The world

Living on a prayer

Posted on 13 February, 2010. Filed under: The world | Tags: , , , , |

Last year, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. And no, she’s never smoked in her life. Besides, the doctor said, it wasn’t that type of lung cancer. Yup, you get different types of all cancer.

The diagnosis suddenly made me alert to how many people around me have cancer. People I know, new people I meet,  some in treatment, some post treatment. Many more than used to be the case 20, 30 years ago.

Then I started thinking about the staggering amount of children suffering from autism, ADHD and allergies.

And I thought about obesity, childhood and adult, and type 2 diabetes.

I believe this is the cumulative result of our modern lifestyle. We eat too much and exercise too little. We eat too much junk and processed food and fat and sugars and the colourants and additives and E’s.

Our meat and eggs and fresh produce are laced with antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides, insecticides and who knows what else! Lots of these added extras are carcinogenic.

‘According to a report from World Health Organization (WHO), 35% of carcinogenic substances are derived from food and drinks, and 30% are from smoking as the second rank.’

We are also constantly exposed to  radiation (think X-rays, cell phones, remote control and wireless devices, and sorry, I do not fully trust micro wave ovens either.) And while each individual exposure might not be enough to cause cancer, or other serious health issues, what is the cumulative effect? Over 5 years, and 10 years, and 20 years?

We now know that plastic, like plastic water bottles and food containers, gives off carcinogenic toxins when it warms up. And aerosol containers, and aluminium and many other household products are carcinogenic. And while cigarette packets must carry a clearly visible health warning, these other products don’t. Why not?

And why not pose extra taxes and duties on these products to discourage people from buying them, and to subsidise the eventual cost to the country and the economy when people get sick as a result of the use of these products?

So to summarise:

Smoking kills.

Eating kills.

Drinking water kills.

Breathing kills.

Salud! Here’s to a long life. Gesondheid.

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10 Reasons to eat chocolate after dinner…

Posted on 21 December, 2009. Filed under: The world | Tags: , |

I wrote this for the Gulf News’ Friday Magazine a few years ago:

  1. It’s an easy-to-achieve goal: Make a to-do list every morning that includes”eat some chocolate”. Even if your day was a complete disaster and you have not achieved anything, having some chocolate after dinner means you can tick one thing on your list. Eaten a piece? OK, now you’re an achiever. Aren’t you proud of yourself?
  2. It is healthy: Chocolate also contains iron and magnesium. Research has shown that chocolate can reduce the incidence of cancer and heart disease, so eat up. And if anybody out there doesn’t believe the research, conduct your own studies. Count me in as one of your volunteers.
  3. It’s good for digestion: Chocolate is made of cacao beans, beans are full of fibre and fibre is good-for the digestion. Just what you need after your meal.
  4. It is better than coffee: So you usually have a cup of coffee after a meal. At night, this will only hamper your beauty sleep. Chocolate contains far less caffeine than coffee, so skip the cuppa and go for the slabba.
  5. It’s good for your family: Chocolate contains phenyl ethlamine. (Don’t worry, I can’t pronounce it either.) However, this I know: it makes you feel good, happy and have more patience and this is good for your spouse and children.
  6. It’s a safety blanket for grown-ups: No matter how bad your day was, how unappreciated you feel, chocolate will always be there for you. It won’t judge, criticise, tell you what you should or shouldn’t have done. It will just offer you smooth, rich, sweet, slightly bitter, familiar comfort.
  7. It’s a dessert-on-the-go: If you’re in a hurry, chocolate is the perfect dessert. You can eat it while you check your e-mails, sort the laundry or vacuum the floor! Try doing that with steamed pudding and custard.
  8. The glue of friendship: Entire scrapbooks should be dedicated to reflecting all the emotions – love and heartbreak – shared with a friend after dinner over chocolate. It could be a slab of chocolate, a chocolate bar, a cup of hot chocolate, chocolate covered nuts or marshmallows dipped in chocolate. And for the health conscious, fresh fruit dipped in chocolate.
  9. It helps you get organised: So you’ve been threatening to organise your kitchen cupboards for months now? Start tonight, straight after dinner. Start with the shelf where you store the chocolate. Eat it. Make space. See, over-achieving again. Have some more.
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Engaged signal

Posted on 18 January, 2009. Filed under: The world |

To my loyal readers, all 4 of you, yes mom, you too: I have not forgotten you. I just have to focus my attention elsewhere until the first week of February – classes to prepare, 3 more exam papers to study for (the first is behind me, thank goodness) a big presentation, and a house full of visitors this coming weekend!

I’ll be blogging away come February, griping about DVD players in cars, confessing my own bigotry, sharing my wit and brilliant insight into life with all and sundry. Till then, feel free to leave a message, I will be checking in.

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The legacy of George W. Bush

Posted on 9 January, 2009. Filed under: George Bush, politics, The world, USA | Tags: , , , , |

I’m going to miss him, that 43rd president of the USA. Like I sometimes miss Princess Sarah. The one from Wasilla, not the one from York. Always good for a laugh. Chief-cook-and-bottle-wash George is not as funny, but he always provides one with food for thought that leaves you somewhere between “amused” and “bemused”. Or “bedonnerd.” (Good Afrikaans for seriously p***ed off) Ever courageous, GW displays equal ease flirting with stand-up comedy and global catastrophe alike. He elicits a wide range of responses from me, ranging from the mostly negative – contempt, despair, loathing, hilarity, nervousness, fear, perplexity. And of late, as January 20th looms larger and larger, and I watch GW’s desperate attempts to re-engineer his legacy, I feel pity, wait, can it be, almost a sense of compassion for the man.

“So once I shut down my privilege of disliking anyone I chose and holding myself aloof if I could manage it, greater understanding, growing compassion came to me…” Catherine Marshall

Compassion not only for him, but also for his wife and daughters.

Now stop scoffing, and let me explain. Legacy, you see, is an important concept for me. Stephen Covey said:

“There are certain things that are fundamental to human fulfilment. The essence of these needs is captured in the phrase ‘to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy. The need to live is our physical need for such things as food, clothing, shelter, economical well-being, health. The need to love is our social need to relate to other people, to belong, to love and to be loved. The need to learn is our mental need to develop and to grow. And the need to leave a legacy is our spiritual need to have a sense of meaning, purpose, personal congruence, and contribution”

I believe most sentient people (and no, that is not tautology,) have thoughts about their legacy. I certainly do. And more so as the years go by. And I’d like to assume that for most of us, the overwhelming characteristic of legacy is positive. Making a difference. For the better. On the people around us; family, friends, colleagues. For the lucky ones, it is about improving our communities, our societies. And then there are the exceptional few who are given a chance to improve the world we all live in, at a national, or even a global scale. Many have the intent, but few manage to grab the opportunity. For me, becoming the president of the USA seems to imply the intent, and infers the opportunity. GW got that opportunity, not only for 4 years, like his father and Carter, but for 8 years, like Reagan and Clinton. All of them left a legacy, some of it better, some of it worse. Reagan and Clinton left more of a legacy, it seems to me, than Bush I and Carter. Probably because they had twice as much time. But the greatest legacy, I fear, is that left by Bush II. Unfortunately for him, it is a legacy of infamy, rather than fame. And I have to believe that a man who served his country both as a governor and a president, aspired, at some stage, to leave this world a better place.
I also believe the man is in constant denial about the cataclysmic extent of his inadequacies. But that is his defence mechanism. And he undoubtedly needs one. For without the denial, there can only be misery. Imagine holding Pandora’s box in your hands, and then opening it. How do you live with yourself? How do you look in the mirror after that? How do you face your wife, your children, your friends, your neighbours? The world? Depression, black and ominous, always threatening to shroud you. Just there, in the periphery of your consciousness. How to hold it at bay, if not by ignoring it? By unsheathing denial, that Excalibur of psychological survival.

This denial has to extend to his wife. In an interview on Fox News the last Sunday of 2008, Mrs. Bush said she knows her husband’s eight years in office was not a failure. Because how do you look at your husband, if you cannot deny this truth?

It must weigh heavily on his daughters. How do you face your father, the grandfather of your future children, if you have to acknowledge the awful reality? When 8 years ago, as young girls, you watched in wonder and awe as the whole world recognized what you already knew – that your daddy was Superman, infallible and indestructible. As daddies tend to be. And now, eight years later, as a young adult, you not only know that he is not, not and not, but the whole world shares that knowledge with you. Not only that, but the monumental failures are not that of an ordinary father. His failures have resulted in poverty, unemployment, misery, division, suffering and death. For millions. What will you tell your children? You can’t run, and you can’t hide. You can only deny. Deny the legacy.

And so I have to pity George, Laura, Jenna and Barbara. Because some legacies are just not worth having.

   
“To show pity is felt as a sign of contempt because one has clearly ceased to be an object of fear as soon as one is pitied.” Friedrich Nietzsche
 
 
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Hear the children cry.

Posted on 2 January, 2009. Filed under: Africa | Tags: , , , , , |

So, while everybody is trying to convince Israel and Palestine to live in peace,  Africa  goes on being Africa, largely unnoticed, largely uncommented on.

On December 26, the day after Christmas, which for many of us means a lot more than Santa, presents and eggnog, a group of people were hacked to death at a church in the Congo. We don’t know how many, sources vary from 30, to 80, to 100, to 120, to 150. Apparently by a Ugandan rebel group who call themselves, wait for it, “The Lord’s Resistance Army”. I can only pray that they do not for a single moment mean the Lord as in Him, God. But then, given the general prevailing madness, who knows?

These people, mostly women and children (as usual) were hacked to death with machetes.

Hacked to death.

Hacked.

To death.

It doesn’t quite sink in, does it? We are so insulated, few of us have ever seen death up close and personal. And when we have, it’s usually in a peaceful, sterile setting. In a hospital. Sickness, old age, heart attack, cancer.  Not the kind of death that comes in vivid technicolour with smells, people urinating and defecating in fear. Shouting, screaming, howling, begging for mercy. Fear, hysteria, desperation, terror. Children, old people, men, women. Trying to get away, running, being blocked, herded like cattle towards certain death. Mothers clasping babies to their chests. Begging, for themselves, for their children. Children separated from parents, alone, terrified, calling, crying, not understanding how there can be something this horrible in the world. Not understanding how a mother or a father can’t protect them from this. No instantaneous death. Bleeding, an arm or a foot already hacked off. Scramble away. A kick, something broken. Another cut, more blood, more pain, more fear. How long till you wish, not for the salvation of life, but for the salvation of death?

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc,
et in hora mortis nostrae.
Amen.

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Half the sky is falling.

Posted on 13 December, 2008. Filed under: Africa, Human Rights, The world | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Rape must be the oldest weapon used against women and girls. It is the ultimate violation, the ultimate assertion of power over another human being. It is an invasion, an assault, a humiliation, a violation. It trades on fear, loss of dignity, loss of power, loss of privacy, loss of self-determination, loss of self-ownership.The scars it leaves are internal and external, physical and emotional, and lasts forever. 

Ensler and Lewis wrote a heart-rendering account of the ongoing rape of women in the DRC.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eve-ensler-and-stephen-lewis/the-never-ending-war_b_150668.html

In the multiple conflict zones of Africa, rape and female mutilation is rife. It precedes wars, escalates during times of conflict, and lingers for years into truces and peace treaties.

Rape and the mutilation of women are tools of terror to be found in any war, but nowhere do we see it as clearly as in Africa. There are probably multiple reasons for this:

  • The protracted nature of warfare in Africa: Most of the conflicts in Africa have a long history, brutal eruptions of horror interspersed by long simmering periods of unreported atrocities.
  • The seclusion of communities: Many villages have neither the means of transport nor the means of communication to report the brutal realities of war. No embedded journalists. No networks of bloggers.
  • The 2nd class citizenship of woman and girls: In Africa woman and girls are still second class citizens. They belong to their men, fathers, husbands, brothers, sons. They live to serve, to empower, to enable. 

It is time that the world should not only take notice, but act on this. We need countries, and the UN to pass legislation, or resolutions that will ban the trade in any resources from conflict zones that can in any way, directly or indirectly, fund continued warfare, insurgency and terrorism. This should also include a ban on trade with any groups or companies or individuals that cannot show proof of clear, acceptable and legitimate ownership. (Not ownership by corrupt governments, or bought from corrupt governments.) If we won’t buy from sweatshops, why are we buying from Rape and Pillage Inc? Any companies that are involved in this kind of trade should be named and shamed and charged.

But it is also time for the African Union to stand up and do something, rather than just talk about it.  The African Union, like the OAU before it, has become an old boys’ club that only talks. We are yet to see it demonstrate any resolve in a head-on confrontation of perpetrators of human rights abuses. The “quiet diplomacy” philosophy reigns, very admirably, but to what avail? Is it working, has anything changed? No? Well, then it is time for a more confrontational approach. The time for observers and peacekeepers are running out. What peace is there to keep when a country, no, entire regions of a continent, are at war with itself? When half the sky is falling?

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The Heart of Darkness. Part II

Posted on 15 November, 2008. Filed under: Africa, Human Rights, The world | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Of all the continents, Africa is the most beautiful, the most colourful, generous, vibrant and creative one. It has life, a pulse, music and a heartbeat. It is the richest continent, as well. Rich in resources, people, tradition, culture, history. Rich in promise and potential.  Now you may think I’m biased, but that’s only because you’ve never been there. If you don’t believe me, go see for yourself. But be careful where you go. Because the same riches that hold the promise of prosperity, is a double-edged sword that brings discord, abuse and turmoil. And this is starkly demonstrated in the Democratic Republic of Congo right now.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has a volatile history, drenched in the blood of its people, scarred by greed. Just more than a century ago, it was the private property of King Leopold II of Belgium. He did not shy away from using slavery, extortion, cruelty and abuse to plunder the rich African county for as much as he could. His ruthlessness succeeded in making him an obscenely rich man. It cost the Congo, by some estimates, as much as 10 million lives.

When Harold MacMillan’s “winds of change” blew through Africa, the DRC was not to be left behind. Young, charismatic Patrice Lumumba insisted on practically instantaneous freedom and self-rule for a country that had virtually no citizens with any government experience, no Congolese officers in the army, no Congolese professionals. Less than 100 graduates. But Lumumba was either oblivious to the demands of governance, or deluded to think that he could overcome the lack of skill. Sort of the Sarah Palin of his day. He became the Congo’s first Congolese Prime Minister,

Factionalism, tribalism and greed quickly turned the situation chaotic. Lumumba insisted on and received aid from the USA and the UN, but got upset when things did not go his way. He had unreasonable and unrealistic expectations, and when these could not immediately be met, the young, inexperienced leader decided to use the cold war to his own advantage. But playing the Soviet and the US/UN off against each other, swiftly led to his overthrow and subsequent execution. An old African expression says “When two elephant bulls fight, the grass gets trampled.” Lamumba, either through stupidity or a delusional belief in his own power and importance, had placed himself in the middle of the bull fight.

After a few years of chaos, revolt, looting and mayhem, Col. Joseph Mobutu, later Mobuto Seso Seko, took over, and led the country for the next thirty years. Although he maintained order, it was through oppression, torture and abuse, all the while enriching himself and his cronies, while the Congolese did not receive much benefit from their country’s wealth. Health care, education and infrastructure quickly collapsed, and the rich country plunged deeper and deeper into debt.

In 1997, Laurent Kabila succeeded in overthrowing Mobuto, became president, and assumed the mantle of tyrant and exploiter in charge. In his revolt against Mobuto, he had mustered support from Rwanda and Uganda. Now the piper had to be paid. And when the payment was not satisfactory, more revolts were organised, leading to the involvement of Angola, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Namibia and Chad. Aluta Continua becomes looting continues.

In 2001 Kabila was assassinated, and his son, Joseph Kabila, was appointed as his successor. Kabila Jr has tried with some success to get rid of the foreign influence in the DRC, but that only means there is so much more for those in the country to exploit. At the same time, those that have tasted the prosperity of the DRC, soon grew thirsty for more. Hence the current situation.

That’s the history of the Democratic Republic of Congo in a nutshell. Sadly, it is also the history of many other African countries.

In the next few posts I hope to explore more African countries, their history, failures and successes, and where they are now.

In 1985 I was finishing high school. Young, optimistic, Live Aid captured the interest, the imagination and the passion of my generation. When Bob Geldoff announced Live Eight 20 years later, it triggered an almost opposite reaction in me. I hope to use this journey to help me understand that change better. Because as dispassionate as I want to be about Africa, the atrocities are too haunting, the plight too devastating to ignore. But I want to make a difference that will make a difference.

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Hamba kahle, Mama Africa.

Posted on 10 November, 2008. Filed under: Africa, The world | Tags: , , , , , |

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Miriam Makeba born 4 March 1932, Johannesburg, South Africa

                         died 9 November 2008, Castel Volturno, near Caserta, Italy

I remember, as a child, loving the sounds of “The Click Song”. For a white South African, the various clicking sounds so typical of the Xhosa language, are incredibly difficult, if not impossible to emulate. That never stopped me from trying. If you ever had to hear me contort, abuse and strangle the wondrous sounds of one of your most iconic songs, you would have wept. but I think you would have been proud, as well.

Your music represents a bitter-sweet era. When I listen to you sing, I imagine myself in the hustle and bustle of Sophiatown in the fifties and sixties. Kwela and pennie whistles. Mielies and paraffin heaters. But I never forget that for many years, you were denied access to the sights and sounds and smells of our beloved country. In my mind, because of this, and because of your stature, and your dignity, I often seat you next to Celia Cruz at the dinner table of my mind. I am just glad that you, unlike Celia Cruz, had the opportunity to return home, and to treat us to your copper voice on South African soil. And I think you would have been filled with an inner satisfaction that, though you had to die in a foreign land, you died after having done what you so loved to do – sharing your soulful music with others, and in pursuit of a good cause.

Your music inspired so many, in South Africa, black and white, in the United States, where Broadway was woed, in Europe, where you were celebrated and revered, and Cuba, where you were offered honourary citizenship, having been denied that of your homeland. (One of Castro’s few redeeming acts.)

Mama Africa, you said you’d like to be remembered as a good old lady. I am sorry, but in my mind’s eye you will forever dwell on the good side of 50, and therefor the best I can do, is to say you were a great lady.  You, like your music, can never be old.

Thank you for the music. Hamba kahle, mama.

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Heart of darkness

Posted on 9 November, 2008. Filed under: Africa, The world | Tags: , |

Africa, my home, my birthplace. Even though thousands of kilometres separate us, you are always with me, in me, my heartbeat, my breath, my sorrow, my joy.

You are like a violent husband: I am better off without you, but my heart won’t stop yearning. I rant against your indiscretions, your temper, your fists, your insults, wishing to be rid of you. And then I cry, and crawl back, asking your forgiveness, trying to see where I’ve failed you. One kind word, act from you, and I forget the countless humiliations, bruises you bestowed.

You are the rotten child who steals my money to feed your addiction. You rob old women and young children, you lie and steal your way to your next fix. And then suddenly transfix me with an angelic smile, confessing, atoning, promising to do better, to be better. And though my head shouts “Tough love!”, my heart concedes: “My child!”

And I continue to live with the dichotomy, every time I see the evidence of your excesses and abuse, or your compassion and creativity. It is just that, as time goes by, that I see more and more of the former, and less and less of the latter. Is it my heart growing darker, or yours?

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The best of times, the worst of times.

Posted on 7 November, 2008. Filed under: Africa, The world | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

So here I sit, completely self-satisfied, surveying my fiefdom with glee. After all, did I not, single-handedly, manage to steer the USA past the icy shores of Alaska into the warm seas of Hawaii? Did I not alert the voting masses to the pitfalls of voting for a ticket with a marginal grip on intellect? Did I not spotlight the flexible relationship with reality displayed by said ticket? Did I not caution against the potential international scorn that would be unleashed were the wrong candidates elected to the White House? It fills me with no small amount of pride to know that I managed to save not just the USA, but possibly the planet, from unimaginable catastrophe and mayhem. Disaster averted, the world can sleep peacefully tonight. So can I. Nothing to interrupt my moment of serenity. Just me, my thoughts, and a glass of Southern Comfort that’s less full than I think it should be.

Oh, and an imminent meltdown in the Congo.

And Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow who was stoned to death in Somalia adultery. The nature of her “adultery”?  She had been gang-raped by three men. When she went to the militia authorities to report the rape, and to seek protection, she was instead accused of adultery and stoned. Initially reported to have been 23 years old, Amnesty International has now revealed that Aisha was 13. None of the rapists have been arrested.

For now, I’ll refill my glass.

Tomorrow, I’ll try to save the world from itself again.

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    Welcome to my personal soundboard, where I can muse (you might call it ramble on) about things that interest, irritate, infuriate or impress me. In time, I hope this will lead me to understand the meaning of life, the universe, and me.

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