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Saturday, October 30, 2004

Baghdad Burning

There is "an open letter of sorts to Americans" about the elections from "Girl Blog from Iraq".

It reminded me of a Portuguese friend of mine telling an American friend that she thought that everyone should have a vote in the American elections because we will all be so affected by the results. He ruminated on how that would be an alien idea to most people in the US. He wasn't aware of the international surveys which, among other things, asked who people would prefer to see win the US elections.

Not having a vote for the President or Prime Minister in any country, I feel frustrated. Not having any say in the elections of a country whose results mean so much for world peace and for the lives of individuals now and in the future, I feel helpless.

Thursday, October 28, 2004


My heart feels anxious and heavy thinking of the three election workers kidnapped in Kabul, Afghanistan and remembering Margaret Hassan held by kidnappers in Iraq. We (the international public) don't know if her kidnappers are a group who want to put pressure on all humanitarian agencies to leave the country, or a band of people who are exploiting the current political situation for making money. Are we now seeing these practices spread to Afghanistan? These practices which form part of a constellation of global, local and personal, social, economic and political practices.

"(eu quero) um colo ou um berço ou um braço quente em torno ao meu pescoço ... uma voz que canta baixo e parece querer fazer-me chorar...o ruído de lume na calor no extravio morno da minha consciência...e depois sem som, um sonho calmo num espaço enorme, como a lua rodando entre estrelas." (Livro do Desassossego, Fernando Pessoa).

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Making change

In the BBC news today "The Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, has praised Anglican bishops from Africa for what he called their principled stand against homosexuality". And this reminds me that, in fact, South Aftica was the first country in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. (Does that mean in the eyes of the Nigerian president that South Africa has not taken a principled stand?)

Once upon a time I was an active anti-apartheid activist. Most of my work was with SWAPO in Namibia and some with FRELIMO in Mozambique but we worked in conjunction with the ANC movement in London. That meant lots of meetings and protests. It also meant socialising and having visiting delegates to stay - where we would discuss, dance and, yes, drink the night away. This issue of gay rights, of "there are no gays in Africa", often came up in the conversations. In the beginning Party members and funding organisations were incredulous - how could gay issues be related to discrimination against Black people? But we - straight, gay, bisexual activists - were persistant - at night over beers and at meetings.

Slowly we saw the tide change, with Peter Tatchell - a controversial human right's activist - recalling the process from his perspective at this time, and Shuaib Rahim writing about it in the New Internationalist six years after discrimination was outlawed. For myself, I'll never forget how it felt to see and hear one of the South African delegates, a man who might once have said something similar to the current Nigerian President, describe so coherently to his comrades the connection between the struggle against apartheid and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Sometimes when big change looks so far away - I remind myself of the conversations I've had, the meetings I've been to - and the dancing I've done, that might have changed the world!!

Monday, October 25, 2004

The Arrabida

Life is so hectic and I'm really missing my BTT (cross-country cycling). Here is José Saramago's description of our view when we cycle the Serra. It comes in his book Journey to Portugal (English translation 2002, The Harvill Press). Saramago, of course, wasn't referring to cycling - but the view is the same.
"...when from the top of the road he spies the immense sea in the distance, and the white strip that is beating inaudibly at the foot of the cliffs, when in spite of the distance the sea is so tranparent he can see the sand and the pebbles, the traveller reflects that it would take sublime music to express what the eyes simply see. Or perhaps not even music: possibly only silence, not a single sound or wrod or painting: simply, in the end, the miracle of sight: I praise you and thank you, eyes of mine." (p. 352)

For those people who know and love Sintra, listen to Saramago's comparison between Sintra and the Arrábida:
"... whereas Sintra is feminine, this sierra is masculine. And if Sintra is paradise before original sin, Arrábida is the same but even more so. Here, Adam and Eve have already met, and the moment it eternalises is the one just before the thunderbolt from God and the dire warning from the angel. The animal of temptation, which in the Bible is the snake, in Sintra is the eel, and here is the wolf." (p. 352)

So that gives you an idea of what we see breathe and feel when we cycle the Arrábida :-)

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Margaret Hassan

As I go to bed every nerve in my body sends warmth, love and hope to Margaret Hassan held captive in Iraq. A boundary crosser who has shown an optimism and strength I aspire to, may she find a handle on the situation she is in.

And may every one of her moments be precious to all of us who deeply care for the women, children and people suffering in Iraq.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Tissa Hami

Thinking about humour reminded me of Tissa Hami, a Muslim woman stand up comic, born in Iran but who now lives and works in Boston, USA. Apparently when she walks on stage with her black robes on, the audience often shift around uncomfortably thinking that the cleaning lady has accidentally made her way on stage. She challenges every sterotype in the book, and I hear (I haven't seen her myself) is very funny.

She is part of a growing group of Muslim stand-up comics (currently performing in a show "Allah made me funny") in the US. their jokes are in-jokes for fellow-Muslims and wider jokes about living in American society, especially all the security issues they have to undergo.

I had to laugh ...

... at this piss take of Portugal by Miguel Vale de Almeida (a Portuguese journalist) in Os Tempos que Correm where "the Turkish Prime Minister" outlines his objections to Portugal belonging to Europe.

Terras estranhas I. Recorte de imprensa.

«Temos grandes dúvidas e receios relativamente à adesão de Portugal à União Europeia. Trata-se de um país maioritariamente católico, dado a rasgos de fundamentalismo, como fica patente na sua lei do aborto. Por outro lado, nem sequer temos bem a certeza de se situar na Europa: está mais perto de África do que a Turquia e tem uma longa história extra-europeia. Embora seja oficialmente uma república laica e um Estado de direito, teve até há muito pouco tempo a mais longa ditadura de direita nesta parte do mundo e há sinais preocupantes de dificuldade de estabelecimento de uma cultura democrática, como sejam a influência do governo nas televisões, um primeiro-ministro não-eleito, líderes regionais sem limites de repetição de mandatos, e uma série de outras questões. É claro que é uma pequena economia e um país pouco significativo demograficamente, mas a Europa tem que definir melhor quem pode ou não pertencer à União.» (Primeiro-ministro turco, in O Mundo Alternativo)

It also reminded me what I like so much about British humour - the dry way it makes fun of itself. No-one at any level of society is immune, nothing is too politically correct not to be caricatured.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

A struggle for meaning

I just read the article "African Cultures and Globalisation: A Call to Resistance" by Paulin J. Hountondji, an important African philosopher based at the University of Cotonou (Benin). In it he puts forward his views about the role of language in shaping identity and politics. I shall put on my Amazon wish list his latest book: "The Struggle for Meaning: Reflections on Philosophy, Culture and Democracy in Africa" (translated by John Conteh-Morgan, Athens, Ohio University Press, 2002)

While he refers to Africans in statements like this: "For Africans, there are two forms of losing one's way: by immurement in particularism, or dispersion in the universal" he could, in fact, be talking about each one of us and not just Africans. However, it did get me thinking how much we have to learn from the people who feel a problem first or with greater intensity. And how much we have to learn it for our own survival.

The concluding sentence of his article ressonated with me: "If we do not want to end up so, we must assert a different form of globalisation than the one that now dominates. A globalisation that is not based on one centre, dictating its law to the diverse peripheries, but one which embodies numerous decision centres. Centres that negotiate with each other as equals on what must be done to build a more humane world."

However - it's one thing to say it, and yet another to do it. I guess that that's what keeps me busy!!

Time flies

It reaches a point when my blog is the inverse reflection of my life. It sits here static as every second of waking and sleeping moments is occupied with the business of living and working and relating. I find myself filing conversations in my mind to my blog. I also find myself feeling guilty for not writing it. The psychology behind writing a blog is a strange one ...

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Troops Out

My thoughts today keep moving to the situation in Iraq. The murder of Kenneth Bigley, a British hostage taken by Iraqi captors, haunts me.

I reflect that twenty years ago today was "the Brighton bombing" in UK, where a hotel was bombed during the Conservative party conference. The IRA sent the message: "Give Ireland peace and there will be no war." I joined the Troops Out Movement then. It happens that October also marks 30 years of the Troops Out Movement which campaigns for British troops out of Ireland and self-determination for the Irish people as a whole.

Portuguese national guards make up part of a multinational force under British command in the south of Iraq. Their mandate expires on November 12th. According to most newspaper polls the majority of people in Portugal want the troops out of Iraq. I feel weighed down and helpless as I watch events in Iraq unfold and feel the enormous implications these events have on all our lives. Their weight outmatches anything I've seen and worried about before. There is so much action and healing that needs to be done - at so many different levels.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Wangari Maathai

Some great quotes from Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner from Kenya and a powerful lady:

"Women are responsible for their children, they cannot sit back, waste time and see them starve."

"We can work together for a better world with men and women of goodwill, those who radiate the intrinsic goodness of humankind. To do so effectively, the world needs a global ethic with values which give meaning to life experiences and, more than religious institutions and dogmas, sustain the non-material dimension of humanity. Mankind's universal values of love, compassion, solidarity, caring and tolerance should form the basis for this global ethic which should permeate culture, politics, trade, religion and philosophy. It should also permeate the extended family of the United Nations."

I'd like my mother to have been here for this. In her time in Kenya women didn't go to University - black nor white. Mum would have appreciated this moment.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

A humble suggestion

In just one day I've seen two flare-ups about the taken-for-granted use of English as the lingua franca in an international group. Despite the sincere efforts of many well-meaning people, the solution is not so simple as monolingual English speakers respecting diversity or intercultural communication. Neither does the answer lie in shrugging ones shoulders and saying - well English IS the international lingua franca.

I predict that the use of English as an international language is to see many more problems to come. And that those communities, even countries, that are actively looking for creative and sensitive ways to solve this problem will be the leaders in the future.

In one of the discussion groups, Enrique Stanziola, from Argentina doing his research in US said something which I think needs repeating and repeating:

"I would humbly suggest to all English-speakers to make the effort of learning at least one foreign language and travel to a
country were they have to use it to survive. That's an excelllent learning experience for anybody. Feeling what's to be 'minority' for a moment may help them to understand the need of addressing the language problem."

Monday, October 04, 2004

Time for making meaning

I'm deeply immersed in working on a project that is taking place in two languages at the moment. I always SAY that you have to be prepared for the extra TIME it takes to work in two languages (and with all the social and cultural dynamics that two languages represent). I even write and publish guidelines and recommendations that stress TIME as a crucial factor that is often overlooked and always unerestimated.

And I've deeply underestimated it myself - again. So just in case I should ever forget - let this blog entry be a reminder to me: NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE TIME IT TAKES TO WORK MEANINGFULLY WITH PEOPLE IN TWO LANGUAGES.