Bicycle Riding in Denmark

March 26, 2020

En español. Em português.

Integrated with its widespread public bus and train network, cycling is considered an important means of transportation in this small Scandinavian country, which has one of the world’s most modern bicycle infrastructures. Out of 20 cities throughout the world, and every year since 2015, the Copenhagenize Index has ranked Denmark’s capital, København (Copenhagen), the most bicycle friendly city in the world. If you like to ride your bike, Danmark is geared for cycling.

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A Typical Danish Bikeway.  Credit: supercykelstier.dk

Danskerne (the Danes) and Bicycles

The capital city of København (Copenhagen), which means the Merchant’s Port in Dansk (Danish), has a population of 633,000 people (2017), about 675,000 bicycles, and 120,000 cars. 62% of københavnerne (Copenhageners) cycle to work or school; 4 out of 10 own a car; and 9 out of 10 own a bicycle. In fact, since 2016, cykel (bicycle) traffic surpassed car traffic in the capital region, with 52% of households not owning a car. Danskerne on average cycle 1.9 miles per day in Copenhagen; 1.5 miles in Århus, the second largest city; and 1.6 miles in Odense, the third largest. 75% of bike traffic continues throughout the cold Danish winters, and 4000 to 5000 bikes are sold in Copenhagen annually.

Danmark has been a bicycle nation for over 100 years and in the 1920s and 30s, cycling became a symbol of equality and freedom. In the early seventies, when the land of Hans Christian Andersen and all countries of the world were investing heavily in cars and automobile infrastructure, things took a turn with the Mideast oil crisis and Københavnere, demanded that their wonderful Copenhagen, as the famous song says, be car free.

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26% of Copenhageners with 2 children own a cargo bike. Credit: supercykelstier.dk

Dansk børn (Danish children) start riding bicycles before they are six years old and are often seen at very early ages on their parents’ bicycles, which may be adapted with different parts and carriages to transport one or several children at a time. Danskerne actually invented the front wooden box transport bike seen here and below, which conveniently carries children or cargo in this bicycle nation. In school, children learn cykling (cycling) culture, rules and safety as part of their curriculum. 49% of all børn aged 11-15 cycle to school.

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The Danish Front Cargo Bike was invented in Denmark. Credit: christianiabikes.com

Danish Cykling Infrastructure

Among many other factors, perhaps the most important key to the Danish biking success is that cyklister (cyclists) have their own separate bikeways, which cars cannot access. København has about 249 miles of them, which are separated from car lanes and sidewalks altogether.

Geographically comprised of the peninsula Jutland, Zealand and numerous other small islands, Danmark is a wealthy and modern country of 16,577 square miles, which has 7500 miles of bikeways.  It’s built 13 bicycle bridges since 2017 and three more are under construction. The recently finished Dybbølbro bridge has 6 yard wide lanes in each direction to accommodate more than 22,000 daily bicycle riders. It’s also currently constructing hundreds of miles of “super” bikeways which connect Copenhagen to its suburbs. 

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A typical bike bridge in Denmark. Credit: supercykelstier.dk

The public transportation network works together with Danish bikeways. Commuter trains have a dedicated wagon for bicycles.  20% of Danish cyclists ride their bikes to train stations and 5% from the train stations to their destination. In Copenhagen, it’s 30% to 10% respectively.

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The Statsbaner commuter & subway Trains (State Railways) Credit: supercykelstier.dk

Health and The Environment

Cykling reduces health problems, work absences and it saves the Danish tax payer money on health costs. Danish studies show that for every 2/3 of a mile cycled, Denmark gains approximately $1.10 in health benefits in its medicare-for-all type health care system. In addition, cyclists in Copenhagen request 1.1 million less sick days versus non cyklister (cyclists), which translates as 215 million euros in annual savings. For every 746 miles cycled, one sick day is reduced. It’s also a great way for Danskerne to get fresh air every day and enjoy the outdoors, which clears your mind and reduces stress. 

The benefits of cykling to the environment speak for themselves. It reduces carbon emissions, pollution, noise, and traffic congestion. It uses public space more efficiently, creates a thriving urban life and makes cities more livable. In the Capital region, bicycle usage saves 500 tons of CO2 annually and Sjælland residents produce 92% less emissions when they stop using their cars and switch to cykler (bicycles). Danes consider cykling the present and future of mobility and smart city development. It also provides mobility at a low cost. 

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A bicycle dedicated wagon in a Danish Commuter Train. Credit: supercykelstier.dk

Danish Teknologi

Danes try to make cykling as convenient as possible in order to encourage it.  The grøn bølge (green wave) technology, which has existed in a similar form for cars in Denmark for many decades, are green LED lights adapted for bikeways which, when lit, mean that if the cyklist rides at about 12.5 mph he/she will catch the next traffic light in green, and will not have to stop. In addition, when it’s raining, some bikeways are fitted with sensors that allow longer green traffic lights. Danes are also constantly testing and implementing new technology to improve safety, for example LED lights that warn truck drivers of cyclists, when making a right turn.

Dansk bikeways also have a variety of cykelinventar (urban furniture) which add considerable comfort, such as service stations; monitors with all kinds of real time information like weather, number of riders, etc; air pumps; footrests; and  even bike-friendly tilted trash receptacles.

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Bicycle footrest in Denmark. Credit: supercykelstier.dk

The Danish Super-Bikeways 

Known as the supercykelstier, translated by that organization, the Sekretariatet for Supercykelstier (The Department for Superbikeways),  into English as the  “bicycle superhighways,” they connect the kommuner (suburbs) to København. The object is to increase long distance cykling commuting, and make it competitive to taking the train or bus, thereby reducing carbon emissions, and at the same time, improving the health of cyclists.  Other European countries are also constructing this new category of bike thoroughfares.

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The 4.54 mile in length C-82  Superbikeway in one of Copenhagen’s near suburbs. Credit: supercykelstier.dk

In 2009, most of Sjælland’s suburbs (Zealand, the name of the Island where Copenhagen is) started this joint project to build a total of 466 miles of these highways by 2045. A total of 8 have been built thus far, progressing from 7.5 miles in 2012, to 104 miles in 2019.  

Built with the vision of keeping Copenhagen and its suburbs as the “greatest bicycle region” in the world, the superbikeways make perfect environmental and financial sense. Danish research found that replacing 1% of all car trips in Sjælland with a bicycle, saves 23,000 tons of  CO2 . Bike traffic in the superbikeways increased 23% since 2012  and 14% used to travel by car instead.  The highest number of cyclists recorded on one superbikeway on a weekday was 29,000 and riders average 6.8 miles per day. In addition, there would be a 30% increase in car commuting if no one in the region used a bicycle.

The superbikeways will cost $319.8 million by 2045, and bring a total socio-economic surplus is $829.3 million, of which $667.7 million comprise the health benefits. They will also reduce by 40,000 the number of sick days per year.

A study by danskindustri.dk found that 10% additional cykling annually would reduce sick days by 267,000, decrease traffic congestion by 6%, and save $160 million in public health care. 

Meet Some Danish Cyclists

According to a supercykelstier.dk one month study, Mette, a 49 year old Danish woman who used an electric bicycle, saw a 5 year reduction in her body age by cycling 16.7 miles/day. She also saw her Body Mass Index reduced from 24.4 to 23.4 in one month.

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A typical Danish parent with her children. Credit: supercykelstier.dk 

Fiona Weiss, a Danish woman who has ridden a bicycle for 50 years, cycles mostly in summer and says “it gets the happy vibes going and allows me to discover places I would not see on the train, (keeping) my legs slim.” She also enjoys cycling on “a good winter day. If I feel like going to the seaside or forest for winter fresh air.”

Bettina Fürstenberg is a 52  year old Danish woman who used to ride her bicycle an average of about 10 miles a day until she had a serious bike accident in her thirties. She currently owns three bicycles, one being electric. She says cycling is the “fastest way to move around Copenhagen,” and it “doesn’t pollute the air.” She feels that “better and larger roads are still needed…with stricter rules for cyclists” such as “speed limits.” Although she hasn’t fully recovered from her accident, she still rides her bikes for “any kind of activity, like work, movies, parks, shopping, etc.”

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Outside area of a typical Copenhagen building. Photo by Jorge Carbajosa

Danish Bicycle Know-How

The Cycling Embassy of Denmark promotes cycling for cities throughout the world. It offers a virtual reality film featuring a bike ride in Copenhagen, a two day study trip in Denmark and prepares annual reports. Danes have numerous websites in English promoting cycling and their country. Many were used for this story and are listed below.

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Bicycle parking areas at Copenhagen’s Main Central Station. Photo by Jorge Carbajosa

Danish and English Linguistics

The Danish language is spoken in Danmark, Færøerne (the Faeroe Islands) and by a minority in Grønland (Greenland). It is mutually intelligible with Swedish and Norwegian, which descend from Old Norse. Icelandic, another language that comes from the Vikings, also comes from Old Norse.

The Danish language is related to English because they are both Germanic in origin. The Angles were in fact, Danes, who migrated to England in the fifth century A.D. In addition, Old Norse influenced English because of Vikingerne (the Vikings) invasions of Great Britain in the eighth century A.D. and in 1066 A.D. by the Normans (the North Men) who were also of Viking origin.

Most Danes speak English well and learn it at a young age.

Copyright © 2020 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

I would like to dedicate this article to all my friends from Denmark and specially to Bettina Fürstenberg, Birgitte Borgsmidt, Robert Clarke, Dr. Joe Asbury, and to world cyclists Jorge Balderas and Ignacio Durán.

Sources:

http://www.cycling-embassy.dk/

Cycle superhighways

https://cyclingsolutions.info/

https://copenhagenizeindex.eu/

https://denmark.dk/people-and-culture/biking

https://www.danskindustri.dk/english

http://www.m-w.com 

http://www.bing.com

http://www.google.com

https://www.etymonline.com/

McKay’s Modern Danish – English Dictionary by Hermann Vinterberg, David McKay Company, Inc.

An Introduction to Old Norse, E.V. Gordon, Oxford 1990

The Chicago Junction Railway Embankment: Ellis Ave to Drexel Blvd and Mural

November 25, 2022

About 13′ tall, 52′ wide, and 430′ in length, its area being approximately 22,360 square feet, this part of the embankment is between Drexel Blvd and Ellis Ave. Its north wall faces 41st St and its south wall, an alley and an apartment building on Drexel Blvd. There is a mural on its Eastern Wall of Drexel Blvd.

According to https://www.chicago-l.org/operations/lines/kenwood.html the Chicago Transit Authority closed the embankment for public use (Kenwood Branch) in 1957 but the Chicago Junction Railway continued using it for commercial purposes until the 1960s.

The CJRE is about one mile long and it is located in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago’s south side. It is visible mostly along 41st Street, running from South Lake Park Ave, which is close to Lake Michigan, to highway 90/94. Some sections of it no longer exist and a forest has grown on top of it. Below is a video of this section of the CJRE and some photographs.

Aerial view from Google maps of the Chicago Junction Railway Embankment from Lake Park Ave to Drexel Blvd
MINUTE 2:55 is where you can see the section of the CJRE between Ellis Ave and Drexel Blvd
West wall on Ellis Ave
South west wall, Ellis Ave
Close up, upper west wall, Ellis Ave
Upper part south wall 41st St alley, north of 42nd Pl
South wall alley

References:

https://www.chicago-l.org

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenwood_branch

7 CTA train lines you never knew existed

The “L”, The Development of Chicago’s Rapid Transit System 1888-1932 by Bruce G. Moffat, 1995

Copyright © 2022 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

The Abandoned Ellis and Lake Park Station

October 19, 2022

About 400′ long, 52′ wide, (20,800 sq. feet approx) and 13′ high, the abandoned Ellis & Lake Park Station is located between 41st Pl and 41st St, and between Lake Park Ave and Ellis Ave, and it is about a third of mile from Lake Michigan. The entrances on both Lake Park and Ellis are sealed. The 42nd Place station, which can be seen on the map below, and which was the closest to Lake Michigan no longer exists. You can see a 1955 photo of the station here.

1940 map of the Kenwood Branch, from Chicago Public Library
The Ellis & Lake Park Station, Lake Park Avenue Entrance
Aerial Google map of the Ellis & Lake Park elevated train station between South Lake Park Ave & S Ellis Ave. Many of the buildings have a view of the top of the embankment
The abandoned Ellis & Lake Park Station, Lake Park entrance, corner of 41st St, west side of Lake Park Ave
The abandoned Ellis & Lake Park Station, Ellis Ave entrance, west side of Ellis Ave, just south of 41st Street
Walled up door of Ellis & Park Ave Station
South wall, between 41st street and 41st place
Ellis and Lake Park Station South Wall, 41st Street alley

In the near future, I will be publishing many descriptions, photos and videos of the CJRE in this blog. Here’s an index that will be linked with hypertext:

The Abandoned Chicago Junction Railway Embankment in Chicago’s South Side

Cottage Grove Ave Mural, and West to 41st St

North of 41st St to South Langley Ave and 40th St

South Langley Ave and north of 40th St to the Abandoned Vincennes Station

Vincennes Ave to MLK, along south side of E Oakwood Blvd, north of Paul G Stewart Apartments

The South Parkway Train Station on Martin Luther King Drive

The mural on the West side of Martin Luther King Drive

West of MLK Drive to Calumet Ave

West of South Prairie Ave to S Indiana Ave

Indiana Train station

South Michigan Ave to South Wabash Ave

West South Wabash to East South State street

West of South State St to S Dearborn St

References:

https://www.chicago-l.org

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenwood_branch

7 CTA train lines you never knew existed

The Morton Arboretum

The “L”, The Development of Chicago’s Rapid Transit System 1888-1932 by Bruce G. Moffat, 1995

Copyright © 2022 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

The Abandoned Chicago Junction Railway Embankment in Chicago’s South Side

October 15, 2022

The Chicago Junction Railway Embankment (CJRE) is in the Bronzeville and Kenwood neighborhoods. It used to be part of the elevated train system and it was closed to the public in 1957. The CJR Kenwood branch had six train stations of which only three exist today. It is about 1 mile long from Lake Park avenue to the Dan Ryan highway. There’s a small section of it that heads north and descends to ground level, from 40th Street to Pershing Road, and is West of Federal street. Some sections of the embankment, along with its train bridges, are still visible on the west side of the Dan Ryan, all the way to South Normal Avenue.

The Chicago Junction Railway Embankment on Google Maps, outlined in yellow

According to the city of Chicago, the embankment is owned by the Cook County Land Bank Authority. I contacted them several times by phone and email with many questions, for example, what their plans are for the embankment, if any part of it is for sale, if they do any maintenance and if I can get a permit to walk on it and take pictures, but I have not received a response.

I love the majestic walls of the Embankment and the thick forest with several hundreds, if not thousands, of trees and shrubs that have grown on it. I find it fascinating how these trees and shrubs have grown on their own, although this is not uncommon in Chicago, due to our rich soil and abundance of water.

According to Ms. Lydia Scott, Director of the Morton Arboretum Chicago Region Trees Initiative, “Trees are very important for urban areas.” Ms. Scott directed me to a literature review about the benefits of trees for livable and sustainable communities.

From some of the photographs I sent to the Morton Arboretum, Ms. Julie Janoski, Plant Clinic Manager there, has identified several species present on top of the CJRE to be green and white ash trees, Norway maples, Tree of heaven, Siberian elms and alders.

Ms. Scott added that there’s probably also “mulberry, box elders, honeysuckles and likely other (weedy) species.”

From a layman’s perspective, I know having so many trees in our city reduces carbon dioxide, increases oxygen, and preserves some biodiversity in our city. Trees are of course also relaxing and beautiful to look at.

If you would like to see some videos of the CJRE, you can do so at my YouTube Channel.

In the near future, I will be publishing many descriptions, photos and videos of the CJRE in this blog. Here’s an index that will be linked with hypertext:

The Ellis and Lake Park Station

Cottage Grove Ave Mural, and West to 41st St

North of 41st St to South Langley Ave and 40th St

South Langley Ave and north of 40th St to the Abandoned Vincennes Station

Vincennes Ave to MLK, along south side of E Oakwood Blvd, north of Paul G Stewart Apartments

The South Parkway Train Station on Martin Luther King Drive

The mural on the West side of Martin Luther King Drive

West of MLK Drive to Calumet Ave

West of South Prairie Ave to S Indiana Ave

Indiana Train station

South Michigan Ave to South Wabash Ave

West South Wabash to East South State street

West of South State St to S Dearborn St

References:

https://www.chicago-l.org

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenwood_branch

7 CTA train lines you never knew existed

The Morton Arboretum

The “L”, The Development of Chicago’s Rapid Transit System 1888-1932 by Bruce G. Moffat, 1995

Copyright © 2022 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

María del Carmen de los Ángeles Morales Hain R.I.P. 1/1/1933 – 1/8/2022

September 7, 2022

My dear mother: An international woman in a globalizing 20th Century (español)

She was born in Madrid’s San Antonio neighborhood. Her mother was very young so she grew up with her maternal grandparents until she became a teenager and she went to live to Lisbon for some years with her parents, who never married, and who had immigrated to Portugal during the Spanish civil war.

In Portugal she was unable to attend school because of problems with her visa, but she did learn to speak Portuguese fluently. She often had to help her mother, who was a single woman and she quickly learnt to do things on her own and get around Lisbon. After some years she returned to Madrid to live with her paternal grandparents. She was very interested in foreign languages and she enrolled in Spain’s Official Language School, where she met my father and studied German, Russian, English and French. She graduated in French and English. She also became a licensed stenographer and she kept her stenography machine all her life.

In the 50s after she graduated, she worked as an assistant teacher at Spain’s Official Language School. In 1954, Madrid’s British Council awarded her with a scholarship to study a graduate course at Cambridge University. Upon returning she started working as a bilingual secretary for the U.S. Air Force at Torrejón de Ardoz’s U.S. Air Base, where due to the dollar exchange rate she made more money than high ranking civil servants in Spain.

After almost 10 years of being with my father, she broke up with him and moved to Wiesbaden, Germany to work at a different U.S air base. She was there for almost a year but she returned to Spain and ended up marrying my father. She wore a black wedding dress because she was mourning her paternal grandfather whom she loved and admired deeply.

During my mother’s travels in Europe in the 60s she often encountered Spanish immigrants who only spoke Spanish and she helped them by being their interpreter.

After my parent’s marriage, my father was offered a job at the United Nations and they moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where they lived for two years. My mother was quickly able to find work at the U.N. International Labour Office as an International Civil Servant. In 1963, however, she was terminated for being pregnant with my oldest brother. To no avail, she appealed the decision to the U.N. but it does appear, however, that she was the last woman to be fired at the ILO for carrying a child.

My parents returned to Madrid and my mother gave birth to my oldest brother, José Ramón. She convinced and almost made my father apply for a job in New York city at Spain’s equivalent of the Department of Commerce. My father was hesitant because it involved taking a difficult English test but he passed it. Shortly after they moved to Manhattan. My mother was already a devote homemaker and in NY she gave birth to two more boys, my brother Eduardo and I.

In 1968 my mother went to Lisbon to spend some time with her mother while my father finalized his work in the Great Apple. They returned to Spain and my youngest brother Victor was born in 1970. Here is where my first memories of my mother begin. I remember she spent a lot of time cleaning the house and feeding us. My father always had a meal ready when he came home from work. During those years my mother worked on weekends at a hotel as a front desk attendant, since my father worked Monday through Friday.

In 1974 my father was transferred to Rio de Janeiro and there we lived right in front of Copacabana beach. My mother managed the apartment we lived in, the expenses and the two employees we had, a cook and a nanny. I remember she would sometimes clean the living room windows and it would scare us to death because she would lean out the window, sticking half of her body outside, and we lived in the sixth floor of a high-rise. She wasn’t one to be scared and she also didn’t fear death later in life when she realized her days were counted. In Brazil, I also remember many women coming to our home to do aerobics or yoga.

Two years later we moved to Copenhagen, Denmark. My mother said it would make us sad to leave Brazil, which I didn’t understand then but later I realized my parents were very happy in Rio.

In Denmark my mother quickly joined both the International and American Women’s Club where she was not only very active but very much loved. She had a passion for international cuisine and she perfected her cooking skills in those clubs, learning how to cook like a real chef. Sometimes she would host dinners for embassadors at home and she’d hire a cook and a waitress to make sure her meals came out the way she wanted. All this while being a full time homemaker, meaning cooking all the meals, making all of our school lunches, washing and ironing all of our clothes and managing the several fruit trees we had in our garden, never getting tired of making apple preserve. She was our right hand woman.

During the 80s the King and Queen of Spain visited Denmark and my mother helped my father organize an international reception for them for which the King awarded my father the Knight’s Cross of Spain.

In 1984 we returned to Madrid and since we, her children, were already older, my mother went back to work for the U.S. government, this time at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid. There she received various awards, among others the Meritorious Honor Award.

One story I like to tell about my mother is that she once told me she couldn’t understand why when men abandoned their wives, the women would always keep the children. “Women are dumb. If your father left me, you and your brothers will go live with him. I’m going to enjoy my life.” It shows she was both a modern woman and a feminist.

My mother was never depressed and she was a tireless, selfless woman who never complained. She was an altruist, always kind, very proper and considerate towards others. She would do everything she could to help you if she could. Many people loved and valued her.

When my father died in 2010, my mother became my best friend. She was the only person I could call at any time and talk to her about everything.

I will miss you a lot mother. Thank you for all the support, the help and the life you gave me. You were always there for me, a tremendous support. I love you and I hope that I will see you in the next world and that we can remember this life, smile and laugh together.

María del Carmen de los Ángeles Morales Hain D.E.P. 1/1/1933 – 1/8/2022

August 24, 2022

Mi querida madre, una mujer internacional en un mundo que comenzaba a globalizarse en el siglo XX (English)

Nació en Madrid en el barrio de San Antonio. Debido a que su madre era muy joven, se crió con sus abuelos maternos hasta que fue adolescente y se fue a vivir a Lisboa unos años con sus padres, que nunca se casaron, y que allí habían inmigrado por la guerra civil española.

En Portugal por temas del visado, no pudo estudiar en la escuela, pero sí aprendió a hablar el portugués con soltura. En Lisboa tuvo que ayudar mucho a su madre que era soltera y aprendió rápidamente a hacer cosas sola y desenvolverse por esa ciudad. Unos años después volvió a Madrid y vivió con sus abuelos paternos. Le interesaban mucho las lenguas extranjeras y se matriculó en la Escuela Oficial de Idiomas. Allí conoció a mi padre. Estudio alemán, ruso, inglés y francés titulándose de los dos últimos. También se graduó de taquigrafía y conservó su máquina de estenografía hasta sus últimos años.

Al acabar sus estudios, en los años 50, se colocó de profesora auxiliar en la Escuela Oficial de Idiomas. En 1954, recibió una beca del Instituto Británico de Madrid para hacer un curso superior en Cambridge. Después comenzó a trabajar de secretaria bilingüe en las Fuerzas Aéreas americanas en Torrejón de Ardoz donde ganaba más dinero que altos funcionarios españoles por el cambio del dólar.

Después de casi 10 años de noviazgo con mi padre, se separó de él y se fue a Wiesbaden, Alemania a trabajar en otra base aérea estadounidense. Allá estuvo casi un año pero regresó a España y acabaron casándose. Se vistió de negro en su boda porque había muerto su abuelo paterno a quien tanto estimaba y admiraba.

Mi madre me comentaba que cuando viajaba por Europa en el comienzo de los años 60 que siempre ayudaba de intérprete a los españoles que inmigraban, con los que se encontraba y que sólo hablaban castellano.

Poco después de casarse, mi padre se colocó en las Naciones Unidas y se fueron a vivir a Ginebra, Suiza, dos años y allí con facilidad encontró trabajo de Funcionaria Internacional en la Oficina Internacional de Trabajo. A comienzos del 63 mi madre se quedó embarazada de mi hermano mayor y fue despedida. Mi madre recurrió esa decisión y parece ser fue la última mujer de ser despedida en esa organización por estar embarazada.

Volvieron a Madrid y mi madre dio a luz a mi hermano mayor, José Ramón. Convenció y casi obligó a mi padre que se examinara de inglés en el ministerio para una plaza en Nueva York. Mi padre con muchas dudas se presentó y aprobó. En 1963 se fueron a la Gran Manzana. Mi madre ya era una devota ama de casa y allí tuvo dos hijos más, mi hermano Eduardo y yo.

En el 1968, con sus tres hijos, mientras mi padre finalizaba su trabajo en los EEUU, fue a pasar una temporada con su madre en Lisboa. Volvieron a España y nació mi hermano pequeño Víctor en 1970. Aquí empiezan mis primeras memorias de mi madre. Me acuerdo que dedicaba mucho tiempo a la limpieza de la casa y a alimentarnos. A mi padre nunca le faltó la comida ya hecha cuando a casa llegaba. Durante esos años mi madre trabajaba los fines de semana en un hotel de recepcionista, pues los días de diario nos cuidaba.

En 1974 a mi padre lo trasladaron a Río de Janeiro, Brasil y allá vivimos en frente de la playa Copacabana. Mi madre administraba la casa, los gastos y dos empleadas que teníamos, una cocinera y una niñera. Algunos recuerdos que tengo son los de mi madre limpiando el exterior de las ventanas del salón en las que nos asustábamos muchísimo pues vivíamos en un sexto piso y sacaba la mitad de su cuerpo afuera. Miedo no tenía; tampoco la tuvo a la muerte cuando sabía que se estaba muriendo. También me acuerdo venían otras mujeres a casa y hacían aerobics o yoga. Dos años después fuimos a vivir a Copenhague, Dinamarca. Me acuerdo mi madre dijo que nos entristecería irnos. No lo entendí pero ahora me doy cuenta que mis padres eran muy felices en la ciudad carioca.

En Copenhague mi madre rápidamente se unió al club de mujeres internacionales y al club de mujeres estadounidenses. En ambos fue una mujer muy querida. En esos clubes debido a su interés en la cocina internacional perfeccionó sus habilidades culinarias y se convirtió en una verdadera chef. A veces organizaba cenas en casa en las que venían embajadores y contrataba a un jefe de cocina y una camarera para asegurarse que sus platos salieran como ella quería. A la vez era ama de casa, pues se encargaba de todas nuestras comidas, los sandwiches que llevábamos al colegio, toda nuestra ropa, lavarla, plancharla. También del jardín, de varios árboles de fruta que teníamos, de la que no se cansaba de hacer compota. Fue nuestra mano derecha siempre.

En los años 80 vinieron los reyes de España a Copenhague y mi madre ayudó a mi padre a organizar una recepción internacional por la que mi padre el rey le otorgó la Cruz de Caballero.

Volvimos a Madrid en el 84 y ya siendo nosotros, sus hijos, mayores, volvió a trabajar para los americanos, esta vez en la embajada hasta jubilarse. Allí recibió varios premios entre otros el Meritorious Honor Award.

Una de las anécdotas que me gusta contar de mi madre es que una vez me comentó que no entendía porqué cuando un hombre abandonaba a su esposa, por qué se quedaba la mujer con sus hijos. <<Las mujeres son tontas>>, decía, <<si tu padre se fuera, os vais a vivir con él, yo voy a disfrutar de mi vida>>. Demuestra que fue una mujer moderna y feminista.

Mi madre nunca se deprimió en su vida y era una persona incansable que no se quejaba de nada. Fue una persona altruista, siempre amable, muy correcta y considerada con todos. Hacía todo lo posible para ayudar al prójimo. Mucha gente la quería y la estimaba.

Cuando mi padre falleció en el 2010 mi madre se convirtió en mi mejor amiga. Era la única persona a la que le podía contar todo y llamar en cualquier momento.

Te voy a extrañar mucho madre. Gracias por todo el apoyo, la ayuda y por la vida que me diste. Siempre estuviste presente y fuiste un gran respaldo para mi. Te quiero mucho mamá ojalá nos veamos en el siguiente mundo y nos podamos recordar de esta vida, sonreír y reírnos juntos.

Copyright © 2022 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

The Tree of Life in the Universe

June 17, 2022

In essence we are carrying millions of years of Life in our genes. We were born from the Tree of Life in the Universe and we’ve evolved into millions of different Beings, freely roaming the world but we are from the same Tree. This Tree’s seeds and fruits, so to speak, perish and transform, but we continue to be part of the Tree.

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Pexels.com

Copyright © 2022 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

Asilah

May 17, 2022

Remember the howling wind

against our backs,

pushing us forth

on that desert flattened beach

the waves crashed at our feet

splashing on our crispy clothes,

your voice mumbled in my mind

the slow movement of your dry lips

puffing on that burning popping greefah.

Remember how we walked for hours south

the stomping of my feet,

on the soft wet sand

stopping my body from falling ahead,

hearing the slow pump on my chest

the ringing of sand in my ears.

You blew fast words from your mouth

as the tide regurgitated the waves

the white foam boiling out of the sea.

Remember how we were free

walked without reason on that beach

never hearing what we said,

not knowing where we were.

Copyright © 1990 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

Photo by Maria Isabella Bernotti on Pexels.com

Offices

May 17, 2022

Welcome to the Sterile World

where trees have been reduced to nothing

but smooth lining for the walls.

The ceiling’s made of cheap styrofoam,

the tables are held by hollow shining steel,

and the floors are a space age carpet

Welcome to the geometric office,

where you are only a simple decorated tool

adorned in your polyester suit

Copyright © 1993 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

Photo by Guillaume Meurice on Pexels.com

Lomé, Togo 2021

October 5, 2021
The coast off the Avepozo neighborhood in Lomé, East of the Hotel Madiba

This year, in the month of June, some of my family members and friends traveled to Togo from the United States, Germany and France. Many of us had planned to travel in April 2020 but were not able to because of the pandemic. Some members of the group stayed for a month in Lomé and others, like my wife and I, stayed for 15 days.

Although some of us in the U.S. traveled from Newark to Lomé nonstop, my wife and I took a flight from Chicago to Brussels, Brussels to Accra, Ghana; and then to Lomé (total trip time 19h and 10 min). We booked the flight in April 2021 with Brussels Airlines through a third party website and we paid a little less than $1200 each.

Like many people who travel to non-industrialized countries, our suitcases were completely packed and some weighed more than 45 pounds. A very patient and slim lady at the American Airlines counter helped us reweigh our luggage after we had removed some of the items and put them in our carry on luggage. It was surprising to see such a thin person lift our very heavy luggage and put it on the belt. We did purposefully take an extra suitcase and we paid $200 to check it in.

American airlines handled the flight from Chicago to Belgium and Brussels Airlines the rest of the way. Our experience with the latter is also very positive because last year they refunded our 2020 trip without much of a problem. I also found their staff to be extremely helpful since they were able to retrieve a hand luggage in Brussels which we had been asked to check in in Chicago at the gate, right before boarding. The hand luggage contained important medication my wife needed from the last stretch of the trip, which we later realized we needed.

Togo Tourist Visa

Unlike in my last trip to Togo, instead of getting the one week entrance visa at the Lomé airport, I applied for it through the Togolese embassy in the U.S. Although it is much more expensive to do it this way, the visa is good for 3 months, which means not having to apply for an extension in the town of Agoé, an ordeal I describe in my last trip. I didn’t get credit for the three month visa I obtained for 2020, which I never used due to the pandemic. I believe the visa cost about $150. If you want to apply for the visa, download the forms from the Togolese embassy.

COVID testing

To enter Togo we were required to fill out an on-line questionnaire and pay a fee of 40,000 CFA for a mandatory COVID test everyone had to take to enter Togo. After filling it out, I was issued a scannable bar code sent to my email address, which I was required to present in the Lomé aiport. Once at the airport, however, I noticed my code was not scanned and instead my information was taken by hand at 2 different places and then, like everyone else, I took the COVID PCR test. I believe I signed a form indicating if I tested positive I would voluntarily quarantine. The result was sent to me via email some days later and I tested negative.

To return to the U.S. the Togolese authorities required we take the PCR Covid test again at the airport. When we showed up for the test, we were informed we could preregister online so we wouldn’t have to stand and wait. The test price had decreased to 25,000 CFA. I took the test on July 10th, Saturday, two days before my departure and received the results on Sunday afternoon. Although my wife tested negative, I tested “probable,” meaning it was probable I had the virus, but technically the result was inconclusive. The instructions on the form I received by email were to wait 72 hours before retaking it. I couldn’t have taken the test again on that Sunday anyway because the airport testing site was only open for 4 hours on weekend mornings. However, some of my wife’s relatives said nothing prevented me from taking it again on Monday, July 12th at seven in the morning at the Institut National d’Hygiene and pay the rush fee, which ended up being 20,000 CFA. The Institut said the results would take 18 hours but a couple of in-laws who knew some people were able to get the results by six pm the same day so I was able to leave on my scheduled flight at eight pm on that Monday.

Some of my in-laws said I did not test negative or positive because I am white and the government just wanted to make money from me. However, I’m not so sure because there doesn’t seem to be any connection between the people at the Institut National d’Hygiene and the airport. I called the U.S. embassy on Monday morning and they said they had never heard of a “probable” test result and they could place a call on my behalf to see if they could get more information. I told them it wasn’t necessary but I would call them again on Tuesday if my new PCR test did not come out negative. Luckily I never had to call the U.S. Embassy again.

Needless to say my last Sunday afternoon in Lomé was ruined and I had to wake up at 6:00 am the next day, the same day of my return flight to the US, to catch a taxi on the N2 from the Baguida neigborhood to the city center. We were on the N2 at about 6:45 am and I was surprised to see a lot of traffic of many hundreds of people traveling on motorbikes and cars to undoubtedly go to work. I enjoyed seeing so many young people early in the morning. We also waited for some time outside and inside the Institut National d’Hygiene. It is in an interesting neighborhood. There are several pleasant outdoor restaurants. My wife had some Akasan, a corn type drink, and botokoin, a type of African donut hole, for breakfast. The latter are also referred to as bofrot in Ghana and Burkina Faso and there are plenty of recipes on youtube.

Quartier Baguida

In this trip we rented a house for a month in the Baguida neighborhood in Lomé. The house was quite spacious, having 5 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms, with outside servant’s quarters consisting of an additional room with a full bathroom. But the house was not clean and overall in bad condition. Many of the window screens were either broken or had holes, and the refrigerator did not work well for the first 9 days. There were several broken appliances in the backyard along with dog poop. The front yard had one broken sink up against a hedge, another sign which showed a complete lack of care from the owner. Unfortunately we rented the house through a relative, and not through one of the house rental websites, so we could not write up a review. The house was located in a gated area about, half a block from the N2, not far from the Hotel Porte Baguida.

A dirt road off the N2 in Lomé’s Baguida Neighborhood. There’s a lack of sidewalks and they’re often blocked. The observable ditches on the road become filled with water when it rains making it very difficult to walk and drive.

Outside of the gated area there were no sidewalks and no traffic lights so taking a walk or going to buy something at the local stores by foot was very uncomfortable. In addition, summer in Togo is the rainy season and the dirt road in front of our gated community often had huge puddles so at times there was only one foot of dry space to walk on, which we had to share with the cars and incessant motorbikes.

Other people in our group who rented a house or apartment had a much better experience. I think being a large party in a house makes it harder to manage the living conditions. Next time my wife and I will rent a place by ourselves.

Back in 2017, we stayed for two weeks at a relative’s house in the Avepozo quartier, or neighborhood. This year 2021, I found Avepozo to have grown, have a good nightlife, more variety of shops and better sidewalks. It’s also, unlike Baguida, at a walking distance from the beach.

Zemidjans and traffic

The zemidjans or motorbikes are a cheap and popular way to commute. A ride from Baguida to the Avepozo neighborhood, for example, almost 2 miles away, cost 300 CFA. My experience is that a lot of car drivers dislike the zemidjans, which seem to be the majority of vehicles in Lomé, because drivers say they do not follow traffic rules. Should they have their own traffic lanes?

Two traffic rules that I noticed are very different in Lomé from Europe and the US: In Lomé vehicles inside a roundabout have to yield to incoming traffic and motorbikes always have to yield to cars.

Mosquitoes and Flies

I think the living conditions you choose in Togo will determine what experience you have with these insects. Unfortunately the house we rented had an indoor kitchen and the live-in cook we hired left the kitchen door open at all times due to the high heat. This meant we had dozens and dozens of insects coming into the house all day. The mosquitoes are excellent at hiding inside drapes and everywhere and when I would go downstairs in the morning, I would easily get stung numerous times. The first couple of days I had 10-15 mosquito bites until I bought a fan, which I put in my room to sleep at night and this stopped mosquitoes from stinging me. A deet mosquito repellent I purchased in the U.S. also worked well and my experience is that it’s best to spray it in your hand and then onto your body. I did not put any on my clothes and I never was stung through them. Togolese mosquitoes liked my ankles and ear lobes a lot. Some of the members of our household reported vaseline was very effective as a repellent but apparently it can make you very hot with the sun. Vaseline also worked for me, which I used in the evenings.

Port de Pêche de Lomé (Port Fish Market in Lomé)

In Togo fish is plentiful and if you are in the Baguida neighborhood you are very close to the Fish market (Port de Pêche). Be ready for some serious negotiations and haggling, which can be quite aggressive with certain merchants.

Koliko avec akpavi poisson entouré avec yebessé
Grilled Red Snapper with fried yams and hot tomato sauce (Koliko avec akpavi poisson entouré avec yebessé)

Assigame Market

Once again this year we spent a lot of time in Assigame, the biggest market in Lomé. One could say it is like a huge open air Wal-Mart because they sell everything there. Many natives say one has to watch out for pickpockets and thieves but from having traveled to many big cities in different parts of the world, I can usually distinguish petty criminals and Togo still felt like a very safe place to me. In fact, we exchanged dollars in the market several times and never had a problem. Speaking of dollars, I didn’t find the exchange rate from withdrawing money in a bank any worse than exchanging it in the street, which is the natives’ preferred way of exchanging US dollars to CFAs.

Assigame is of course full of stands and shops but there are also hundreds if not thousands of walking vendors, who usually are quite aggressive. My experience is that the most pushy salespeople are those who sell shoes, belts and dress shirts. If you don’t want to be forced into buying something, don’t take anything in your hand, even when a walking vendor hands it to you, walk away and ignore the salesperson. You may be followed by an in-your-face salesman but you have to move along and be firm.

Natives say there are no jobs in Togo and people have no choice but to sell for a living and that perhaps this is why many walking vendors cannot take no for an answer.

The Hotel Madiba in Lomé

We spent a lot of time in this hotel because the owners are my wife’s in-laws. The staff is very friendly, the food, excellent and it is right on the beach. The Wi-Fi works very well too.

Sickle Cell Anemia

In this last trip my wife, who suffers from sickle cell anemia, started using Drepanostat, an easy to find medication in Togolese pharmacies. According to my wife it has the same positive effect on her as the Burkina Faso medicine FA-CA, which we know is made from extracts from the Senegalese Prickly Ash tree and the Apple of Sodom plant. FA stands for Fagara Jaune, which is Prickly Ash in English, and CA stands for the Calotropis procera, Latin for the Apple of Sodom, Pommier de Sodome in French.

Last year my wife discovered this article, which basically states that certain plants have produced positive effects in the anti-sickling of red blood cells, and she started taking the above medicine, FA-CA from Burkina Faso.

Disclaimer: Although my wife has experienced positive effects with the above West African medicines, I don’t know if they would be effective with other people who suffer from sickle cell anemia and I am not promoting them. I am simply describing that my wife’s experience with them has been positive. There’s a lot of information on the internet regarding different medicines and/or plants which are used in West Africa to treat sickle cell anemia. Some of the information I have found is in French, from France, Benin and other Francophone countries but there’s a lot of information on the web in English from Nigeria as well. Please consult with a doctor before taking anything. Do not rely on this article or my wife’s experience.

Poverty

Togo is in European and American standards considered a poor country. The natives say there is a lack of jobs there and many people with college degrees are forced to work either driving the zemidjans or as walking street vendors. While I was in Togo, I was only in Lomé, and I did not see anyone who appeared under nourished. The great majority of children I saw wore shoes. I also didn’t see any children with swollen bellies which would indicate Kwashiorkor. However when I travel to Spain or Togo it pains me to see African walking vendors who one can notice are often struggling under the hot sun. Sometimes I have given some street salespeople a little bit of money like 100CFA or even 500CFA (approx. $1 USD). However some of them get offended and would rather sell you something. When I’m in Togo I’m basically never in need to buy anything from a walking vendor, who often sell items for the local population, I prefer to give them a bottle of water, which is always very well received.

Copyright © 2021 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

Fear of Flying

July 29, 2021
Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com

I think I started to fear flying when I was about 10 or 11. I didn’t tell my parents or anyone. It didn’t occur to me and I didn’t think it would change anything to do so. I was probably also too embarrassed to share those feelings and I didn’t know telling others would have helped me deal with my fear.

One of the jobs I had when I was in college was driving a taxi and I would often pick up the airline crews from the airport to take them to their hotel. One time a couple of flight attendants said I should get some professional help and made it clear the fear I had was not normal. Looking at some of the statistics of how many thousands of flights there are up in the air every day and how many people die from airplane crashes per year, one may realize that the fear of flying is absurd; as absurd as fearing having a car accident every time you drive. In addition, thousands of flight attendants and flight personnel fly every day, probably without any fear whatsoever. When you see them aboard the airplanes, they go about their jobs nonchalantly making flying seem the most normal thing in the world.

Sometimes when I look at airplanes flying they terrify me. The noise they make, their speed and magnitude are overwhelming. It’s hard to wrap my head around the concept of a tube with wings with people inside, flying at hundreds of miles per hour through the air . Looking down from the stratosphere while inside an airplane has given me high anxiety. I’ve had mini panic attacks when I fly and rushing thoughts of what if the airplane suddenly disintegrated, or plunged into a dive. I’ve only been able to overcome these feelings with prayer. Saying the Serenity Prayer, or the Hail Mary in my head, over and over again has calmed my mind and heart. During these episodes of panic, my heart beats so fast I’ve often thought I might die of cardiac arrest before there even would be an airplane crash. Quite frankly, my emotions during some flights have been almost out of control.

My worst experience in the air was on one flight from New York city to Haiti about 20 years ago. Due the very high turbulence, no meals were served and the flight attendants did not leave their seats. It was not the common bumpy type, but rather fierce winds, which made the airplane move and shake sideways more than vertically and horizontally. The gusts were relentless and intermittent for about 3 hours. We were flying above the regular clouds one always sees in the sky but I noticed there were very high and thin wispy clouds above us, which I’m not sure if they had anything to do with the turbulence. It was a December 25th and I remember wondering if I was going to die on a Christmas day as I thought about my parents and my brothers. And it was terrifying but the prayers, which eventually became chants due to the severity and duration of the turbulence, worked. I was not the only person verbalizing prayers, but most people were quiet. I think the majority of passengers were not going through the extreme panic and fear I had. Luckily the last 2 hours of the flight the ride the turbulence vanished and the ride was very smooth . I was able to relax and felt very much relieved as if I had just lived a true life and death experience, which I’m not sure if it really was.

Since then, I’ve continued to fly every year at least once or twice and some years as much as 12 to 15 times. Interestingly, I’m always more scared on flights going to my destination and not as much on the way back home. I find the take off and the climbing part of the flight much more more frightening than the final descent and landing, which according to Boeing is statistically the most dangerous. Somehow I find the thought of returning to land comforting. Fear is not rational.

This year I went on two transatlantic flights and unfailingly, I became anxious on the week before the flights with thoughts of the possibility of dying in an airplane crash. Projecting about the future is of course bad because we have to live one day at a time. Anything can happen tomorrow or even later on today, for example something fatal, but I cannot live my life worrying about it, I need to live now, in the moment. Applying the one day at a time principle to my thoughts and emotions has relieved my fears, which at the end of the day are a waste of time. When I’m in an airplane, I’m completely powerless of what may or may not happen, the same way as I’m powerless over many things in life.

Flying over the Alps 2021

The specific worries I’ve had on the days before boarding an airplane are that I’m too young to die, that it’s unnatural to fly, that it’s not meant to be and that it isn’t right. There is of course an argument to be made that the carbon footprint and effects on the environment of air travel are too high and therefore we should not fly. But we humans need to progress and learn from our experiences too. Flying is of course a choice but I’ve always chosen to fly and never hesitated.

On my last transatlantic flight this year, I thought of the time one pilot told me turbulence is his favorite part because he knows the pilot is in essence subduing the wind. I was able to see turbulence as something positive and deal with it one second at time, surprisingly without fear and an elevated heart rate. During the usual safety announcements I thought about the statement this particular airline made “we take passenger safety very seriously.” The realization that there are many things I don’t know about airplanes and air travel was comforting, There are many people behind the air industry after all . It’s not about me, I’m not the only person in this world. Fear can be my own mental creation too, a kind of solitary downward spiral. I have been in dozens and dozens of flights in my lifetime. I have to trust the system and forget about what I cannot control. I have to let go. The Higher Power, God, or the Universe has a plan. It’s Their Will, not mine.

Copyright © 2021 Jorge Luis Carbajosa