Tuesday, 29 September 2009

I should have said nothing

This afternoon, I was on my way back to the office from across town. It made sense to do this particular trip by public transport because of that nuisance known as the congestion charge, which requires that if you do drive into or through the centre of town on weekdays during working hours, you must pay a charge of £8. But then, even after you've paid all this money to drive into central London, you don't find anywhere to park the car anyway. So I was on the tube, the seats of which are affixed to the sides of the carriage in a row such that tube passengers who manage to find seats, sit facing each other across the carriage from one side to the other.

Sitting across from me on the crowded tube train was an elderly black gentleman, perhaps in his late 70s or early 80s, looking proud and distinguished and it was clear that sometime ago this was a handsome man. Anyway, I noticed (as you do) that the zipper on the front of his trousers was undone. Feeling somewhat embarrassed for him, (and the fact that he was black didn't help either), I tried to alert him to the fact. I started by staring him straight in the face, you know, just to catch his attention. It worked! Then I mouthed the words "your fly is undone..", not wanting even the person sitting next to me so suspect that I was trying to say something to the gentleman across from us. This elderly chap knew that I was trying to communicate with him, but he apparently could make no sense of what I was [not] saying.

I thought I should not gesture towards his crotch because if I did, everyone around us would notice that his fly was undone. So while still unmoving, I continued trying to make verbal communication, but by then I realised that I could hear my own voice. I was no longer mouthing the words, I was actually saying them. As if this was not bad enough, it appears that this elderly fellow has not remembered to put on his hearing aid this morning. He was almost completely deaf, so by the time I got my message across to him, I had had to almost shout the words while pointing at his crotch with my finger, before he knew what I was on about. The very thing I was trying to avoid is what happened, because everyone around us saw that this man's zipper was undone and I blamed myself for it. And as I left the train (and the man) at Liverpool Street station, I was embarrassed for me too..

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Climate Change at the UN



As a global ambassador for Oxfam, Djimon has travelled in sub-Saharan Africa and seen the direct links between climate change and human suffering. "I've witnessed firsthand devastation with drought," Mr Hounsou told reporters after he helped to kick off the UN Summit on Climate Change. "Year after year, local farmers are still expecting rain to come pretty much as it used to. Its not coming, so they adapt, with their crops and plantings."

I share Djimon's opinion about the human cost of climate change and I too am passionately aware of the enormity of the problem that it poses to mankind and to our home, the Earth. I applaud him for the good work he has been doing as a humanitarian and as a climate activist. He has let people know what the rich industrialised nations need to be doing to help the less rich developing nations adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change, a very real problem that is creeping up on us slowly but surely. "Climate change threatens to roll back years of development gains", the UN Secretary General said during his address to the General Assembly at the UN climate change summit. The entire continent of
Australia has been in the grip of a drought for the best part of a decade.

Parts of East Africa have experienced successive years of failed rains. In West Africa, desertification is a serious problem in the arid Sahel regions, causing the migration southwards of large numbers of people; whereas flooding is becoming more frequent in the coastal regions. Africa is the continent that is least prepared to deal with the effects of climate change, yet the people of Africa are those who will suffer most severely from its impact. And this is already being felt in many parts of the continent.

This is a global problem, the cause for which the rich industrialised nations must accept responsibility. It is a problem that we must work together to tackle, rich and less rich nations alike. However, it is trite that because the rich industrialised nations bear a greater responsibility for the problem, they ought to be providing assistance more actively to the less well-off countries in the fight against climate change. The idea being mooted that Western nations should pay for investment in technologies designed to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of emergent economies such as India and Brazil is encouraging. It is important that people recognise the seriousness of this problem that our generation has on its hands.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Untold suffering of children in Kenya, victims of sex tourism



I was taken aback by this news report this evening. I'm lost for words.. Please read the report on the Channel 4 website, its quite informative. The New York Times carried this opinion on the same subject earlier this year..

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

At the UN


Oxfam global ambassador & actor Djimon Hounsou and Oxfam International spokesperson David Waskow speaking with the press at the UN Summit on Climate Change. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said actor Djimon Hounsou is doing a dramatic reading to "set the tone."

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Isn't this cool..

This blog translated in Swahili

Monday, 21 September 2009

Something in the stars maybe

Its been surprisingly interesting recently, surprising because my love life which has been rather lacklustre for a while now, abruptly became revived, and not because I'd done anything out of the ordinary. Its been kind of exciting too. It began when my ex R whom I had previously given up on romantically, suddenly decided that he was still interested in me enough to want to be in my company as frequently as he could manage it. Then K whom I'd always fancied and hoped would one day see sense and come for those goodies that I have to offer, called me while he was away on a business trip and said that he wished I was there with him, lingering on the phone for longer than I've ever known him to.

I had to travel to a part of town where parking is almost impossible, but because A lives in the neighbourhood I knew I could park in his yard next to his car, so I did this and went about my business. My boss too happened to have attended the same place, but on different business. Having finished his before I did mine, he waited for me, knowing that I had come with my car. My boss always avoids driving unless he absolutely has to. So when I finished I told him to wait while I fetched my car from where I'd parked it. But arriving at A's yard, I thought it would be wrong if I didn't pop in to say hello. A opened the door, he had been at work the previous night and the doorbell had roused him from sleep. Opening the door he was in a t-shirt and boxers...so while my boss was waiting, I was busy hugging up a man.. Later that day even M whom I'd since thought was history, unexpectedly appeared out of the blue, telling me how much he's missed me. He even said those famous three words to me. All of this happened within the last week! And I'm pinching myself, wondering..

The Earth and the Moon must be in some kind of alignment. I think I'll look up my horoscope in the papers tomorrow on the train to Birmingham. Its only a day trip, work related, and I should be back later in the day because something exciting might happen and I wouldn't want to miss it..

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The human family tree


The Hadzabe people of Tanzania collect honey combs from a tree
The Genographic Project is a landmark study of the human journey. Where do you really come from? DNA studies suggest that all humans today descend from a group of African ancestors who—about 60,000 years ago—began a remarkable journey.

Since I saw the show 'The Human Family Tree' on the National Geographic channel recently, I've been thinking about how astonishing it is that we, all of us humans, are interrelated and all of us can be traced back to one small part of Africa.

This and this are interesting.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Picasso

Van Gogh



Vincent this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you...

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Would you take the ex back?

The breakup all those years ago had been particularly acrimonious. There were late-night loud arguments, lots of shouting and cursing, things were thrown about. And because we lived together, the only escape from the turmoil was to end the cohabitation. But after we separated we have remained close friends and would speak to each other on the phone almost everyday. Some of his mail is still being delivered at my address, so there has been the opportunity to meet and sometimes we would do things together, like watch a movie, go out for a meal and even go to church.

Anyway, last Monday evening I arrived home from work to find that a few of his letters had arrived. He had told me the day before that he was expecting something important in the post, so because it was raining heavily and he doesn't drive, I thought the best thing would be to take the letters to him. I called his number and he said he was at home, having just arrived from work himself. And so I drove through the rain to his house, which isn't that far away. Sitting in the car I called him again on arrival to say I was outside. I was reluctant to get out of the car in the pouring rain; these were his letters after all...

R came running through the rain to the car, opened the passenger door and jumped in. I thought it odd that he was carrying a rucksack, but I said nothing. Handing the letters over I asked how his day had been, trying to make conversation. But R took over the reins and said that he was lonely at home and that we should drive over to my place. I thought nothing of this, as on several occasions in the past he had come over and I'd cooked special meals for him, since I knew what he liked. So as I drove back to my flat with R beside me, my mind was in the refrigerator at home, trying to figure out how much of each item was available, working out what would be the best meal to cook..

R had only last week returned from a short trip to Germany where he had been visiting friends, and he was keen to show me the photos. So as soon as we arrived at home he got unto my computer and opened up the pictures, while I got busy in the kitchen. It seems like old times, I thought to myself as I put the omelet together. We ate and looked at the photos and talked and it was still raining; and R was looking more and more relaxed and comfortable on the sofa.. It was becoming more apparent to me that R had no intention of going back to his place that evening, and my suspicion was confirmed when he stretched and yawned and said that he had an early start the next morning and was going upstairs to bed...as if this was his house. Now it was clear to me the reason why he had brought his rucksack along.

I was watching something interesting on TV at the time and had no intention of going to bed so early, so I too just pretended that there was nothing unusual about him going upstairs to MY bed. Much later, it was time for me too to go upstairs to bed and when I arrived in the bedroom R was under the covers. Ok, I assumed he was asleep, so I tiptoed around as I got myself ready for bed, but I won't say I was surprised when after I climbed into the bed he moved himself towards me..surely you don't want me to tell you what happened next, do you? :)

At around 5am the alarm on R's phone went off, waking me too. He got out of bed and made himself ready for work, went to the kitchen downstairs and made himself something to eat. And shortly afterwards he came back to the bedroom where I was still lying in bed to tell me he was leaving....just as he had been doing all those years ago. It was as if nothing had changed. Brushing my teeth later in the bathroom, I noticed an extra toothbrush in the toothbrush holder, one which had not been there the morning before. So R had left his toothbrush behind too, suggesting to me what his intentions are. He did not say anything to me and has not said anything since, but I'm not sure if I want to go back to those days of quarrels and shouting. To be fair, since we separated, we haven't had one single fight and I'm wondering if it isn't better that we maintain the status-quo as it is now..

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Ijaw Dictionary Project

The Ijaw Dictionary Online
I came across this site during one of my forays into cyberworld. I am gobsmacked that someone has taken the time and trouble to produce something of this magnitude, a resource that goes way beyond just providing the meanings of words. This is not only a language dictionary, but information about Ijaw history and culture, present day politics and much more. It is especially relevant to me because the
Ijaw language is the language of my ancestors. Ijaw (also known an 'Ijo' or 'Izon') is a language that belongs to a group of languages known as the Niger-Congo. Ijaw in turn is a family of several languages known as the 'Ijoid' family of languages. It is a large language group, the fourth largest in Nigeria and is spoken by people who are predominantly in the states located within the Niger delta in the south of Nigeria, (Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta, Edo, Ondo and Akwa Ibom).

Click
here for the history of the Ijaw as documented by the London based Ijaw Historical Documentation Project (The Ijo Genesis).

The Ijaw speak 9 closely-related Niger-Congo languages, all of which fall under the Ijoid branch of the Niger-Congo tree. The primary division between the Ijaw languages is that between Central Ijaw and Western Ijaw, the most important of the former group of languages being Izon, which is spoken by about 1 million people, while the most prominent member of the Western Ijaw group is
Kalabari, which has about a quarter of a million speakers.

The Ijaw were one of the first of Nigeria's peoples to have contact with Westerners, and were active as go-betweens in trade between visiting Europeans and the peoples of the interior, particularly in the era before the discovery of
Quinine, when West Africa was still known as the White Man's Graveyard because of the endemic presence of malaria. Some of the kin-based trading lineages that arose amongst the Ijaw developed into substantial corporations which were known as "Houses"; each house had an elected leader as well as a fleet of war canoes for use in protecting trade and fighting rivals. The other main occupation common amongst the Ijaw has traditionally been fishing.

Ijaw war canoe. Traditionally a fleet of these were used in protecting trade and fighting rivals (Click photo to enlarge)

Formerly organised into several loose clusters of villages which cooperated to defend themselves against outsiders, the Ijaw increasingly view themselves as belonging to a single coherent nation, bound together by ties of language and culture. This tendency has been encouraged in large part by the environmental degradation that has accompanied the discovery of oil in the Niger delta region which the Ijaw call home, as well as by a revenue sharing formula with the Federal government that is viewed by the Ijaw as manifestly unfair. The resulting sense of grievance has led to several
high-profile clashes with the Nigerian Federal authorities, including kidnappings and in the course of which many lives have been lost.

Images of armed militants in Ijaw land have frequently appeared in the world's media in recent years

One manifestation of ethnic assertiveness on the part of the Ijaw has been an increase in the number and severity of clashes between Ijaw militants and those of Itsekiri origin, particularly in the town of Warri. While the Ijaw and the Itsekiri have lived alongside each other for centuries, for the most part harmoniously, the Itsekiri were first to make contact with European traders, as early as the 16th century, and they were more aggressive both in seeking Western education and in using the knowledge acquired to press their commercial advantages; until the arrival of Sir George Goldie's United Africa Company (later renamed the Royal Niger Company) in 1879, Itsekiri chieftains monopolised trade with Europeans in the Western Niger region. Despite the loss of their monopoly, the advantages already held by the Itsekiri ensured that they continued to enjoy a superior position to that held by the Ijaw, breeding in the latter a sense of resentment at what they felt to be colonial favoritism towards the Itsekiri.

Traditional Ijaw war boats appear today only on ceremonial occasions

The departure of the British at independence did not lead, as might have been expected, to a decrease in tensions between the Ijaw and the Itsekiri. With the discovery of large oil reserves in the Niger Delta region in the early 1960s, a new bone of contention was introduced, as the ability to claim ownership of a given piece of land now promised to yield immense benefits in terms of jobs and infrastructural benefits to be provided by the oil companies. Despite this new factor, rivalry between the Ijaw and the Itsekiri did not actually escalate to the level of violent conflict between the two groups until the late 1990s, when the death of General Sani Abacha in 1997 led to a re-emergence of local politics.

The issue of local government ward allocation has proven particularly contentious, as the Ijaw feel that the way in which wards have been allocated ensures that their superior numbers will not be reflected in the number of wards controlled by politicians of Ijaw ethnicity. Control of the city of Warri, the largest metropolitan area in Delta State and therefore a prime source of political patronage, has been an especially fiercely contested prize. This has given birth to heated disputes between the Ijaw, the Itsekiri and the [
Urhobo] about which of the three groups are "truly" indigenous to the Warri region, with the underlying presumption being that the "real" indigenes should have control of the levers of power, regardless of the fact that the members of all three groups hold ostensibly equal political rights in their places of residence.

Although the Ijaw are now primarily Christians, with Catholicism being the variety of Christianity most prevalent amongst them, the Ijaw have elaborate traditional religious practices of their own. Veneration of ancestors plays a central role in Ijaw traditional religion, while water spirits, known as
Owuamapu figure prominently in the Ijaw pantheon. In addition, the Ijaw practice a form of divination called Igbadai, in which recently deceased individuals are interrogated on the causes of their death.

Ijaw religious beliefs hold that water spirits are like humans in having personal strengths and shortcomings, and that humans dwell amongst the water spirits before being born. The role of prayer in the traditional Ijaw system of belief is to maintain the living in the good graces of the water spirits amongst whom they dwelt before being born into this world, and each year the Ijaw hold celebrations in honour of the spirits lasting for several days. Central to the festivities is the role of masquerades, in which men wearing elaborate outfits and carved masks dance to the beat of drums and manifest the influence of the water spirits through the quality and intensity of their dancing. Particularly spectacular masqueraders are taken to actually be in the possession of the particular spirits on whose behalf they are dancing.

(Source: wikipedia.org)

Monday, 14 September 2009

Lingering thoughts..

I was thinking over the weekend about how more apparent it is becoming that I am dissimilar from those with whom I have to work, but more so, from those with whom I have to interact in social situations. Yes, I live in the UK, but the social circles within which I find myself are comprised mostly of people of African descent, African and Caribbean men and women, for many of whom the very idea of homosexuality is anathema. For this reason my sexual orientation is not a matter that I am able to discuss openly with many of the people around me, those whose association I value. It is a problem, because it appears to me that there is a vital part of my person that is hidden from them. And in a strange way, I am uneasy about this since I cannot help thinking of it as untruthfulness on my part. I suppose in their minds I am thought of as just another bachelor, and at my age I should soon qualify for the honour of being referred to as a "confirmed bachelor", lol. And a 'bachelor' is a status that is seen as being inherently 'junior' to the status of 'married man'. But I can't blame them, since they can only see the world through their own eyes and interpret what they see using their minds.

In an ideal world, I would wish to be among them, on the arm of the man I love, being seen together, me and him, as a couple, on equal terms with any of the heterosexual couples around us. Thoughts of this kind have lurked in my mind for years, but as time has gone by and one has become older and more mature in mind and body, these thoughts have become more poignant and more frequent. It was the anniversary celebration of my church last Sunday. After the usual Sunday service, which had an unusually large number of people present in the congregation many of who were invited guests, there was a function in the church hall where the guests were feted and people stood around chatting and socialising generally, the clergy and the church members mingling with the invited guests. It struck me as I stood among all these people how glaring it was that I was different, since I seemed to be the only grown up male who was unaccompanied by his partner.

Africans (and especially Nigerians) have a way of making a show of their couplehood, (does such a word exist?). Wives make a point of wearing matching outfits with their husbands, thereby asserting their spousal union with the person whose outfit matches theirs. This made my solitariness even more pointed at the church function yesterday. There is one particular lady, extremely friendly and a member of the church who is herself happily married with four children. She has mentioned a few times, in passing, that she has some cousins who I might be interested in. I know she means well and I hold nothing against her. Clearly she sees me as being in need of a wife, but I just laugh it off and say, "You're so kind, but I'm not ready yet..." or something like, "I'm happy the way I am at the moment...". But this is exactly what I meant earlier when I said that I feel as if I'm being untruthful. How I would have wished for her knowing that I'm gay, to suggest to me that she has a gay cousin who she'd like me to meet.. (wishful thinking eh? lol..) But it doesn't stop there..

I'm not writing this post because I'm lamenting the fact that I'm not currently in a relationship. Even if I was in a relationship and I attended that church function in the company of my partner, we both would still be seen as two bachelors, regardless that we were in a deeply committed and meaningful relationship. Our relationship (assuming people understood the nature of it), would still not be regarded as being at par with a heterosexual relationship, whatever the state of that heterosexual relationship. It seems that it is the heterosexual marriage that sets you up for social upward mobility. I heard on the news today that Elton John and his partner David Furnish with whom he has entered into a civil partnership, which is a formal union recognised in law as being equal to a marriage between a heterosexual couple, were denied a proposed adoption of a Ukrainian child by the Ukrainian authorities. Why?, you might ask. Wait for it...because Elton John is not married. So it appears that the Ukrainian authorities (and Ukrainian law apparently) believe that the child's future is better secured when he remains in an orphanage throughout his childhood, while being denied the warmth and security that loving parents could provide..

Anyway coming back to what I was saying before I digressed, there is an unhealthy situation that needs to be rectified. A situation which leaves people like me feeling left out of society's mainstream, and where for me and others like me to climb up the social ladder, we must conceal what is our true nature and pretend to be something that we are not. I cannot change my sexual orientation, so asking me to do that is like saying to the straight man that he must become gay in order to make progress with his life or in his career. I am fortunate that I live in a country where my sexual orientation is not a bar to my career advancement. But it is still an issue in my social life, since I am reluctant to limit my social contacts only to other gay people. What in fact can be changed is the way people perceive homosexuality, but again, maybe this too is wishful thinking...I know I've been rambling in this post, but I needed to let that out somehow..Have a great week ahead everyone.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Friday, 11 September 2009

An apology long overdue

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered a posthumous apology today for the "inhumane" treatment of Alan Turing, the World War II codebreaker who committed suicide in 1954 after being prosecuted for homosexuality and forcibly treated with female hormones. The mathematician helped crack Nazi Germany's Enigma encryption machine — a turning point in the war — and is considered a father of modern computing. In 1952, however, Turing was convicted of gross indecency for having sex with a man and offered a choice between prison and "chemical castration" — the injection of female hormones to suppress his libido. His security clearance was revoked and he was no longer allowed to work for the government.
Two years later, he killed himself at age 41 by eating an apple laced with cyanide. Gordon Brown’s statement came in response to a
petition posted on the Number 10 website which has received thousands of signatures in recent months.
2009 has been a year of deep reflection - a chance for Britain, as a nation, to commemorate the profound debts we owe to those who came before. A unique combination of anniversaries and events have stirred in us that sense of pride and gratitude which characterise the British experience. Earlier this year I stood with Presidents Sarkozy and Obama to honour the service and the sacrifice of the heroes who stormed the beaches of Normandy 65 years ago. And just last week, we marked the 70 years which have passed since the British government declared its willingness to take up arms against Fascism and declared the outbreak of World War Two. So I am both pleased and proud that, thanks to a coalition of computer scientists, historians and LGBT activists, we have this year a chance to mark and celebrate another contribution to Britain’s fight against the darkness of dictatorship; that of code-breaker Alan Turing.
Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes. It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War Two could well have been very different. He truly was one of those individuals we can point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely. In 1952, he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ - in effect, tried for being gay. His sentence - and he was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison - was chemical castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own life just two years later.
Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him. Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly. Over the years millions more lived in fear of conviction.
I am proud that those days are gone and that in the last 12 years this government has done so much to make life fairer and more equal for our LGBT community. This recognition of Alan’s status as one of Britain’s most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality and long overdue. But even more than that, Alan deserves recognition for his contribution to humankind. For those of us born after 1945, into a Europe which is united, democratic and at peace, it is hard to imagine that our continent was once the theatre of mankind’s darkest hour. It is difficult to believe that in living memory, people could become so consumed by hate - by anti-Semitism, by homophobia, by xenophobia and other murderous prejudices - that the gas chambers and crematoria became a piece of the European landscape as surely as the galleries and universities and concert halls which had marked out the European civilisation for hundreds of years. It is thanks to men and women who were totally committed to fighting fascism, people like Alan Turing, that the horrors of the Holocaust and of total war are part of Europe’s history and not Europe’s present.
So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.
Gordon Brown

Semenya update

I heard these words on the radio this morning driving to work ..."An Australian newspaper has claimed that Semenya is a hermaphrodite - someone who has some or all of the primary sex characteristics of both men and women." I quickly logged on to the BBC website on arrival at my desk and found this.. "Semenya tests as 'inter gender'. This situation is becoming more complicated than one would have hoped for. I read an article a few weeks ago where it was suggested that although some may think that determining if someone is a man or woman would be as simple as looking to see if they have breasts and a vagina or a penis, in reality it is far more complex.

The external genitalia of a person can be "ambiguous". For example, the clitoris may be enlarged so that it looks like a small penis or a female's labia may be fused, resembling a scrotum. There are also chromosomal and hormonal variations and conditions.Then there is the condition known as congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a condition in which the body produces more androgen, a type of male hormone. If a girl has it, she will usually have normal internal female reproductive organs, but may not have periods and may have a male appearance. I understand that this together with a number of other conditions are recognised by the IAAF as giving an advantage to the individual, but are accepted nonetheless. There are other conditions, including polycystic ovaries and androgen producing tumours, where a woman can have higher than normal levels of testosterone which are not thought to offer any advantage to athletes. In addition, there is a condition called androgen insensitivity syndrome where someone may have internal and undescended testes - and high levels of testosterone - but look like a woman and have a vagina and a uterus. (No, I'm not an expert. I just happened to read this).

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Chains

Tina Arena my favorite Australian..


Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Missing you



Someone said Diana Ross looks a bit like Mrs Obama, and I was like Huh??!!

The Majorelle Gardens

I used a photograph of these lovely gardens on the front page of my blog and I thought the least I could do is to share some information about the place. The Majorelle Garden is a botanical garden in Marrakech, Morocco. The garden was designed in 1924 by Frenchman Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962) during the colonial period when Morocco was a protectorate of France. The special shade of bold cobalt blue used extensively in the garden is named after him bleu Majorelle.

In 1980 the famous gay French fashion icon Yves Saint-Laurent and his lifelong partner Pierre Berg√© acquired the gardens. After Yves Saint-Laurent died in 2008 his ashes were scattered in the Majorelle Garden. His partner Berg√© said during the funeral service: “But I also know that I will never forget what I owe you, and that one day I will join you under the Moroccan palms". The gardens have been open to the public since 1947.

The garden also houses the Islamic Art Museum of Marrakech, whose collection includes North African textiles from Saint-Laurent's personal collection as well as ceramics, jewelry, and paintings by Majorelle. The garden hosts more than 15 bird species, which can be found only in this area of North Africa. There is an extensive array of images of this wonderful place to be found on the Internet. Examples are here and here.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Putting her critics to shame

The new look of Caster Semenya, silencing those who dared to doubt that she's a woman. She appeared on the cover of South Africa's You magazine. For the shoot Semenya sported a less ambiguous hair style, a designer black dress, jewelry, makeup and nail polish. Despite what you think about the whole situation, it's safe to say that in this photo Semenya truly looks like an 18-year old woman.

Now there can be no doubt that she is actually a woman, but it angered me to learn that she was not informed early on that she was being subjected to gender tests.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Garuba 13

The headache was so severe that it caused me to rise from bed sooner than I should have wished. It was Sunday morning and the events of the previous night were a blur in my memory. Making my way to the kitchen, feeling nauseous, I cursed myself for succumbing to temptation and consuming all that alcohol, a ferocious combination of red wine and beer. I vaguely remembered leaning against Garuba's powerful shoulder, as he steered me away from the crowd in the living room, which by this time had become somewhat riotous. He had guided me towards my room, stripped off my buba and put me in the bed, leaving me after he saw that I was safely tucked in. Vaguely, I remembered how prior to being brought to the bed I'd been quite excited as the night's events unfolded and how I had wound up outside in the darkness, holding someone close and running my hands across his back; and how he too had crushed his body against mine, pushing me up against the brick wall that surrounded the house. Then, slowly, the recollection came flooding back. It was Usman! Gosh! I couldn't believe that this had really happened. But it had! And now that I remembered it more clearly, the hangover felt even worse. How could I? Usman, Garuba's friend, Audu's lover! I felt awful, but then I remembered now that it was he who had led me outside.


Usman and I had been standing together chatting, surrounded by several others at the party, me holding a glass of wine. His boyfriend Audu was engaged in some kind of agitated conversation with Femi and Femi's friend, who by then I'd learned was called Rashid. Garuba and Abu were across the room, talking and laughing loudly. There was much excitement in the air and all the women, including Ukpong and her two friends were dancing with one man or the other. Under the pretext that the room was rather noisy, Usman had suggested that we step outside for some fresh air, and of course I had agreed somewhat eagerly as I put down my now empty glass on a side stool. While still inside we had been talking generally, him about his business, me about my impression of working in Bauchi and how it was nothing like I had imagined it would be; about how interesting it had been since I'd arrived in this city and more so because I'd been with Garuba. But there was no denying it, Usman was very handsome and I was enjoying every minute of his company, the sound of his voice, the way he laughed. And when he smiled at me looking down into my face, I was totally captivated. And the effect of the alcohol that I'd so far been consuming non-stop didn't help matters.


Outside, we had wandered towards the side of the house, away from the front entrance and out of sight of the crowd in the front room. It was dark in this part of the compound and it was here that Usman put his arm around my shoulders. At first I'd stiffened instinctively, I knew that I ought to resist his advances. But maybe because I'd had so much to drink already, or because Usman was such an attractive man, I offered no resistance whatsoever when he tightened his grip around my shoulders and pulled me close to him in a hug. He then turned me around so that my back was against the brick wall, pressing his body against mine, pushing me against the wall without saying a word, and in a rather frenzied manner crushed his mouth on my lips. At first I tried to resist, it was the natural thing to do in the circumstances. But he was too strong and I was enjoying this too much, so I let myself go and responded to his kiss, throwing my arms around him, clinging to his massive shoulders as he squeezed me even tighter. We remained in that position holding each other for I don't know how long, when I suddenly came to my senses and while still holding him, whispered that it would be best if we went back inside. But it was terribly exciting being with Usman in this darkness and I'm not sure that even I believed what I'd just said about going back inside. It was in fact Usman who had first let go, and now when I looked up at his face as we stood facing each other, I could see that he was uncomfortable about what had just happened. I felt really awful, and I think we both felt the same.


I had left Usman outside and returned to the crowded front room searching for Garuba with my eyes, feeling terribly guilty, hoping that neither Garuba nor Audu would have noticed that I'd been outside with Usman. Audu I saw was engrossed in whatever he and Rashid were talking about and their body language suggested that whatever the topic was, it was not entirely innocent. Garuba sat alone, Abu was dancing with one of the ladies who somehow I'd missed being introduced to. And Garuba was staring at me as I walked up to him. He ought to be smiling, I thought to myself. I mean, normally he would smile at me whenever he saw me. But he wasn't smiling. And I felt really terrible. I believed then that he must have seen me leave the room with Usman, but this in itself was no reason for him to assume that anything untoward had happened whilst we were outside. I'm not a good actor and I knew that Garuba would see the guilt written all over my face. I was so sorry about what had happened. So when I sat down beside him on the sofa, the first words that came out of my mouth were "I'm sorry.." Garuba said nothing, but held my hand and squeezed it when I'd placed my hand on his. I felt guilty that I'd ruined his evening and felt really bad. But rather selfishly I sought to make myself feel better by drinking even more alcohol, which eventually led to me having to be led out of the room by none other than Garuba himself. I had seen little of Usman after that escapade. I assumed he too must have felt bad enough not to want to be around Garuba or me. And I was not even aware that he and Audu had left for home until Garuba mentioned it to me as he was helping me out of my buba while putting me to bed. Garuba had left the house after I was in bed. Now it was early in the morning and it was Sunday, so it was understandable that I'd heard nothing from him since. The house was eerily quiet as I stirred the milk into the piping hot coffee I'd just made for myself and I wondered what the consequences would be of my antics with Usman last night on my relationship with Garuba. My head was pounding as I returned to the bedroom cup in hand and settled back into bed, but this thought bothered me. And and try as I did, I was unable to fall asleep again. I missed Garuba..

Friday, 4 September 2009

Happiest Cities

Forbes.com recently came up with a list of cities it considers to be the happiest cities in the world. At the top of that list is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a city I've visited on a few occasions and one which I can vouch for and confirm most positively to be a very happy place. Its the only major city that I've ever been in, where it is totally acceptable to walk the streets in swimming trunks and thongs in the districts of Copacabana where I stayed, Botafogo, Ipanema and Leblon among others. This is a city of exceedingly warm and friendly people, where every shopkeeper, every store attendant, every cab driver, indeed everyone is fabulously charming and seem to be smiling at you wherever you turn, including the very obviously socially disadvantaged street kids whom you just cannot avoid running into. My unofficial guide on my last visit was a handsome, very dark skinned very friendly Brazilian of about my age called Mateo. He is a Capoeirista and I met him performing and demonstrating Capoeira on Copacabana beach. He spoke little English and my Portuguese is virtually non-existent, but who needs verbal communication when our bodies could communicate so much better? It was a very happy experience my last visit to Rio de Janeiro, and when leaving I promised myself I would return soon afterwards, although its been a quite a few years now and I've never managed it. I hope that by chance Mateo stumbles upon this blog just so he may know that he's still on someone's mind. Rio de Janeiro is a totally amazing place. This city finished top in the Forbes list of 50 cities.

Two Australian cities, Sydney and Melbourne make it into the top five. Sydney is rated second, while Melbourne is fifth. The Australians must be doing something right it seems. In third and fourth are Barcelona, Spain and Amsterdam, Netherlands respectively. Barcelona presumably for its coupling of European sophistication, Mediterranean sun and proud Catalan heritage. Amsterdam because in this city you and I can smoke joints whenever and wherever we wish to, lol. Only one US city makes it into the Top 10 and there are no African or Asian cities in the list at all. At 6th position is Madrid, Spain, 7th is San Francisco, USA, 8th is Rome, Italy, 9th is Paris, France and 10th is Buenos Aires, Argentina. See world's happiest cities in pictures.

What this seems to be suggesting is that those who live in cities in Africa, Asia, much of Northern and all of Eastern Europe and everywhere in North America aside from San Francisco, are less happy than those in the cities listed. Well, maybe there is some truth in this because living in London, I do not see many smiling faces. In Africa however, people tend to be happier and friendlier than this list might suggest and it may be that policy advisor Simon Anholt and market researcher GfK Custom Research North America who conducted this research by compiling online interviews with 10,000 respondents in 20 countries, (the names of which countries do not seem to have been disclosed), have placed undue reliance on preconceptions about the lifestyles of people in the Mediterranean and South America. The respondents too appear to have been swayed by their own idea of where they thought of as being the place where they would be most happy. Australia is the real surprise in these results, since history tells us that until relatively recently historically speaking, this was a penile colony to which hardened criminals from Europe were exiled.

The parameters used to measure this happiness are rather ambiguous and Anholt himself confirms that "happiness is difficult to quantify". He acknowledges though that his data is "less an indicator of where local populations are happiest than a reflection of respondents' thinking about where they could imagine themselves happy".

"Real happiness is cheap enough, yet how dearly we pay for its counterfeit." (Hosea Ballou 1771-1852)

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

EIS

"The Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) is the most wide-ranging glacier study ever conducted using ground-based, real-time photography. EIS uses time-lapse photography, conventional photography, and video to document the rapid changes now occurring on the Earth's glacial ice. The EIS team has installed 27 time-lapse cameras at 15 sites in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska, and the Rocky Mountains. EIS supplements this ongoing record with annual repeat photography in Iceland, the Alps, and Bolivia."

I understand that these cameras are to remain in situ until the autumn of this year. The images captured when played back provide a vivid picture of the extent to which the Earth's warming climate is affecting glacial ice and the world's ice sheets, with the potential for disastrous consequences for our planet in terms of rising sea levels if something is not done. It is feared that we might have even passed the tipping point, which is a really scary thought. I've been following James Balog and his colleagues for a while now..


James Balog Speaking Demo from Extreme Ice Survey on Vimeo.