POWER FAILURE: LIGHTS ARE ON BUT NOBODY’S HOME

[LISTEN]

Take a trip to Nairobi, Kenya and you will find a country at war with itself where political contest continues to be a zero-sum game. Next to them in Kampala Uganda even the right to protest is under threat so, citizens and politicians wear red headbands instead.Or you can go across to Togo over Benin in the west and find multitudes of people protesting 50 years of autocratic rule or fly a take a short flight to Nigeria to find a country divided with a people still seeking cessation – Biafra calls. Next door to them in Cameroon hundreds have died in protest against a controlling government. If you like, drift placidly down to Zimbabwe where citizens have resigned themselves to their fate – President Robert Mugabe for life. Or glance up to South Sudan where millions cross the border daily seeking refuge from a hailstorm of bullets flooding their homes. Let your eyes settle for a moment in the Democratic Republic of Congo which has been in the grip of a low-level civil war since King Leopold the second of Belgium declared it his personal property. The landscape is littered with people who are in pain displaced in their own countries because even though the lights are on – there is no one home. There’s no one to listen. There is no compassion or empathy. No sense of duty except, the duty to explicitly self-enrich at the expense of all others. Greed is killing people.

Everything seems set in stone until…

Someone comes along who does something remarkable. His name. Jose Pepe Mujica. Ironically described by the media as the poorest president in the world. In an interview with Al-Jazeera’s’ Lucia Newman in 2013, the 82-year-old former president who served  Uruguay between from 2010 and 2015 …. sips bitter tea, in a small living room barely large enough to fit a TV crew and decorated with shelves full of books which he shares with his wife and a three-legged dog. He speaks like somebody we know

“No. I’m not a poor president,” he said. “Poor are those who describe me as poor. My definition of poor is those who need too much because those who need too much are never satisfied. I am frugal, not poor”

Which means he’s economical about how he spends his money, giving  90 percent of his salary back into public service.

“Frugal with a light suitcase. I live with little, just what’s necessary. Not too tied down to material things. Why? so that I can have free time. For what? to do what I like.Freedom is having time to live. Living Frugally is a philosophy of life but I’m not poor. I have a way of life that doesn’t change because I’m president.

I earn more than I need even if it’s not enough for others. My wife is a senator and she has to contribute a lot to her party. But her salary is enough for us to live. And we still have a bit left over which we put in the bank just in case. I contribute to my political group and projects like housing for unmarried mothers. For me, it’s not a sacrifice it’s a duty.”

He explains

“I don’t oppose consumption. I am against waste.  We have to produce food for the hungry, roofs for those who need a home. Build schools for those who don’t have schools. We have to solve the water problem now. If every powerful person has three, four, five cars and needs 400sq meters to live and a house on the beach and an aeroplane to get here and there… then there isn’t enough for everyone. What does modern science tell us? It tells us indisputable facts. If the current world population aspired to consume like the average American. We would need three planet earth(s). Which means that if we continue tossing out things. Naturally, a great part of humanity will never have anything. They are doomed.”

Mujica only has one car, a 1980s beetle golf. When asked why he hasn’t tried to change the status quo or how his fellow countrymen live,  he doesn’t beat about the bush.

“Because if I tried to impose my way of living on the rest they’d kill me. They’d kill me I know it. But allow me the freedom to express myself. Because we complain about global warming while we assault nature by producing so much waste. We are mortgaging the future of the next generations. I can’t fix this as a government, I am a prisoner of this myself. What I’m pointing out is where we are heading. True there is extraordinary waste here. There are houses only used 20 days a year in Punta del Est. Luxurious houses while other’s don’t even have a shack to sleep at night. It’s crazy unjust. I oppose that world, but I am a prisoner of that world.”

The former Marxist guerrilla fighter is against re-election. For him, a president in a republic is a high-level official who is elected to carry out a function. He is neither a King nor a God. He is especially not – a witch doctor of a tribe who knows everything. He is a civil servant and as such he must leave and be replaced. Mujica believes the ideal way for a president to live is like the vast majority of the people whom he is attempting to serve and represent.

“My goal is to achieve a little less injustice in Uruguay to help the most vulnerable and leave behind a political way of thinking a way of looking at a future that will be passed on and used to move forward. There’s nothing short-term, no victory around the corner. I will not achieve paradise or anything like that. What I want is to fight a common good for progress. Life slips by, the way to continue it is for others to continue your work.”

 

Once in a while, something so surprisingly beautiful happens.Just when you think you are going to fall into an endless tunnel of nothingness suspended in space and time, you blink and there it is. A, way.

The question is, will you choose it?

 

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COPING IN COPENHAGEN: 10 THINGS I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT DENMARK

Before I tell you my list of ten things I didn’t know about Denmark,indulge me as I tell you a little story. A story I was told by an old friend of mine over dinner during my recent visit to the Scandinavian country which boarders Sweden and Germany.
The story concerns an erstwhile Danish-American chef who wanted to cook a traditional Danish dish it could have been dessert but I don’t remember exactly. He searched the web for a recipe and found one written in the Danish language, which he duly translated into English.
According to the recipe the dish required sweet milk, written as sød mælk in Danish. So off went the American-Danish to purchase condensed milk and then preceeed to add it to the ingredients which resulted in a less that perfect dish. The Danish-American soon found out that while sød mælk literally translated from Danish to English means Sweet milk – sød mælk – in Danish actually means full-cream milk.  Which means that in the Danish language sweet-milk is not sweet even if it is called sweet milk. This made me more curious about the etymology of the term or word, a curiosity which sparked a series of questions which led my friend to retort with some irritation that: ‘I didn’t invent the language.’ So perhaps there is a reason for this perhaps there is no reason – but this particular story sums up my overall impression of Denmark.  But as with most things, places and circumstances in life things are often never what people say they are nor are they what they seem. So Denmark in this context is not in any way peculiar. So without wasting any more of your time here are some fun facts about Denmark. Yes it’s an odd country.

1. THERE ARE MORE PIGS THAN HUMANS IN THE COUNTRY

Denmark produces approximately 28 million pigs a year, that’s five times the Danish population of 5.6 million people according to 2013 populations figures. The pigs are reared in around 5,000 pig farms, most pigs are slaughtered at the co-operative abattoirs Danish Crown and Tican. In addition, a substantial number of live piglets are exported, mainly to Germany. Exports of pig meat account for almost half of all agricultural exports and for more than 5 percent of Denmark’s total exports.

2 . FOREPLAY IS KEY TO THE FLOURISHING PIG INDUSTRY

I’m sure you’re wondering how it is that Denmark’s pig population is larger that the human population, the reason is quite simple. Researchers found that if female pigs are aroused before insemination they are likely to become more fertile or produce more piglets.  So farm workers are tasked with performing professional foreplay on the animals before they are inseminated to increase fertility rates. You can check out the actual video here to see how it’s done.

3. ANIMAL BROTHELS ARE A POPULAR TOURIST DESTINATION

Laws in both Denmark and Norway are fairly open when it comes to a person’s legal right to engage in sexual activity with an animal. The law states that doing so is perfectly legal, so long as the animal involved does not suffer. According to the Danish newspaper 24timer, this interesting gap in the law has led to a flourishing business in which people pay in order to have sex with animals. On the internet, several Danish animal owners openly advertise their services. The newspaper contacted several such individuals and was told that many of the animals have been engaged in this kind of activity for several years and that the animals crave the sexual stimulation. The newspaper found that the cost charged by the animal owners varied from DKK 500 to 1,000 (USD$85 to $170).

4.    AT HEART DENMARK IS A GREEN COUNTRY

Denmark is well-known the world over for its progressive environmental policies and sustainable living. From cycling to work and recycling of waste products but within Denmark’s capital city Copenhagen, there’s a different kind of green living. In Christiania, Copenhagens’ worst kept secret, is a free green zone. Meaning once you enter, you can buy and smoke  weed, marijuana, or cannabis, freely without fear.  You only have to obey three rules: Take No pictures, Don’t Run and just have fun.  It’s a fascinating place. My friends took me there one night at my request. It was as if I was walking into a western-cowboy movie set at Universal studios in Hollywood without the proverbial image of the bumble weed floating aimlessly against the piercing sun. The lighting was dim and the walls were illuminated with green lights which made the place suddenly feel like a ghost town. Being winter, there were braziers lighting the way to the main eating areas.Vendors sold their products behind camouflaged tents which looked like set-dressing from low-budget horro movies.

Everyone spoke in hushed tones and whispers and is speaking anylouder will alert the the police. No music could be heard, only the faint sound of money exchanging hands and the thick scent of purple haze which danced around nostrils on pusher street. Christiania had a distinctly illicit-lane feel about it, far from the breakfast at Tiffiney’s boutique or silicone valley start-pu image I often associated with the free or ‘legal’ consumption of weed. 

It’s a place for the city’s hippies, for stoners, it’s off the grid, or rather it is a town withing a town. It an autonomous city because by  law it’s allowed to exist. Police conduct raids once in while but it’s not frequent. The last time they tried to close down Christiania, drug peddlers scattered around the city increasing crime rates in an otherwise peaceful city. They caused choas in a well ordered environment. So authorities changed their minds. This way it’s all under control. Everyone knows everyone. It is crime but it is also organized so for the most part it’s fine. Everyone raises their eyebrows in shock at the sound of the word Christiania. Most people would rather pretend it didn’t exist. Everyone has a relative like that.

5. DEMOCRACY WORKS IN DENMARK

Not far from Christiania is the country’s parliament, the Christiansborg Palace –  the only building in the world to house three of the countries executive branches of government. The country is proud of its democracy, because as residents like to say, Democracy works in Denmark. I imagined it would work but what I didn’t know was that until recently the Danish parliament was the only parliament in the world to offer free access to the public. You can still walk through the building but since the cartoon incident – Denmark has earned the wrath of the Arab-Muslim world which has necessitated the screening for those wishing to attend parliamentary proceedings. There are sporadic bomb threats in the city every now and then.

6. CHRISTMAS IS NOT CHRISTMAS WITHOUT SNOW.

‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” is a song almost every Dane sings even if they may not know the words or had never heard the song before. This is because in Denmark, Christmas is not Christmas without snow fall. I was quite surprised when people openly expressed disappointment at the warm temperatures (+5 degrees Celsius). Many lamented at the possibility of not having snow in the winter. It is beautiful, pretty and everyone looks forward to a white Christmas every year. People were downright depressed that they would not after–all have a white Christmas. Apparently when it snows it’s not so cold. Anyway it made no difference to me. The air was always fresh and crisp. There’s a euphemism for everything.

  1.  YOU CAN PARK YOUR BABY OUTSIDE WHILE YOU SHOP

I forgot about the chills beneath my feet for a moment when I noticed that parents routinely parked their baby strollers and prams on the pavements outside before going inside shop buildings. Perhaps there is nothing strange about that, except that they left their babies in the prams/strollers parked outside while they continued to shop inside. No one seemed to worry that their children would disappear or get cold, because no one steals in Denmark. Children learn to live with the cold from a very young age. It took me a while to get used to seeing that. I had wow moments each time. Possibly the coolest thing about Copenhagen if you love shopping. You don’t need a baby sitter! You can just leave your child outside!

8. FOLK HIGH SCHOOLS ARE COOL

There are approx. 70 folk high schools spread across the country, most of them are situated in rural areas or smaller towns, and they are typically named after the local district. In the early 1800’s, thoughts of enlightenment in Denmark were peaking and the tradition of national romanticism were developing. Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783 -1872) was deeply inspired of these thoughts, and after personal experience from the Trinity College in England, he developed the concept of the folk high school. Grundtvig identified a growing democratic need in society – a need of enlightening the often both uneducated and poor peasantry. This social group had neither the time nor the money to enroll at a university and needed an alternative. The aim of the folk high school was to help people qualify as active and engaged members of society, to give them a movement and the means  to change the political situation from below and be a place to meet across social boarders. Key feature of folk high schools is the fact that there are not exams or age restrictions with two or three exceptions to the rule. Some schools are specialized ( film, music or sports) while others are more general and any community can start a folk high school which is funded and or subsidized by the state.

9   THERE ARE HOLIDAY TAX RETURNS

Though Denmark maybe one of the richest countries in the world its citizens are heavily taxed in order for the government to afford social services such as free health care and education among a host of other benefits. But what surprised me most is that there is a holiday tax too. Government deducts a certain amount from your salary every month and then refunds it when  you go on leave or holiday.  Many Danes use the money to travel the world; having a Christmas office party at a Michelin star hotel in Italy over the weekend is not unheard of. It’s par for the course.

  1. IT’S BASICALLY THE LAND OF FAIRY TALES

Fairy-tales have a huge following in Denmark, especially those produced by Walt Disney. They feature prominently on people’s TV screens around Christmas time. The Danish National broadcaster screens a series of Walt Disney Movies and the latest animation film for that yea each christmas. It is now part of the Danish tradition. The fairy tale reaches its zenith on Christmas eve when families join hands and dance around the Christmas tree while singing traditional Christmas carols. Christmas would not be Christmas without singing and dancing around the Christmas tree. Most adults acknowledge that it’s a strange practice – but they do it anyway, wherever they may be around the world because it is their heritage after all.

WAAW! A CULTURAL SHOCK

In conclusion these are ten things I didn’t know about Denmark until I went there.  But the most interesting thing of all, the most heart-breaking thing I didn’t know did not make it on the list, simply because the headline says 10 things I didn’t know not 11. Another reason is because technically speaking the 11th thing is not a Danish thing necessarily.

IT’S JUST  ANOTHER BUS SCENE

Picture it.  My friend and I caught a bus on a sight-seeing mission around the city. We sit opposite a man who immediately looked to me like a West African, because he was very tall, very thin and very dark. He was speaking loudly on his mobile phone. A white old woman sat next to him looking quite distressed by his loudness. I listened to the conversation and discovered that the man was speaking  a mixture of Wolof and French, which led me to assume that he might be on a long distance call to Senegal. My friend and I were thoroughly amused by the scene as the man seemed quite oblivious to the discomfort he was causing around him. Soon the old woman  moved seats as soon as one was available, and this seemed to free-up the mans’ lungs. He spoke with free abandon now that no one was sitting next to him. He laughed and said sweet nothings between exclamations of Waaw! Wolof for yes!
My friend and I laughed and I was secretly glad and pleasantly surprised to hear someone speak Wolof in Denmark, I mean what were the odds? He reminded me of home. It had been two long years since I last heard those words. Soon another black-African passenger who was sitting at the back of the bus approached the man and told him to keep quiet, to keep it down as he was disturbing the peace in the bus. The man went silent, as if he had been shot with a silencer. Even even though he continued on the phone his hello? hallo? waaw… had become lifeless. For the first time he looked around the bus and our eyes met briefly, I quickly looked down in mutual embarrassment because I had never seen the face of a man seconds after being stripped of his voice. ‘That’s a first’ my friend commented ‘seeing another African tell a fellow African to keep it down, not to embarrass us in public.’  

It was an ordinary day, in an ordinary bus, no big deal. But for some insignificant reason, in an insignificant moment my heart broke. Because for some reason, I think a man died that day.

Godt Nytår! That’s Danish for Happy New Year!

Mythical African Beliefs: A lesson with Wangari Maathai

So a lovely of mine said to me the other day…. you should read this book:

The Challenge for AFRICA by Wangari Maathai, and lent  me her copy.

Normally I don’t immediately read books that people think I should read, but I’m oh so glad I’m reading this one! Perhaps this is a pre-mature book review since I am yet to finish reading it, however I am finding so much of what she’s saying to be so relevant in my own life, my community, country and continent that it’s hard not to want to share.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read non-fiction work which was so relevant to me personally and world generally! I  would like to Thank Ma Wangari Maathai for writing this book. Assante, Siyabonga.

I’m going to share a bit of what has gotten me so excited. Right now I’m in the middle of Chapter  8 in the  14 Chapter book, where she asks: Culture The Missing Link? in the Challenge for Africa and this is how she opens:

“The importance of Africans’  cultural heritage  to their sense of who they are still isn’t  recognized  sufficiently by them, or others. Culture is the means by which a people expresses itself through language, traditional wisdom, politics, religion, architecture, music, tools, greetings, symbols, festival, ethics, values and collective  identity. Agriculture, systems of governance heritage and ecology are all dimensions and functions of culture  – for instance “agri-culture” is the way we deal with seeds, crops, harvesting, processing and eating.

( my thoughts: who owns agriculture in africa? our seeds? processing of food, what we eat?)

“Whether written or oral, the political, historical  and spiritual heritage of a community forms its cultural record, passed from one generation to another, with each generation building on the experience of the previous one. Such a collective self- understanding directs a community in times of peace and insecurity; it celebrates and soothes it during the passages of birth, adolescence, marriage, death and it enables it to survive during transitions from one generation of leaders to another”

So much one can say about that first page opening! She later on adds that it is perhaps  because of this missing link that “African Culture” can be exploited and used to oppress and enslave people in this way..

“… I realized then that it was not just the poor who had been culturally uprooted. Even  those with power and wealth (political leaders; my additions again oh lalala)  were not only unwilling but also unable to protect their environment from immediate destruction or preserve it for future generations.  Since they too, had been culturally disinherited, they did not seem to recognize that they had something to pass on. Although they were the people expected to protect their countries’ wealth, they perceived themselves as passersby, and so took whatever they could on their way through. This also explained to me why many Africans, both leaders and ordinary citizens facilitated the exploitation of their countries and Peoples.  Without culture they’d lost their knowledge of who they were and what their destiny should be.

“Of course.” She adds oh i love this woman ” this problem isn’t only an African one: people all over the world, rich and poor are shortsightedly stripping the Earth of her bounty in favour of acquiring wealth today, at the expense of the survival of future generations, whether theirs or other Peoples’  and she continues on by saying this…” and yet I feel the problem acutely as an African precisely because I am within a generation or two of those who had a culture that, albeit unknowingly , contributed to the conservation rather that the destruction of their environment”

Need I say more… so many links can be made here  with the real and pressure filled struggle for  economic freedom  here in my birth country South Africa, my home country Senegal, my love country Kenya  including each and  every one of the 50 or so Nations and countries in our Beloved continent.

Reading Wangari Mathaai is empowering… because when we know what our challenges are then we can face them. Africa’s political problems have been outlined debased and discussed at Nauseam – and have powered a thousand and one careers  around the world…

This is the first time I’m reading a book is shedding some new light into an old ‘tired” problem –  on what some of the more tangible, sustainable, enlightening , practical solutions could be to these challenging problems…… this book is affirming my thoughts and feelings  in so many beautiful ways I can’t wait learn and discover more of who I am!

I support Maathai’s Vision of HOPE.

Happy Weekend Everyone!