The Concoction

An Ethiopian woman's musings on Africa, the world and everything in between

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        Wednesday, June 28, 2006
        I'm coming clean
        This is a coming-out-of-the-closet post. Just to prepare you for what’s about to come, I invite you to listen to this.

        I'm a Brazil fan. There! I've said it!

        Do I have to justify?
        When I fell in love with soccer there were no African teams participating in the World Cup, and there weren't there for a long time. So, I grew up rooting and crying – real tears – and suffering bad stomach aches from nervousness rooting for Brazil. I can't flip just like that and be a fan of somebody else now. Brazil and I go a long way, and it was a first love thing. You know how strong that is…? My own mother could be the captain of the other team and I'm still going to scream and curse on Brazil's behalf. It is that serious.

        One thing which divided my home growing up in Ethiopia was World Cup - one German brother, one Brazilian brother and me, an Italian father and brother, a sister who wished World Cup didn't exist and a mother who was always on the side of who cried the most and cursed the least. It was as if we ceased to be Ethiopians and transformed into the nationality of our favourite team. Cursing in our own language, Amharic, was strictly forbidden. So, Italian, English and Oromigna were quite liberally used and my parents were OK with that – for the duration of the game, that is.

        I vividly remember the feeling in my stomach watching Italy beat Brazil in 1982 and take the Cup. Paulo Rossi, Italy's forward was so damn annoying just hanging around Brazil's penalty area and sneaking a goal. My brother and I, in our desperation as our team was losing, frantically criticized Rossi for being a sneaky woos. I remember quietly hating my dad for jumping with joy and telling my brother and I "I don’t care if he's preparing food while waiting for the ball to land on his feet. The main thing is, he's scoring a goal for me…" Now Ronaldo is pulling a Rossi on me – quite embarrassing. My Brazil doesn’t do that.

        In retrospect, I'm glad my dad's team won back in ‘82 because it was the last World Cup for him (R.I.P.) But, I want my revenge this year.

        I'm still proud of Ghana though
        I was damn proud of Ghana regardless of my team winning. They truly dominated the game, but unfortunately could not reward themselves with a goal or two. I wanted them to score so bad – I really did. I eve confused my daughter who kept on asking me whom I rooting for. I think Ghana had about five chances for a spectacular goal. It's as if they get a mental block by the time they cut through the Brazilian defense and reach the goal. The Brazil vs Ghana game made the Italy vs Australia game on Monday look even worse. It was the clumsiest game I’ve watched so far.

        When Ghana was sailing through, I was getting very nervous about divided loyalty. When the moment of truth arrived, I realized that nothing can come between Brazil and me. So go Brazil! You owe me big time!
        posted by Fikirte @ 6:37 AM   6 comments Digg!
        Tuesday, June 27, 2006
        Art shaping the world
        "Why is our world so dominated by images of the body that are unrealistic?" This is the question that a PBS documentary, entitled How Art Made the World, was tackling last night (June 26). Very fascinating.

        The documentary compared body images from prehistoric time until now, and philosophized why we are obsessed with “unrealistic” body images. Basically, according to the documentary, it boils down to two main factors – how the human brain is wired and culture. I, quite liberally, add, patriarchal societal arrangements/ male chauvinism/machoism/sexism… whatever you want to call it.

        It's all in the (male?)brain
        Seagulls, according to Dr. Ramachandran, provide an important clue as why humans were obsessing about large boobs and butts. Baby seagulls know that bright yellow with red strip means food source because mama seagull's beak is exactly that color. In the 70's, Dr. Ramachandran did an experiment with a yellow stick and some red stripes. The more the stripes, the crazier the baby seagulls went. He thinks that if seagull’s had a museum, the most popular piece of art will be a 3 foot long yellow stick with several red stripes.

        But how about after the babies grow up? Would adult seagulls go to a museum and say "Gee, look at the size of that beak man!"? Or would they be looking at another body part to slobber over?

        Through time and depending on the cultural context, the body part that is exaggerated has changed. The Egyptian ancient art was a case in point where the figures are proportional, but still unrealistic. The frontal torso, profile of the face with an eye moved to depict it better, and feet and hands unnaturally turned defying gravity. The Egyptian culture of consistency and order didn’t make room for exaggeration of the human body. Therefore, the ancient artists had to turn some parts of the body unrealistically for emphasis sake. For the next three thousands years, these images were the only portraits of the human body.

        Then the Greeks came up with their dead gorgeous, super athletic bodied statues because looking good in that culture was being close to being god-like. Until last night, I never knew why their statues had one part as if the body is in action and the other resting. It was a way of depicting the human body in an unrealistic way. One question I always have and the program didn’t even touch was, what's up with the pea- size willies on these ancient statues? Was that a deliberately unrealistic depiction to exaggerate the six-pack or were they really that small? I hope the first for my ancient sisters.

        Fast forward body art to Post Modern era, and we find that the art is done directly on the human body through plastic surgery. No cave walls or marbles needed here. It is quite settling, in a weird way, to put plastic surgery in its historical context - then it won't be too disturbing.

        Apparently, what part of the body should be exaggerated depends on culture (didn't I say this before…?). This must be true because most African and African American portraits of women show narrow waist and KEBOW hips and bottoms. Also, randomly select a hip hop song and there is a 7-9 chance that it has a "shake/pop/… your booty" line somewhere.

        Traditional Ethiopian art exaggerates the eyes, and since last night I'm trying to figure out why the eye is so important in our paintings. The Michelangelo type of drawings on a ceiling in a monastery in North Ethiopia are full of big eyed angels. More photos here.

        Female body in a patriarchal society
        From the grotesquely exaggerated to the ghastly skinny, the different ways of representing the female body show (consciously or sub-consciously) who's the object and who's the owner. This is not a new argument, but seeing the long history of portraying the female body drives the point home even harder.

        Although I'm quite aware of the arguments around objectifying the female body, I still don't understand the psychology of advertising for a lawn mower using a half naked woman to lure men to buy it. A bike I can imagine because I can see a man imagining himself on a fat bike with an attractive woman clinging to his back. But a lawn mower? C'mon now!

        The other thing I missed in the documentary was mention of female artists and how they depicted the male body. I will give my left big toe that there is no one woman who made a statue of a man with the penis elegantly resting on one knee. I wonder why and what does that say about Freud's Penis Envy bullshit?
        posted by Fikirte @ 4:02 PM   0 comments Digg!
        Sunday, June 25, 2006
        Either do or don’t – whatever you do make your mind up!

        It is the cutest thing to watch kids play house or school. Most of the time at least - until one of my kids start playing me... Gee – is that how I sound? But you don't see me playing house because it's not fun to play my real role. What's the point?

        NATO prefers to play war in Africa than really get involved in Africa's problem. It has been playing war in Cape Verde, Africa. The irony of it all is that the 7,000 NATO allied troops were playing war by "pounding pretend terrorist bases, grappling with rioters and separating factions in a mock war over oil…" Because Africa doesn’t have any of these problems, the NATO kids have to play war?

        The game is called "Steadfast Jaguar". Right there is the problem. The minute somebody says "steadfast", things start going down the drain. Remember Bush has been steadfast about weapons of mass distraction, Iraq, free trade, the economy, global terrorism, family values… Name it, he has been steadfast about it. And where did it get the US and his presidency?

        The war game is to prepare a new NATO Response Force, "a spearhead unity designed for rapid deployment around the world for missions ranging from humanitarian relief to lightning combat strikes." Don’t forget this fact – it is important.

        Despite the exercise and the 'mandate'of the Force, the Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, is adamant that his organization is not planning to be a "global policeman" and kept on downplaying NATO's involvement in Africa. What the…? How do these people justify earning their salary if they just play and don't actual work? Have they learnt anything from "playing" police in Bosnia?

        The real interest of the organization lies somewhere else. NATO is stepping up a debate on how it can better contribute to the defense of energy supplies from threats posed by terrorist, rebels groups or common criminals. NATO's top operational commander, Gen. James L. Jones, has suggested such a role could have a focus on production, storage and transport facilities in West Africa.
        "There is no question that in the West African region, the security of the energy infrastructure in the Gulf of Guinea is important," Jones [COMMANDER OF us FORCES IN Europe and much of Africa] told reporters Thursday on Sao Vicente. "I think that's an important mission in the 21st century."

        "This is an important piece of real estate in the modern world," said Victoria Nuland, the U.S. ambassador to NATO. "They are now pushing NATO, which I think is exciting."

        Ah, silly me. Now I get it. OIL + geopolitics = sleepless night in Washington. Thanks to Americans to blurt out the bottom line. These Europeans make you dizzy with their beating around the bush. They also get nervous about losing their traditional grip on Africa if the US gets involved in the continent. I wonder what they think about China's march into Africa. It will be interesting to find out what they will be really bickering about behind the façade of human rights concerns. I don't think they would have wasted time whining and bickering about the involvements of the US in Darfur if they were so concerned about human rights abuse.

        This has been brought to you by a very frustrated blogger whose weekend flew by doing things for others. So excuse the "I hate everybody tone".
        posted by Fikirte @ 9:20 PM   0 comments Digg!
        Tuesday, June 20, 2006
        Keep the flame of hope for refugees

        The world is observing Refugee Day today. I really don't know what such international days of observance achieve. May be I’m confusing Hallmark’s holidays and everything that follows – "Go to Toyota for Valentine’s Day sale", "Don't miss this hot Mother's Day sale at Mattress Giant!" Why the hell would I want to replace my mattress on Mother's Day anyway? – with international days. I don't know.

        Africa is the largest host of refugees and internally displaced people, and this fact makes you wonder what the fuss is all about within the migration laws of some rich countries.

        How countries treat those who have been forced to flee persecution and human rights abuse elsewhere is a litmus test of their commitment to defending human rights and upholding humanitarian values. Yet, fifty years after its inception, the states that first established a formal refugee protection system are abandoning this principle, and the future of the international refugee regime is under serious threat. (Human Rights Watch)

        I am not advocating for countries to be run over by unforced refugees (economic refugees or whatever you want to call them). But at least, have consistent regulations and make sure that the basic principles of refugee protection are respected. Australia was fiddling with their policy to stop refugees who enter the country by boat. Thanks to Brangelina setting a trend to celebrate family occasions while doing good, perhaps Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban could make the refugee situation in Australia their wedding theme (and invite a boat load of refugees as special guests while they are at it.)

        Although the number of refugees is at its lowest in 25 years, still there are millions of refugees world wide. The latest statistics from UNHCR
        shows 20.8 million "people of concern".

        • 8.4 million are refugees who have fled their countries due to civil wars and ethnic, tribal and religious violence and who cannot return home
        • 6.6 million are internally displaced persons - people forced to flee their homes, but who have not crossed a border
        • 2.4 million are stateless people
        • 1.6 million are returnees
        • 773,000 are asylum seekers
        • 960,000 are others of concern

        Refugees International
        Forced Migration Online
        Amnesty International
        posted by Fikirte @ 12:43 PM   1 comments Digg!
        Kofi Annan green with envy

        Kofi Annan has a very interesting op-ed in the Herald Tribune why the UN is envious of the World Cup. The first is sheer numbers: Fifa has 207 members whereas the UN has only 191. Read the other reasons here.
        posted by Fikirte @ 9:27 AM   0 comments Digg!
        Saturday, June 17, 2006
        Soccer gives the world a much needed break

        What quadrennial sporting extravaganza brings the world together for weeks on end, transcending war, poverty, class, and culture, and culminating in the most watched television event ever? If you guessed the Olympics, odds are you're an American. The rest of the world knows better…And while the month-long spectacle may not leave much of an impression on Americans, for most other nations it is an incomparable event.

        It is too bad that the world cup does not occur every year to give us a break from gloomy realities, especially in Africa. There is hardly positive news about Africa, but now, the focus is on the African teams participating in the world cup.

        Soccer pushed politics to the sideline [in Ivory Coast] when the Elephants qualified for their first World Cup last fall. Since then, the team - made up of players of various ethnic backgrounds from both the rebel-held North and the government-controlled South - has represented national unity, something that the country desperately needs if it is to preserve its tenuous peace while moving toward disarmament and fall elections.

        Somethings will never change, unfortunately.
        While Angola's team put up a good fight against Mexico (0-0),the poor in the capital, Luanda, still can't get a break from cholera - soccer or no soccer. The New York Times tells us that "Economists say the government simply has more money than it can spend." Now too much dough is the problem?

        Then there are children who hand-saw the footballs at a cost of their health and their childhood.

        My personal issue with this year’s world cup is that I’m watching it in the US. It is just uninspiring to watch soccer in my neighbourhood. Totally boring. This is because I compare it to what goes on during the The drama, the preparations, the plans what to do with the kids while the grown ups are watching football etc. can be nerve wrecking. My husband and I are still trying to understand football, and it is hard for our neighbours to explain the rules while watching the game on TV. Sentences are never finished – "Now when he passes the ball to him and he runs beyond that line… Yeah! That's what I'm talking about, baby! Shit, did you see that?" Ehm, not really.

        The live transmission thing is not working out for me either. Who has time to watch TV at 11:30am and 2:15pm in the same day. With live online coverage, there is no avoiding learning about the scores instantly (without watching the game). That takes the whole fun of watching the game after knowing the results. My alternative has been to watch a repeat of the game on the Spanish channel with hyper commentators, who make you nervous. When the game starts and the first player barely touches the ball, the commentator starts screaming as if it were a goal already. There is one who even sings “La la la la…” in the middle of the game. When a commentator screams for nothing, it makes you feel as if you missed something cool, and you start asking around “what just happened?” To make the screaming worse, Ronaldo of Brazil was clumsy throughout the game against Australia. Have you seen the way he was dragging himself on those stairs when the plays were returning after the break?

        This World Cup has made me realize how much I’ve failed my children. Because we the parents don’t understand American football, we kept them quite ignorant about the rules and fun of football. This is our first World Cup in the US. We felt that we had to live a wholesome life without television during the last one. When we realized that we had pushed our children to wanting to be adopted by the neighbours who own 5 TV sets, we gave in and bought one to keep our children from running away from home. In retrospect – WHAT WAS I THINKING rejecting the perfect babysitter? The kids have never seen mom and dad being so loud and rude to strangers on TV. At times, they were even on the verge of being upset because we were so loud. I had to sit them down and tell them that while watching soccer, we are not really mom and dad. We become somebody else like when the prince in Sleeping Beauty was under a spell and he becomes a monster. Thank God for TV and Disney – I can communicate with my children better! Also, thanks to soccer I'm having a break from trying to look a prim and proper mom in front of the kids, and become temporarily hooligan.
        posted by Fikirte @ 2:52 AM   0 comments Digg!
        Friday, June 16, 2006
        A space just for African Women Bloggers

        Sokari of Black Looks has set up African Women Blogs . A neat idea and a wide variety of blogs in the link there. Lots of fun. Way to go, Sokari!
        posted by Fikirte @ 11:00 PM   1 comments Digg!
        Thursday, June 15, 2006
        Incompetence of staggering proportions

        I am simply grateful that FEMA (the US Federal Emergency Management Agency) does not have anything to do with African disaster management. Just imagine a former commissioner of horses who faked his credentials on his resume and who is more concerned about whether to roll up his sleeves or not while visiting Katrina victims, running a feeding center of thousands of severely malnourished children, women and elderly people somewhere in Africa.

        Even after the former boss of FEMA, Michael Brown, was let go, still the agency managed to continue being so lousy that they pay money to an inmate's "damaged post office box address" rather than a damaged house. What is going on?

        A total of $1 billion was wasted on fraudsters, and it is surprising to see that all the blame is on the fraudsters not the incompetence of the people who run the agency. There are still thousands of people who live in dire conditions one year after Katrina demolished their towns. And FEMA is quite happily paying inmates for damaged P.O. Box addresses. We are into the second week of the official hurricane season, and already had the first named Tropical Storm, Aberto. The last thing I expect from the greatest country in the world is to leave its citizens still living in horrid conditions for one whole year. I wonder what preparations have been underway to protect people from this years hurricane season. If FEMA has been busy paying for a "damaged address", my guess is none. Nada. Zilch. Good thing there is more money coming in for FEMA to get its acts together this hurricane season.
        posted by Fikirte @ 11:52 PM   1 comments Digg!
        Monday, June 05, 2006
        History is in the eyes of the beholder

        The tile of the BBC article reads Dalai Lama honours Tutu and Tintin. "Hah?!" That was my initial reaction. Besides, because of the photo showing the Dalai Lama whispering something in Archbishop Tutu's ear – both smiling boyishly – I thought the title was meant to be cynical. No cynicism there – it is what it says. Both received the Light of Truth award, which is presented to those "who have made a significant contribution in the public understanding of and the fight for human rights and democratic freedoms for the Tibetan people."

        My hah?! was because of the racist ideology of Tintin, particularly Tintin in Congo. I remember back in the late 90’s being grilled by my friends in Brussels for not knowing that Tintin was racist after I proudly announced that it used to be my favourite cartoon magazine growing up in Ethiopia and my brother was a fanatic collector of everything Tintin – he even had an annoying dog named Tintin which hated me (and the feeling was mutual.) And, I was a Captain Haddcock fan anyway. I still am.

        It is understandable that Tintin is a hero in Tibet. In 2001, the Hergé Foundation "blocked Chinese attempts to rewrite Tintin's and Tibet's history by demanding the recall of the Chinese-language book, which had been published using the title 'Tintin in China's Tibet'."

        Tintin shows his soft side for the first time in Tintin in Tibet, he respects the Chinese culture – he even had a go at Buddhist-monk type meditation and he literally raised the tent… His creator, Hergé, had deep respect for China's culture and he didn't hesitate to bash Western imperialist expansion in and racism towards China.

        In contrast, Tintin has been a pig in Africa. The cartoons depicting Africans are just hideous and the plot is purely racist. And there is a justification for it…

        Tintin in the Congo reflected the dominant colonialist ideology at that time. "This was in 1930. All I knew about the Congo was what people were saying about it at the time: 'The Negroes are big children, it's fortunate for them that we're there, etc.'"

        Fair enough, Mr. Herge (RIP), but you stood up, only six years later, against the same racist ideas towards the Chinese. What changed?

        Later, for the 1946 color edition of the album, Hergé toned down or removed some of the worst excesses: for instance, the Belgian history class given by Tintin to black students was changed into a mathematics class.

        Change of heart in this case good. I'll take that. But it would have been even better if he came up with an album that shows Tintin's change of heart about "Negroes". The first call out above Tintin would read "I’ve been standing at this very spot 16 years ago having retarded thoughts about the people of Congo. What an asshole was I then?*#!"

        But the paternalistic description of the indigenous people of Belgian Congo was more naive than racist, and Hergé developed an important theme of Tintin in this album: international trafficking.

        According to Tintinologist’s website though the sentiment of racism 'softened but not diminished.'

        I know, I know…. The cartoons were produced in the 30’s, race issues were not top priority then, Hergé at least softened his language, yadi, yadi, yada. Still it is a bit strange to see Archbishop Tutu and Tintin sharing the same praise today. Especially, after the recent (2004) parallel drawn between Tintin and the Belgian Foreign Minister, Karel de Gucht who critically accused Congolese MPs. I have no clue how corrupt Congolese MPs are and may be they deserved a harsh critisism. Still, the fact that they mentioned Tintin in this context in 2004 is telling. And, the award was given in Brussels (Belgium - the former colonizer of former Congo... get it?)

        May be I'm seeing things or may be I have a problem moving on... I still couldn't help thinking HAH?*@! As Captain Haddcock would say "Blue blistering bell-bottomed balderdash"!
        posted by Fikirte @ 11:09 AM   2 comments Digg!
        Sunday, June 04, 2006
        Better know where I stand
        You know how sometimes you cannot decide whether a person is nice to you or not, whether they do annoying or hurtful things because they are totally dumb or subtly nasty? Then you start wondering whether it is better to deal with a total jerk because at least you know where you stand with them…

        I am having the same issues about international aid givers to Africa. I am beginning to appreciate China’s straight forward, no non-sense and no half-arsed stance about good governance policy in Africa. Mind you, I am not eating my words about human rights issues being undermined due to China’s "don't meddle with internal affairs" position. I just prefer its very clear stance to that of the morally superior but practically messed up US, UK, the World Bank etc which try to justify their cock up in several meaningless words…Morality and capitalism are in most cases mutually exclusive anyway. Just say we’re here (in Africa) first of all to protect our own interest – it’s ok, everybody knows anyway.

        Equally annoying is this old fashioned babysitting trick that rich nations are pulling on African leaders - if you don’t do what I say, I’m not going to give you what you want crap. Even very young kids know how to get around that – trust me, I’ve been there, done that and it didn’t work.

        I am waiting for the day the morally superior are going to confess (Bush-Blair style about Iraq) how much they screwed up in Africa.
        posted by Fikirte @ 8:57 AM   0 comments Digg!
        The face of VAW

        Kamilat - victim of acid burning The face of VAW - violence against women. It should and can be stopped with enough commitment. Helping one woman at a time is a start.
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