Friday, July 31, 2009

Services for poor people are poor services

This is a World Bank saying, which they used about 15 years ago to introduce charged services everywhere in education, health, on the basis that if people pay for servies they are more likely to complain about the poor quality. In fact probably poor people, who are not used to complaining about anything, probably lost out on a lot of education and health services during this period.

So today, given that the Viola Congress programme was not that exciting, and given that I realised I would not have much time to shop for books in Cape Town tomorrow, I decided to make an early outing there. White people tend to assume that everyone has a car, and there are offers for 'transfers' to everywhere by car (350 Rand return), so they tell you there is practically no public transport in SA. But I spotted a railway station in Stellenbosch, so off I went. Call it social research.....

The first surprise was at the ticket office, when the clerk asked about first or third class. I suggested second class. Does not exist, so off I went into third class (14.50 Rand, 11 Rand to the Euro). Oh dear....The carriages have a long yellow bench along each side, an that's it. No toilets. Not a single white face to be seen. Stops everywhere. Hawkers selling (successfully) sweets keep wandering through the train. The windows, of plastic (?) so blind that you could not see out of them; more a problem on the return journey when I could not really tell where I was - but a kind student helped me.

Somewhere down the train someone began to sing, with a chorus behind him. Very interesting, I thought, remembering last year's music course. Then he started preaching, in a language ununderstandable by me (11 languages in this country). Given that later he preached in English I realised it was all about God, a loving God, a saving God, but heck - the tone of voice was loud, hectoring, all hellfire and damnation. Talk about the difference between the words and the body language! A woman, never-ending, followed him; another man preached, the main man preached again, a guy was saved (on account of trying to get off the train and unable to escape), and so it went on for the whole hour on the train. Jeeezus! Luckily they did not pick on me, or on the Muslim woman sitting opposite me. Some people seemed to be amused, but it was a little scary.

Off the train in Cape Town; the station full of blacks, again almost no white face. Went into town, in the pouring rain without a raincoat, had a coffee, decided to by a brolly at Woolworth's (which here is more like Marks and Spencer's), and the rain promptly stopped. Found a German bookshop, with no order whatsoever, and could not find what I was looking for, so asked about others - to be told they are at the waterfront and far away. Back to the station to look for a bus - saw a minibus loading up people. I know that they only go when they are full...so after about 10 minutes we left, and I was let off by the shopping mall. Did I mention that the bus contained only black people?

The mall was big, with a much more mixed population, especially among the buyers (paler than the shop assistants), and had a half-decent bookshop. So I managed to get a few books (though the Stellenbosch Protea shop was better in terms of what I wanted). Am now loaded up.

On the return journey the train was packed; people returning home from school and so on. This time we did not have the God Squad, but an elderly guy who never drew breath, telling anecdotes between Cape Town and Stellenbosch - he had the whole train in stitches! An improvement on the morning's performance!

I did briefly peep into the first class compartments; they were not much better - hard-looking seats only but across the compartment, not along it. Far from what one might imagine first class to be like....


Viola Congress!

Here I am at the International Viola Congress, and I find it very difficult writing reviews....many of the performers are my friends, and although that has not stopped me in the past, it's still a bit awkward.  So I'll just mention the highlights and various bits of impressions:

The congress attenders are generally white, apart from the young people from Pretoria (the South African Viola Society's President's students). There is also a significant age gap between these and the rest of the participants, apart from one group of students from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, whose SA-born teacher brought them over for wall-to-wall Hindemith. Sometimes there can be a bit too much of a good thing.  But the young ones from Pretoria participated quite happily in many things (not as much as they might have done, though maybe they were also busy practicing. Before last night's gala concert they did a lovely kwela (South African music, not improvised, but very nice and played with much enjoyment, it seems).

Roger Chase produced a stunning performance of the William Bell Viola Concerto, 'Rosa Mystica'; it was the first time it had been played live since 1917. It's a lovely romantic piece, and it really was a superb performance. The young Pretorian lads jumped up into a standing ovation - it's brilliant to see enjoyment and real appreciation like that!

Csaba Erdelyi's performance of his own edition of the Bartok concerto was very interesting. Not sure about his opening of the second movement, which Nobuko Imai had said should be played like a boy soprano in a church - Csaba's approach sounded more like a person in distress, voicing his anguish (just the interpretation, not because there were problems with the performance). This edition has a very complicated history. He started doing it because he was not convinced with Tibor Serly's completion of the work, which Bartok had almost completed when he died of leukaemia. Erdelyi found 260 wrong notes alone, and some transpositions which did not please him, so he laboured over the work for years. Only to discover that Peter Bartok would not give him permission to publish his edition. However, in Australia and New Zealand works pass into the public domain earlier than in Europe and the US, so he published it in NZ, and yesterday's performance was in an educational setting - which is ok. Cannot be performed in Europe or the US....

Kenneth Martinson and Vladimir Andreev's performance of the Rolla duos was fun; at times at the edge of the precipice in terms of hanging on in there, but fun.

I have not participated in as many activities/events as I could have done; it was  also quite nice to hang out and relax....Though today it's raining; I don't have a rain jacket on me; the programme is not that exciting...Maybe I'll hop on a train to Cape Town. There's a railway station in Stellenbosch, and I'll need to see how long the train takes....

The food is a bit weird; yesterday I lunched at the student canteen and found myself eating potatoes covered in sugar and cinnamon....there was also sweet potato, I think, covered in sugar and a sort of sweet potato pancake (ditto). Hmmm.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Stellenbosch, near Cape Town, is a beautiful place. It's quite old - the oldest year number I have seen on a building is 1837. Full of low-rise houses (one or max two floors); lots of lovely little shops, coffee shops, restaurants, a university described as 'Ivy League'....and yet and yet....

There seems to be a white part of town and a black part of town (that with the cheap shops, including a rather smelly fish shop). Black people are seen as shop assistants, gardeners, tradesmen - though I saw a fair number around the university. In the viola congress the audience is white; the South African violists playing today were white (though one had a Russian name and a playing style similar to Bashmet's, rather attacking a Brahms sonata).

To us Europeans it looks as if nothing has changed.....I suspect Stellenbosch is rather a middle-class town - but does it all need to be white? We are very conscious about it, or, I wonder, is it our prejudices speaking and our way at looking at South Africa which is out of date? Are we overlooking the middle-class blacks? I wonder what it will be in Cape Town when I go there on the weekend.


Emotional intelligence....

Having spent most of last year chatting to my therapist in Vilnius (and paying for her new windows in passing), I am a bit better at sussing out emotions, mine and those of others. Which is very interesting.

Picked up last night at Cape Town airport I found myself the victim of a deluge of non-stop praise of South Africa by the white taxidriver of British-French descent. He seemed disappointed that he could not take me to Cape Town because he would have given me lots of information; instead he took me to Stellenbosch and never stopped praising his country; including offering interpretations which languages different words and names came from (not always correctly, but with much conviction), telling me about the history of SA (mainly white), and stating everything with a very clipped and almost aggressive sense of conviction. Talking about the languages he went through English, French, Dutch, German.... eventually arriving at some 'black' languages.  I felt it wise not to ask about the black population; his discourse was so forceful that I thought he was defending something that he certainly did not want to be touched.

As it happens, I did touch a rather sore spot. Talking about his life (there's only so much you can talk about whilst driving through dark countryside) it turned out he had been a policeman. Seeing he is younger than me and the police seems like a safe job (better than taxi-driving) I asked him why he had left the police - I knew I should not have done when he burst out along the lines of 'I killed the fucking bastards'.....He had left for his sanity, he said. Myself, alone in a car with a killer (policeman or not), in the dark countryside, I wondered if he was really a) in total control of his feelings - they seemed damned close to the surface - and b) the right person to take tourists all over the country.  After this small interlude the conversation became very superficial, talking mainly about wine....


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Methinks she doth protest too much

A fellow-blogger went off into a right rant in her blog yesterday (I'll keep this anonymous to avoid being ranted at again; she has ranted at me before for saying much the same thing) about an article in an up-market UK newspaper about why authors should 'get more real'.

The article's author suggested, according to her, that book authors should leave their comfort zone and experience other parts of the UK or even go abroad, to widen their horizons. I agree, though some authors do make a very good living always writing about the same thing (eg Ian Rankin, and dare I say Kate Atkinson, after that weird book 'Behinds the scenes of the museum'). Then again, you pick up some authors and you immediately think, another middle-class story involving this or that topic. (It makes me think that it is funny how some authors get away with writing the same stuff over and over again and others don't - that does not seem fair; what is the trigger that allows this for some authors and not others?).

The blogger, however, went off into a very heavy rant - seemingly going with the head right through the wall. Had she been a Glaswegian (well, some Glaswegians, I have to be careful here) she would have nutted the guy right in the face. She suggests that there is enough different stuff, eg crime, unemployment, different cultures, right here in the UK. Yes, indeed there is, but she does not write about them - perhaps because she does not really know much about this; eg by living on a run-down, drug-ridden council estate for 6 months (who can blame her....). Also not many authors can afford to abandon part of their lives for a longer period in the name of research.

Having said that and having noted that some authors can get away with using the same formula over and over again, psychologically I find it very interesting how she reacted. Completely in at the deep end, I'd say. Psychology, and people's reactions to certain events and statements, are just so fascinating. It suggests that the article's author hit a very tender spot in the blogger...though I would not like to speculate, in public, what this/these tender spot(s) might be. (Much as a reaction in a conversation I had this afternoon about elderly car drivers with a person in that age range. Personally, I have to say, I am not that happy to be driving myself; every time I go out, especially in this huge tank from work, I worry about killing a child. Though I will probably miss having the car when I don't get it any more from the middle of September). I wish, though, that I had know about all this psychology/psychoanalytic stuff much earlier in my life; rather than getting carried away in hotheaded situations it's much more interesting to stand aside and think why a person might be reacting in a certain way).


More books....

Getting hold of what I can (South Africa next week, hope Stellenbosch has more bookshops with a wider range; have already identified some...):

Ian Rankin's 'The Flood' - this was his first book, written while he was still at university and rejected by many publishers then.... Set in a mining (former mining...) village in Fife, it tells the story of a woman who fell in a pit burn aged 10, after which her hair turned white overnight, and had a son aged 16 whose father remains unknown until the end of the book. Also of her son and various other people who come into contact with her. The son has no idea who his father is and is afraid to ask his mother in case he hurts her. I know the feeling well! He, a smart lad (an alter ego of Rankin?), in his teenage years has his own problems and dreams....The woman falls in love but cannot do sex, given her earlier experiences, there is a new minister in town who also feels strongly attracted to her.... many people in the village think she is a witch, and she is a bit of an outcast (somehow she also made me think of Susan Boyle, who, like Mary Miller in the book, has not worked until now). There is no crime and no Inspector Rebus in the book. Knowing Scottish former mining communities (albeit in Ayrshire) pretty well I liked this book very much; it describes the community very convincingly, its decay, the despair settling in, the boys who are desperate to leave school (but after the summer holidays are envious of the boy staying on at school). It also made me think about all the policies everywhere in the world where staying in education for as long as possible is encouraged - but there are people who hate school (me included), and alternatives need to be found for them. The book made me feel quite at home.

Coincidentally I then went on to read Kate Atkinsons 'When will there be good news', another Jackson Brodie book set mainly in Edinburgh. Actually I find her a better crime writer than Rankin (and she has not always been a crime writer); the characters are more sympathetic, though also quite appallingly complex. This book is another crime novel with twists and turns you would not believe - the opening scene reminds me of that murder in Kent where a guy murdered a mother and at least one of her daughters. The chapter headings are a mix of nursery rhymes, converted religious quotes, quotes from other literature, and she displays an intimate knowledge of classical Greek. The main heroine is a plucky 16-year-old girl who the reader's heart goes out to - she has had so many disasters in her life that it is surprising how well adjusted she is. It's also quite funny, despite all the murder and mayhem. Well worth getting (and I will be taking it home).

Finally (not finally really, given that there is another book on my office bookshelf whose name I cannot remember) there is Andrew Wilson's 'The Lying Tongue', about a young art history graduate, Adam Wood (notice the coincidence of the initials?) who gets a job in Venice tutoring a young boy with the aim of writing his first novel in his spare time. The job falls through, and he finds another one looking after an old author with a very murky past (which, not surprisingly, he is rather secretive about). Young Adam sets out to find out about the past, which is not very pleasing - but at the same time Adam is not necessarily the guy you would like to have as a friend, or even as an acquaintance - never mind as an enemy. It's ok; a good read, for hospital reading etc, and its end is one which I could not help feeling a little satisfied with. Not terribly high-brown literature though, the descriptions of Venetian art, buildings etc notwithstanding. This one is for sale in the office....


Out in the countryside....

Out at the crack of dawn this morning to set the hash for tomorrow. Crack of dawn is 7.30 am, which it is distinctly nippy at this time of year.

The hash was at Kgale Sidings which I had heard of because the Ladies' No 1 Opera House is supposed to be there. Jeeez, it's way out of town, past Game City, along the Lobatse road, and then near major satellite dishes you turn left into the bush. All countryside, with a few nice houses dotted here and there. It's a cul-de-sac.

Not exactly a typical location for an opera house, nor for a restaurant which it is from 9-4pm during the week, or 10-2pm on a Sunday. Passing trade? Probably zero. Walking distance from anywhere? Forget it. I suppose it is a concert venue, reasonably cheap to set up, given the scarcity of land anywhere central, and with parking for visitors - but the casual visitor is extremely unlikely to ever find it. Extremely well-meant, of course, but I wonder about the business model....if it had not been largely funded by the generous A McCall Smith, would it ever have got a start-up loan? (See photo to the left below)

The Gaborone Hash have got some implements called 'stompers'; they are cans screwed to batons, with the letter 'H' punched out of the bottom. They contain lime, you stomp them on the floor and you have printed a beautiful 'H' to show the track. Off we wandered, followed by a delightful little Jack Russell who followed us all the way around our track. There were no serious animals to be seen, apart from a dog. I asked about snakes but was told they were not around at this time of year, and that the main dangerous snake, the puff adder tended only to be dangerous if you stepped on it. So would I, I'd expect! (NB I have no idea whose nests are swinging in that tree....)

On the way back into town I spotted a large animal strolling along the road - gee, some size of dog that, I thought. Coming closer I noticed it was a large monkey, casually strolling along on all fours, in no hurry to go anywhere! It must have been close to the size of me, standing up. Since this seemed to be quite a normal thing to happen, I thought it would look rather naff stopping and taking a photo of the beast!

When I got home, the guard made a lot of heavy weather of showing me into my parking space. Not only did I not much care for that, wee bump or no wee bump, I cared even less for him standing right behind my tank as I was manoeuvring in......


Friday, July 24, 2009


So today I got the office car; it works well, but feck it - I reversed it, slightly and slowly (but it is a frigging tank) into someone else's car. Not sure what the insurance situation is in that respect.  The owner of the other car asked if we needed to get the police - I suggested that not, seeing it happened where we both live, there were plenty of witnesses and no-one else can be at fault (plus my driving licence is in my previous name; hope that does not cause problems with the insurance....). Not sure what the insurance status is in any case.

It's such a huge car that you tend to feel rather invulnerable in it, which does not really help....And yes, as Freud would say, there are always emotional reasons for accidents, there are no accidents per se. What had happened that someone had blocked me in my car parking space, I kept hooting the horn, nothing happened, then it turned out to be a colleague who had just nipped into someone's house nearby, and so I was a bit narked, to put it mildly before I started driving. Without due care and attention, obviously.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Looking for a house

I've now given up looking for a furnished place; I will just have to buy furniture and everything (got enough money for that, though I used it for other stuff, but ah well - people tell me that it is easy to sell things again (after 4 months' use....). Have now got a colleague on the job, too. Just phoned about a couple of places, both reasonable, advertised yesterday, and they were already taken. Wew!  That looks like it is hard, too.

But again the problem is the directions and the addresses; in the papers they talk about Block X, but on the slightly old map they talk about Extension this and Extension that. So I have no idea where the dratted place is. Just now I am downloading Google Earth to see if it shows the Blocks.  When I ask for a street name and an address they just laugh - does not work like that here. A local colleague, who studied in England, was surprised how easy it was in England to find a place. And then proceeded to tell me how to get to a particular ministry, waving her arms about....

There is a place called Phalakane, where lots of places are for rent, but it is a long way out of town; very posh and rather nice, but I don't need posh (though need to meet my employer's security requirements); I just want somewhere in town, especially now that I am joining this choir.....


Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Found a choir in Gaborone, the Gaborone Musical Society. It will do Carmina Burana in November, and rehearsals start next week. Not entirely sure about the pitch of my voice these days (might be baritone/bass) and how it will hold out to serious singing.


First parcel arrived....

...from Europe. The only one sent commercially, by Amazon UK; took exactly 2 weeks. Three others are on the way - will they make it?


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Reading, reading, reading

So what can a guy do when there is virtually no cultural life, no restaurants, little social life, but read.  Lots of books, all so far very interesting, but I wonder how long it will take me to use up the books in Exclusive Books in Riverwalk Mall of Gaborone? At least at the moment they have their winter sale, which helps. Need to look in Stellenbosch next week - I hope they will have a wider choice.

What did I read?

Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene (1938). A scary book set in the underworld of Brighton, with knife-gangs etc (as they say they had in Glasgow in the 1950s). Some desperate guys kill a guy (except it seems he died of fright before they managed to kill him). A woman with big boobs has her suspicions about his 'natural death' and pursues the gang. It describes their rather horrid lives rather well - there is a rather complex character, all of 17, who runs the gang, and who has had the usual upbringing of reform school and so on. What surprises me about him is that he does not drink or smoke and he hates sex, perhaps because, in his family's one-roomed flat, he saw his parents at it every Saturday. But a 17-year-old boy, with hormones all over the place? A bit strange....

The Bad Mother's Handbook, by Kate Long - about a single mother (aged 33) of a clever 17-year-old daughter living on a council estate somewhere in the North of England, and with a rather batty mother herself, who slips in and out of dementia. Except there is a secret..... and the daughter herself follows her mother's footsteps. Very amusing in between all the drama. Well worth a read if you understand life in the North of England.

Spud, by John van de Ruit, written as a diary by a 14/15 year old boy in a South African boarding school. It's very funny, though I hope not too many of the events in the book happened to folks I know who went to boarding school.  The narrator comes across as rather a complex child, singing in the choir one minute and up to no good the next.

A book by a South African author (currently lent out, cannot remember author's name or the book's title) about a Jewish family in South Africa and their black servants (in passing). Told by all the different characters (which makes each chapter difficult to sus out - just who exactly is talking here?). The grandparents come from Lithuania, and for some reason talk about Polish money (fair enough), had a terrible life in Lithuania (ditto), spoke little Russian (why would they speak Russian if they were using Polish money) and speak much Yiddish (when suddenly the Lithuanian word 'bulves' = potatoes) drops into it.  The book is set in the 1950s when the main character, a child, is a young child, and goes on. It's very interesting psychologically, with the child/family having to deal with a mother who clearly sinks into deep depression (understandable, under the circumstances described in the book), but no-one in the family is able to deal with the woman's rejection of any help.  Only much later, after the woman is dead, the daughter realises what difficulties her mother had to struggle with.  Initially it seems a bit corney, but when you get into it, you really (or I really did) get into the child's suffering.  I can't believe I can't find the book on the internet. Would help if I remembered any of the characters' names; I have a feeling it was shortlisted for some (UK?) prize within the last few years....I picked it because I have a South African Jewish friend who would have been about 10 years older than the child in the book.

A wild sheep chase' by Haruki Murakami; a usual Murakami thriller-type book involving the slightly weird and wonderful. Great reading, as always, less sex than usual (:-().  Unputdownable.

And I am still reading 'MacroPsychoanalyse', an economics/psychoanalytic textbook (in French) about how any economic models are really run by emotions (as is everything, in my view, even if, sometimes, it is the denial of emotions, which also gives its own message). Very interesting, converting the individual model of people (in French 'le ça', 'le moi' and 'le supermoi', as well as 'la pulsion de la vie' and 'la pulsion du mort'). Fascinating stuff, it really is - but it is so threatening to people to talk about emotions in relation to what they think are rational decisions.  I'm waiting for a few more books on the same topic, should they ever arrive in Botswana.  It's not quite as easy to get into it in French....

But Philip Roth's book, 'Our Gang' or 'Le théâtre de Sabbath' in French may be one step too far for my French. It's sitting there, and I have laboured through a few pages.....


Picnic by the lake

So, after the hash, where I had whinged a little about being lonely and having little do do on a weekend, one of the guys phoned us on the way back into town and suggested we join him and the girls for a picnic. No idea where we were going. My mate, whose car we were using, got a little anxious about how far we were heading out of town.

Anyway, tootled along the Francistown Road (600 km to the North) but after 20 minutes turned left towards a village called Bokaa. What is there, we asked ourselves? The guy in the other car kept stopping and asking people for directions, which led us all over the village. Finally we saw the lake, but still could not get to it. When we asked again at a house, the woman there gave us her 15-year-old daughter (or sister) to show us the way. So young Keda joined us.....I was not at all sure about this, what with my work - how did the woman know that we were not child abductors/traffickers?  Finally found the lack and young Keda sat beside us, occasionally saying something. She was a lovely little girl (rather than young woman which some girls of that age might have been). It was very tempting to go into the lake, but Keda (and later her mother/sister who appeared looking for her - so she was worried after all) told us that there might be crocodiles in the water, although perhaps more at the far side. I'm afraid when I hear of crocodiles in the water I always think of that scene in the cartoon version of Peter Pan where the eyes pop up, one by one - so I only went in up to my ankles. The ground was a bit slimy and it might not have been nice to be unable to sprint out of the water. In any case, I think crocs can have a fair bit of speed on them in water....

It was interesting - we were there with some Cuban doctors, who are here as volunteers. Apparently there are lots of Cuban doctors in Botswana, and probably other African/Latin American countries as well.  Maybe Cuba gets some money for this, but it is so impressive that it sends its doctors all over the world. Cuba is well-known to run an excellent medical system on a shoe-string (if the string is long enough to close one shoe) - it may be propaganda, but this is just fine with me. (Much like El Sistema from Venezuela - if it does good to its own people and give benefits/pleasure to people in other parts of the world, why not. I wondered how able they might be to open a bank account here - the bank I opened an account with made me sign some thing about trading with unapproved countries, of which Cuba is bound to be one.  

It was an interesting outing, not least because I found myself as one of the three guys going out with three girls (plus young Keda) - I did wonder a bit how to handle this. Stuff to get used to, I suppose.

Learnt something else over the weekend, and just had a long conversation with my South African mate, who clearly did not understand what I was talking about (he's never lived in the North).  Sitting quite a bit in the garden, I was wondering about the path of the sun; I was totally bewildered in terms of the direction in which it was travelling.  Seems that in the South it travels also from the east to the west, but via the north!  I had never paid any attention to that in Australia. One lives and learns.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Oh joy, Radio 3!

My faithful reader Anni reminded me that Radio 3 exists on the internet; just tried it, and it comes across on my laptop (but the Berlin Phil transmissions, involving also pictures, don't... thankfully, it seems, my subscription had expired anyway at the end of the season). This is brilliant!!!  So I suppose it'll be Proms from wall to wall for the next couple of months.

So it's a long three-day weekend; I had taken the office car as I am still entitled to. Went shopping last night, and got enough for a while. Just as well - even last night there seemed to be a problem getting it started (it turns over but does not fire), and this morning it did not fire at all. I have a distant memory of having to jiggle something in the carburettor (was looking for a choke but did not find one), but it's a long time since I tried to get a car to start. There are no hills for bump starting, and the thing weighs a ton. So much for my planned trip to a game park, or anything else exciting.

Walked to the Broadhurst mall (about 4 km), described as 'atmospheric' in some information for American medical students. Hmm, not sure.  Wish I had looked at their blurb again before I left, and looked for the second-hand bookshop. Otherwise it was the usual shops in Gaborone, slightly less organised than in the fancy Game City Mall (Broadhurst was probably built in bits), a post office which took 15 minutes to post registered letters, a very nice shop with a huge range Indian spices in bulk (200g makes an awful lot of spice), and chapatti flour in 5kg bags (how much flour does one chappati take? 10 g?). The 'stalls where you can bargain for all sorts of things' were largely of clothes, either fake designer goods or secondhand clothes, including huge piles of black shoes. Nothing African.  As one who once bought a second-hand Tshirt of a street child vendor in Rwanda I should not quibble, and for non-posing running t-shirts it should be ok.  Beyond that it does not have that much to offer to the average ex-pat.

Had meant to go to another place, with a garden centre, to try and liven up my dark patio (and it's supposed to have a nice restaurant, too). But one thing that drives me crazy in Gaborone is that no-one ever gives their frigging address on their websites or their adverts. I assume they don't use postmen/women here; it's all 'Post Bag XXXXX'. How do ambulances and the fire services manage?  So lots of businesses do have websites, but don't tell you where they are. The garden centre in 'Block 7' is as near as I got; but Block 7 is rather huge, especially without a car; Botswanacrafts, another highly rated provider of Botswanan arts and crafts (can't say I am that much into that sort of thing, but it would be nice for a look), also appears to have its shop inside a post bag.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Soweto Buskaid vs El Sistema (Venezuela)

After seeing Soweto Buskaid in concert last night, I thought I would try and compare it with Venezuela's El Sistema.

Both target children living in difficult circumstances (though not all those in the Venezuelan Band fall into this category, 'only' 90% do - that's a pretty good achievement in terms of targeting). Buskaid is privately sponsored (by Total petrol); El Sistema is publicly funded, under the heading of 'Social Action for Music', possibly by the Health Ministry.

El Sistema has 250,000 children participating at any one time, apparently 30 professional symphony orchestras (see Wikipedia) and is creating many very fine soloists, musicians and not least conductors (Dudamel); the population of Venezuela is 27 million; thus almost 0.1% of the population are in El Sistema. The Buskaid project is one music school in Soweto (population 900,000), which takes 80 students (0.01% of the population) and turns away 100s more, due to lack of funding. Rather than an integrative system, Buskaid is more an elitist system - but, it's privately funded, with apparently no state support. (It should be said that there may be other, similar projects in other townships - a violist friend is involved in a similar project in possibly another township, but that does not have as high a profile).

El sistema was started by a Venezuelan, Mr Abreu, whereas Buskaid came into being through a British violinist, a foreigner. El sistema grows its own conductors (well, it does have a huge base) whereas Buskaid is still a string ensemble and conducted by Mrs Nalden; who conducts a bit (I am sorry) like a school teacher - do those children really need two bars counting in? I do wonder whether another conductor, a local one, might not have let the children's personalities and their exuberance (all children are, or should be, exuberant) out. Perhaps the rather refined 'early performance practice' is not the best approach for this age group? But with such a small base it will be hard to find someone....

It would be great to persuade the South African government to expand something like Buskaid, but locally there is probably no evidence base whatsoever to show that it keeps children out of trouble (especially since I suspect that the children chosen to be accepted are probably those who might not get into trouble in the first place).


Music in Gaborone!

So you think I am in a cultural desert? Well, almost, but not quite.....tonight we had, in the 400-seat Maitisong concert hall/theatre (the only one purpose-built since independence in 1966) a concert of Soweto Buskaid.

Soweto Buskaid is an outfit founded by a VIOLA Player, Rosemary Nalden, in response to a BBC programme about the 'difficulties besetting a string project in Diepkloof, Soweto. It is a band of about 20 - 25 young string players who tour the world, have played at the Proms (to '5-star reviews'), and voted as 'one of the world's most inspirational orchestras' by Grammophone magazine. Hmmmm. You know how it is when you have a blind pianist or someone else overcoming seemingly overwhelming odds, that sometimes judgement goes out of the window, a bit?

Yes, they played very nicely - but world class? They need to let their personalities out.

There was something funny about it. I found them rather timid. Someone said 'it's because they are very young' - that's no excuse; young people don't tend to be timid. Think of the Bolivar Youth Orchestra, or any other major youth orchestra - usually they are full of exuberance. I did wonder about the conductor's personality (more about that anon).

They started with some Purcell, a dance suite, of short dances. They were very nice; played with a nice baroque bow hold and so on, but Purcell is Purcell, fairly straight music, precise, at times not all that exciting....There were a couple of amazing dancers (one also a violinist in the band); I thought of the two Tumi Mapholo was the more talented one - they had done their own choreography which was very interesting, and Mapholo was really, really good. Drop the violin, boy!

This was followed by two Kreisler pieces, played very nicely by a violinist from the back row. In the second piece there were some intonation issues, and maybe not enough give and take on the tempi. There was the odd bit of funny bow direction, but he was having fun. I did wonder about him going to a music school in Europe, say Lithuania; he would have the talent though I would not wish Lithuania on a lad from Soweto.

Then we had two Beatles songs, sung by Cecilia Manyama; she was far more at home in Preacherman than in 'Michelle' (which the band is hoping to send to Mrs Michelle Obama). I think that needs a bit more practice to get more into the singer's comfort zone.  This was followed by the first movement of the Brandenburg 3; we have all played it, haven't we. It was nice, though again not as lively as it might have been.

Finally they ended with the Beale Street Blues, an old American piece, nicely played by the band and the basses (they seem to have streamlined basses - they had the thickness of the cellos rather than being deeper as is normally the case). 

The second half opened with the best of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, No 6 for violas and basso continuo. I was listening closely to the violas - during the first half emotions had taken over and I was wondering about sponsoring (or helping to sponsor) one of the viola players to participate in the viola congress at the other end of South Africa in a couple of weeks' time. When I was listening to them, they were good, again lots of musicality, but at times (mildly) iffy technique, and damn it, can those personalities not be let out?  I thought of the standards of other viola players and wondered whether really theirs would be up to congress level.  Still some time to think.

Then we had two slow Gymnopedies by Satie - those that we all know and can sing along to. The dancers appeared again and did very nice dances indeed. I see that the programme notes suggest that Satie may have suffered from 'compulsive neuroses' (hence the 'hypnotic repetitions' of the piece??? though you could say the same about any ground bass; and I wonder if people like Philip Glass have similar neuroses??? - Freud - where are you?). Does this come from Wikipedia, one of the sources of the programme notes?

Another two Kreisler pieces followed - again not as much give and take (rubatos) as there might have been, but pleasant and nice.  Finally we had an African Kwela; African music arranged by Buskaid students - these were fun.  Again I wondered if the players had restrained themselves a bit too much, and were a bit too much in the European music straight jacket - it was pleasant music, but I would have expected some raucousness.

But overall I thought temperaments were curbed, the members of the group were too restrained, and there was not as much fun as there might have been. '5-star reviews?'   At the end I went to ask a member of the accompanying team about the viola congress; not only had she not heard about it, but she also felt 'we should have been invited' - before she dropped me to speak to the US embassy representatives.  Well, with that attitude of 'entitlement' (I am sure the congress is run on a shoe-string budget, and could probably not invite a whole group) I could see no reason to offer to support anyone.  Money saved.

Will blog a bit more about Buskaid and saving the world and so on....


Friday, July 10, 2009

Medical services - Botswanan style?

So I've had a stiff neck for over 3 weeks, making my nights quite uncomfortable - not moving my neck much during the night seems to stiffen it up. Tried yoga, did not really work - at the end I felt my head was ready to part from my body; then a massage - the next night it seemed to freeze up completely, so today I went to see a doc.

Did not want to ask my colleagues, less than 3 weeks into the job, so picked one from an embassy website of doctors approved for that country's immigration policy, and one who was not too far from my home.

Found the surgery, a little house in the back garden of a larger house. The reception was presided over by Mma Ramotswe herself; a large lady with a ball of hair pinned on top of her head (Botswanan ladies seem to be prone to wigs, hair extensions and hair pieces - at times it can be rather disconcerting).

She asked me if I had come for a medical examination; I confirmed assuming I would need to be examined before any treatment was given (I suspected she meant a deeper medical examination). She proceded to push over to me a medical examination form for the Civil Aviation Authority..... I suggested that was not what I needed.

Waited for a while; an elderly female doctor (?) had slipped into one of the consulting rooms, but nothing happened. Then a very elderly male doctor went into the other room, and I was ushered in the second after he had disappeared through the door. Felt a bit bad about not even giving him time to sit down.

He did, I told him my symptoms, he started writing a prescription while I was still talking. Meantime I had time to survey the consulting room; akin to British NHS ca 1950.  I had been worried a bit about taking off my shirt, and having to explain the scars across my chest (not a very common condition here), but seeing he did not lift himself out of his seat, nor ask me to move my head about or do anything, there was no great need.  Not totally convinced about the quality of this interaction....

Then, in the waiting room, I was told to wait. The receptionist shuffled round a bit, went into an open cupboard beside the front door full of medicines, dug out two large bottles, disappeared into a back room, and a short while later re-appeared with two neatly labelled plastic bags with the stuff I had been prescribed. Still trying to find the name of one of those on the internet...

but I did get him to refer me for an xray. Addresses are funny in Botswana. People tend not to use them, but give you general driving directions, waving their hands in the air, and houses have plot numbers which seem to be fairly randomly allocated....luckily the referral form had a general map of the place on the back, and I only had to ask once.

There I did have to take off my shirt, but no questions were asked. 5 x-rays later, including one holding two full 10-litre containers in my hand, and an excruciating one of lying on the table (that's when I worried about the following night) I was done. Result due tomorrow.

It's interesting sussing out different health services. This one also seems to give the reports direct to the patients (though the next day, not on the spot as the Lithuanian service).  Is it only the UK service that 'protects' patients from the knowledge of their own health condition?


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

I may be going to the Viola Congress!!!

Just discovered that this year's international viola congress, which usually takes place around June, has not happened yet! I knew it was going to be in South Africa.....So, it seems it will take place in 3 weeks' time, and I should be able to get enough leave to participate in most of it (I will be entitled, it just depends whether I will be allowed....)

It slightly kyboshes my idea of going to Cape Town for the 4-day weekend before (we are having some public holidays), but going to the Viola Congress and see all my mates should be wonderful!

Keep fingers crossed!


Sunday, July 05, 2009

Settling in...

after my internet started working yesterday, albeit slowly, but it works...must try out the skype phone side....I bought a lightbulb (the missing one was a halogen bulb, I discovered after buying several ordinary ones, both of screw fitting and that British kind, can't remember what they are called, but they don't screw). The shop only had a 500 watt bulb, which makes me feel guilty about the environment, but it's better for my mental health.

En passant also bought some cake tins ('tins' - they are silicone) and a marble cake is in the oven as I speak - I am finally blessing this house. Ok, so I only had brown bread flour (wholemeal) in the house, but that makes it a bit healthier. Funny thing, though - the measuring jug I had bought measures water, sugar, rice and...wheat.... Cultural differences in measuring jugs, too. The baking powder, I discovered, comes in a rather dinky metal tin, with the old-fashioned 'Royal' logo. At times I feel I am going back 50 years - whilst baking in a silicone 'tin'. I can see food-related souvenirs returning with me to Lithuania at the end of the year...There's also the 'Five Roses' black tea which is the first tea I have ever experienced that does not go bitter while sitting in the pot for hours...

Twice this weekend I took the wrong turning to the shopping mall, the 'Game' mall. First time I drove past a rather poor neighbourhood, the second time I drove right through the middle of it. Great thing to do, going through a fairly dirt-poor neighbourhood with a tank of a car called 'UNICEF'! As in 'seriously embarassing'. I can see what those guys of the planning blog mean about it being much more natural, if this is the one they were referring to. It does look vastly more human, not least because there are many more humans around and to be seen, what with no high walls, fences, the roads being a bit squiggledy (and dirt roads). Though the housing was basic, some just tin shacks, with outside toilets and so on (wonder what it will smell like there in the summer). There was a large open space in the middle, no grass, and a serious football match was happening, with lots of spectators. At the edge of this settlement there were little decorations, some ornamental plants etc which made the place look rather pretty. I wonder if the place has a school.....

There's also the question of individual security. Some people might think that there is nothing to steal from the poor, but my experience tells me that the poor tend to be among the greatest victims of crime (I am sure there must be some statistics somewhere). The financial value of what can be stolen may not be that great, but the loss to the (former) owner can be very great indeed, if not devastating. This place did not look all that secure to me. And even though everyone may know who thieves and who does not, community pressure in itself may not be sufficient to control such activities. People may be too scared to speak out.


Saturday, July 04, 2009

A small miracle?

Just switched the laptop to apple mac and suddenly the internet is working in my house. Coincidence, or is apple more sensitive? My digs are beginning to grow on me...

Sooo, Botswana continued....

Today I walked past a large building with loud singing coming out of it; a short while later I returned by it and heard singing, cheering, whooping....it was the Roman Catholic church! The singing sounded very interesting - quite different from the European RC churches; very African with a solo singer followed by a choir (song and response, type of thing). I should go and study that a bit....

The Batswana ladies are very polite; in particular they are very softly spoken. This causes me no small degree of difficulty, having left my hearing aid at home, what with coping ok recently without it. Maybe I'll get it sent out. 

Everyone, particularly men, address me as 'sir' which makes me feel uncomfortable in terms of race relations.

Outside a supermarket today spotted a couple of guys busking on home-made marimbas...

The Game Mall is amazing; a proper Western shopping mall, if you desire to buy anything. Not that I particularly would, and it was a bit dark and gloomy (maybe justified in the summer) but it seems to have every type of shop possible, including a book shop, a few cafes - in the one I tried you need to allow for much time for the service; diy shops and you name it, they have it, including a garden centre. Someone tried to sell me some language courses - French, Spanish - (done that, worn the Tshirt), but also Setswana, the main local language other than English.

Tried to get a ticket today at the Maitisong, the local concert hall seating 400 (the only purpose-built theatre since independence in 1966), for Soweto Buskaid, but each time the box office staff, such as they are, were not there, the guards at the school entrance (it's a school hall) informed me. Will need to keep trying.  Otherwise I could go and see them on 15 July at the No 1 Ladies Opera House (I kid you not!) which is co-funded by Alexander McCall Smith (he looks for donations on his website) - this is converted from a former garage and acts as a restaurant during the day. But it's rather far from my place.

Also I see that the Soweto Buskaid will run a string orchestra session on one of those days - I wish I could go along, but apart from having no instrument it's also a working day.

Hey, it's brilliant to have internet in the house, without being hunched over on a poolside chair!


Driving the organisation's car

Driving our huge organisation's car (both the organisation and the car), it creates mixed feelings in me. It's covered in the (humanitarian) organisation's logo, which does not necessarily help.

Of course it is nice to drive such a huge car, and very comfortable - though I am a bit surprised about the manual windows - would have expected things to be electric, or is this a security precaution, like the internal central locking mechanism?

But I find that I have to drive very well, and cannot let my anger or aggression reflect itself into the foot on the accelerator. Then I am also quite scared about children running into the road (though that's not a problem in Gaborone); I know that if I touched them with this tank even at 20 mph that would be deadly for them. There are quite a few tiny children in the complex in which I live - I would not possibly be able to see them....(I do tend to think of cars as deadly missiles in any case.) Plus here is zero tolerance for drinking and driving, so that is absolutely not on. So it is rather mixed feelings...

In front of me, by the pool at the place where I stay, a wee boy is playing at 'Wimbledon'. First he carried out two green plastic chairs, then his backpack...I wondered whether he was about to run away....out of it came two bottles of juice, and a huge tennis racket. Now he is rushing about after an imaginary ball, smashing them across an imaginary net, and already grunting for...Botswana. It's really rather sweet.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

'Cases' and 'Suitcases'

English language = difficult language. This article is headed by a heading which suggests that an employee of the Polish embassy is complaining that her 'suitcase' was not examined by the Lithuanian authorities.

What is she complaining about that for, one wonders?

In fact, it's her 'case' about sexual harassment in the embassy....


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

I've moved!

Slight crisis this morning - having checked out of the hotel, and quibbled over a phone bill of less than 2 Euros (somehow I thought it had been more) when no-one had actually answered the calls, I moved over to 'luxury accommodation in the heart of Gaborone'. Got there to get my studio apartment (actually a bit small, but at least self-catering) and found that it was only available for one night, rather than the weeks or months I was planning to stay. Long debacle.

Eventually they had a townhouse for me. That's a two-bedroomed house, with the bedrooms on the small side, but a house. Luxury? I don't know. They look as if they are not much loved, and mine has more the flavour of a shared student house - there's a certain amount of wear and tear. The groundfloor is quite dark, what with the house opposite about 3 m away, and at the back a concrete wall, a dirt (garden) space about 1.5 m deep, behind that trees and high green netting. Don't mention the view! Wifi - I am not sure about it. But there is a pool (nearby, obviously not in my backyard) and there the wifi seems to be ok. Not sure that I would want to inhabit the house with a bunch of small children. Maybe the flats are better? I don't know. At least I have internal space and a functioning kitchen.

I had taken the huge office car to go shopping, and bought enough staples, cornflakes, bread, wine, beer, the usual things to last me a while. The vegetable front was a bit limited, even in the supermarket, and at the time I had not seen the house to assess freezer space. Maybe I'll take the car back to get some more frozen veg. The aubergines in the supermarket seem to take the American term 'egg plant' literally; they were egg sized. Otherwise the food is a peculiar mix of British food (custard, all those jellies, Patak's curries etc), German food (a la South African) with buttermilk etc, and local spices. They seem to like their spices, the Batswana. The wine shop, Liquorama (doesn't that really make you feel like a drunk?) was tucked round the back, and quite small. But there was a nice bookshop in the Riverwalk mall, and I picked up some books by African (South African) writers. It is only a small section; otherwise the shop is middle-brow, but I am only here for 6 months, so it'll be fine.

Let's see how it goes. I'm a bit depressed about having another dark house, after Georgia, but at least it's near work, and other useful places - not that there are that many (no opera etc, though I see there will be a concert by someone called something like Soweto busk, a string ensemble, on 11 July. Must check that out.