Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Music without headphones

I do have a wonderful set of headphones to listen to my iPod, but sometimes it is a bit weird singing along to it, and people passing by must wonder what I am up to.

So today, once I had repaired the puncture in my bike, not wonderfully successfully, but enough, and then in the middle of the road reset the rear wheel, then gone to one shopping centre for a new inner tube (Game in Game City, closed for Independence Day) I finally found the electronics shop open at another shopping centre (Riverwalk). It had been open on Saturday, too, but constant power cuts meant that the shop could not actually sell anything to all those people patiently waiting in a queue (imagine if you had come 800 km just to buy something there...).

Treated myself to a Phillips 'docking entertainment system (see photie). It's cool and gives not a bad sound! Also works as a radio (if I get South African Classic FM here; since it's modelled on UK classic FM that may not necessarily be an advantage...) and alarm and all that. It's nice to be able to listen to music and not have my ears squeezed all the time!


Congratulations Vytautas Lukocius!

Since there seems to be some delay built into the writing and publishing of posts (and comments) at the moment, let me be the first to tell you that the Lithuanian conductor Vytautas Lukocius has won yet another conducting competition; this time in Mexico, the Eduardo Mata competition. He wrote to tell me so himself (comment under previous post, once it appears). Well done! I wish, though, that at least one of the jury members had not not only been in the Helsinki jury, but also his some time teacher. That sort of thing makes me feel uncomfortable.

I don't know where he has been since he won his last competition in Helsinki, then got a bit carried away, with mouth running away ahead of his brain, producing some rather intemperate comments about the Lithuanian music business (he may have been right or not, but damn it, it is a small country, and his home country - that was a big risk to take, and it did not pay off so well).


Sunday, September 27, 2009

A concert review!

It's a long time since I wrote a concert review, no? (And what, by the way, is happening with blogger that my posts don't appear?).

So last night I went to the Maitisong to listen to the Sedibeng Choral Society - I had heard them in rehearsal last Monday, nearly a week ago, and thought they sounded good.

The Maitisong was about half...full, with few expatriates (code for 'whites') to be seen. The programme consisted of a classical half and a Setswana half. For the classical half the ladies appeared wearing lime-green dresses and the guys were wearing snow white. A stunning appearance! During the first half a number of choir members also sang solos. Particularly impressive was Oteng Zachariah with Bernstein's 'Lucky to be me', sung like a cheeky chappy - with really wonderful singing, acting and a bit of dancing. The Gluck and Mozart arias plus choir had their moments, not least from the pianist (must be hard to find a decent pianist here; the 'orchestral' transcriptions not only seemed to be sparse, but also often wandered off into unexpected directions, for those of us who knew the pieces). Interpretations were a little unexpected at times, as well, but interesting. Refilwe Ramogetsi, who sang 'Let love be triumphant', from the Orfeo, a tiny bit unsteadily, but she tried hard, reminded me so much of the Orfeo I have seen in Vilnius many times. Later Tshenolo Segokgo was wonderful in Bizet's Habanera (though is it really a soprano aria?), kind of like Westside Story in Spain. Very sexy!

The second half was quite different, and amazing. This was a collection of Setswana songs, including weddings, and funerals and daily work songs. Here the choir wore normal clothes, and went about their business, singing and dancing. The theme was 'how beautiful is Botswana' - it would do well as a tourist attraction or for selling Botswana world wide. Particularly moving was the funeral song, preceeded by an announcement of the HIV/AIDS statistic - the song was harrowing - it expressed so much pain! A young guy did a dance act involving a medicine man, and at the end lead the whole troupe out of the hall, singing. It was fabulous!


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Comments on Vilnius Capital of Culture 2009

It seems that Riga has been nominated as one of the European capitals of culture 2014.

The Vilnius Capital of Culture appears to have been nothing short of a disaster (partly because of the economic crisis, but also, at least as far as I can tell, due to the appalling response of the government to the economic crisis - it singlehandedly deepened it even more in Lithuania; but I am not an economist).

A comment in the article points out:

panel chair Sir Robert Scott, who headed Liverpool’s successful bid to
become the 2008 EU culture capital, told DPA that he hoped the funding
cuts experienced by this year’s title holder Vilnius would not be
repeated in Riga.

“Vilnius was not a happy example. The possibility of capital cities becoming capitals of culture and then not doing their work was something that haunted our discussions, but Riga’s presentation was very impressive, so we are giving Riga a real opportunity,” Scott said.'

What a devastating critique! It did also not help that Vilnius lost its charismatic mayor between the time of the bid and the event; his successors have been ....unimpressive, to say the least.


Changing weather

In the last week or so the weather has been changing. A few thunderstorms at night, spectacular ones (though I cannot see the lightning very well, what with having buildings directly opposite me), never-ending thunder rolls, and some rain. Yesterday morning it even rained without a thunderstorm! I wonder if the plants in the desert are heaving a big sigh of relief, and stretching out their little water-gathering cells (I used to know the word for those once) and sucking up every drop of moisture. Will the desert turn green?

Meanwhile I learnt, the hard way, that cycling in the rain with a bike that lacks mudguards is not a good idea. Even on the short trip to work (about 5 minutes) I could feel my back getting wet; when I got to work the (Friday casual) T-shirt was not only wet, but covered in mud, front and back. Very embarassing; especially since it was a version of our organisation's polo shirts which my local colleagues do not have. More to the point, there has been a rare day that I have arrived at work without having at least a wee oily stain somewhere. Maybe it's better to continue walking to work.

Alo, cycling at night. Last night cycled to the Moth Hall (like a small village hall, at the back of the bus terminus, behind the Gaborone Hotel) for the Capital Player's performance of 'Barefoot in the Park', by Neil Simon; an American comedy set in about the 1960s, when having a gay couple as neighbours could still create laughs. The performance was, kind of, ok - amateur; could have been done at twice the speed and nothing would have been lost; I think it was meant to be fast-paced. The funniest performer was the lady with the smallest part.....I left after the first half, maybe the second half might have been better.

Cycling there and back was a bit of an adventure. On the way there the traffic was still fairly busy, I somehow drifted into the teeming bus terminus with people everywhere, finally found the entrance to the 'theatre' with pot holes all over the place. On the way back cycled along a footpath und crashed into the branches of a very thorny three; if I had not closed my eye so fast, I could have had a very nasty eye injury! And thank you, helmet, for saving my head from instant combing!


Monday, September 21, 2009


Another long weekend; the UN team has today off in honour of Eid-Al-Fitr; a Muslim holiday. You have no idea the slagging off I got at the hash yesterday about the UN honouring this holiday. Did we honour every religion's holiday, people asked, and if so, did we do any work?

So I had planned to use my last weekend's 'car allowance', ie the use of the office car, to fill up with shopping. Alas, out of the three cars a colleague had one (who is well over her 3 months' car allowance), and two others were out in the countryside. I was supposed to get one of those, but it broke down in the middle of no-where on Saturday; so no car for me.

I was narked; seriously narked. So I finally decided to buy a bike. People laughed - someone had asked me some time ago how I can live in Gaborone without a car. A colleague said that a UN employee cannot go around on a bicycle. But me, I can be stubborn, especially when I am narked.

So on Friday I looked up the address of Jonmol bicycles, Plot 25146, Gaborone Industrial West, and hailed a taxi to take me there. An hour and a half later we still had not found it! He was bothered, I was annoyed - why do I have to know how to get somewhere in order to use a taxi; seems the wrong way around....

Then on Saturday I finally spoke to Bones, the owner, and he told me it was next to 'Fruit and Veg', on the north side. That kind of direction is another one I struggle with, but today managed to get there, remembering that the sun here travels via the north, not the south.

He has a whole shop full of used bikes, some very used (one saddle looked as if a rat had made a hole in it), also some new bikes. Found a reasonable used one, male, not female, with a saddle with only a small hole, and paid about 65 Euros for it. It runs well - took it to Game City and bought all the other kit, helmet, lights, backpack, repair kit - all that together cost more than the bike, and now I am independent. I can't quite understand why I never needed to shift the gears, even though there were one or two mild hills to conquer.... so I'm very pleased with it. Also the wind, while cycling, cools me down a bit, which is pleasant, and better than walking. And since it looks old it might get stolen less easily. Bought the heaviest lock I could find, which Lithuanian bicycle thieves would only laugh at, and I hope it'll keep me going until I leave, in December (if I leave).

I noticed that Bones had a whole pile of bikes there labelled UNDP - now what is that about? He's a lovely guy; well worth going to if you want a cheap bike. He also has a full-time mechanic who I suspect is able to fix anything. While I was there a buy came in with a very very buckled front wheel - apparently it had been a bike-to-bike crash.....There's another bikeshop in Gaborone, near the station, Gaborone Garage and Cycles; it sells mainly new bikes, and most of them are behind a huge counter, so it's difficult to just go and look at them, without asking. Me, I don't like asking, as my son will confirm.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Chat on the way to the Choir

So there I was walking along, in the dark, on the way to the choir. It is not really recommended ducking through dark places at night on your own, but I only ever take very little money, so it's ok.

Anyway, walking along a very busy road, overtaking another guy, when I hear him talking to me. I think 'another bad luck story, he'll want money'. Turns out he wants to talk his problem of a 'running stomach', Botswana for 'diarrhoea'. As one does, of an evening.  I'm very glad it's dark so I can hide my smile. But he is serious; he wants a medical consultation in the middle of the road. So we go through all the symptoms, he makes some shapes with his hands indicating something, and I just wonder if he is going to drop his trousers on me. But no, the conversation stays perfectly polite; I give him some suggestions, including going to see a doctor seeing he has had it for 3 weeks, and we part company.

Whatever next????


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Travelling through Botswana

It's a week ago now that I was in Palapye (for work). It's 270 km from Gaborone, quite close by as people say. The rather ancient bus took 3.5 hours going there and 3 hours coming back.

Travelling through Botswana is not interesting. In that distance we passed through one town, a few villages, and in between there is just scrub land and nothing and nobody to be seen, apart from some goats and donkeys here and there. In Botswana animals are not tied up, as they might be in Eastern Europe; a colleague said that at the end of the day they find their own way home. Given that there are some nasty wild beasts about, it's probably better if they can run away....

We finished work in Palapye on the Saturday afternoon; some people decided to stay on for some excursions. Not sure there is much to be excursioning about....but someone said that in the villages around it there were/would be lots of weddings, and it seems anyone can just gate-crash. It's one way of spending a weekend, no?

On Sunday I will be off to Ghanzi, on the other side of Botswana, near Namibia. It's a 700 km trip, each way. So we'll be spending Sunday and Wednesday driving all day. It's possible that I may have to go again the following week! That week we'll have a meeting there in the morning, but still cannot return in the afternoon. Apparently that road is really dangerous to use at night, what with all the wild animals crossing roads (Only this week some people were killed by crashing into something big on four legs....).

A few weeks ago a friend was telling me about when he crashed into a cow. The cow landed on the bonnet, then on the roof, denting all, crashing all windows, breaking all mirrors (the car now drives without any mirrors....) and then sliding onto the road. The driver got out, rather stunned. Went round to look at the cow. She staggered to her feet and strolled off into the bush......

Today had a works outing, a brief one, to Kgale Hill, the main hill near Gaborone. It was lunchtime. 12 people had signed up and got their sports gear, maybe 9 came out; 5 ended up strolling up the side of the hill for about 15 minutes and then down again.....It was very warm; maybe it's better to walk up early in the morning - but when?

The spring has really sprung now. The evenings and mornings are noticeably warmer, and my colleagues are now starting to use the air conditioners for chilling them out rather than for heating. A week ago I was talking to a guy who has a building business. He wondered how he could heat his house in the winter; this winter he used four cylinders of gas to keep them warm - that he considered a harsh winter. (I used one a week when I lived in Scotland). I had to explain to him, literally in words of one syllable, different heating systems, like radiators, electric under-floor heating, that system where you get the heat out of the earth.....It's weird for us northerners when people don't understand hot water radiators.

The other nice thing about spring are the beautiful trees and bushes beginning to flower. They are pretty stunning, in all sorts of bright colours. At night, when I go home or sit on my balcony, a beautiful scent wafts through the air. Tonight, returning from my weekly shopping trip, I saw a stunning sunset - a huge red globe dipping down the horizon, fast.

I wonder, though, how hot it will get?


Wednesday, September 09, 2009


So I've just arrived in Ghanzi. Shared the 760 km trip with our driver. It would be hard to miss Ghanzi. You leave Gaborone for Kanye (about 90 km outside Gaborone), turn right and keep going for the remaining 670 km or so. On the same road. After Kanye we passed two towns and possibly a settlement. I drove the last 200 km; in the first 170 km of those I passed a solitary cow, who waited patiently until we passed before she crossed the road (just as well, given her horns), a group of donkeys, and another group of cows. No people.

The landscape is mainly flat, mainly sandy but covered in scrub or small dry trees. Not all that exciting. Apart from the cows and donkeys we saw some goats, one group of sheep, and a horse or two. And there was an interesting bird, kind of like the hornbill, but with a much smaller bill than those you see in the zoo.

The road seems to be mainly used by lorries travelling from Namibia to South Africa. There was very little other traffic. It is in beautiful condition, so I could thunder along at 160 km/h.....

3 days later....

On the way back met the first car, on leaving Ghanzi, after 30 km.....The wildlife was a bit more prolific; spotted two tiny antelope-type animals (or gazelle types?) with big fluffy ears quietly grazing beside the road and lots of birds. Quite a few hornbill-type birds, one of whom unfortunately took off the road in front of the car too late, and hit the windscreen at 140 km/h; a huge bird, about owl-sized, with a brown body and black and white wings, which just managed to lumber out of the way of the car; some delicate grey fowls with long necks and a little red crown; a little black bird with a stunning red tummy, an fluorescent blue bird and two ostriches!  They were also stunning - from the distance they looked like a little black cloud a metre above the ground, until you got nearer and spotted the grey legs and head. Going about their business quite calmly.

I really must buy a book on the flora and fauna of Botswana. No pictures were taken, of course. Not on a 700 km road trip in a hurry to get home.