In The Long Grass

In The Long Grass

“Ugh, I think my feet are wet.”

Politics is all glamour and suits and expenses scandals, isn’t it? Walking and talking, power-brokers in dapper tailoring divvying up the world as they laugh and drink bottles of expensive brown liquor. Heady, exhilirating, the cut and thrust of debate and little sleep and the thrilling sensation of everything poised at your fingertips. Inevitably, lots of tortured sex masking Machiavellian power games.

And for all I know, that might have all been going on in the rival party stall set up about 50 metres from us. That said, it was probably a bit cold for bondage. I’d imagine whips tend to sting a lot more in the driving rain.

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Generic Old White Man Pontificates

Generic Old White Man Pontificates

Unrelated news event illustrates why Britain would be better off inside/outside the EU.

GLASGOW – The news that New Zealand has voted to keep its current flag exemplifies why Britain should or shouldn’t vote to leave the EU in the upcoming referendum, an indistinguishably bland, upper class member of either the Leave or Remain campaigns asserted yesterday.

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Securitisation Has Failed

Securitisation Has Failed

It’s somehow fitting that the four month long search for one of the most wanted men in Europe, a desperate search for a terrorist by the combined might of the security forces of half a continent, had its big break because of takeaway pizza.

Salah Abdeslam, one of the last remaining suspects from the ISIS affiliated terrorist attacks in Paris last November was assumed by security forces to have disappeared to ISIS controlled territory in Syria. Instead, he was hiding in the neighbourhood in Brussels he grew up and spent most of his life in, mere metres from his former home.

The chance discovery of a fingerprint on a glass in a raid earlier in the week led to police monitoring his old stamping grounds in the district of Molenbeek. It was then that they began to suspect that one house was harbouring more people than it appeared. In a farcical turn, when the inhabitants of the house ordered what seemed like far more pizza than they could ever eat, the police swooped.

And then, not even a week later, the world awoke to the aftermath of yet another terrorist attack. This joined the litany of terrorist attacks across the world over the past twelve months, the most prominent of which in the Western media was Paris, but which encompasses multiple attacks in Turkey, in Istanbul and Ankara, as well as dozens of others.

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The Thick of It

Another repost of something I wrote for the official team blog while in Zambia. The original can be found here.

The meeting probably wasn’t an important one anyway.

So when a clamour of shouts and car horns began to rattle the windows of our office, and everyone visible through the office door rushed to the street, it maybe didn’t matter that we all abandoned what we were doing to follow. Not that we could’ve talked to each other over the racket even if we’d wanted to.

Outside was a convoy of red and green painted pickup trucks blocking the road. The shouts were coming from the crowds of people flocking to see what was happening, just as we were, all competing for volume against a man standing atop one of the trucks yelling exhortations into a megaphone. The drivers of the trucks were leaning on their horns, adding random, offbeat blares to the cacophony.

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Fruits for our Labours

Fruits for our Labours

Another Zambia piece. I will eventually do other things.

I only managed to take a couple of pictures of food while I was in Zambia. One was of Christmas lunch at our host home, a spread of potatoes, pasta, chicken, salad, and cake. The other was… well, see for yourself.

IMG_20151204_134449[1].jpg

Killing a xenomorph isn’t nearly as hard as all those Alien films make it out to be[1]. Predators are just a bunch of posing hipsters, to be entirely honest. You don’t need head lasers or stealth fields or anything to hunt down one of the slimy buggers, and then, once you’ve tracked it to its lair and given a decent clonk on the head, the eggs make for pretty decent eating. Not a great omelette, but add an interesting tang to a carbonara.

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Der Traktor

Der Traktor

Another of my experiences/reflections on Zambia. Again, I can only write about what I see. Get angry about my accidental misrepresentations in the comments.

“What the hell is Zika?”

“Hmm… I dunno.”

We were sitting in the single internet café in Samfya, attempting to work on some official blogging business, with the previously unforeseen combination of both power and network access. One of us was fiddling on the computer, desperately trying to upload photos while we still had a connection. The other was sitting slack-jawed, transfixed by the silent TV hanging on a bracket above the doorway.

It was tuned to what looked like a German news service’s international, English language segment. Headlines flashed across the bottom of the screen, talking of things and places we hadn’t even imagined existed for the past three months, while burnished, plastic looking presenters mouthed shapes to a backdrop. They were mime artists, contorting their facial expressions to shock and anger and outrage at the state of the world, as if they were aware they were being watched in silence.

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Targeted Therapy

Targeted Therapy

This is the first of probably a few posts about some of my experiences in and reflections on Zambia and related topics. As a disclaimer, these are all my personal opinions and impressions and there’s no way I’m in possession of all the facts. That said, I can only say what I see.

Perhaps the first warning of how this would go down was when the doctor asked if I had a pen.

I leaned forward, trying to haul myself out of the capacious, collapsed armchair, reached into my bag and fished out a cheap piece of bright orange plastic. He accepted it wordlessly and began to jot notes into my medical record. Occasionally, he would glance up over the rims of his glasses and peer at my swollen, swelling, discolouring ankle before turning back to the school exercise book he was holding to scrawl something else.

Other patients were waiting along the row of low armchairs and sofas lining one wall of the lost property room, or storage cupboard, or filing cabinet, or bin, or whatever the room was supposed to be. Possibly an office was hidden there, underneath the stacks of paper, the discarded notes and scraps of pamphlets.

The doctor had the best seat in the room, an imitation leather desk chair that wobbled awkwardly on its stand whenever he shifted his weight. Posters were sprayed, scattershot, over the walls, haphazard and disordered, like the aftermath of some informational firefight. Ebola warnings, hygiene recommendations, flowcharts on sexual abuse and malaria, mingled with bible quotes, nonsensical slogans and ‘motivational’ quotes.

The quotes about the loving mercy of God were placed in prime position behind the desk, in the periphery of anyone talking to the doctor. The medical information posters, shouting slogans about family planning and mosquito nets, and emblazoned with organisational logos, UNFPA, WHO, the Zambian Ministry of Health, were off to the right.

HIV prevalence in Samfya district, the area of Zambia I was working in, stands at about 8%.

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On Zambian Time

This is a cross-post of something I wrote for the VSO ICS team blog. The original can be found here.

“Zambian Time” as a concept probably needs some explanation. Maybe the following scene’ll help:

Setting: The living room of a host home. Rain is hammering down outside in sheets, rattling off the iron roof like it’s trying to straighten out the corrugations. The host mother (HM) is sweeping.

ENTER UK VOLUNTEER (UKV)

HM: You’re going out?

UKV: Well, I’ve got to leave now if I’m going to get to work on time.

HM: But you’ll get soaked!

UKV: It’s not that bad. I’ve got a waterproof jacket, and I don’t want to be late for work.

HM: Hmm.

/long pause

HM: You know, if it’s raining they understand if I don’t turn up at work.

/UKV’s jaw drops faster than the rain

UKV: Uh, right. Well, ‘bye. Have a good day and I’ll see you tonight.

EXIT UKV, PURSUED BY A BEAR

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Shinganga (Part 1)

Shinganga (Part 1)

She arrives.

She is ensnared.

The city sprawls, lazily, negligently, lounging over the broad sweeping bush, a great eagle fanning its wings. Buildings have two stories, tall, to tell.

They collapse, taking the space they need from the infinite expanse stretching away to the horizon at the end of the street. Those streets have four lanes for every car that weaves its way around the potholes.

Alice gawps, wide-eyed, marvelling at a city with no height, no mass to the low crumbling structures slumped on the ground.

They are old, the buildings, old and worn and sighing as the last faded remnants of their colonial finery are blasted by the heat and the remorseless sun and the pounding rains. Paint flakes and flickers away, half-vanished pictures and slogans promising delights the decrepit buildings last contained in a brighter, earlier time, years ago. Not the twilight that spreads softly through the cracked, unmarked streets.

A pillar of concrete rises up abruptly, snapping into view as she rounds a corner. The skyscraper is unexpected, unlooked for, a brutally terse, modernist interjection into the decaying grandeur.

Alice trips, staring, stumbling in a crevasse in the broken pavement as she totters forward. Another, then another of the skyscrapers thrust upward into her sight, forming a neatly parading line. Stopping, she raises her phone and frames a picture.

The skyline against the sunset. Orange glows, burnishing the grey concrete to polished copper. Brutal lines rendered soft and beautiful for an instant. They stand, stark and definite, straining harshly upwards and blocking out Alice’s view of the fiery African sunset.

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