Gyms and Elephants

I am at the end of a long period in Durban. Most of the time was spent in the city although there were a few short trips. The first was up to Nairobi for an AIDSpan board meeting. I flew up on the last Thursday of March and returned on the Saturday. It was an interesting meeting with a great deal of progress in the organisation. It has a new executive director, last year one of the things the board did was to select the person. She is settled in and everything seems to be running smoothly. Although I was born in Nairobi I am not a great fan of the city as it is today. It has grown rapidly and the infrastructure simply does not cope. The theme of many of these successful African capital cities seems to be severe traffic congestion. Nairobi has a particular problem in that the city has roundabouts and the psyche of the drivers does not include giving way.


In front of the White House during the Economic Reference Group Meeting April 2013

A couple of weeks later I went up to Lusaka for the Swedish Sida strategy meeting. This too was a short trip, going up on the Sunday and coming back on the Wednesday. Again it was a productive meeting with like minded people, who are committed to making a difference. It is evident though that the terrain of donors and recipients is changing.

In both locations I had excellent meals in nearby restaurants. In Nairobi we walked across the street to an Indian restaurant where the food was as good as anything I have eaten anywhere in the world. The Lusaka restaurant was also within a few hundred metres of the hotel. It is noteworthy that we now feel comfortable walking in these cities, albeit in a group. Things have changed. I am not sure that I would be happy sending people off on foot in parts of Durban. While one might be safe from assault in Lusaka the lack of streetlights made the walk quite hazardous. In both cities what passes for a pavement would keep Western lawyers happy with litigation four months.

The hotels were adequate: comfortable beds, clean bath rooms, reasonable restaurants, fresh bedding and not too noisy.  Horror stories from fellow travelers include pubic hairs in ostensibly clean beds and walking back into the room to find the cleaner using the guest’s toothbrush in the toilet! For me a decent gym is really important and I am happy to say that both the Jacaranda in Nairobi and the Intercontinental in Lusaka have these facilities.

Increasingly I look at what equipment is provided as both sons of the founder of my gym in Durban Fitness Company are involved with the importation of machines for the South African market. My most recent trip ended in Waterloo, Ontario where I got a great offer at a gym – 14 days for $15, pity I was only there for six days. Much of their equipment is the same as that in Durban. Interestingly rowing machines are not popular in Canada – perhaps because it is hard to watch the TV when the focal length keeps changing.

The international airports in Lusaka and Nairobi both urgently need an upgrade. They are small, crowded and rather dirty. I was extremely unimpressed when I asked a security guard a question in Lusaka. Before he answered me he inserted one grubby finger up his nostril as far as the first knuckle. He kept it there while talking to me. Disgusting! He was a singularly scruffy individual – but dressed in the uniform.

I waited at our wonderful airport in Durban on my return from Lusaka as my sister Gill was flying in an hour later. She had been in Cape Town visiting my brother and came up to spend five nights with me. We did various things around Durban, and she reconnected with a school friend that she had not seen for close to 35 years. It was a significant birthday for her and one of her presents was the trip to Durban.

 I took her up to the Zululand game parks. It is only about a three-hour drive from Durban on a really good road. We went in through the Umfolozi gate at the south of the park and drove through to Hilltop Camp where we spent a night. We did not see a great deal as the grass was thick; it is the end of the rainy season. We did however get close to a rhino and calf, giraffes and an elephant. Usually on visits to the game parks I see something that I have never seen before. On this occasion, we came around the corner to see a large Monitor lizard, locally called a leguaan, licking its lips looking very pleased with itself. The reason for this soon became apparent, a dung beetle had been busy creating the ball of dung it would roll to a suitable location and lay its eggs in. The ball was there, but there was no dung beetle in sight. I guess it was in fact inside the lizard.

Despite the lack of game the countryside was really spectacular. From the game park we gently made our way back to Durban. There was the obligatory stop beside the road at the craft market where Gill bought handicrafts and I got fruit, including fantastic avocados. I dropped her (and the hire car) at the airport and caught a taxi to my office.

I am feeling very much under the whip at work. There is a huge amount going on and so I am very busy. The problem is that much of it depends on input from others, which means that I have to wait. Tim Quinlan, HEARD’s former research director, came up to plan various projects and articles. We sat together on Saturday and worked through one we are co-authoring on the potential role of China in the AIDS response in Africa. What a pleasure to be academic.

I was supposed to travel to the USA via Swaziland where there was a big celebration at Waterford. For various reasons I decided that this was simply asking too much of myself and so did not make it. It is a pity because there was some wonderful press coverage on BBC and in the British and South African Guardian  . We have to make the most of this opportunity to secure funding for the next 10 years at least.

I want to get this posting up on the website so will stop there. The next will cover my travel to the US and Canada and the big news about my plans.