Wednesday, 29 February 2012

America vs Africa: Crime

Hi-Jacking Hot Spot in South Africa.  Sign posted warning!

At first when I began this post, I thought that it was  a simple matter of America being far safer than South Africa.  Upon further investigation, it's not so cut and dried.  Yes, South Africa does rank as the most violent country in the world on the web site "environmental graffiti" but a quick look at "crime USA" online reveals some disturbing facts.   Wikipedia seems quite informative.  Analysing crime is fairly complex as some countries list minor assault as being violent crime while in South Africa they probably don't bother with the small stuff. Surprisingly I found that England has the highest crime rate in the EU, and almost rivals the USA & RSA.  Canada is also fairly high... and we all thought they were so nice up there.  The USA is not as safe as we imagined when we first came here, with some cities such as Baltimore being alarmingly dangerous.  Drug gangs seem to be the root of all evil here.  There is also a big problem with kidnapping of children.  However we are comparing a massive continent to a number of small countries.  Perhaps it would be fair to assess each state in the USA individually, which Wikipedia does quite effectively.  The Southern States seem to have much higher crime statistics than the Northern States, and of course cities are far worse than the country.  So if you are thinking of moving over here, do your homework.

In my opinion, South Africa is far worse than the USA for crime.  I quote Environmental Graffiti.  "South Africa is considered the rape capital of the world... Farming here has become on of the most dangerous jobs on earth, as murder rates for farmers are 8 times higher than the national average... and South Africa has one of the highest homicide rates in the world." The top 5 countries for crime are: 
1. South Africa
2. Brazil
3. Columbia
4. Russia
5. Somalia

The long and the short of it... South Africa is really really awful and the USA is not as safe as we imagine, but a lot better than RSA!  

Feedback on Snakes & rare photo's of a leopard & croc

Our friend Stephen sent us this picture of a Rattle snake, perhaps I should revise my opinion about our snakes in Africa being worse than snakes here in the USA.
This snake looks suspiciously like the "puff adder" featured in our previous post.  What do you think?

This is a rare event, the leopard dragged the Crocodile out of the water.  
Bet the croc never saw that coming. 

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Africa vs America. Snakes and Crocodiles.

Any comparison made with Africa has to begin with our infamous snakes.  I think Africa wins hands down for having worse snakes than America (South America excluded) but that's just my opinion.  Have a look at a few of our backyard critters and see for yourself!  Having said that, we were rather shocked at the number of deadly snakes that we have encountered here in Texas.  
A man was bitten by this Puff Adder of Goliath size.  His arm muscle rotted away, and his surgeries cost multiple millions of Rands.  I have pictures of the bite, but it really is awful to look at. 
Below I have attached a comment from our friend Sean in Zimbabwe, 
you have to be African to know what a Sadza snake is.

"The chap is very lucky but I’ve heard that the Sadza Adder can be worse.

As you probably know, Sadza Adders will never be found on any major road system or path. They are normally found lying motionless just a few meters of said thoroughfares.

Nevertheless, should one be unfortunate and encounter a Sadza Adder, within seconds, most victims become violently ill and begin thrashing around their foot rather uncontrollably. I’ve personally witnessed some victims who would prefer to immediately cut off their foot then deal with the problem at hand :P

The after affects of encountering a Sadza Adder can last with some for months including night sweats and horrid dreams where one relives the encounter over and over again. "

Black Mamba, 6.5 meters long (approx 18ft).   This is in my opinion the most terrifying snake in existence, it is not only deadly but is aggressive too and will not hesitate to chase down and attack a person.
Just before leaving Africa, Stuart drove over a Mamba about this size- 4 meters long.

This friendly fella being held by Michael is an Albino Burmese Python, 
at Montana Garden Nursery in Nelspruit, South Africa.

The deadly snakes that we have encountered in Texas are the Rattlesnake (BRRRRR), the Coral snake (it's rare to get a bite from one of these), the Copperhead (camouflage very much like our Gaboon viper) the Cottonmouth/Water Moccasin (will actually swim up to you, yeuch).  

Crocodile (Crocodylus Niloticus)
Ok guys, Africa wins again for having truly Horrible Crocodiles.  They are man eaters and have taken many people without hesitation from the banks of rivers and dams.  The American Alligator is positively tame in comparison.  We have lived on edges of a dam with alligators for the last few months and they have not set a scaly foot in our campsite or lake shore near the campsite.  The charming African Crocodile on the other hand would have been lying in wait for the next unsuspecting victim and failing that would have made do with all the dogs around camp.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

More lazy day art, by Annalise

We miss our chickens on the farm in Belfast.  They were just like this colorful rooster.  We don't miss the way they woke us up at 04:30 in the morning.  

Dylan's contribution to "Fine Art"

Titled: Mega Monster

Perhaps there is a subliminal message; love, peace and good will to all men.  Hmmm, or he is simply drawing.. The Kraken.  Either way, we think he is quite talented... note the skull in the bottom right corner.  I particularly like the diving mask.

In 1830 Alfred Tennyson published the irregular sonnet The Kraken,[18] which described a massive creature that dwelled at the bottom of the sea:
Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

The colossal octopus: a drawing bymalacologist Pierre Dénys de Montfort (1801) (based on descriptions by French sailors).

And so you see, great artists and writers have commemorated The Kraken since ancient times.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Art on a rainy day

Northern Cardinal: By Annalise

The Cardinal flashes a brilliant crimson in a grey landscape.  The Cardinals hang out in flocks of about 30.   Texas has had a severe drought for a few years, and the winter has left the grass grey,
 trees grey, the mud is grey and even the sky is grey.  
At last the rains came, and suddenly the grass is green again.  
We have been holed up in our Trailer for a few days and have a severe case of cabin fever.  
At least it brought out the artist in us as we dusted off our paintbrushes.  

The following detailed picture was done by Michael.  We think it's very good.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Eagle Lady

The Eagle Lady, Doris Mager can be an inspiration to us all.  She is 86 years old and is not sitting at home knitting! Her passion is for the birds of prey and she has made it her life's work to travel the world educating people on the beauty and importance of our birds of prey.  She drives across America in the little van that she lives in together with her beautiful birds.  When she was 40 she began rehabilitating birds of prey, but 14 years later when one of her precious birds was shot again and died in her arms, she decided that she needed to educate people instead.  At 60 years old she cycled across America to bring attention to the plight of these birds.  When she was younger she spent a week living in a Bald Eagle's nest.

    Stuart was invited to fly Cara, the 25 year old captive bred Crested Caracara.

   E.T.(Extra Terrific) a great horned owl was Dylan's favourite.

 Brackenridge provided tasty snacks which the kids dug into like starved boarding school kids!

Tour of Texana Dam wall

We were privileged to be given a tour of the Texana Dam wall.  It is very impressive, and in the end it was hard to keep track of all the computers, power systems, pumps, engines and generators that we saw!

 Not for the faint hearted, it's a long way down in a small space.

 The water level is down terribly with the drought.  Notice the big gates on the left of the picture.  The slot in the wall is for the beams which are above the slot, they can be stacked into the slot to wall off the water for repairs on the gates.  There is a crane that glides along tracks on the wall, specifically to move the beams.
                        Winches for the gates, and rails for the crane.

We were invited on the tour by our new home school friends.  They are travelling the country building "Tough Mudder" courses.  Tough Mudder was designed by British Special Forces and is reputed to be the toughest race on the planet.  There were 4500 people at the event.  A little plane buzzed overhead pulling a banner announcing the next big race.  Helicopters landed in the nearby field.  The mudders were covered in mud from top to bottom, and by the end of the race had to be wrapped in thermal foil for warmth.

Siobhan's poem

With the Wind
How I long for freedom
To taste the wild air
And walk among the deer
With the wind to comb my hair
To run along the mountain slopes
Sidelong with the stag
And sleep the sleep of innocence
In rocky mountain crags
To climb the trees with squirrels
And spread my wings with birds
To ride the wild stallion
With his shaggy hilltop herds
To lie among the moss and ferns
By ice cold mountain streams
And gently doze off in the sun
With happy carefree dreams...

Graveyard humor and other snap shots.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the box! Michael & Siobhan display their graveyard humour.

 We had a big storm system move through the area bringing much needed rain.  With the result that we could have fires, for the second time since we have been here.  Other than that we have had a burn ban in place the entire time that we have been here.  In September, large area's of Texas burned.  The drought had left Texas parched with cracked earth and tinder dry bush.
The storm was accompanied by tornado's in South Texas, where we are.  We spent a sleepless night, as there were tornado warnings on the news.  It's not so cool to live in a mobile home when there are tornado's around.  They did touch down around Houston, which is quite rare.

Everything in Texas is BIGGER & BETTER, like this Monster truck.  The truck is a lot bigger than it looks in the picture.  Michael was not impressed that I made him pose in front of the truck, especially since there was a family in the car behind me having a good laugh at the tourists with the camera.

A day on the Beach, Matagorda

A glorious winter day, one of the perks of living in Texas.

I always wanted to live by the sea.  It gets into your blood.  The Matagorda beach is only an hours drive away.  There is a savage rip current here, and we could not swim beyond knee depth.  Jessica made the most of it and swam in the freezing water all day long, but stayed safely in the shallows.  One day Solomon and the family went to Matagorda to enjoy their jet ski's.. as they arrived somebody ran up to them and asked for help.  Three  people had been pulled out by the rip current.  Solomon raced out to find them with his jet-ski, he managed to save two of the people.  Sadly the third person was lost.
    The water is a lot colder than it looks.  Jessica swam and swam all day long.
 CJ & James brought their metal detectors to the beach, they had visions of buried chests of treasure.  They scanned and beeped and dug for hours.  The first treasure they found was this rusty beer tin.  By the end of the day, they had lost their metal detectors to the horde of kids, who managed to find a few more rusty tins.  The best find of the day was the 1 Euro that Dylan found, without a metal detector!  He traded it  for $1.25 we were impressed that he knew the exact value offhand!

 The pier was lined with Vietnamese fishermen and their families.  This was caught in front of us, amidst great chattering and excitement.  We learnt, and promptly forgot, the Vietnamese word for "big fish".
 CJ terrorising Jessica by dangling her over the crevasses between the rocks.  The crabs below were licking their choppers in anticipation.  Beside him our good friend Laura is having a laugh.
 From the front: Jessica, Siobhan, Petty (Czech exchange student), Danni, Jordan and Michael.
I love my brother.

Snow Day

Jordan(far right) and some friends in the snow ball throwing zone.

In Texas we are a little desperate for snow, so 50 tons of artificial snow were trucked into Brackenridge event centre.   In fact there was a truck full of ice, which was chopped into tiny pieces and hosed in to create a snow play area, a big snow slide and a little kids snow slide.  Most of the little kids wanted to slide on the big slide.  Very few adults went down the slide, but I did! We all volunteered at the event, and earned our tickets for admittance, ticket price $15 !!

Meanwhile, Stuart in Ohio on his Simulator Training Course is experiencing arctic style snow and ice!
This is an Amish Farm, love the red barn.
Snow from Stuart's Hotel room. Temp 9 degrees Fahrenheit.

Danny & Siobhan enjoying lunch on the grand stand,
with a birds eye view of the fun fair.

The fun fair, in the rodeo arena event centre.

Me on the big snow slide, note Dylan waiting in ambush.

Stuart takes to the skies again.

After Simulator Training.

An old aircraft with new generation avionics.
 Simulator Training in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Simulator is the most advanced video gaming machine ever produced.. a 17 year old's dream gaming machine. It's a complete all sensation aircraft feel.  When you apply the brakes you feel the deceleration, on take off you feel the acceleration.  You  can feel the stick shaker and buffet in a stall.  The screen shows real world scenarios.  The instructors delight in throwing all the worst possible emergencies at the training pilot e.g.  engine fire, hydraulic failures or decompression.

Hard at work, look at all those textbooks. Overseen by the thug behind us, Tony our   Flight Engineer.

Bruno, after 12 hours Simulator Training.

A Pilot friend once described training as like having a fire hose put in your mouth, turned onto max and being told to swallow all the water at once.

Celebrating at the end of the Simulator Training.  Larry(second from the left), our illustrious leader and Simulator Instructor is a man of many talents.

We came to the land of opportunity, expecting to find work here.  After sending out at least 200 CV's guess where I found work? Back in Africa!  The family will stay in the States while I have a long distance commute.

When the family came to Houston Airport to collect me, Dylan spotted a young Marine resplendent in his full dress uniform with gold braid and royal colors.  Dylan shouted... "look a prince!" The marine immediately straitened his shoulders and pushed his chest out a bit further.