Monday, November 19, 2007

Manas Airport

I rarely sleep well before an early morning flight and this morning was not an exception. I just worry too much about oversleeping. My wake-up call was for 4:30 AM. I awoke about 3:15—I did get to see an interesting news story on BBC about the Rory Peck Trust. The Trust exists to support freelance newsgatherers and their families worldwide in times of need, and to promote their welfare and safety. Often these times of need include death, kidnapping or injury of freelancers. (See for information.)

It’s an hour before departure and time to sit and sit and sit. The good news is that I’m heading home and while this has been a good trip, I am ready to get back.

Kyrgyzstan has been interesting study—it’s such a different location from past trips. The people officially speak Russian—though on the streets I could probably hear Kyrgyz if I were in the right location. The Kyrgyz people have such as Asian look that it seems so odd that they’d speak Russian. Kyrgyzstan shares a common land border to the east with China but it is surrounded by other countries that were part of the U.S.S.R.’s Central Asian Republics—The ‘Stans.

The government changed about a year ago with the Tulip Revolution—protesting citizens, frustrated with an unfair election forced the president out of power. The new guy, some people say, hasn’t really done much to advance the country except give a new segment of the population a chance to get rich. The person who told me this was quick to add that at least another segment of the population was able to get wealthy. The poor, as always, are still poor. Whether the U.S. or Kyrgyzstan, there’s little “trickle-down” wealth as Ronald Reagan once claimed of his economic policies that bolstered incomes of the wealthiest.

Freedom House proclaims the media as unfree though within the region, Kyrgyzstan has more political and social freedom than neighboring countries. I’ve heard interesting stories of other countries where the secret police actively watch the people. I’m sure there are secret police on the streets here but my little visit was nothing to draw their attention.

I just heard the clink of bottles. A Kyrgyz businessman, neatly dressed, is carrying a bag loaded with booze of some sort. Even though it’s early morning, the bar was busy with people having a morning drink of something other than coffee—perhaps to fortify their nerves. A guy just sat down next to me with a Baltica 7. (The numbers reference the strength of the beer—a number 3 that I’m bringing home is a nice lager.)

It has been interesting to look at the disparity in the country. There’s an Ikea store here as well as United Colors of Benetton. I even saw a sign for a Baskin Robbins. And, local inventions, McDs Burgers and New York Pizza (I had a couple of slices of their pizza….very good…though I would have liked some tomato sauce.) Who can afford these things? There are lots of casinos. Flower shops sell imported roses and other flowers. There’s a construction boom as well. Local talk suggests that between 500,000 and one million Kyrgyz work outside the country and send a lot of money home. This is pretty common and takes place throughout South American, Africa and Eastern Europe. So why should it be any different in Central Asia.

I'm in Moscow. The flight from Bishkek departed late but made it with time to spare. It's nice to have the WiFi access though I was unable to get into the Crown Room--even when I offered to pay. (Though I wouldn't have actually paid...not $25 for for a Coke and snacks. I'm across the hall borrowing their WiFi.

I will sleep in my own bed tonight.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Oh The Things You’ll See:

It is Saturday morning. I’m waiting for the instructor to arrive to open the classroom door so that we can start the morning class. After this class, I’ll meet with about 18-20 university students.

This trip has been hectic; the schedule busy but productive. I’ve not quite gotten into the swing of the time change—12 hours. The good thing is that I’ve adopted a strategy my friend Bojan recommended in Serbia: when you get back to you’re hotel, lie down and rest—sleep if you can. Then start your evening activities.

Last night I had a rare social experience. I met up with two AUCA faculty members and some of their friends for an evening of food, beer and conversation. There were seven of us—one Kyrgyz, a German and five Americans. Originally, we were going to a rock club a short distance from town but when were arrived—Sam, Aiday and me—we found out the band playing that night, a group of Russian Rockers, commanded the high price of 500 Som to stand and 1,500 Som to sit and listen. That’s about $15 to stand in a crowded, smoke-filled room and have your eardrums melt. I was glad we picked another option.

We went to a restaurant-club called “Sweet Sixties” that featured a cover band that knew about 10 songs. Smoke on the Water, Blue Suede Shoes and Cocaine were three of the songs that I remember. There were some other ballads that I vaguely knew. Even though the songs—Blue Suede for example—are almost 50 years old the crowd of young and old Kyrgyz danced and sang along as though they were current hits.

The restaurant's menu was glued to old LPs. The flip side of one record didn't have amenu page so you could see the Russian LP title which roughly translated, "We're proud to be Communists." Oh the irony of this record now being used to present the menu of this capitalist restaurant featuring Western cuisine and rock music.


Ultimate Frisbee
I tagged along with Sam to the AUCA Ultimate Frisbee Team practice session after class. (A few months back, the team played another school for the Central Asia Championship and won both matches. Of course, there are only two CA teams so I suppose the defeated team hold second place.) Sam tells me the game is especially popular in Central Asia. When he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Turkmenistan, people played the game and thought of it as American. Like football, there are end zones for scoring. There’s a throw-off (kick-off). The Frisbee possession continues down the field if your team successfully throws the Frisbee from person-to-person without a drop. If dropped, the other team gets possession and reverses course down the field. It was fun though the guys I played with (and against) were less than half my age. They were great to meet and really impressive not just in Frisbee but they were smart, articulate and well traveled. One journalism grad of AUCA had completed a semester at Syracuse and a Scripps-Howard internship in D.C. (Trust me, that’s a highly competitive internship.)

I met the son of an American missionary couple—they’re in South Africa--he's here and part of the Frisbee team. Todd was born in Zimbabwe and is working on some youth recreation projects in Kyrgyzstan. We compared thoughts about Robert Mugabwe. I can’t imagine finding someone in my usual circle to have this kind of talk with.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The People You Meet:

I enjoy meeting people when I travel. The opportunity for conversation with an extended meeting. Finding out how they've lived and what they think. My extended meetings will take place once I'm in Bishkek.

There are also the chance meetings. I met Mike, a retired military person who's from Texas but now lives near Atlanta and is going to Tashkent to see an Uzbek women he met through the Internet. He was there about a year ago. The paperwork to enable her to travel to the U.S. has taken longer than he expected.

I met the odd business traveler--with some sort of investment firm who is traveling to Delhi, India; Korea, Hong Kong, back to Korea, Minneapolis and finally back to Atlanta. This entire trip is a quick one...11 days for all of those cities...and his only luggage was a pretty big carry-on bag.

I met the guy from Canada, who in a Political Science Ph.D. program at U of Florida, also going to India but to gather dissertation data.

There's Alex and Alex--husband and wife with variations of the same first name. She's from Moldova and he's from Uzbekistan--where they're in transit to visit his family. They both live in the U.S., in Springfield, MO, after immigrating to the states 8 years ago for her and 11 years ago for him. Alex speaks Russian so she was helpful in getting a person to move us through the transit-with-no-visa line.

Lastly, I met of the millions of American citizens working on our behalf to ensure we can live safely. Steve's a "nuke hunter". He's made over 30 trips to Russia on behalf of the U.S. government in an effort to locate and secure nuclear materials. Some of the material is from dismantled nuclear weapons. Other materials comes from medical or other research facilities. There's always a risk that someone with money and the desire to hurt someone will steal or buy this sort of material, whether to make a nuclear weapon or create a dirty bomb. We had a great conversation about national and world politics--including Pakistan....a scary place now that the country may be imploding. Sunday was Veteran's Day and I'm proud of the sacrifices veterans have made but I also think about the millions of others who put themselves in odd circumstances in an effort to keep us safe.

Not to sound too much like Forest Gump but when you travel, you never know who you'll meet.
I'm in Moscow but just in transit...meaning, I'm waiting on my connecting flight.
You need a visa to enter Russia from the U.S. and apparently anywhere else. While it might have been possible to try for one, I didn't worry about it. It's a long day of hanging out at the airport but I can handle it--I think.

The last time I had a layover like this i was a lot first trip to Zambia and the layover was in London. I caught the Tube and spent the day at a couple of museums. Even if I could have gotten in, it was about 27 degrees outside when I arrived and it just looked cold.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I'm off again. of course some people say I'm "off" because I travel where I do and enjoy it. I last blogged about a trip to Romania. It proved to be an especially worthwhile trip.

I consulted with Radio Bucharest and Radio Constanta about programming, sales, personnel, branding/station marketing. Lots of good conversations and with two stations that seemed interested in learning new things.

Today, I am traveling to Bishkek, Kyrgystan. Kyrgyzstan is in Central Asia. I fly to Moscow, directly on a Delta flight then connect with Aeroflot for my flight to Bishkek. I'm sitting in the Peoria Airport awaiting departure.

In Bishkek, I'll be working with American University Central Asia, a Soros Foundation supported university. It's awazing to read about the number of Soros funded projects around the world. They range from universities to community development projects.

They've given us the call to board. I'll try to add more comments along the way.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Romania bound:

I leave next week for Romania, my second trip in about a year. I'll be working with managers of local/regional radio stations--all part of the old national or state radio broadcasting service in Romania. This was the government voice that controlled the citizens in the days of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

Even now, Radio Romania is not completely free of government influence--and you can understand why. If you're raised in a country where the media system is controlled by the government, it's difficult to give it complete freedom even when you're part of a newly elected, emerging government that strives to be democratic. Who in U.S. government wouldn't want to have a say in news coverage or news agendas--if they could get away with it under the laws of the country and past traditions.

Thank goodness for the First Amendment and its ability to create a wall of separation between government and media.

Freedom House ( reported in the 2006 Press Freedom report:
"The constitution protects freedom of the press, and the government is increasingly respectful of these rights. The Parliament adopted a new criminal code in June, under which libel is no longer a felony and slander is still considered a criminal offense but is no longer punishable with imprisonment. However, the new code has yet to be enacted. In October, the justice minister proposed further amendments to completely decriminalize slander."
"The number of media outlets and news sources increased in 2005, and media are becoming more active and self-sufficient. But media still face significant economic pressure thanks to ownership concentration, lack of revenue, and a limited advertising market. Most media rely on government-funded advertising. In May, in consultation with media groups, the government adopted reforms to make advertising allocation more transparent, a move intended to prevent officials from distributing advertising to favored media outlets. Concentration and lack of transparency of media ownership remain serious concerns. "

Romania is regarded by Freedom House as FREE...though both the political rights and civil rights scores are 2. The lowest possible score is 7, a Not Free society. The U.S. and Western Europe rank one in both categories. While many things still must be done, Romania has made substantial progress. As recently as 1995-1996, the scores were 4 and 3; from the 1970s until 1990, Romania typically scored 7 in both categories.

More about Romania from the road...

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Are things better in Zambia than they were 10 years ago?

It's tough for a foreign visitor to know whether things are truly better in Zambia but at first glance, some things are clearly better. Roads are paved and have been widened. New retail businesses have opened. More people own cars than before--traffic can be pretty bad in the afternoon. I saw a couple of sidewalk vendors selling cut flowers--not the sort of fancy stuff that might be marketed to foreigners....but simple handfuls or small bundles of flowers that an ordinary Zambian could buy. And, I could see that the sellers had been successful. That's a real statement about the quality of life when people have money for flowers--a luxury good.

How about press freedom and media? Are things better? I would say yes. More private media firms are operating--there are around 30 on-air commercial or community radio stations around the country. Ten years ago, besides ZNBC, there were only three FM stations on the air in the country. All three of these are still around and prospering.

The Post newspaper, now more than 10 years old, looks successful. The print reproduction quality is very good; it's full color. The Daily Mail routinely has spot color. The Times of Zambia seems to be the weakest paper of the big three. And, let me clarify and tell you the news content of The Post is still strong--yes, there are some sensational stories and they've learned to package some stories that will sell papers--such as the recent and continuing controversy in Zambia over whether it's appropriate for women to wear two piece bathing suits in a beauty contest. The Post made a point to include contestant photos in the event people had not made up their minds.

Both The Daily Mail and The Times continue to carry the burden of the MMD, the ruling party, when it comes to selecting newspaper stories. But, newspaper coverage still seems better than 10 years ago. Newspapers are expensive--more so now than before. A paper costs about 75 cents...up from less than 50 cents before. And, the number of ad pages--at least in The Post--has increased. (The Post will let you read headlines online but you must now pay for full content access. Go to for access to the newspapers.)

ZNBC TV looks as tired as ever. Production value in the television programs I saw was weak. The news content and delivery needs help. Basic skills seem to be lacking among some of their staffers--though realistically it may also be that management simply doesn't want individual doing too many things. Even 10 years ago, ZNBC seemed to be a tough place to work.

I haven't seen specific figures on Zambia's fight against AIDS but a couple of people told me they're making progress. Still, it was so sad to hear of the many people I'd met before who were now dead. Ten years ago, I heard an estimate that one media employee in three was HIV positive--media people, with some degree of celebrity status plus simply a job--were believe to have a higher infection rate than the general population. Perhaps that estimate was true. I use to imagine what it would be like if every third person I shook hands with was positive. Ten years later, I have an idea.

A sad note certainly but what a joy and pleasure to be back in Zambia. I learned so many things 10 years ago and have continued to learn about Zambia, the world and myself because I was there. I don't want my next visit to take 10 years for the return and am now working on a project that perhaps will get me back much sooner.

Monday, September 3, 2007

I'm back from Zambia. The flight home was easy enough--an hour's delay in Atlanta but otherwise easy enough. I slept A LOT on the plane and have felt good this afternoon....I hope to get a good night's sleep this evening.

What new in Zambia: Retail space—lots of new stores. Most of the places are chains that were based in South Africa (Bata Shoes, Shoprite and Mr. Price are three.) The good news is that products sell for less. The bad news, much of the sales revenue leaves the country—although all the retail developments employ people and the consumption opportunities give people a reason to aspire for middle class or higher status.

My friend Muwana took me to a couple of local Zambian social clubs. Our first stop was the BP Club—literally run by British Petroleum for the employees but available for others to visit. The BP Club is located near ZNBC’s Mass Media Complex—Muwana’s office location. It was a good place to be because it was off the beaten path—no mini bus routes were particularly close so if you didn’t drive yourself or take a taxi, you’d probably select another place. The room would likely hold 50-60 people but there were probably no more than two dozen patrons when we arrived.

Muwana introduced me to several friends, including Joshua who upon hearing my name was Greg, told me he had a nephew named Greg and that for the evening, he’d be calling me Nephew. I called him Uncle. A doubting friend who walked up questioned us on the family relationship. As quickly as I could I said, “Look at our smiles and the sparkle in our eyes—you’ll see that we are related.” It was a good time for all to laugh.

Later we went to an Irish pub—the sort of place you’d see in the U.S. with all sorts of plaques or signs saying things like, “Liquor kept the Irish from conquering the world.” The bar, McHags, is located in Manda Hill Shopping Center.

Food: It was great to have N’shima again. Made from boiled corn meal, the thick paste is the Zambian equivalent to bread. I enjoyed lunch with two friends at a restaurant called Food Fayre. During the week, they have a buffet style meal. Saturday, when we were there, we ordered from a menu board. The three of us had village chicken (a Zambian equivalent to free-range chicken), rape (a green similar to kale), okra, and lowanbi (a local vegetable that’s boiled and cooked with some peanuts mixed in.) Delicious! The meal cost about 15,000K per person—that’s a little less than $4.00. While it seemed like a bargain meal for a hungry worker, I found myself thinking later that I often spend only about $1 for lunch by bringing something to work or keeping some cans of soup in my office. The simplest option in Zambia would be to walk a little further to an open market and buy some bread, fruit or vegetables from a seller’s stall.

Zambian Phrases:
“It’s just there.” A location reference that could mean 100 feet away or several miles.
“Where do you stay?” Where do you live?
“I’ll just pass by on my way to . . .” or “I’ll pass by at 18:30 hours.” I’ll stop by while I’m on my way. Or, I’ll stop by at 6:30 PM.
“Do you take ______?” Do you eat or drink or consume something.

Things I brought back:
Baskets—a suitcase full of them. A tablecloth with a guinea fowl pattern. Some small animal carvings. A bottle of Mosi Beer, made by Zambia Breweries, a company once controlled by the government but privatized and then purchased in full by SAB-Miller—the combined South African Breweries and Miller Brewing. And, renewed friendships and wonderful memories!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lunch Today:

They served rice but I ate N'shima, and likely surprised some people. N'shima is Zambian "bread" that's made from boiled cornmeal and is a staple for most meals. The texture is a little like Play Dough--though N'shima is really very tasty. N'shima or shima is served with meat and vegetables. The veggies, slaw, various greens, tomato...whatever...are usually referred to as relish. The best part of Shima is that you eat with your right hand. Lunch was delicious.

The conference I'm attending is a global ethics conference, though much of the discussion focuses on media ethics in Zambia in relation to the what's going on around the world and in neighboring African countries. Press freedom today is generally greater than 10 years ago--certainly there are more print publications and now about 35 non-government radio stations, compared with only five non-gov stations 10 years ago.

I've kept in touch with several people I knew from my Fulbright days. But, as I've tried to find out what has happened to others, I've been told they're dead. Victims of AIDS. Many companies now make available ARV (anti-retro viral drugs) for HIV-positive employees. It's been a slow process but it's beginning to happen. Part of the reality of AIDS in Africa is that many of the most highly-educated members of the workforce are infected. Without ARVs, they'd be dead--some may still die.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I sometimes have a feeling about a trip…that something will go wrong. This is one of those trips. Everything was generally fine as I left home, though my daughter was excessively dramatic about my leaving. That settled down as we talked about a present that I would bring home.

But things went in the wrong direction when I reached Atlanta. I fly Delta Airlines whenever I can. I’d rather fly through Atlanta than Chicago—typically fewer interruptions and an easier airport to navigate. This time, the southeast weather interfered with my travel. A thunderstorm cell delayed our departure for about 40 minutes. Then came the really bad news. The co-pilot was sick and would have to be replaced. Because it was an international flight and we’d already pushed back, we couldn’t go back to the gate. All we could do was wait for the arrival of a replacement crew member. The good news is that I was tired and slept during part of the wait. Then I read. The flight attendants served water. People were in a generally good mood. And, out pilot frequently gave us updates to keep us apprised of the situation. Finally we departed at 7:41PM Atlanta time—about three and one-half hours late.

Though the pilot said we’d make up some time going to Dakar and likely spend less time on the ground there than we were schedule for, I had my doubts about making my connection. I had called my friend Twange from the plane in Atlanta to have her alert her sister and to get her local phone number. Twange’s voicemail picked up. My other alternative was to grab the number from an email. I have a new computer, a Mac. Unfortunately, the email program I’m using has a habit of not fully downloading email messages and attachments. And, there was no signature with contact info on the emails I did find downloaded.

In our world of instant everything, some people would be especially bothered by all this. While I hate to miss a night in Lusaka and hate to cause disruption for the Kasoma family, this is just the way it goes sometime. What’s my alternative? If all goes well, I’ll spend the night in a J’burg hotel, rather than the airport, and the hotel room will be paid for by the airline.

Update: I did spend the night in Jo'burg, courtesy of Delta Airlines and had a wonderful hotel breakfast--great bacon, coffee--my first caffeine in more than 34 hours--and broiled tomatoes topped with cheese. There were other foods but these were my favorites.

I arrived in Lusaka at about 2 PM, local time...then stood for almost an hour in the Immigration line to get a visa (Note to Zambia Immigration and Tourism officials--You must speed this's a bad first impression for tired visitors, after a long flight.) After grabbing my bags, I headed out the door and was greeted by my friend Muwana. I met Muwana the first time I visited Zambia...he was part of a workshop I did back in 1995. We've been friends since then and I like and admire him so much.

Impressions: The city has made some significant infrastructure improvements--a major four-lane, divided highway into the city. I saw some new construction. I also saw familiar sights that are etched in my memory....people using bicycles as means of transport for four or five over-sized bags of charcoal they're taking to the market to sell. They're tied to the bike and I cannot imagine how difficult it would be for the rider if he had to come to a dead stop.

I'm staying at a private hotel/guest house called Mika Lodge The room is very comfortable and they have wireless Internet!!!! I've already called my bride--via Skype--to let her know I'm here.

Monday, January 22, 2007

I've just returned from 8 days in Las Vegas where I attended the National Association of Television Program Executives 2007 Conference. What an event it was...part technology forecasting, part media usage/trends discussion platform, and simply part circus. NATPE is a sales event for media programming--historically, the sale of programming to local TV stations. The distribution platforms have changed over the years but it's still an exciting and educational conference. It's also such a marked extreme from some of the other trips I've taken. On the exhibition floor, vendors are pitching their programs with showmanship and real gusto. (That's why I made the circus reference above.)

Also attending NATPE were 30 college professors who had a chance to learn first-hand what's going on with the TV business and 39 college student interns, who likewise received access to an event that's not open to the public.

NATPE is a far cry from many of the development issues I often discuss here. While there are some news and public affairs programs being introduced, most of the programs seek to attract the largest audience share available to enable the broadcasters to sell ads in a commercial marketplace. It's one thing to talk about the need for mass communication as a tool for development but as quality of life audiences become more sophisticated....their attention moves to entertainment and not development information. And, free content can't be sustained...advertising (versus government funding, receiver license fees, or subscriptions) seems to be the logical method to pay for media content--print, broadcast and online.

I'm happy to report that not just US or Western European media executives attend NATPE. There was a healthy mix from Latin America, China/Asia, Eastern Europe and even a few attendees from Africa.