Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

My Week in Media

January 23, 2008

I’ve been tagged! I’ve been tagged! (Sorry, I’m just not cool enough to be blase about any kind of recognition). And by a proper, grown-up, does it for real journalist in Africa too, South of West (as opposed to wife, mother of three, pretending-to-be-journalist so she has something interesting to say at parties even though recent geography means there aren’t any to go to: hangups linger long). Thank you Mr Crilly.

And because of that I am obliged to tell you what I’ve read, watched, listened to and surfed in the past few days. Which really will go to show I’m not a proper journalist because my reading, viewing, listening and surfing aren’t nearly lofty enough to qualify for that. I only pretend to read the Spectator to impress people, in the hope they will be seduced into believing I’m alot cleverer than I am. When all I do in actuality, apart from tossing it nonchalantly onto the coffee table so that it’s seen, is alternate between salivating and giggling at Deborah Ross’s restaurant reviews.

So. To what I’ve read:

Deborah Ross. The Week (when I can find it). Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (and I had a job finding that last night too, so deeply buried was it beneath unread copies of the Spectator), ”what the bloody hell are you doing?” asked husband crossly. ”Trying to find my book” I replied just as crossly. ”Why don’t you leave it on your bedside table like normal people do?” I didn’t have an answer for that so continued to dig and finally unearthed it along with several dusty cuttings from the Sunday Times which have been lingering for months and which I still haven’t got round to reading. If I hadn’t found Salmon Fishing … I’d have picked up where I left off with Robert Guest in The Shackled Continent. ”Why do you have so many books beside your bloody bed, anway” asks irritated husband. Because, I tell him, in pompous voice I use when addressing him as the journalist I sometimes pretend I am, ”some are for relaxation, some are for research; Guest is research, for when I write my own bestseller on Africa”.

”And what’s the Spectator for then?”

”So that I know which restaurants to avoid. In the unlikely event I ever get near any of them”.

What I’ve Watched

Hannah Montana. Alot. Hat likes it and so if I find myself anywhere in the vicinity of her and the telly early evening, it’s Hannah she watches whilst I pretend not to. Because I’m too busy writing.

But it’s fine darling, you can still watch, it won’t distract me.

Are you sure Mum

Quite sure.

Then why can’t I hear you typing.

I also watch Sky, BBC World and, like South of West, BBC Food; Hat and I watch that together. And drool. Why can’t we make things like that to eat, Mum, she says, we ought to cook more. Being desperately hopeless housewife and failed DG I remind her (with sigh of relief as I count lucky stars, not something I do often on account of where I live) that Kaidi’s local duka does not sell mozarella or mascarpone or flaked almonds or pecan nuts. If it’s packet creme caramel you’re after, that’s great. If not, tough.

Last night I watched dire Romantic Comedy (I ought to know better: when is romance ever comical? really?) starring Richard Gere (who was once apparently famous for his association with a gerbil and more recently with Shilpa Shetty). Why do I do it? Waste 120 minutes in front of mindless drivel? Because, I suspect, I can’t decide what to read?

 If it’s Sunday, I watch Carte Blanche which usually reminds me what a desperate place Africa often is.

OK – what I’ve listened to:

BBC World Service, if I can get to the controls on the satellite radio beside husband’s bed first. TalkSport it not.

My ipod. Very loudly. Skipping the ghastly stuff eldest daughter uploaded onto it and replaying endlessly the stuff I did. It helps me to concentrate whilst writing. Mainly because it helps to distract me from Hannah Montana if I happen to be pretending to write in same room as Hat whilst she’s watching telly …

And finally what I’ve surfed

The Times, most days, and the Daily Mail. The Times because I aspire to be serious journalist. The Daily Mail because there is something deeply satisfying in knowing celebs don’t sport the looks they do because of luck or genes or macrobiotic diets.

This week surfing has been dictated by three commissions (no really, I’m not just saying that) – one on tobacco growing in Africa (big serious grown up piece), one on eating disorders (sadly on the up, a backlash to the antiobesity message?) and the third a contentious investigation into whether or not dads ought be encouraged into the delivery room or not.

I’ve also spent alot of time on the BBC’s learning sites in an effort to make Hat’s science lessons more interesting for her and less overwhelming for me. Never a scientist anyway, I am defeated by circuits, simple machines and that whole solid, liquid, gas thing. And whilst so doing I have stumbled across the BBC’s ingenious GCSE Bitesize revision pages . I told my son who sits his exams in four months about my find. He didn’t sound as thrilled as I’d hoped he might.

I also spend time every day checking out the depression stories delivered to my inbox by Google alerts. Sometimes I read encouraging stories: about new and realistic treatments that are being developed. Sometimes I read impossibly ridiculous ones: doctors who think Botox will cure depression – if a person cannot look depressed (because they cannot frown, say, or look sad),  they will not feel it. There’s educated reason for you. Sometimes, and at the moment in particular, my depression stories are about collapsing markets and global slumps. Which I suppose isn’t so different?

I’m going to tag Potty Mummy, Iota and Primal Sneeze if they can bear it because I think between them they’ll give us a good geographical spread on media: UK, the States and Ireland.

K. Bye now. Off to read the Speccie …

Angels in the Outpost

January 20, 2008

Driving through town we encountered a swarm of motorcyclists, all bound, Hells Angel like, in similar direction.

They weren’t riding sleek Harleys (they were on livid coloured Chinese bikes with – from the experience of owning one ourselves once – stickers on the seats that warn of the dangers of drinking wine, not alcohol, wine, pre-mounting) and were not dressed in leathers.

Where on earth are they all going? I asked bemused husband as we watched stream of solemn riders turn at a junction whilst we waited.

It wasn’t until the tail enders came into view that we guessed: they were members of a long wedding procession; we found ourselves behind two ample figured bridesmaids, riding pillion and dressed in green.


Behavioural habits of Men and Mosquitoes

January 19, 2008

Hat is doing a school project on mosquito borne diseases. I have learned, in the course of our combined research, that:

Female mosquitoes have itchy feet and have been shown to fly as far as 25 miles from where they hatched to where they were slapped by irritated dinner victim. How do they know that? was she carrying a map with her route carefully marked? a or do female mosquitoes carry ID indicating place of birth?

Male mosquitoes never bite – instead, on account of sweet tooth, they feed on nectar, full of sugar and vitamin C no doubt, which they probably cram into man-bags to sustain man-fat and keep man-flu at bay.

A female mosquito’s life span is anything up to 100 days; the male’s is 10 to 20 days. Which just goes to show a sweet tooth is bad for your health whereas one high in iron is presumably quite good?

Depending on temperature, mosquitoes can develop from egg to adult in under a week. This will impress pushy parents everywhere who would like to oust little ones from nest into lucrative careers faster than their peers can.

The mosquito’s visual picture, produced by various parts of its body, is an infrared view generated by its prey’s body temperature. It’s why it helps to sleep with a hot man (hot as in warm to the touch hot as opposed to George Clooney Hot). My own hot man(who gets bitten far more frequently than cooler blooded I) says this is ”bollocks:” whether he meant ”bollocks” to hot Clooney or “bollocks” to hot, as in warmer to the touch hot, I didn’t bother to enquire.

And talking of men, my own has several peculiar behaviour traits of his own:

He hides our copies of The Week (quite possibly the best magazine in the entire world) until he has read them. I only discovered this recently when I noticed one, still plastic wrapped, poking out of his bedside drawer. I pinched it to read first. Which was childishly satisfying for me and childishly irksome for him.

He never puts the loo seat back down: cliched but true

He is very, very tidy. I am very, very untidy. He likes to reorganise my desk so that I can find my pencil, rubber, keyboard. I prefer the challenge of the hunt. His wardrobe a testimony to a man who never deliberates about what to wear every morning, mine bears proof of the fact that even in splendid isolation I cannot decide. What is discarded is hastily stuffed back into a drawer in favour of something else dragged just as hastily out.

He hates to change plans. As a result I have learned not to commit until I am absolutely certain. Once I’ve said ”yes” to something, he would only grant an exception if I was hit by a bus, eaten by a lion or bitten by a well travelled mosquito that has grown old on a diet high in haemoglobin and has a GPS around her neck.



January 16, 2008

I am struck by the Outpost’s voluptuousness at present; it (she?) seems fatly content and sleek in comparison to other regions. Driving as we do, across enormous distances, we traverse the country’s contours and some seem harshly barren and skinny, maize is stunted, skies white hot blue, clouds measly ribbons of papery inadequacy, melting to nothing under a merciless sun.

Not here though. Here the sky is full of fat black clouds pregnant with the promise of rain. More rain.  The earth has bled into deep puddles thick with mud. The mango trees are lushly emerald green and the flamboyant, stripped of flowers now, are sporting long sausage seed pods, a pledge that next season’s fiery blooms will be just as plentiful. More so. The grass is long, my lawn, from the dust bowl that it was, must be cut twice a week, it feels deliciously thick beneath bare feet: shagpile thick. The cress I planted at the base of a palm is long legged and gangly. The salad bowl beckons. The cattle and goats are no longer lean hipped and the women’s derrieres spill over the backs of bicycles so that it’s hard not to notice. One wears a kanga decorated with dollar signs. Apt. And hilarious. Booty as bounty.

Even the shade is plump. Gloriously plump so that there is ample under which to take refuge in the still heat before the storm.

Africa isn’t often fat. The extra poundage born of good rains won’t last long. But it looks beautiful whilst it’s here.

I wish the same could be said of my thickened post Christmas middle.

How to have a Jolly Good Funeral

January 8, 2008

Yesteday evening we witnessed a funeral cortege whilst out walking. My options for a ramble here are limited – it’s either snake infested dam walls or sandy paths that circumnavigate the local cemetary.

The coffin, which was huge, more of a hefty square than loosely corpse outlining polygon, was draped in a vivid red and gold blanket and held aloft by four men who were jogging towards the graveyard. Why are they running, I wondered? Perhaps the coffin’s heavy, suggested Mum. Perhaps they are worried the rain is coming? Perhaps, I mused, it’s just the end of the day and they’re tired and hungry?

The pall bearers were tailed by sporadically straggling groups of people, mourners you might imagine, some dragging children, one or two with goats and the occasional attendee on a bicycle. Most looked remarkably cheerful given they were presumably, though not certainly, grieving their dead: some were likely just interested passers-by who fancied the opportunity for a little social intercourse on the way home.

Citizens of the poverty stricken Third World are more pragmatic about death than we are. Probably because they have to be I explained to Amelia, ”because they face so much illness and disease” I said solemnly.

”Duh, Mum, Illness and disease are the same thing”.

Ah yes. So they are.

And as a consequence funerals are both regular and well attended occasions. It’s rare to see mourners arrive on foot (except in a place like the Outpost), frequently they follow a make-shift hearse (usually a pickup truck festooned with flowers) in long cavalcades of slowly moving vehicles bedecked with vibrant bougainvillea, their hazard lights blinking and horns blaring in a noisy semblance of untidy union, all full of women weeping, ululating or catching up on the latest gossip.

I hope my funeral’s that well attended I say to Amelia.

She tells me that in some societies, in the old days (which because she’s 14 could mean as recently as the 1980’s) people would leave money in their will in order to pay people to attend lest mourners were a little thin on the ground.

I hope she’s not suggesting I do the same?

Kenya’s great hope?

January 7, 2008

John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor, President of Ghana and the head of the African Union is expected in Kenya today to help break the policical deadlock. Kufuor is an Oxford graduate; he studied law and earned a masters in philisophy, politics and economics.  Clearly an academic man, he is decribed as a poor orator but a great listener, who never vacillates once his mind is mind up. At over 6ft with a heavy build he is, encouragingly, dubbed Ghana’s ”gentle giant”.

So far so good.

His pet hates, however, include arrogance and self centredness. How, then is he going to get along with two men who want the front door keys to State House as badly as each other, more, in fact, than peace, security and prosperity for their people judging by the blame game that forces more and more Kenyans into the lives of refugees.

The taxi driver with whom I correspond sends a text message:

”The worry still lingers high, there is another rally tomorrow. I am tired”.

I hope Kufuor can bring succour, there’s alot riding on his visit.

The Sun, Storms and Scarabs

January 4, 2008

We had a walk yesterday evening, not on the dam, for fear of snakes, but along a sandy path outside town where I was afforded a good view of what was, or wasn’t, lurking on the ground before me. And we came upon a colony of dung beetles busily rolling their bounty.

Dung beetles, sometimes called tumble bugs, don’t just feed on the moisture they extract from the droppings of livestock which they find on account of their extraordinarily strong sense of smell, they gather it and roll it neatly into brooding balls which they bury underground where mating takes place. The female lays her eggs inside the readily prepared nursery-cum-larder so that her offspring are afforded something to eat when they first hatch and so that she has nourishment whilst she waits and watches.
Sometimes a female will help her mate roll – aiding him in pushing the egg sized ball along the ground in a dead straight line, regardless of obstacles (we watched a pair determindetly trying to roll their ball up a steep incline); sometimes females (presumably those not as concerned about keeping fit?) merely hitch a ride and roll with the ball; frequently ball rollers are ambushed by robbers lying in wait to pinch their ready-made ball – we watched one male fiercely defending his hard work.  
The dung beetle is of the same family as the scarab which was linked to Khepri, the Egyptian god of the rising sun; the people of ancient Egypt believed Khepri renewed the sun every day before rolling it up above the horizon.
I wondered, as I lay in bed last night listening to another advancing storm, whether Thunder might also have adopted the manoevering tactics of the dung beetle; wasn’t he up there rolling enormous black clouds of heavy rain around the heavens until he found a satifisying dumping ground? Somewhere where there might be an audience to witness his dramatic theatricals of sound and light.
The Outpost as it happened.  


Kenya Elections: laughable suggestions that there can be legal recourse

January 3, 2008

Because Kibaki’s government refused to conduct a recount (despite EU pressure when electoral observers admitted there were serious irregularities) the opposition’s only option now is to lodge a petition with the law courts. Laughable not only because the legal system in Kenya, along with the prisons and police department, is recognised as being riddled with corruption but also because a spokesperson for the law courts who was interviewed on live television admitted that a petition was likely to take five years to be heard. By which time, of course, Kibaki’s second term will have drawn to a close.

The protesters are working to make their way beyond police lines, they bear branches, a symbol that their message is a peaceful one, but they are being held back by water cannon and tear gas.

I speak to friends. There is growing tension. Supplies are very short. In the west of the country, which saw horrendous violence two days ago, there are severe power cuts and water shortages. People there say the death count of 300 is a huge under-estimation, ”there are fields of dead” in the region I am told.

I telephone the taxi driver I met whilst I was last in Nairobi, he tells me the army is pro government, but that the ODM, the opposition, is very well financed. He adds that the west of the country was quieter yesterday but that trouble had spread to the central Rift Valley. ” By the end of today, the country’s fate should be known”, he says.

Kenya’s business community says the country is losing over $30 million a day due to lost revenue in taxes; the shilling has dropped from 126 to the pound yesterday to 134 today and Kenya stock market sagged by 5%.

Desmond Tutu is in the country anxious to help mediate. Rumours suggest Kibaki isn’t interested to talk to him. And Odinga isn’t interested in mediation talks with Kibaki until he admits to stealing the Presidency.

Kikuyus victimized in tribal clashes in the west are dashing to take refuge in nearby Uganda.

Kenya’s situation is peppered with the heart stopping vernacular normally reserved for her less stable neighbours: stricken, genocide, crisis, refugees, economic meltdown and civil war. is posting from the front line.

Kenya’s Violence – can we really blame the Colonials for this one?

January 1, 2008

One of the arguments presented for prevailing angst and turmoil in Kenya is the carving up of land by colonials with scant regard for tribal divisions and feuds.

Whilst this may be true in part, the colonial administration was careful to create buffer zones between warring tribes: they designated land for settlement separating tribes that had a history of long running battles. My grandmother lived – twice – and for most of her years in Kenya – on farms developed on these buffer zones. Whilst the colonials mightn’t have understood tribal divisions, they were aware of them.

But Tanzania has a colonial history, just as Kenya does. And here there is very little – almost no – evidence of tribal animosity.  Julius Nyerere, whose politics may have been questionable but were always sincere (he died a poor man), cannily smudged tribal loyalty by encouraging integration; he urged Tanzanians to educate their children in areas far from home: a child born in Dar would go to school in Iringa, one who was raised in Mwanza might be educated in Songea. He also promoted Kiswahili as the national lanuage: tribal dialect is almost never heard. A Tanzanian will describe his heritage in terms of where his home is, not what tribe he is from.

So whilst the colonial administration might have made errors, might have lacked tribal sensitivity, Africa has had in excess of forty years to put things straight – Kenya celebrates 45 years of Uhuru in 2008. If the first post-Independence president of Tanzania managed to unite his people nationally, why haven’t the three Kenyan presidents who have held office since 1963 aspired to do the same?

Sorry. Historical excuses just won’t wash anymore.

Close Call

December 30, 2007


Yesterday evening walking on the dam, the edges of which are now thick with bush and long grass on account of recent rain so it is increasingly difficult to find a clear path, I trod on a puff adder. I was wearing flip flops. I didn’t even notice. Except for a deep hiss emanating somewhere below me and my husband’s alarmed voice behind me:

Ohmigod! You’ve just trodden on a puff adder.

I stepped right on its middle with my flat and almost bare foot.

It moved off slowly whilst my children gaped. And I tried to gather my nerves.

I was pleased to get home and pour myself a very large glass of wine.  The puff adder is responsible for more deaths in Africa than any other snake. Though fatly lethargic, it’s also the quickest to strike under pressure.

Tomorrow I am going to the market to buy myself a pair of wellies to walk the bush in.

Husband says that given the laws of probability I shan’t need them: it’ll be forty years before you tread on another venomous snake, he says.

Except that this is the third I’ve trodden on in five years. The other two were cobras.

Think I’d be wiser to heed my brother’s words, ”how many lives you got left then, Sis?” than dear husband’s.

That and watch my step.

And get those wellies, of course.