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Monday, April 2, 2012

My first blog, leaving tomorrow for a month long trip to the Congo in Africa

Bonjour mes amis, je parle francais parceque a demain je depart au Republique Democratic du Congo (DRC) et la bas on parle francais. D'accord, c'est tres bien, n'est ce pas? C'est la langue de ma grand pere.

Greetings Dear Friends, what I said above is that I leave tomorrow for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and am practicing French which is the lingua franca of that country and my grandfathers native tongue.

Why the heck are you  headed for the Congo you ask?----This plan  only started a few weeks ago when I stopped to meet a new neighbor who had just built a house here in Rockville Utah at the mouth of the Zion Canyon and National Park entrance, our Winter Camp. He owns a pasture a few fences upriver from us and lo and behold, he and I have all manner of shared history, associations and mutual friends in common in Africa. Before you know it I was privileged to be invited to be involved in the planning phase of  the Frankfort Germany Zoological Societies (FZS) international gathering   in Lubumbashi DRC.  The FZS has a long and distinguished history of important work in Africa and my paths have crossed with theirs for much of my life, not the least of which is that their President for 40 years, Bernard Grizmek was one of our clients at the Lodge and at the Chenik Brown Bear Photography Camp.

 The US has strategic interests in this area because of rare earth mining resources critical to computers and the like so the US Fish and Wildlife service and the USAID is engaged in these meetings with other international organizations like Panthera. The task at hand is the creation of a Master Plan dealing with the Upemba and Katenga National Parks, global hotspots for biodiversity. (google those sites; you will be enlightened) We are the vanguard in the creation of that plan subsidized by a 3 million euro European Union (EU) grant. I am mostly looking forward to visiting these areas as we take the results of the meetings into the field for application.

If you click the word blog that follows here you will meet my neighbor, friend,associate, travel and work partner,  Dr Bob Ford blog He will also show you lovely photos of the riparian corridor in SW Utah where we have built retirement homes just a short guerrilla ramble upstream of us. He is a remarkable person with deep roots in Africa, associations with the Diane Fossey Fund, Dean of the first private university in Rwanda during its construction phase, friend of author Roz Carr whose book Land of a Thousand Hills is a fascinating look into the era before and after the Hutu-Tutsi genocide in Rwanda.  I consider myself extremely lucky to claim his friendship!

My roots in Africa are deep too as are all our roots draw from that ancient soil. Jung said "god is from Africa". When Morgan and Shannon were 5 and 7 we went to Timbavati in S. Africa on the border of the Kruger Park Wilderness where we lived for awhile in a very remote lion research camp sleeping on the ground while visiting Chris and Charlotte McBride who had just published The White Lions of Timbavati. Ours became a life bond. Little Tabitha was to die in Zimbabwe but my god son Robert went on to his PhD at Harvard in Evolutionary Biology. Chris and Charlotte wrote two more books about their lives with lions. I returned alone to travel with Chris into the heart of the Okovango Swamp while he wrote his 3rd book, Liontide. Underwater photography was my "gig" and getting a lion on shore with the lower half of the frame underwater the goal. Out of money (Pula is the currency there, it means rain) I flew as copilot out of Maun to Windhoek Namibia at low level, skimming the trees as we left the war torn Kaprivi Strip, paid a bribe to cross the border. Windhoek was in full battle dress while the war with Angola was in full rage. Diane's cousin was coincidentally  Ambassador to Botswana, "The Pearl of Africa" for Regan at that time. In later years as an advisory board member for Lighthawk, "America's Environmental Air Force" with Tom Lovejoy, Senator Tim Wirth and John Travolta and others I helped African friends to clone Lighthawk in Africa as The Bateleurs, Volunteer Pilots Flying for Conservation in Africa.
This precipitated other trips and now back again and working to involve Bateleurs in the Congo.

In the words of Australian James Wolfensen, twice head of the World Bank, "the wave of the future is toward developing countries" and, "The development of human capital in the form of  education and health care in these places is critical".While the attention of the eurocentric world is largely focused on the Middle East and China, it is countries like the Congo that are among  the sleeping giants. It is the l9th most populous nation on earth, the 4th most populous in Africa with 70 million people and more people speak French here than in France or  anywhere else on earth.

May I  acquaint you with this part of the world with which you might not be familiar?
There is The Republic of Congo, a separate country at the mouth of the great river also callled Congo Kinshasa or Congo Brazeville; and there is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the DRC, my destination. I explain this because in the future this will help you to understand. If Africa is interresting to you, a globe or atlas would be instructional.

Books like Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness first published in 1899 exposes the dark side of European colonization while exploring the three levels of darkness that the protagonist, Marlow, encounters: the darkness of the Congo wilderness, the darkness of the Europeans' cruel treatment of the African natives, and the unfathomable darkness within every human being for committing heinous acts of evil.
(are we off to a good start??)

The next well known book is King Leupold's Ghost
The story chronicles the efforts of King Leopold II of Belgium to make the Congo into a colonial empire and his personal fiefdom. With a complex scheme of political intrigue, corruption and propaganda, he wins the assistance of one of the best-known explorers of the time, Henry Morton Stanley, as well as that of public opinion and of powerful states. Through this and other diplomatic efforts, he finally obtains international recognition for his colony. He then establishes a system of forced labour that keeps the people of the Congo basin in a condition of slavery. The residue of this era lingers here still.

Michael with his Zulu friend M'Vuzee in the Umfoloze Wilderness taken
a few years ago when I was given a plane ticket to Johannesburg to dedicate a building for The Bateleurs, "Volunteer Pilots Flying for Conservation in Africa", I am one of the founders of this NGO.

As a weary pilot flying the African bush I take a break on a grass strip in Pondoland, the "Wild Coast" where I flew a Bateleurs mission to document the incursion of mining activity on a UN World Heritage Site, called in Zulu, I'simangaliso or St Lucia Wetlands. It was while  we were fighting to protect and preserve this world treasure, I helped my African friends "clone" America's Environmental Air Force, Lighthawk, in Africa as the Bateleurs.

Michael Fey, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and his a/c get a sacred blessing from a "sangoma" as he prepares to fly a Mega-Transect Bateleurs mission to retrace and document his famous walk across the continent which resulted in the creation of a National Park and called world attention to the plight of elephants in this part of Africa and increased their protection.

Nora Kreher, beloved Founder of The Bateleurs who was like a sister to me

Dr. Ian Palyer, one of Africa's most distinguished conservationists confers with his peers about Bateleurs. I am honored to be an Honorary Patron of the organization with him. At the 8th World Wilderness Congress they awarded me their Silver Medal and The African Game Rangers Assn. elected me to their membership.

Wearing the hat of a Wilderness Foundation board member I will represent their interests in the international arena of Trans Boundary Parks. Our organization has a long and successful history of concern for and action to creat animal migration corridors, in this case we are concerned with theelephant  migration path between the Upemba and Kundelungu Parks.

Pre meeting events start tomorrow with a team of 20 media professionals attending a Press Conference at the Park Hotel in Lubumbashi where we are staying.

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