Sunday, February 1, 2009

seriously, though....




yesterday morning i woke up, sleepily and cosily, to a distant whooping. oh what could it be? maasai ceremony? and then a roar and more whooping. so i tumbled out of bed, still recovering from an all nighter on friday, shuffled through to the fireplace and found the binoculars. indeed. the whooping and roaring was coming from the factory far down below.(remember we live on a hill. ngorobob hill) safari craig thought it was a football match. until i spied someone running along a wall of the factory smashing all the security lights. until i realized it was in fact a full blown riot going on in the mosquito net factory.




i have posted about this factory a long time ago. how we hate it. how it ruined our view. how, it has taught me to accept things you cannot change. and why you should never buy a place because of the view. how views can change. nevertheless, from our hill, you can see more than just the factory. there are also the mountains and the maasai steppes. still. if you wade back a year or so, you will see my post on the factory, fondly referred to as the fucking factory. bill gates gave a lot of money to the factory, thinking it was going to help fight malaria. thinking whoever has the money would do a good job. then he went back to america feeling good about himself. a settled conscious that he had indeed helped the africans.




you should see the mess below. you should see the conditions the workers live in. you should hear how much (or rather how little) they are paid. you should hear how long they have to work with no break. things are not rosy. no far from it. you should see the amount of plastic litter which blows in the wind from the factory. you should see how much firewood they take from the forests on the mountain and pile in their backyard. you should see the ugly cement walls and no trees. you should see what they have done to the otherside of the hill where they have gouged out soil for their buildings. you should see their utter disregard for the environment and for the workers. i wonder if mr gates knows this. i wonder if, when mr bush came to visit, he was shown the back of the factory where the workers stay. this factory is, apparently the pride of tanzania.


so, it was no surprise that eventually the workers would riot. a riot in africa is nothing like a riot say in england or europe. where workers carry relevant banners and walk in an orderly fashion with the support of unions. oh no. in africa, when there is a riot there is mayhem. so there we sat perched on the hill watching complete and utter mayhem explode like a fast unfurling flower. we watched workers chasing a police car. we watched workers looting the place. stealing roofing sheets, doors, mosquito nets, lights, cement literally anything they could lay their hands on. three thousand people on the rampage. the security guards (who are unarmed ) got the hell out of there...stones were being thrown. gates were broken. lights were smashed. trucks were smashed. until the army arrived. the field force. in brown landrovers, with red flags flying, guns and tear gas. before we saw the cars, we saw three thousand people running in a million directions into the ploughed fields below. as fast as they could go. and then we saw the army. loud speakers. a few shots. tear gas. within fifteen minutes there was order. workers returned. they gathered in the main gates. thousands left. a group fled up our hill and away. never to return.


and i watched the swallows swooping on the sunday breeze, the european storks whirling in across the valley to hunt for frogs on the ploughed fields...


rubin was scared. he clutched his catapault. i said there was nothing to be afraid of. which was true. but something blipped across my inner radar screen. something which made my heart race a little faster. something which made me think, for a brief second, what on earth are we doing here?



in africa things can go wrong so terribly fast. wildly wrong. psychopathically wrong.



i am not sure what the outcome is. the factory is not working today. the workers who remain, are all sitting outside the gates. gathered. meeting. what next? the workers will have no support from anyone. not from their government, which has heavily invested in the factory and for which they get mega browny points from the west; not from their union, whose employers are probably paid less than they are. not from anyone. i said to sally yesterday well if i was one of them i would pack my bags and leave. and she said, ever so rightly, that yes indeed you might, but most of those people down below don't have a choice. it's a job. it's money. you don't just walk away. you have nothing before or after. i thought about this all day. and i came to the conclusion that you DO have a choice. always. it's just knowing that. it's knowing that it's not about a god. it's about you. and your power. yes. there is choice.....but maybe i am being ignorant. (the last time i was in the other world, the "first" world, i was overwhelmed by the choice of dog foods, of toothpastes, of cereals, of basic essentials. at least here its easy. there isn't one. in a sense it's peaceful.)




everything in africa seems so desperate. so border line . all the time. order to chaos. life to death. drought to floods. the good thing about this is that death is close all the time. it's a reality. everyday. you aren't allowed to forget it for one minute. which makes the colours of being alive so bright and brief. you aren't allowed to forget how fortunate you are when you drive down the hill, or ride out onto the plains past very very poor people. desperate. border line people who have nothing. everyday. there isn't an escape. for your conscious. only a vast beautiful landscape.


i am given the chance to develop deep gratitude and compassion. i try.


and therefore, i am thankful. very. for everything i have. there are times when i feel toughened. and feel, well, it's your own look out my mate. tough luck. and fuck you. and then wonder how on earth i got to be so lucky. and then scare myself by looking at it on a universal level, and realize, jesus, it's a flip of the coin. good old chaos theory. phew. and how truly irrelevant we are. completely. and to think we're any more important than an ant in a whistling thorn is to be utterly deluded.


and on that note, dear beloveds, i turn my thoughts to lesson plans and the monday that lies quietly and haphazardly ahead of me.


Kitchen Board: Monday Morning: 2 Feb 09

Contributors: safari craig (!?) and veronica
Comments: he remembered the fish food...called blood worms. oh we shall miss him when he leaves on safari again tommorrow...for an entire month. and oh how i have slacked off while he has been here....time to pull my socks up i reckon.
and did i tell you we had 15mls of rain on saturday!? glorious. saturating. rain. now i want more. never enough, is it? (except in ireland apparently)
toodely toodely toodely...bisous, xxx riotious ones (!) j

33 comments:

Lori ann said...

God Janelle, Be Safe. Everything you wrote is so eloquent and true. Makes me want to stop my blog now for the silliness of it all.
Reuben, poor baby. I know you'll be ok because S.Craig woulden't leave. I just know.
xxxlots of love, lori

Janelle said...

thanks sweet lori. oh yes. we'll be fine of course. and don't you DARE stop your blog. it's not silly. oh no. we're all silly but in the best way. life is full of beautiful sillieness...! blog blog blog ooooooooooooon! hoorah! lots love always x j

Dumdad said...

Another great post out of Africa. Life out there would be too of the moment for me, but I love reading about it. I'm a city boy; the country's too noisy for me!

family affairs said...

I watched an interview with Bill Gates and his wife at the Davos conference and they were talking about mosquito nets and how they are saving lots of Africans from Malaria and I was thinking wow....and then there's your side. The real side. What is to be done. What is the answer.

We have so much snow this morning all the schools are cancelled!

Val said...

this is so so ACTUAL - well done for telling this story so very eloquently and loading it with immediacy. must have been a bit nerve wracking worrying that they would run up to your place. all that chaotic aggression freeloaded on the factory.
we are surrounded by the immediate - events can change faster than a heartbeat - it all exists under a very thin skinned surface but so much to appreciate and sure teaches you thankfulness. loved the storks flying over at the same time. phew. xx

nuttycow said...

Stay safe.

Glad it's raining. Do you want our snow?

nmj said...

Goodness, I thought it was dramatic waking up to snow. This is indeed a sobering tale. Bill Gates' philanthropy isn't exactly working, is it?

tam said...

Great post, J. Oh there's always an 'other side' to the do-gooder PR tales. And so many more stories like this. But I like your sober, compassionate take on the story. Its just that - the quick fix thing. People don't stay and do follow up studies, impact studies. Which is what Sustainability is all about, surely? Ag, you know, I could go on. Thinking of you. A month? bloody hell.

Janelle said...

DD! well. it's not always this noisy. very quiet today actually. nothing happening inside the factory..at all...x j

lulu - yeah. don't know what the answer is. i think philanthropists need to,as tam suggests, not throw money irresponsibly...they need to stay and see what happens and follow through..and perhaps research who takes their money and what they do with it..not rely on reports and developmental jargon. come see it for themselves...not through their side kicks either... x


thanks nutty! yeah. trying! all fine though. fine. x

nmj - nope. it ain't working at all. not at all! but you know, nothing new. it happens ALL the time. all the time. sigh sigh. x

yeah exactly tam. as i said...ain't nothing new. just another one of these do gooder tales ending disastrously. such a WASTE though and such a bad impact on environment and community...god. what do you mean a month??? am i missing something?? xxx j

fush and chips said...

A great, eloquent post, Janelle. You brought up a lot of the conflict and fears I have living down here in "first world" Johannesburg.

It's a rum old world.

QUASAR9 said...

Well we woke up to a picture post-card snow covered Cambridge
And it is still looking great

Reya Mellicker said...

Everything about your lives there in east Africa is so extreme. "Mild" is not a word I would ever use to describe your life, or Tam's, Miranda's, Tim's or Val's. Wow.

Are you tough? You seem strong to me, vivid, fully engaged, mighty. But you don't seem tough.

I wish Bill Gates would read this post!

Sending a cloak of safety and calm to swirl around the pink house on the hill, and all its inhabitants, including your horses of course.

Mama Shujaa said...

Jamani!

When will things change for the people, when? This business of powerlessness, of a humility like poison has got to be unlearned. When!? The exploitation of the ordinary people, while presidents and ministers walk about doing business and lining their pockets!

And here I am living in the west am whining about doing me? wanting manicures, pedicures, shopping, yada yada yada....OMG! the hell?

Jamani.

Bill Stankus said...

Gripping story. There's something cinematic about watching from a hill - the chaos and relative safety. I can't imagine myself feeling too safe when poverty is fuel to so many.

Since I live in the Land Of Gates I was thinking, I wonder if I should forward your blog to the Seattle papers or Gates Foundation ... don't know if would be of use but I could, if you gave your OK.

Janelle said...

thanks fush! a comment from you! yeah and joeys has its, ergh, idiosyncracies too, if you could call them that...? thanks for reading. x j

thanks reya. me tough? um...ergh...sometimes i am. but never unfeelingly so... thanks for your good thoughts...

mama shujaa...ah jamani. life is too short. you are where you are. go and enjoy those pedicures darling! kabisa! xxx j

hey bill! well. you know. i would say yes if i was completely anonymous. it's a high profile factory...as i said, the pride of tanzania. president bush was brought here. will smith came to see it in a posh governmental convoy... i just don't feel like being PI'd or having work permits revoked or shit like that. if the gates foundation happened upon my blog, so be it...but ouf! not sure i would be happy about it being splurged over a paper....or rather perhaps the TZ government would be highly disapproving. i would be surprised if the Gates Foundation have not caught wind of this latest turn of events already...but thanks anyway for the thought....the concept of providing mosquito nets to the continent is a good one. perhaps they need to change the management...but i never said it.xxx j

Shelley said...

I just recently discovered your blog, and it's quickly become one of my favorites. You write eloquently, simply and beautifully, and you have opened up vistas so far removed from my American west coast suburban life!

I do hope you will allow Bill to forward your blog post to local newspapers here in the Pacific NW and to the Gates foundation. If they truly are committed to making a difference in this world, then they NEED to know about this and RESPOND accordingly.

Shelley

Shelley said...

Janelle, you are right. The Gates Foundation probably already has heard about it...guess we can all be watching to see if they respond in any way.

Stay safe!

Shelley

Janelle said...

thanks shelley. glad you enjoy the read! yeah. think its best i stay as an anonymous observer here! am sure they already know about the problems....xxx j

mighty jo said...

your post does put a lot in perspective here in the states! i need to remember to be grateful for what i have & to make the most of the choices i have. (not in shopping--but in reality)

one of my sisters did a peace corps stint in the central african republic. she loved it, but it put her into the psyche ward due to the violence triggering post traumatic stress from our childhood. but, like i said, she loved it there & often wishes she could go back.

i need to read some of your older posts since i don't even know why you're there. i envy your adventure. i admire your strength.

Bill Stankus said...

Thanks for telling what you prefer - I will not forward your blog. I completely understand how you feel. Bill

The Pink Cowboy said...

It is interesting to observe the different viewpoints your situation projects. The view from the hill and the view from the mosquito net factory. When I lived in the Caribbean I felt very frustrated, almost the same way you feel about the riot. I could not understand the reason for the chaos. I still do not understand. I do feel priveleged to have been giving an education and a somewhat peaceful home environment. So, I thought maybe is not just the working situation but the life situation in general that leads these poor people to mayhem. In the meantime we breathe deeply and compassionately. A thought provoking post, I must certainly add. Thank you for sharing this experience. PS. Hope you are always safe on the Hill.

ExAfrica said...

Hit the nail on the head on this one.

Some of us - you - can handle life on the edge with kids en-tow. Me - I couldn't. I didn't breath for 3 1/2 years once. Then I left Africa and took my child away to calm, stable, boring life. She is mildly resentful - especially when she hears us regaling ALL the good times from those day.

there were many...

...and we will return one day (you understand)

Janelle said...

hey mighty jo! good to hear from you. how i got here? i was born here....sorry your sister was exposed to bad things...it's not like that everywhere...only in some places. there are many beautiful peaceful places in africa with lovely friendly peaceful beautiful people. xxx j

thanks bill. i knew you would! much love x j

my favourite pink vaquero! indeed. i think the mayhem is induced by poverty and anger against the establishment. xx j

oh ex africa i understand completely. in fact, most of the time in tanzania its wonderful. ok. not for lots - re: poverty and lack of infrastructure...but government is generally stable, unlike in zim, somalia, sudan, DRC etc etc etc...i totally understand and hear what you are saying INDEED i do!!!! lots love x j

karen said...

oh!!! africa! i am so lucky to live in a relatively organised, very peaceful african country... but even in botswana, there are so many many problems and poverty, and the endless conflict between wildlife/people, and and... i STILL wouldn't live anywhere else other than africa.. blessing-counting is a daily habit with me, too. and i just try to focus on the positive and goes without saying that i do get a lot out of the natural beauty of africa.... thanks for a thought provoking post...

Angela said...

Janelli,this morning I read first Vailla`s post on house maids` exploitation and then yours on how even good will and a wish to help can lead to violence and no good results. Me watching from afar and hearing all these stories from you and Val and "the girls" and Vanilla...I wonder if YOU have better ideas? I really mean it. Jimmy Carter and Bill Gates, they have the money (or can raise funds) but have no inside knowledge, but YOU all do!! I wonder if the remedy is education? Learning to read, write and calculate? Learning to trust one`s own abilities, and feel empowerment instead of having to accept any job? WHAT could be the cure for Africa`s people? What?!! I really wonder. And I`m sure if you (all of our blog friends, also Mama Shujaa. also Tessa, Karen, Janet...if you and we came up with some good ideas and THEN wrote to Mr. Gates? Whadduyasay?

Mud in the City said...

So frustrating for big business/government to thorw money at a problem and expect it to go away. I've just finished reading Tim Butcher's book about the Congo which highlights just this problem. And yes, life/death, rich/poor, happy/sad - all on the flip of a coin. We need to be thankful.

You can have some of my snow too if you want it!

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

You've told this so well, Janelle. And there is no riot, quite like an African riot is there. Living in Africa can be like riding a seesaw on speed.
The mozzie net business has been so controversial, exploitation aside. Someone, who'd donated to a charity to get the nets to those who needed them, was appalled to learn that having been given the nets, they were sold. As someone else said, well what would you rather have, a mozzie net or food to give your child, which the sale of the net would provide you.
I'm constantly reminded of Conrad's The Heart of Darkness.

Mud in the City said...

Award for you at mine as well! Pop over and pick it up.
x

Miranda said...

uuummmmmmmm......

herhimnbryn said...

Eloquent. Real. Thankyou.

Tessa said...

Aaah. Janelli. Pole sana.

Someone, somewhere wrote these words which I think have a certain resonance, especially after reading your eloquent and hearbreaking story of the harsh reality that is so much a part of that glorious and – some say - doomed continent:

"To live anywhere in the world, you must know how to live in Africa. The only thing you can do is love, because it is the only thing that leaves light inside you, instead of the totally obliterating darkness. Love, even if it ends in defeat, gives you a kind of honour; but without love, you have no kind of honour at all."

Wosa! Africa. Stay well, Janelle.

Jocelyn said...

You are an outrageously powerful writer, O Passionate One.

bellananda said...

and this is why i love your writing and am so thankful for having found your blog. please stay as safe as possible, dear!

perhaps we should start a letter-writing campaign to remind mr gates of the consequences of just tossing money at problems and turning one's back...?