Friday, 27 May 2005

Rural Zambian Dictionary Dot Com

1. Slippery (of person), constantly moving, evasive, especially where there is money owing; applied usually to an urban male wideboy 'businessman' aged 16-25
Ex. : "Where is Lovemore?" "Ah, somewhere that side. He is very moveous that one."

Like Chinese Shoes
idiomatic simile
1. Crap, rubbish
2. Something which works for a very short period of time; a waste of money
Ex. : "Sheuw! That TaTa truck is like Chinese shoes. Eh-eh, never buy one like that, it will suck your money."

Sunday, 22 May 2005

The Meme

I was starting to feel a bit all out of blog posts, but now I've been 'tagged'and challenged to do the meme "A List of Ten Things I've Never Done". I have, however, decided to add my own twist. Here is a list of twenty things, ten I've done and ten I haven't. Go figure...

  1. Gotten a tattoo
  2. Kissed in Paris
  3. Killed something
  4. Pulled the emergency stop on a train
  5. Cooked with celery
  6. Touched a leopard
  7. Made a Call Centre Operative cry
  8. Enjoyed a mushroom
  9. Scuba Diving
  10. Bungee jumped of Vic Falls bridge
  11. Drunk Absinthe
  12. Been to Australia
  13. Completed a cryptic crossword
  14. Quoted from Withnail & I
  15. Something Illegal
  16. Had an operation without anaesthetic
  17. Experienced zero gravity
  18. Eaten worms
  19. Seen a corpse
  20. Been joyriding

Thursday, 19 May 2005

Backpedalling Furiously

Oh here we go. Not even a month after the elections in the UK and already there is the threat of badly broken promises.

The EU is apparently unhappy at the UK's pushing for debt relief etc for poor countries. Particularly as it has been an agenda campaigned for by NGOs and celebrities. Huh? It seems to have failed to register with the EU that NGO workers and celebrities are also, in fact, human beings, and voters at that. People who are more concerned with the inequalities in the world than with yet more crippling trade agreements. Oh but of course, regular people are just not qualified to have an opinion about such things, are they?

I am currently writing another batch of publicity material for our NGO, and really struggling with just which part of how awful things are, people globally are failing to grasp. Or perhaps they really just don't care, as long as it's not in their back yard.

Some refresher points:
  • With a life expectancy of just 33 years, Zambians die earlier than people anywhere else in the world.
  • 1 in 5 people is HIV+.
  • The Ministry of Health expects half the population to die of AIDS.
  • Zambia now has the world's second-largest population of orphans.
  • In Zambia, debt repayments to the IMF alone cost more than the budget for education, despite 40% of rural women being unable to read and write.
  • Zambian students struggle to learn in classes containing 70 pupils on average.
  • But IMF restrictions means that the Zambian government cannot appoint more teachers, despite the fact that thousands of trained teachers are currently unemployed in the country.
  • In 2004 pupils in some rural areas did not even see a single teacher for the entire year.
  • IMF rules also insisted on large-scale privatisation and the introduction of user fees at medical establishments. Privatisation led to widespread job losses, and coupled with user fees, last year up to 45% of people in the Copperbelt region could not afford to take their children for medical treatment.
  • Despite their adherence to crippling conditions Zambia has to date only received 5% of the debt relief promised to it under the HIPC initiative.
  • Zambia's external debt is 128% of its GDP, compared to Britain's at 42%.
  • Debt repayments are making it impossible to respond to the health, educational and economic challenges facing Zambian people.

It would cost about US$300 Billion to cancel the debts of the world's poorest countries. In the USA US$350 Billion is spent on gambling every year.

But none of it matters so long as the EU and others can keep making unfair trade agreements and subsidies.

Welcome To The U.S.

Aren't stat logs wonderful things? Hello and welcome to whoever it is at the US Department of State that finds my blog so interesting.

Their mission statement, should you choose to read it, states that they wish to: "Create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community."

Nice how the rest of the world is just sort of tacked on the end there. And you can literally see the rest of that sentence just hanging - " any means necessary even if is based on lies and propoganda and involves the slaughter of thousands of innocent people."

Actually the person came via here - scroll down, buried at the bottom of page - which means some naughty little worker is slacking off and not doing very important security things.

I just got a really sweet card from a friend in California, which had a couple of photos of her little girl in there. Wrapped around the entire thing is a big green sticker, courtesy of the US Department of Homeland Security. Because pictures of babies are the new form of terror you know.

Another friend of mine teaches at a school in Virginia. They were evacuated yesterday because one of the students threatened to litter the school with blood, bones and bodies. Nice.

Tuesday, 17 May 2005

Stetson Mike

You know how you sometimes get a flashback to days of yore and get really embarrassed at how things were? Well, when I was little, growing up in an oppressively Catholic household, every Lent (look it up) we had a collection box in our house for Trocaire, an aid agency who gave money to the black babies. They actually said that. The Black Babies. It was like their unofficial slogan.

It makes me die to think of it now. What were they thinking?

One day, during Lent, my mother had served up my brother and I with some particularly revolting supper. Any attempts to leave it on the plate were met with a stern 'Think of the poor starving black babies in Africa'. After several of these pronouncements my brother, who is much cleverer and sharper than I am, held his still-full plate aloft to my mother and declared 'Send it out to them then, I'm done'.

Her sputtered attempts at explaining the impossibilities of posting a plate of soggy food were lost. We was long gone from that table. Nowadays I am a happy atheist, and I have to constantly rebut people who insist on calling me a missionary. (Except my grandma, who's 104, she can call me whatever the hell she wants. I figure you get to that age, there are no rules.)

The latest tiresome argument was with Stetson Mike, highly abridged version below.

I was standing in the car park outside the supermarket in town, when a very very large man, wearing a very very large Stetson waddled up to me.

'You a missionary?'
'No, a humanitarian aid worker'.
'So you don't work for the Lord?'
'I do. We breed rabbits. Rabbits are a gift from God, hallelujah. Best eatin', easy to breed.'
'I see.'

Most people in this country can't even keep their chickens properly. I was imagining the havoc of millions of bunnies unleashed on the pitiful crops.

'So what's a humanitarian project like?' said Stetson Mike.
'Well, it's like a missionary, but without the hallelujahs. Works just as well, but without indoctrinating people. And no rabbits.'

Stetson Mike wasn't convinced, but then he didn't convince me either. Stetson Mike woke up in his condo in Florida one day and God spoke to him and told him to bring the rabbits to Zambia. There's someone like that in the White House right now you know. It's a scary scary world.

Monday, 16 May 2005

The Angel

Ran away in the night, she did. Upped sticks and left as me ma would say. Took all her belongings and hoofed it into the darkness, baby bouncing on her back.

You think you have writer's block, and then, stuff.

It's amazing how, when you put your foot down about operating a zero tolerance policy towards theft and corruption, you can actually get rid of the rot.

So this lady, let's call her Laura, was asked a couple of days ago for a routine report. The next day she tries to resign. Chief goes 'woah there lady, what's the rush?' and refuses to accept it. Then away off into the ether she went last night.

Who knows what hornet's nest we are about to uncover...It kind of beats the usual painfully worded resignation letter though. Where you just want to tell your boss you think he's a moron, but you know you need a reference. Good old Laura is just like 'Damn you all!! I'm going to run away!'

I think that Chief's daughter and Milly are embroiled in a row. But it's difficult to know, not speaking the language. And the body language is different too. (Zambians also do this thing where if they don't quite understand something they bust out laughing. Which can be quite unnerving if you're telling them someone just died.)

But something is not quite so. Chief's daughter is a bit of a princess. Today she seems to be wastefully draining our drum of water and expecting Milly to refill it. Which is not good, for she is our Lovely Milly and no-one else's. I shall arrange for peas to be put in the princess's mattress.

What's Hot
A locally sourced ambulance means expected UK shipping costs can now be used for other medical needs.

A particular local ministry is refusing all invitations/demands to meet with us about a certain pressing issue. What they don't know is that the cabinet minister is a personal friend and will whup their asses when he finds out he he.

What's Not
Our much anticipated gas-powered fridge is stuck at some customs border, claiming we haven't got the right papers.

The incessant pestering by everyone to know what presents I brought them from the UK. Presents?! We had over 10kg of machinery parts for the NGO in our luggage. Do they KNOW how much chocolate I sacrificed?

Here is a lovely quote, which is attributed to Michelangelo. I don't know if he said it or not, but anyway it's nice:

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

That is all. Everybody keep carving.

Sunday, 15 May 2005

Knobbery of the Highest Order

I know I'm going to sound like a broken record, but honestly, the Observer has totally gone to the dogs. A leading story online today, in their Escape section, on some twat who paid almost four and a half grand to go and visit some tribe in West Papua who had never been in contact with outsiders, and then complained when they threw spears at him.

I mean, where do you even begin with what's wrong with this? The arrogance in thinking that a tribe would want to meet outsiders? The fact that they were trying to placate them with tobacco?

I'm refusing to link to this story because I don't see why I should give it traffic, but this is just one extract: "Yakobus tries to lure the natives back to their bivouac, repeating, 'Tsabat! Tsabat!' (Tobacco! Tobacco!)"

If he wants to give us four and a half grand he can stay in a mud hut and I'll find some locals who'll happily chuck rocks at him so he can write about his 'amazing experience'. What a knob. And what a knobbish newspaper that would print this.

Only slightly more outrageous than their '50 things every foodie should do before they die', which mostly consists of visiting restaurants in the UK and France. Because let's face it, the world stops there, right?

I suggest an alternative list might include: 1. Picking and sorting tea, to fully appreciate exactly what people (yes PEOPLE, human beings) have to do to get you your bloody Earl Grey 2. Living for a week with some villagers who eat one meal of maize porridge a day, to truly appreciate what it's like to be hungry 3. Wait tables/work in a kitchen, so you realise just how hard people work to bring you your michelin-starred food.

Friday, 13 May 2005

Worshipping At The Altar Of The Blue-Footed Booby

"I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable. There is something unfair about its use. It is hitting below the intellect." Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, 11 May 2005

Random Copy


Tuesday, 10 May 2005


I do often wish I was a fancy economist-type person, to better understand the tangled mess that is the wealth/poverty divide in this world. But to add to my list of 'degrees I must take some day' must be something in the anthropology/sociology line.

PLEASE can someone explain to me why it is in this part of the world that no-one, but no-one, is capable of thinking or planning any further beyond the next five minutes?

Why the person running a fully-funded training programme which was signed off months ago, would turn around two days before it ends and declare that there is no paper for the certificates. When it is a three-hour round trip into town, provided you can get a working vehicle and there is some fuel to be found, a town which is unlikely to have such paper at short notice anyway, and the guy in charge of printing the certificates is on leave. When the candidates have come from all around and about in the bushy bushland and the likelihood of them all being together in the same room again is slim. What about a little forward planning? No? Just a little bit? A few weeks even. Not asking anything much.

Sound of head banging on very hard hardwood desk made from the finest hard wood hardwood. Ow.

Monday, 9 May 2005

Save Us From Bland

More rumbles in the jungle. Perhaps African Leaders will eventually give the two fingers to their debtors.

And way down on the list of the Guardian online's important news stories - Huge Radioactive Leak Closes Thorp Nuclear Plant. They say it's not a danger to the public. It's kind of an important thing to know about though, wouldn't you say?

Meanwhile, spotted in a print edition of the Observer I just got from somebody - a half page article devoted to telling us how seven-year old girls in the UK are now going to spas. FFS. (a) What teeny tiny fraction of the child population does this actually apply to? (b) Why does anybody care? Reporting on this only encourages more pillocks.

Word of the Day: Pillock

Wednesday, 4 May 2005

Darkness Falls

When dusk drifts in, a veil of shadows, all at once the little things start to speak. Crickets. Frogs. Songbirds. Shouting their last hurrah as another day’s dramas come to a close. The sunset burns a bursting-out orange, and as it slips below the horizon the forest comes alive with trees silhouetted against the sky.

Sound carries on the air – radios, laughter. There is a sweet smell of woodsmoke and charcoal as braziers begin to burn, to cook the evening pot of nsima.

Later, at night, the sky is inky-black, shattered by stars and flaunting a full-fat moon. It is completely still and peaceful, the world suspended, hanging in the clear air. An occasional low owl hoot is the only thing to break the silence.

But in between these layers is a feeling of oppression. Dusk closes quickly, there are no lights. Fumbling, stumbling, a velvet smothering, mozzies biting, and when finally you find where you left the candle, the moths attack.

You can’t see to cook your dinner or find the longdrop. There is a rustling in the bushes, unknown whatnots. And it is in this heavy in-between-time that schoolchildren must study. By candlelight.

Currently fundraising for: Solar lighting for our school

Lust for Truth

One of the things I was really looking forward to when back in the UK, was the pleasure of getting the weekend papers and spending hours, if not days, poring over them. Sadly, it gave me as much of a faceache, if not more, to read print journalism, as it does to read it online. I must be way off base and out of synch with everyone else's way of thinking, but I have always believed that journalists had a responsibility to tell the truth, as much as possible. Especially journalists who work for what purport to be serious newspapers such as The Guardian and The Observer. To say that the selection of articles I read left me disappointed would be an understatement. Some random examples -

An article on macho getaways. For a start, do we really need to be encouraging this? Included in the list of things to do was go big game hunting in Namibia. Again, is this something we should be encouraging? But the thing which really incensed me was that the tone of the piece made it sound like you could just jump off the plane in Windhoek, shotgun under your arm and start taking potshots at the animals willy-nilly. Which is blatantly untrue. Namibia is stringent on its preservation of game. Taking a deck at a big cat will land you in jail quicker than you can say 'pass the lager'. Perhaps there are some asshole private game reserve managers who will let you shoot their animals, but it is not something that is condoned by either the people or the government of Namibia, and I object to a country being portrayed this way. LAZY journalism.

An article on Zimbabwe, although I use the term loosely. And I read it because now that the 'elections' are over Zim will once more slip under the radar. The writer described how the country was falling apart. How the only place still just ticking over was Victoria Falls. And how the only people going there were White South Africans. White South Africans who were hated by the locals because they refused to shop locally and support the local economy, bringing in their vehicles full of food from their own country. Well ain't that a damning indictment. It's easy to take a potshot at the White South Africans isn't it? What the journalist failed to mention was the stores in Vic Falls are full of empty shelves. Basics such as milk and sugar are just not available. If bread is made there are hundreds of people queuing out the door to get their hands on it. You can't always get fuel at the service stations. Hell if I was going on holiday somewhere like that, I'd be bringing my own supplies too. At least they're still going there. But showing all sides of the story would take a bit more effort, wouldn't it. CAN'T BE ARSED journalism.

The guy who wrote that tourism was booming in Zambia and that the economy was on the up. Well sure tourism is booming if you have the money to pay for fly-in safaris and luxury accommodation. I'd say that market is somewhat limited, wouldn't you? And making a sweeping statement about the economy on the up is all very well, but if you put it in the context of Zambia's debts falling from USD3 billion to USD2 billion, or whatever the true figures were, it suddenly doesn't seem like such a boom after all. I can attest to the fact that the people I work with are not exactly skipping through the daisies with joy about economic and tourism booms, as they trek barefoot for kilometres to fetch dirty water. COMPLETELY OUT OF CONTEXT journalism.

What bothers me is that I only know these articles are a bunch of arse because I live in this area and know what's going on. What about all the places and things I know nothing about? Say an article about China buying up oil. Well is it true? I don't know anything about China. I don't know a lot about oil. So is everything we read a lie?

An article not read in the UK but rather in the Guardian Weekly, at which I laughed out loud. Jonathan Freedland - who actually brazenly admitted he'd written the article while on holiday in Cape Town, sitting in a deck chair in his friend's garden - whingeing and bemoaning that post-Apartheid South Africa did not live up to the expectations he held for it in his protesting student days. He was disappointed to find black people working as cleaners and waiting tables for example. Erm, hello? In a country where the vast majority of the population is black, then black people will be doing all kinds of jobs, from government ministers and businesspeople through teachers and nurses down through to cleaners and waiters. It would be a bit like going to China and declaring that you were disappointed to see that Chinese people had to sweep the streets. Get a grip. South Africa's not perfect. It has a lot wrong with it. A lot of the wealth is still in white hands. But you are never going to have a day when you won't have black people working 'lowly' jobs, people do those jobs everywhere.

And lastly, nothing to do with Africa. An article (also written by a man, I wouldn't dare to suggest a pattern) by a music journalist. Who was in an airport waiting for a flight. When he saw a Famous Rock Star, who was travelling with his young child. According to the 'journalist' the Famous Rock Star was really rude and wouldn't sign autographs. Perhaps. But also perhaps he was enjoying some family time and didn't really want to be hounded by people. The 'journalist' then took great delight in detailing how the Famous Rock Star then rudely pushed his way to the top of the queue to board the plane. Erm, all airlines call parents with young children and those needing assistance to the front of the queue. But that wouldn't have made such a good story, would it?

Tuesday, 3 May 2005

Happy Birthday To Me

Happy Birthday To Me!
Chocolate Cake for Tea!

And a great big vodka cocktail for lunch I think...

Monday, 2 May 2005

The Latvians

I am aware that the following discourse has the potential to make me sound like a Daily (Hate) Mail reader, but no matter. The Latvians. Everywhere in Ireland. Of course it may be high-handed xenophobia to call them that. Perhaps they are from Lithuania. Or Slovakia. An Eastern place in any regard, sporting skin with a waxen pallor suggestive of a lifetime of cabbage soup.

Now, I welcome a country with mixed-up people. Hurrah! New music, culture, food, ideas etc. It’s a good thing. But…is it too much to ask that if you move to a country and work in the service industry that you speak the language?? After the nth time of being met with a blank stare when asking a reasonable question, I can feel the Daily (Hate) Mail thoughts rising up within.

Example 1 – To The Latvian waitress in a restaurant.
“Can you tell me what’s in this dish please?”
Lather, rinse, repeat, lather, rinse, repeat, order something else.

Example 2 – To the Latvian man in a store, sporting an Assistant badge.
“There’s no price tag on this bag, could you please find out how much it is?”
Lather, rinse, repeat, lather, rinse, repeat, go ask somebody else.

It’s not like I was asking for a discussion on nuclear fission. I used to teach EFL. I speak and enunciate clearly, and I never use that loud patronising tone that so many people do, when speaking to someone whose first language is not English. But honestly, at times it makes you despair. I’ve worked abroad where I’ve had to use a language not my mother tongue, and if I’ve ever not understood someone I’ve apologised and run off to get someone who could help, not stood there shrugging glumly and thinking of dumplings.

It reminds me of all those ridiculous UK TV shows – “A New Life Holiday Place in the Overseas”. Cut to miserable looking British man standing in front of a lovely (falling down) Tuscan farmhouse, wife and six kids in the background.

“No, it hasn’t really worked out. We sold everything we had to move here, now we’re broke. I couldn’t get a job (BECAUSE I COULDN’T BE BOTHERED TO LEARN ITALIAN), my wife couldn’t get a job (BECAUSE SHE COULDN’T BE BOTHERED TO LEARN ITALIAN), my kids are starving (BECAUSE NONE OF US BOTHERED TO LEARN ITALIAN AND THEREFORE COULDN’T ASK FOR FOOD IN THE SHOPS). It’s a disaster. I don’t know what we’ll do now. (LEARN ITALIAN?)"

But I do have a favourite Latvian. She could speak fairly good English, and was working on the check-in desk at Ryanair (Kwality!). Having ascertained the price of the bag in the shop from someone non-Latvian, I had bought it and stuffed it full of the books I’d bought from Johnny Pottymouth. If I picked it up real quick, it wasn’t that heavy, honest guv. BA might have let it through. But Ryanair are not known for their generosity. I put my bag on the scales. Tap tappety tap.

“Ok, you arr two kilos over, you vant take somevink out or you vant pay?” Big smile from The Latvian. Beads of cold sweat from me. I’ve never had to pay excess luggage, but I’ve heard the horror stories from those who have. 1% of the highest fare on that flight, per kilo over. Cogs start turning in brain. Was it an aviation authority rule or an airline rule? For if it was an aviation rule, then the highest fare on a Ryanair flight could not be that much. On the other hand, if it was an airline rule, you could bet your grandma that Michael O’Leary would have a seat down the back with a price tag of a squillion euros.

“How much would it be to pay?” I winced.
“Ayte euros”, big Latvian Smile.
“8? 18? 80? 800? How much?”
“Ayte euros.” Yes, I had heard correctly. Eight euros.
“Where do I pay?”, big Irish smile.
Go Ryanair & The Smiling Latvian!