Monday, January 30, 2012


Near Bamako. Delta Air Lines from Accra to Atlanta, January 2012.

A frank confession for an Expat Blogger: I haven't really travelled very much in Africa. Although I have lived on the continent for hundreds of days, I have only been to a handful of the landmass's more than 50 countries. I've yet to canvas the continent Cape-to-Cairo--and haven't even been to either city. Nearly all my movement has been dictated by the demands of work--tight travel schedules, repeat journeys to the same cities, little time for exploration.

While I haven't yet walked the streets of Timbuktu or climbed Kilimanjaro, and I haven't set foot in Morocco or Mauritania, I've been close-- and not just in a sense that I live several countries away.
Air France Paris-Conakry-Monrovia, July 2011.

Before ever traveling to Africa it was a shape on a map--more exactly, an interlocking puzzle of scores of shapes--even the large ones tiny on a single page of the atlas. The angular borders of the former colonies made them into figures, dashing and regal: outlines of origami cranes, with beaked faces like Cameroon, and cromb-crowned heads like Mali or Chad, others small, narrow tongues touching the outside, like Togo or the Gambia.

I used to daydream of finally one day traveling to Africa: looking down on that landmass from the window of a plane, years before I had ever been on a flight. I imagined in dark green, smoky with rising heat. The illustration of the map would become real.

One day, several autumns ago, that dream came true, although not over a dense tropical jungle ending at sandy coast, but over the California-like seafront mountains of Algeria.

The first glimpse of the African continent: Over the coast of Algeria,
KLM from Amsterdam to Accra, October 2008

Since then, I have flow south over the Sahara nine times in five years, usually landing at Accra or Monrovia but also Dakar, Conakry, and Abidjan. I've also flown another dozen times between various countries: Monrovia-Accra frequently, but I've been as far as Nairobi and back.

Kenya Airways, Monrovia-Accra, November 2011.

Over Kenya. Kenya Airways Nairobi-Accra-Monrovia, November 2008.

While my travels have been limited to a short list of countries, and even then not very far beyond the principal cities, I've crossed over tens of thousands of miles of African territory from up in an airplane--much of it great zones which I would never traverse overland.

Brussels Airlines, Monrovia-Abidjan-Brussels, April 2010.

I've flown over the desert at the top of Mali, and the lower-right of Mauritania's trapezoid, squinting down at the mysterious emptiness, bright golden mountains of sand. I've crossed over the forested stretches of West Africa in the night, only the occasional cluster of small lights interrupting the darkness.

The Sahara. KLM Amsterdam-Accra, May 2009.

As I drift off to sleep, the seatback screen glows green and yellow with the geography below, as the plane hums past cities that still exist merely on the pages of books: Bouaké, Bissau, and Bangui; Nouakchott, Niamey and N'Zérékoré. Zooming over the vast corners of these huge shapes, no longer just outlines on an atlas page under my nose, but the closest fixed earth to my body- in that basic sense, they become visited.

Over northernmost Mali, aboard Brussels Airlines Brussels-Monrovia, January 2012.

Although just as brief, it is only more vivid a visit on a cloudless day. I haven't walked the streets of Casablanca, but for a moment I saw their arrangement with my own eyes. The Niger, the Congo, the Ubangi-- although I lack passport stamps from any country in which they flow, I've seen their warm, brown meander.

Top: Ceuta. Above: Casablanca. Seen from Air France Flight from Paris to Dakar, June 2009.

The Ubangi River. Nairobi-Accra, November 2008.

I have seen these places, fleetingly, from thousands of feet up with my own eyes. I have floated above them from that distance, passing at that speed, without touching that ground. I cannot determine whether to say that I have really been there.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Example: Flying to the Branch Office in Monrovia

As I occasionally do, I was image searching for "Airline Route Map" this weekend when I came across this .jpg, which is an example image from a website called, which offers some sort of personal-route-map-building software. A random image search yields random example; yet it immediately occurred to me that I might be one of the few people to come across this picture file and have it be relevant or useful, as-is--particularly in the last four weeks when I have made similar Carolina-to-Cape-Mesurado arcs across the central Atlantic, between the "Main Office" and the "Branch Office." I wonder if the programmer or marketer who made this sample intentionally picked Monrovia, as the large orange arrow most precisely points to Mamba Point.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Now Arriving

I try to avoid writing "sorry-I-haven't-been-blogging-frequently" posts; I sort of figure people (A) don't pine away for more M2M in my periods of absence and (B) have other media to consume and maybe (C) figure that I haven't managed my time sufficiently to post recently.

As way of excuse, I just arrived in Liberia, having flown, within a month's period, ROB-ACC-ATL-BOS-IAD-BRU-ABJ-ROB-ACC-ATL-JFK-ATL-ACC-ROB. This is the sort of schedule that a boy version of me would have only dreamed of (Back-and-forth to Africa twice in four weeks!), but adult me found to be an experience not to be repeated too soon.

This is especially true in that the last ATL-ACC-ROB part should be more accurately recorded as JFK-ATL-[depart for ACC-ROB, only to watch the plane do a U-turn on the inflight map, 3 hours in, when the plane is over the Atlantic, and head back to ATL, where we were told to get off the plane because not only was there a navigation system error, but more relevant to us Monrovia passengers a "curfew" issue meant that we would not again depart for ROB for two more days, after receiving this news we waited in line until 3AM to get hotel and insufficient meal vouchers, then collect our luggage, then live at the Atlanta Airport Sheraton for two days, then go back and finally complete] ATL-ACC-ROB. And I still don't have my second bag.

Atlanta was really interesting, actually, I had a great meal, bonded with my colleagues, and checked out a city I had wanted to see for a long time. Of course I'm still thrilled to travel and can't wait to do more of it. And although, as you can see from the iPhone shots above, I still geek out seeing "Monrovia" listed on any airport's departures board, much less a US airport, and loved seeing "ROB" on the tarmac board outside the gate, I seem to be less and less thrilled to actually fly. Which is a shame.

But I am back--Happy 2012--and have lots of ideas about great, legendary, gripping blog posts, which I may even sit down and type out some day soon. Until then....
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