Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Monochrome set

London is daubed a drab grey and smothered of light. I haven't been in the UK in January for a few years and I feel it. I miss the brighter shades of harmattan Abuja and the warmth. Although I have my camera with me, I can't drag myself to take a single picture. Meanwhile, I have been busy exhausting myself catching up with friends, cinema, shopping etc. Babel I didn't like (too contrived and incoherent), the Last King of Scotland is worth seeing (I liked it better than The Constant Gardener, which is a similar tale of muzunga complicity in Africa - Forest Whitaker is majesterial); Perfume on the other hand is a fantastic film - more tempting as a critical allegory of the society of the spectacle than the book, and a visually phantasmagoric feast (how did they film those bridge shots?). Dustin Hoffman has a delightful cameo role...

Despite the cold, London continues to fascinate and beguile. I meet a man who has the rights to Botox in India and wonders if I'd be interested in working with him (a move to Bombay - now there's an idea), I bump into dear friends (in Mildred's, where else?) who just happen to be in town (they live in Barcelona). How weird that I chanced into them the last time I was here. I meet up with a fellow naija-blogger and realise that I'd already met him (how strange to glue person and blog together again). I am browsing in Foyles when a man nearby asks for a book called Transmission but he doesn't know the author. I tell him how to spell Hari Kunzru. Moments later, he has the book in hand and smiles at me as he leaves the shop. 'My friend is negotiating an option on the film rights.' Then there is always so much to admire in the sartorial sways of London fashion - a smart looking Asian woman with a stud in the middle of her cheek, a peroxide blonde at Euston with 8 inch foam platform shoes, a ferocious looking white man in Greek orthodox garb at King's Cross, a well-fed tramp in comfy jumper (almost everyone must think the same thing when looking at him), a man with a fantastically well cut hounds tooth trench coat on on Regent's Street etc. I slurp down mushy peas on the bus (a little rude I know, but I was famished) - a handsome olive skinned man asks me with a quizzical air what I am eating. I explain the joys of mushy peas in winter time. It turns out he is from a kibbutz very near the one I stayed at all those years ago.

Even when its cold and seemingly unyielding, London offers itself as another form of reality in a thousand ways, through chance encounters such as these. Pathways open up into other ways of knowing and seeing all the time here, if one can only remain alert to the possibilities and the potentialities. But amidst all this, I miss my wife.


Meanwhile, today, my mom is 60, 140 miles north of here. The champagne floweth, and will continue too for the next few days (all the best socialists love the stuff). To the shires, in a couple of days..

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

419 calls - tips and advice please

I had another 419 call this morning, "Hey how you doing? How's your family? I'm calling from London!" with a dodgy Nigerian accent. I really want to learn how to scam the scammers and play these guys along. Perhaps I was too obvious this time round. I replied thus, "How are you too? I'm fine. I'm really interested in you transferring some money into my account, just to help you out. Shall I give you my bank details?" He seemed a little offended, and after abusing me and my father, he hung up. Please my dear readers, what can I do to waste these people's phone bills and mess their heads just a little more next time?

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Seamus Heaney and interpretation

I'm reading Heaney's collection of poems, District and Circle. I haven't sat down to read poetry in a thousand years (apart from taking frequent solace in Rilke, but I know him too well). Heaney's language is full of rhythm and the brogue of his birthplace, and yet often the meaning remains partially buried thanks to some of the strange words he uses.

Sometimes, when I used to go to see contemporary dance in London at The Place or Sadler's Wells, I used to feel an impostor. I'd accuse myself mid-performance of going there only because people like me do things like go to such places. Although I always enjoy seeing contemporary dance (NDT, Pina Bausch, Les Abbe C de la B etc), I sometimes feel like my understanding of it is utterly superficial, and that others in the audience are following the performance at deeper more meaningful levels. I have this lack of confidence sometimes with poetry. I'm sure some of you at least can resonate with this occasional diffidence in the face of the art work: "perhaps I am not meant to read this, or fully understand this..."

But then, the idea that there is clarity in the art work is and should always be a myth. A 'good' work of art ripples with enigma and the possibility of multiple interpretations across time and space. A good work of art is always rich with hermeneutics - Hermes should always have work to do. And so perhaps diffidence in the face of the art work can be two things, ambiguously interwoven. It can be a return to the child, setting forth into adult things, confused at the scale of the buildings and the way to go. And it can also be that return to the hermeneutic crossroads (where Hermes and Eshu dance with each other): which way to go, which way to take this?

District and Circle. One reads the title of the collection and is confused immediately: Heaney, in London?

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

African Path - a new multiblog

African Path is an excellent new multiblog, a growing bunch of provocative thoughtful bloggers from around the content. Check out this article by Dennis Matanda for starters, arguing for the re-colonisation of Africa.

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You can't get the staff these days...

Now you people over there in the developed world might have drinkable water from your tap and powercuts only as distant foggy memories, but at least we in the developing world don't have to do the washing up - there's always someone who needs that job. Expats and repats and middle-class Nigerians of all hues share the same problem: hiring maids and drivers who will do a good job and not steal too much. Whenever we congregate, there are always colourful stories to swap as human resource catharsis.

Our latest woe is our increasingly desperate maid/cook situation. We have had a whole series of maids who have come, stolen, and gone: Augusta, Augustina, Hassana etc. Hassana was actually good at her work and didn't steal but she kept disappearing for days on end (we suspect she was pregnant). Our latest one comes from Osogbo - I met her on a trip there before Christmas. I raved on and on about her to Bibi while in India - waxing lyrical about how we would be woken up with hot lemon juice, smoothies would proceed throughout the morning, followed by creatively colourful salads. We would teach her how to cook Thai and Indian etc etc. Bibi drank all my culinary poetry down while on the beach in Goa. Talk about raising expectations..

And then Frederika arrived and it turned out she could only cook pounded yam and stew but didn't like cleaning (there was a communication balls-up on her job description). So now, Frederika is leaving, which is a shame because she is honest and hard-working and is slowly learning 'our food'. So, I interviewed another young man who came recommended from an American expat last week. It turns out he only works Mon-Friday (the whole weekend is spent in Church) and when he says he can 'wash clothes', it means he knows how to put them in the washing machine. Now, a posh American diplomat type may have a washing machine in Abuja, but hardly anyone else has, least of all we. We asked the young Beninoise man if he wouldn't mind washing by hand. He gave us a pained look and then studied his fingernails. 'I don't like to wash with my hands. It will damage my fingernails.' Quel wuss. When it came to questions about his prowess in the kitchen, he told us he could cook chicken and fish. We asked him what recipes he knew. His mind drew a blank. The Americans, we fear, have spoiled him. The search continues..

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More on Michael Cardew and Ladi Kwali

Click here for more details on the Michael Cardew-Ladi Kwali influences on the Nigerian pottery scene. Faithful readers will recall a trip I made to Bwarri pottery village a few months back.

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Ryszard Kapuscinski RIP

Click here for an obit published on the Beeb's site today. Thanks BK for the link.

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Memories of Granddad

Before I was born, Granddad was a postman amongst many other things. One freezing winter, he chanced the iced-over canal as a short cut to Brewood. The ice cracked and bike and man and post slipped quickly into the icy water. He had to dry the letters out one by one by the fire. Then, during the war, he helped his father Frank, with their secret canning operation. Rations were never enough; the black market rural economy thrived. And one day, he met Olive, the slightly well-to-do woman from a Cheshire family. The Suttons thought that she might be marrying down, but he convinced all in the end. He would spend all his days in her watchful company.

*

The photo of him in drag at a carnival in 1972. The day sits at the dimmest recesses of my memory. The photo brings his playfulness alive. He had big boobs.

*

Granddad and I shared a ritual during my adolescence. On long summer days we would go to either the perch pit down Broadholes Lane (pronounced bradoles or Mrs Johnson’s carp pit and fish. I taught him how to fish at the age of 13 – how to hook a maggot (stab the hook in between the ‘eyes’), tie a hook to the nylon (the various knot options), how many lead weights to add to the line so the float sat upright in the water, how to cast, and how to respond to the different bobbings of a float. We sat for hours together in companionable silence, every now and again, reeling in a fish and setting it down silver-slippery into the keepnet. The maggots riggled in their tub between us, sandwiches in a Tupperware box close by. Both of us are still there now, by the green water, under the shade of a bough. Afterwards, if we’d been fishing for carp, we’d go to Mrs Johnson’s, where the peacocks wailed and strutted. We’d drink tea from porcelain cups and fruitcake in her shady living room. Granddad would tell stories in his country brogue – tales of their age mates and what was happening in their world. I would sit and listen. Every now and again, Mrs Johnson would fetch more tea.

*

His hair was like Heseltines, his eyebrows like Breshnev, his face like Kirk Douglas. Granddad was a bit of a looker.

*

All the time in my childhood, there was the continuous refrain of granddad whistling “What a strength we have in Jesus” as he cycled around the village, wearing a beret in summer or a thicker almost-Russian looking hat in winter. Sherry, the Alsatian they bought after being burgled, biting at his tires and barking with glee. He only ever seemed to whistle the first two lines of the tune.
*

One year, Granddad, Vic and I spent the day watching the Severn bore – the once yearly tidal wave that rolls up Britain’s longest river. The wave was like a hump-backed animal creating a blade of water while gliding just beneath the surface. We onlookers let out a collective gasp when the wave approached with an implacable whoosh. Surfers rode the wave for endless miles. We’d watch it pass, then race upstream to another destination, and wait again. The three of us, in the presence of a miracle of nature.

*

Granddad exploding at a woman at the gates to Church Farm while I stood by. “You think I’m a country bumpkin” he shouted. The woman soon sharded into tears. He bequeathed his foul temper to son, to son.

*

Granddad saying, ‘well flop me’ with a sweet and gentle smile on his face, while listening to some extraordinary story. He used when recounting something wonderful in nature, like the day he saw birds in formation changing altitude with the most fantastic choreography.

*

The day we bought the house at Marston at the auction. Granddad bid by slowing raising his stick. We all stood by as he got it for us for eight thousand pounds.

*

All those weekends watching ITV impersonator Mike Yarwood and comedians Eric Sykes and Benny Hill (while mom and dad ran the folk club), sipping sugary hot chocolate. Sister Vic had to sleep at the bottom of my proper hot water bottled bed on a camp bed. The injustice yielded onto her via the younger brother stained the days. Granddad had his first tipple (sherry) only when I was born, after taking ‘the pledge’ aged 14.

*

Mending bikes at the back of the house (Seedley Cottage). He taught me how to fix brakes, and look after my bike. He made me a catapault once from a Y-shaped branch down the lane. I smashed a window in the shop opposite once using it. I never owned up.

*

He’d lift the 56lbs weight that Sherry was tethered to with his little finger, while telling me about the incredible strength of Frank. Frank could raise two 56lbs weights above his head repeatedly, with his little fingers. Frank used to go to the greyhound races 5 days a week, travelling by pony and trap to Wolverhampton (10 miles distant). He was the strongest man in the village. He gambled away a whole street of houses in one game. We came from yeoman stock, my mother always said. Yeoman stock with a gambling streak, more like.

*
Granddad used to dig graves for ten pounds a time. When I was younger, he’d dig four in a weekend. Later on, when the strength slowly started to fail him, he’d just go to funerals. I came home from school once, to see him rushing in for a quick cup of tea between death ceremonies.

*

Buying Vic and I our first proper car, a cherry red Citroen Dyane for a thousand pounds. I named her Jolene. The car tilted as we went round bends and had a funny gear stick near the steering wheel, a lever with a handle you pulled in and out to change gear. That car was summer freedom – picnics, wine and dope with friends in the depths of the country with the fabric roof rolled off. One day, Granddad decided to drive to Penkridge with it as a change from driving his own car. The trouble was, no one had taught him how to use the gear stick. He drove 5 miles in fourth gear. The engine sounded a bit like his singing in church: low but struggling valiantly on.

*

Granddad, later on, going to watch the Watling Street traffic with Olive at the Bradford Arms. Flask in front and Sherry panting in the back. Marvelling at the endless flow of humanity and machine.

*

Hugging him for the first time in my life at Stafford railway station, returning from Belgium, after Nan’s death in 1991. Shaving him when he was weak and dying. The last goodbye, as he lay there in his bed at Church Farm.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Chief Exec job advert - please pass on..

JOB ANNOUNCEMENT

CEO Position

About New Entity
DFID Nigeria has engaged in a partnership with the Ford Foundation Office of West Africa to serve as catalysts for the emergence of a Nigerian organization that would support changes in the financial sector towards making financial markets work for the poor. The initiative has been inspired by the FinMark Trust Programme in South Africa which supports and promotes institutional and organizational development towards the objective of increasing access to financial services by the un- and under-served of southern Africa.

The Nigerian entity will: a) address the information gaps in Nigeria's financial markets through the annual implementation of the Finscope Nigeria survey, b) engage in policy-related advocacy and, c) through an innovation fund, support innovation by service providers seeking to explore new market segments.

This entity will be managed as an independent and professional nonprofit organization. It will actively seek financial investments and strategic partnerships with Nigeria's leading financial institutions as well as collaborations with key public sector organizations.

The CEO will be expected to:
1. Report to and work closely with a Board of Directors, composed of leaders from the Nigerian public, private and nonprofit sector
2. Develop and implement a comprehensive strategy for the start-up and growth of the entity. Key focus areas include:
- Improving the level of credible market information to regulators and the private sector
- Assisting the private sector to lobby for a regulatory framework and financial sector policy that facilitates a broader and more balanced financial sector
- Managing an innovation fund that incentivises financial institutions to develop robust products that deepen the financial sector
3. Establish strategic partnerships with leading financial institutions in Nigeria who will serve as investors in and beneficiaries of the programmes and services offered by the entity
4. Oversee the implementation of the annual FinScope Nigeria survey, and manage the coordinator of this survey.
5. Create and manage the entity's brand, actively promoting the programmes, services and impact of the entity through different media.
6. Serve as the spokesperson for the entity, representing it at local and international meetings that will enhance the profile and the work of the entity
7. Manage the entity's budget and ensure transparency, and efficiency in the use of the entity's funds, with the aim of ensuring that the entity becomes self sustaining by its 3rd year of operations
8. Cultivate and manage relationships with all funders and supports
9. Prepare regular reports on the impact of the entity for all funders and supports
10. Manage the entity's staff and its office operations
11. Oversee any other tasks that may emerge as a result of the establishment and growth of the entity


Qualifications Required
A minimum of a post graduate degree, preference for an MBA
Over 10 years of experience of managerial experience in the international business or development arena
Evidence of strong networks in the Nigerian private, public and nonprofit sector
Demonstrable knowledge and interest in financial markets, research, investments and advocacy
Strong interpersonal, communication and writing skills
Proven entrepreneurial ability and capacity to work with significant autonomy
A high level of integrity and preparedness to keep stakeholders informed
Strong indication of passion for Nigeria's development and commitment to the developmental objectives of the entity

Salaries & Benefits
Salaries will be competitive and will be commensurate with experience.

Preferred Start Date: On or before April, 2007.

Send all CVs and evidence of research experience to finscopenigeria@yahoo.com on or before 5 p.m. on February 10th, 2007.

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Free Vehicle Recovery

I’d always been surprised by the intent behind the signs that say ‘Free Vehicle Recovery’ where there are roadworks on British motorways. How generous that if you broke down at a roadworks and didn’t have a roadside repair policy with the AA, the RAC or whoever, you were still ok – a supporting hand would soon appear courtesy of those nice road maintenance people. There was clearly more to road maintenance and construction companies than scowling men with builder’s bums working at night under floodlights. I always felt there was something weirdly generous about this arrangement, but never questioned it beyond the odd fleeting daydream of a thought as the signs whizzed by. That was until I broke down at a roadworks one vicious winter’s night.

It was around 1997. I was driving back to London after spending the week at my folks. My car was a Nissan Micra (don’t laugh). The rain pelted down mercilessly, the sky was an inky black. All I had for company was the repetitive sound of the wipers clearing away sloshing bucket loads of rain. And then Bang! The engine died with an explosion under the bonnet that had an air of finality about it. I managed to steer the car onto the hard shoulder, by some flashing traffic cones. Opening the lid, I could see that there was a hole in the engine casing – it looked like a piston had burst through. This was serious and looked irreparable. I closed the lid and sat in the car, thanking myself that at least I’d come to a halt in a roadworks area, so finally I would get to see what the free vehicle recovery service was all about. The sadness that something terminal might have gone wrong with the engine was tempered by the comforting thought that I would at least soon be getting a lift all the way home in a tow truck. I wondered if the guy would let me ride in the car as it was being towed (I had a strange fantasy to do that when I was a small boy) – I figured this wouldn’t be legal or possible. No matter, at least I would still get home to Battersea without any issues…

Soon enough, the tow truck appeared, lights a-flashing. A beefy chap got out and steered the crane around and hooked up the front of the car. To my delight, he allowed me to stay in the car (we had yet to communicate in any way). I sat back to enjoy the ride. We set off, but strangely enough, he had yet to ask me where in London (about 50 miles away) we were going. Stranger still, we left the motorway at the next exit, and came to a halt in the nearest lay-by. He parked his truck, then proceeded to lower the crane until my car was fully parked on the ground. ‘Ah’ I thought. ‘He’s come to ask me where we’re going. He was just making sure we were out of danger off the hard shoulder first. How sensible.’ I closed my eyes to wait for him to reach the car. A few seconds later, I heard a noise. The tow truck was driving off! A helpless panic seeped through my veins. I didn’t know where I was, it was pissing with rain, my car was not working, I was not getting a free ride home.

It was in this unpleasant way that I finally learnt the full meaning of ‘Free Vehicle Recovery’ meant. I had to walk for an hour down the road until I came to a phone box where I eventually managed to arrange for a tow-truck to pick me up, and, for 98 quid, drive me (sitting in the front with the driver) and my dead car back to Battersea. I eventually got it fixed, from a dodgy mechanic in Southall with a line in second hand motors straight from Japan (pay cash, no questions asked). But that's another story...

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On African culture

Thought-provoking article by Wangui wa Goro on Pambazuka News from last year.

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In the Taj

I woke up and realised I'd forgotten to mention, in my India travelogue piece from last week, a minor triumph in the Taj Hotel, Bombay, after a meal in the Japanese restaurant:

Bibi had gone to the bathroom, so I lingered near the reception. A little bored, I went to the internal phone and picked it up. 'Can I speak to Mr. Singh please?' I began. 'Which room number Sir?' the receptionist promptly replied. 'Hmmm, I'm not sure. I think he said it was 350.' 'I'm sorry Sir, but we don't have a room number 350. Please, may I suggest you call him to confirm he is staying here?' I felt a blank ahead of me. I put the phone down. I need to practise the subtle art of fabrication more often. I often fantasize about creating grand fictional existences for myself when we meeting people on planes and trains, but end up copping out with predictable truthhoods.

I walked away from the phone. A hugely tall man came sauntering down the corridor and picked up the phone I had just been using. His torso was massively long and wide. He wore a houndstooth sports jacket. I marvelled at his size. I tried to listen in on his conversation, but his voice was too baritone and quiet. Bibi appeared down the corridor. Just then, the tall man hooked up the phone and turned. I felt a hint of recognition, my brain scrambling through an invisible image directory. I turned to smile at Bibi and asked him how much taller he was than I - and then I walked close to him to allow her to compare. Just then, I found the name I was looking for. I turned and looked up into the guy's face: a long black face with greying hair. "You're Joel Garner. Wow! You're one of my heroes!" Joel smiled a sweet and slightly shy smile. I'm not sure he expected to be recognised in this place, so far from home. I noticed that there was a woman to his side, and an older man on the other side. I carried on my gushing, 'I remember watching you at Old Trafford, in the mid 1980s, with Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding. Remember - the day you broke the English guy's arm with a bouncer?' I struggle to remember whose arm had been broken by the hurtling ball. 'Oh yes - you mean Trevor x?' (I can't remember the surname of the guy he mentioned). I didnt mean this guy. I shook his hand. Even though I am tall and have big hands, his hands were much bigger, completely enclosing mine. He smiled a broad smile, as did the man next to him. I noticed that his companion had a slightly expectant air. It was only afterwards that I realised it was Wes Hall - a glorious fast bowler before my time. I wish I'd known his face well enough to acknowledge him as well.

Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Michael Holding. Three of the greatest fast bowlers of all time, playing in the same team at the same time in the 1980's. We sat there, that sunny Manchester day, a family picnic at a test-match, surrounded by West Indian fans blowing trumpets, ringing bells, banging drums and singing. At one point, Michael Holding came to field near us. The crowd began singing spontaneously, 'Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah!' in a lulling powerful refrain. After a few choruses, Michael, with his back to us, mimicked the rowing of a boat, bringing the crowd into a roar of approval. There was something about Michael Holding - his balletic grace as he ran up to bowl - an effortless balance of energy. And then the release - the lightening speed of the ball (almost too fast for the eye) as it flew towards the batsman. And then there was Joel, 6' 10" and fast, developing perhaps the steepest bounce in the history of cricket. There was an advert on tv at the time, with the camera at stump level as Joel came up to bowl. It was a ferocious, frightening sight, to have this huge body, seemingly too large and too close, hurtle a hard projectile of leather towards you at over 90mph. England didn't stand a chance. It is every cricket lovers dream that the West Indies team will rise again, and a new Malcolm Marshall, a new Michael Holding and a new Joel Garner will be found...

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Jandifying

I'm off to Jand to celebrate my Mom's 60th and my beloved sister's 40th (oh and to eat the sacred food at Mildreds). First thing I'm doing when I land later in the week is to go and see this.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Its been a difficult week for NOI

First, the former Finance Minister was pipped to the Deputy UN post by an unknown from Tanzania (an Australian newspaper alleges that OBJ had his hand in the rejection), then, scandal of scandals, her hubby gets wrapped up in a sex-blackmail case. Apparently, he'd been having an affair with a 20 something nurse in the hospital where he works as a neurosurgeon. After the affair had died down, she threatened to go public until he handed over US$40k. He paid up, in two installments. Then, she called him and told him she hadn't had sex in a while and wanted to see him. He met her later that evening in the hospital carpark, where they then drove to a secluded spot and proceeded to get it on, only for someone to sneek up and take photos of them in media res. It turns out it was the nurse's boyfriend with the camera! The duo then upped the hush money fee to US$180,000, at which point, Dr Iweala alerted the FBI. The morale of the story? Don't give in to blackmailers! I hope something good comes for NOI in 2007 - its been a terrible start to the year..

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P R O U D. Rishikesh


P R O U D. Rishikesh
Originally uploaded by Claude Renault.
I'm browsing the 'India' tag on Flickr - there's some amazing images, like this one, of Sadhus in Rishikesh..

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Western firms massive tax avoidance in Africa

Highly predictable that the UK is in up to its neck and that the World Bank/IMF is also part of the problem. Click here to read the story.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Surulere babe

More recently uploaded Lagos photos here.

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Positives

It's time to sow the seeds of the positive and reflect on some good stuff in Nigeria. We've been lucky to meet some amazing people here who are part of the transformation. Allow me to mention just a few to begin with:

K. An entrepreneur and an intellectual with deep insights into the state of Nigeria and where it is going. K comes up with pithy phrases such as 'outsourcing to God', the 'triumph of ego over process' and 'reluctant Nigerians' that capture some of the more enduring neuroses of the current condition here. Most significantly, his sustained interest in bottom of the pyramid approaches to development, and his alternative energy solutions, will be part of a new Nigeria. He's both highly intuitive and highly conceptual (a rare combination) and an all round great guy.

F. He leads an IT company here in Abuja which has grown from 1 member of staff to over 70 in just over two years. F refuses to do business as usual in Nigeria and so will not offer kick-backs or other forms of egunje to decision-making civil servants. Against all the odds, his business is succeeding, by power of the value proposition alone. I first met him in the context of my being his client. The value-add was close to being pampered by excess advice every day. It's not been an easy journey, but F demonstrates how one does need to cave in to the 'Nigerian factor' in order to be successful here.

M. An Indian who has spent almost all his life in Nigeria, M is as passionate about transforming Nigeria as he is about his own spiritual quest. He wants to create a globally successful business from out of the multi-million dollar chemical business he has today. M has the gift of asking powerful questions at just the right time. He spends his time converting ever-present self-dissatisfaction into huge reserves of potential and kinetic energy. Again, an intellectual and an entrepreneur, M is up there as one of the most positive things about Nigeria today.

A. She grew up in Ajegunle, one of the most notorious slums of Lagos. Through sheer tenacity, she managed to get a University education. She has now returned to work in Ajegunle, and is making a difference.

E. A writer and fashion designer, E is committed to the vision of a new Nigeria. Never having had the opportunity to live or study abroad, E is testimony to the fact that Nigerians don't have to go outside to develop their powers and talents. E herself has an uncanny talent-spotting ability. She currently works for a leading women's magazine, as well as setting up her own fashion label.

O. Is a young street photographer. He has a gentle manner, and an uncanny ability to capture the essence of life in some of the more testing parts of Lagos. O is not motivated by money - if you are not happy with the images he takes for you, he will not accept payment. He loves nature. One day the break he is looking for will come.

D. D is a gardener and spiritual man. He makes a little money tending the gardens of the elite in Abuja. He loves plants so much that he gets very upset if a plant he has sold you dies. Again, money is not his motivation. He has a vision of an abundant Abuja, filled with public parks and gardens and all manner of tropical flowers.

More to come later..

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'Celebrity' Big Brother

Ok - I'll try writing this for the third time (laptop woes). For those without a UK-focus, Celebrity Big Brother has been causing a lot of controversy in the past few days, with allegations of racism prompting 40,000 complaints to Ofcom, the regulator. The Bollywood actress, Shilpa Shetty, has been called Shilpa Popadom and allegedly was called a Paki by one of the cerebrally-challenged fellow contestants, mixed-race Jade Goody. Some of the contestants refused to pronounce Shilpa's name correctly, a common annoyance faced by anyone without an English sounding name. It's all backfired on Jade - her perfume range has been pulled from the shelves, and she faces months of flack from all and sundry.

But all Jade has done is hold a mirror to the subtle yet ugly racism of many white Britons. Very few white people in the UK count non-white people as friends. Many white people take anything in a turban or with light brown skin to be a 'Paki'. Its hideously annoying to be associated by shared-nationality with this immense mono-coloured slab of ignorance. Sometimes it seems that this only is the truth: that most humans have little more than an animal consciousness, with the 'herd mentality' that goes with it. Only a tiny percentage rise above the herd instinct and ask questions..

Click here for a thoughtful/provocative article by Martin Jacques, in today's Grauniad.

And click here for a special page of news and analysis devoted to the controversy on the Times of India's website.

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One laptop per child

My laptop is emitting death rattle noises. It may be time to give it a good funeral. This got me thinking about the One Laptop Per Child initiative that the Nigerian govt in its infinite wisdom has adopted, and the Indian govt, in contrast, as turned its back on and farted. I was trying to work out why the esteemed Mr Negroponte of the even more esteemed Massachusetts Institute of Technology would have thought it a good idea. One person suggested, 'Well, he has to make some money.' I would have thought that he already earnt a good packet and probably lives in the nicest part of Cambridge/Boston. Another suggested, 'Its to ensure the youth are computer literate.' This sounds to me to be close to what must have been the original intention. But surely, there are better, more sustainable ways of ensuring widespread computer literacy in the developing world? In the Nigerian context, OLPC can only mean one thing: contracts and yahoo yahoo nefariousness. Who exactly will receive a laptop, and on the basis of exactly what criteria? We can rely on Dis Day and all the other forms of toilet paper not to ask this question.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Shantaram

I'm reading Shantaram by Gregory Roberts. It's a cracking real-life story of an Australian con-on-the-run ending up in Bombay, first living in a slum, then becoming involved in organised crime, which apparently is to be made into a film shortly, staring Johnny Depp. It can be read on many levels: as simply a gripping read, as an insight into Bombay as megalopolis (offering more than Mehta's Maximum City in my opinion), but at a deeper level, it offers insights into the informal economy and how we view criminality. The urban poor often have no access to the formal economy, bank accounts, legally-backed accommodation etc. In that wise, they have to rely on informal networks that formal capitalists systems view as 'criminal'. However, oftentimes, these informal-yet-illegal networks are wholly supportive and mainly positive in the work and service they provide. Roberts helps to set up a medical facility (in his hut!) in the slum, receiving black market drugs from a community of lepers and paid for by one of the underworld mafia dons. At no point in this value-chain is there bad intention, and the end-users in the slum only benefit. Shantaram forces us to question the relationship between social disenfranchisement and criminality. Some reviewers on Amazon criticise it for being overlong and riven with overly poetic flourishes. I say bollocks. It's a profound meditation on the nature of human suffering and agency, from someone who has experienced more than a lifetime of limit situations.. At 900 pages+, its ideal for long commutes, flights etc.

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Anointment

There was a funny pic in yesterday's Dis Day (by the way, there hasn't been a day in the past week when the owner of this drivelly rag has not appeared on at least two of the pages - the man seems to be milking the tragedy of one of his offices burning down) - a pastor was blessing a laptop made by a local computer manufacturer. There he was, hands on the cardboard box in the midst of a fervent prayer. I remembered another time, when holy water was needed, and a pastor simply took a bottle of Eva (a local table water brand) and 'anointed' it. One of the advantages of a DIY Christian culture like Nigeria (anyone, without any training, can become a pastor overnight and begin the dupery) is that objects can quickly become sacralised. I think we need to call someone in to anoint our Wimax equipment - perhaps then it won't keep breaking down..

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back online

Just coming up for air online after connectivity blues for the past two days. There's an interview in today's Independent with Femi Kuti by my friend Alex Hannaford. Femi's got a new album out. Apparently (this is not in the article), Femi and his (some say more talented sibling) Seun recently made up - the ownership of the Fela legacy mantle being one of the key rivalry issues.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

My head is still in India

Part of me has yet to return. India was so inspiring, it is going to take the usual week or so to adjust to a different context. There's something about the collective appreciation for the life of the ascetic and the quest to jettison the ego in favour of transcendent realities that lingers, and contrasts so sharply with Nigeria, where materialism and ego are gloriously ascendant.. Plus, the harmattan has been cold and dusty the past few days, resulting in both Bibi and I falling sick (at some point when I'm no longer living here, I will almost inevitably associate Nigeria with illness). I can't be bothered to catch up on the news - not that there seems to be any here at the moment. Someone told me there's been a re-structuring of the Federal Ministries, does anyone know about this?

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

RIP Alice Coltrane

Thanks Teju for letting me know. Journey to Satchidananda is one of the classic voyages in spiritual jazz. If you've never listened to it, go buy it now if you can. The lady with the strings has now become part of the music of the spheres..

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Jeremy flying a kite, Bombay ghat


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India travelogue

We arrive after an uncomfortable flight from Lagos to Nairobi in a decrepit Kenya Airways plane staffed by tall surly men, and a slightly less uncomfortable connection from Nairobi to Bombay in a newer plane with more accommodating female staff. At Bombay local airport, the space is full of light, with a curvilinear contemporary feel. The local airport has an aerodynamic section design and could be anywhere in the world. Three or four free full-colour newspapers are stacked in the racks. Coffee Day – the Indian answer to Starbucks – lies at the end of the terminal. In the departure lounge, a semi-enclosed room with comfy stylish seats shows a local rolling news channel on a huge plasma screen. Stands with every type of phone charger are available throughout. This is airport design from a fresh perspective – how sad and tired Heathrow looks in comparison. We eat succulent corn flavoured with a massala spice mix and then board our local plane for Delhi.

Delhi. Meeting up with our friend Meenaskshi, we go for lunch at a contemporary Indian restaurant in Greater Kailash 1 (locals call it GK1). Then we mooch around the excellent local Full Circle bookshop (on two floors and part of a chain in the city), followed by tea at the Cafe Turtle upstairs. Just like last time I was in Delhi, some warm jazz guitar music comes on through the sound system. A hidden hand beckons me to live here. GK 1, like other shopping enclaves in Delhi, is a series of shops under colonnades spaced around a public park. Usually, there is a good mix of shops and services in each enclave, creating interesting zones dotted around the city, with many in the south of the city.

On the road to Rishikesh the next day – we get stuck in the mother of all traffic jams. Everything comes to a halt – colourfully painted lorries, Ambassador cars and minivans get mired to the spot. Bullock carts coming from the other direction are quickly the only form of moving transport to be seen. I weave through the standing traffic to find out what the problem is. Apparently, some school children are having a race further ahead, with no concern that a major route out of the capital has been blocked.. After about a mile, I come to a crossroads with chairs blocking the road, with no sign of any runners. The air is cool and fragrant, with woodsmoke mingling with eucalyptus. We reverse and take a backroute through a string of villages parallel to the main road, passing by a huge suger-cane factory on the way.. Eight hours later, we arrive at Ananda, in the blue-smudge Himalayan foothills above Rishikesh. All the way, the conversation bounces between entrepreneurship, development and spirituality. Although the journey was long, our excited talk stitched time together.

At Ananda we learn to say Namashkar to everybody and are driven about on golf carts from one part of the complex to another. The days are spent doing yoga, lingering in the spa and having treatments: Shiro Dhara ayurvedic massage (where hot oil is poured steadily onto the forehead), Lithos (an Australian treatment involving being massaged with hot and cold stones), as well as reflexology, Swedish massage etc. Our fellow guests are an interesting cast of characters, fit for a soap opera. A busy-body Aunty figure who likes to tell the people she meets about her global fabric business in Delhi, a handsome woman from the Punjab who introduces herself as a banker. I suggest (from the shape of her eyebrows and her regal nose) that by this must mean a high-flying investment banker, not someone working at Barclays in Hendon Central. She replies quickly – no, I actually work at Barclays in Hounslow. It is of course, a good humoured lie, although I silently gasp in embarrassment before I realise her humour.

One afternoon, we visit a Sati mandir high above Ananda, and catch sight with a gasp at the high snow-peaked Himalayas far off on the horizon. We sit with the temple women in a small room as they bless us and daub our foreheads with a red blotch each. Behind the two women, the shrine, above, many glass lamps hang from the ceiling. The light darkens outside as we sit in the shady interior. Earlier, I had played a quick game of cricket with some local boys. At two or three thousand metres up, it must be one of the highest games of cricket played anywhere in the world. They mock my bowling in Hindi, but are silenced into respect as I thwack the ball hither thither with the bat.

In Rishikesh, one dusk we go to watch the Aarti puja-ceremony on the banks of the Ganga. Hundreds of angelic looking boys in golden shawls sway and sing to the river and to Shiva as night falls. We enter a sacred space-time, where rivers are no longer simply rivers, and myths no longer simply myths.

Back in Delhi, we stay at the Taj Mahal and sample the city. The Tata family (Parsi entrepreneurs) started the Taj Hotel concept off in the early 20th century in Bombay, apparently after Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata was refused entry to the Oberoi hotel. Dilli Hat is a Spitalfields in India – a lovely craft/artisan market. The newish Delhi metro is fantastic – similar to the Jubilee line extension in London. The fares are 12 rupees per journey, the carriages a hundred meters or more in length and almost twice as wide as their London equivalent. We meet the Garg family – two precociously intelligent brothers to our friend Maneesh. We learn what crores and lakhs are. The conversation is fast and witty and full of insights. Later, we criss-cross the city in Ambassador taxis and the three-wheeler phut-phut autos – GK1, GK2, Haus Kaz, Qutb Minar. We buy clothes in FabIndia, eat sweet potato street food, meet up with the people behind Viveka publishers, tour local print facilities. On New Year’s Eve, we party at the Hyatt with our friends and a thousand other happy people – a judge tries to pick up Bibi, an ecstatic man tries to chat me up. The following day I walk through a local graveyard, feeling at peace with the Anglo-Indian souls at rest there. I spend time sitting with a family selling flowers by a busy road outside, trying to connect with the life of a poor Delhi family.

In the following days, we visit Old Delhi – the hustling bustle of the Chandi Chowk market area, a highpoint being a visit to the Jain temple near Red Fort, witnessing the fluid intricacies of Jain ritual devotion at the core of the most non-violent religion on the planet. We are also touristically obliged to visit the Red Fort – the huge magnificently walled space that was the administrative centre of Delhi (and India) during the Mughal reign, the mighty Jama Masjid mosque nearby and the Qutb Minar – a huge pillar built nearly 1000 years ago. We had planned to visit the famous Museum of Toilets in the south-west of the city, but it didn’t work out that way.

During our forays, I reflected on the oddity that so much of Northern India’s architectural heritage is Mughal in origin – and yet how sad that the Muslim heritage of India is repressed in favour of an illusory Hindhu nationalism… A little like Spain, India has yet to fully embrace the inner complexities of its rich Islamic past. Each day, I follow the story of the Noida killings – the worst serial killing case in Indian history, with over 30 children sexually abused, murdered and dismembered, apparently by the owner of the house and his servant. The media pressure forces various local police chiefs to resign on account of their failure to follow complaints of missing persons up in the past few years. I marvel at the power of the free press in India, in sharp contrast to the toothless inexactitudes of the fourth estate in Nigeria. We discover Tulsi (Holy Basil), and buy tea and ayurvedic tablets. Tulsi is found everywhere and, like its relative Basil, has powerful healing immune-system building properties.

We fly down to Goa, to stay in a friend’s family house in the village of Cansaulim. We are relieved to find ourselves a little off the tourist track, although Goa is so small that one does not have to travel far to be inundated. Unfortunately, the house is within metres of a busy train line, with night trains blasting their horns into the darkness to warn cows and elephants off the track. The Doppler-effect of the horn is a bit like living close to a port, and the sad sound of a ship’s klaxon blasting across the open space of water. We don’t sleep.

In the north of the state, we try and fail to find our friends who are staying at a resort. The north is disappointing; amidst the verdant green paddy fields there are huge ugly billboards by the side of the roads, the roads are filled with Easy-Rider western wannabees buzzing around on scooters and bikes, there are many hippy-type shops that make the place look like Camden Market in the tropics. We are glad to get away.

On the same day, we visit Old Goa, a dead once-was city that rivalled Lisbon at the height of the Portuguese occupation a few centuries ago, as well as a well-known nearby temple. Old Goa these days is two huge churches and a clutch of buildings there about. It is astonishing to think that the Portuguese only fully left Goa in the 1960’s – but not surprising when one considers the strong influence Portuguese aesthetics still has on housing design, and the still-existing links between Goa and Portugal.

The local papers are covering an important stakeholder/community meeting taking place in Panijim, the state capital, about plans for the development of the State. Some NRG’s (Non-Resident Goans) are up in arms about the failures of the past and the weak visions for the future – including Goans who have significant careers in government in Portugal. If the state government is not careful, the development of the region could spiral rapidly downwards, creating a Costa del Goa effect, with ugly hotels attracting bargain basement hordes, ruining the coastal strip. As it stands, there are pressing immediate issues to be resolved such as waste management. The influx of tourists in recent years has massively increased the amount of plastic waste in the towns and villages, creating a serious waste issue, and many dirty streets.

In South Goa, the Russians have taken over for the season. Every resort along the coast is full of them, with menus written in Russian. I spot numerous fantastically attractive blond women with perfect figures, and imagine the criminal careers of their partners, pausing correctively to consider whether the Russian middle class is really strong enough for honest citizens to afford the trip in the numbers that are present here. Finally, I finish reading Maximum City. We meet a British artist who has moved his family to Goa. In London, life was tough getting tougher; he had resorted to becoming a builder, his son was getting bullied in the local school. In Goa, life is looking up – he has a large commission to paint pictures in every room of a new hotel, and his son is going to the local Steiner school, and singing on his way to class every day. He tells us that a Vipassana meditation (10-day silent meditation) retreat he went on a while ago in Herefordshire transformed his life. Another chap we meet, an Australian called Carlos, has just come from a Vipassana retreat at Bodhgaya (where the Buddha reached enlightenment). Just before the trip, I was considering doing Vipassana in the Himalayas, until I realised the course is an obligatory 10 days minimum. All signs are pointing towards doing the course in 2007, perhaps at Dharamsala.

I spend hours at the beach studying the waves – the ominous incoming line that appears a few hundred metres out, the gradual gathering of speed and height, the formation of a crest with the light glittering off the upper folding curve, the left-to-right zipping rim of froth as the crest starts to break, the momentary tunnels created between the under and upper sides of the wave, the crashing of the wave nearer the shore, the bubbling and steaming froth as it peters out by the beach, the slow filmic retraction of white camouflaged seawater. I watch the tide’s effect on the waves, and meditate on all the different sound components of the sea. I imagine being there to witness a tsunami, the drawing back of the sea, the line of terror that appears at high speed on the horizon, the devastation on impact, the falling beneath, the drowning. I also study the patterns of the sand-crabs; when they dig their holes (as the tide is receding), the way they scurry to the edge of the hole as you approach, lingering at the edge for a few seconds, then vanishing as you get closer.

After days at the beach immersed in the subtle complexities of its being, with some more ayurvedic treatments at a local centre, we fly back up to Bombay and meet with our good friends Antonio and Nadia, who are spending a few years travelling around Asia. There is much catching up to do, over food, while shopping and visiting local galleries. We stroll in the early evening along Marine Drive, perhaps the most pleasant public space in the whole city – a concrete pedestrian strip a few miles long along the Arabian sea coast. The drive has recently been done up, with a new concrete barrier. If the Bar Beach project in Lagos is as good as this, a desperately needed new public space will be opened up in the city. Indian culture has for thousands of years appreciated the importance of public space, in the form of the green expanses, called maidans, that are found in many Indian cities. In Bombay, the most significant is called the Oval Maidan. Each day three or four games of cricket take place here in the heart of the city. The players are all dressed in whites, with uniformed umpires. The standard of the cricket is quite good. Perhaps at any one time in Bombay, there are tens of games of formal cricket taking place in all the maidans and gymkhanas of the city, complementing the thousands of informal games of street cricket that are found everywhere. A new tv station advertises itself on billboards as the first 100% 24 hours cricket station, while other adverts promote a multi-player online cricket game, www.zapak.com

We visit our friend’s guru in morning session. In a Breach Candy eyrie, fifteen or so expats and one or two locals sit and ask questions. An old man, with a deficit of teeth launches into philosophical treaties in response to each question. His philosophy is one of ‘non-doing’ – as we are all bound by genes and conditioning, there is not much we can alter about ourselves, therefore we should simply embrace our true nature without pride or guilt, attaining ‘identity-consciousness’. I challenged his passive account of the subject by pointing out that we are each capable of being responsible for our own re-conditioning, he responded by saying that by conditioning, he also meant re-conditioning. At which point, I lost all understanding of his original concept of non-doing.. Still, it was pleasant to be in a well-designed Bombay living room, listening to some sort of philosophical discussion. At the end, his followers took turns to prostrate grandly in front of him and kiss the ground. Our friends then took us on a tour of the Portuguese-influenced community where they stay, as well as to the ghats on the south-western edge of the city. Bibi and I lunch in an excellent Japanese restaurant at the Taj, we went again to Fab India, and we bought many more books (Western books are often fully available in Bombay shops, at a third the price). In the papers, the Noida killings story rumbles on (it looks like it was the servant who did the dirty work), as do more lightweight discussions of the Nollywood god and fully ubiquitous Amitabh Bachchan in comparison to the young pretender, Shah Rukh Khan.

In between cities and places and experiences, the following reflections came to presence:

· India has the edge over China in terms of its strong democratic traditions, as well as the size (100 million) of its middle-class. Although there are deep-seated social tensions arising from the caste system, there is at the same time a well-established belief in the freedom to associate, protest and dissent which is slowly eroding class privilege. Untouchables, known as the dalits, have more rights and freedoms than ever before, although there is still a long way to go. There are five or six Indian companies poised to go global in the next few years, in the wake of the mighty Tata (which has quietly been acquiring Western companies within its 96-company group empire in the past couple of years, including Tata Tea buying renowned UK company Tetley recently) and following on from the Mittal empire, which has a large telecoms company as well as the steel concern within its realm. It is as if a leap in confidence has just occurred to some of these large companies, such that they have realised that it is perfectly possible for Indian companies to be powerful global players. Standards and process efficiencies are high in many Indian companies, with ISO-compliance being widespread.

· The media (tv and print) is going from strength to strength. The nearly-free full colour newspapers are well written and designed, informative and challenging. There are many excellent quality Indian tv stations, with numerous CNN rolling-news type stations in English and other languages. Strangely though predictably enough, in a country which has the second largest Muslim population on the planet, Al-Jazeera is not available through the main cable and satellite networks

· India is deeply connected to its own spiritual traditions. This has direct economic spin-offs. In any society, tourism begins with internal religious-based tourism – people visiting shrines and other sacred sites. With countless gods, temples and shrines and mega festivals like the ongoing Kumbh Mela, Indians are always on the move, creating jobs in the hospitality sector in their wake. The Incredible India campaign is reaping huge benefits – tourism in India is currently worth over 5 billion dollars per annum. Everyday spaces in the dirtiest parts of the city are saturated with sacred motifs – trees have flowers and idols pinned to them.

· India is a difficult place for a black person to visit or live in. Many Indians sadly associate black skin with being Untouchable. There is a visceral reflex against contact, and an automatic superiority complex arises in everyday encounters, and lots of plain old staring and ogling. Much needs to be done to challenge this for Incredible India to always be so to all its visitors.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Fab India

Fab India is just one of a myriad of Indian success stories. Going since 1960, the chain (with shops in Delhi, Bombay and elsewhere on the sub-continent) offers fantastic fabrics and clothes at a keen price (at least in Western terms). Each shop has a relaxed non-corporate yet strongly designed feel. Whether you're male or female, its an excellent place to pick up a kurta or other classic Indian looks. Nigerian designers and fashionistas should study the company as a classic case study of a successful company that goes from strength to strength across the decades. For Nigerian female readers: its worth going to India just to shop in Fab India!

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Raghubir Singh (1942-1999)


One of my discoveries in India was the work of photographer Raghubir Singh. His images are a profound exploration of the human condition in an Indian context. He captures the complex yet poetic intimacy of public space in India - how many bodies are closely entwined and yet involved in different activities within a tiny space of the world - a modern equivalent of Hogarth's sketches of pre-Victorian London over two hundred and fifty years ago. His work is a hymn to the visual chaotic harmony that is India. A collection of his work published by Phaidon is well worth the expense.

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Other India photos

Nadia at the hotel, Bombay.

Click here to see more photos from our India trip.

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Jama Masjid, Delhi

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Slum dwellers

A community of perhaps a thousand people live on the rocks at the south-western extremity of Bombay. Although they live in tiny shacks, there was something idyllic in their way of life, everyone laughing and chatting as I took my pictures.

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Puppies down an alley, Bombay

Posing for the camera..

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The Red Fort, Delhi

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The grand staircase, Taj Palace, Bombay

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Portuguese neighbourhood, Bombay

Our friends Antonio and Nadia are staying in a Portuguese neighbourhood in Bombay, somewhere near Breach Candy. It reminded me of Lagos Island, with all the crumbling old Brazillian buildings there. Except that the houses in this intimate quarter are in immaculate condition, the streets are clean, there is no open gutter and there is a sense of love and care about the place..

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Young woman, Ban Ganga ghat, Bombay

What was she thinking? Where did her thoughts take her? She sat serenely calm on the steps of the ghat and let me take a series of photos. She seemed gracefully balanced between pure happiness and pure sadness.

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Woman in Ban Ganga, Bombay

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

By the cemetry, Delhi

I spent some time sitting with this family outside a Christian cemetry near our hotel in Delhi on New Year's day. It was cold. The whole family sat close by the side of a busy road, as the mother rapidly strung flowers together for those visiting their dead (mostly Anglo-Indians were buried there, judging by the names). I crouched down, took some pictures, and then remained, absorbing as much as I could of what their life might be. Although I gave money
as I left, it was a profoundly moving moment. The life of a poor Delhi family, getting by by making prassad for the bereaved, as the cars whiz by, heedless.

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The Lotus Temple

The HQ of the Bahai faith in Delhi, the Lotus Temple is one of the iconic images of the city. Its a startlingly beautiful building up close, pre-dating the wild folds and bloids of Frank Gehry (think Bilbao Guggenheim) by decades.

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Aarti on the Ganga

One of the most special moments of our trip was witnessing and being part of the daily aarti (public puja ritual) that takes place on the banks of the mighty Ganga each evening at Rishikesh. A heavily bearded guru stands at the river's edge in the middle of the picture (later, he will lead the singing), on the stony breach sits the figure of Shiva. After dusk has fallen, people take turns to crouch down by the water and set floating blessings of candles, flowers and burning incense on their way. The Ganga is not simply a river in India, it is the sacred stream that binds all Hindhus together throughout history. And Rishikesh is a gathering place for holy men and women from across the country, to be close to the water, cold and clear from its descent in the nearby Himalayas.

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Bombay quotidian

I spent a chunk of today going through the 600+ images from the trip. One of my favourites is this - taken in a quiet street in Bombay. As in many Nigerian cities, much of life in Bombay for the poor takes place in the street, creating an intimate atmosphere of care in acts such as a man shaving another man.

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UNESCO/Japanese govt act to preserve the IFA divination system

Got this from the Yoruba Affairs mailing list:

AS part of efforts to support the preservation and promotion of the cultural heritage of Nigeria, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the Japanese Government yesterday signed Trust-in-Fund for the safeguarding of Ifa Divination System.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Prof. Babalola Borishade, stated that it was under the programme of UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of humanity in November 2005 that the Ifa Divination system was proclaimed.

The minister said: "According to UNESCO, the Ifa Divination System which makes use of an extensive corpus of text and mathematical formula, is practised among Yoruba communities and by the African Diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean. "The word Ifa or Orumila, the mystical figure is regarded by the Yoruba as the deity of wisdom and intellectual development. Indeed, the Ifa Divination System rightly belongs to the universal heritage of mankind."

Borishade praised UNESCO and the Japanese Government for the project, promising that they would find the Trust-in-Fund a worthwhile venture.

The Japanese ambassador said his home government would make effort to keep and transfer the culture treasure of Nigeria to the next generation.

Speaking earlier, the UNESCO Representative in Nigeria, Mr. Abhimanju Singh, said: "I'm extremely grateful for the support of the Japanese government so that UNESCO's expatriates could support the proposal and initiative of Nigerian government. "We would try and implement it to the best of our abilities under the leadership of the minister and in partnership with the Japanese government and we hope that we will be able to get more support as we demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach in this particular project."

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Of course, while (almost) everyone would want the IFA corpus and divination system to be preserved lots of questions are begged. What exactly is going to be done under this project to preserve it? Given that Nigeria has so few museums, and those that it does are by and large in a parlous state, what safeguards are there going to be that this work will be undertaken seriously? One idea: that IFA is introduced as part of the school curriculum, at least in Yoruba areas. Somehow I get the immediate feeling that ethnic sensitivities being what they are, this one is dead in water. In the battle of cultures in Nigeria, all babies must be thrown out of all bathwaters.

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Closure of handset manufacture in Abuja

I had my usual e-newsletter from Balancing Act last week (just reading it now). It contained this syndicated gem from This Day (pasted below). The comparisons and contrasts I've been making between India and Nigeria during our travels in the past few weeks take on tragicomic proportions with this story. If Nigeria can be in 10-15 years time where India is right now, that would be a realistic and achievable vision (given a focused, energetic and committed new administration). But it doesn't look likely that Nigeria can actually catch up with India anytime in the next few decades. Why? Because in 10-15 years time, India will be far far ahead of where it is now.

"The only handset factory in Nigeria is now gathering dust as the Chinese
equipment vendor, ZTE has stopped production for more than eight months.
According to reports, the company had closed shop for the second time in
two years as it was closed for two months in 2005 over administrative
problems.

When news men visited the handset factory in Abuja recently, they
observed that the administrative office and customer centre were covered
with dust. The waiting room of the factory was also littered with pieces
of paper and dirt while a handful of security men kept vigil at the
entrance.

An impeccable source, who had worked with the company, explained that
the factory had not assembled any handset since it was inaugurated by
the former Minister of Communication, Chief Cornelius Adebayo, in May,
last year. The source said that the company had been trying to sell the
handsets it had assembled before the visit.

The source said that most of the workers in the factory who were neatly
clad in ZTE factory overalls during the ministers visit were only hired
and trained for the event.

The source said that the 20 workers who worked at the factory during the
visit were trained a day before the visit and after the inauguration
they were each paid N2,000 for two days service. "My brother worked
there for two days and he collected his N2,000 after the minister's
visit and left for school, " another source at the factory said. The
minister of communications had commended the Chinese company for
providing jobs to so many Nigerians during his visit.

Adebayo had asked the Chinese company why they were assembling handsets
instead of manufacturing as was stipulated in their proposals and
agreement with the ministry.
The ZTE Nig. officials said the assembling of the sets would precede
manufacturing, which, they added, would begin after the staff had been
trained and facilities were set up.

Investigations at the ZTE Nig. headquarters in Maitama revealed that the
Chinese company had hired two sets of workers since it started
operations in 2004 and only one out of the 50 staff employed was still
with the company. "All the others were disengaged on the excuse that the
phone market was not bringing in profit as expected," a source at the
headquarters said .

The source further revealed that none of the workers at the factory was
given an employment letter based on the excuse that they would only get
their letters after some months of probation. Asked if they were paid
any disengagement package, the sources said: "All the workers only got
their salary for the months they worked."
The source said that customers had been complaining over the "exorbitant
rates" of the handsets and frequent faults.

ZTE staff member Lin Wen, who had hired some workers at the weekend to
clean up the factory refused to comment on the closure. He said that
only the top officials at the ZTE Nig. headquarters in Maitama had
authority to speak on the situation. When reporters visited the
headquarters of the company in Maitama for the second time some
officials of the company said the top officials had travelled out of the
country and they would be away for some time."

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Back in Nigeria!

And back blogging. We got home 15 mins ago after an epic 3 weeks in India. So much to chew on, so much that inspired, so many pics to download (I took around 600 photos). But first, to unpack..

Happy New Year people! It's going to spit and spark, then it will sparkle.

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