in the privacy of my own home? I’m going to make sure that I draw the blinds. What would the neighbors think?

Saturday, September 6, 2008


Ten years ago, while on an overland safari, one of the girls in my group came down with malaria. She was a Norwegian aerobics instructor in her twenties. Watching how the sickness affected her made me fear getting malaria myself. I have never been infected, but I always take precautions when I am there. I take malaria tablets, spray myself with the strongest DEET there is and keep covered during dawn and dusk. Unfortunately, many Africans do not have access to these live-saving resources. According to a study conducted in 2002 that was reported on the Global Health web site, over one million Africans die each year from malaria. I recently rented a DVD called Africa Live: The Roll Back Malaria Concert (2005). The two-day concert’s goal was not only to entertain the 50,000 who came to view the African musicians in Dakar, Senegal, but to also bring international attention to the issue. The festival featured a remarkable diversity of performers, but the message was what moved me most. Africans wanted desperately to help each other.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa

Last year while in Malawi, I met a young girl on Mount Mulanje who was working as a Peace Corps volunteer. While I have visited many Africa villages, this young lady was living in one for two years. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to immerse oneself in a remote village. While browsing the new release racks at the library, I found an interesting book called The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa by Josh Swiller. I took it with me to Egypt and could not put it down. While escaping the heat on the Nile, I relaxed in my room and was transported to Mununga in Zambia. Not only is Swiller’s writing style compelling, but the tale he shares makes one realize there is no such thing as a sleepy, little village (at least not in the African bush). While he met many people worthy of admiration such as his best friend Augustine Jere, he also met Boniface, a dark character, who not only impeded Swiller’s work, but almost let to his demise.
For more information on Swiller, you can visit his web site at

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Peter Godwin on Zimbabwe

Peter Godwin just published a comprehensive piece in Vanity Fair on the current political situation in Zimbabwe. At a time when foreign journalists were banned and tortured and imprisoned if found, Godwin spent two months investigating Mugabe’s violent regime. Godwin not only interviews Tsvangirai, but also many of the victims whose stories are heartbreaking. Since oil and terrorism are not involved, Godwin predicts international attention will dwindle.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

1998 Embassy Bombings--Ten Years Later

“Are you watching the news over there?” my mother asked, clearly concerned.

I was at a phone stand in a Malawian village, paying twenty dollars for a three-minute call to the States.

“They are bombing all over the place, and they are targeting Americans.”

“I know, Mom. As soon as I heard, I stopped wearing my USA sweatshirt.”

It was my first trip to Africa in 1998. I was on an overland safari from Johannesburg to Nairobi, and during the five weeks that I was on the continent, bombings occurred in three of the cities I visited—the embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and Planet Hollywood in Cape Town.

Although I was spending the majority of my time visiting game parks and camping in rural areas, I was hearing snippets of the news in coffee shops and Internet cafes.

My mother wanted me home, but despite her concerns and my own, Africa had taken its hold on me. The truth was that I was having the time of my life.

I wasn’t na├»ve. I knew the reality—the poverty, the disease, the corruption, and the political upheaval. But I saw another side of Africa during those six weeks--animals running wild in their natural habitat, modern cities, pulsating with a myriad of rhythms, and beautiful, welcoming people, proud of their heritage. Because I wanted to experience both the exhilaration of its endless landscapes and the grit of daily life, I made another six trips in the next ten years.

When I returned home, I began sharing the insight I gained with my high school students. I wanted them to realize that there was another side of Africa than the one the media provided. I shared some of my most memorable experiences—riding a hot air balloon over the Serengeti, snorkeling off the coast of Zanzibar, watching lion cubs frolic in the Ngorogoro Crater, whitewater rafting on the Zambezi, and taking a micro light flight over Victoria Falls.

“Yes,” they said when I asked them. They would also go to Africa if given the opportunity.

Years later when I wanted to visit the mountain gorillas of Rwanda, I had to cancel the trip twice because of guerilla activity that resulted in tourists being hacked to death with machetes. When things quieted down, I found a company that was resuming tours. With much trepidation, I climbed the Virunga Mountains, flanked with soldiers brandishing machine guns. I was afraid, but the hour I spent with those gentle creatures was one of the most poignant moments of my life.

Terrorism is real, but it can’t keep us from visiting all the extraordinary places the world has to offer. Several days ago, I returned from a cruise to Turkey. Istanbul was bombed four days before we arrived. The news was startling. I was sad, and I was angry, but I disembarked. I visited the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, and the Spice Market. I loved the view of the city as we cruised on the Bosphorus River. I can’t wait to tell my students about it in September.

Published in Gloucester County Times Aug. 17, 2008

Saturday, August 9, 2008


If I hadn’t liked Egypt, I was prepared to say, “Well, it’s not really Africa. It’s the Middle East,” but I did like the country. In fact, there was only one negative of the trip, and that was the heat. Some days, it reached 107 degrees. July and August are the worst months to visit, but supposedly the crowds are not as bad as in their high season. Dealing with the dry heat was a small price to pay though for the thrill of being there. I spent two days at the Marriott Hotel and Omar Khayyam Casino in Cairo, not a bad place to get over jet lag. I visited Mohammed Ali’s alabaster mosque and the Egyptian Museum. The highlights were the mummy room and the King Tut exhibit. Then I flew to Abu Simbel and took a three day cruise on Lake Nasser before transferring to another ship in Aswan and heading north another three days on the Nile to Luxor. Along the way, some of the highlights included a sound and light show at the Temple at Abu Simbel, crossing the high dam, and riding on a felucca around Aswan’s Botanical Gardens. Almost every day we also stopped to see the temples along the river. Each had a fascinating history. We also dressed up for the Galabea party (see photo). After the cruise, I flew back to Cairo and spent the next day visiting the pyramids and the Sphinx at Giza, and then we made short visits to Memphis and Sakkara. It was thrilling walking into one of the pyramids. I’m claustrophobic, but managed to make it in and out. Overall, I was very pleased with the itinerary. The only things I would have also liked to have done was visit Alexandria, see the Suez Canal, and swim in the Red Sea. I would highly recommend this trip.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Books I Am Taking With Me

As a general rule, I take a book a week with me on a trip. While that may seem like a lot, there is always a great deal of down time, especially on an overland safari. Since I will be cruising, I will have less time to read because I will want to take part in all available activities, but I will still bring three selections. The first is EyeWitness Travel Egypt, a pictorial guidebook about Egypt. The second is The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa by Josh Swiller, a Yale graduate who describes his Peace Corps work in Zambia, and finally, Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writer’s Guide, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call. Always the English teacher, I already have two books lined up to read when I return that I just ordered online: Peter Godwin’s Wild at Heart: Man and Beast in Southern Africa and Rhodesians Never Die: The Impact of War and Political Change on White Rhodesia. Now I’m off to the airport.

Monday, July 14, 2008

All Africa Radio

While packing for my trip to Egypt and the Mediterranean tonight, I plan to listen to the latest podcast of All Africa Radio. The show is broadcast live in New York from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m on AM radio channel WPAT 930-AM. The host, Chika Onyeani, the editor in chief of The African Sun Times, offers an interesting mix of news, political discussions and music. I had the honor of being interviewed about my African travels on their October 26 show about 35 minutes into the program. Previous shows are posted on the All Africa Radio site. I also highly recommend reading The African Sun Times. Three of the articles that I wrote for the paper appear on my web site: To view my interview of Chika Onyeani, you can watch Eye on Africa.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Wild at Heart

I received Wild at Heart: Man and Beast in Southern Africa in the mail yesterday from Amazon. It’s a beautiful coffee table book written by Peter Godwin and photographed by National Geographic’s Chris Johns. It features my favorite lion photo—a male walking in a windy desert. ( I used to have the image as my desktop photo on my laptop for a long time, and I just placed it there again. Lions are my favorite African animals, and that boy is majestic. The writing in the book is just as compelling. I love the last two lines of Peter Godwin’s Introduction: “However far you may have strayed from [Africa], between these covers at least, welcome home. For beneath the veneer of technological complexity, we are all wild at heart.” It is exactly that sentiment that drives me back to the continent. In just three days, I will be on African soil again.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Christian the Lion

Years ago, I read A Lion Called Christian, a memoir about a 35-pound lion cub that two Australian men were raising in London in 1969. In a year’s time, when the lion hit 185 pounds and was too large to keep in their flat, they contacted George Adamson in Kenya who released it back into the wild. Interestingly, my sister just sent me a link to a video about the two men reuniting with the lion after he had been released and had been living free for five years: It’s really touching. Bill Travers who starred in Born Free directed a film called Christian the Lion in 1971, but I haven’t seen it yet. Ironically, details about it appear in The New York Times yesterday:

Friday, July 11, 2008

African You Tube Videos

I watched some Africa-related videos last night on You Tube. I enjoyed some of the short clips from Out of Africa, especially the “Flight Over Africa.” My favorite music clips were by Johnny Clegg’s “Dela,” Wes’s “Awa Awa,” and Lucky Dube’s “Remember Me.” I also watched a few lion kills, which always receive a great deal of hits. The hot air balloon over the Serengeti brought back a lot of good memories of my own voyage ten years ago. That one-hour flight was the best $371 I ever spent. To view some of my favorites, you can visit my web site:

Thursday, July 10, 2008

African Online News

Every morning I read news about Africa online. My favorite sites to visit include South Africa's Daily Mail and Guardian, The New York Times, and the BBC News. Right now my primary interest is in reading about the current situation in Zimbabwe. What is happening to that country is heartbreaking. I have a friend there now who runs the Turgwe Hippo Trust, and I am very concerned about her safety. Had it not been for the upheavel there, I would have been visiting the country now. For more insight into the politics of the country, read Peter Godwin's Mukiwa and When a Crocodile Eats the Sun. (You can read the reviews I wrote of the books on Amazon and Barnes and Two other great memoirs about the land invastions are Catherine Buckle's African Tears: The Zimbabwe Land Invastions and Beyond Tears: Zimbabwe's Tragedy.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Peter Beard Documentary

I just finished watching the documentary Peter Beard Scrapbooks: Africa and Beyond. I have been a fan of Peter's artwork for quite a while now and was excited to find this 1998 fifty-four minute film on Netflix. In addition to interviews, there is also footage of him taking photographs in his studio and in Kenya. To learn more about Peter's work, you can visit his web site: Information about his exhibitions can be found at,past,2,0,0,0,11,0,0,0,peter_beard_peter_beard_time_s_up.html.