Boxing: Remembering David Bey

“(Y)ou only learn that when you start losing stuff.  You find out that life is just a game of inches.” – Any Given Sunday

I always loved this quote, and I always felt it applied to boxing as well as football. Boxing is, in the end, a game of inches. So many fighters come so close to glory, so close to that championship belt, that they can almost feel that cold metal faceplate on the front of the belt.

David Bey was one of those guys.

Now make no mistake, this is not a knock on Bey. I have tremendous respect for the hard punching bomber who came ever so close to removing Larry Holmes from his senses back in 1985.  Bey did something that few fighters ever did: fight for a title. He also did something only a fraction of those fighters can say they accomplished: he hurt the champ.  And it wasn’t a lucky shot that rocked Homes. When all is said and done, I think boxing history was wrong about David Bey. He wasn’t some tough kid who caught Greg Page on the right night and scored an upset over the most experienced contender, paving the way for a title fight nobody in boxing was expecting him to get. He wasn’t a lucky pug who stumbled into a title fight en route to  his inevitable fade into journeyman status. He was almost the real deal.

Almost.

Prior to his fight with Holmes he scored two wins over future word champions and against Holmes he rattled the undefeated Hall of Fame champion in the second round. Most fans felt that was where the story ended. He got his title fight and he would spend the rest of his career as an opponent for young up and comers. But he wasn’t done almost upending the heavyweight division just yet. In his next fight he almost upset Trevor Berbick before Bey’s notoriously bad endurance caught up to him. Berbick rallied from a deficit to close the gap and stop Bey in round eleven. But had the fight between Bey and Berbick not been for the USBA title, had Bey v. Berbick been a ten round fight, then things may have gone differently that night. Perhaps Bey would have been the one who caught a poorly trained Pinklon Thomas off guard on 1986. Perhaps Bey would have been the man who Mike Tyson had to get past in order to win his first world title.

Bey was a tough brawler, yes. But he was also an awkward fighter with bone crushing power who ultimately  suffered from the “punchers curse”: poor endurance coupled with a subpar chin. But so many other fighters became world champions despite suffering from the punchers curse (Mike Weaver, Tommy Morrison, Gerrie Coetzee, and Frank Bruno all come to mind). I also can’t help but wonder “what if Bey decided to fight Coetzee in South Africa?”  He certainly could have beaten Coetzee…all he had to do was sell out.

But from what I can tell reading about David Bey from people who knew him, he wasn’t the kind of guy who would sell out what he believed in. Instead he took on the much more dangerous Larry Holmes and came up short, although he came oh so close. .

I wanted to post a clip of David against Greg Page or Buster Douglas, but unfortunalty nobody posted those fights on YouTube. It’s a shame, but the only fights I could find of Bey were the fights he lost. But after watching the Bruce Seldom fight I couldn’t help but think about that quote once again.  Bey was trailing in the fight, but for the better part of ten rounds he gave as good as he got. It would ultimately be the last time he ever gave a contender a run for his money (Bey would be stopped by Joe Hipp in his next fight in a lopsided affair) but there was no denying that he gave Seldon all he could handle when the two fought in 1990. Seldon, boxing fans would discover, was a fighter with a less than stellar chin. But that wasn’t yet established in 1990. Nonetheless from rounds four to nine Bey would catch Seldon with the occasional left hook that would land just an inch from the sweet spot on Seldon’s chin. Seldon would stumble on occasion, but he would never go down.

After ten rounds Bey would again come up just an inch short, this time against a fighter who would go on to win the WBA heavyweight title five years later.

Boxing is, after all, a game of inches.

David Bey is survived by his daughter Leah Bey-Batie and step daughter Kyrstin Ellison as well as nine brothers and sisters.  David’s Life Celebration will take place on  Saturday, September 23rd, beginning at 9:00 a.m. at Pilgrim Baptist Church, 5930 Rising Sun Ave in Philadelphia, followed by his Funeral Service at 11:00 a.m.

In lieu of flowers, a donation in David’s memory to Pilgrim Baptist Church would be appreciated.

Boxing: Former heavyweight contender David Bey passes

I’m sad to report the passing of former heavyweight contender David Bey. According to WPVI, an ABC affiliate in Philadelphia, Bey was working as a Pyle driver with Local Carpenters’ 179 in Camden, New Jersey. He was killed on Wednesday, September 13th, in an industrial accident at the Camden Towers when he was reportedly hit by a steel sheet Pyle.

Bey is perhaps best remembered by boxing fans for his 1985 IBF world title fight against Larry Holmes. Holmes defeated the then undefeated Bey by way of tenth round TKO. But many boxing fans nonetheless remembered the gritty performance from Bey, who rocked Holmes in the second round. Holmes was later quoted by Sports Illustrated as saying Bey “got my attention” in the second round of the fight.

But Bey’s legacy in boxing went beyond the fight with Holmes. Bey’s career would ultimately mimic another famous, albeit fictional, Philadelphia boxer. Having been brought in as the sacrificial lamb in his professional debut in 1981 Bey stunned the boxing world when he knocked out an undefeated prospect with a 5-0 record from Columbus, Ohio in the second round. That fighter’s name was James “Buster” Douglas. After stopping Douglas, Bey would go on to string together another twelve wins before he was again brought in as an “opponent”, this time against another future world champion named Greg Page in August of 1984. Bey would score a stunning upset over Page, winning the USBA heavyweight title by way of twelve round decision. Bey also earned the admiration of boxing fans the world over when he declined a $750,000 offer to fight then WBA champion Gerrie Coetzee in 1985. The offer came with an important caveat: Bey would have to fight Coetzee in the champion’s home country of South Africa. At the time South Africa was ruled by a pro-apartheid regime and Bey, worried that fighting Coetzee in South Africa would give the apartheid regime legitimacy, refused the offer.

Bey would ultimately fight six heavyweight champions in his career as well as an undefeated Olympic gold medalist named Tyrell Biggs. His final fight was a TKO over Dave Jaco in 1994, which brought his professional career to a close with a record of 18-11-1, 14 KOs. He was 60-years old.

Travel: Three Days in Rwanda (Part Four)

The Finger Post Travel (September 13, 2017)

(Kigali, Rwanda, July 25-27, 2017)

There is a funny thing about flying into (and out of) Kigali, Rwanda with Ethiopian Airlines. The flights are all in the middle of the night, which gives a traveler an extra day to enjoy their time in Kigali. Three days earlier my flight into Kigali from Addis Ababa arrived at 12:45 AM (after a 10:45 PM departure from Ethiopia), and I was about to fly out of the country at 1:45 AM on Saturday morning, which gave me all of Friday to explore Kigali.

But although this was the sort of excursion I thrived on when I was a young college student, sleeping on trains and busses only to find myself reenergized in the morning, I also recognized that I wasn’t a young man anymore. This would be a long flight, and if the flight into Rwanda told me anything it was to expect a packed airplane.

I elected to hire Alex for one more day. I liked his energy and he proved to be an engaging host. But I also knew I needed to sleep in, and asked him to pick me up at 10AM from my hotel. As was often the case in Rwanda, he was early.

Our first stop would be the Rwandan Parliament, a functioning legislative building that still carried the scars of the Civil War and that housed its own genocide museum: The Campaign Against Genocide Museum. Arriving at Parliament we went through security where we left our IDs and then spent a full twenty minutes trying to find the entrance to the museum. The building was still trying to find that perfect balance between tourist site and functioning government building, but once we found the museum we were ready to start the tour…with one caveat. No photos inside. I wasn’t sure why since the displays were not particularly noteworthy or historic (nothing was original, most were just photos and text on a museum display along with some mannequins dressed up like soldiers) but I complied.

The only picture I was able to take inside the museum, before they told me “no mas.”

I couldn’t help but note the political nature of the display. The Rwandan Patriotic Front was the ruling party, but this museum made no attempt to hide its political bent in promoting the RPF party line. With that being said, the Green Party didn’t really have a role in stopping the genocide so I guess the museum could be forgiven to a degree. Still, I tried to picture the U.S. Capitol turned into a Civil War Museum with numerous displays talking about how awesome the Republican Party was and I realized that dog wouldn’t hunt out here. I realized the historic separation that we have in the USA between government and political party just wasn’t present in Rwanda. It just wasn’t. Everywhere were reminders that the RPF and Rwanda were, for all intents and purposes, interconnected in a way that Americans would be uncomfortable with. In Rwanda the Party and the State were joined at the hip.

I started to notice that the museum was just as much a celebration of the RPF as it was a memorial to the victims of genocide. And any question I had about the political nature of the museum was answered towards the end of the tour when I saw the display honoring those who stood up in the face of unimaginable horror and fought against the perpetrators. There was a display honoring an old Hutu woman who many locals regarded as a “witch.” She hid Tutsis on her property and scared away the genocidaires by claiming that they would be “cursed” if they searched her land. There was a display of some locals who fought against the Interahamwe armed with little more than the tools from their farms. There was a display of foreigners who helped protect innocent Tutsis from slaughter.

And yet nothing on the most famous hero to emerge from the Rwandan Genocide: Paul Rusesabagina. Rusesabagina was perhaps best known to Westerners due in large part to the film Hotel Rwanda, which was based on his life. Naturally Hollywood took some liberties, and in the years that followed there have been some of the survivors who claim that Rusesabagina was actually sort of a dirtbag during the siege, charging the refugees for food and soft drinks and even giving the room numbers of guest to the Interahamwe. But for others the story of his heroism and courage were an inspiration. Whatever the case, it seems clear that he risked his life to save the lives of 1,268 innocent Tutsis, giving them shelter at the Hotel Des Mile Collines in Kigali. It was no small act: all across Rwanda so called “moderate Hutus” were being massacred by the Interahamwe. The simple act of giving shelter to the Tutsis, and doing so in such an open way, was an act of unmistakable courage…even if he was price gouging the Diet Cokes.

Welcome to Best Buy Kigali circa 1994

And yet nowhere in Kigali could you find even a mention of Rusesabagina. Not even a display that questioned what role he played. In fact, nothing about the man from Hotel Rwanda.

No explanation was given as to why but the reason seemed obvious: in the years following the genocide he emerged as a vocal critic of President Paul Kagame. With the falling out between Kagame and Rusesabagina, Rusesabagina would soon emerge as a Rwandan Nikolai Yezhov: a ghost, erased from the nation’s history.

 

Once outside I was able to start taking pictures again. The parliament building was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in 1994, a small island of RPF controlled territory surrounded by hostile enemy forces hell bent on their annihilation. It made me think of Sarajevo during the Bosnian Civil War, a Muslim city surrounded by hostile Serb forces determined to eject them from the city by any means necessary. The Parliament in Kigali was in just as desperate a place in 1994. They were they surrounded by the Interahamwe, who were not only determined to remove them but to exterminate them. And on top of that they also had to deal with the refugees who were fleeing the carnage. For those who could reach the Parliament, it was an island of safety in a sea of horror. But for the 600 RPF soldiers fighting for their lives, it couldn’t have been easy, fighting for their lives while also having to deal with an untenable refugee crisis. The first display I was able to see outside was a somewhat unusual display featuring mannequins dressed like RPF soldiers treating injured civilians in a medical bay.

From there we were taken to a statute honoring the soldiers who perished during the rescue operations.

We then went upstairs to the roof, where we saw an incredible view of the city as well as a statute of two soldiers operating an anti-aircraft gun We were told was an exact replica of the gun used to fight off the much larger Interahamwe force looking to seize the building. As is often the case with places of pure horror and carnage, the rooftop was now peaceful and quiet. The faint sounds of the city below seemed to tell a story of a city that was now at peace and devoid of the chaos and confusion that you found in most cities in Africa.

 

But once we were back on the ground floor there was no question that it had not always been the case with the building. The side of the building still wore the scars of the shelling from the war, an unmistakable reminder that Rwanda was not going to forget what had happened in 1994. The final statute was one of a “woman who has just been killed” and soldiers carrying her rescued child.

By now it was already early afternoon and I realized my plan of visiting the Ntarama Genocide Memorial Centre was in danger. Alex was unsure if we could make it before they closed but we would try. As we drove down the highway outside of Kigali I noticed Alex flashing his headlights into incoming traffic, a warning that they were approaching a speed trap. It was something I had to smile about as he explained why he was doing it. In America it was one of the oldest tricks in the book, but in Africa is was a rare thing. For one thing that the police actually enforced speed limits in a way entirely unconnected to collecting bribes. We arrived at Ntarama at just past five and walked in. It was visibly closed by I wandered around for a few minutes taking pictures before we were approached by a security guard who told us they were closed and we had to leave. Alex asked if we could stay just a little longer but the security guard advised that the tour guide had already left.

“Can we see if he would be our guide?” I asked Alex. (Translation: Can a little baksheesh solve this problem?)

Alex laughed uncomfortably. (Translation: no it can’t and I’m not going to ask.)

By now the sun was going down and Alex had one more stop for me, the central marketplace. In Africa, as in much of the world, the marketplace is a unique place for the obvious tourist. The smells, the sounds, the high pressure salesmen…they all were common in the market. And after Kigali challenged every preconceived notion I had about Africa I was curious if the marketplace would also be different.

It wasn’t.

The vendors saw a mark as soon as I walked in and the classic third world marketplace catch phrase soon filled my ear: “hello my friend!”

I had a few items I was looking for, in particular an elephant for a friend of mine. But I was also curious about the clothing situation. Rwanda was planning a total ban on used clothes from the West, seeing it as a threat to the local textile industry. I was curious as to how feasible this ban would be: after all, everywhere in Africa I found used Western clothes that had been donated to a local Goodwill…only to be shipped en masse to Africa where it was distributed to the poor. I could see how hard it would be to fight back against such a market if you were a local manufacturer. How do you compete in a market where your competitor paid nothing (or close to nothing) for their product? How could you sell your domestically produced clothes when the guy next to you was selling a Lady Gaga 2009 World Tour t-shirt for pennies?

The marketplace seemed to have no shortage of local clothing, as I saw dozens of vendors with old sewing machines making clothing. I saw the same thing in Ghana and was fascinated by the frequent sight of women using old 1940s Singer sewing machines to make clothing. Rwanda was no different.

The imported clothing market was already on life support in Rwanda…and soon there would be nowhere in the country where a man or woman could purchase a “Deez Nuts” t-shirt.

I spent the last of my Rwandan money and Alex took me back to my hotel to pick up my bags. It was time to go to the airport and as much as I hated to leave, my time in Rwanda was up. I knew I would be back; there were still so many sites I hadn’t seen. Maybe I could even take a trip down to Burundi next time.  But until then, I would take with me the memories of my three days in Rwanda and smile at the little country in Africa that challenged everything I though I knew about Africa.

 

Read More Finger Post Travel stories here!

Boxing: Tatsuya Fukuhara ranked 10 by WBC

If you haven’t already guessed by now, I’m a big fan of boxing’ smallest weight division.  And I won’t lie; I’m a fan of Kumamoto’s Tatsuya Fukuhara (19-5-6, 7 KOs).

He’s a throwback: a fighter who wasn’t handed anything on the way up and clawed his way to a WBO world title thanks to grit, determination, and perseverance. He’s an exciting fighter whose fight with Moises Calleros was arguably one of the best 105-pound championship fights of all time.  He may not have a flashy record, but in a way that only adds to his appeal.  How many 18-4-6 fighters can you name who not only earned a title fight but then capitalized on it?

For Fukuhara, his loss to Ryuya Yamanaka last month ended his brief title reign, but there is already signs that the gritty former champion may have another shot at a world title before long. The latest WBC rankings have just been released and Fukuhara is currently ranked #10 in the world. This sets up an intriguing matchup that I for one would love to see: a clash between the former WBO champion and the reigning WBC minimumweight champion Chayaphon Moonsri, aka  Wanheng Menayothin. Moonsri has an impressive record of 48-0, 17 KOs, but as it stands now he isn’t even ranked as the top fighter in the division. According to Boxrec.com that distinction goes to his countryman, WBA 105-pound champion Knockout CP Freshmart.

Nonetheless Moonsri is closing in on tying Rocky Marciano’s mark of 49-0 and may surpass Floyd Mayweather’s 50-0 by early 2018. He does show a fondness for non-title fights to pad his record (his last fight was a six rounder against journeyman Jack Amisa back on August 25th. But for fight 49 and 50 he would be better served fighting a higher profile fight and as it stands now Fukuhara fits the bill better than anyone else in the top ten. A former champion with a reputation for fireworks is just the kind of fight that could have the world paying attention as the undefeated Thai champion attempts to tie one of boxing’s most prestigious records.  Here’s hoping for one more title fight for the Kumamoto native. In the end the biggest winner of a Moonsri-Fukuhara fight will be the sport of boxing.

Boxing: Yamanaka edges Fukuhara for WBO mini-flyweight belt

The Finger Post Boxing (September 8, 2017)

(Kumamoto, Japan.  August 27, 2017)

If there is one piece of advice I would give to an aspiring boxing writer it’s this: go to as many locations to see fights. Every country has a it’s own special relationship with the Sweet Science, and you often learn more about a place by watching their fight fans then you often can by visiting their tourist sites.

And nobody does boxing quite like the Japanese. There is a natural politeness and organization in Japan that surprises the Westerner. But for fight fans it’s not just the politeness…it’s the special appreciation Japanese boxing fans seem to have towards the fighter. It’s a unique form of admiration: not as a warrior but as a master of his craft. They cheer when the fight turns into a crowd pleasing brawl, as boxing fans in Kumamoto did when Tatsuya Fukuhara and Moises Calleros engaged in one of the best mini-flyweight fights in recent memory back in February. But they also seem to appreciate the boxer who treats the ring not as a battlefield but as a chessboard. He is an artist and the ring is his canvas, and whereas the American fight fan might grow impatient with his mastery, the Japanese fight fan will often sit back and simply…appreciate.

And on August 27, 2017 boxing fans in Kumamoto were treated to a true artist of the ring: Kobe Japan’s Ryuya Yamanaka (15-2, 4 KOs). Yamanaka, the WBO #1 ranked contender at 105-pounds took on local boy Tatsuya Fukuhara (19-5-6, 7 KOs) the recently crowned WBO mini-flyweight champion and fellow chess master of the squared circle. It was a fight that promised to be less exciting that the one that preceded it, where Fukuhara brawled with Mexican contender Moises Calleros to win the vacant interim title. But in the end, it was intriguing in a different way. As the aggressive Fukuhara chased the fleet footed Yamanaka around the ring one thing was becoming clear: this was a chess match where neither man would be saying “checkmate.” This was a fight where a single jab here or a lone pawn there would be the deciding factor. This was a fight where every punch was going to count, even if it wasn’t as jarring as the heavy punches of the Mexican brawler from Monterrey who fought Fukuhara in February.

And in the end, it was the flashy Yamanaka who edged a close unanimous decision against the aggressive Fukuhara.  All three judges had the fight for Yamanaka, by scores of 115-113 (Surat Soikrachang and Carlos Ortiz) and 116-112 (Salven Lagumbay). For the record TFP scored the fight 114-114, but with that being said I have no complaint about the official score.  It was undoubtedly a fair decision on a close and competitive tactical fight.  And in the end, the close rounds made the fight a difficult one to score.  All three official judges were in agreement for only three rounds: round one (which all three gave to Fukuhara), round seven (which they all scored for Yamanaka) and round ten (which they also scored unanimously for Yamanaka).

Nonetheless, there was no question that Yamanaka boxed brilliantly and although majority of the rounds were won by the slimmest of margins, it was also clear that Yamanaka did frustrate the champion with his hand speed and defense.

The opening round immediately set the stage for the night as Yamanaka used his superior footwork to keep away from Fukuhara. Although Yamanaka caught Fukuhara upstairs with a picture perfect counter as Fukuhara came in, it looked like the dogged aggression of Fukuhara might carry the night as the opening round came to a close. But by round two Yamanaka started to better gauge his distance from Fukuhara, staying just outside of the punching range of Fukuhara while catching the local boy with a pair of overhand rights. Yamanaka continued to give Fukuhara angles in the second before a straight right landed for Fukuhara late in the round, seemingly putting the second round back into play. Nonetheless Yamanaka boxed well in round three and four, although Fukuhara did seem to rattle Yamanaka with a solid combination upstairs in the closing minute of round four. Fukuhara seemed to find his range again in round five, closing the gap ever so slightly. But the tricky Yamanaka revealed another weapon in his arsenal, as he landed a counter uppercut as Fukuhara tried to bull rush his way inside. Fukuhara seemed enraged and fired back with gusto, pounding away at the body of Yamanaka with some effectiveness. But the effective body attack was not utilized enough in round six, as Fukuhara seemed determine to try and sneak in overhand rights instead. Although Fukuhara seemed to bother Yamanaka on several occasions in the sixth with the body attack Yamanaka, he soon began to resemble to bull against Yamanaka’s matador: chasing the sick boxing Kobe boxer but never quite reaching him. Round seven would go on to be Yamanaka’s best, landing right hands against a bull rushing Fukuhara while using superior footwork to frustrate the champion. But although Yamanaka continued to box well in round eight Fukuhara seemed to goad him into a brawl of sorts by the end of the round. It was enough to prompt some ringsiders from asking if Fukuhara had finally worn down his slick opponent. But in round nine it was Fukuhara who showed early signs of fatigue as Yamanaka outworked and outboxed him. Although Fukuhara rallied in the closing seconds of the ninth round, it appeared to be too little, too late. Yamanaka continued his brilliance in round ten, catching Fukuhara on several occasions with solid shots as the aggressive Fukuhara marched in. Although Fukuhara seemed to rattle Yamanaka in the closing minute of the round, there was no question that Yamanaka was boxing well and that he had edged the last two rounds going into the championship round.

But the warrior who brawled with Calleros back in February began to emerge in the corner after round ten, as Fukuhara yelled in the corner and came out in round eleven with more aggression. Fukuhara still walked into some counter punches, but his aggression seemed to steal the eleventh. It seemed like anyone’s fight going into round twelve, and both fighters fought accordingly. Yamanaka boxed brilliantly and energetically, which Fukuhara stalked relentlessly. A solid right from the champion seemed to rattle Yamanaka midway through the round, and Fukuhara literally ran after Yamanaka to determine if he was hurt, but Yamanaka was able to step aside from danger. Fukuhara then returned to the strategy that could have turned the fight…had he employed it from the early rounds on: the body attack. Several hard body shots seemed to briefly rattle Yamanaka, and although the body attack did open up Fukuhara to hooks upstairs, there was little question that when Yamanaka was hit to the body it had an impact. Yamanaka threw a left hook upstairs but Fukuhara, looking to make a statement as the fight came to a close, threw caution to the wind. Both fighters threw punches with gusto as the bell sounded ending the fight with Fukuhara seemingly stealing the round.

In the end, the judges went with the slick boxing Yamanaka, who clearly fought the fight of his life against the champion. The baby faced 22-year old from Kobe now becomes the third consecutive Japanese boxer to hold the WBO mini-flyweight title. At 15-2, with only four knockouts it is clear that he isn’t a knockout puncher. But he is one of the more impressive boxers in the division and does possess impressive hand speed and ring generalship. But as Fukuhara can attest, winning the title is often not as hard as holding onto the title. Yamanaka impressed boxing fans back in November of 2016 when he defeated veteran Merlito Sabillo for the OPBF minimumweight title by unanimous decision. But he also was upset by lightly regarded Roque Lauro (13-22-5, 3 KOs) of the Philippines just three months before he won the OPBF belt. He also suffered a stunning loss to Kenta Shimizu (8-5-1, 4 KOs) by way of first round KO back in 2013, although in his defense, he was only 18 years old at the time. The #2 contender in the WBO is undefeated Panya Pradabsri (18-0, 10 KOs) of Thailand. Pradabsri has already won the PABA title and the WBC Asia Boxing Council belt and would have to be seen as a very tough opponent for the young champion’s first title defense. At #3 is another undefeated prospect in Robert Paradero (14-0, 9 KOs) of the Philippines. The 21-year old Filipino won the WBO Asia Pacific Youth title back in October of 2016 against Ronie Tanallon with an impressive decision, but unlike with Pradabsri it is a little tougher to gauge how tough of a contender he is as the rest of his resume is a little thinner. Although the WBO has him ranked at #3, Boxrec.com lists seven other fighters from the Philippines higher, and has Paradero ranked at 33 in the world at 105-pounds. Nonetheless he would be a dangerous opponent for Yamanaka’s first title defense. Just because he hasn’t fought as many solid guys as Yamanaka doesn’t mean he isn’t a dangerous opponent.

At #4 is another Filipino in Vic Saludar (15-3, 9 KOs). Saludar already was stopped in 2015 in his first title fight against Kosei Tanaka, and has recently lost to Toto Landero (8-1-2) back in June. Saludar looks to be Yamanaka’s safest option for his first title defene, at least on paper. Below Saludar is Puero Rican Janiel Rivera (16-2-3, 10 KOs) who was stopped in three rounds in his only other world title fight back in 2014 agaisnt Adrian Hernandez of Mexico. Rivera wouldn’t be a bad option for Yamanaka either, although it is doubtful that Yamanaka would be able to test the chin of Rivera like Hernandez did. At #7 is Moises Calleros, a fighter that is arguably the most dangerous man in the division. Although Calleros could theoretically be David Tua to Yamanaka’s Chris Byrd, it is just as likely that the hard punching Mexican could test the chin of Yamanaka just like Kenta Shimizu did back in 2013. In the end it would also be an inadvisable fight for Yamanaka. At #7 is fellow Kobe native Reiya Konishi (14-0, 5 KOs).  Although the all Kobe battle would seem intriguing, it almost certainly wouldn’t happen as Konishi is a stablemate of Yamanaka.

At #8 is Namibian Japhet Uutoni (12-2, 5 KOs), who was knocked out in his last fight back in February by undefeated Angel Acosta.

But there is one other option for Yamanaka for his first title defense: the former champion himself. Tatsuya Fukuhara will most likely enter the rankings now that he is no longer a world champion and another all-Japan battle (this time in Kobe) could be the perfect optional title defense for Yamanaka. He already knows he can beat Fukuhara, but the fight was close enough to warrant a rematch. An option defense may be the best step for Yamanaka, who will most likely be looking at a mandatory defense against the Thai contender in early 2018.

 

 

Boxing: Kanat Islam (24-0) vs. Brandon Cook (18-0) this weekend is Khazakstan

It’s a safe assumption to say the biggest fight this month featuring a fighter from Kazakhstan will take place on September 16th in Las Vegas when Gennady Golovkin takes on Saul Alvarez in a middleweight title fight.

But there is another intriguing match up featuring a popular Kazak titlist set this weekend at the Saryarka Velodrome in Astana, Kazakhstan on Saturday, September 9th. Undefeated NABO junior middleweight champion Islam “Qazaq” Kanat (24-0, 19 KOs), the #7 ranked fighter in the WBO, will take on the undefeated Canadian prospect Brandon “Bad Boy” Cook (18-0, 11 KOs), who is currently ranked #13 by the WBO at 154-pounds.

The popular Islam has already earned a solid fan base back in Khazakstan, with the 12,000 seat Saryarka Velodrome in Astana reportedly already sold out for this weekend’s event.

The 32-year old Islam, who fought for China under the name Hanati Silamu at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics (but is of Kazak descent) is hoping to land a world title fight before the end of the year, but needs a solid win over the undefeated Canadian to position himself for a fight with Miguel Cotto. But his opponent is seen as the most dangerous foe he has faced to date and could derail the Kazak’s plans of a title fight before the end of the year. Cook is coming into the fight off the heels of an impressive knockout over fellow Canadian Steven Butler back in June in a fight for the NABA title.

The fight card is highlighted by a stacked undercard featuring eight undefeated Kazak prospects including Ali Akhmedov (8-0, 6 KOs) as he takes on American Justin Thomas (18-2, 7 KOs). Also on the card is welterweight prospect Zhankosh Turarov (21-0, 15 KOs) as he faces Bruno Romay (21-4, 18 KOs) of Argentina.

Travel: A Long Layover in Hanoi, Vietnam

The Finger Post Travel (September 7, 2017)

(Hanoi, Vietnam, August 29-30, 2017)

Hanoi has a way of sneaking up on you.

Having flown into the Vietnamese capital at 7:40 PM after a full day of traveling, I was quietly dreading the obligatory sensory overload that tends to hit you when you first step out of the airport terminal in an unfamiliar third world country. I had woken up that morning in Kumamoto, Japan and then took a bullet train into Fukuoka. From there it was a comically overpriced cab ride from the train station to the airport where I caught a flight to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. Then the flight to Hanoi, a city I would spend less then one day in. I initially had Hanoi as a layover on my way to Yangon in Myanmar, but I decided to tweak my reservation a bit so I could spend a little bit of time in Vietnam. I realized I didn’t have enough time to say I really saw the country, or even the city, but spending a morning in Vietnam seemed better then sleeping in the airport.

But by the time I had stepped off the plane in Hanoi I was tired…and to be honest, I had grown a little soft. Rwanda, London, and Japan had all spoiled me when it came to traveling. I normally enjoy “winging it” in a slightly off the beaten path place like Vietnam, but right now all I wanted was a “no drama” ride to the hotel and a full night of sleep.  I just wanted the guy holding a sign with my name on it at the airport.

My first warning sign was the website where I obtained my Vietnamese eVisa. It looked like an old GeoCities website from the 1990s and was full of grammatical errors. I had read that China had started cracking down on “Chinglish” signs in the country, but it seemed that Vietnam was behind the 8-ball on that.

After my “confirmation of reading carefully of instructions” I submitted my $25 e-payment and received my eVisa shortly thereafter. But I still had my…concerns. This seemed somewhat haphazard and I was worried that upon my arrival I would find the immigration officer who didn’t know or didn’t care about the eVisa.

But as soon as I stepped off the plane I started to feel a lot better. The airport was modern, spotless, and had free wifi (sure it was not very reliable wifi, but it was still better then what I had available in a lot of airports back in the States).

I zipped through immigration, exchanged $100 USD into Dong, and was standing outside the airport when I finally got my first taste of the sensory overload that always hits you when you walk out of the airport in an unfamiliar country.

I was immediately hounded by a cab driver, who offered to take me to my hotel for $20 USD. I had been advised by the hotel’s webpage that the cab fare shouldn’t cost more than 250,000 Vietnamese Dong, which was about $11. I figured $15 was a fair amount, although I really didn’t care. I just wanted to get to the hotel and call it a night. Nonetheless I waved off the woman who promised to take me there for $20 and she dropped the price to $19. I still wasn’t interested, which caused he to really make an offer I couldn’t refuse: $17. Yeah, I was now stuck in some sort of negotiation over $3. I asked for a price in Dong and she typed her response on my phone: 350,000 Vietnamese Dong, or about $15. I agreed and then found out that this lady wasn’t a cab driver at all. She was just some lady whose English was good enough to deflect people from the taxi stand. We started walking towards the parking lot when I started to regret my decision. I was sure the cab driver would have agreed to $15, and even if he didn’t, it wouldn’t have involved a walk to the parking lot.

Then she showed me the (first) driver. He was driving what appeared to be a golf cart and it was clear this guy’s job was to shuttle people from one terminal to another.

“I’m not riding into Hanoi on a golf cart,” I said firmly to the lady who clearly heard the phrase before but either didn’t know what it meant or purposely chose to pretend she didn’t.

“Come, come.” The driver said as he waved me in.

Long story short, I got in. I was tired and I didn’t want to walk back to the terminal. We left the parking lot and then took the overpass onto the highway, where I really started to regret my life choices at that moment.

Eventually we made a turn into a residential district near the airport where I suddenly took comfort in the fact that I was in a golf cart. I wasn’t sure, but to the best of my knowledge there were no active criminal gangs preying on unsuspecting tourist by kidnapping them with golf carts. I was taken to a side street where a taxi was parked and I was introduced to my second driver, who would take me back into town. As we left I realized I had no idea how far the Noi Bai Airport was from Hanoi. After what felt like an hour in the car and no sign of a city near by I was starting to miss the security of the golf cart, but I then saw the Nhat Tan Bridge into Hanoi. It was a modern bridge, well illuminated with red lights. I would soon discover that the Nhat Tan Bridge, opened in 2015, was another example of the at times bizarre clash between modern and historic that you found across the city of Hanoi.

By the time I reached the Helios Legend Hotel in Hanoi the cab driver was attempting to renegotiate the deal. He claimed the cost was 460,000 Dong: or $20 USD. I had attempted to explain to him that I had agreed to 350,000 and that he could take it up with the dude in the golf cart if he had a problem with it. I always regret it afterwards, but I sometimes end up trippin’ about pocket change when traveling. It’s just my American aversion to being obviously ripped off. I mean, I know getting hustled is part of traveling, but a deal is a deal.

I eventually settled on 400,000 Dong, which was what I was going to  pay him anyways (that would have included the tip), and made my way to the hotel. I started to regret arguing with the guy over what amounted to less than $3. I realized the lady probably screwed him over as well. She told me one price, got her commission, and never told him what was up. Even if it wasn’t the case, it seemed petty arguing over a few dollars afterwards.

By the time I got into my room at the Helios Legend Hotel I was ready to crash. But I still had time to appreciate the hotel itself. I booked it for $30 on Hotels.com and went in with fairly low expectations. But to my surprise the room was large, the bed was comfortable, and the continental breakfast was actually really good. I had to admit, that was probably the best $30 hotel room I ever booked.

My original plan was to get up at 7 AM and start my day early. I had an afternoon flight to Yangon at 4:45 and I was already thrown a curveball by the fact that the airport was an hour away. I would need to leave at 1:30 at the latest (I was as of yet unsure how quick it would be to get through customs, but if Ghana taught me anything it was that two hours is not a magic number to guarantee you’ll make your flight).

But after a long night in Kumamoto and a full day of traveling, I was beat. I slept late, until almost 8 AM, and didn’t get out the door until 9 AM. I decided to hit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. I had less than half a day in town so I had to pick one thing to see. And seeing Ho Chi Minh’s body seemed as good a way to spend the morning as any. For an American tourist, nothing says “communist nation” more than when they have a deceased former leader on display for all to see. And I had to admit, there was a part of me that wanted to experience the whole communist effect. You could easily forget you were in a communist country in Vietnam. Like China and to a lesser extent Cuba, Vietnam seemed to have a bizarre love/hate relationship with capitalism. Across the country were communist banners, sickles and hammers, and other reminders that Vietnam is totally down with Karl Marx.  But they also seemed to grudgingly accept that even an anti-imperialist communist country needs a Popeyes Chicken.

As I arrived at the mausoleum I noticed a large crowd of Western tourist. This was a more popular destination then I expected. After we passed through a gift shop and checked in our cameras we then made our way into the mausoleum in single file. After walking up a flight of stairs we entered the central hall where we saw him: Ho Chi Minh himself. He was on display in a large glass sarcophagus, and I immediately couldn’t help but notice that his body didn’t look to be in the best of shape. I can’t say how he compared to Lenin or Kim Il Sung, but “Uncle Ho” looked waxy and his fingernails were slightly off color. There is a conspiracy theory floating around that the poor job of embalming done when Ho Chi Minh initially died meant that they were unable to continue to display his body. The government had to replace his body with a model and try and pass it off as the real thing. I guess we’ll never know, at least until the zombie apocalypse happens and we see if Ho Chi Minh is clawing at the glass.

After leaving the mausoleum I decided to check out the Ho Chi Minh Vestige in the Presidential Palace Area. The Vestige was where he lived and worked from 1954-1969, and although in hindsight it wasn’t anything extraordinary, it is still worth a stop. The ticket was 40,000 Dong (about $2) and the area was interesting, although nothing that really blew me away. I saw Ho Chi Minh’s old cars, a table in the Politburo Meeting Room where he did some communism, and a pond surrounded by finger shaped Cyprus trees. The Presidential Palace was off limits, but I was able to see the “Stilt House”, which in hindsight wasn’t much of a consolation.

From there I made my way to the Ho Chi Minh Museum, a quiet walk off the beaten path where I came across a statue of Ho Chi Minh’s former criminal defense attorney: Francis Henry Loseby.

In 1931 Minh was arrested in Hong Kong after he was convicted in abstentia to death by the French government in Vietnam. Loseby unsuccessfully defended Ho by arguing he was not Vietnamese but rather a Chinese national named Sung Man Cho. Interestingly the argument didn’t work, possibly due to the fact that this was Hong Kong and it probably wasn’t that hard for the Crown to find someone who could say (based on their training and experience) that Ho Chi Minh was not Chinese. But what led to Loseby being so honored with a statue at the site of the Ho Chi Minh museum was what transpired after Ho lost his appeal. In 1933 Loseby again tried the “trust me, he’s Chinese” approach and had Minh dress up as a wealthy Chinese merchant before putting him on a boat out of Hong Kong. The ruse worked and Minh made his way to the Soviet Union and the rest, as they say, is history.

Coming soon, to a People’s Republic near you…

As I made my way to the Ho Chi Minh Museum I decided to stop at the gift shop and pick up some souvenirs. Like everywhere I saw in Hanoi, there was no shortage of Ho Chi Minh memorabilia: from posters to busts to trinkets with his face on it. But the seduction of capitalism was strong, even in the Ho Chi Minh Museum. On a table of Ho Chi Minh trinkets was a book of Fight Club movie posters. I was going to ask why they were selling Fight Club memorabilia at the Ho Chi Minh museum, but I realized they weren’t going to tell me anything. You know the first rule of Fight Club…

His name is Nyguyen Sinh Cung. His name is Nyguyen Sinh Cung. His name is Nyguyen Sinh Cung,

I toured the first floor, with a forgettable display on the friendship between Vietnam and Laos, and a more powerful one on military veterans and their struggles. But the main part of the museum was found upstairs and unbeknownst to me, the museum was closing at noon. As I made it upstairs I had little more than 20-minute before I was told that the museum was closing. I was unable to see the Guernica 1937 display, which I was intrigued with, or get an explanation why there was a giant table with oversized fruit in the middle of the museum.

Your guess is as good as mine.

As I made my way out I saw another stand selling souvenirs, as well as books about Steve Jobs and Barak Obama.

Because what says souvenir from Ho Chi Minh’s Museum like a book about the founder of Apple?

By the time I made it outside I realized it was probably for the best that they kicked me out. I did need to head back to the airport. But I still didn’t get any souvenirs, other than a postcard of Vietnamese propaganda that actually said it was propaganda.

 

But right outside the museum was a small stand where sandals were being made from old tires. It seemed like the perfect gift from Vietnam and although the sandals were a little pricy (about $10) it was a very unique gift.

I headed out and grabbed a cab to the Statue of Lenin in Lenin Park across from the Vietnam Military History Museum.

The cab driver ripped me off with a fast meter, charging me 120,000 Dong for the trip that shouldn’t have cost more than 30,000. It was enough to sour me on cabs in Hanoi from that point on and after taking a few pictures of the Statute, which after recent events in Ukraine makes it one of the last ones you can find in the world outside of Seattle, I made my way back to the hotel on the back of a scooter. The hotel arranged for my ride back to the airport and my time in Vietnam had run. Someday I would have to go back and try my luck backpacking in Vietnam, but that was an adventure for another trip. I still had Myanmar waiting for me tonight.

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Travel: Three Days in Rwanda (Part Three)

The Finger Post Travel (August 20, 2017)

(Kigali, Rwanda, July 25-27, 2017)

“No! I don’t want to touch Mobutu’s painting!”

It had become a running joke, but unlike “Get ‘er done” or the original “yes guy”, it actually was funny with each telling. I was touring the Presidential Palace Museum in Kigali, the one time residence of former Rwandan dictator Juvenal Habyarimana.  And with me were a Finnish guy, an elderly Rwandan woman, and four young men from Cameroon who made it quite clear that they wanted nothing to do with the numerous trinkets and gifts given to Habyarimana by the former dictator of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko. With each stop there would be some tacky painting or display that Habyarimana had received over the years (his reign lasted from 1973 to 1994). And it quickly became a running joke: the tackiest pieces in the museum seemed to always come from Mobutu. We discovered that Mobutu gave Habyarimana a pet python (because why the hell not) and Habyarimana went so far as to build a pond for Mobutu’s python in his back yard (I won’t lie, if I ever start a heavy metal band I may just call it Mobutu’s Python).

But with each joke I found myself appreciating the simple fact that, at least in some small way, there was justice in the world. I had to appreciate the fact that Mobutu Sese Seko’s legacy was firmly entrenched in the minds of Africans. Time was not going to rehabilitate his image. He would not be forgotten as one of a long line of corrupt post colonial dictators. No. He was so much more…and history wasn’t about the let him off the hook.

But maybe things were a little different in the Democratic Republic of Congo when you talked about Mobutu. I doubt anyone really misses him, although if the Republic of Georgia taught me anything it was that anything is possible. But I wondered if the memories of his brutal rule were a little more…raw to the Congolese. And from what I could tell Mobutu wasn’t exactly a subject of humor to Rwandans either. Sure we (and by we I mean the Finnish guy and the four guys from Cameroon) were laughing at the idea of a crackpot dictator giving another crackpot dictator a python as a gift. It was humorous to us: the most absurd gift ever given to an African leader. At least until this happened earlier this year:

That’s the face of a man who would have rather have been given a python.

But like so many things in Rwanda, laughter often masks the pain. The elderly Rwandan woman never once cracked a smile during the tour. Not once.

I suddenly felt guilty. Sure Mobutu may have been a joke to these folks from Cameroon. But he was just one more piece of the puzzle in Rwanda: a puzzle that ultimately made up a picture of pure carnage and genocide. I almost even started to feel bad for Mobutu’s python. After President Habyarimana was assassinated on April 6, 1994, an event that triggered the Rwandan Genocide, Mobutu’s python disappeared. Nobody knows what happened to it, although considering how bad things ended up being, one can imagine life was probably hard for an orphaned 300-pound python in Kigali. But our guide did mention that there were rumors that Mobutu had sent some men to recover the python and bring it home to Zaire. Oddly enough, that just made the story more depressing. Sure, I was sort of glad that maybe the python might have lived a life of relative luxury after being uprooted during the Rwandan Civil War…but didn’t anyone care about the rest of the country? It just added to the absurdity of the tragedy that was Rwanda. After the murder of ten Belgium peacekeepers the UN decided they didn’t want another Somalia on their hands and abandoned the nation. Soon Western nations sent soldiers to evacuate foreign nationals, all the while many Rwandan Tutsis begged for their lives. At a technical school in Kigali, some 2,000 Tutsis sought refuge. The school was guarded by Belgian peacekeepers and they knew that as long as the Belgians were there they were safe.

Strike that. They thought they were safe.

The murder of the ten Belgians prompted the Belgian government to withdraw the remaining peacekeepers. And as they fled those same 2,000 Tutsis tried desperately to prevent the Belgians from leaving. They knew once they left they would be massacred. But the Belgians fired into the air to disperse the desperate Tutsis (priorities, right?) and left the 2,000 Tutsis fend for themselves against a growing horde of genocidal monsters that began to congregating outside of the school grounds. The Tutsis decided to try and walk out of the school and reach RPF controlled territory, where they would be safe from the genocidal militia called the Interahamwe. But they never made it. The Interahamwe intercepted them and led them to a gravel pit, where they were butchered with machetes.

But don’t worry. Someone sent an elite team of soldiers to rescue that snake.

“This is like that movie,” one of the Cameroonians exclaimed as we were led into another bathroom, the seventh or eighth we had seen on the tour. “Coming to America!”

We all laughed as we pictured Juvenal Habyarimana walking on rose pedals towards the extravagant toilet, followed by a team of royal wipers.

Well, almost all of us. The elderly Rwandan woman only glared at the toilet.

It was a fascinating tour since we also saw Habyarimana’s paranoia on display. He had everything from his secret torture room, motion sensors on the stairs leading up to the master bedroom, hidden doors and escape routes, and not so hidden compartments with money and guns. In the master bathroom he kept a file cabinet full of American dollars open for everyone to see. The file cabinet was full of tens of thousands of U.S. dollars and was meant to distract an assassin who actually made it that far into the compound. The theory was that they would be distracted by the money, giving Habyarimana a chance to escape. It probably seemed to him like there was no way he could be assassinated at the Presidential Palace.

But in the end it didn’t matter.

Habyarimana would in fact die just a few hundred feet from his motion sensors, gun cabinet, secret witchcraft room (yeah, he had one of those also) and the open file cabinet full of Benjamins in his master bathroom. In the end his assassin would never even see the file cabinet or need to worry about his motion sensors.

The assassin would just wait until President Habyarimana’s plane was landing.

The airport was just a few miles from the Presidential Palace, and on April 6, 1994, an unknown assassin would wait until the President’s plane was in its final decent. Moments before reaching the airport Habyrimana’s plane was shot down from the sky with two surface-to-air missiles and crashed in the garden of the Presidential Palace. The crash ended up killing twelve people, including both Habyarimana and the President of Burundi who had the misfortune of being in the wrong plane at the wrong time.

After twenty three years most of the wreckage is still there. We were told that we couldn’t take photos of the plane from inside the gardens, but I was able to get a wide shot of part of the tail from his BBQ pit, which was located next to his swimming pool and tennis courts.

By the end of the tour you can’t help but feel depressed. Not just because almost everything in there was probably at one point touched by Mobutu. No, it was because this place, this shrine to opulence, was where so much suffering would be born. Not just in Rwanda, where 800,000 were killed during the genocide. But even in Zaire where the country would be destabilized by the presence of hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees who fled to Eastern Zaire after the end of the Rwandan Civil War. These refugees would in turn trigger a chain reaction that would lead to two brutal wars in Zaire/Congo: two wars that would lead to the death of over 5,000,000 people. I can’t help but wonder if the unknown person who fired that SAM at Habyarimana’s presidential plane knew how much suffering would follow as a result of that act. The Rwandan government, the U.S. State Department, Mi6, and a majority of neutral observers felt that the evidence strongly pointed to Hutu extremists opposed to the proposed peace deal with the RPF as the perpetrators. A French anti-terrorist magistrate claims that the evidence points to Paul Kagame and the RPF, although to be fair the French have about as much credibility when it come to Rwanda as the guy you sort of knew in high school who is always posting links and rants on Facebook about chemtrails and FEMA camps. Ultimately we will probably never know; it will go down as one of history’s great mysteries.

Right alongside the question of what ever happened to Mobutu’s python.

By the time the tour ends the day is coming to a close and I need to head back to the hotel. Alex picks me up from the Presidential Museum and takes me to a place I really wasn’t expecting to find in Rwanda: the Inema Arts Gallery. I’ve been to a lot of art galleries over the years, and although I consider myself a fan of good art, I also realize I am in no way an art coinsure. But I like to think that I’m savvy enough to spot good art from bad art…and this was damn good. But more than just being good, it had a vibe to it that I wouldn’t have expected to find in Rwanda. This art gallery reminded me of visiting an art show with my aunt and uncle, both art professors in Geneva, New York. This place was legit, and it had the vibe to go with it. Numerous Westerners wandered around with glasses of wine, looking over the paintings carefully. It was a scene right out of New York or San Francisco. But as I was to discover, there was a thriving art scene in Kigali and the city was quickly emerging as the most cosmopolitan city in Africa. After meeting with one of the artists, Emmanuel Nkuranga, who also was a co-founder of the Inema Art Center, I discovered that this gallery was not alone in Kigali. Although I enjoyed the gallery, I decided it was time to go and Alex and I soon left. I wanted to stay but I was hungry and this place only was serving alcohol.

Still, I couldn’t help but feel this trip was feeling more like a trip to Napa Valley or Bar Harbor then Africa. This was the second spot of the day that I felt had been transplanted from a nice neighborhood in the States, the first being the coffee shop Shokola, where we stopped for lunch. Shokola billed itself as a “storyteller’s café” and had the location to go with the the theme. It was located on the top floor of the Kigali Library, right across the street from the U.S. Embassy. It actually was a really cool little place, and would have felt right at home in Seattle.

I didn’t know how many more locations would make me think of American college towns, but Alex had another surprise in store. We then went to another location that almost seemed like it had been transplanted from a posh suburb of Seattle: Heaven Restaurant and Boutique Hotel. The restaurant was founded by an American couple, who documented their relocation to Rwanda in the book A Thousand Hills to Heaven. Alex swore it was one of the best places to eat in Rwanda, but I wasn’t convinced at first. It seemed too americanized; burgers and pasta seemed to make up the foundation of the menu. Nonetheless I found something that sounded traditional. I ordered the kuku paka: Swahili spiced chicken curry. I wasn’t disappointed. The curry was excellent, although I couldn’t help but wonder if this really was an authentic Swahili dish or just an awesome bowl of curry that was given a back-story.

But by now it was after 10 PM. I had hired Alex for the day and felt bad that I had keep him over well past the hour he expected to be done. I had to fly back tomorrow, part of a comically long journey back to the United States that involved five stops and two layovers in excess of ten hours. But the fight out of Kigali wasn’t until after midnight. I had all of Friday to spend touring Kigali. I still had one more day in Rwanda.

And I was going to take advantage of every minute of it.

 

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Travel: Three Days in Rwanda (Part Two)

Finger Post Travel (August 13, 2017)

(Kigali, Rwanda, July 25-27, 2017)

I had three days in Rwanda , not nearly enough time to give the country the attention it deserved. And one of those days was spent in recovery, nursing what felt like a mild case of food poisoning but was probably just a natural reaction to eating raw meat from a street butcher in Addis Ababa.

My plans to go on a gorilla trek was derailed by the $1,500 gorilla permit, and my plan to do the canopy walk at over the Nyungwe Forest was derailed by the loss one of my three days due to illness.

Hell, even my quest to meet Paul Kagame had hit a roadblock.

But in the end, you can visit Rwanda and skip out on the gorillas and the canopy walk. But any trip to Rwanda will most likely involve coming face to face with the one thing that defines the nation in the eyes of Westerners: genocide.

That is, unless you don’t want to.

You can ignore the dark pages in Rwanda’s history, and Rwanda will even help you do that…if that’s what you really want. Kigali is funny that way. You can make a pit stop at the Hotel des Mille Collines, with its friendly staff and awesome breakfast buffet, and then head west to find mountain gorillas or south to do the canopy walk over the Nyungwe Forest and then fly back home. And you’d be none the wiser that anything bad ever happened in Rwanda. If you haven’t figured out from my last post, Rwanda cleaned itself up nicely.

But despite the fact that Rwanda is willing to let you forget that it was a nation that sadly hosted the most horrific incident of genocide in modern history, they also aren’t willing to brush it under the rug either. They don’t want the world to forget, and if you are willing to step out of your comfort zone, they will make sure that you become witness to the scars of the 1994 genocide.

So after my quest to meet Paul Kagame ended in failure, I decided that I would do a cultural tour of Kigali. In the end that would mean I would go and visit the places that, tragically, would forever be associated with the mass slaughter of over 800,000 innocent Rwandans over a period of three months in 1994. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but at the very least I was hoping to maybe understand how a country full of the warmest and friendliest people could ever become a breading ground for such carnage. This desire became only more pronounced after I arrived in Rwanda. Tragically the West saw the genocide in Rwanda as African tribalism at its worst in 1994. “There was nothing that we could do to stop the slaughter”, or so we told ourselves as we justified our inaction. But once you go to Rwanda you realize that isn’t the case. Once you meet the Rwandan people you come to an uncomfortable truth: if it can happen to them it can happen to anyone. They aren’t barbarians. They aren’t monsters. They aren’t even jerks. They are warm, friendly, people who are probably more relatable to Americans than just about any nation Africa.

After hitting the breakfast buffet at the Hotel des Mille Collines (which incidentally was excellent, and not in an “I just ate raw meat and got sick and all I want is some raisin bran and a piece of toast” sort of way. It really was a great breakfast) I called Alex and told him of my plans. I deferred to Alex’s expertise to a certain extent but I made clear that I wanted to go to the Kigali Genocide Memorial and the Camp Kigali Memorial, where ten Belgium peacekeepers were brutally murdered in the opening days of the conflict.

“And parliament?” Alex asked.

I was indifferent to visiting parliament, but Alex quickly informed me that the country had launched a new museum inside of the national parliament of Kigali: The Campaign Against Genocide Museum. Needless to say I was intrigued. I wondered what a museum inside of a functioning parliament would look like. Especially considering how the national parliament was the scene of some of the fieriest fighting of the war in 1994.

However we kicked off the tour with what would be the least impressive sight I visited in Kigali: The Kandt House Natural History Museum.

I would discover that tickets for the museum weren’t particularly cheap. Don’t get me wrong, in the big picture 6,000 Rwandan Francs (or about $7 USD) isn’t outrageous. But compared to Ethiopia, where their Natural History Museum cost a mere $0.42 and put Rwanda’s to shame, well, $7 did seem a tad bit high. I had been warned about Rwanda on Wikitravel, that it was a surprisingly expensive country. But even with that being said I found that prices in Rwanda were not necessarily unreasonable, and there was a fairly large strike zone when it came to prices in Kigali. They ranged from the extremely cheap to the slightly expensive. But nothing like you’d see in Japan…or Venezuela if you didn’t know about the black market exchange rate. For a ticket to two museums, this one and the Presidential Palace Museum, I coughed up 9,600 Francs (this after a 20% discount for buying both tickets at once), but I quickly found the gift shop at the natural history museum to be one of the best places to stock up on souvenirs in Africa. One large carved wooden statute set me back a mere 13,050 RWF (about $15) and had I had more space in my suitcase I would have bought several more.

But again, the museum was a letdown. It was mostly a collection of basic exhibits ranging in subject to the geography and minerals of Rwanda to the wildlife. Interestingly enough there was a room displaying a exhibit about the European who built the house: Richard Kandt. The exhibit was in German, so needless to say I couldn’t read any of it. But I could tell this exhibit was nonetheless unusual. There seemed to be genuine affection for Kandt, both from my guide and from the display. Again, I couldn’t read any of it, and when you don’t know what you’re looking at and just have to go with the general vibe of things, well, you can miss the mark.

Oh look, it’s Santa Claus!

Still, I left feeling under whelmed, and was also slightly irritated that photos were prohibited inside the museum. Nonetheless, things looked up once I got outside: the view of Kigali from the back of the museum was extraordinary, and the outdoor display of a stuffed gorilla gave me fond memories of a obscure Saturday Night skit from 1989 involving Leslie Neilsen being chased by a guy in a gorilla suit through London (funny the things you think about after eating raw meat in Ethiopia).

But it was time to move on. Alex then took me to the first stop on what I guess I’d have to call the “genocide” tour. The Camp Kigali Memorial, the sight of one of the most shocking moments of the 1994 genocide: the murder of ten Belgium soldiers on April 7, 1994 in the opening hours of the genocide. The Belgians were sent by Canadian General Romero Dallaire, head of the UN Peacekeeping force in Rwanda, to the home of the Rwandan Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana.

Agathe Uwilingiyimana

Uwilingiyimana was a political moderate who supported the peace accords with the Rwandan Patriotic Front. This sadly made her a prime target for the genocidal Interahamwe paramilitary organization in Rwanda. Initially Westerners saw the Rwandan Genocide as tribalism run amok in 1994: anarchy coupled with ancient hatreds leading to an indiscriminate and disorganized slaughter. But it soon became clear that this was not the case (to be honest, it should have been clear three months before the genocide occurred when an informant emerged to tell the U.N. that the Interahamwe was planning to kill 1,000 Tutsis every twenty minutes) . This was a well planned and well executed system of human extermination. And tragically for the Belgians soldiers, they were part of the plan. In 1999, after an independent inquiry into the actions of the UN, it was revealed that the Interahamwe had planned to kill the Belgian peace keepers from the start. They knew that Belgian blood would be the surest way to drive the UN out of Rwanda. The Interahamwe also needed to remove “moderate” Hutus in the government, which put a target on the back of Uwilingiyimana. In the chaotic opening hours of the Rwandan Genocide General Dallaire ordered ten Belgian peace keepers to accompany the Prime Minister to the radio station where she could call for calm after the assassination of Rwanda’s then president Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6th, 1994. They never made it. After the Rwandan Presidential Guard turned on the Prime Minister and the U.N. Peace Keepers, Uwilingiyimana and her husband would be executed at the Kigali U.N. volunteer compound.

For the ten young Belgium peace keepers, the horror was only beginning. After surrendering to the Presidential Guard, they were soon transported to Camp Kigali, and visiting Camp Kigali you can’t help but think of those frantic final hours for those Belgium peace keepers in 1994. But as is often the case with civil wars, the truth seems to be somewhat clouded. The 1999 UN independent report simply states that the ten peacekeepers were brutally murdered after surrendering. This account seems to be backed up by author and journalist Scott Peterson, who said the men were castrated and choked to death with their own genitals. But the building seems to want to tell another story. Of a few men who fought against impossible odds. According to this account, which is backed up by Wikipedia (a source that unfortunately has considerably more credibility when it comes to the Rwandan Genocide than the United Nations) three Blue Helmets would fight their way through a mob of hundreds of armed Hutus. One, Srg. Yannick Leroy, actually managed to disarm one of the armed Hutus and seize his AK-47 (I know we Americans are somewhat dismissive of our Belgium allies when it comes to their military prowess, but there is a special table of honor for that soldier in Valhalla). Sadly, by 1 PM, nearly eleven hours after he was sent to the Prime Minister’s home, Sergeant Leroy was dead. The last Belgium Blue Helmet, out of bullets and tragically abandoned by the United Nations, was killed by the mob at Camp Kigali.

The place is quiet now. Other than Alex and I the place is deserted when we arrive. But the bullet-hole riddled building tells its own story.

The Rwandans put up a plaque commemorating the ten soldiers who lost their lives, and also a monument to the men.

The strange thing is, even though the place is empty, I can’t help but feel claustrophobic while walking through the compound.  You can’t help but feel how trapped those men must have felt when visiting Camp Kigali.  Even if you are the only one there.

We then hit our next stop on the Rwandan “genocide history” tour: The Kigali Genocide Memorial.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, I had already been to the Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum in Addis Ababa earlier in the week, and I also had been to Auschwitz some twenty years ago. But despite seeing the Red Terror Museum and Camp Kigali, the museum was still a gut punch. Early on you see a sign saying that over 250,000 people are buried at the site. That small sign hit harder than anything else on the trip. The entire population of Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, and North Dakota were buried in an area smaller than Central Park…and this was less than a third of the people killed in only 100 days in 1994.

The museum inside gave a powerful account of the events that led to the genocide, from the colonial era all the way to the “Hutu Ten Commandments”, which really should have probably been taken more seriously than it ultimately was.

Seriously, warning bells should have been ringing in the U.N.

Also included were hundreds of haunting photos of the victims of the genocide, photos that carried even more of an impact then the ones I saw in Addis Ababa or Auschwitz.  Because these folks were children of the 90s.  They may have been of a different race and from a different country, but looking at the photos I could see myself and my friends In these pictures.  This didn’t feel like history, this felt like my high school yearbook.

The Memorial also had a room where they discussed other instances of genocide that the world witnessed and ignored: Armenia, Nazi Germany, Yugoslavia, Cambodia, and Namibia. (I couldn’t find Rios Montt’s display, but I’m sure it was there somewhere…probably next to the Biafra display).

There was also a powerful display in the “Children’s Room”, with photos of some of the children killed during the genocide.  As with Auschwitz, the image of children so senselessly murdered for no reason other than race was a shocking one…and a stark reminder of what manufactured hate and fear can do to ordinary people.

By this point the day was coming to a close and I decided to hire Alex to take me to Parliament the following day. I needed to absorb what I saw, and there were quite a few stops left that night and for my final day in Kigali.

 

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A fighter to keep an eye out for in 2017: cruiserweight contender Olanrewaju Durodola

 

Finger Post Boxing (July 22, 2017)

 

After the Isaac Dogboe v. Javier Chacon WBO International Junior Featherweight championship in Accra, Ghana we had the opportunity to see a walkout bout featuring heavy hitting Nigerian Olanrewaju Durodola (25-4, 23 KOs), the #10 ranked cruiserweight with the WBC. Durodola possesses what seems to be the defining trait with Nigerian boxers: bone crushing power. But at 36-years old time is not nessesarily on his side. It was hard to gauge how he would do against a Tony Bellew considering the fact that opposition he faced in Accra was minimal. And to be honest, he sort of fought down to the level of his opposition. But what was undeniable was that he was a fighter with tremendous power and power sells tickets and makes things happen in boxing. I’d consider Durodola a fighter to keep an eye out for in 2017…and if he gets world title fight don’t rule him out.  Power, after all, is a great equalizer in this sport.