Thursday, May 31, 2012

Interview with US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Charles A. Ray

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Zimbabwe: A different golf experience

ZIMBABWE - APRIL 2009: (SOUTH AFRICA, UAE, Zimbabwe the beautiful sadness. Enter at Vic Falls from either Botswana or Zambia, visit three national parks - Hwange, Chizarira and Matusadona - and exit the country again at Kariba. This unusual view over the Victoria Falls can be reached by negotiating a set of steep, slippery stairs right next to the main falls. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
Politics in Zimbabwe are still uncertain, but it's a great place for golfers who want a different experience.  Read more . . .

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Ambassador Ray's Remarks at ATA 37th Annual World Congress

For those who were unable to attend and who have seen the somewhat distorted news reports about the event, following is the text of the remarks I gave at the session after the opening ceremony of the Africa Travel Association (ATA) 37th Annual World Congress on May 19th in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe:

“Good afternoon, and please allow me to join the chorus of voices welcoming you to Zimbabwe.  For those of you visiting Zimbabwe for the first time, I think you are in for a pleasant surprise, as you experience the wonders of the country and the warmth of the people.  For local delegates, this is your chance to showcase an industry with great growth potential, and to demonstrate that Zimbabwe is ‘open for business.’
I can tell you that when I arrived in Zimbabwe towards the end of 2009, I was pleasantly surprised.  Going by what I had read in the newspapers up to then, I expected to encounter the four horsemen of the Apocalypse on my way into town from the airport.  Instead, I met many people who were delighted to welcome an American visitor to their country – and immediately dispense advice on all the things I needed to do and see during my stay.  I have followed that advice and made a point of visiting every part of the country I could reach, at every opportunity.  For instance, on the way here to Victoria Falls, my wife and I made a stop at Hwange National Park.  There are rivers and mountains in the Eastern Highlands, the dramatic landscape of the Chimanimani Hills, the broad horizons of the Lowveld, the rolling hills of Matebeland and the Matopos, the history-laden Great Zimbabwe, amazing national parks, Lake Karibe, the Victoria Falls, and much more.
And Zimbabwe has much more than places to go and things to do.  The country is also full of Zimbabweans, and I urge you to meet as many of them as you can.
An American who has been resident in Zimbabwe for most of the last two decades said it best, “I came to Zimbabwe because of the landscape and the wildlife.  I stayed because of the people.”
You may have already noticed that the people of Zimbabwe are busy.  They have their hands full rebuilding an economy that is rebounding from a decade of stagnation.  Over the past three years, Zimbabwe’s economy has grown at an average annual rate of about 7 percent.  The mining industry is expanding rapidly, agriculture is diversifying as it grows, and entrepreneurs across the country have driven a remarkable recovery of the retail sector.
The tourism industry in Zimbabwe is also moving forward.  As you will see over the next few days, Victoria Falls is once again the destination of a growing flow of visitors.  Hotel occupancy in Victoria Falls is high and rising, I am told.  And growing numbers of visitors from Europe, the Americas, and Asia are rediscovering other destinations in Zimbabwe.
The bottom line is this:  Zimbabwe is open for business.
At the same time, I must also note that this country, so richly blessed with talented people and natural endowments, faces serious challenges.  There are deep political divisions that sometimes make it difficult for leaders to respond to the most important day-to-day concerns of the Zimbabwean people. Zimbabweans from every segment of the political spectrum are engaged in a national dialogue that should reduce political polarization and propel the country forward.  But, reconciliation takes time and patience.
It is also true that the governments of the United States and Zimbabwe do not always see eye to eye on important issues. But, one view that I believe is consistently shared by leaders in Zimbabwe and the United States is that renewal of this country’s economy is good for the Zimbabwean people, and collaboration between American and Zimbabweans can be good for both our countries.  This is particularly true for the tourism sector.
Americans can be wowed by one of the natural wonders of the world, see some of the best wildlife on the planet, and see the ruins of an amazing empire that flourished centuries ago – all over the course of a week or two.
In return, tourism revenues will help promote conservation efforts, will support Zimbabwe’s preservation of its natural and cultural heritage, and will foster better understanding between our peoples.
I certainly hope this will be the case, because the tourism sector in Zimbabwe will bring something that everyone recognizes as vitally for this country, the entire region, and the world:  Jobs.  The tourism industry and other service sectors of the economy hold great promise for creating new opportunities for millions of Zimbabweans who are ready and able to work, add value, and innovate.
I’d also like to point out that tourism, in addition to the economic benefits, is an important, but often overlooked, element of international relations.  It builds bridges between people that are more lasting and equal in importance to relations between governments.
During your stay in Zimbabwe, I urge you to listen, see, and learn. Go tee off over the water buck at Elephant Hills, see some elephants, bungee jump (if you’re the type), have a drink at the Safari Lodge overlooking the watering hole at sunset, enjoy the traditional African buffet at the Boma, and stand in the mist beside the falls.
Zimbabwe offers a World of Wonders for you to explore.  You may be surprised by what you find.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Memorial Day Thought - Freedom Isn't Free

Illustration depicting the Continental Army du...
Illustration depicting the Continental Army during the American Revolution. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we all pause to honor those who have paid the ultimate price in defense of freedoms that we often take for granted, it’s worthwhile to remember the oft-used cliché ‘Freedom is not free.’  There are those who roll their eyes when they hear this, but before you join that group, think about it.  How did we get to where we are today; a country that, notwithstanding its faults, is the symbol of freedom on this planet?

It started with a dream.  A group of diverse men gathered together and came up with a document that proposed a form of government that was for its time radical – a government that operated according to the will of the people rather than the dictates of a king.  A system that honored the will of the majority while protecting the rights of the minority.

The system they envisioned wasn’t perfect.  It talked of freedom, but many of them were slave owners, treating other human beings as mere property.  It posited that all men are created equal, and at the time that was what it meant, for women were considered children who needed the protection of a father, brother, or son.

But, they created an institutional framework that enabled each of these failings to be addressed in time.  Slavery was ended – although, it took another hundred years of struggle to achieve something approaching true equality for the freed slaves and their descendants.  Women eventually got the right to vote, own property, and sign contracts – even if they do still lag behind men in income and other signs of true equality.  Give us time, folks, this is still a work in progress.

I digress, though; the theme here is the price of freedom.  The founding fathers were prepared to pay a price to achieve this dream – they could all have been hanged as traitors had not our struggle for independence been successful.  Soldiers in the Continental Army under George Washington paid the price in blood at places like Yorktown and Valley Forge.  In the more than two centuries since, Americans of all colors, religions, economic status, and gender, have continued to step forward when necessary, sometimes laying their lives down, to ensure the continuation of that dream of those men who gathered in the 1700s to begin construction of the American dream.

No, freedom is not free.  It is bought and paid for with the blood of patriots; men and women who are willing to sacrifice all to keep the rest of us free.
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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Getting a drink

Getting a drink by CharlesRay2010
Getting a drink, a photo by CharlesRay2010 on Flickr.


Reflections by CharlesRay2010
Reflections, a photo by CharlesRay2010 on Flickr.

Elephant herd - Hwange, Zimbabwe

Marabou Stork

Marabou Stork by CharlesRay2010
Marabou Stork, a photo by CharlesRay2010 on Flickr.

Victoria Falls - Another View

The Smoke That Thunders

Redwing Starling

Redwing Starling by CharlesRay2010
Redwing Starling, a photo by CharlesRay2010 on Flickr.

Rock Hyrax

Rock Hyrax by CharlesRay2010
Rock Hyrax, a photo by CharlesRay2010 on Flickr.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Reflections on My Military Career

After graduating from high school, I decided I wanted to see the world, but not favoring water, and being a lousy swimmer, the navy was out.  So, I joined the army to 'see the world.'  Read more . . .

Friday, May 11, 2012

Africa Travel Association (ATA) Congress Set to Exceed Expectations

The Africa Travel Association's (ATA) 37th annual congress, opening on May 18 in historic Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, is, according to Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) chief executive Karigoga Kaseke, looking to exceed planners' expectations.  Kaseke, in an article in Zimbabwe's Daily News newspaper, said the target attendance had been 300 delegates, but already 371 had registered, and he expected attendance to actually surpass 400.  Of the registered delegates, 210 are local and 62 from abroad, including some government ministers.

The five-day congress, held by ATA in cooperation with ZTA, in addition to focusing on tourism in Africa in general, will also look at tour business potential in Zimbabwe.  Delegates will also be able to experience the sights and arts of the host country with sightseeing tours, cultural shows and dinners, and a golf tournament included in the program.

Zimbabwean vice president Joyce Mujuru, who is also Zimbabwe's Tourism Patron, along with Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi, are among the high level guests who are expected to attend the congress.  The ATA congress will be a dry run for Zimbabwe as it prepares to host the world's largest tourism event, the United Nations World Tourism Authority General Assembly in cooperation with neighboring Zambia in 2013. 

This year's ATA Congress will be the first held in Zimbabwe since the 1980s.  ATA, founded in 1975, is a premier travel industry trade association, providing services to its membership from a broad array of private sector concerns, including tour operators, public relations firms, hotel operators, travel agents, and airlines.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sightseeing Lions

Sightseeing Lions by CharlesRay2010
Sightseeing Lions, a photo by CharlesRay2010 on Flickr.

La luna del cinco de mayo

The super Moon of May 2012 as seen from my house in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Rich Country, Poor Country: Why are There Differences?

Disparity of rich and poor in Rio de JaneiroDisparity of rich and poor in Rio de Janeiro (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Why are some countries rich, while others remain poor?   Read more on the subject here . . .
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New On-line Literary Journal Launched

LITERNATIONAL, billed as a Literary Review International, has just launched.  The first issue contains some fascinating pieces, including Jim Crace's Refugees, his first piece of adult fiction.  Check LITERNATIONAL for some great reading, and while you're there, subscribe.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Take the plunge: Tips for Writing for Young Adults

Deutsch: Dicke FilzstifteDeutsch: Dicke Filzstifte (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Writing for young adults can be one of the biggest challenges for a writer.  Read this article for some tips on how to take the plunge.
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4 Ways to Keep Your Brain Active, Even as You Age

When we get old, everything slows down, but our mental ability doesn't have to.  Read more . . .

Things are not always what you first think them to be

I had an interesting encounter yesterday that illustrated the danger in making snap judgments about things or people based on tags and labels.
As I was standing in front of one of Harare’s public buildings waiting for my driver to arrive, a gentleman approached me and asked if I was a preacher.  I noticed that he had a ‘Zimbabwe Chief’ badge on his coat, but didn’t remark on it at first because I was taken aback that he would assume me a man of the cloth.  Perhaps it was the dark suit, or the gray hair; or maybe even the stern look on my face, which was only there because my eyes are extremely light-sensitive and I often squint with brow furrowed when outside in bright light.
At any rate, I assured him that I was not a preacher, which led to an interesting discussion of the various theologies in the world.  I told him that I didn’t follow any particular faith other than Buddhism as a way of living, because I found something to agree with in almost all of them, and had made a personal decision to ‘take the best and leave the rest.’  A devout person himself, he said, he held to strong beliefs in his own faith, but conceded that I made a good point about the others.
At this point, I gave him my name card, and something interesting happened. As he looked at it, he said, “If I’d known who you were, I would probably have walked away without speaking to you.”  He then said, “Because you represent the country that has caused more destruction on earth than any other.”  He said this in such a mild, matter-of-fact manner; I wasn’t insulted, but intrigued; so I decided to engage him on this.  I pointed out that, while the U.S. is not without its blemishes, such a sweeping statement was not supported by historical fact.  I mentioned some of the more egregious acts of violence in world history.  He thought about that for a while, and conceded that I had a valid point.  He then said that this is what he’d always heard, so he believed it.  This, I said, is an example of how little people really know about the world because they’re subjected to propaganda and inaccurate or unbalanced news coverage; people in other countries often know as little about the U.S. as Americans know about the rest of the world, and for the same reasons.
Our conversation went on for some twenty minutes, and while lively, it was fascinating, and we found that we both made points that the other found agreement with.  As my car arrived, I said my farewells and thanked him for the conversation.  He, in turn, thanked me, and invited me to visit his chiefdom.  We shook hands and embraced; two people who’d spent a pleasant morning chatting on a street corner about all manner of things.  We disagreed on some, but agreed on more; and all without once becoming disagreeable.
Things, people, are never what they seem at first glance; that’s the lesson I learned, and it’s one that we could all benefit from.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Ray's "Trial by Fire"

My friend Timothy Judd just started a new on-line publication, "Liternational".  I had the honor of being one of the featured contributors with a piece on my YA historical fiction series about the Buffalo Soldiers.  Read more here . . .

Sunday, May 6, 2012

"The Cambria" - A HIFA Highlight

Scars of a whipped slave (April 2, 1863, Baton...
Scars of a whipped slave (April 2, 1863, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA. Original caption: "Overseer Artayou Carrier whipped me. I was two months in bed sore from the whipping. My master come after I was whipped; he discharged the overseer. The very words of poor Peter, taken as he sat for his picture." (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. located in K...
Statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. located in Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today is the final day of the 2012 Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA).  This year’s festival has been marked by some first-rate performances, domestic and international, and the closing day is usually the day the headline acts show their best.  For me, though, the highlight of HIFA is an Irish play, The Cambria, which tells of the American abolitionist and escaped slave Frederick Douglas’s flight to Ireland and England in August 1847 aboard The Cambria, a paddle steamer that was the flagship of the Cunard Line.

Douglas was an escaped slave, subject to being captured and returned to bondage, but when his famous and popular biography was published, making him a potent symbol of the northern abolitionist movement, slaveholders put a large bounty on his head – dead or alive.  Supporters assisted him in getting passage on The Cambria, where he traveled under an assumed name.  In England and Ireland, he appeared as a speaker, sharing the podium with the noted anti-slavery activist Daniel O’Connell.  In a letter Douglas wrote from Ireland in 1845, he said, “. . . people here in Ireland measure and esteem men according to their moral and intellectual worth, and not according to the colour of their skin.”  This is also the closing line of the play, and for history buffs, the similarity to Dr Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I have a dream that one day in America, people will be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin,” resonates in a deeply stirring manner.

Writer-performer Donal O’Kelly and performer Sorcha Fox give absolutely stunning performances as they play multiple roles, transporting audiences to the decks, cabins, and holds of The Cambria, complete with the ominous fog of the North Atlantic.  Due to an foot injury Fox suffered after coming to Harare, making it difficult for her to walk, last minute adjustments had to be made with the two seated throughout the two-act play.  If I hadn’t been told this I would never have known. 

The essence of good drama, as with good writing, is getting an audience to suspend disbelief.  O’Kelly and Fox are masters at doing this.  The transformation as O’Kelly switches from Douglas, a black character, to the slave owner Dodd, is nothing short of magical, and Fox plays adult and child characters effectively, and even comes across credibly when she’s representing male characters.

Only someone with a heart of granite could sit through this performance without being moved – to tears even – so profound is the story and so flawless the acting.  This is Irish drama at its very best; great script, good direction, but most of all, top level performances by two of Ireland’s finest.  The Cambria has played to rave reviews on the New York stage, and now it has come to Harare and HIFA.  Five stars to the performers, five stars to the material, and thanks to the organizers who had the foresight to bring this great play here.

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