24 February 2008

An enjoyable weekend

First off, it seems that in Edinburgh female drivers have a good reputation. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a car for sale. Among the virtues listed was that it has had "1 Lady Owner." Recently I also saw a driving school company that is simply named Female Driving Instructor. While on the subject of cars, one of my colleagues takes the bus to work as if she moved her car her (unzoned) spot would be taken. So she owns a car but feels she cannot drive it lest she lose the parking spot. Absurd.

Since I've gotten to Scotland, I've been on the lookout for some Wolof speakers so that I can brush up my language skills. I hadn't much luck (the language I most often randomly recognize is Twi, from Ghana), although I am teaching somebody some Wolof for use in their research work in Senegal. [My roommate recently remembered that he has a Gambian coworker, so I shall see if we can meet up for conversation.] So I was pleased when I happened upon a brochure for the World Sufi Festival in Glasgow, which would feature a Senegalese booth. As I've mentioned before a lot of Senegalese are followers of the Mouride sect of Islam, although I discovered that religious fervour did not figure prominently in the "Senegalese Market."

After a relaxing Friday afternoon watching Brokeback Mountain (which I thought was excelllent) and meeting up with some people at a pub, I left early Saturday morning for Glasgow. I spent the morning walking around the city (a nice place, I thought), and visited the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. It's an amalgamation of an art gallery (with Scottish, Italian and French art, plus a few masks in a theme on costume), Scottish history sections (I learned that the Scots did not wear kilts into battle, so I'm a little disappointed in my primary source of Scottish history - Braveheart) and a natural history museum, but quite nice all the same. Their signature piece seems to be a painting by Salvador Dali, called Christ of St John of the Cross, the purchase of which caused consternation.

At the Senegalese booth at the World Sufi Festival (other events at the conference centre included the Model Railroad Show and Cyprus Property Show) I did indeed meet several Wolof speakers and got some good practice in. In fact, one of them had sent a brief response to my Gumtree posting for a Wolof conversation partner, then never wrote again (apparently Amadou went on holiday to Ukraine), so he remembered me. There was a nice little dance and drumming session (it always seems to be white guys who are on the djembes), and a couple of them sang some familiar chants from the Baye Fall, itinerant Mourides who roam the Senegambian countryside singing for alms. There were plenty of other interesting booths, plus some nice Pakistani singing performances. There were a couple of real estate booths -- I could have bought into some condominium in Beirut ("by Ivana Trump" - I didn't know this was a big selling point) or perhaps gotten a bargain on a place in Lahore.

My weekend wrapped up with my second Sunday playing pick-up football in the Meadows. It was quite fun, although rather cold and I had an abysmal second stint in goal. It's nice to get the exercise, though, and hopefully we'll go for post-match pints next time. People are strange here in that when an activity ends here, they just up and leave.

Unfortunate African news headlines and associated thoughts

I get news briefs on Gambia and Ghana sent to my email, which helps explain why I have been writing more about President Jammeh recently. Of course, some of the recent news focuses on Bush's African tour, which included Ghana as one of the stops.

In case anyone is inclined to think of Africa as a diverse continent with many different experiences, and levels of political and economic development, Reuters, via the Herald Sun (Australia), puts things to right: George Bush tours disease and poverty stricken Africa.

Here's a headline from an article about some Worcestershire residents going to Gambia: We’re off to a country where children have to use melons as footballs. Now I never saw this (and the waste would not be looked kindly on), although I'm sorry to say that our kids made short work of footballs - perhaps because on one end they got shot into the brush, and behind the other goal line lurked the toilets with broken corrugated iron doors with sharp bits curling out. So I never bothered buying a football while I was in Njau.

Bush wrapped up his tour with a short stop in Liberia, a country that the U.S. and Americans should have a lot more interest in, given the shared history and involvement (although this obviously looms larger for Liberia, the smaller party) over the centuries. He's done fairly right by Liberia in recent years, including calling for Charles Taylor to step down and pressing for his subsequent extradition to The Hague.

During a brief speech, Bush made a telling observation: “It’s easier to tear a country down than it is to rebuild a country.” He was of course offering encouragement to Liberians, but may have also been in a reflective mood, as even on this legacy burnishing trip Iraq looms large.

Lastly, Nicholas Kristof does well to note that Kenya's coddled rulers belong to the Musharraf class of American allies -- dictators who we variously classify as democrats, stewards of eventual democracies, or guarantors of stability in volatile regions. Kristof doesn't bother mentioning any other members of the African Musharrafs he describes, but several would qualify to varying degrees. Among them are Blaise Campaore in Burkina Faso, Eyadema in Togo, Museveni in Uganda, Idriss Deby in Chad (where the French just turned back Sudan-backed rebels), and Paul Kagame in Rwanda (which merited a visit from Bush).

Absent from the above list is the deservedly maligned Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. He profits from the double standard, however, and can point to this and the fact that white Zimbabweans are a visible component of his victims, which seems to have drawn Britain and America's ire on him in particular. After all, Mugabe oversaw a pogrom in Matebeleland in the 1980s, but this went largely unremarked on. It's difficult to expect success rallying African opposition to Mugabe, as they see this selective denunciation.

[See also this Washington Post article with African commentary on the relative importance of democratization and stability/counter-terrorism to Bush's foreign policy.]

11 February 2008

The African Cup of Nations

For the last couple of weeks I've been watching the Cup of Nations in Ghana. Living with Ghanaian friends, I am in a fairly partisan crowd ("The Egyptians are cheats and thieves") but we usually give credit where it is due, and begrudgingly acknowledged that Ghana didn't look good. Still, there was lots of good offensive play in the tournament as a whole.

Here are a few observations from the tournament:

1) I was excited to see my friend and former drumming teacher Francis performing in the opening ceremonies. I looked but didn't find him during the post-final awards ceremony, perhaps because the victorious Egyptians had taken over the drums.

2) Ghana's Black Stars were to be put up in some nice digs - the Golden Tulip or a similar high class hotel. With demand for tournament accommodation rising, though, the hotel found higher-paying customers and the Black Stars were left without rooms.

3) During the tournament, the Confederation Africaine de Football (CAF) selected Didier Drogba of Cote d'Ivoire as the African Player of the Year, and summoned him to neighbouring Togo to collect his award. It was a strange decision, since all the players, many CAF officials, and international media were already in Ghana. Given that Cote d'Ivoire's base was in Takoradi, an eight hour journey from Lome, Drogba hoped to send someone to pick up the award on his behalf. CAF promptly announced that Drogba could not have the Ballon d'Or trophy, and Drogba said he had no interest in future CAF awards.

4) In the Cameroon-Ghana semifinal, a bizarre event took place in the match's dying minutes. With Cameroon up 1-0, the medics came onto the field to attend to an injured Indomitable Lion. While they were doing so, another Cameroon player ran over and shoved one of the medics to the ground, earning a red card (and missing the final). Nobody really knows why Andre Bikey lashed out, including his victim.

5) I like the tournament ball.

6) Finally, the closing ceremonies of the tournament (after Egypt's 1-0 win over Cameroon) featured some unfortunate medal errors. First, the ribbons on the medals were broken so the first few fell to the ground after they were put around the Cameroonians' necks. They handed out the rest. When the Egyptians came, CAF turned out to be one medal short, so the coach gave his to the goalie.

06 February 2008

Wolof proverbs in international football

While watching the first half of the England-Switzerland friendly, I listened as the match announcers discussed England's attacking tendencies. They found fault with the fact that the English side seemed loathe to pass the ball back towards midfield and defence when in possession. Compared to international football norm, the English side is too impatient. An announcer remarked, "Slowly slowly gets the monkey."

A popular Wolof proverb (also available in other Senegambian languages) is Ndanka ndanka mooy japa golo chi nyaay bi - Slowly slowly it catches the monkey in the bush.

Switzerland has just equalised, so the monkey may get away regardless of England's approach.

01 February 2008

Reference recalcitrance

I just finished my fourth week of work, and am enjoying it a lot so far. Although I have obviously been accepted for the classroom assistant post, my school wishes to have a pair of references to burnish my personnel file.

So, since school reopened on January 7, they have been in touch with my old headmaster from Njau (currently in Slough, working at a "car supermarket"), and my former boss at a research institute in DC. The former came through with a general form from my school, but has yet to send in a short handwritten letter supporting my appointment. Master did once fax over an old letter, which spliced together two different recommendations that were composed in the past - a general one, and another for a UK grad school application. As for the DC-based reference, she assured me that her reference was submitted, but nothing has come. I hold out hope that Master will send off his handwritten note soon.

Given the abject failure of my DC reference, I have turned to a second Gambian supervisor - which may be putting too many eggs in one basket. Still my old boss with Peace Corps says she will respond to a reference request from my school. She only got the email a week ago, so I will give her some time.

Public Transport a la Afrique Occidentale

Yesterday, as I was returning home from a band's album launch (replete with free cupcakes) I let a couple of old women enter the bus before me. I thought this is reasonable move, but received a light shove in the back for my efforts. I turned around to discover a miffed old man who seemed in a hurry to get on the bus.

This desire to get on the bus first (though not the surliness) reminded me of getting transport in West African cities. When a gelegele/tro-tro or share taxi pulls up, there is much jostling and pushing to get in the vehicle first (one also has to be mindful of pickpockets while battling for a place). This is by and large a good-natured competition, though.

Still, it was a bit ridiculous that this elderly man was getting angry about entering the bus, when there were ample seats available. But it wasn't something for me to get agitated about, and I could only chuckle at what people take seriously here.