Friday, January 27, 2012

A nice story about Africa, social media, and the speed of global communications

So, there I was, in a lovely house on a farm in Letsitele, a small South African town with a big output of citrus fruit.

Just as I was finishing my (third) sundowner and we were all preparing to go into dinner my mobile phone rang. I excused my self and answered it. "Hello, Tony speaking."

"Hello," said an African voice, "are you the owner of this phone?"

Groan. The phone company calling me to try and make me spend more money, I thought. "Of course I'm the owner of this phone. Goodb..."

"No, sorry, the owner of this phone, the one I am calling from, not your phone. Do you know him."

Now I was confused. Did I know who? This was like Abbott and Costello's who's on first. I took the phone away from my ear and looked at the number. It had a country code of +254. Something clicked. "Ah," I said, "You want to know if I know who owns the phone you are calling from?"


"What's your name, and where are you?"

"My name is Jackson," said the caller, "I am a security guard in a village market in Nairobi. A man has been having lunch here and he has left his phone. I am busy calling all the numbers in his phone to see if someone knows who he is."

"Mzungu?" (White person).

"Yes, sir."

The wheels of my mine whirred. I know of only one white man who would be in Nairobi, and who would have consumed enough Tusker beer at a long lunch to cause him to forget to pick up his phone. "I'm sure I know this man. Thank you for calling, Jackson, and for your honesty. I will get a message to this man and try and get him to call you. Please leave the phone switched on."

"It is my pleasure," he said.

We ended the call and Mrs Blog asked what all that was about. I explained to her and my South African friends, who were mightily impressed that Jackson hadn't just pocketed the phone or sold it. "So whose phone is it?" Mrs B asked.

"It has to be JR."

JR is a good friend who I met, virtually via email, when researching my first book, FAR HORIZON. Like Mike Williams, the lead character in the book, JR was an Australian Army officer serving with the UN in Mozambique, clearing land mines. While there he fell in love with Africa (and, as it turned out, one of her inhabitants). While JR's heart may be in southern Africa (and with his beloved), his ass has belonged to a series of military contracting companies who have sent him to such charming places as Afghanistan and Somalia. I knew that he often went to Nairobi on business.

Looking at the number in the 'received calls' on my phone I also knew it was him, for sure, because he had called me from Somalia only a couple of months ago, when I was on tour promoting my new book, 'AFRICAN DAWN'. I was speaking at Exclusive Books in Nelspruit, South Africa, at 6.30pm one evening and at precisely 6.37pm my phone buzzed in my pocket. Fortunately I had switched the ringer to silent.

After the talk I checked my phone and saw an SMS from JR's Kenyan phone that read: "I hope you remember to switch your phone to silent when speaking in public". That's the sort of zany funster he is.

"If he doesn't have his phone," Mrs B asked, "then how are you going to contact him?"

"Facebook." We used Mrs Blog's phone to get online and send JR a message on Facebook telling him to call his own phone and advising him it was in safe custody. I was fairly sure he would be travelling with a laptop."

He did, and he got his phone back, and Jackson supplemented his no doubt meagre pay with a nice little reward.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Game drives in kruger

Stompie the tuftless lion and some snoozy rhinos.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Save a rhino - drinks included.

I wouldn't want you to think that my life revolves around alcohol - it doesn't. It more revolves around alcohol, writing, and travelling in Africa. All seem to complement each other nicely, I find.

I don't write under the influence of alcohol, but I have been known to extract the old digit and write faster as 4pm approaches. That, here in Africa, is knock-off time for me, and commencement of the sundowner beverage service.

In fact, I usually try to finish writing well before that, but lay off the sauce until 4. Well, sometimes.

I copped a bit of stick on Facebook recently for admitting that my tipple of choice (at the time) was Castle Lite. Whichever South African oke at SA Breweries came up with that name deserves to be dipped in a fondue of boiling hippo pooh. The 'lite' in Castle Lite refers to the fact that it is 'lite' in things that make you fat, such as carbohydrates.

It is not - let me say this again - not a low-alcohol beer. Its alcohol content is four per cent, the same as the very agreeable Windhoek Lager, which in times past has been my favourite African drop. Sadly, when ill-informed people see me drinking 'Lite' beer they think I am a nancy boy.

I am not. I'm just a middle aged man with a beer belly, which is why I like low carbohydrate beer. Sometimes. I'm getting a bit over it now, however.

In fact, I am currently ploughing my way through a couple of cases (slabs) of Dois M, a champion and very full-strength macho beach beer from Mozambique. I brought it back from a recent two-week trip up the Indian Ocean coast. This is the stuff that Alex the Pirate (in IVORY) and Mike Williams (from FAR HORIZON) would chug while braaiing some prawns, shooting some bad guys, and trying to seduce some comely beach chick.

The trouble now, however, is that I'm back in the bush, in the Kruger Park, not on a Mozambican beach eating prawns and lobsters to my heart's content. (Nor shooting people or seducing beach chicks, on the odd chance that Mrs Blog reads this post). A refreshing (i.e. watery) beer in a giant man-sized 440ml can is perfect for the beach, but not so the bush.

I've switched back to my other current favourite - Miller Genuine Draft. I know, it's not very African (although this iconic American brand is now owned by the aforementioned SA Breweries). It's light (not 'Lite'), full-strength, and the contents of the 330ml bottle don't have time to get warm before you get to the end. In short, a perfect bush beer.

And it's cheap. Well, compared to Australia it's cheap.

People in South Africa, like people everywhere around the world, like to whinge about the cost of living going up. And it is. I'm not denying that, or the fact that many people are feeling the pinch. But when it comes to alcohol the good folk of the R of SA must realise that they are very lucky to have a president who not only is a good dancer and chick magnet, but who is smart enough to keep the tax on booze to virtually zero.

This may shock some of you Aussies, but let me put this in perspective for you. I bought a case of 24 cans of beer the other day and it cost me R122. At the current exchange rate, that is about AUD$15. Yes, $15.

Now, South Africans, eyes to me... a case of Aussie beer would cost the equivalent, from a bottle shop, of R320. Yes, R320.

And people ask me why I love South Africa so much?

When it comes to wine the differences are even more pronounced. You can buy a very nice, drinkable bottle of South African wine for around R30. This is less than AUD$4. If you could buy a bottle of wine for $4 in Australia, which you can't, it would make you go blind. South Africans, you may not believe me, but in Australia it is not unusual for people to pay around R80 ($10) for a GLASS of wine in a pub.

Which leads me, in a roundabout way, but inevitably, to the actual subject of this blog post. Do gooding.

One of the things I'm most proud/pleased about as a result of writing books is that I get invited to help out at fundraising for worthy charities, usually with an African bent. I have a policy of 1. only supporting functions where I know that the funds raised are going direct to the people who need them most and who can do the most with them, and 2. only speaking at functions where alcohol is involved - preferably included in the cost. I find people are much more likely to laugh at my funny stories and buy my books if they are inebriated.

So, I was more than happy to agree to my first function of 2012, a fund raising dinner being organised by the delightful Tammie Matson from Animal Works. Animal Works supports wildlife conservation programs in Africa and India and Tammie is slanting this function towards raising funds for rhino conservation in Zimbabwe.

Best of all, I don't have to do all the talking. In fact, Tammie is bringing together four authors of books about Africa at the dinner - her (she wrote the brilliant 'Dry Water' about her time as a wildlife researcher in Zimbabwe and Namibia, and I'm looking forward to reading her new book, Elephant Dance); the delightful Sally Henderson (Silent Footsteps and Ivory Moon); Peter Allison, whose popular book about his experiences as a safari guide 'Whatever you do Don't Run' would be the poorer without the scene where a mouse burrows into his bottom for warmth (as if); and me.

The Animal Works 'Imagine Africa' dinner is to be held at Ripples Restaurant, Deck C, Chowder Bay Road, Mosman (that's in Sydney, not in Africa), from 6.30pm on Wednesday, February 22. Bookings: call Ripples on 99603000 or email Tammie at

The cost is $95 per head, but before you say 'no, that's too much, even for Zimbabwe and the rhinos', let me point out that this includes a $50 donation to the charity, and the other $45 covers dinner, a glass of bubbles on arrival, and red and white wine during the meal. Given the price of drinks in Sydney I reckon $45 for a meal and wine - hell, even the full $95 - is pretty good. Plus, you get to ask Peter about the mouse.