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Thursday, 30 June 2005

Things That Go Squeak In The Night

It was a dark and windy night. Back and forth the noise went, not unlike a saw struggling with some very hard wood. Louder and louder the noise got, filling my head. It began to sound like people exercising their bedsprings. Impossible! No beds outside my window. It must be trees.

The noise got louder still. More like quacking. A screeching squeaking quacking. Could it be a pair of ducks, shagging up against a tree? But no, surely duck copulation is not so loud as to penetrate earplugs, a pillow and a giant duvet? Perhaps that last gin & tonic had been unwise.

The noise reached a crescendo. It was unbearable. I called The Husband. Armed with a giant spotlight torch (thank you, Robert Dyas) we went outside to investigate. We shone the torch high up into the trees. And saw something not dissimilar to this:

Bushbaby


Having had a poke about on Google, I'm pretty sure what we saw was a Bushbaby. This is rather exciting, as apart from insects, birds, snakes, rats, mice, squirrels and the local drunk, there's no wildlife around here.

As recently as 20 years ago there were elephant, antelope, zebra, giraffe etc in this area, and now there is nothing. Startling the red-eyed nocturnal beast with our high-beam interrogation tool has also put my mind slightly at rest. For only last week there was something far, far bigger than a rat thumping across our roof. I have been refusing to think about what it might be, but surely here is the answer. A Bushbaby.

Welcome Bushbaby! But please keep the noise down...

And So It Goes On...

Quite a depressing article about climate change, and how this too is going to impact severely on Southern Africa.

Also in the news today, the question of 'brain drain', or poaching healthcare workers from developing countries to places like the UK and the US. To be honest, if I was a doctor or nurse from a developing country and someone offered me a well-paid job abroad, I'd be on the next plane out. Yes, it's a problem that there are so few medical staff per head in places like Zambia, but do you really expect people to turn down the opportunity of a better life? Rather than castigate these people for so-called 'turning their backs on their country', better look at why the situation is so bad there first, no?

When I read about Zimbabwe I could cry. One of the most beautiful countries I've travelled around in Africa, amazing, friendly, interesting people. And yet everyone stands by and watches Mugabe trash it big time. They have just tripled the price of what little fuel is currently available in the country. I just don't know how people are managing to live there anymore. Some more details of the atrocities.

Wednesday, 29 June 2005

ZamNews

The BBC has a series of interesting articles on both Zambia and Africa at the moment. Mark Doyle has written an article on trade, in which he cites Lusaka as one of the cleanest capitals in the world. Had I been drinking tea at the time of reading I would have choked on it. He has obviously never been to any of the places ordinary Zambians go, such as the bus station, the minibus station, the markets etc. They reek of piled-high rubbish.

The article talks of privatisation and what that has meant for the economy. I'm all for economic development, but it's worth remembering that privatisation was forced on many Zambian companies because of IMF stipulations. And that privatisation has brought about mass unemployment and the ensuing problems which surround that.

It's interesting also to read the replies from many Africans to the question 'Does Debt help you or hold you back?' There must surely be a distinction between good debt and bad debt. For example, there are very few people in the UK who would be able to buy their homes without a mortgage. As long as you can cover your repayments this can be classed as good debt.

The debt that Zambia has been holding all these years should be wiped out, because it came about through irresponsible lending as much as anything. It is ridiculous to expect a country to repay debt, plus interest, plus carry out measures which are damaging to that country's future prospects.

It is inhumane, if not criminal, to ask a government to pay what money they have to wealthy nations, when their own citizens are literally dying in droves due to lack of education, healthcare and opportunity. Ironically, however, our project is seriously thinking of setting up a bank. Or more specifically a Credit Union style revolving fund. For how can anyone in this rural environment advance without opportunity?

I recently interviewed a farmer we trained several years ago. He is doing really well for himself, and grows enough to feed all 6 of his kids, and sells a small amount of surplus crops to get income to clothe and school them. He knows that if he didn't have to plough his fields by hand, he could clear a larger area for farming, grow more crops and make more income.

He wants to buy an ox-drawn plough. But where will he get the money to do so? Who will give him the capital? Right now, no one. Even if he could get into town, the banks would laugh at him. And with ludicrously high interest rates it wouldn't even be viable. But as he looks like a good bet, if we ran a loan scheme we could help him improve. I think he would classify that as a good debt.

Many Africans get indignant at the constant cries from wealthier nations of 'Give them Aid!' and I can totally see why. But unless you level the playing fields and break down trade barriers as well how can they compete? Africa has a wealth of resources but is unlikely to profit from them if trade rules and lack of opportunities continue to stand as they are.

And although this article
is somewhat meandering and schizophrenic, Jack Straw is right – why the hell are the African leaders so quiet when it comes to Robert Mugabe? Why are his atrocities hardly mentioned in the press, and never with condemnation? And yet more proof that he is completely bonkers.

And on a slightly lighter note – as part of our infrastructure development we have been collecting unwanted mobile phones from the UK and distributing them to staff and community members here. I just wish they weren't subjecting me to the A-Team Theme Tune ringtone on a daily basis…

Tuesday, 28 June 2005

Promotion

It's time for hard hats. In addition to doing Publicity, apparently I am now in charge of overseeing the new creche extension. Should be a barrel of laughs...


Construction!

Monday, 27 June 2005

Update From Wall Street

Unsurprisingly I have not heard back from Wall Street re a donation to our charity in return for a report on our 'expertise on Africa'. However, all of the typos I pointed out have now been corrected on the mining website, without so much as a thank you for my services. BEYOTCH!

Wish I'd stuck in some hilarious erroneous stuff as well....mwahahahaha

And YES to this article.

Friday, 24 June 2005

Orwellian

Sing Praise! We are breeding literate pigs.

As part of my work here I set up a local newsletter. I trained some of our staff in such things as basic DTP, story gathering, editing. The newsletter is delivered to the local communities when we're out doing extension work, and it's been well-received.

It's an ideal place to announce such things as times and dates of AIDS workshops, closing dates for applications for training courses, and recent achievements.

Unfortunately the editor was also The Man Who Gave Away The Sawmill, and he has been sacked, so we have a new editor in place. The latest edition has just been printed and I have asked to see the distribution list before it goes out. Ladies and Gentlemen, 40 copies have been earmarked for the piggery.

Now, the piggery is staffed by three people. Three people who have to pass by the giant noticeboard outside the office, on which we have pinned the latest edition of the newsletter. So I can only presume that the PIGS are going to read these 40 copies. 20 copies have also been allocated to the creche. The creche is full of babies, none of whom, to the best of my knowledge, are advanced enough to read what is essentially a newspaper.

The new editor is also a pastor. I wonder if he is performing miracles?

What's In The Meedja?

Me, possibly. The BBC want to interview me for an online article on blogs. Er....does this mean I have to tidy this up and watch what I say?

So glad to see a decent article, finally, in TG - Here - looking at whether Live8 will do more harm than good.

And in a similar vein - Here - on what good aid will do Tanzania.

And although I do not hold Michael O'Leary in any kind of esteem, as if reports are to be believed he treats both his customers and staff with disdain, man the guy is funny.

Thursday, 23 June 2005

Working Wall St

I got an email today. From Wall Street no less. From a woman who purports to work for the Public Relations company which represents a mining company about to start work in Tanzania. She emailed our project as she wondered 'if I could ask you your expertise about Africa' (sic). What a fine plan. I mean, we work in Zambia, but you know, Africa's jus' one big ol' country y'all...ain't it? Dwayne....is this country Africa anywheres near the Caribbean?

Apparently this mining company is concerned about its corporate social responsibility. Read, how they can appease 'the locals' while stripping their country of its assets to make Americans rich. I emailed this lady back and told her I would be happy to write something about the devastating effects of mismanaged mining, and how to work with local communities in developing countries, for a reasonable fee. What, lady, you of Wall Street no less, you think I'm giving you my 'expertise about Africa' for free?

What I did give her for free was a long list of typos to be found on this company's website. Not least the fact that Zanzibar is listed as a major town. I'm sure the island will be delighted to hear of its new status. PRAT!

Monday, 20 June 2005

Bush-trekking Again

Some of our donors like to give money to support very specific projects. We currently have a group in the UK fundraising for a well for one of our local villages. I've just been out to the village to chat to the community about where the well is going to be and how they will benefit. This is what they're currently using:

water


It's basically a filthy stream. At this time of year it's the dry season so the water is underground. It's a dangerous climb down this hole to get the dirty water. The villagers are looking forward to a new protected well - they're all sick with diarrhoea from drinking this water, and are covered in rashes from bathing in it.

The new well is going to be built next to their community school, which is a focal point of the village area. These kids are not actually as miserable as they look - Zambians have a strange habit of shutting down their smiles and posing in a very serious manner for photographs. Although they'd have every reason to be glum - yes, those are logs they sit on for the duration of lessons. Numb butts....

school

Thursday, 16 June 2005

A Pot Of Self-Obsessed Morons

I am absolutely flummoxed by the savagery in the UK press which is being lobbed in the direction of Bob Geldof at his attempts to organise Live8. I am staggered at the narrow-minded opinionated drivel that is being aired.

Every single person who feels this welling urge to attack the man is completely and utterly missing the point of what he is trying to do. He is accused of being a hypocritical millionaire, by the same people who say he is a crap musician who hasn't sold any records in years.

And your point is? Do any of you personally know Bob and have access to his bank accounts? Can you say what percentage of his personal wealth he has given away over the years in charitable donations? Didn't think so.

He is criticised for the line-up, not enough African acts. It's a fair point, there aren't. But what percentage of the British population would turn up to the show if it had been headlined by African acts? My guess is not many.

There are many things wrong with the attitudes, tastes, opinions and morals of people living in wealthy countries, and he can't possibly be held responsible for them all or expected to change them overnight. If he influences even just a handful of people with this concert then it is a job well done. And what is with the persistent complaints about Coldplay playing and how awful their music is - grow up, what have your personal musical tastes got to do with raising awareness about poverty?

The poisoned arrows are slung at him for being 'a failed popstar' and therefore, obviously, a complete idiot and unable to grasp world politics. Haven't you noticed what happens when the running of the world is left to the 'experts'? Why can't he know as much as anyone about trade, aid, debt relief? If a person is in a wheelchair does this mean they can't learn French? If a person is black can they not be a gourmet chef? What kind of farcical non-logic is running through these people's minds?

'Whinge - Africa is not the only place experiencing poverty'. We know that. Gotta start somewhere. Toss a coin. 'Whinge - Africa is totally corrupt. If we wipe out debt the leaders will just steal the aid money.' So what, we should do nothing? Seriously? Then you'd better get down on your knees every night and give thanks to your Kinesiologist that you weren't born a starving woman being raped in a war-torn country.

If the IMF and the World Bank can give loans which come loaded with crippling restrictions and conditions I'm sure future aid can be given with conditions of transparency on expenditure and on the proviso of non-corruption. 'Whinge – I hate celebrities, it's all for themselves.' Well think about that next time you're jerking off over a picture of Paris Hilton and having an 'ironic' discussion about Celebrity Love Island.

Bob Geldof is not a saint, I'm sure he hates that ridiculous label. Live8 is not perfect, nothing ever is. But why not give the man some credit for trying to make some difference? As he says, it's about AWARENESS, about wanting to change things. About getting off your backside and letting politicians and world leaders know that you're not happy with how things are being run. Maybe debt relief is not the way forward. Maybe increased aid is a waste of time. But at least open up the debate, for surely you cannot be suggesting that everything is ok as it is?

What would be preferential, that you all carry on sitting on your fat arses and living in your own cossetted little bubble, listening to whichever band is 'cooler' than Coldplay on your ipod, but it's ok really cos you buy Fair Trade coffee when you go to Starbucks?

Another one under fire for drumming up publicity to Make Poverty History is Bono. Again, cries of 'self-aggrandizing popstar, not his place, blah blah blah, sucking up to George Bush'.

Personally I think George W Bush is an evil misguided grunt who probably ought to be tried for crimes against humanity, locked up and the key swallowed by the Loch Ness Monster, but does my opinion influence his policies? Hell no. If Bono manages to get him to act in a more humanitarian manner by chuckling over Jesus-stories, then more power to his elbow. At least he is doing something. You, all you rabid, close-minded, selfish selfish stone-throwing people, what have you done lately?

I would like you all to come and look in the eyes of the kind of people we are trying to help in Zambia. Maybe Mary, HIV+, a widow, husband died of AIDS. Eight of her own children to look after and five nieces and nephews orphaned from her sister's death from AIDS. Drought in Zambia this year, empty maize fields. An entire household with growling stomachs. Can't exactly nip down the shops for a takeaway. A kid without food in its stomach will not have the energy to go to school. A malnutritioned HIV+ mother will not live long. More orphans. And so it goes on. Look them in the eye and say 'Yeah, Live8, load of rubbish, that Geldof is only in it for himself. And I won't go cos I hate Coldplay.'

Tuesday, 14 June 2005

Steak & Wine

Tomorrow we are off to the capital. This is a good thing! For food will be available. Most notably steak and wine. We are collecting a UK staff member who is coming to visit. They are bringing me the entire contents of LUSH. This is indeed a good thing for a bushsavage to receive. And chocolate. But you knew that anyway.

Friday, 10 June 2005

Things That Go Crunch

It has been some time now since the appearance of any critters of note on this blog. I suspect it is because it is winter and they are all hibernating. (Note to self: do not go turning over stones). However there is a slow-moving skeletal beast that is showing up in places such as underneath my bare feet and on top of the food-preparation work surfaces. It looks a bit like this:

Malindilindi

I have yet to find out what they are called here in Zambia. In the part of Namibia in which I lived they are called Malindilindi, nicknamed 4x4s as they are almost completely indestructible. The posh name is Armoured Ground Cricket or Acanthoplus discoidalis, but that is not as exciting as calling it a 4x4. Or perhaps in this day and age, an SUV. Or a Hummer.

They are not totally indestructible however. Much as an SUV could surely be blown up with some dynamite, the crickets can be killed if you drive over them. Several times. Back and forth. But I wouldn't advise it. For inside is something like custard. Except it's not custard, obviously, and therefore not much good for your rice pudding.

Monday, 6 June 2005

An Interview With A Grump

A thank you to Birdy for providing the interview questions for today's blog post.

What one piece of advice would you give someone who was about to embark on the kind of job that you do?
Either bring valium, dope, or a multi-pack of humour, patience, determination and open-mindedness.

What is your theme song? By which I mean what song do you hum in your head in order to have the confidence to do things?
I don't have a theme song. Songs in my head come and go. But currently I'm humming Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika which is the South African national anthem, because it is so beautiful and so African. I also like to sing Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now by The Smiths because I think it is one of the funniest songs ever written and it always makes me giggle. In particular the words 'In my life /Why do I smile /At people who I'd much rather kick in the eye ?'

If you could only eat one kind of chocolate ever again, what would it be?
Fair Trade milk chocolate. I like my chocolate simple.

What do you like best about blogging?
I like blogging because it keeps me sane. I am very far away from friends and family and no means of talking to them except by email, which is not as good as a proper conversation. There is no-one here apart from The Husband with whom I have anything in common, and who I can properly chat to, which is very hard. My blog could be subtitled 'Conversations with Myself'. I talk to the blog because I can't talk to anyone else. Hmm that makes me sound nuts. I'm sure I'm not. Much.

What's your next ambition? Is what you're doing what you wanted to do when you grew up? Or do you have more in mind?
When I was about eight years old we had to write an essay in school entitled 'What I Want To Be When I Grow Up.' Mine wasn't so much an essay as a short list. I had three things in mind - A Tennis Player, A Ballerina, An Author (yes I did use the word Author, very pompous).

The Tennis Player ambition went out the window for two reasons. One, I was adamant that I would never curtesy to any member of the royal family at Wimbledon (I believed in equality from a very young age), and two, I have absolutely no hand-eye coordination when it comes to ball games. Unless they're very big balls. Like football. Or basketball. But not little ones, such as tennis, golf, squash etc.

The Ballerina ambition fell by the wayside in a very dramatic manner. I was about ten years old, and I arrived for the lesson in the dusty musty local village hall one cold winter's evening. I took a look around and decided that it was not to be the life for me, because my parents were very poor and there was no way they could possibly afford to send me away to ballet school in Russia, which was obviously where I was headed. So I had to sacrifice myself for the greater good. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that I was far too tall, too big, and quite frankly not good enough to ever grace a stage. In writing this I am now having a horrible flashback to a performance that my classmates and I gave at the same village hall one Christmas, prior to my abandoning ballet as a career possibility. We had learned an ever so pretty flower fairy dance specially for the occasion. The curtains drew back on us poised to begin, and the entire audience burst out laughing because we were brandishing watering cans. Mine was bright orange, courtesy of the hardware store where my Dad works. That watering can is still hanging in my parents' garage.

But I digress. I'm still working on the Author ambition. In fact ambitions now are an endless list, but off the top of my head - I want to finish the various books I'm writing and get them published. The Husband and I want to open our own business. I also want to travel heaps more.

Why am I here now? I have always wanted to go to Africa, I don't know why. I may have been influenced by the fact that my aunt lived and worked here when she was younger, and her house in Ireland was full of funny carvings and drums and suchlike. I have travelled to most countries in Southern Africa and still think that Namibia is the most stunning. I lived there for two years and would happily go back.

I think I will now retire for the week because I am in An Official Grump. The only food left in the house is brown rice and dogfood for the (recently deceased) dog, I have far too much work to do, the office is freezing cold and full of rats, my kitten has ringworm, I have an annoying tic in my eye and there is no chocolate. The tic and the freezing cold mean that I can't see or type properly so pleeze forgiv spellin errirs.

The Fiends!

Word of the Day: Dastardly
adj.
Cowardly and malicious; base

I can't remember the last time I heard someone use the word 'dastardly'. It's fabulous. Unfortunately it is being used by Max Lawson of Oxfam to describe, oh go on, have a guess.

Elsewhere, "The US secretary of state calls for greater intervention to promote democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean." It's so bloody obvious the US govt is hellbent on their own agenda. Not to debate here the rights or wrongs of 'intervention to promote democracy', but what about a country that is actually desperately in need of help on the democracy front. Zimbabwe anyone? Thought not.

And apparently the Daily Hate Mail is poised to be Britain's No. 1 paper. Lovely.

Thursday, 2 June 2005

A Good Deed Done

I look like a Christmas tree. I look this way because today is a very important day. And the Chieftainess is coming. As are some government representatives.

I am wearing a bright red dress with toenails to match, and a green cardigan. My white flip-flops are the snow. The Chieftainess is also wearing red and green; we are Christmas trees together.

An awning has been erected to keep the heat of the sun off the 'dignitaries'. Sit there we do, and watch, and listen. My Matrix sunglasses look incongruous. There is drumming. There is dancing. There are speeches.

There is also a fight, hastily broken up by a couple of HRH's bodyguards. We are all here for the Deliverance. We have successfully fundraised for an ambulance for the local community, and by a stroke of luck sourced one locally, thus avoiding shipping delays from the UK. It is here.

The Husband is asked to drive it up to the waiting dignitaries and there is much whooping. He is mortified, but everyone else thinks it hilarious. The flashing red light causes much laughter. "I'm telling you it scares me!" There is an elaborate exchange of keys, from the UK staff to the Zambian staff to HRH to the Ministry of Health and finally to the staff of our clinic. There has been much whispered consultation about this chain before the keys are produced. The order is important.

The Ministry of Health announces that our clinic is next in line as a centre for ARV distribution. This is news to us, and we hope they follow through on their promise. The Chieftainness takes everyone to task over AIDS. She hauls her husband to his feet, waggles his hand in the air, and tells everyone they should stick to one partner as she does. Then there is lunch.

In Zambia, as in many African countries, food is eaten with the hands. Great bowls of nsima are produced. This is maize meal boiled with water until it reaches a rubbery consistency. It is served with 'relish', usually some green leaves and tomatoes, and today because it is important, with chicken. The chicken is literally chopped up and fried. There is much crunching on bone. A pretty nun says grace. She is the only other woman on this table of 'dignitaries'. The men tease her about her chances of becoming pope.

The Chieftainess and her husband are eating by themselves in a separate room, as is customary. Why? Are they messy eaters? Do they eat with their toes? I don't know, but no-one is allowed to see them eat. I want to run up and peek in the window but I don't. I fear the juju.

Anticipation
Anticipation


Drumming
Drumming

Curiosity
Curiosity

Celebration
Celebration

Wednesday, 1 June 2005

Field Trip

Plastering

Plastering home the non-B&Q way

The Shop

Roadside Shop - Nothing for sale today

The Road To Nowhere

One of the better highways

I'd Like The Orange One Please

The Husband and I celebrated four years of drunken oblivion wedded bliss at the weekend. We went to A Lodge, in Some Part of Zambia. It was a nice enough lodge, by a body of water, if a little odd.

It's not advertised anywhere, and there were only 4 other guests. It is way way way deep in the bush, with no phone, email or any other visible means of communication with the outside world. There is however a private airstrip, where small planes landed in the middle of the night and had disappeared again before daybreak.

The lodge also happens to be situated on a game farm. Now, what The Husband and I find puzzling, is how on earth does anyone get the money to buy a massive property (even in Zambia), and game, and not appear to work, and have no real interest in drumming up paying guests? Game must surely be expensive. It's hardly a hobby, is it? And you have to feed them a lot (apparently – so said the pale chap who was getting up at 4am to do so).

Unfortunately Google was not much help in telling me how I go about purchasing a giraffe for example, although one site did state an estimate of USD$1600 per beast, which I think is a little on the low side. Anyways, how are these people running this place? Drug smuggling? Money Laundering? Sale of human body parts? You've got to wonder.

"Has the plane been to pick up those sacks of heroin which are disguised as maize meal darling?" said Jan Van Vinder Vong as he idly flicked through the latest edition of the Wild Animals 'R' Us catalogue.
"Not yet Janni. But we have a case of fresh kidneys which is due for collection at midnight," said Marianna Van Vinder Vong.
"Excellent!" huffed Jan Van Vinder Vong, "in that case I shall send a note by carrier pigeon that we'd like a couple more Zebra."