Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Nelson Mandela’s bronze

May 8, 2011

Should be gold, but bronze will have to do for now.

The gigantic bronze statue, is a monument, very impressive, located in one end of Nelson Mandela Square in the Sandton City Mall in Johannesburg.  The great statesman is honored during his lifetime with a ton of bronze, and represents the best in politics, if politics is supposed to generate a high sense of honor, justice and human dignity.

Adults and children can’t miss the oversize statue, and many get close and stand in between the legs and the feet of the statesman, and being small in comparison look up to see his smile.

Standing there you can’t help but get a glimpse of things to come.


The hug

May 8, 2011

Doppio Zero is a very popular semi upscale restaurant in the Firs section of Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg.  A very decent place, always full on two floors, the smoking section upstairs with windows open.  For some reason Pedro and I went there for dinner four nights in a row early May this year.  The hostess, a tall young lady from the Cape ended up remembering my name and Pedro’s name.  I ordinarily showed up ten minutes early so the hostess would show my good friend the table.

Of all the entries I settled for the Vegetarian platter, a popular fare for those of us who used to be meat eaters and converted for reasons more or less known.  As we were leaving the last evening I mentioned that I would not show up for a while as I was going back to Central Africa.  She said “me too”, as she only works on weekends.  I said goodbye then and she hugged me! That hug would not happen anywhere else (in my humble opinion) but in South Africa.  The kindness and friendliness in Johannesburg may not be exceptional but there are moments when things like this happen and you realize that all lands may be equal but some have an extra something.

Cargo crash

March 22, 2011

In this coastal central African town of one million the black smoke visible everywhere spread the news of a cargo plane that had crashed either on take off or on landing within the city limits of a very popular residential area of extremely modest dwellings.

Thousands of people on foot congregated in the area anxious to witness the disaster.  No one could get very close as the plane was burning.  One could only assume that many people, old and young had being killed as the plane came down.  The streets were so packed it was nearly impossible to walk.

Many long minutes after the crash cars carrying army, police, fire fighters and ambulances came from everywhere but could barely advance in those packed streets.

One single tragic event became the city’s only topic of conversation and interpretation and endless comments,  and will remain for many days to come.  It will take some guts to board a plane for a day or two.

Soccer emotions and gestures

July 4, 2010

As we near the end of the month-long world soccer cup held in 2010 in South Africa, here are one man’s observations on soccer emotions, gestures and lessons learned.

1/ National teams are very artificial constructions linked to flags, politics and national pride.

2/ FIFA the ruling  body is tough in its dictates, not flexible in the least, wrong on Ghana’s goal, and financially powerful.

3/  Officials, fans and spectators behave funny and look childish when happy, jumping up and down when a score is announced, and doing dances and rolls and every gymnastic trick in the book to express the joy felt.

4/ Tens of millions of us are glued to TV screens, large and small, in individual homes or in public spaces to follow 22 players running after a ball for ninety minutes, even when nothing much happens, except a lot of running and a great deal of kicking.

5/ Victories are meaningless because to judge a victory by a ball entering into a goal is not very convincing, and does not reflect the strength of a team, even those artificially constructed with “star” players.

6/ The only satisfying proof of a team’s superiority is a clear and present score, such as 4-0 or 7-0 or such impressive numbers.  Anything like 2-1, 1-0 means so little that one wonders about wasted time looking at adults running after a soccer ball.

G & G

July 4, 2010

Ghana and Germany, two teams that have shown style and beauty in the soccer kingdom. When Germany  wins they really win.   Both should have been in the final in South Africa.

G & G  an ideal final, that will not happen. Germany has not yet gotten past the semi finals stage and Ghana was eliminated for reasons I will never grasp.

Was and is wrong

July 4, 2010

The FIFA referee who gave a red card and a penalty in the Uruguay Ghana game was wrong.

The Ghana kick sent the ball into the famous rectangle.  The ball was about to enter and would have entered and scored were it not for an Uruguayan hand that stopped its trajectory. 

So the ball was in and all the laws of physics indicate that the ball would have hit the net.

Therefore there was a goal.  Ghana won.  Period.

Giving a red card is interesting and meaningless.  Giving Ghana a penalty is giving them a fifty fifty chance of scoring. Giving a penalty for a hand anywhere near the goal would have been ok, but giving a penalty for a hand that definitely stopped a goal that was a definite goal is a mistake and is totally wrong.  FIFA was and is wrong and if rules say they are right those rules should be overruled and Ghana should have won that game.

To speak of Ghana’s fair play, and mention the lousy penalty kick, or show the sad crowds all over Africa at this unjust loss, is besides the point.

That kick was a goal and Ghana should be playing one of the semi finals.


June 22, 2010

On the day of a major train accident near Yanga station, sixty kilometers from Pointe-Noire, (imagine the horrendous sight of four overturned cars -four out of six-with casualties and injured on the one hand, and on the other hand panicked families all over the city running from hospital to hospital from 10 pm last night until this afternoon, franticly checking names, it is nearly impossible to describe the horror, so I will write, for now, on what appears irrelevant to the sadness lived by many, just to get my mind off the tragedy: the imaginative and practical transportation solution used within the city, and within the marketplace, to move goods. 

Pili-pili and saka-saka abound in any local market, and you could move tons of them on koro-koros or pousse-pousses.  And thousands of articles sold on tables and other surfaces need to be constantly moved, back and forth, between the market and their depots day in and day out.  Whereas extremely heavy bags, wood, iron bars, cement bags and furniture get to use pousse-pousse (“push push”) vehicles, koro-koros serve small loads.  Planes, trains and cars are scaring more than one passenger these days, so we shall dwell on the koro-koros instead.

Koro koros are sturdy one-wheel carts or elongated wheelbarrows, whereas pousse- pousses are two-wheelers, with recycled car wheels.  The pousse-pousse has a rectangular metal container (imagine a large metal box with no lid) with front and back raised bars so it can carry heavy and extra long items like extra long poles.  The koro-koro on the contrary is a simple contraption that carries heavy bags from point A to point B within the market, for small change.  The advantage for their owners is that they can sit and sleep on their koro-koros, because they act as a comfortable and sturdy metallic chair.  And for clients the clear advantage is that they are quick, practical and inexpensive. 

I have never noticed these things till the other day.  And now their funny name keeps ringing in my ear.

3 pneus

June 21, 2010

Three gigantic tires (“pneus”) were seen a week ago by the narrator, stacked like 3 fat bagels in the middle of a road intersection in Paka 120, a large popular and sandy neighborhood of Pointe-Noire.   Those three stacked truck tires have been in the same spot for the past fifteen years, as a marker or a monument that didn’t cost a dime to taxpayers.  It is a convenient reminder to cars and pedestrians that around here you can create symbols with next to nothing.

Last week friends were meeting in that part of town, and to describe the house, we were told to find it at the “rond-point 3 pneus” (round about or traffic circle).  And during the dry season (our winter) since no rain wets the sandy roads, driving in that area is a bit rough and slow.

The perception of those tires, a black monument in the middle of the road, depends on the identity of the beholder.  To the neighbors they are just there, untouched over the years.  For tourists, visitors or those of us who live here and tend to travel from time to time to Europe, we look at the stack with a smile.  Those “bagels” bring to mind other well-known monuments sitting in famous traffic circles in other corners of the earth, imposing structures with a similar function, but not as down to earth.

Urban landscaping, which is in full sing in the capital, will one day surely find an appropriate replacement for those tired tires.

They shall be missed.

Big Upsets

June 20, 2010

For soccer aficionados and for the the not so aficionados the big news is that the World Cup in South Africa is not just a noisy affair with the much celebrated plastic vuvuzelas but an exciting series of games between nations in which some of the major countries have lost in a surprising way.  Lost games not the real thing.

Spain lost to Switzerland, and France to Mexico.  Just two examples.  The Serbia-Germany confrontation being played as these words are written shows Germany loosing to Serbia.  The outcome of this match will be noted in the last paragraph.  I write as they play.

Last night I started writing into the France Mexico game at the 74 minutes 13 seconds mark.  At that point Mexico was leading one to nil.  I was following this game trying to cheer for France, but France looked doomed.  Mexico’s team looked full of motivation. The English-speaking commentator reminded his audience that France qualified for this World Cup ingloriously because a French player scored with his hand!

There must be some sort of justice through chastisement.  Something to do with the arrogance of some, or their lack of humility.  There is always something psychological that pops up when dealing with sports.  The commentator added that whereas Mexico played like a team, France was just a bunch of very talented individuals playing.

The French coach looked impassive and a bit lost in one corner,  analyzing the action with the eye of an eagle.  He sent Valbuena to replace Govu.  Nothing changed. The Mexican fans looked happy and excited by the minute, understandably.

Frustration mounted.  At 77 minutes a penalty was given to Mexico, because a defender tripped an attacker!  A 37-year Mexican attacker, the second highest scorer of all time in Mexico who had just come in to inject experience and strength, kicked the penalty and the score became to 2 nil.

And everyone was waiting for a miracle to save France.  Last night no miracles were forthcoming. The Mexicans were opening champagne bottles before the end of the game.

And back to the German Serbia game: the Germans received a red card, so they had to play with only 10 players.  That also happened to Nigeria and caused their downfall.  As we move from game to game, nationalisms are confronting each other, as if the soccer field mirrored the political and economic arena, and the Big Upsets in green fields stood as a symbol of what could occur in the real world…

Germany did loose! And now…as I write these notes while watching the Slovenia USA game at the 42 min 12 sec Slovenia leads against the USA 2 to nil!!  That was not supposed to happen.  Within the hour we will know if another Big Upset was in the making!

Well, the news is that the game is over and the USA came from nil to 2 and there was no Big Upset this time.  The two million inhabitants of Slovenia settled for a 2-2 score.

Shall we listen to the vuvuzelas?

June 17, 2010

The contrast is striking.  Yellow balls have flown for two weeks in Roland Garros in a semi hush and will fly for another two weeks in Wimbledon in a respectable silence, but in between these tournaments and during four long weeks in South Africa thousands of spectators have the absolute right to sound the plastic vuvuzela horns made in somewhere to stir feelings and create a noisy ambiance in stadiums across the land.

There are complaints; players have a tough time hearing each other and their technical staff, hearing the referee’s whistle, and spectators fear for their eardrums, and those at home prefer to lower the volume on their screens and wait for a goal to up the volume.

It is indeed an annoying non-stop noise nuisance emanating from a mass of fans cheering for the two teams for over 90 minutes.  Those noise producers must be having the time of their lives, and the only redeeming value of those unpleasant decibels coming from all those improvised musicians is that they are not getting into trouble or causing havoc so long as they are playing those plastic horns.

The omnipresent insistent celebratory insane vuvuzela sound reminds me of the annoying buzzing singing sound of ten billion mad mosquitoes that won’t quit even when you are safely hiding under a brand new mosquito net.  So for the duration of sixty four international soccer games everyone has to put up with thousands of colorful vuvuzelas that are likely to turn off millions from the artistic feats of a few soccer players.