G21 – TABLOID HART “Trailer Trash War News”

AUSTIN, TEXAS – The last time we saw James Bond, Agent 007, in Afghanistan he was fighting on the side of … the mujahadeen, them then-courageous and balls-out deadly “freedom fighters.” Just shows to go ya’ that today’s “freedom-fighter” can allus become tomorrow’s “terrorist.”

(“The Living Daylights”, 1987. Major Digression: Timothy Dalton, the best of all the Bonds since Sean Connery left the role, brought a certain deadly, reptilian edge to our favorite secret agent as far as I was concerned, ya’ll. This is not said to take any props away from Pierce Brosnan, who has certainly earned the role after all the crap he had to do through to finally get it. But Dalton was The Man, fellow Sanitation Engineers.)

Fast forward to November, 2001: If Bond is in Afghanistan right now, he’s been sent there by MI6 to undermine the very people he was supposed to be helping 14 years ago. (Oh-oh! ) Have we moved through the danged looking glass? Hell, yeah! Since 9-1-1 ever’-danged-thang has changed. It’s on in Afghanistan again, ‘cept it’s us, not the Russkies, dropping bombs into the mountainous wastes

Is Commander Bond confused? Prob’bly yes.

Is Tabloid Hart confused? No.
Why? ‘Cause me, I blame God
. Lemme tell you why, Sanitation Engineers.

Thomas Hart
Photo of Thomas Hart.

Let’s start with a visual aid of the kind my fellow Texican, Ross Perot, might use:

Tabloid Hart Comparative Analysis
George W. Bush: “Our enemies are evil.” Osama bin Laden: “Our enemies are evil.”
George W. Bush: “The goal of our enemies is the destruction of freedom and the end of civilization as we know it.” Osama bin Laden: “The goal of our enemies is to continue to defile our holy places and end our civilization.”
George W. Bush Profile: Spoiled rich boy, who by way of family connections achieved great power. Much of his money came from the oil business. Osama bin Laden Profile: Spoiled rich boy, who by way of family connections achieved great power. Much of his money came from the oil business.
George W. Bush: Holds bin Laden and his network accountable for the deaths of innocent civilians, mostly Americans, and pledges to relentlessly bring him down. Osama bin Laden: Holds the American government accountable for the deaths of innocent civilians, mostly Muslims, and pledges to relentlessly bring America down.
George W. Bush: Believed by many Americans (at the time he came to power) to have achieved his position to an illegitimate affront to the electoral process of the country and a betrayal of the electorate. Popularity rating today, among his own people, at an all-time high. Osama bin Laden: Believed by many Muslims to have completely perverted the tenets of their faith and to have achieved his “leadership” status illegitimately. Popularity rating today, among his own people, at at anll-time high.
George W. Bush: Says his life was changed and he found his true calling when he found God.. Osama bin Laden: Says his life was changed and he found his true calling when he found God.

This last item on my comparative analysis, y’all, is why ole Tabloid blames God for the situation we find ourselves in right now. If George Dubya hadn’t found God, he’d probably still be snorting the white crystals and hangin’ out at Texas Rangers ball games. If Osama hadn’t found God, he’d probably be another one of them Saudi princes riding around in Rolls Royce Silver Clouds in the middle of the durned desert quaffin’ some Cristal.

Instead, these two ole boys have decided to throw-down and include all of the rest of us in they little pissin’ match.

So now it is on. I say, it’s about time we kicked some terrorist ass, as y’all fully know. BUT I think it’s wrong that over 5,000 families had to be bereaved behind this War of the (religious) worlds and I think it’s wrong that we are on the verge of a danged World War (Iraq, Indonesia, Sudan — where next?) behind this crapola! AND especially now that bio weapons, chemical weapons and nukes are being talked about like they was pea shooters — WHICH THEY AIN’T.

Both of these ole boys are tellin’ they folks, us and them, that God is on our side. I have to ask myself how God can be on both sides, unless he’s not just a gambler, he’s The House. The House always wins, as any sensible gambler can tell y’all.

But’s what’s being won here?

All I’m seein’, Sanitation Engineers, is more sufferin’ and people all around the world double-checkin’ they backs. How about you?

Is this what God is supposed to want? If so, I’m blamin’ Him (or “Her” for you granola-New Age-Birkenstock-wearin’ types.)

Mebbe the anthrax thang is just a domestic wing-nut going crazy — or mebbe it is al Queda. Fact is, I don’t give a good horse poop who it is! It won’t make me sleep any better to hear that we’re only experiencing another Unabomber or Tim McVeigh 2, Sanitation Engineers, and that’s the durned truth!

  1. All of our high-tech law enforcement equipment, used by the so-called best investigators in the world cain’t tell us why that woman died in New Yawk or how come we didn’t protect them postal workers before the DIED.
  2. We still have no idea how extensive the anthrax attack really was. NO CLUE!
  3. Rumsfeld, our Secretary of Defense, actually came out and said we might NEVER get bin Laden. (Yeah, okay, he retracted that when he saw we might get depressed.)
  4. The word is out that the Northern Alliance had to get their danged shoes and clothes from us before they could even fight. That’s not to mention their latest food and new weapons. And rumor had it that they asked us to give them Russkie weapons! What’s that about?
  5. While ever’body in the Bush administration is congratulatin’ themselves on doin’ “excellent, fabulous, wonderful, high-caliber” jobs the American economy is tanking, another plane has fallen out of the sky — unexplained, and the anthrax scare is still a big scare with folks talkin’ about preparin’ for smallpox and bubonic plague. How “excellent” and “fabulous” does that sound to y’all?

Lookahere: I’m the guy who encourages little kids to use they fire-arms (you know, b-b guns etc.) to take pot-shots at ole raghead Osama bin Laden and introduces them to they Marine recruiters. But EVEN I, down here in the trailer park, am starting to get a bad feelin’ in my gut about what’s being thrown down.

I’m thinkin’ you should be,too.

Still, REMEMBER: It will take more than a few tornadoes to blow away all the trailer trash


G21 – TABLOID HART – “American News”

TABLOID HART: AMERICAN NEWS – Texican Thomas Hart returns to the pages of your World’s Magazine to talk about news becoming comedy and comedy news. He sings the praises of late night talk show host Craig Ferguson in his continuing take on American popular culture.

AUSTIN, REPUBLIC OF TEJAS – The news ain’t what it used to be for most Americans. Fact is, if you’re between the ages of 18 and 34, you don’t get your news from CBS, NBC or ABC. Everybody knows that you get your news from comedians. If you even have basic cable or satellite, you get your news from the Comedy Central channel’s Jon Stewart by way of the “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” or “The Ali G Show” on HBO. If you’re among the cable-deprived, you go to Leno, Letterman, Kimmel, O’Brien or Ferguson. Here we are in a country of hundreds of millions of folks, y’all, and we get our danged news from the court jesters!

This is not news. Ever’ since back in the 1970s, when Lorne Michael’s made “Weekend Update” a regular feature on the NBC comedy show “Saturday Night Live,” it’s been taken as an article of faith that the news in America was mostly a Big Joke. It was only a matter of time, as far as Tabloid Hart is concerned, before jokes became the best way of how your average folks looked at the news – if they looked at the news at all. Like my bud Buford’s wife says, “I don’t watch the news. It’s too depressin’.”

News, to most Amurricans, if we really wannah look in the mirror, is what Tom Cruise did to some freakin’ starlet half his age or what Nicolette Sheridan’s been up to lately. That’s why I’ve always sworn by the real newspaper of record for most of us livin’ in trailer parks – (and what is the Federal Emergency Management Agency about to give devastated New Orleans, y’all? Trailer Parks) – is the National Enquirer. You get as much real news there as anywheres else.

Ya see, the thing is, other than a local house fire or somethin’ along those lines, like the feller down the street goin’ off his nut and taking a thirty-ought-six to his cousins and his cheatin’ ex-wife, the only news we WANT to hear about is The Dirt. We don’t care if Condoleeza Rice traipsed all over Europe in her stilettos saying that America has never condoned torture. Hell! We already know that any red-blooded Amurrican would torture a danged Afghani or Iraqi quicker than we mutilated redskins on the Amurrican plains. It’s payback for 9/11. What we WANT to know is who is Condi boffing? She is Dubya’s version of the Office Wife or what? Now that’s NEWS.

Like I said, everybody’s accepted for a very long time now that only the fogies out there, those sad and tired Baby Boomers who now need Viagra, Cialis and going on the knife on multiple occasions to try like desperation to hang onto they danged Imitation of Youth, are still watching the network anchors and “60 Minutes” just like they did when they danged parents used the TV as they babysitters. The rest of us know that if Jon Stewart says you are a dick, you are a dick. Just asked that bow-tied guy from CNN. If Jon Stewart says you’re a loser, within 48 hours everyone in America doesn’t know you are Tucker anymore, Pard’, they know ya’ as Loser.

Television network news is dead. They can talk about brangin’ Katie Couric over to the Walter Cronkite – Dan Rather chair at CBS, but cleavage ain’t gonnah be enough to make anybody with a pulse want to tune into The Fogey News Channel. Just ain’t gonnah happen. Folks with a real pulse already know that what passes for “news” in this country ain’t a whit more than corporate or government propaganda segments probably produced by Karen Hughes at the White House. Big Yawners.

Now I want to talk about somebody that I think y’all should keep a good eye on. I have a feeling that this man is gonnah end up bein’ considered a National Treasure. And I say that even though the man ain’t managed to get his American citizenship yet.

People who used to read the TABLOID HART column at generator21.net know that I had a lot of respect for Craig Kilborn when he was the host of the “The Late Late Show” on CBS. When Craig was on, he was way on. That boy could get a sarcastic bead on a target like nobody’s business. But it got him in trouble a couple of times and things just didn’t work out. He left “The Late Late Show” at the end of 2004. (I like to think of it as analogous to my own experience, as I was asked to retire this column here at The World’s Magazine in August of that same danged year.)

In January of 2005, a new guy came to “The Late Late Show” by the name of Craig Ferguson. (It sure seems like if you got the first name Craig, you’re a leg up on a contract with David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants production company, don’t it?) I did NOT want to like this guy for a number of reasons.

  • NUMERO UNO: He wasn’t even a damned American. He’s from fuggin’ Scotland, ferchrissakes!
  • NUMERO DUO: He’s been in this country for years and he still hasn’t lost his accent.
  • NUMERO TRIO: He took my man Craigger’s job.

Now, a year later, I have to say that I was wrong. Like I said, I think we’ll end up considering this Ferguson guy a National Treasure. He has done something with his monologue that goes against the standard pap these talk show hosts spoon down our throats and become a true Original.

Photo of Craig Ferguson.The man, Craig Ferguson, doesn’t do the staple of all these danged late night talk show hosts: basically a series of four to ten newspaper or magazine items that they can make fun of; instead he riffs. Ferguson riffs like the best comedians we’ve ever known, from Steve Allen to Richard Pryor. He just goes off with a mind emission about something that happened to him that day or something he was thinking about that may or may not be topical news-stuff. And he’s becoming a danged master at it, y’all.

Don’t just take my word for it. You can go over the Web site for his show, click on the “-Comedy” page and stream some of his recent monologues or visit Craig personal blog to get a look at what I’m talking about and danged-near bust a gut.

Listening to this guy riff is like sitting around with one of your best friend’s over a few longneck beers and talking about stuff that really matters – and that’s the beauty of his style of comedy. It grows on ya’.

The rest of his show, sadly, follows the usual format of the late night flak fest for tired movie stars and television celebrities that makes American television such a danged Wasteland but I guess you can’t blame Ferguson entirely for that. He’s just getting a paycheck like the rest of us. It’s the monologue that makes the whole show, as far as Tabloid Hart is concerned. After that’s over you might as well click over to Skinamax and your daily dose of soft porn.

I have a reason to celebrate the appearance of Craig Ferguson on a type of show that has become a cultural institution in television viewing for us Amurricans.

When I was a young buck, just comin’ up, there was folks who either celebrated or denigrated the fact that America was conquering the world by means of what was called “cultural imperialism.” It was said that we was dominating other countries by exporting our fast food, our Coca Colas, our Disney Lands and – most predominantly – our entertainment industry.

It seems to me that that was just about the time that our entertainment stopped being very entertaining. Instead of sending out comic geniuses like Lucille Ball and Sid Caesar or great film-makers like Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese, we turned everything over to the corporate world’s accountants who want to do six and seven of the same danged story formula over and over again.

It’s kindah like what we gone through with our first Master of Business Administration (MBA) as President. Trying to run government like a business has meant having a government that can’t respond to our needs.

Trying to run entertainment like a business has meant that we take a mass-production approach that makes more widgets faster but drains all the random chaos and creativity – the felicitous madness – out of the process. It’s just NOT entertaining anymore.

And it shows. It shows until you put an X-factor back in the mix. It shows until you have someone like a Craig Ferguson come along and NOT do what it expected and formulaic. Instead, he does the quirky, the original, the living mind emissions of the kind of person you’d love to have over for dinner and drinks. He riffs. That’s real comedy and we should all celebrate the chance for the experience.

CONTINUE TO REMEMBER: It will take more than a few tornados to blow away all the Trailer Trash.

PERSONAL NOTE: As mentio ned, my column here was retired in August, 2004. It made sense. I was a stand-out domestic columnist in a magazine that was makin’ its name and priding itself on being international. I leaned toward humor, pop culture and gossip in a magazine that was taking a more serious focus on important issues. I was even beginning to feel that somehow I didn’t fit anymore, after being a member of the team for about five years.

What changed? Well, I guess old Rod got a bit sentimental as The World’s Magazine approached its tenth birthday and wanted to see some of the old members back here again. I reckon it’s a little bit of nostalgia and whole heap of sentimentality. The way he put it to me, though, was like this:

“After the Hellish year that 2005 was, Tom, I think we could all use a few laughs. Come home.”


NORTHHAMPTON, MA, USA – It will be strange to be back in Northampton, Massachusetts, with my new wife and step-daughter. This will be part of our summer vacation. I spent a year homeless and alone in Northampton for a year. I know I will drive by the shelter, and I will want to stop,and knock on the door, make some kind of contact.

But I have been advised not to by my therapist. She didn’t exactly say that, but cautioned me that I might be prone to re-live the experience emotionally when I return to the setting, In other words, become depressed.

I could. It’s possible.

But being homeless was not strictly about depression. Far from it. It was a creative time for me, with a bit more than a tinge of excitement and danger attached to the experience. As a poet, I want to immerse myself in the experience again, I must admit, up to a point.

No, I would not choose to be confined by those circumstances again. A sense of imprisonment was one of the primary features of my experience of homelessness. I tasted freedom in my homelessness. However, I felt constrained. Deep inside, I wondered, is there a light at the end of the tunnel for me? I asked myself a key question … When will I regain a reasonable measure of economic independence? I went on, in moments of solitude, to ask myself a tougher question … When have I ever mastered the art of economic independence? The answer, at least then … never.

My entire life could be characterized as a vagabond existence. Looking back, the pattern was clear. I moved from job to job, place to place, relationship to relationship endlessly, When you live like that, your finances are bound to deteriorate. Mine certainly did.

My poetry and songs conveyed a sense of yearning for roots, a permanent home. Yet, it seems that I fled from that type of existence for years. Why?

The answer is complicated. The tough questions seldom have simpl e answers. I could easily attribute this tendency to my Bipolar Disorder. Thankfully, the experience of hitting bottom during the homeless period led down a pathway to full acceptance of my Bipolar and effective treatment.

I could also point to family history as a causative factor. Or, simply, some of the unfortunate choices I made, repetitively, in my life. I could mention a lack of spiritual depth or insight. That type of growth is never-ending. I certainly have much to learn in terms of deepening my insight — at the deeper levels of the psyche.

I believe that growth in the realm of Spirituality is interwoven with both my creative development and personal recovery.

I can acknowledge that since 1999, when I finally accepted the Bipolar diagnosis and accepted psychiatric help, that my life has gradually turned around. I place emphasis on the word “gradually.” It can take years to disassemble the existence of a person with Bipolar Dipolar. It can certainly take years to put all the pieces of his or her existence back together.

Many Bipolars are creative, including myself. But, in my experience, creativity alone is not sufficient to generate recovery. In my case, I was creative both before and after treatment. I think that now my mind is more focused, though my creativity quotient remains about the same, I suppose. I believe that many Bipolars believe that creativity can, by itself, serve as the curative mechanism for the disorder, or that treatment will snuff out the flame of creativity. Neither, I think, is true. However, I believe that once treatment is initiated, creativity can serve as an enormous catalyst of growth. It is an enormous potential asset for the mentally ill person to also be creative.

I have been working more or less steadily now for the past six years, am re-married. I have regained my certification as a counselor. I am writing and submitting my work. My relationships with family and friends have stabilized greatly. I continue in treatment and am pursuing my spiritual growth. Finally, my economic situation is much improved.

I am thankful to all of the help I have received from family and friends, several shelters and health care personnel in Western New England, as well as mental health providers in several other states. I was afforded treatment at a reduced cost, and sometimes for nothing when I could not afford it.

The creative fires continue to burn.

In writing this commentary, perhaps I have conveyed a message to other creative individuals who may be experiencing untreated mental illness and, possibly, homelessness. I feel that we share a great deal. I regard them as my brothers and sisters. I hope that something I have said might be of assistance.

PATRICK FRANK says of himself:

I am a published poet-songwriter, essayist, and counselor. I have served as a counselor and advocate for the poor in New England, the South, and on the Zuni Indian reservation in New Mexico. I have also done civil rights and peace work.My poetry and prose have been published in the Journal of Poetry Therapy, Modern Haiku, and Psychopoetica (Univ. of Hull, UK). A poetry/prose piece was recently published in 2004 in Haiku Reality, an international, online journal, and my free verse poetry was recently accepted for publication by Pegasus, Ashe Poetry Journal, and Language and Culture.net. My poetry and/or prose have been anthologized three times.

I am married and have an adult son, step-daughter, andstep-son.


WEB SITE PICK OF THE WEEK: Getting unfiltered news is important. Getting an antidote to Fox News Channel is becoming equally important in the United States where propaganda is the order of the day. We HIGHLY recommend Amy Goodman’s Democray Now! to you. Go there when you’re not here.

G21 AFRICA -“Discovering Home” Part 2 of 2

Christmas in Bufumbira

Dec 20,1995 – The drive through the Mau Hills, past the Rift Valley and onwards to Kisumu is a drag. I haven’t been this way for ten years, but my aim is to be in Uganda. We arrive in Kampala at ten in the evening. We have been on the road for over eight hours.

This is my first visit to Uganda, a land of incredible mystery for me. I grew up with her myths and legends and her horrors — narrated with the intensity that only exiles can muster. It is my first visit to my mother’s ancestral home, the occasion is her parents’ 60th wedding anniversary.

It will be the first time that she and her ten surviving brothers and sisters have been together since the early ’60s. The first time that my grandparents will have all their children and most of their grandchildren at home together — more than a hundred people are expected.

My mother, and the many visitors who came to visit, always filled my imagination with incredible tales of Uganda. I heard how you had to wriggle on your stomach to see the Kabaka; how the Tutsi king in Rwanda (who was seven feet tall) was once given a bicycle as a present. Because he couldn’t walk on the ground (being a king and all), he was carried everywhere, on his bicycle, by his bearers.

Apparently, in the old kingdom in Rwanda, Tutsi women were not supposed to exert themselves or mar their beauty in any way. Some women had to be spoon-fed by their Hutu servants and wouldn’t leave their huts for fear of sunburn.

I was told about a trip my grandfather took when he was young, with an uncle, where he was mistaken for a Hutu servant and taken away to stay with the goats. A few days later his uncle asked about him and his hosts were embarrassed to confess that they didn’t know he was”one of us.”

This must really irritate people here — that we seem to be interested only in the schism between the Tutsi and the Hutu.

It has been a year of mixed blessings for Africa. This the year that I sat at Newlands Stadium during the Rugby World Cup in the Cape and watched South Africans reach out to each other before giving New Zealand a hiding. Mandela, wearing the Number six rugby jersey, managed to melt away for one incredible night and all the hostility that had gripped the country since he was released from jail. Black people, for long supporters of the All Blacks, embraced the Springboks with enthusiasm. For just one night most South Africans felt a common Nationhood.

It is the year that I returned to my home, Kenya, to find people so way beyond cynicism that they looked back on their cynical days with fondness.

Uganda is different: this is a country that has not only reached the bottom of the hole countries sometimes fall into, it has scratched through that bottom and free-fallen again and again, and now it has rebuilt itself and swept away the hate. This country gives me hope that this continent is not incontinent.

This is the country I used to associate with banana trees, old and elegant kingdoms, rot, Idi Amin, and hopelessness. It was an association I had made as a child, when the walls of our house would ooze and leak whispers of horror whenever a relative or friends of the family came home, fleeing from Amin’s literal and metaphoric crocodiles.

I am rather annoyed that the famous Seven Hills of Kampala are not as clearly defined as I had imagined they would be. I have always had a childish vision of a stately city filled with royal paraphernalia. I had expected to see elegant people dressed in flowing robes, carrying baskets on their heads and walking arrogantly down streets filled with the smell of roasting bananas; and Intellectuals from a ’60s dream, burning the streets with their Afrocentric rhetoric.

Images formed in childhood can be more than a little bit stubborn.

Reality is a better aesthetic. Kampala seems disorganised, full of potholes, bad management, and haphazardness. The African city that so horrifies the West. The truth is that it is a city being overwhelmed by enterprise. I see smiles, the shine of healthy skin, and teeth; no layabouts lounging and plotting at every street corner. People do not walk about with walls around themselves as they do in Nairobbery.

All over, there is a frenzy of building: a blanket of paint is slowly spreading over the city, so it looks rather like one of those Smirnoff adverts where inanimate things get breathed to Technicolor by the sacred burp of 30 percent or so of clear alcohol.

It is humid, and hot, and the banana trees flirt with you, swaying gently like fans offering a coolness that never materialises.

Everything smells musky, as if a thick, soft steam has risen like a Broth of Life: if the air was any thicker, it would be a gel. The plants are enormous. They flutter arrogantly about, like traditional dancers. Mum once told me that when travelling in Uganda in the ’40s and the ’50s, if you were hungry you could simply enter a banana plantation and eat as much as you wished — you didn’t have to ask anybody, but you were not allowed to carry so much as a single deformed banana out of the plantation.

We are booked in at the Catholic Guesthouse. As soon as I have dumped my stuff on the bed, I call up an old school friend, who promises to pick me up.

Musoke comes at six and we go to find food. We drive past the famous Mulago Hospital and into town. He picks up a couple of friends and we go to a place called Yakubu’s.

We order a couple of beers, lots of roast pork brochettes and sit in the car. The brochettes are delicious. I like them so much, I order more. Nile beer is okay, but nowhere near Kenya’s Tusker.

The sun is drowned suddenly and it is dark.

We get onto the highway to Entebbe. On both sides of the road, people have built flimsy houses: bars, shops, and cafes line the road the whole way. What surprises me is how many people are out. Especially teenagers, flouncing about, weighed down by hormones. It is still hot outside and the fronts of all these premises are lit by paraffin lamps. It is just too tempting.

I turn to Musoke and ask,”Can we stop at one of those pubs and have a beer?”

“Ah! Wait till we get to where we are going, it’s much nicer than this dump!”

“I’m sure it is; but you know, I might never get a chance to drink in a real Entebbe pub, not those bourgeois places. Come on, I’ll buy a round.”

Magic words.

The place is charming. Ugandans seem to me to have a knack for making things elegant and comfortable, regardless of income. In Kenya, or South Africa, a place like this would be dirty, and buildings would be put together with a sort of haphazard self-loathing; sort of like saying”I won’t be here long, why bother?”

The inside of the place is decorated simply, mostly with reed mats. The walls are well finished, and the simple floor look like from duluthflooring, simple cement, has no cracks or signs of misuse. We are served by women in the traditional Baganda getup. I find Baganda women much ***ier than the Shay women. They carry about with them a look of knowledge, a proud and na*** sen****ity — daring you to satisfy.

Also, they don’t seem to have that generic cuteness many city women have, that I have already begun to find irritating. Their features are strong; their skin is a deep, gleaming copper and their eyes have that oil-film-over-black pupils look common in the tropics (often referred to as sultry).

Baganda women traditionally wear a long, loose Victorian-style dress. It fulfils every literal aspect the Victorians desired, but manages despite itself to suggest ***. The dresses are usually in bold colours. To emphasize their size, many women tie a band just below their buttocks (which are often padded).

What makes the difference is the walk.

Many women visualise their hips as an unnecessary evil, an irritating accessory that needs to be whittled down. I guess, a while back, women looked upon their hips as a cradle for the depositing of desire, for the nurturing of childlings. Baganda women see their hips as great ball bearings, rolling, supple things moving in lubricated circles — so they make the best Tombolo dancers in the world. In those loose dresses, their hips brushing the sides of the dress as they move, they are a marvel to watch.

Most appealing about them is the sense of stature they carry about them. Baganda women seem to have found a way to be traditional and powerful at the same time — most I know grow more beautiful with age and many compete with men in industry, without seeming to compromise themselves as women.

I sleep on the drive from Kampala to Kisoro.

We leave Kisoro and begin the drive to St. Paul’s Mission, Kigezi, Uganda. My sister Ciru is sitting next to me. She is a year younger than me. Chiqy, my youngest sister, has been to Uganda before and is taking full advantage of her vast experience to play the adult tour guide. At her age, cool is a god.

I have the odd feeling we are puppets in some Christmas story. It is as if a basket weaver were writing this story in a language of weave; tightening the tension on the papyrus strings every few minutes, and superstitiously refusing to reveal the ending (even to herself) until she has tied the very last knot.

We are now in the mountains. The winding road and the dense papyrus in the valleys seem to entwine me, ever tighter, into my fictional weaver’s basket. Every so often, she jerks her weave to tighten it.

I look up to see the last half-hour of road winding along the mountain above us. We are in the Bufumbira range now, driving through Kigaland on our way to Kisoro, the nearest town to my mother’s home.

There is an alien quality to this place. It does not conform to any African topography that I am familiar with. The mountains are incredibly steep and resemble inverted ice-cream cones: a hoe has tamed every inch of them.It is incredibly green.

In Kenya,”green” is the ultimate accolade a person can give land: green is scarce, green is wealth, fertility.

Bufumbira green is not a tropical green, no warm musk, like in Buganda; it is not the harsh green of the Kenyan savannah, either: that two-month-long green that compresses all the elements of life — millions of wildebeest and zebra, great carnivores feasting during the rains, frenzied ploughing and planting, and dry riverbeds overwhelmed by soil and bloodstained water; and Nairobi underwater.

It is not the green of grand waste and grand bounty that my country knows.

This is a mountain green, cool and enduring. Rivers and lakes occupy the cleavage of the many mountains that surround us.

Mum looks almost foreign now; her Kinyarwanda accent is more pronounced, and her face is not as reserved as usual. Her beauty, so exotic and head-turning in Kenya, seems at home here. She does not stand out here, she belongs; the rest of us seem like tourists.

As the drive continues, I become imbued with the sense of where we are. We are no longer in the history of Buganda, of Idi Amin, of the Kabakas, or civil war, Museveni, and Hope.

We are now on the outskirts of the theatre where the Hutus and the Tutsis have been performing for the world’s media. My mother has always described herself as a Mufumbira, one who speaks Kinyarwanda. She has always said that too much is made of the differences between Tutsi and Hutu; and that they are really more alike than anything. She insists that she is Bufumbira – a MnyaRwanda. Forget the rest, she says

I am glad she hasn’t, because it saves me from trying to understand. I am not here about genocide or hate. Enough people have been here for that (try typing”Tutsi”on any search engine.

I am here to be with family.

I ask my mother where the border with Rwanda is. She points it out, and points out Zaire as well. They are both nearer than I thought. Maybe this is what makes this coming together so urgent. How amazing life seems when it stands around death. There is no grass as beautiful as the blades that stick out after the first rain.

As we move into the forested area I am enthralled by the smell and by the canopy of mountain vegetation. I join the conversation in the car. I have become self-conscious about displaying my dreaminess and absent-mindedness these days.

I used to spend hours gazing out of car windows, creating grand battles between battalions of clouds. I am aware of a conspiracy to get me back to Earth, to get me to be more practical. My parents are pursuing this cause with little subtlety, aware that my time with them is limited. It is necessary for me to believe that I am putting myself on a gritty road to personal success when I leave home. Cloud travel is well and good when you have mastered the landings. I never have. I must live, not dream about living.

We are in Kisoro, the main town of the district, weaving through roads between people’s houses. We are heading towards Uncle Kagame’s house.

The image of a dictatorial movie director manipulating our movements replaces that of the basket-weaver in my mind. I have a dizzy vision of a supernatural moviemaker slowing down the action before the climax by examining tiny details instead of grand scenes.

I see a Continuity Presenter in the fifth dimension saying:”And now our Christmas movie: a touching story about the reunion of a family torn apart by civil war and the genocide in Rwanda. This movie is sponsored by Sobbex, hankies for every occasion (repeated in Zulu, then a giggle and a description of the soapie that will follow).

My fantasy escalates and there is a motivational speaker/aerobics instructor shouting at Christmas TV viewers:”Jerk those tear glands, baby!”

I am still dreaming when we get to my uncle’s place.

I am at my worst, half in dream, clumsy, tripping and unable to focus. I have learnt to move my body resolutely at such times, but it generally makes things worse. Tea and every possible thing we could want will be available to us on demand (and so we must not demand).

My uncle Gerald Kagame and his wife both work at the mission hospital. I discover it is their formidable organisational skills that have made this celebration possible. There are already around 100 visitors speaking five or six languages.

Basically, the Binyavangas have taken over the Kisoro town and business is booming. During such an event, hotels are not an option. The church at St Paul’s is booked, the dorms are booked, homes have been hijacked, and so on.

We are soon driving through my grandfather’s land. In front of us is a saddle-shaped hill with a large, old, imposing church ruling the view. My mother tells us that my grandfather donated this land for the building of the church. The car squishes and slides up the muddy hills, progress impeded by a thick mat of grass.

I see Ankole cattle grazing, their enormous horns like regal crowns.

“Look, that’s the homestead. I know this place.”

It is a small brick house. I can see the surge of family coming towards the car. After the kissing and hugging, the crowd parts for my grandparents. They seem tall but aren’t, just lean and fit. Age and time has made them start to look alike.

My grandmother stretches a long-fingered hand to Ciru’s cheek and exclaims:”She still has a big forehead!”

How do you keep track of 60 grandchildren?

She embraces me. She is very slender and I feel she will break. Her elegance surrounds me and I can feel a strong pull to dig into her, burrow in her secrets, see with her eyes. She is a quiet woman, and unbending, even taciturn — and this gives her a powerful charisma. Things not said. Her resemblance to my mother astounds me.

My grandfather is crying and laughing, exclaiming when he hears that Chiqy and I are named after him and his wife (Kamanzi and Binyavanga). We drink rgwagwa (banana wine) laced with honey. It is delicious, smoky and sweet.

Ciru and Chiqy are sitting next to my grandmother. I see why my grandfather was such a legendary schoolteacher: his gentleness and love of life are palpable.

At night, we split into our various age groups and start to bond with one another. Of the cousins, Manwelli, the eldest, is our unofficial leader. He works for the World Bank.

Aunt Rosaria and her family are the coup of the ceremony. They were feared dead during the war in Rwanda and hid for months in their basement, helped by a friend who provided food. They all survived; they walk around carrying expressions that are more common in children — delight, sheer delight at life.

Her three sons spend ever minute bouncing about with the high of being alive. They dance at all hours, sometimes even when there is no music. In the evenings, we squash into the veranda, looking out as far as the Congo, and they entertain us with their stand-up routines in French and Kinyarwanda; the force of their humour carries us all to laughter. Manwelli translates one skit for me: they imitate a vain Tutsi woman who is pregnant and is kneeling to make a confession to the shocked priest:

“Oh please God, let my child have long fingers, and a gap between the teeth; let her have a straight nose and be ta-a-all. Oh lord, let her not have (gesticulations of a gorilla prowling) a mashed banana nose like a Hutu. Oh please, I shall be your grateful servant!”

The biggest disappointment so far, is that my Aunt Christine has not yet arrived. She has lived with her family in New York since the early ’70s. We all feel her loss keenly as it was she who urged us all years ago to gather for this occasion at any cost.

She and my Aunt Rosaria are the senior aunts, and they were very close when they were younger. They speak frequently on the phone and did so especially during the many months that Aunt Rosaria and her family were living in fear in their basement. They are, for me, the summary of the pain the family has been through over the years. Although they are very close, they haven’t met since 1961. Visas, wars, closed borders and a thousand triumphs of chaos have kept them apart. We are all looking forward to their reunion.

As is normal in traditional occasions, people stick with their peers; so I have hardly spoken to my mother the past few days. I find her in my grandmother’s room, trying, without much success, to get my grandmother to relax and let her many daughters and granddaughters do the work.

I have been watching Mum from a distance for the past few days. At first, she seemed a bit aloof from it all; but now she’s found fluency with everything and she seems far away from the Kenyan Mother we know. I can’t get over the sight of her cringing and blushing as my grandmother machine-guns instructions to her. How alike they are. I want to talk with her more, but decide not to be selfish, that I am trying establish possession of her. We’ll have enough time on the way back.

I’ve been trying to pin down my grandfather, to ask him about our family’s history. He keeps giving me this bewildered look when I corner him, as if he is asking, Can’t you just relax and party?

Last night, he toasted us all and cried again before dancing to some very hip gospel rap music from Kampala. He tried to get Grandmother to join him but she beat a hasty retreat.

Gerald is getting quite concerned that when we are all gone, they will find it too quiet.

We hurtle on towards Christmas. Booze flows, we pray, chat and bond under the night rustle of banana leaves. I feel as if I am filled with magic and I succumb to the masses. In two days, we feel a family. In French, Swahili, English, Kikuyu, Kinyarwanda, Kiganda, and Ndebele we sing one song, a multitude of passports in our luggage.

At dawn on December 24 I stand smoking in the banana plantation at the edge of my grandfather’s hill and watch the mists disappear. Uncle Chris saunters up to join me. I ask:”Any news about Aunt Christine?”

“It looks like she might not make it. Manwelli has tried to get in contact with her and failed. Maybe she couldn’t get a flight out of New York. Apparently the weather is terrible there.”

The day is filled with hard work. My uncles have convinced my grandfather that we need to slaughter another bull as meat is running out. The old man adores his cattle but reluctantly agrees. He cries when the bull is killed.

There is to be a church service in the sitting room of my grandfather’s house later in the day.

The service begins and I bolt from the living room, volunteering to peel potatoes outside.

About halfway through the service, I see somebody staggering up the hill, suitcase in hand and muddied up to her ankles. It takes me an instant to guess. I run to her and mumble something. We hug. Aunt Christine is here.The plot has taken me over now. Resolution is upon me. The poor woman is given no time to freshen up or collect her bearings. In a minute we have ushered her into the living room. She sits by the door, facing everybody’s back. Only my grandparents are facing her. My grandmother starts to cry.

Nothing is said, the service motors on. Everybody stands up to sing. Somebody whispers to my Aunt Rosaria. She turns and gasps soundlessly. Others turn. We all sit down. Aunt Rosaria and Aunt Christine start to cry. Aunt Rosaria’s mouth opens and closes in disbelief. My mother joins them, and soon everybody is crying.

The Priest motors on, fluently. Unaware.


G21 ASIA – “Fortuin’s Challenge”

Gregory Fortuin has his hands full in the next few years. South African-born, he took up the post as New Zealand Race Relations Conciliator, in succession to Rajen Prasad , on May 1st, and has been in office as one of New Zealand’s five new Human Rights Commissioners since May 16th.

A veteran of the struggle against South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime, then subsequently appointed by Nelson Mandela as Honorary Consul to New Zealand, he is far too humble and wise to claim he knows everything there is to know about combating racism, but there is no doubt that his background and experience will come in handy when dealing with the 1300 complaints he can expect to receive annually here in New Zealand.

Fortuin spentÝ much of the 1970’s and 1980’s in senior management positions with NML and Norwich Union in South Africa, moving to Australia with the former in 1987 as Corporate Business Services Manager. He has been in New Zealand since 1991, when he was appointed Managing Director of AXA Corporate Superannuation Services. He sees a symbolic link between the insurance industry and the role he will be required to play in race relations in New Zealand. I shall return to that.

He became a race relations professional through being troubled by four youth suicides in the area in which he was resident. ( New Zealand suffers one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world, especially amongst 14-24 year olds). FortuinÝ involved himself in work to try to understand and begin to address that problem and is still Chairman of the Youth Suicide Awareness Trust.

During the term of his office he will be at the sharp end of political debate and action in his role as Race Relations Conciliator, such as the ugly dispute which confronted Rajen Prasad in Taranaki in April 2000.

A police officer at Waitara shot dead Steven Wallace , a 23 year old Maori, in disputed circumstances. The shooting led to racial tension, which was investigated by the Human Rights Commission.In August of last year, a police inquiry found that the shooting was lawful, and that “race was not an issue.” According to the police, Steven Wallace had been acting in an irrational, destructive and threatening manner and had smashed the windows of a police car and various buildings before being confronted by two armed officers. About one minute later, one of the officers fired four shots at Steven Wallace, allegedly as he came to within six metres of them holding a baseball bat. Police admitted that there had been delays in providing medical attention.

When I spoke to Fortuin in his office in downtown Auckland in early June of this year, I wanted to find out how he would approached the challenges of his new job, what his priorities were and how he sees the role of the new Ministry of Ethnic Affairs.

I found him a man with a clear and bold vision , one which asks some very fundamental questions about the direction this small Pacific nation should take in its search for a post-colonial future which accommodates the aspirations of the indigenous Maori, the established immigrants from Europe and the Pacific Islands and the new wave of Asian and African immigrants. There are some tricky constitutional issues to negotiate, and some well-entrenched vested interests to shift if Fortuin’s strategic vision is to progress, never mind succeed.

The new Department of Ethnic Affairs joins those for Maori affairs and Pacific Island affairs and is intended to cater for those new immigrants arriving largely from the Far East and Indian sub-continent whose first language is unlikely to be English.

New Zealand is no longer a bi-cultural society. There is a rich multi-cultural mix amongst its 3.8 million population.There was a National Census earlier this year, the country’s 31st in all, but statistics from that will not be available until early in 2002. The most up to date figures come from the Census of 1996 and make interesting reading. Between 1986-96 there was significant change in the ethnic make-up of New Zealand. The number who identify themselves as European dropped from 81.2% to 71.7% in that period, those recorded as New Zealand Maori, from the Pacific Islands of Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Cook Islands and Niue or Asian increased. Maori increased from 12.4% to 14.5% , Pacific Islanders from 3.7 % to 4.8 % and Asians from 1.5 %to 4.4 %.

The 2001 Census seems bound to reveal further increases in the proportions of non-Europeans and I have seen projected figures for the year 2046 which suggest that by then 50 % will be European, 20 % Maori, 12 % Pacific Islanders and 12 % Asian.

Fortuin’s role sees him as answerable to the Associate Minister of Justice and with a responsibility to oversee the interests of all the constituent ethnic groups of New Zealand.

When speaking with G21 Fortuin said:

“We are a treaty-based , Pacific nation, we should respect the agreement with the Tangata Whenua, we should aim to be characterized by the celebration of the vibrancy of harmonized diversity. It goes without saying that we have to work towards ensuring equal opportunities for all, and we must have an inclusive society to achieve that.”

Huw Turner

The Treaty of Waitangi , signed in 1840 by representatives of Maoridom and the British Crown , gave birth to New Zealand but is still being grappled with. Brief in content, but deceptively slippery in its interpretation because of conceptual misunderstandings, linguistic inexactitude and downright deceit, is it an anachronism or does it remain an essential element of the future foundations of the state?

Fortuin has some robust views on this.

“What is the endgame for the treaty? I want to establish a debate in which we move towards an endgame. I was at a meeting of the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal just the other day and I asked that very question.”The worry being, of course, that the myriad of complex claims and counter-claims being made under the provisions which established the powers of the tribunal to look at redressing perceived breaches of the Treaty, could take years to resolve. During which time race relations and Fortuin’s all-inclusive vision could take a real hammering.

“Australia is moving steadily towards a republic and even Helen Clarke (the current Prime Minister of New Zealand) and Jim Bolger (Prime Minister until 1998 and now Ambassador to the USA) have talked about the possibilities and inevitability of a republic here.

“But, constitutionally, what would happen to the treaty then, bearing in mind that it was an agreement between Maori and the crown? I see myself as offering leadership, rather than just dealing with complaints. I am in the business of nation building , of clarifying the vision with regard to that nation building, ensuring robust education on all the issues, rather than dealing with the complaints, and there tend to be about 1300 of those a year!”

This is where the insurance background provides a neat analogy. After a fashion, insurers are in business to pick up the pieces , to respond to claims made against them when things go wrong. But Fortuin does not see himself conciliating in that way.

“I am more interested in the strategic vision, helping to shape the agenda, rather than just dealing with claims.”Diversity is an issue and what happened in Oldham recently serves as a warning. We can’t invite migrants to New Zealand as first class citizens and then see them battle to gain suitable employment. Doctors and other professionals working as cab drivers as they struggle to convince the authorities of the validity of their qualifications. In places like Oldham people came to work in the cotton mills. But those jobs have disappeared, for all races and ethnicities, and when pressure arises the battle lines are drawn along racial lines. I want to see a human rights culture develop in New Zealand, and this should be aided by the merging of the Race Relations Office and the Human Rights Commission.”

The challenge of Gregory Fortuin’s period in office as New Zealand’s Race Relations Conciliator is going to be to convince the majority population of European descent that the national project is not to continue with the obsession of replicating an Anglo-Saxon outpost but to embrace a multi-cultural future in which a different and unique identity is the synthesis of all these diverse ethnicities. He has the vision, but do enough New Zealanders have the will and energy to make this happen?

G21 – MY GLASS HOUSE: “Home”

Lizard Lick, NC, USA – 8 October 2005: Home.I’ve probably been one writer who has said more about the concept, the ephemeral dream of finding a place that felt like home more than most. That theme has been at this core of this diaristic column, a project some now admit was the template for the Blog (web log), that theme and the theme of lost love.

I have had the audacity to call myself the Knight Errant of both subjects, as MPUTHUMI NTABENI noted in his audacious critique of what makes “My Glass House” work, “conflating [my] ego to mammoth proportions” in order to make it an umbrella under which others can be protected … In other words, it’s okay that you still feel as foreign in this world as you did as a teenager. I do, too. Every single day of my life. In other words, it’s okay if you still feel you are looking for love in the most timid way possible; so am I.

And most importantly, you can NEVER, ever make as many foolish mistakes in, for, about your life as Rod. No way. I am the Crown Prince of Foolish Life Mistakes. You, my loves, get a free pass.

You, unless you are another of the denizens of that special place that was called New Orleans who are now living in exile, have not discovered the country of living with spirits and in them. You are not haunted.

You do not live every day with knowing that you must return to the lover and nemesis who hurt you most. “They always come back.”

Greg and I talked three nights ago for a long while. He brought the point home.

No one else could have written the New Orleans book quite like me for this time in the life of our country and for the life of New Orleans. No one else could have held her at such a distance while still succumbing to her irresistible embrace. But I could pretend, unlike others who celebrated the city, to be the Immovable Object, the one who continued to emphasize the hate side of the love/hate equation we all knew.

The great actor John Barrymore once said that you could not succeed as an artist until you had done a love scene, a jail scene and a death scene. I played two of my three in New Orleans. Now I must go back for the love scene.

My friend Katy Reckdahl says at the end of her interview for the New Orleans book that I finally managed to write:

… any time you’re walking down the street you could have somebody come up to you with a ridiculous story, or someone would just stop and say something that made you both giggle, or a band would be going by, or you’d see someone dressed really unusually. There was always something entertaining going on in New Orleans, just walking down the street.And there was another kind of sweetness that I think people were just raised to have in New Orleans. Someone might tell you your hair looked nice today, and they wouldn’t be hitting on you. Or you drop your sweater and a kid in baggie pants down around his butt would call out, “Hey, lady, you dropped your sweater” and go pick it up for you, something someone who looks like that is not supposed to do.

Just a basic sweetness. People are raised to be nice to each other in a way you don’t find anyplace else.

And, of course, you’ve got the added benefits of a very artistic atmosphere. But it was that day-to-day stuff that made me fall in love with New Orleans.

Katy, like many of the people who have decided that, yes, against all reason, they shall return home, to New Orleans, is militantly committed to keeping the spirit(s) of the New Orleans we knew and loved/hated alive.Not the oppression, the corruption or the prejudice but the sweetness of the Crescent City. That part was not part of the “charm” that the rest of America came to, looking for their adult theme park. We don’t want “Disneyland with cocktails.” We want our home back.

Matt called today from on the freeway outside of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is heading back to New Orleans and could not be happier. He has chafed this week, dealing with the Jo-Effect, waiting for his chance to get back home.
When he called, he was only hours away. The excitement in his voice, and the apprehension, was palpable. But, no matter what, after spending weeks as a nomad in his own country, wandering state to state waiting to return to New Orleans, he was ready to be back, home.

I promise to telephone him, hoping that he would answer from Molly’s at the Market on Decatur Street, at four New Orleans time.

ASIDE: You don’t bring me anything But down – Sheryl Crowe

Get real, Rod! We all know that Jo will find some way to “decree” that Matt not make it to Molly’s on his first day back — if only because she knows that’s what he most wants to do.

No, Baby, I’m going positive on this one and wanting to believe he’ll make it down.

Long time Loyal Readers, have watched this hejira of mine go on for over a decade now. The biggest joke of my life is how flummoxed I’ve always been when people ask me, “Where are you from?”
I used to freeze up at that question. Then, one day, after hearing my story, a woman in New Orleans told me I should respond, “Everywhere.”

You know, my little loves, parts of the stories of all the cities I have lived, from Cairo, to San Francisco, New York City and Belgrade. Some are poetic, I’m told, others just damned sad.


Standing at my window at 4:30 in the morning and listening to the blinded-canary call of the muezzin, the Call to Prayer, and watching white doves rise across the globular top of a minaret at sunrise. Allah Akbar! God is Great! I sing the Perfection of God, the Many-named, the Beneficent, the All-Seeing. The Perfection of God! And the doves, moving as a flock, a song, suddenly turn and their white wings to catch the rays of the rising sun and turn suddenly golden. It is Ramadan. The fast of renewal. I have been up all night and I am enraptured. The Perfection of God… Allah Akbar!The essence of my life in Cairo seemed often encapsulated by Sharia Ramses (Ramses Square.) There you will find the mammoth statue dedicated to the great Pharaoh, looming above us all, monumental and impassive. History and legend melded together before the old railroad station. The place that I would take my fugitive roommate Wafah (a.k.a. Richard Damon) on his trip into the heart of Africa. The place I would come time and again to wonder about the mystery of Masra. I wrote somewhere, when I still believed I would be a novelist:

“The heat on Sharia Ramses rises in visible waves from the street and makes figures approaching or leaving the train station appear to be moving through liquid. It does the same to the garish, primary-colored film billboards that surround the square, to the dusty buses and trams weighed down to one side with people hanging from their outer shells, the donkeys pulling carts of watermelons going to the market or garbage led by the villagers who are Cairo’s ubiquitous trash-pickers. Combined with the deafening noise of ten million, it is a hallucinatory vision

“A man leading a baboon by a leash across the square could have looked the same in 1954 or 1850 or 500 B.C. Only the towering and luminous statue of the dead pharaoh, Ramses, and the antiquated and equally imposing train station seem ‘new’ to me and a sign that Cairo can change…”

My third vision of Cairo is sailing up or down the Nile with my friend “Captain” Mohammed in the felucca with his son, Mahmet, and his daughter, Asa, smoking chi-chi (honeyed tobacco) spiked with flakes of hashish and listening to the legendary singer Oum al-Khalsoum. Mahmet would beat the drum, Mohammed and Asa would sing. The Captain had given the tiller of the small sailing vessel to me, and I had taken her into the wind…


There was no time for writing while I was in Serbia (Srbija.) In Belgrade (Beograd) there were promenades to take; markets, museums, fortresses, parks and concerts to take in; and chatter, endless chatter, as Dragan, Dragana and I rushed to share as much with each other as we could before I must leave the country. There was also meeting with Rastislav Durman to check out job prospects and an afternoon with the Vicanovics young friend, Sneja, who translates contracts and other documents for the Chinese. Durman and I were supposed to get together again, so were Sneja and I — but there was no time …You can find relics from the Roman era, excavated from beneath the very cobbles, there. It leads to the original Roman fortress which established the city of Belgrade. Now, beyond the park, where a French monument looms, you find the fortress of Stephan the Despot, overlooking the intersection of the Danube and Sava rivers. This was where the Turks stood against the Holy Roman Empire. In the center of the meeting of the rivers is War Island and beyond “New Belgrade” there is the border for the Austro-Hungarians.

For those who know the history of the country, there is much talk about the Turks and their long domination. Their influences are seen everywhere, even in the architecture of many of the modern “show place” homes, built by people who work abroad, in the countryside. We passed many of these going up into the mountains on our way to Romuliana.

The capstone of this hejira, of course, was this journey to Romuliana. The mountains there reminded me of Utah. And the ruins themselves were more impressive than even two years of hearing about them from Dragana had prepared me for. There are gates and towers still intac t, excavated only during the last few decades, before the money ran out … And that is part of the tragedy of Romuliana.

An entire Roman city, built by the co-emperor Galerius — many believe to build a personal cult — when he shared the Roman empire with Diocletian.

You walk in Romuliana, amid the columns that supported temples with roofs of glass and breathe the same air as the Romans.

At the west gate of the city, in portals, were statues representing Jove and Alexander, from who Galerius claimed he had descended. Even in my exhausted state, I could not but marvel at what other wonders lay below the ground on which I trod. At certain points in the excavation, like the baths, you can see the actual mosaics that were those wonderful floors. In order to protect them, sand has been placed over them.

At the same time, the tragedy lies in that you can see where local farmers have blown away parts of walls and towers with dynamite, carrying away the ancient stone to use in building their own houses. It is enough to make you weep at history being lost …

I had taken my white dove to find my dream, only to see it being despoiled. If Alexander had walked here, once, before Galerius, no one cared anymore. The protectors of Romuliana, named after Galerius’s mother, lived on crumbs in order to give the place some chance to survive …

But when Dragana asked me, “Is Romuliana also your dream now?” I answered: “No. It is your dream, but I shall help you to save it. All I dream of is finding Home…”

The great mystery of America for Dragan and Dragana, my hosts, was baseball. They had seen the American “National Pastime” on television, but had never been able to comprehend the rules or why we are so fascinated by it. (When I mentioned this to Robin Miller, on my return to the States, he joked that I should have brought George Will along.) I explained to my hosts that this was a kid’s game for which adults were paid giant dollars to play. I explained that it was very simple, really, as a kid’s game should be, but that the unifying principal was the notion of getting home.

I have one warning for anyone choosing to visit Serbia: Beware the Serbian brandy.

I like to think of myself as a pretty hard guy. I’m a Scotch drinker, usually. Serbian brandy knocked me on my ass.

You have been warned.

It was from Romuliana that we pushed on to Zajecar, Dragana’s hometown.

Zajecar is only seven kilometers from the Bulgarian border on the river Timoc. Naturally, the men there love to fish and among the first questions Dragana’s brother Mijalco (Michael) — who we all call “Bootsa” (correctly spelled Buca) — and her father asked me was what the fishing was like where I lived in America. I told them that in Northern California, where I had spent most of my life, salmon fishing was king. They nodded and smiled. Before I left that evening, they made me promise that I would spend more time in Zajecar the next time I visited Serbia, so that we might all spend time fishing together.

This was over the formal family luncheon (which I had been warned about by Dragan and Dragana, repeatedly, in Belgrade. “You must eat everything on your plate!”)

Dragana’s mother and father had been in the medical profession, working in the local hospital, before they retired, and lamented that their jewel of a country had been reduced to its present penury. Dragana’s father blamed the politicians, as people do in every country I’ve ever visited.

Dragana didn’t want to talk politics. She was the beloved aunt (Tetka) and wanted to spend time gamboling with her two nieces, Buca’s lovely daughters. She had brought presents and clothes for them from Belgrade, as she and Dragan’s last visit had been almost a year earlier.

It was obvious that they had missed the time together, to talk and play and enjoy the comforts of kinship.

Dragan, meanwhile, was forced to go off with Buca to work on the Citroen, almost fifteen years old, that is their car. We had driven it up to Zajecar and on the way it had started leaking oil, as an old vehicle is wont to do. Unlike other repairs on the sturdy French car, this one could not be fixed with a little glue.

Dragana and I walked through Zajecar that evening while we waited with her niece, called “Nancy,” and looked in the shops, passed a wedding party and the school. Nancy reminded Dragana of the concerns of a fourth grader, while promenading in the new fashionable clothes her Tetka had brought her from Beograd.

“What will they think, Rod,” Dragana teased me in her way, “when you come back alive from living among the Serbian devils and all you have to report is a lunch in a small mountain village?”

… The former Yugoslavia is now reduced to only the states of Serbia and Montenegro, of course. Montenegro is expected to pull out of what’s left of Tito’s stitched nation at any time now. Two years max. That will leave Serbia as the last vestige of what we once knew as Yugoslavia. And that means we must learn to understand the Serbs, I believe.

I wrote that in the late summer of 2001. I feel as if so much time has passed since then.


9 October 2005: Talked on the telephone with Matt last night after he had arrived home. He was no longer excited or sanguine. As I wrote to a former high school friend who “discovered” me again because of the Internet:

Spoke with one [friend from New Orleans} just last evening who was quite stunned by what he found. The devastation touched every house on his street in some way, from torn off roofs to scattered siding. His own fence was completely down. He lamented that the trees on Esplanade Avenue, which used to form a canopy over that major thoroughfare, were now little more than toothpicks.

Why would a man who has seen so much of the world want to settle in a hopeless city like New Orleans?I ask myself that right now. I understand how a sane person could ask that question.

And what about the Kiplinger Fellowship and your dream of going back to school?

I’ve said it before, I’m a “dark horse” candidate for the Fellowship. IF I get it, I shall literally dance in the street. But I don’t have my hopes up. I’m way too on the outside of the mainstream to be given serious consideration, even with the sterling Letters of Recommendation my various friends submitted.

I’m used to being passed over.

Book sales are about the only hope I have for continuing to produce this magazine and perhaps, one day, in some unforeseen and probably equally perilous future, of having some semblance of what you might call a real and independent life. I continue to depend upon the kindness of strangers. I am a “Blank,” to borrow a term from the “Max Headroom” television program of old’s lexicon.

Those among you Gentle Readers, who have read Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, know that prototype story of a man attempting to get Home. Every story in Western literature written about getting Home or finding it, since then, has used the Illiad and Odyssey as its template in one way or another.

This Blog template has really been no different, has it? I have taken you to cities all over the planet, called it my hejira, and shared with you the results of my own fruitless search. The Grail. (Or at least one of the two that characterized this Glass House until now.)

Until now.

In the new run, we shall talk about Rod returning home. The next chapter of the story that is the end of the hejira.

I shall wander no more forever.

At the beginning of the year I shall go home. I shall continue to attempt to see the rest of our world but my personal, spiritual wandering is at an end.

I have found Home and I shall wander no more forever.

So it’s time for a change, don’t you believe, my love? GLASS HOUSE NO MORE.

it is time to make an end. After this entry, we shall re-name my col umn “Smoke & Mirrors”

When I explained the new concept to my friend Matt he exclaimed, “Now that you’ve explained the concept, I see where you’re going with this. Again ahead of the curve.”

Content presented on the Web has to evolve, not just the software we use for presentation. We are hardwired for something better. Of course, when I said that six years ago, everybody thought I was nuts. I’m used to everybody thinking I don’t know what I’m talking about – until they catch up.

I’m looking over the mountain now, Darling. You can’t imagine what I see. It’s breath-taking!

Thanks for coming back this week. Keep me in your prayers as I keep you in my own.


1 – To be understood.

2 – To go home in an honorable way.

3 – The success of the book project.

“Work like you don’t need the money,
“Love like you’ve never been hurt,
“Dance like no one is watching … ”



ROD AMIS has published this magazine since 1990. It first appeared as a hardcopy ‘Zine. In March, 1996, he launched it here on the Web. Rod was a Contributing Editor at Suite101.com, where he wrote the ” ‘Net Publishing” feature. His work has been featured in the San Francisco Bay Guardian Online, NRV8, and at the (U.S.) Public Broadcasting System (PBS’s) WebLab’s Reality Check site. Rod was a contributing writer on technology for Faulkner Information Services. He wrote on Web issues for MethodFive.com’s Hyper newsletter.

Rod was a columnist for the Andover News Network, where he wrote over two hundred articles on web design and development issues. He was principal writer and Editor for IT Manager’s Journal, where he reviewed technology issues weekly, producing 383 editorials. He became the Managing Editor for Electronic Mail/Newsletter Publications at Andover.net at the end of February, 2000, and left in September of the same year. He was a contributing writer for ACCESS Internet magazine, which appeared both on- and offline for 10 million readers in 100 newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle, New York Post, Boston Herald, Austin American-Statesman, Denver Post and Orlando Sentinel, among others. Rod was the US reporter for Silicon.com, a division of Network Multimedia Television in London, UK, reaching 3.5 million European readers, until May, 2001.

In 2002, he worked as Assistant to the General Manager of a Big Easy company that does restaurants and nightclubs. He did stints as the Resident Philosopher at three separate gin mills in that city in the French Quarter and the Marigny, earning his stripes during two successive Mardi Gras seasons. Oh yeah, Rod’s had Day Jobs working construction. Mostly renovations of old New Orleans structures, houses and a bar. Sometimes he designs Web sites for other people so that he can get his creative juices flowing the way he can’t at a staid publication like this one. And he’s been the instructor in Editing for Internet Publications at the Novi Sad School of Journalism in Yugoslavia.

Our Resident Philosopher has exchanged his legend mobility for a means of keeping your World’s Magazine. Now he must become earnest about gaining a financial underpinning for this enterprise. (Read: Buy back his freedom and then go home.}.

In his spare time, he chases women in the manner that a fly pursues a spider.

He continues to be committed to integrity, chastity and a dose of humility.


G21 AFRICA – “Black Mischief”

Africa has many culinary delights only now being discovered by the rest of the world. BINYAVANGA WAINAINA suggests a Kikuyu dish of m’kimo served with lamb, and a spicy mango salad from the Kenyan coast.

I HAD a memorable Kenyan meal at a friend’s place in Sandton three years ago. We ate a roast leg of goat, sukuma wiki (curly kales) and m’kimo with njah beans.

There was bottle after bottle of Tusker beer to wash it down. The fresh goat and the njah beans had been smuggled through Johannesburg airport by our enterprising hostess.

The beer came wrapped in a diplomatic pouch, and the curly kales were hijacked from the fish section at a nearby “Pick ‘n Pay” ( it uses the green vegetables to dress the display).

Mushy Pea M’kimoServes 8-10 people


1 tin of whole kernel mealies
250g split peas
6 large mashing potatoes, quartered
All-purpose seasoning
A pinch of curry powder
A pinch of black pepper
2 onions, chopped very small
2 bananas
1 clove of garlic, crushed.
A handful of pumpkin leaves (or spinach), cut fine
1 spoonful of ghee or butter

To prepare

Put potatoes, peas, salt and black pepper in a large pot and cover with water. Cook on medium-high until the peas are cooked but still crunchy. This should take about 30 minutes.

While they are cooking, brown the onions together with the curry powder in the ghee (or butter).

Mash the potato mixture thoroughly, making sure most of the peas get crushed.

Add the mealie kernels, the onions and the seasoning to the pot and mix them in with a wooden spoon.

Mash the banana, mix it with garlic and black pepper, and work it into the m’kimo as well.

Spoon two large spoonfuls of the m’kimo into a red cabbage leaf.

Shingo Ya Kondoo Na Maziwa Lala (Lamb neck medallions with mustard and amasi)

Serves 8-10


500ml amasi (sour milk)
8 medallions of lamb’s neck
3 teaspoons of English mustard
2 teaspoons of honey

To prepare

Rub the salt and the mustard into the meat and cover all of it with sour milk. Marinate overnight.

Brown the medallions in a hot pan. Cook for 10-15 minutes, depending on how you like your meat, making sure to baste it with the remaining marinade so the meat remains moist. .

I am told that “Pick ‘n Pay” cameras in Johannesburg have learnt to spot Kenyans as soon as they walk into the supermarket. “Warning to all fish market staff – you are about to be undressed!”

What had brought me all the way from Umtata for this meal, though, was the m’kimo made with njah beans. There is no bean in the world that tastes quite like njah.

There are some foods that love to play hard to get. I am not quite sure why. There is a legendary pineapple that sends tons of salivating Ghanaian expats home on holiday more often than they can afford because it does not grow anywhere else in the world.

Njah’ is like that. Apart from the fact that she does not seem to grow outside East Africa (where she can still be difficult to find,) she is also a very ***ist bean. In Kikuyu culture, she is supposed to be reserved only for pregnant or breast-feeding women.

This is a particular taboo I take much pleasure in ignoring. The possible punishments (growing breasts, maybe, or being made to suffer monthly periods for eternity after death) don’t bother me. The bean tastes that good.

Njah’ is grown in the highlands of Kenya, from where the Kikuyu people come. Legend has it that Gikuyu, the father of the Kikuyu people, settled near Mt Kenya with his wife, Mumbi. They had nine daughters, after whom the nine clans of the Kikuyu are named. I’ve always been curious about which nine men his nine daughters married. However, legends generally don’t explain such things.

The highlands from where the Kikuyu come are better known in South Africa as the White Highlands, where a lot of white mischief took place. Needless to say, the Kikuyu were pissed off about what was going on in their land.

In Kikuyu, the word used for food is irio. The most basic irio is githeri, which comprises whole mealie kernels with beans. When mashed potatoes and shredded pumpkin or sweet potato leaves are introduced into the dish it is called m’kimo, of which there are three main types.

Njug’ m’kimo is made from chickpeas, green mealies and mashed potatoes. This is probably the original m’kimo, as chickpeas are indigenous to Africa.

There is now a variety of m’kimo made from peas (the ones the English call “mushy peas”).

Traditionally, m’kimo is made with mealies that have been dried in a granary. This allows the dish to keep for longer but makes chewing difficult, especially since m’kimo hardens after a while.

Njah’ is a black bean that turns reddish when cooked. It has a long white crown that runs along its seam.

What makes it so special is its musky and bitter flavour, which combines well with mashed potatoes and ripe bananas. It is said to be loaded with nutrients. I suppose it is because it is both scarce and vitamin-laden that it is reserved for breast-feeding and pregnant women. It is mixed with mashed ripe bananas and a little maize.

Incidentally, bone marrow is also traditionally reserved for mothers-to-be.

M’kimo used to be a complete meal on its own, but these days it is often eaten with a stew or grilled meat.

BINYAVANGA WAINAINA – I am a free-lance writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. I was born and brought up in Kenya. I write a weekly Interview for the Weekend Argus in Cape Town called “Encounters.” I also write feature pieces about African cuisine, general food, leisure and travel stories of the Sunday Times “Lifestyle” magazine. (The Sunday Times is South Africa’s largest Newspaper.)

I have also written for the Mail and Guardian, Y magazine, SL magazine, Pforward magazine, and the Cape Times‘ weekend Supplement, “The Top Of the Times.”

I run a business in Cape Town (Amuka Investements cc)that specialises in African Cuisine. I have to date collected over 13,000 recipes, all from Africa. We are also caterers and food consultants. As a hobby I collect information about traditional and modern cuisines of Africa, and write extensively about them. It is my aim to start to find an afrocentric perceptual framework with which to commment about cuisines of the continent. I am widely regarded as the leading commentator on Africa Cuisine in South Africa. … But I would much rather describe myself as a dedicated Food Slut.

In his continuing series here at the G21 more African cuisine recipes will be featured.

G21 AFRICA – “Discovering Home” Part 1 of 2

EDITOR’S NOTE: It had been a number of months since I’d heard from Binyavanga Wainaina, who was a frequent contributor to G21 Africa only a year ago. I was concerned as I knew he had health worries as well as the usual money worries that seem pandemic in the writing community. Then I received the piece that follows. It runs long for G21 article, almost four times as long as what we deem Web-appropriate. But it was so impressive that I decided to serialize it for our 300th edition. AND I felt it would be a suitable nomination for the Caine Prize in African Writing this year. I hope you ‘ll agree. — RA

Binyavanga Wainaina

Cape Town, June 1995 -There is a problem.

Somebody has locked themselves in the toilet. The upstairs bathroom is locked and Frank has disappeared with the keys. There is a small riot at the door, as dr*** women with smudged lipstick and crooked wigs bang on the door.

There is always that point at a party when people are too dr*** to be having fun; when strange smelly people are asleep on your bed; when the good booze runs out and there is only Sedgwick’s Brown Sherry and a carton of sweet white wine; when you realise that all your flat-mates have gone and all this is your responsibility; when the DJ is slumped over the stereo and some strange person is playing “I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie Wo-o-orld” over and over again.

I have been working here, in Observatory, Cape Town, for 2 years and rarely breached the boundary of my clique. Fear, I suppose, and a feeling that I am not quite ready to leave a place that has let me be anything I want to be — and provided not a single predator. That is what this party is all about:

I am going home for a year.

So maybe this feeling that my movements are being guided is explicable. This time tomorrow I will be sitting next to my mother. We shall soak each other up. Flights to distant places always arouse in me a peculiar awareness: that what we refer to as reality — not the substance, but the organisation of reality — is really a strand as thin as the puffy white lines that planes leave behind as they fly.

It will be so easy — I will wonder why I don’t do this every day. I hope to be in Kenya for 13 months. I intend to travel as much as possible and finally to attend my Grandparent’s 60th wedding anniversary in Uganda in December.

There are so many possibilities that could overturn this journey, yet I will get there. If there is a miracle in the idea of life it is this: that we are able to exist for a time — in defiance of chaos.

Later, we often forget how dicey everything was: how the tickets almost didn’t materialise; how the event almost got postponed. Phrases swell, becoming bigger than their context and speak to us with TRUTH. We wield this series of events as our due, the standard for gifts of the future. We live the rest of our lives with the utter knowledge that there is something deliberate, a vein in us that transports everything into place — if we follow the stepping stones of certainity.

After the soft light and mellow manners of Cape Town, Nairobi is a shot of whisky. We drive from the airport into The City Centre; around us, Matatus: those brash, garish Minibus-Taxis, so irritating to every Kenyan except those who own one, or work for one. I can see them as the best example of contemporary Kenyan Art. The best of them get new paint jobs every few months. Oprah seems popular right now, and Gidi Gidi Maji Maji, one of the hottest bands in Kenya, and the inevitable Tupak. The coloured lights, and fancy horn and the purple interior lighting; the Hip Hop blaring out of speakers I will never afford.

This is Nairobi! This is what you do to get ahead: make yourself boneless, and treat your strait-jacket as if it is a game, a challenge. The city is now all on the streets, sweet-talk and hustle. Our worst recession ever has just produced brighter, more creative Matatus.

It is good to be home.

In the afternoon, I take a walk down River Road, all the way to Nyamakima. This is the main artery of movement to and from Public Transport Vehicles. It is ruled by Manamba’s (taxi touts) and their image: a cynical, hard demeanour — every laugh is a sneer, the city is a war or a game. It is a useful face to carry, here where humanity invades all the space you do not claim with conviction.

The desperation that is for me the most touching is the expressions of the people who come from the rural areas into the City Centre to sell their produce. thin-faced, with the massive cheekbones common amongst Kikuyus — so dominating they seem like an appendage to be embarassed about — something that draws attention to their faces, when attention is the last thing they want. Anywhere else those faces are beauty. Their eyes dart about in a permanent fear, unable to train themselves to a background of so much chaos. They do not know how to put on a glassy expression.

Those who have been in the fresh produce business for long are immediately visible: mostly old women in khanga sarongs with weary take-it-or-leave-it voices. They hang out in groups, chattering away constantly, as if they want no quiet where the fragility of their community will reveal itself.

I am at home. The past eight hours is already receding into the forgotten; I was in Cape Town this morning, I am in Nakuru, Kenya now.


Mum looks tired and her eyes are sleepier than usual. She has never seemed frail, but does so now. I decide that it is I who is growing, changing, and my attempts at maturity make her seem more human.

I make my way to the kitchen: the Nandi woman still rules the corridor.

After 10 years, I can still move about with ease in the dark. I stop at that hollow place, the bit of wall on the other side of the fireplace. My mother’s voice, talking to my Dad, echoes in the corridor. None of us has her voice: if crystal was water solidified, her voice would be the last splash of water before it solidifies.

Light from the kitchen brings the Nandi woman to life. A painting.

I was terrified of her when I was a kid. Her eyes seemed so alive and the red bits growled at me menacingly. Her broad, face announced an immobility that really scared me; I was stuck there, fenced into a tribal reserve by her features. Rings on her ankles and bells on her nose, she will make music wherever she goes.

Why? Did I sense, so young, that her face could never translate to acceptability? That, however guised, it could not align itself to the program I aspired to ? In Kenya there are two sorts of people:

  1. those on one side of the line will wear third-hand clothing till it rots, they will eat dirt, but school fees will be paid.
  2. On the other side of the line live people you may see in coffee-table books. Impossibly exotic and much fewer in number than the coffee table books suggest. They are like an old and lush jungle that continues to flourish its leaves and unfurl extravagant blooms, refusing to realise that somebody cut off the water, somebody from the other side of the line.

These two groups of people are fascinated by one another. We, the modern ones, are fascinated by the completeness of the old ones. To us it seems that everything is mapped out and defined for them — and everybody is fluent in those definitions. The old ones are not much impressed with our society, or manners — what catches their attention is our tools. the cars and medicines and telephones and wind-up dolls and guns.

In my teens, I was set alight by the poems of Senghor and Okot P’Bitek; the Nandi woman became my Negritude. I pronounced her beautiful, marvelled at her cheekbones and mourned the lost wisdom in her eyes, but I still would have preferred to sleep with Pam Ewing or Iman.

It was a source of terrible fear for me that I could never love her. I covered that betrayal with a complicated imagery that had no connection to my gut: O Nubian Princess, and other bad poetry. She moved to my bedroom for a while, next to the kente wall-hanging, but my mother took her back to her pulpit.

Over the years, I learned to look at her amiably. She filled me with a lukewarm nostalgia for things lost. I never again attempted to look beyond her costume.

She is younger than me now; I can see that she has a girlishness about her. Her eyes are the artist’s only real success — they suggest mischief, serenity, vulnerability and a weary wisdom. Today, I don’t need to bludgeon my brain with her beauty, it just sinks in, and I am floored by lust: It makes me feel like I have desecrated something.

Then I see it.

Have I been such a bigot? Everything. The slight smile, the angle of her head and shoulders, the mild flirtation with the artist: I know you want me, I know something you don’t.Mona Lisa: not a single thing says otherwise. The truth: the truth is that I never saw the smile; her thick lips were such a war between my intellect and emotion, I never noticed the smile.

The artist is probably not African, not only because of the obvious Mona Lisa business but also because, for the first time, I realise that the woman’s expression is inaccurate. In Kenya, you will only see such an expression in girls who went to private schools, or who are brought up in the richer surburbs of the larger towns.

That look, that toying slight smile could not have happened with an actual Nandi woman. In the portrait, she has covered her vast ***uality with a shawl of ice, letting only the hint of smile reveal that she has a body that can quicken: a flag on the moon. The artist has got the dignity right but the ***uality is European: it would be difficult for an African artist to get that wrong.

The lips too seem wrong. There’s an awkwardness about them, as if a shift of aesthetics has taken place on the plain of muscles between her nose and her mouth. Also, the mouth strives too hard for symmetry, as if to apologise for its thickness. That mouth is meant to break open like the flesh of a ripe mango; restraint of expression is not common in Kenya and certainly not among the Nandi.

I turn, and head for the kitchen. I cherish the kitchen at night. It is cavernous, chilly and echoing with night noises that are muffled by the vast spongy silence outside. After so many years in cupboard-sized South African kitchens, I feel more thrilled than I should.

On my way back to my room, I turn and face the Nandi Woman thinking of the full-circles since I left. When I left, White people ruled South Africa. When I left, Kenya was a one Party dictatorship. When I left, I was relieved that I had escaped the burdens and guilts of being in Kenya, of facing my roots, and repudiating them. Here I am, looking for them again.

I know, her red-rimmed eyes say. I know.

A Fluid Disposition: Masailand

August 1995 – A few minutes ago, I was sleeping comfortably in the front of a Landrover Discovery. Now I have been unceremoniously dumped by the side of the road as the extension officer makes a mad dash for the night – comforts of Narok town. Driving at night hereabouts is not a bright idea.

The first few minutes out of the car are disturbing — it is an interesting aspect of travelling to a new place that your eyes cannot concentrate on the particular. I am swamped by the glare of dusk, by the shiver of wind on undulating acres of wheat and barley, by the vision of mile upon mile of space free from our wirings. So much is my focus derailed that when I return unto myself I find, to my surprise, that my feet are not off the ground — that the landscape had grabbed me with such force it sucked up the awareness of myself for a moment.

There are rotor-blades of cold chopping away in my nostrils: the silence, after the non-stop drone of the car,is as persistent as cobwebs, as intrusive as the loudest of noises. I have an urge to claw it away.

It occurs to me that there is no clearer proof of the subjectivity (or selectivity) of our senses than at moments like this. Seeing is always only noticing. We pass our eyes upon the landscapes of our familiars and choose what to acknowledge.

The cold air is really irritating. I want to breathe in — suck up the moist mountain-ness of the air, the smell of fever tree and dung — but the process is just too painful. What do people do in wintry places? Do they have some sort of nasal sensodyne?

I am in Masailand.

Not Television Masailand – rolling grasslands, lions, and acacia trees.

We are high up in the Mau Hills. Here there aren’t vast fields of grain — there are forests. Here impenetrable weaves of highland forest, dominated by bamboo cover the landscape. Inside them, there are many elephant, which come out at night and leave enormous pancakes of shit on the road. When I was a kid, I used to think that elephants use dusty roads as toilet paper like cats — sitting on the sand with their haunches and levering themselves forward with their forelegs.

Back on the choosing to see business: I know, chances are I will see no elephants for the weeks I am here. I will see people. It occurs to me that if I was White,chances are I would choose to see elephants — and this would be a very different story. That story would be about the wide, empty spaces people from Europe yearn to get lost in, rather than the cosy surround of kin we Africans generally seek.

Whenever I read something by some White writer who stopped by Kenya, I am astounded by the amount of game that appears for breakfast at their patios and the snakes that drop into the baths and the lions that terrorise their calves. I have seen one snake in my life. I don’t know anybody who has ever been bitten by one.

I can see our ancient Massey Ferguson wheezing up a distant hill. They are headed this way. Relief!

I am on a tractor, freezing my butt off, as we make our way from the wheat fields and back to camp. We’ve been supervising the spraying of wheat and barley in the fields my father leases here.

There isn’t much to look forward to at night here, no pubs hidden in the bamboo jungle. You can’t even walk about freely at night because the areas outside are full of stinging nettles. We will be in bed by seven to beat the cold. I will hear stories about frogs that sneak under one’s bed and turn into beautiful women who entrap you. I will hear stories about legendary tractor drivers – people who could turn the jagged roof of Mt. Kilimanjaro into a neat afro. I will hear about Masai people?– about so-and-so, who got fourteen thousand rand, for barley grown on his land, and how he took off to the Majengo Slums in Nairobi, leaving his wife and children behind, to live with a prostitute for a year.

When the money ran out, he discarded his suit, pots and pans, and furniture. He wrapped a blanket around himself and walked home, whistling happily all the way.

Most of all, I will hear stories about Ole Kamaro, our landlord, and his wife Eddah (names changed).

My dad has been growing wheat and barley in this area since I was a child. All this time, we have been leasing a portion of Ole Kamaro’s land to keep our tractors and things and to make Camp. I met Eddah when she had just married Ole Kamaro. She was his fifth wife, thirteen years old. He was very proud of her. She was the daughter of some big time chief near Mau Narok and she could read and write! Ole Kamaro bought her a pocket radio and made her follow him about with her a pen and pencil everywhere he went, taking notes.

I remember being horrified by the marriage — she was so young! My sister Ciru was eight and they played together one day. That night, my sister had a terrible nightmare that my dad had sold her to Ole Kamaro in exchange for fifty acres.

Those few years of schooling were enough to give Eddah a clear idea of the basic tenets of Empowerment. By the time she was eighteen, Ole Kamaro had dumped the rest of his wives.

Eddah leased out his land to Kenya Breweries and opened a bank account where all the money went.

Occasionally, she gave her husband pocket money.

Whenever he was away, she took up with her lover, a wealthy young Kikuyu shopkeeper from the other side of the hill who kept her supplied with essentials like soap, matches and paraffin.

Eddah was the local chairwoman of KANU (Kenya’s Ruling Party) Women’s League and so remained invulnerable to censure from the conservative elements around. She also had a thriving business, curing hides and beading them elaborately for the tourist market at the Mara. Unlike most Masai women, who disdain growing of crops, she had a thriving market garden with maize, beans, and various vegetables. She did not lift a finger to take care of this garden. Part of the co-operation we expected from her as landlady meant that our staff had to take care of that garden. Her reasoning was that Kikuyu men are cowardly women anyway and they do farming so-oo well.

Something interesting is going on today. There is a tradition amongst Masai, that women are released from all domestic duties a few months after giving birth. The women are allowed to take over the land and claim any lovers that they choose. For some reason I don’t quite understand, this all happens at a particular season — and this season begins today. I have been warned to keep away from any bands of women wandering about.

We are on some enormous hill and I can feel the old Massey Ferguson tractor wheezing. We get to the top, turn to make our way down, and there they are: led by Eddah, a troop of about forty women marching towards us dressed in their best traditional clothing.

Eddah looks imperious and beautiful in her beaded leather cloak, red khanga wraps, rings, necklaces and earrings. There is an old woman amongst them, she must be seventy and she is cackling in toothless glee. She takes off her wrap and displays her breasts — they resemble old gym socks.

Mwangi, who is driving, stops, and tries to turn back, but the road is too narrow: on one side there is the mountain, and on the other, a yawning valley. Kipsang, who is sitting in the trailer with me, shouts for Karanja to drive right through them: “DO NOT STOP!

It seems that the modernised version of this tradition involves men making donations to the KANU Women’s Group. Innocent enough, you’d think — but the amount of these donations must satisfy them or they will strip you na*** and do unspeakable things to your body.

So we take off at full speed. The women stand firm in the middle of the road. We can’t swerve. We stop.

Then Kipsang saves our skins by throwing a bunch of coins onto the road. I throw down some notes and Mwangi (renowned across Masailand for his stinginess) empties his pockets, throws down notes and coins. The women start to gather the money, the tractor roars back into action and we drive right through them.

I am left with the picture of the toothless old lady diving to avoid the tractor. Then standing, looking at us and laughing, her breasts flapping about like a Flag of Victory.

I am in bed, still in Masailand.

I pick up my father’s World Almanac and Book of Facts 1992. The language section has new words, confirmed from sources as impeccable as the Columbia Encyclopedia and the Oxford English Dictionary. The list reads like an American Infomercial, Jazzercise, Assertiveness-Training, Bulimarexic, Microwavable, Fast-tracker.

There is a word there – skanking: a style of West Indian dancing to reggae music, in which the body bends forward at the waist and the knees are raised and the hands claw the air in time to the beat; dancing in this style.

I have some brief flash of ourselves in forty years time, in some generic Dance Studio. We are practicing for the Senior Dance Championships, plastic smiles on our faces as we skank across the room.

The tutor checks the movement: shoulder up, arms down, move this-way, move-that: Claw, baby. Claw!

In time to the beat, dancing in this style.

Langat, and Kariuki have lost their self-consciousness around me, and are chatting away about Eddah Ole Kamaro, our landlady.

“Eh! She had ten thousand shillings and they went and stayed in a Hotel in Narok for a week. Ole Kamaro had to bring in another woman to look after the children!”

“He! But she sits on him!”

Their talk meanders slowly, with no direction — just talk, just connecting, and I feel that tight wrap of time loosen, the anxiety of losing time fades and I am a glorious vacuum for a while just letting what strikes my mind strike my mind, then sleep strikes my mind.

Ole Kamaro is slaughtering a goat today! For me!

We all settle on the patch of grass between the two compounds. Ole Kamaro makes quick work of the sheep and I am offered the fresh kidney to eat. It tastes surprisingly good. It tastes of a slippery warmth, an organic cleanliness.

Ole Kamaro introduces me to his sister-in-law, tells me proudly that she is in form-four. Eddah’s sister — I spotted her this morning staring at me from the tiny window in their Manyatta. It was disconcerting at first — a typically Masai stare — unembarassed, not afraid to be vulnerable. Then she noticed that I had seen her, and her eyes narrowed and became sassy — street-sassy, like a girl from Eastlands in Nairobi.

So I am now confused how to approach her. Should my approach be one of exaggerated politness, as is traditional, or with a casual cool, as her second demeanour requested? I would have opted for the latter but her Uncle is standing eagerly next to us.

She responds by lowering her head and looking away. I am painfully embarrassed. I ask her to show me where they tan their hides.

We escape with some relief.

“So where do you go to school?”

“Oh! At St Teresa’s Girls in Nairobi.”

“Eddah is your sister?”


We are quiet for a while. English was a mistake. Where I am fluent, she is stilted. I switch to Swahili and she pours herself into another person: talkative, aggressive, a person who must have a Tupac t-shirt stashed away somewhere.

“Arhh! It’s so boring here! Nobody to talk to! I hope Eddah comes home early.”

I am still stunned. How bold, and animated she is, speaking sheng, a very hip street language that mixes Swahili and English.

“Why didn’t you go with the women today?”

She laughs, “I am not married. Ho! I’m sure they had fun! They are drinking Muratina somewhere here I am sure. I can’t wait to get married.”

“Kwani? You don’t want to go to University and all that?”

“Maybe, but if I’m married to the right guy, life is good. Look at Eddah — she is free — she does anything she wants. Old men are good. If you feed them, and give them a son, they leave you alone.”

“Won’t it be difficult to do this if you are not circumcised?”

“Kwani who told you I’m not circumcised? I went last year.”

I am shocked, and it shows. She laughs.

“He! I nearly shat myself! But I didn’t cry!”

“Why? Si, you could have refused.”

“Ai! If I would have refused, it would mean that my life here was finished. There is no place here for someone like that.”


I cut myself short. I am sensing this is her compromise – to live two lives fluently. As it is with people’s reasons for their faiths and choices — trying to disprove her is silly. As a Masai she will see my statement as ridiculous.

In Sheng, there is no way for me to bring it up that would be diplomatic, in sheng she can only present this with a hard-edged bravado, it is humiliating. I do not know of any way we can discuss this successfully in English. If there is a courtesy every Kenyan practices, it is that none of us ever question each other’s contradictions — we all have them, and destroying someone’s face is sacrilege.

There is nothing wrong with being what you are not in Kenya — just be it successfully. Every Kenyan joke is about somebody who thought they had mastered a new persona and failed. For us, life is about having a fluid disposition.

You can have as many as you want.

[Continues next week.]


New York, NY, USA – For 33 year old director Dennis Gansel, making “Napola–Before the Fall” was as much about grappling with his own roots as those collective ones in Germany. Recently, German filmmakers such as Oliver Hirschbiegel (who directed “Downfall”) have been exploring the German experience before, during and right after the fall of Nazi Germany.

Since his grandfather had been an unrepentant right-winger and because he had come to loath the rightward shift happening in his country, Gansel made this film to understand — as much for himself as for the world — how people could drift towards such a repugnant philosophy. In “Napola,” he tells of a few teen-aged men swayed by such a baleful ideology.

G21: What kind of preparations did you make for this film?

DG: We read about [the special elite schools in Nazi-era Germany, The Napola] and we saw some films and met an advisor who was actually there. He was 14 when he attended the Napola schools. He knew everything.

G21: Where did your knowledge of this history come from?

DG: I learned a lot in school and experienced documentaries on TV. Before this movie, I knew things on an intellectual level but, on an emotional level, I didn’t understand anything. It’s so easy to identify with characters in history that rebel against the system. But this film is about a character who is seduced by the system.

G21: Have you looked at other films about the same period?

DG: Yes, but it didn’t help much. The overall goal was to make a real, authentic film. We did a lot of research in archives and we spoke to a lot of people. We made really long interviews with people who attended this school. A lot of these scenes were based on what we heard, like diving under the ice. The hand grenade scene is the only one not based on their accounts. This is actually a scene that happened to my grandfather when he was a teacher.

G21: Was there a sense of foreboding as you were making the film?

DG: I think so. After a while, when you r ead about a lot of these kind of things, you can really feel and smell what it meant to these kind of kids. I kept on wondering, “What would I have done in these times?”

I had a lot of discussions with my grandfather who was a teacher in a military base in Napola. He said that it was pretty tough for him. He was wearing his first uniform and he always wanted to be an architect, but there was no money in the family. But after bearing the uniform, they gave him something to rule for — endless opportunities. That was the real psychological reason why he was so engaged with the Nazi era.

G21: What did your grandfather say about you reading the history books they used in Napola?

DG: He was very right-wing until he died 12 years ago. He always wanted to be an architect, but instead he was a soldier and kept on going higher in the ranks. He had three sons who denied going to the military service, so he was raging about that. All three sons became architects. I was witnessing discussions when they were yelling at one another. I wanted to make a movie that I would emotionally understand what it meant for my grandfather. Something in Freidrich’s character is my own grandfather.

G21: Were a lot of people in Germany surprised by this story?

DG: In Germany, a lot of people were surprised because I am so young to deal with such a subject matter. They never heard of the elite schools or the Napolas before, so they were pretty much into it.

G21: What about in the U.S.?

DG: In the U.S., nobody ever heard of these elite schools. There’s a famous speech in the film when the headmaster says some day we need more governors. People think I made it up, but it actually happened.

G21: Are you surprised at how much international attention “Before the Fall” is getting?

DG: Yes, I am. I did some casting in Los Angeles and in New York and I felt that it’s a pretty tough market.

G21: What have been some specific reactions to the film?

DG: I had one reaction from the audience at the premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. There was an old Jewish lady who said that she had seen many films, but this was the first that she could not only understand in an intellectual level, but from the belly, about what drove the German public so crazy. It stands for a lot of the American audience because they don’t know much about Germany.

G21: After you make a movie like this, is there a burden on your shoulders to be a spokesman?

DG: My second film was a teenage comedy, so that doesn’t mean I’m going to do comedy soon. [The same with what will follow after this one.] I am really interested in movies that deal with issues such as globalization and terrorism in an entertaining way. I was very disappointed when I saw “The Bourne Identity” because I read the book which discusses Africa. It’s perfectly done and very suspenseful, but it says nothing about what happened in Africa. I think there is a way to combine really interesting things and still make an entertaining movie.

G21: How long did it take you to write the script?

DG: Three years.

G21: What was your inspiration?

DG: I wanted to do a film about seduction. All the time, I asked myself, “Would I have gone in the same direction as my grandfather?”

G21: What did you learn from your own experience in developing Friedrich Weimer [Max Reimelt], your lead character?

DG: My interpretation is that he is very naive and is open to the world. I could easily imagine how the poor boy felt at this time when he gets material things offered like a uniform or flying in planes.

G21: Was the concept of not fitting in always in the screenplay?

DG: Yes. We heard about Napola students who were writing for magazines. I heard of somebody who was writing a thesis and he peed in his pants all the time because there was too much pressure. He killed himself with a little knife in the park. It really impressed me, so we decided to put it in the script [through the character of Tom Schilling].

G21: Did you ever consider an alternative ending?

DG: We thought a lot about the ending. I wanted to make a point. There are a lot of scenes that you feel how the system works. For me, it was an important point to make a clear point at the end. We also thought about an ending when Freidrich doesn’t change at all.

G21: Did you ever think that this film would take so long to make?

DG: No, and that’s a problem because I have so many film projects in my mind. In the next ten years, I will hopefully make three or four films and then I’ll be forty. There are certain themes that you can only do right now.

G21: When you finally saw the film, were you satisfied with the result?

DG: Yes. The film is nearly what the screenplay was.

G21: What were your influences in making this film?

DG: Boarding school films and films about the Nazi era. I was also influenced by Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Conformist.”

G21: Where did you grow up?

DG: In East Berlin.

G21: Where would you have been during the war?

DG: If they offered us a career, something to stand for and responsibility, I would be part of the Nazis.

G21: What are your future projects?

DG: I am preparing two projects that I am hoping to find financing for. After doing “Before the Fall,” I got a lot of screenplays. However, I want to do my own stuff. I want to do some comedy. I want to do something about terrorism in Italy. It will happen, but it will take a lot of time.

G21: How did you get started into filmmaking?

DG: I started when I was 17. I grew up in northern Germany and I worked in the festivals for film and television. I did my high school exams and then I worked with disabled people. During this time, I prepared myself for film school. I got a place at the Munich Film School where I studied for 5 years. I graduated with a feature film called “The Phantom” about terrorism.

G21: Do you hope to make films in the U.S.?

DG: If they offer me scripts like “Traffic” or “The Constant Gardener,” I would cut off my right hand for it.


NEW YORK, NY, USA – Doing a film about Adolf Hitler offers a challenge that few filmmakers want to grapple with: making this monstrous person seem human, but not too human. German director Oliver Hirschbiegel has managed to succeed in getting that balance right in “Downfall,” the story of Hitler and the last days of the Third Reich. And as a result he garnered a best Foreign Film Oscar nomination, as well as considerable controversy in Germany and beyond.

G21: Did you feel the weight of this subject on your shoulders?

OH: Its definitely quite a responsibility because I was the first German director to do so. I do what I always do when I direct a film. I try and stay honest with the source, with the characters that I’m depicting and of course with the audience.

On the other side, when you do a film like this, you have to do your homework. So you do all this research and study documentaries and ask people who were there detailed questions like how did you brush your teeth and wash your cloths and what you ate. That gives you kind of a security.

G21: Are you surprised at people’s fascination with this film?

OH: It’s not the usual thing for a German director to get such a great amount of recognition, so I’m a bit surprised.

G21: Did you expect a lot of controversy with the release of this film or did you expect an Academy Award?

OH: I certainly didn’t expect a nomination and that’s for sure. We were expecting a certain controversy. That’s only obvious. Adolph Hitler for such a long time was not to be touched, especially in Germany. I was surprised at how few the negative statements were. I wasn’t expecting much more.

G21: When did you decide t o incorporate material from the Traudl Junge documentary (“Hitler’s Secretary”) and her testimony into the film?

OH: The concept was right in there from the beginning. It was always the idea to start with her and end with her because that just made the connection to today. Even thought she’s dead for three years now, she stands for all the old people who are still alive and can give us answers to questions that haven’t been answered before.

G21: Did you like that film?

OH: Yeah. I think it’s brilliant. I think it’s one of the best pieces about this time period. It has a lot of insight. It raises a lot of questions too. I think it’s very strong, a very strong piece.

G21: Did you research a lot of books?

OH: Oh yes, of course. I read them all. I don’t keep the books at home. This stuff is very unpleasant material. At some point I didn’t want to have that stuff at home. They’re in the cellar.

G21: Have you seen many Holocaust-related films?

OH: I think I’ve seen everything dealing with the issue. Not necessarily to prepare for this film, because I’ve been dealing with this subject for a long time.

I started at 10 or 11. I don’t think its possible to depict the camps in a film. I think that knowing about that — its unconceivable horror that took place there. I think the masterpiece to the right approach to deal with this is show it. I think Steven Spielberg did a great job with “Schindler’s List.” But knowing about the horror, that only comes that close. Does it really help to show it that way? It’s horrible enough but it was much worse, so much worse.

G21: How did you decide to cast Bruno Ganz as Hitler?

OH: He was the first choice because to me he is the best actor of the German language who is alive at the moment. And then I did this drawing of Hitler on Bruno and it was frightening. He looks like him too. I dont [know] what I would have done if he had given me the thumbs down.

G21: What were you favorite Bruno Ganz films?

OH: My favorite film of Bruno’s is “Pane e tulipani.” And also “Wings of Desire.”

G21: Have you shown this [film, “Downfall”] to a Jewish audience?

OH: We of course had screenings for the Jewish people in Germany. They completely get our point. They get it 100 percent.

It was always my argument. I think we owe it to the victims of the Holocaust and millions of Russian prisoners of war who were killed mercilessly. To show [how] these people knew exactly what they were doing. They were human beings, they were just like us. Because it means it might happen again. The source is there; it seems to be in our genetic code to be evil and violent. It seems to be a terrible truth.

G21: Where was your family during the war?

OH: My mother was young — she was 13. I think at the end of the war she was 15. they took the kids out of the countryside to be safe from the bombings. And all of these kids were members of the youth organizations and they believed Adolph Hitler was god. And she told us our upset they were and how completely broken when they learned that the war was over and Hitler was dead. The world was breaking apart.

My father was two years older. He was one of those boys who manned the .88 anti-aircraft cannons. But he never had to fight in the war or on the front. My grandfather was an electrician he never had to go to war because he was working in the factory that was important for war purposes.

G21: Were [you] afraid of the reaction the Nazis might have to the movie?

OH: Well I think it’s obvious that we did not do a pro-war or pro-nationalist or socialist movie. So they didn’t find any angle to use it. But, on the other side, there isn’t really anything they could do …

G21: Where have you gotten the most surprising reaction?

OH: The most surprising reactions were people from the audiences thanking me for doing that film. Most of them told me [that] for the first time in 40 years they had started honestly talking about this in the families, like asking their grandmothers and grandfathers questions. And for hours and hours they were discussing this issue.

That was surprising to me, because the old people always were just been [neglected to be asked due to the seriousness of the subject.] They had no chance to ever talk. Then all of a sudden you see this film and you basically see perpetrators and bad people who stand for mass murder. But you also see that they are human beings and you get emotionally involved and that opens up this need to talk for the first time in such a long time.

G21: Do you feel it was important to address the people who were unable to act during the war?

OH: I think it was very important to show that atmosphere of complete obedience to this man who was already sick and down. And it was just totally obvious that the war would be lost and nobody did anything.

They could have just put him in a closet and thrown the key away and no one did so. Even after this man is dead they still follow his orders. That is a strange attitude and it’s hard to understand today. And for me it was important to recreate that strange atmosphere. Basically we follow the historical events and what we know about. So we only saw what we know. It was very hard to leave things out and then on the other side it is a two and a half hour movie and I think there’s quite a lot in it.

G21: With all of your movies, do you like claustrophobic settings?

OH: It’s funny if I look at the films and most of them deal with close environments. But I don’t choose the project by that. It’s rather by what’s most appealing and the greatest challenge. And who are the characters? Are they believable? And it just happened to be this. I hope the next one will be a love story, though I wouldn’t dare to touch a musical.

G21: What films have influenced you?

OH: That’s a tough question. I can tell you who my hero is. Howard Hawks. He touched all the doors. He was great at anything he did. He never tried to trick the audience. He was a very honest man. He was a true storyteller. And that’s what I’m aiming for — to become a master at story-telling.

G21: At what point did you decide this was going to be the next film after your controversial film, “Das Experiment?”

OH: I was actually talking about other projects. I was talking about two projects that would have been shot here in the States. When Bernd [Eichinger: Screenwriter] approached me with this idea, I at first didn’t really buy it. I read the books and it slowly dawned on me that it could work and then he came up with the first draft of the screen play. And then there was the same situation of not getting a green light with an American movie. And I kind of had a green light on the other one, so I decided to do it.

G21: Could you have made this movie if you hadn’t make “Das Experiment?”

OH: That’s a hard question. As a filmmaker, I could still not explain how this works. For me it’s an ongoing process of learning lessons. I keep learning and learning. Of course I realize I gather up routine and knowledge. But I still feel like a baby when I start a new film. I don’t feel that the experiment was a specific help but doing another film dealing with a lot of guys who were violent.

G21: How do you follow a movie like this?

OH: I can’t tell really. I don’t know. I’m a director who doesn’t write. So I read scripts at the moment. And I’m waiting for the one that tells me “it’s me.”