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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Top 5 Ways To Keep Your Children Calm At The Airport

-by Hannah Jennings

Having recently published my Travelling with Children Ultimate Travel Guide, I have decided to write a post on keeping your children calm at the airport for the Around The World Blog, for more great tips for travelling with kids check out my ultimate guide on the link above.

Waiting in an airport isn’t fun for anybody. Finding the right check-in area, going through security and keeping an eye on the gate is stressful enough; and if you have rowdy kids in tow, it will only get worse. However, with a little pre-planning, there’s no reason why your children can’t actually relieve some of your stress. These tips will help you keep your kids under control.

Bring travel games

Your kids probably won’t be interested in the perfume counter. Having a few games packed in your hand luggage to keep them entertained in the departure lounge is always a good idea. If you have a tablet, download a few new applications or let them browse the airport Internet. Otherwise, take the classics – travel scrabble and connect four.

Manage their expectations

Always over-anticipate the waiting period. Tell your children well in advance that the plane will probably be late. Get them to expect a long waiting time and they won’t be as frustrated if there actually is a delay.

Get them involved

Give your children a few responsibilities. Getting them to feel more involved with everything will make them feel more adult, which will calm them down during long periods of waiting. Tell them to keep an eye on the departure times to see when the gate opens. Obviously, you shouldn’t rely on their word; it’ll just good to make them feel like they’re helping out.

Let them play

A lot of airports will have play areas and crèche facilities. If they do, let your children play for as long as possible. Knowing they are in one place means that you don’t need to constantly worry about them wondering off. Letting your kids engage in a little physical activity will also tire them out before they board the plane, which is especially beneficial if you’re taking a long haul flight.

Play mind games

Airports are great places for little mind games such as eye spy. Try giving your kids specific tasks. For example, tell one of them to count everyone they see who’s wearing a red coat, and the other to count everyone who has a blue coat, and see who wins after ten minutes. Or get them to guess how long it’ll take to get through security. Use your imagination. There are literally thousands of options out there that will keep your kids entertained. Make some up, or better still, get your kids to make some up!

Getting through the airport is the first hurdle when you’re travelling with children. If they make it through without causing too much trouble, there’s nothing your holiday will throw at you that you won’t be able to handle. Before you start packing, make sure you take these tips into consideration and get yourself prepared. Charge your tablet and phone; pack some travel games; and before you leave, make sure you tell your kids frequently that there’ll probably be some long waiting times at the airport.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Time To Go Back To Mali?

My first e-mail this morning was from Amédé Mulin an architect who build an amazing hotel in Mopti, Mali's second biggest city and it's biggest port. Maki's a landlocked country and Mpti is a river port on the Niger. It kind of reminded me of a cross between Chicago, San Francisco and New Orleans and it defined seedy. Mopti did-- but not Amédé's elegant hotel, La Maison Rouge. Last we heard from him was in July of 2012, when the civil war was bad enough so that pretty much all the hotels that catered to tourists were closed. Today's message-- pardon my crude translation-- is much more up-beat:
La Maison Rouge opens its doors again!

We look forward to the pleasure of welcoming you soon!

You will find attached the rates for the current season.

I remain at your disposal for any information
I sent it to Roland and we reminisced about using Mopti as a base to visit the very primitive Bozo tribe that lives along the banks of the Niger and about the amazing time we had taking a boat out to a Bozo village on a remote island that seemed centuries back in time. Roland said we should go to Mali again. "I think it's safe again," he ventured. It's not. Today was election day in Mali. It didn't go very well, mostly because people were afraid to go to the polls. People rate it as relatively peaceful because only a dozen deaths have been reported so far.
In Kidal, voters on Sunday were prevented from casting ballots by rock-throwing Tuareg separatists. In Goundam, a desert outpost near the fabled city of Timbuktu, armed men stole at least 10 ballot boxes.

And in the region of Gao near the border with Niger, a security official who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press said 16 ethnic Peul were killed in clashes with Tuaregs that occurred one day before the vote. The official said the violence was believed to be related to the death of an elderly Tuareg man about a week ago at the hands of ethnic Peul trying to rob him.

"It's for this reason that armed Tuaregs attacked the Peul in their base near the border with Niger," the official said.

Tuaregs are light-skinned whereas the Peul are black. Many Tuaregs have long clamoured for an independent nation in northern Mali, claiming that Mali's government, based in the south and dominated by the country's black majority, has marginalized them.

Florent Geel, Africa director for the International Federation for Human Rights, also said 16 were killed in Saturday's clashes but added that the organization was waiting on details. He spoke by phone from the capital, Bamako, citing information provided by a member of FIDH in Gao.

As voting got underway in Gao Sunday morning, United Nations peacekeepers and Malian soldiers outnumbered voters, though participation increased somewhat closer to midday.

The turnout appeared to have fallen short of Mali's peaceful presidential election held in July and August, when Malians elected Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to lead the country in a contest that was decided in a runoff.

"Today we have noticed that participation is weak," said Gao prefect Seydou Timbely. "There weren't enough means invested in encouraging the population to come out and vote."

Several voters said recent insecurity in northern Mali was on their minds, notably the Nov. 2 slaying of two journalists from Radio France Internationale who were reporting in Kidal. The lead suspect in that attack has previous ties to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
I mentioned the instability and violence to Roland and he said that's "only" in the north and we've seen enough of Timbuktu anyway. "Let's just go to Djenné. We loved that place." It's true, we did. Here's a picture of Roland I took in front of the big mud mosque there.

But Toronto's Globe and Mail reported in January, that tourism has collapsed entirely and just turned the whole country-- not just the north-- into "a hell."
For years, thousands of tourists flocked to see the unique mud-brick architecture of Djenné, one of the oldest and most beautiful towns in West Africa.

Today the once-thriving industry has collapsed. Almost every hotel and restaurant in Djenné is closed. Tour guides can go for months without seeing a single visitor.

…“We can’t feed our families,” says Badou Magai, a guide in Djenné for the past 10 years. “We’re suffering greatly. Everyone has gone away.”

It’s just one symptom of the crisis in Mali, where a military coup and an Islamist rebellion have devastated the tourism industry and triggered the suspension of most foreign aid, plunging the economy into recession.

Countries like Canada are now mulling a possible military training operation in Mali to push back the rebels. But the military campaign could take years, prolonging the crisis indefinitely.

Until recently, Mali was seen as an economic star on the African continent. Its economy had grown by nearly 5 per cent annually for most of the past decade, with Canadian mining companies among the biggest investors. But its GDP shrank by 1.5 per cent over the past year, according to the latest estimate from the International Monetary Fund, even though its gold and cotton industries were largely unaffected by the northern rebellion.

For people like Mr. Magai, the economic crisis is bringing misery with no end in sight. Kidnappings and political instability have driven away almost all of the foreign tourists, destroying an industry that accounted for 5 per cent of the country’s economy.

Mr. Magai remembers seeing up to 600 tourists a day at peak season in Djenné. The town was a magnet for tourists, offering views of the world’s biggest mud-brick building-- its famed Grande Mosqueé, a masterpiece that UNESCO declared a world heritage site-- and a labyrinth of ancient Sahel-style homes, along with one of Africa’s most famous markets.

The tourists began to vanish after a wave of kidnappings by Islamist radicals in northern Mali in 2010 and 2011. Only a couple of dozen tourists have ventured into Djenné over the past year-- compared to 30,000 tourists in 2005.

The guides have seen their incomes collapse. “It’s hell,” said Ahmadou Cissé, a guide in Djenné who is supporting 12 family members on his rapidly declining income.

Mr. Cissé says he can only afford to give his family one meal a day. He estimates that nearly 100 guides are unemployed in this town of 13,000 people, and more than 1,000 people have lost their jobs or income in the hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and markets.

Sophie Sarin, owner of the only hotel in Djenné that remains open, says the impact of the crisis has been “disastrous” in a town where tourism represented half of the economy. “People are much poorer,” she said.

In the town of Mopti, a tourism hub on the Niger River to the north of Djenné, foreigners are equally scarce. The biggest hotel, the Kanaga Hotel, is virtually empty. “It’s a catastrophe,” said Amassome Dolo, the hotel’s reception manager.

Despite the tourism collapse, the reality is that towns like Djenné and the Malian capital, Bamako, are still relatively safe today. They are a long way from the rebel-controlled region. But tourism in the entire country has been devastated by the perception of danger, the frequent kidnappings by the rebels and the official warnings issued by Western governments.
We stayed at Sophie's wonderful hotel, the Djenné Djenno, and I'm glad to hear she's safe and her place is open. She's still blogging, which is how I originally met her. And she introduced me to Amédé and his fantastic hotel. Today she wrote that "The elections have one great benefit for Hotel Djenne Djenno: the International Election Observers  are staying at the hotel and eating here too. There are two nice young European men staying: one Hungarian and one Romanian, sent here by the European Union. And then there are two Africans: one from Liberia and one from Sierra Leone. Keita  giggled about this: ‘Those two  great bastions of Democracy and Human Rights are overseeing our elections!’ Malians, inspite of their two year crisis, still feel that they lie well over the West African average when it comes to progress, civilization  and democracy…"

I have a feeling Mali isn't a place I'll be seeing again. Next stop for us: Ecuador.