Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Cocodrilo en Chicago

June 16, 2020

En Valladolid no han encontrado nada, pero el año pasado en Chicago el hallazgo de un cocodrilo fue una noticia que hipnotizó a la ciudad. 

Foto del caimán en la laguna de Humboldt. Fuente: Block Club Chicago

Todo ocurrió en julio 2019 en la playa y parque Humboldt cuando los vecinos pudieron  confirmar la presencia de un cocodrylus que nadaba en la laguna como pedro por su casa. En seguida el tema se convirtió en un entusiasmo total en los medios sociales y en noticia nacional.

Rápidamente el parque playa se llenó de curiosos, cámaras de televisión y hasta hubo concierto de salsa. Una revista digital local organizó un concurso para darle un apodo al famoso reptil. Un artista chicagoense hispano le compuso una canción a Tito, el cocodrilo, y no faltó la venta de camisetas, merchandising y hasta se hicieron tatuajes del aligátor.

Pero ante tanta gente,  Chance the Snapper, el apodo que se le dio al famoso caimán en inglés, algo así como “El Oportunista Mordedor”, se escondió del susto. Ni las autorides ni la asociación de herpetología de Chicago pudieron localizarlo durante varios días y el ayuntamiento tuvo que contratar a un experto de San Agustín, la Florida, Alligator Robb, que después de vaciar el parque de gente para que se calmara el espécimen, logró atraparlo en 36 horas. 

Aquí vemos al cocodrilo Tito vestido con una pajarita a cuadros durante la rueda de prensa después de su captura el 16 de julio 2019.  Medía un metro y medio aproximadamente. Fuente: Blockclubchicago.org

Alligator Robb se convirtió automáticamente en una celebridad. Ese año abrió la llave de la céntrica fuente Buckingham en su apertura anual, fue invitado a tirar el primer lanzamiento en un partido de béisbol del equipo local Cubs contra los Cincinnati Reds y fue invitado de honor en una gala benéfica.  

Se piensa que una cervecería local inventó el nombre de Chance the Snapper, llamando al reptil como el muy querido superestrella cantante de rap chicagoense, ganador de un Grammy, Chance the Rapper, que rima con Snapper en inglés. Otro apodo considerado fue “Croc Obama” pues el ex presidente fue político y residente de Chicago por muchos años.

Expertos determinaron que Chance the Snapper posiblemente había sido una mascota ilegal que fue soltada en la laguna. Aunque Chicago es una zona de origen pantanal, muy verde y con numerosos ríos y lagos, que puede favorecer la vida de grandes reptiles en el verano, sus inviernos son demasiados fríos para su supervivencia. La confiscación de mascotas ilegales de parte de las autoridades no es nada fuera de lo común en esta ciudad. 

Alligator Robb Green Tie Ball

Alligator Robb. En el 2019 en Chicago, durante las fiestas de Halloween, varios niños estrenaron el disfraz de Tito, el cocodrilo. Fuente: blockclubchicago.com

El famos aligátor de Chicago, Tito, acabó en un parque de caimanes en San Agustín. 

Copyright © 2020 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

Fuentes:

https://blockclubchicago.org/

https://www.chicagotribune.com/

https://www.youtube.com

https://www.nbcchicago.com

https://www.nytimes.com

http://www.washingtonpost.com 

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

Good Morning from Shithole Senegal

January 17, 2018

By José Ramón Carbajosa

Beautiful weather right now in Dakar, around 20-25 degrees celsius, sunny.

The economy is doing well. GDP is growing at 6% per year since 2011. Foreign investment is pouring in. People are working hand in hand to develop the country.

We have a great and vibrant democracy. There’s never been a Coup d’Etat. The Free Press is sacred. They can publish what they want (even fake news) without being harassed by the Executive.

Society here is very tolerant. Christians and Muslims respect each other. They work together to address problems and issue that affect the country, like poverty, corruption and terrorism.

There is no racism towards whites. The Senegalese are forgiving about our dismal past in this continent. They make us feel welcome. People are gentle and have good manners.

Senegal’s president is “presidential.” There are good and bad politicians but in general terms they are polite and try to convince the people using solid arguments. Throughout the political spectrum, it is not uncommon to find agreement in the important issues.

If this is Shit, then Hurray to Shit.

Copyright © 2018 José Ramón Carbajosa

At the beach in shithole Dakar wih David

At the beach at Shithole Dakar, Senegal, with David.

 

Avepozo, Lomé, Togo, West Africa

December 26, 2017

Avepozo beach, Lomé, Togo

This last October, I had the privilege of staying in Avepozo, a quartier, or neighborhood, of Lomé, Togo. In the Ewe language, which locally it is referred to as Mina, it means a thick forest area that has been burnt to make way to farmland. And one can see it is an area rich in agriculture and water.

Avepozo is also in the Eastern part of Lomé. It has a number of hotels and I was able to visit the Madiba hotel on the western part of this neighborhood. It is right on the beach and I found it to be quite pleasant. The food there was superb and it was very calm and not noisy at all.The rooms were very clean and the service very friendly. A few meters away from

Typical Fishing boat in Avepozo

the hotel’s beach, there are fishermen who bring fish twice a day and sell it to anyone, including to the hotel, who prepares and cooks the fresh fish for their clients.  I understood the price of the fish to be very inexpensive. One red snapper that must have been about almost a 75cm long and 40 cm wide cost 30,000 CFA.

In the mornings I would walk from a private residence of some of my in-laws, north of the hotel Montaniato (sorry no website), which I did not have the chance to frequent, to the beach, so past the N2 main thoroughfare (listed on google maps). On my way to the beach, I would walk past a garage shop where cars are repaired and past some shantyhomes, sometimes down a narrow stretch of land of perhaps 200 meters long, where garbage is deposited by the local residents. It doesn’t appear that there is any garbage collection in this area of Lomé (I also didn’t see any garbage burning, which would have made for a lot of pollution). Although I often was scared to walk alone, or with my brother down this area, it was not dangerous at all, and I found residents to be very friendly, despite their clear lack of modern means. Most of the dwellings I saw, as I got closer to the beach, seemed to lack running water and electricity although I can’t say for sure. I did see many water wells all over the neigborhood, so I don’t think there is any shortage of water whatsoever. I also saw an abundance of food and street vendors. I only saw one child in Lomé, who was perhaps suffering from mal-nourishment. The child had a big belly, but because I saw the child at a distance, I couldn’t tell if the child was fat or suffered from kwashiorkor.

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Fishermen and workers gathering and preparing fish Avepozo, Lomé, Togo, West Africa

The approximately 12 days I was in Lomé, in mid-October, it only rained one day for a couple of hours. All other days it was very hot, humid and sunny, with few clouds. Temperatures were in the thirties celsius and it was quite humid. I didn’t get a lot of mosquito bites, maybe about 4 or 5 total and I believe it was due to the fact that I was taking vitamin B every day. When I saw I was getting mosquito bites, I doubled my dose of vitamin B and I didn’t get any more. The ones I got, by the way, were rather insignificant, not the ones one would expect to get from tiger mosquitoes, although apparently the mosquitoes in this area of Lomé are small.

One thing that I found difficult in Lomé was the malaria medication I was taking. In my opinion this medication made me go to the bathroom a lot, up to 3 times a day, and my stools were very dark and liquidy. Other people taking the medication told me “yes, it does that.” I also got some food poisoning in Togo, so I was sick with diarrhea for two days, which I cured by only eating white rice, white bread, white crackers and an occasional soda.  I lost about 15 pounds in Togo,  and it might have something to do with the loss of water, although I kept myself well hydrated.

The Yellow Fever Vaccine

Although I had it when I was a child, I was told by my doctor’s in the U.S. that I would have to take it again. I decided to take it upon arrival at the Lomé airport. I paid 10,000 CFA for it and the whole process took about 20 minutes. I noticed the nurse did not wash his hands before putting his gloves on to administer the vaccine but he applied alcohol to my arm and the needle he used was sterile. I was given a small booklet and receipt as proof of vaccination.

Vaccine Booklet

VISA: Service de Passeports

I got my visa to enter Togo at the airport of Lomé and I paid 10,000 CFA for it and it was good for 7 days. Getting the visa at the airport was not lengthy because the Tokoin International Aiport is a modern airport which does not handle a lot of traffic. To extend the visa, I went to a suburb called Agoé, which is not listed in Google as a separate town or suburb. Service de Passeports at Avenue de la Chance are listed, however, and that is where one can get a visa extension. My in-laws knew someone who works there so we were fortunate to not have to wait for too long. The line was not long but the paperwork is a little tedious. I have been told getting a visa in the U.S. through the Togolese embassy in Washington DC can cost more than $100.

Civil Unrest, demonstrations “manifestations”

During our stay in Avepozo, we witnessed 3 days of demonstrations, two consecutive days and one a couple of days later. During the manifestations were not able to leave the house because everyone said it was too dangerous. We saw tires burning on the main thoroughfare, the N2, about two blocks from the house we stayed in. If you have never seen a tire burning, it burns completely, creating a lot of smoke and it leaves soot in a large radius around it, up to at least two blocks away. It is unfortunate for the environment. I am sure that burnt tires have a high level of toxicity and that soot must have gotten all over the agricultural plots everywhere in Avepozo, and in children’s food. I saw one burnt car although I was told many were burnt.

Someone

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Burnt Tire Remains. Notice the metal wires.

we knew decided to go to the downtown area of Lomé in a vehicle during one of the days of civil unrest. He told us he had to bribe the police and demonstrators to reach his destination and return. He said he was quite frightened but had no problems when he paid what the soldiers and demonstrators dema

Civil unrest in Lomé, Togo

nded, which was not very substantial. He ended up transporting some demonstrators with him in his vehicle, as proof that he already had paid to get through one of the roadblocks and so that he wouldn’t have to pay again at the next one set up by the manifestants.

I saw on a French news report that up to 4 people had been killed by the police during the first two days of demonstrations. Natives, however, told me that it was a lot more and I was shown many pictures of dead people that had been posted on social media. I had no way of knowing if the pictures were real, which showed dozens of dead persons and some with mutilated bodies. One fellow who was Togolese but a resident of Germany assured me the pictures were real.

The Roads

A typical dirt road in Lomé and Muslim woman walking

Because my wife is from Togo, I spent most of my time in Lomé visiting relatives, which meant being on the road 4 to 6 hours per day. We had two different chauffeurs drive us around. One chauffeur accepted to drive us and our host family, who are from Togo but live in the U.S,   for 12 days for a total of $100, although he ended up getting paid about $125. I frequently spoke to this particular driver and one time I asked him how much money per month he would need to live a comfortable life. He said what came out to be $2

Mototaxi center at the N2 in Avepozo, Lomé, Togo

60 per month. I also found out the minimum wage is 35,000 CFA per month, or $61/month. The other driver was provided to us by an in-law. Most roads in Lomé are not paved but the main roads were good. There were a lot of motorbikes on the road, which I was told are made in China and are quite inexpensive, about $500 for a new motorbike. Many of the motorbikes are actually mototaxis and one can ride in the back. I paid 100 CFA one time to ride from our residence to the Madiba hotel, about 1 km or less. I saw three wheeled taxix that could transport about 4 people comfortably. I was told anyone could buy a new one for about $3000 and

Motorbike traffic in Lomé, Togo

start working right away.

If you are a US citizen and if you want to drive in Togo, get yourself an International Driver’s license before travelling. The fines for not having a proper driver’s  license can be very high for Togolese standards, up to $50.

Money Exchange

To exchange dollars and other currency,

one fellow would come over to my host family’s house and would give us an exchange rate of up to 580 CFA per $1 USD. Other times we needed money we went to the Grand Marché, in the Assigame neighborhood, and we would drive up to one bank and plenty of people outside the bank would offer to exchange dollars for us. I found it quite unsettling at first but it was perfectly safe and I witnessed no crime at all in Togo and I never saw anyone who even had the remote appearance of being a crook or criminal. In my experience in other countries one can tell right away who has bad intentions.  In Europe no one would dream of exchanging money anywhere else but in bank or currency exchange.

The Grand Marché or Assigame

Like in other African countries I have been to (Morrocco and Kenya), I witnessed a lot of haggling and aggressive sales at the Great Market (Grand Marché). In my opinion it is best not to have direct eye contact with anyone, nor accept anything, or touch anything at all, if you are just looking at things out of curiosity.  I was fortunate that if I wanted

Assigame Grand Marché Lomé Togo

The Grand Marché in Lomé Togo, Assigame

something, my in-laws would buy it for me and go through the trouble of haggling for it and then I saw prices drop up to 60 to 70% from their original price. I did buy somethings myself, namely a pair of shoes and a belt, which I didn’t quite want. I paid 5000 CFA for the shoes and 3000 CFA for the belt, probably about 150% more than I would have, had I allowed my relatives to buy it for me. I had a mild interest in both products but the vendors had placed them in my hand and then it was almost impossible to say no.  I found the Grand Marché has a wide range of products from luggage to Food.

Conclusion

Although the U.S. Deparment of State “has assessed Lomé as being a critical-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests,” I found the neighborhood of Avepozo to be very safe and peaceful. For more information about Togo, you may also visit the United States Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Togo 2017 Crime and Safety Report.

Copyright © 2017 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

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The N2 Road in Avepozo, Lomé, Togo

 

From Amsterdam to Cape Town on Motorbikes

October 26, 2017

This last October twenty-first, I was in  Lomé, Togo and I met two Dutch men who are currently on a motorbike trip from Holland to South Africa and this is their website: http://africa-over.land/

Here’s a picture of these two fellows, father and son:

Africa over land, Dr. Johann, hotel madiba, Lome, Togo

Dr. Johan and his son, Wilbrink, in Lomé, Togo, on 21-10-2017 at the Madiba Hotel

And here is a picture of one of their motorbikes:

BMW, africa-over.land, Dr. Johann and his son, Hotel Madiba, Lome, West Africa, Togo

 

Dr. Johan, a Medical Doctor in the Netherlands, mentioned he was taking 3 months off from work to do this Road Trip and that the BMW motorbikes they are using are equipped with cameras that take pictures every 30 seconds that they are on the road.

He added they were probably going to ship their bikes from Cotonou, Benin, to somewhere south of Cameroon, since they would not be able to enter Cameroon due to civil unrest in that country.

Their website has all the details about their trip and mentions Lomé here.

It was nice to meet these two men and I wished Dr. Johan the best of luck.

The Madiba Hotel in Lomé, where I met Dr. Johan and Wilbrink, is in the Avepozo neighborhood.

I later learnt there is a website http://africa-overland.net/ portal for people who travel Africa over land, perhaps these two men were inspired by this portal and named their website similarly.

Copyright © 2017 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

Dear Mr. Marco Rubio, what is life like in Sweden?

February 16, 2016
Flag of Sweden and the United States
Flag of Sweden and the United States

Published with permission Copyright © 2016 Luis Vera

On January 28th, 2016 during the Republican presidential debate in Iowa, senator Marco Rubio (Fla.) said that Bernie Sanders is a “socialist” and a “good candidate for president of  Sweden. We don’t want to be Sweden, we want to be the United States of America.”  You can see the video here (00:38).

I would like to make a brief but accurate comparison of the U.S. versus Sweden, for those of you who have never been there and/or know little about democratic socialism and this Scandinavian country.

To begin with, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ranks Sweden in its Better Life Index as the second country in the world versus seventh for the U.S. This Index compares well-being across countries on 11 topics that it has “identified as essential, in the areas of material living conditions and quality of life.”

Here are some other general considerations:

Corruption

According to Transparency International,  Sweden is the third least corrupt country in the world, and the U.S. ranks number sixteen in the world. Politicians in Sweden are also not as rich as our politicians here and many people argue that Sweden is more democratic than the U.S. with a much higher voter participation, which according to the Pew Research Center it was 85.8% in 2014 of registered voters, and as low as 53.6% in the U.S. In addition, some experts don’t even consider the U.S. to be a democracy anymore, but rather, a corporate welfare oligarchy.

Unemployment

Unemployment in the U.S. is lower than in Sweden but not by much. In the U.S. it is currently at about 4.9% and in Sweden at about 6.7%. You might think that we really beat Sweden  but what does it mean to be employed in Sweden versus in the U.S?

In Sweden all workers enjoy a full 5 week paid vacation beginning in their first year of employment, with 16 additional paid public holidays. In the U.S. according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average paid holiday per year in small private companies is 7.6 days for full-time employees.

Maternity leave for all workers in Sweden is 480 days, of which 90 days are reserved for men.  During that time, workers get paid 80% of their wages.  A Swedish worker can take this leave until the child turns eight years old. It can be taken in weeks, days, half-days and even by hours. The government there also gives you a monthly allowance for every child you have up until age 16. Swedish companies are also very flexible with their employees, who get up to 80% of their pay when they have to stay home due to illness of their children or dependents. Swedish employees enjoy up to 120 days of this type of additional parental leave per child.

Income

Sure, according to the OECD, the U.S. ranks number 1 in income, Sweden number 8; number 1 in Household Financial Wealth, Sweden number 9; number 1 in Household net Adjusted Disposable Income, and Sweden number 9.

However, in 2012 the OECD ranked the U.S. to be number 3 in the highest poverty rate and Sweden number 20;  it also ranked Sweden as number nine in lowest income inequality and the U.S. as number 29. This website reports Sweden to have lower real estate, rent and consumer prices, another website reports Sweden to have an overall higher cost of living.

Sweden scores number six in the OECD’s work-life index, and the U.S. number 29.

Health Care

Swedes believe that all their citizens should have equal access to health care. They have one of the best health care systems in the world and their average life span is 80.1 for men, slightly higher than in the U.S which is at 78 for men. Health and dental care are completely free for all Swedes up to age 20 and there is a limit on individual contributions to healthcare of 900 Swedish Kronor per year (about $107.22) for the rest of the population, meaning that once an individual has reached this limit, all other healthcare services and medical consultations for the remainder of the 12-month period are free of charge. Private health care is also available for Swedes, although it is reported to be uncommon due to the high quality of its universal state healthcare system.

Infant mortality in the U.S. is almost twice of Sweden being at 5.97 per live 1000 births versus 2.8 in Sweden in 2015.

Gender Equality

In 2015 Sweden was ranked to be number 4 of the world’s most equal countries for men and women, behind Iceland, Norway and Finland, all Scandinavian countries. The U.S. came 28th. Sweden is ranked number 5 in the world for the number of women in parliament with 45% of women representation at the national level. The same report ranks the U.S. as number 75 for the number of women in parliament. Representation of women in the U.S. congress is 19%.

Education

Like the U.S. Sweden is also a world leader in higher education. The biggest difference, however, is that college and university in Sweden are free. In 2005, Sweden ranked 6th in the world with the top 200 universities per million and the U.S. number 17. Univesitas 21, has consistently placed the U.S. as the world’s best country for higher education but in 2012 it ranked Sweden as the world’s second and in 2015, as number 6. Swedes are also encouraged to go back to college and/or university for a second degree, with free tuition, subsidized child-care, and low cost loans for living expenses. Employers have to hold their jobs when they enroll full-time, albeit without income.

Crime

Like other Scandinavian countries, Sweden is one of the safest countries in the world. The murder rate in the U.S. is 143 times higher than in Sweden. Homicides in Sweden are 0.7 per 100,000 and 4.7 per 100,000 in the U.S. General crime levels are ten times higher in the U.S. than in Sweden. Incarceration levels are less than 70 per 100,000 in Sweden and in the U.S. they are over 500 per 100,000, the highest in the world.  Unlike in the U.S. Police crimes and brutality are not common,  and mass shootings in Sweden are almost unheard of. It is true that rape is twice as high in Sweden but many people say it is because the definition of rape is wider. In addition, conditions in Sweden are such that women are encouraged to report any and all kinds of sexual assault and are not shamed for doing so. Some experts report that a higher gender equality may be a factor too. In the U.S. according to some accounts as many as 68% sexual assaults are not reported to the police.

Terrorism in Sweden is rare. There have been  4 terrorism related deaths since 1975.

Pollution and Toxicity

Sweden is a world leader in garbage management and recycling. Currently only 1% of their garbage ends up in landfills. In the U.S. as much as 55% of our waste ends up in landfills and our recycling rate in 2012 was 34.5%. Sweden’s recycling rate is currently 99%.  In Sweden people separate their garbage at home or in the building they live in and have recycling centers less than 600 yards from any residential area. Swedes produce about 460 kg of garbage every year per person and Americans 730 kg per person.

In 2012 the World Cancer Research Fund International  ranked the U.S. to have the sixth highest cancer rate for men and women in the world, and Sweden was ranked twenty-fourth. In the U.S. the amount of debris inhaled per person per year is almost twice of Sweden.

Sweden is also a more consumer friendly nation than the U.S. Being a member of the European Union they follow “credible evidence principles” to implement “protective action despite continuing scientific uncertainty.” In the U.S. however, we use the principle that harm must be proved before “regulatory action is taken.” For instance Swedes are wary of GMOs and have very large GMO free zones throughout their country. In the U.S. foods are not even labeled as GMOs. Another example is the case of food dyes such as a Red Dye No. 40, Yellow Dye No. 5 and Yellow Dye No. 6, which are suspected to cause hyperactivity in children, and are banned in Sweden but not the U.S.

Human Rights and Foreign Relations

Unlike the U.S. Sweden is a champion of human rights. In fact Sweden is reportedly the first country in the world to introduce freedom of press in 1766, 10 years before the U.S. was founded. The death penalty, which is considered by Amnesty International as “the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights” ceased in Sweden in 1921 and was officially abolished by its constitution in 1975. The U.S. executed 27 persons in 2015.

 Human Rights Watch world report of 2015 states that the U.S. “in the areas of criminal justice, immigration, and national security, US laws and practices routinely violate rights.”  Its report on the U.S. is quite lengthy and thorough and in contrast, it does not have any report on Sweden because human rights violations there are not an issue. Regarding refugees, Sweden throughout history has been a leader in opening its borders to refugees. It remained neutral in the second world war and does not belong to NATO. It did not participate in the Iraq War. In 2003, Sweden’s prime minister stated “Sweden views a military attack on Iraq without the support of the UN Security Council as a breach of human rights.” Unlike the U.S. Sweden is a peaceful nation.

In short, comparisons between any two countries are not easy and one could spend years comparing statistics and accumulating research. And sure, not everything in Sweden is made of gold. They do have higher taxes and they have very long winters since their latitude corresponds pretty much to Alaska’s. But I am OK with higher taxes, considering the benefits, lack of corruption and its international policy.

Perhaps being like Sweden is a good thing.

Copyright © 2016 Luis Vera

Sources:

http://www.businessinsider.com/major-study-finds-that-the-us-is-an-oligarchy-2014-4

http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000

http://www.tradingeconomics.com/sweden/unemployment-rate

http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/compare/Sweden/United-States/Government

http://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/080515/5-developed-countries-without-minimum-wages.asp

http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/topics/work-life-balance/

https://data.oecd.org/inequality/poverty-rate.htm

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/06/u-s-voter-turnout-trails-most-developed-countries/

10 things that make Sweden family-friendly

http://uk.practicallaw.com/1-503-3778?q=%22Joint#a632877

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

http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-349-13188-4_12

Health care in Sweden

http://www.prb.org/Publications/Articles/2012/us-incarceration.aspx

http://www.rccmsc.org/resources/get-the-facts.aspx

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_in_Sweden#Unreported_cases

Gender equality in Sweden

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2015/11/19/us-falls-28th-global-gender-equality-list/76018174/

Rankings
Gender equality in Sweden

http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm

Higher education and research
While U.S. struggles, Sweden pushes older students back to college

http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/compare/Sweden/United-States/Education

http://country-facts.findthedata.com/compare/1-178/United-States-vs-Sweden

https://www.justlanded.com/english/Sweden/Sweden-Guide/Health/Health-Insurance

While U.S. struggles, Sweden pushes older students back to college

http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/L-pollutioncomparisons.htm

http://www.wcrf.org/int/cancer-facts-figures/data-cancer-frequency-country

The Swedish recycling revolution

http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Look-at-How-Much-Waste-America-Puts-Into-Landfills-Compared-to-Europe

https://center.sustainability.duke.edu/resources/green-facts-consumers/how-much-do-we-waste-daily

Banned in Europe, Safe in the US
Sweden and human rights

http://www.thelocal.se/20120903/42972

http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/death-penalty

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_infant_mortality_rate#UN_Sweden

Beau-frère

April 3, 2013

I was celebrating Easter with my girlfriend, at her aunt’s house. Most of the people there were from Togo because she is from that country. The party had a lot of wonderful food and great African music. People were dancing, drinking and being merry.

I was speaking to a man from Sudan about several things. We were conversing in French and at one point a man in his fifties who was dressed in a beautiful colorful striped African shirt approached me and remarked that he was surprised I speak French. Well, I understand a lot more than I speak, I explained. I introduced myself and my girlfriend who was sitting next to me. I thought maybe they were relatives but they didn’t know each other despite the fact that this party was at her aunt’s. The man was pleasant. He was also surprised that my girlfriend is from Togo and he called me “Beau-frère.” In French it means “Brother-in-law.” The man from Sudan said it was a privilege to be referred this way by a stranger.  After greeting us he left us and joined the people he had come with to the party.

man playing percussion instrument

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

Later on when we decided to go home and when we started to say our good-byes, this same African man came to bid us farewell. He was very polite and held my hand. Then he looked at my girl-friend and said: “This woman is my daughter. Please make sure you take good care of her. Take care of my daughter please. Treat her well. I trust that you will.”

I promised and assured him I would always treat her well. I thanked him for his concern. I was touched by this man’s good intentions and sense of fraternity towards his own kin.

Copyright © 2013 Jorge Luis Carbajosa