Sunday, December 23, 2007

Au retour

It's 1927hrs in Doha, and I'm sitting in transit. My flight to Gatwick doesn't leave till 0210hrs, and right now that feels like the other side of the moon. Ordinarily, I'd have gone on a whistlestop tour of Doha (à la Istanbul), and come back for my flight - but I'm bushed. My body clock's been playing tricks on me for the past few nights, and running off into the desert sand won't help. Plus, my watchword while in Kathmandu was "chilling", and I know I did a heck of a lot of that. The end of the holiday isn't the time to break my mantra. I also feel that Doha is a place I'll be coming to again; I'll get another chance, I'm sure.

It's the 23rd/24th, so the airport is like a market place. Expats leaving to join their families in far flung corners of the globe, Arabs perhaps seeking cooler climes. I might amuse myself by buying some alcohol, not because I'm an alchy, but because of the free mini wheelie suitcase that comes with it. I've always wanted one of them, but since I'm generally averse to hand luggage, I never plan adequately for it. I also started reading Kiran Desai's Inheritance of Loss while in Kathmandu, so I'll continue it. The start of the book set in the Himalayas chimed perfectly with my stay in Nepal - neither Doha nor London quite cut it.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Soaps and toothpaste

Over time, I seem to have developed a system of comparing countries I visit to the countries I know best. If I visit a developing country (waiting for the right time to switch to calling them “neo-colonial states”), I inevitably compare it to Nigeria; and if I visit a country in the “West”, I compare it Britain. They’re both countries where I spent many of my formative years, and much of my adult life. So when I landed in Kathmandu, all the comparisons were with Nigeria. The airport runway was strewn with hulks of rusted airplanes, and for some reason I thought of the Biafran War of Independence (let’s debate names of conflicts another time). I thought of how grounded bombed out aircraft must have looked in the red sand of eastern Nigeria. The loose parallel is that Nepal has had its own civil war, and I say loose because those planes were obviously not there as a result of war, but neglect.

A bus picks you up from the foot of the aircraft and transports you a mere 50m to the terminal. Heaven forfend an Aussie tourist should graze their knee on the hazardous 50m trek to the terminal! The terminal is a room, with a few counters. I didn’t get my visa in London, because I discovered it’d be cheaper if I got at the airport. I walk to the booth to take passport pictures for the entry visa, which is about $20.

In my previous post, I mentioned that it suffered from a bit of developing worlditis. In the duty free alcohol shop, smaller than the size of your average London offie, I saw one the most equitable examples of division of labour. There was a man to carry the alcohol to the check-out after it had been bought. A man to make photocopies of the passport. A woman to take the cash from the customer. A man to take the cash from the woman and get change from the till. A man to hand the purchased alcohol to the customer. And I’m sure there was someone else doing something else I couldn’t quite figure out. Who says Bolshevism is dead? Or perhaps it’s as a result of the Maoist inspired unrest in the country.

The route to the house had all the hallmarks of Lagos, yet it was remarkably different. I do not recall one single pothole on the roads. Not one. Even my posh New Cross has potholes (big ones). Not very Lagos, I know. But the roads were congested, and you’d see the drivers plough at hair raising speeds against traffic to get past jams. Quite Lagos. But it was the smell of exhaust fumes, and the realisation that when I got home, I’d be smelling of eau de Toyota engines, circa 1982. Very Lagos. The motorbike is the saviour of the developing world’s transport system. Without them, life would be unbearable for commuters, and Kathmandu is no different. The streets buzz with sounds of motorcycle horns, plus the primary riders all have helmets. I even spotted a woman rider, and thoughts of women’s liberation began permeating my thoughts.

At the house, I was again reminded of the importance of consumerism in my westernised psyche. I buy, therefore I am. In New York a few weeks ago, I bought, and bought, and then I judged its habitableness by whether I could buy Ribena or Copella there. Whenever one travels, one compares what is available at the destination with what is available back at home. My thing for liveability is internet. But I spotted some other curious things: blue Dettol soap, yes, blue; Colgate toothpaste with “mint crystals”, which tasted just like Close-up. Those were available thanks to the manufacturing giants, China and India.

Showers are one of life’s glories. A good shower can awaken and soothe both at once. A shower that makes you think of the source of the hot water is even sexier. The water in the house is heated with solar power. It’s not complicated, it’s just some panels on the roof! Nigeria, are you listening? So I had a sexy shower, had lunch, slept, woke up, had dinner, slept, woke up, slept. Woke up, wrote this. Life is good. All the interspersed sleeping is as a result of jetlag. Kathmandu is 5hours, 45minutes ahead of GMT – making it 15minutes ahead of New Delhi. So I'm watching BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera, and the headlines are at quarter to the hour. Weird, I know.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Foothill of the gods

Landed this morning in Kathmandu. The city is surrounded by mountains - the Himalayas. They look like gods looming over a pious population, gazing up adoringly. Kathmandu, which means the Wooden Temple, is at the foothill of the gods. As we approached the runway, I could imagine a James Bond stunt director plotting how to make the plane suddenly disappear amid all the nooks and crannies of the mountains. Then you'd hear a boom, some rising smoke and fire, culminating in a medium shot of Ernst Stavro Blofeld in his wheelchair, stroking an albino Mongolian tiger, or some other equally bizzare genetic anomaly. Mwahaha. But Bond always survives, like I did. I'm here now. Bond also always gets the girls - that, I'm still working on.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Doha International

As I type this, I'm sitting in one of the waiting areas at Doha International Airport, en route for Kathmandu, Nepal. The connection is dial-up slow, but there's just enough bandwidth to post this without biting my toenails in frustration. Plus it's free! None of that BT-wifi-Cloudzone payment in blood extortionism of Heathrow... The duty free (pictured) is quite the thing, not on the scale of Dubai, of which much is always said in praise. But I've just spotted my Christmas treat for myself - a Nokia phone I had my eye on is being sold for about $400 here, yet I was planning on forking out 300 of Her Majesty's finest gold coins (I know it's an alloy, but Her Majesty's finest copper, zinc, and nickel alloy coins isn't as romantic, does it?) Plus there are few other treats. Fiddy's first unreleased album was called, "Power of the dollar", it's time for a reissue, methinks.

At Heathrow, I felt a pang of anger towards Richard Reid, he of shoe bomber fame. Because of him we all have to strip in public, or at least take our shoes off, grrrr. And I wasn't wearing my finest "made in Israel" Marksy and Sparksy sock, but some ordinary, frayed pieces of cloth and elastic masquerading as socks. My foot fashion credibility has been pegged down a notch or two.

I should be landing in the Himalayan kingdom at about midday local time. For the first time in my travels, I'm do not know what to expect. I can only think Gurkhas, Sherpas, and Prachanda. But the world is immense, and if there's anything I know, it's that I know nothing. The plan is to know less of nothing. Go on, hound me for not making sense. If you dare.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Africa-EU love-in (or not)

Africa and the European Union finished their "parlay" (Nigerian hack mode...) on Sunday. The most dramatic event didn't even take place in Portugal, where they were meeting, but in London. John Sentamu diced his dog collar live on Andrew Marr's show, saying he wouldn't wear it again until Bob Mugabe relinquishes power in Zimbabwe. It was an incredibly symbolic gesture for the Anglican Union's number two to make, and so immensely media savvy. We live in a visual age - it was one of those jaw-dropping televisual moments.

On Friday, as the great and the good of Africa and Europe were gathering, the BBC World Service programme, The World Today brought together some Nigerians to tell the EU what they want from them, how they see the partnership panning out. Listen below:

Also, see the response of some of Africa's newspapers to the summit.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Hosea 4:6

Today's Observer has a harrowing piece on child witches in parts of Nigeria. The children are beaten and bound - treated like animals. It always infuriates me to read or hear about stuff like this. Not because it's about Africa, and it reflects badly on me (my ego isn't so easily bruised), but it taps into my righteous indignance as a human being. There are some things which should be seen as universally evil, about which there cannot be any debate, and this is one of them.

I see no religious or cultural justification for treating children - who cannot defend themselves - in such a manner. It displays some of the basest and most abhorrent (an overused word) behaviour of humankind.

Stories like this are reported often enough, taking place in Britain, and in Africa. But I know how easy it is to brush it aside as some kind of filicidal fringe. It isn't. I remember my days at a boarding school in Nigeria, one of the Federal Government Colleges. One of the boys in my dorm was cursed enough to be branded a witch, along with his siblings. Nobody would eat with him. If you've been to boarding school, you'll know how important sharing food is to the collective experience and the strong bonding that goes with it. For nobody to touch your food, is for you not to exist. Nobody would be seen hanging around him, or any of his family. The kid was probably only about 11 years-old, and he already knew what it meant to be ostracised. I've written about this before.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller is one of my favourite plays of all time. Like I've said before, when Arthur Miller wrote it, he used the Salem witch trials as an allegory for Senator Joseph McCarthy's hounding of suspected communists. He probably didn't write it with Nigerian snake oil salesmen and helpless African children in mind.

Hosea 4:6 says, "my people perish for lack of knowledge." Have I taken it out of context, and twisted it for the purposes of this post. Maybe. But people are perishing because of their ignorance, and I think it's apt to use a Bible passage to illustrate this point.

Watch the video. Read the piece. Get angry.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Something of the Fidel

I was in the US just last week, trying but failing to just chill out, and visiting la famiglia (both in crime and blood). It had been eight years since I went, but it was still easy as pie to slot in and feel at home. I also did the "Chinese bus" trip from New York to DC, which made me turgid with middle-class guilt about labour, unions, safety. All because I didn't pay top dollar on the Greyhound instead.

While visiting my uncle (real uncle, not "uncle" in the African sense) in Maryland, he asked about work, how I was doing, etc - as uncles are wont to do. "I love the BBC", he said. "But". But what, uncle? "But why do all the stories about Africa involve animals and doom and gloom?" This is a tough one to defend, especially because often I work on the Africa desk. Also because I don't like the Dark-Continent-as-one-huge-Safari pre-colonial view of the continent. Still, please don't send me any complaints about misspellings, pronunciations, or anything else to do with the BBC.

People want to hear good news about Africa when the truth is that good news isn't reported about anywhere else. The nature of news is such that it's about what's happening now. "Man scoops dog's poo from pavement" isn't as newsy as "man bites dog." For all the sins attributed to the BBC, it does do is fair share of "good news" stories. It's just that it does them in the context of current affair documentaries. I've just seen one on BBC World: Survivor's Guide - The Nurse Next Door. Set in northern Nigeria, it displays the kind of community healthcare needed to sustain and enhance the wellbeing of Africa. Rural areas are too often marginalised in planning in Africa, and the documentary shows there are solutions. There's something of the Cuban healthcare system about it, a touch of Fidel. Watch below (hopefully):

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Johnny was a bad boy (like Don King)

I've been an absolutely naughty boy. The blog gods will not rest until I show penitence for the disdain with which I've treated the sacred act of blogging. Until I atone for my blog sins, I shall have to invent a shield to ward of the curse-filled bolts of lightning being fired in my direction. "I apologise, and I shall not do it again," he says with a droopy face cloaked in Catholic guilt.

African Shirts has returned to blogville. There should be some kind of oath of dedication to blogging, which all would-be bloggers would sign. The punishment for breaking the oath would be simple - a Yubitsume (pictured).

Since the last time I blogged regularly, life has been plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Work has been the same, but it's also changed. As most of you have no doubt heard, the BBC is facing some "restructuring". Will I lose my job? I doubt it. But I went to an event at Channel 4 around the time of the annoucements, and there was a feeling among people attending that Auntie's employees needed to suck it up. Leave the Beeb and look for work in the independent sector. Don't rely on traditional media for jobs. Digital cable and the internet have almost exponentially increased the avenues for people interested in media see, hear, speak, and read evil till the devil's dried out and emaciated.

As for my "personal life", whatever on this fine planet that means... Well. Let's just say, all is fair in love and war and sex. Or is it?

My last post before this was a threat to write about my trip to Jerusalem via Istanbul. the threat never quite materialised, snuffed out like a house spider under a feather duster. But spiders are like Heinz products, they come in 57 different varieties (or more), from the weak to the resilient. And this house spider refused to be snuffed out, and shall in due course, crawl out from under the feather duster, and scurry to freedom.