Grown Folk Errthang

Africans Abroad: the reality of our lives is often less wonderful than we admit

Yannick Nihangaza in hospital (660x300)

Yannick Nizhanga, 24, a student from Burundi, has been on life support for almost a year after being brutally attacked by some youths in Jalandhar, India

Africans living outside the continent have not done a good job of revealing the realities of life overseas, and about the general climate in which they live, which is one the reasons friends and family members back in the motherland get a one-sided idea about what it is like to live abroad.

The other reason is the representation of life outside Africa as depicted by the media (news, magazines, TV and film). Thus Africans living on the continent get fed a steady diet of falsehoods such as: it is better to start up a career overseas as opposed to striving to build one in Africa; earning your degree abroad is easier and the environment is comfortable; life is easy, and money easy to come by; it is always safer for Africans abroad than it is at home; by and large, non-Africans have the interests of Africans at heart.

Granted, there are Africans who, by any measure of success, have done well for themselves abroad, but they are by far outnumbered by the many who struggle or, like most people these days, just about manage to get by. The degree-holding brother or sister over in London might really be the rising star of their department in such and such investment bank, or they could, in fact, be struggling to make ends meet from their wages as an admin assistant because their degree from their country of origin was deemed worthless abroad, and the one they earned abroad still didn’t help them find a job worthy of their ambitions and intellect. I find the misinformation troubling because it creates some tension between Africans abroad and those back home, and by failing to emphasize or even mention the challenges of making a living abroad, those who live in Africa nurture unrealistic hopes and expectations of friends and family members abroad (so Africans abroad aren’t doing themselves any favours by pretending everything is just wonderful abroad), and compare their own lives unfavourably with those of people they know abroad.

I have met several Africans living in the United States who quit school in order to work menial jobs so that they could send money and gifts – iPhones, computers, Louis Vuitton bags, bleaching creams, and so forth – to their overly demanding family members (which is different from wiring money to help a friend or relative in a tight spot, or one who’s starting a business. Nothing wrong with gifts, but it is a problem when that becomes the only reason friends and family members back home are glad you’re abroad). Some abandon their dreams altogether, and, it must be said, some get lured by the prospect of quick and easy money through criminal activity, in order to feed their relatives’ expensive taste for material things. In the last 10 years, I have talked to many Africans abroad about this, and most have agonized over the constant requests that they get from their families back home. What sometimes happens is that these relatives become less supportive of their nephew’s/niece’s/brother’s/sister’s long-term goals and more excited about receiving regular gifts and money.

Africans at home who want a “fuller picture” of life abroad tend to turn solely to the websites of media outlets like the BBC, VOA and CNN, but these outlets tend to favour inviting, peaceful, all-inclusive images of non-African countries, and, though they’re not as bad as they use to be, focus much less on positive empowering success stories on the African continent. So it is not altogether surprising that many Africans who’ve never lived elsewhere but Africa crave fantasy-lives in foreign countries.

I think it’s time we all got real. When African abroad start being honest about the realities of life in the diaspora, their friends and relatives back home will probably stop expecting and demanding so much, and stop thinking their only hope for a reasonably good life lies abroad.

But African governments have a major role to play, too. No African government should start feeling proud of itself for posting world-beating growth rates if that achievement isn’t matched by government-created opportunities for Africans at home and in the diaspora. Because while we have all read stories of returnee diasporans, the rate of return is still a trickle and needs to become a flood. And that’s not going to happen if those abroad don’t see their government providing incentives for them to return, supporting innovation, improving infrastructure, reducing bureaucracy, and doing more to make our cities and day-to-day life generally safer (and, on the subject of safety, a good place to start would be with the police; when people are as worried about the police as they are about thieves, you have a problem). But the incentives, support for innovation, improvement to infrastructure, etc. are also necessary to encourage potential emigrants (nurses, doctors, teachers, engineers, etc.) to remain at home. In the 60s, most Africans who left to study abroad did so with the intention of returning once they were done, and most did. They returned because there was post-independence hope in the air, but also because many African governments at the time articulated a vision based around things like pan-Africanism, political and economic independence, freedom, and long-term nation building. That sort of vision is missing from all the projections about growth rates and talk of investment opportunities. Without a vision, there’s no story or narrative to help everyone understand where a country is headed and why it would be worthwhile to come back home, or to not leave in the first place.

Perhaps our various governments are right now working on their 30-year vision. I hope so, anyway. In the meantime, we, as individuals, would be doing ourselves a huge favour if we were just a tad more honest about what it’s like to live abroad, so in the spirit of balance and getting real, here are some incidents that might not have caught the attention of those who believe all their problems will be over once they leave their country in Africa:

1. Israelis attack African refugees and stage anti-African protests, calling Africans a cancer in their country and saying they will do anything in their power to deport them. African-owned businesses were destroyed and looted. There have also been reports of Ethiopian women in Israel being sterilized.

2. Yannick Nizhanga, a 24-year-old chemical engineering student was beaten into a coma in India last April 21 and left for dead. Meanwhile, the police took no action for two months because the assailants came from powerful families.

3. Women whose rights of residence are attached to their role as domestic workers are at risk of serious abuse. One domestic worker in the United Arab Emirates was beaten for years, burned and forced by her boss to have sex with another maid while the boss filmed the act.

4. A couple from Rwanda, both trained doctors, are stranded in rural Russia and became peasant farmers when their country collapsed into civil war. In the following clip, they tell their story of depression, racism, disappointments and recovery.

5. African students share their experience of racism in Russia.

6. Being a sports star offers no immunity from abuse. Google “African footballers” and “racist abuse”, and you will start to understand what African footballers playing in Europe have to put up with. Read, for example, the story of Nigerian-born Chelsea midfielder John Mikel Obi. You expect it from Millwall fans, but Chelsea?

7. Nigerian women, lured by the promise of a better life in Europe, end up being lured into prostitution in Italy and find themselves trapped between the Italian and Nigerian mafia.

8. You will probably have seen or read a report about the lives of Africans in China, but in case you haven’t, here’s a clip of African immigrants to china talking about their experiences.

9. Somalis refugees who settled in Maine, USA, encouraged to “leave their culture at the door”.

10. We’ve wrote about the TV series Surprising Europe when it was first broadcast on Al Jazeera, but in case you missed it, here’s an episode. The series takes a balanced look at the reality of life in Europe for Africans. You get stories of those who are doing well, but also of those who end up stranded with no work, no papers, in detention camps, poverty stricken, etc. but are afraid to return home because of the pressure from dependent family members back home, or because they don’t want to lose face by returning without having “made it.”

11. Racism against people of African descent in Ecuador, 92% of whom didn’t have access to basic services at the time of shooting the following clip:

12. A story about the formation and persistence of white-only towns in America.

13. In Brazil racism against people of African descent is deeply rooted in the country’s history. Sociologist and UNICEF manager Helena Oliveira Silva talks in an interview about the effect of structural racism on the lives of people of African descent in Brazil.

These, of course, are isolated incidents, and most Africans abroad aren’t being beaten up on a daily basis. But I included these examples to show some of the things Africans abroad have to put up with and try to avoid as they go about their business.

There is no land of milk and honey for Africans abroad, and in my experience, for every “successful” African abroad, there are thousands just keeping their heads down and trying to get by from one month to the next, and, having spoken to many over the years, more than a few would love to be back home in Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, etc. All they need is for “home” to become a little safer, and for opportunities to at home to become a bit more plentiful. Unfortunately, this isn’t usually something they freely admit to friends and relatives back home.

Infographic: Watch 20 Years of More and More American Children Approaching the Poverty Line

MAR 29, 2013 5:13 PM16,245 290

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Infographic: Watch 20 Years of More and More American Children Approaching the Poverty Line

Reuben Fischer-Baum

Dataspin, a weekly data visualization column on Deadspin, makes occasional appearances on Gawker.

For my summer job in high school, I sided houses for a contractor. One day my boss was complaining about how much a competitor charged, and I asked him, naively, how much he charged. He stared at me and huffed off.

“Why don’t you just ask how big his dick is?” one of the other guys said.

Americans are very uncomfortable talking about income. We’re uncomfortable about a lot of stuff, like race and gender, but at leastthose issues get airtime. This silence extends not just to construction sites, but also to issues where everyone agrees that income is an extremely relevant factor, like public education and student achievement.

The map above shows the proportion (with aslight adjustment) of enrolled students who are economically eligible to participate in the Free Lunch Program, by state. This covers the period from the 1991-1992 school year to the 2010-2011 school year, with new states appearing as they begin to report data, which is all from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Eligibility requirements are based on federal poverty standards: Free lunch is offered to children from households with incomes below 130 percent of the poverty line; reduced-price lunch is offered to those with household incomes below 185 percent. For the 2010-2011 school year, a household of four would have to earn less than $28,665 to qualify for free school lunch, while those with incomes under $40,793 would qualify for reduced-price lunch. There were 3.4 million students eligible for the reduced price; 20.1 million were eligible for the free program. That’s two in five students nationwide. In Mississippi, Louisiana, and New Mexico, it was more like three in five.

This is a problem that’s getting worse. Dating back to 1991-1992, or the first year that eligibility data were reported, every single state has seen these proportions grow. Vermont, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Arizona, and Oregon have all seen their eligible student percentage double. The eligibility rolls began to seriously swell in 2008, when the economy went to shit. There’s no reason to think it’ll get better anytime soon.

:How to Drink Like a Gentleman:

The Things to Do and the Things Not To, as Learned in 30 Years’ Extensive Research

H.L. Mencken

Introduction

If the moral theologians in practice among us were engined by anything properly describable as apostolic zeal, they would be giving over a large part of their time, in these apocalyptic days, to teaching their catechumens how to drink. For it must be manifest that some such teaching is sorely needed in this great republic. Drinking with skill and taste is no more a natural art than love; either it must be learned by the onerous process of trial and error, or it must be taught. Plainly enough, the latter way is the better; but so far there is no sign that the guides appointed for gropers are ready to take it.

The fact, of course, is not surprising, for moral science is always a bit laggard, and it is especially so in the United States. It took our appointed moralists at least twenty years to discover that there was a demand among the young for instruction in the enigmas of sex, and even today they linger far behind the best contemporary thought on the subject. Maybe a good deal of their backwardness on the drink question, like their bad showing on the sex question, is due to the fact that they really know very little about it. Not many clergymen could be called, with any plausibility, informed and accomplished drinkers. Perhaps a majority of them, or nearly a majority, are teetotalers. Among the rest, I know half a dozen who can tell claret from Burgundy without noting the shape of the bottle, and two or three (all of them foreign-born) who know why Pilsner is better than steam beer; but they are exceptions. The average clergyman, though people may envy him his apparently easy life, really lives very meagerly, and it is not often that he gets a whack at first-rate wines and liquors. Thus it is probably asking too much to expect him to enlighten the young.

My qualifications, I suppose, ought to be stated. I have been a student of alcoholic beverages for more than thirty years.

The school-teachers are in even worse case. They are, as a class, extremely stupid persons, and seldom find out anything until the rest of us have begun to forget it. Moreover, they are naturally timorous and always jump at a woof. During the thirteen years of prohibition the Anti-Saloon League had at them so violently that three fourths of them became professed drys, and even today they tremble in fear that it may reconquer the country and put them on the spot again. This throws the burden of instruction on the only agency of moral didactics that is left—to wit, the public press; and as one of the humble jack tars of its crew I hasten to shoulder my share. My qualifications, I suppose, ought to be stated. I have been a student of alcoholic beverages for more than thirty years, and have pursued my studies all over the area comprised between San Francisco in the west, Istanbul in the east, Oslo in the north, and Caracas in the south. I have read all the principal textbooks on the subject, and have made personal visits to such shrines of the booze arts as Rüdesheim, Bernkastel, Nierstein, Bordeaux, Beaune, Budapest, Malaga, Madeira, Curacao, Pontarlier, Cognac, Pilsen, Munich, Kulmbach, and Würzburg.

Nor have I visited these places in an idle and voluptuous spirit: I have always gone into huddles with their resident wiseacres, made thousands of notes, and undertaken tests of a scientific character, sometimes at considerable risk. In 1910, while carrying on an investigation of Lacrima Cristi, I narrowly escaped an eruption of Vesuvius; in 1912 I came down with arsenic poisoning after a study of English bitter; and in 1922 I picked up rheumatism in the catacombs of the Bürgerbrauhaus at Pilsen. Such information as I have garnered has not been kept to myself. On the contrary, I have published it freely, seeking to benefit humanity. During the thirteen years of prohibition I composed and printed no less than 2,500,000 words in long and short meter against that great assault upon American liberties, and had to bear a vigorous counterassault by its proponents. Some of them prayed for me publicly and suggestively, but more of them damned me; and I was compared at different times to Czolgosz, Lenin, Ingersoll, Darwin, and Kaiser Wilhelm II. To this day it is widely believed in Arkansas that I am in the pay of both Wall Street and the Bolsheviki, and in no less than six states, including my native State of Maryland, it has been proposed openly that I be burned at the stake. Such are my medals and diplomas: what I have to recommend may be set forth almost as briefly. Two simple principles lie at the bottom of the whole matter, and they may be precipitated into two rules. The first is that, when there is a choice, the milder drink is always the better—not merely the safer but the better. The second is that no really enlightened drinker ever takes a drink at a time when he has any work to do. There is, of course, more to it than this; but these are sufficient for the beginner, and even the virtuoso never outgrows them.

PAGE 2

When there is a choice, the milder drink is always the better—not merely the safer but the better.

The second is the more important. It is indeed astounding how the error persists that ethyl alcohol is a stimulant. If schoolteachers really had the confidence of their customers there would be no such nonsense afloat, for they have been teaching for many years that alcohol is not a stimulant but a depressant: it is, I dare say, one of the few things they teach that is indubitably true. Yet multitudes of people, having been fooled in school in so many other ways, go on believing the contrary, and as a result they drink when drinking can do them only damage, and avoid it when it might be a great boon to them. The physical and mental effects of alcohol, whether in large doses or small, are very simple. Physically, it slows down all the bodily processes, save maybe digestion, and produces a faint and pleasant drowsiness. And mentally it works in almost the same way. That is, it causes what the psychologists call a raising of the threshold of sensation. The external world retreats a bit, and its challenges become less insistent. The drinker is not so much disturbed as he was by what goes on around him, and so his reaction to it is more friendly and tolerant. And simultaneously he is not so much disturbed as he was by what goes on within his own head, and thus he gathers a sense of contentment and well-being.

Plainly enough, all this is not a good preparation for hard work, whether mental or physical. When a man has work to do he should have all his nerves and muscles alert, and his mind should be leaping here and there like a gazelle, seizing avidly upon every idea. A single glass of beer is enough to incommode and cripple the process. It produces a glow, but that glow is not the fruit of energy but of indolence. The drinker feels better, but he is less efficient, and the prohibitionists are quite right when they bring forth their proofs that he can’t add up figures as accurately as a cold-sober man, or drive as many nails in an hour, or get through as much of any other kind of work. The bar of the future will be influenced by the ignorance of the present drinkers and by the intelligence of the present bartenders. I’ll confess right now that most of the wisdom I am here writing down I got from Mr. Jack Fitz-Gerald, president and chief professor of the Bartenders School.

PAGE 3

The ideal bar will have enough glass in the top to let you see what the bartender is doing.

Before prohibition, drinkers knew their liquor. Now even the wisest of us may grope helplessly unless we can recognize the bottle we met the other night at a friend’s. Therefore the bar must lay out bottles for the drinker to recognize. In the old bar fine art had a place—good-natured Venuses; now we need the wall space for the dummy bottles. Of course you might keep the mural paintings by locating the receding shelves for bottles beneath the top of the back bar. Either way, the shelves should be of glass, with mirrors behind them. It is sometimes the other side of the bottle that the drinker recognizes. The ideal bar will have enough glass in the top to let you see what the bartender is doing. A good bartender desires your eyes upon him as he mixes the drink. It’s a graceful act.

“The station” is the technical term for the spot where the drinks are mixed. Indispensable elements of the station are a small sink, a drain board, a receptacle for shaved ice, compartments for vermuth, gin, etc., and trays for sliced orange and lemon, olives, cherries, and limes. In the old days the arrangement was individual or haphazard. Today the layout is standardized, like the keyboard of a typewriter, and the bartender works by the touch system. The bottles must be in their right places, so that he can reach for them automatically.

Do you realize that your unthinking indulgence in ice-cream sodas during prohibition is now weakening the lumbar muscles and even displacing the kidneys of present-day bartenders? The heartless or ill-informed bar designer is putting forth a monstrosity modeled upon the soda fountain, which places between the bartender and the bar top the ice boxes, the receptacles for empties, and anything else you can think of to make the bartender bend at the waist. This cruelty must stop!

PAGE 4

The ideal bar would permit the bartender to stand up straight and mix the drinks without any unnatural stretch forward. The receptacles for empties would be installed beneath the counter. Above them would be the stations. The ice boxes would be at a convenient height in the back bar. A bar is a place of spontaneous and generous emotions. A large number of old-time bartenders, after a few years on a modest salary, were able to start again as proprietors of their own saloons. Their capital, it is surmised, had been accumulated involuntarily by those payments for drinks which in the good-fellowship of the moment they forgot to record. The old-time saloon owner, lacking the exaltation of immediate contact with his customers, became jealous of his bartender, and in a moment of epoch-making meanness installed the cash register. The effect of this soulless machine upon our national character has not yet been sufficiently investigated.

We may note here, however, its influence upon the location of the beer keg in the ideal bar of the future. Since beer more often than not will be called for, and since all drinks must be properly rung up, the scientific spirit insists that there shall be one cash register for each beer keg. When I say beer keg I speak symbolically, since there will be a complete beer station, supplying different kinds of beer from barrels in the cellar, with only the spigots emerging at the counter top.

The more rational man knows that there is something even more important in life, and that its name is living.

PAGE 5

But who wants to work all the time? Only very foolish people. The more rational man knows that there is something even more important in life, and that its name is living. He is willing to work hard in his working hours, but when they are over he wants to relax, expand, and be happy. The whole object of labor, as he sees it, is to give human beings this release and reward. Well, here is where alcohol comes in. In its milder and more palatable forms, as in wine, it remains unmatched after all these centuries as a maker of cheer. One finds eloquent encomiums of it in both the Old Testament and the New, and it is praised in the profane literature of every great people. There have been, in late years, some large advances in pharmacology, but no substitute for ethyl alcohol in dilute aqueous solution, suitably flavored and aged, has ever been discovered.

The time to use it is when the work of the day is done. That it is bad medicine in the morning is proved by the fact that no one, at that time, ever craves it in its milder and more benign forms: the appetite for it, if there be any appetite at all, is for a quick dose of something strong. Nor is it capable of its best effects at midday, save the whole day be a holiday and the afternoon be free for loafing. But on all days it is meet and suitable with the coming of twilight and during the hours thereafter. A good dinner is made doubly good by being washed down in the ancient manner of civilized men, and a good sleep is made doubly sound and refreshing if the sleeper first untangles his nerves and quiets his brain with a few shots of reliable stuff.

But what is reliable stuff? What is the thing to drink, specifically? I go back to my Rule No. 1. The better thing to drink, whenever there is a choice, is the milder thing. Wine is better than a highball, a highball is better than a cocktail, and a cocktail is better than hard liquor taken straight. To be sure, there are times when the system craves something with a swift and powerful kick. A man just saved from drowning or acquitted of murder is not likely to be content with a glass of beer; he wants a pint of whisky, and he wants it at a gulp. But such inflammatory emergencies are surely not common in normal life.

PAGE 6

The typical situation is far less harrowing. The day is done, and the time has come to feed the body and relax the mind. Pleasant companions have gathered, and the aim of every one is to expand and be happy. Each has suffered since morning from the burden of chores and the assault of bores, and each is eager to let go his running rigging, drop his mainsail, and drift along quietly on the evening swell. Does he need a shot of 50-per-cent alcohol to achieve this benignant process? Does he need cocktails full of gin, rum, rye, applejack, and what not, with liqueurs, fruit juices, and bitters to disguise their naked shame? The answer is usually no, and in a perfect world it would be no all the time—but as things stand, alas, it is sometimes a kind of yes.

There are two tests: the company assembled and the dinner in prospect. If the company is made up wholly or in large part of yahoos to whom the only meaning of drinking is getting tight, and if the dinner ahead (as is likely in such a case) promises to be badly cooked and badly served, with nothing decent on the table to wash it down, then go for a cocktail by all means, and then for another, and then for as many more as you can get hold of. For what you need in such a situation is not something to emancipate you from care gently and beautifully, but something to knock you out at one crack. In other words, what you need is not an apéritif but an anæsthetic. Chloroform would be better, or the kick of a mule; but in their absence you must put up with a cocktail.

PAGE 7

To drink hard liquor before wine is as barbarous as going to church in a bathing suit or with boxing gloves on.

If, however, you are in civilized and charming company, and a good dinner looms ahead, with sound wines on the table, then even the best cocktail is as far out of place as a college yell at a wedding. The appetizer for such lordly occasions is something milder and more delicate—a glass of sherry or madeira, or maybe one of vermuth without gin. I say a glass, but two will do no harm, and if you have come in more than commonly keyed up and need a double dose of medicine you may even venture upon three or four. But to drink hard liquor before wine is as barbarous as going to church in a bathing suit or with boxing gloves on. It simply insults the whole evening. It is gustatory suicide. All this ought to be taught to the young by the moral leaders of the nation; but, as I have said, they neglect their duty. And when it is broached by the heathen moralists who print cocktail books, How–to–Become–a-Wine–Connoisseur–in–Two-Lessons books, and other such coney-catching trash, it is usually mingled with so much highfaluting but obvious nonsense that the neophyte is repelled. Nearly all of these books teach false doctrines—for example, the doctrine that it is blasphemy to Bacchus to drink white wine with red meat, or red wine with fish. There is some truth under this, but not much. White wine ordinarily is too mild and delicate to bear the harsh flavor of beef—but by the same token it is too mild and delicate to be drunk with many kinds of fish. As for red wine, it must be stout indeed in flavor to score a tie with a T-bone steak or even a mutton chop: the drink that really goes with such heroic victuals is beer, or, better still, ale. A Frenchman does not hesitate to drink white wine with the meat of horned cattle. To be sure, he prefers red; but if he has only white he drinks it gladly, giving thanks to God. And he uses red wine to cook one of his finest fish dishes, bouillabaisse, and more red wine to wash it down. Here the so-called experts are simply intoxicated by the exuberance of their own virtuosity. They preach perfection—which is obnoxious to nature.

PAGE 8

We live in the United States, and must be content with what is vouchsafed to us. If you happen to snare a good bottle of red Burgundy, and the cook provides roast chicken for dinner, do not hesitate to use the wine to dilute and adorn the fowl. Nothing will befall you—save only that you will rise from the table a wiser and a happier man. And the next time you see a whisky bottle on a dinner table you will seize it by the neck and beat in the skull of your host. I have left the malt liquors to the last; for my regard for them amounts to veneration, and I fear that if I let myself go on the subject I’d bust into dithyrambs and maybe even into tears. I believe in all seriousness that this would be an immensely happier land if its annual consumption of them were doubled. The politicians burden them with cruel taxes, and in consequence the five-cent schooner is still as small as a wineglass, and the ten-cent family growler remains only a legend of happier times. There are children growing up in our great industrial centers who have never seen their fathers transformed from bent and weary slaves to proud and prancing freemen—all by the homely magic of a can from the Dutchman’s at the corner. Yet sound beer is now available to all who have any change jingling in their pockets, and some of the better American brews are really first-rate.

Conclusion

Beer belongs to the end of the day. It begins to be good as the sun goes down, and it goes on increasing in virtue until the sandman makes his rounds. It is the perfect drink for the shank of the evening, when one would be unwise to eat the solid victuals that go with wine. It harmonizes perfectly with all the light and pleasant trifles of the table—sandwiches, bread and cheese, crackers, and so on. It can bear communion with salads, which would be fatal to wine. It slakes the thirst, shushes the medulla oblongata, warms the stomach, and fans the imagination. More good music has been written on beer than on all the other drinks of mankind put together. There is little risk of shipping an overdose of it, for it is transformed into blood, bone, hair, and ideas almost as fast as one can get it down. Can it be that there are people who actually dislike it? It would seem so. Not long ago I invited a prohibitionist to supper, and induced him to drink a horn of Pilsner, assuring him that it wouldn’t hurt him and hoping that it would cure him of his mania. He confessed afterward that its effects were surprisingly pleasant and harmless. He retained the use of his so-called faculties, and was aware of no impulse to kick over the table or brain the waiter. But he felt that he had to object to something, and so he objected to the taste. “It is,” he said, “too bitter. I’d like it better if it were sweet.” Fancy that, Hedda! Pilsner too bitter! That fellow, when he gets to heaven, will object to the fact that angels have wings.


H.L. Mencken was a columnist for the Baltimore Evening Sun and editor of the American Mercury. This essay was originally published in Liberty Magazine on January 12, 1935.

From 1924 to 1950, Liberty Magazine published the work of such writers and public figures as Greta Garbo, Margaret Sanger, Babe Ruth, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Its weekly circulation reached 3 million. Today, the magazine is largely forgotten, but many of its pieces are being reissued in several collections available on Amazon. The above essay was republished with permission from the collection “Liberty on Drinking.”

•PAGE1•

AN ESSAY ON AFRICA AND THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

The recognition of a person’s ethnic identity is one of the more important components needed in the journey towards self actualization. How people communicate is central to their being. The use of the English language universally cannot afford Africa the luxury of unity. This is merely a frivolous take on matters that range far beyond linguistics.  The history of the continent is diverse and bleeds of misinterpretation. This essay will focus on how the forging of a strong ethnic identity supersedes the agenda of the former colonial masters in creating a sustainable and united Africa. The paper will set out to clarify the discrepancies about Africa that history has allowed to spawn into relevance.

Chinua Achebe argues

“There are not many countries in Africa today where you could abolish the language of the erstwhile colonial powers and still retain the facility for mutual communication”

While this esteemed writer might be making reference to how the arrival of colonists led to growth and strength of a common mode of understanding for natives through language, He seems oblivious to the fact that it is the creation of such, a propaganda tool that has left the African society behind. They may have established and ensued on Africa their sense of uniformity but they also trampled on what was already a way of living. Therefore there can be no good taken from the tainted history stalking the continent.

He takes his assertions further by saying. Those of us who have inherited the English language may not be in a position to appreciate the value of the inheritance”. This is a misguided analogy that further creates misunderstanding as it allows the continued injustice sold as development to the people of Africa to flourish. The continent was not stuck and waiting for western civilization to exert wisdom and greatness through teaching the masses all they specifically knew about the world. There were means and ways to communicate and they sufficed for those that used them. Africans are embedded in the philosophy of Ubuntu which focuses on community.

Ethnic groupings were growing while sharing in experience and information that brought about tribes like the Zulu’s in South Africa or the Berber’s that are scattered across North Africa. English was not the sole way of reaching communicational consensus.

Identity deals with who a person is, how can there even begin to be a liberation for  people of Africa while a misinformed suggestion insinuates they should communicate through the use of the English Language; The very language amongst others that dehumanized and reduced them to irrelevance in their own native land.

Ngugi wa Thiongo in his text entitled Decolonising the mind stated that

Imperialism continues to control the economy, politics and cultures of Africa. But on the other, and pitted against it, are ceaseless struggles of African people to liberate their economy politics and culture from Euro-American-based stranglehold to usher a new era of true communal self –regulation and self  determination”

The growth of the English language beyond the duty of communication is a case in point that proves his assertions.  How can the people being continually oppressed by institutions reach consciousness in a way that will lead to prosperity for future generations? The child of a peasant worker with no formal education has got the most minimalist chances of securing a future for themselves and their family if not dexterous in the English language.  The emancipation of Africa is needed when issues such as this surface long after the departure of the Anglo settlers. A new form that has a willingness to know and understand the past must and should be cultivated. English is the medium of political and socio-economic discourse. The very language that has helped marginalize societies is used to strengthen matters such as development and globalisation. This is the paradox of the world. Ngugi wa Thiongo further argues that.

 

“The choice of language and the use to which language is put is central to a people’s definition of themselves in relation to their natural and social environment, indeed, in relation to the entire universe. Hence language has always been at the heart of the two contending social forces in the Africa of the twentieth century”

The psychological ramifications of accepting defeat came in the form of being united as a nation. These nations were never created to better the lives of Africans and so all that was part and parcel with them then, is relevant now. Many African scholars became pseudo-imperialists when they were vociferous about embracing the language of the oppressors to the people. African leaders, writers and spiritual fathers have always aided the agenda. The death of African culture began through the re-writing of history by the most influential natives.

Language is one of the most important tools of colonialism and imperialism. So if people are aware of the form of identity they should assume they should resist invasions which seem to trivialize their identity. Contrary to what Chinua Achebe believes, English language should be put back in its place. There should be a resistance to its tendency to have power on Africa. The English language has been allowed for too long to elevate itself to the language of knowledge systems, which is not the case. Literary works, history, mathematics and science have been exerted to people through English language.

This was not supposed to be the case in the first place, but people have accepted it as a dogma without challenge. Studies have suggested that children should be taught in their indigenous language at least up to the age of eight. This is not possible as English is being used as a medium of communication for many people at an early age. This is a tragedy as future generations will be entrapped in this rhetoric. Those are the successes of Euro-American forefathers and mental oppression in its purest form.

When dealing with younger generations, there seems to be a perpetual belief in that the English language is a way to prosperity. They have ingrained the discourse subjected to them by history. There is a constant reference to English as a superior language and way of life. In isiZulu they say “uLimu lokucela izinkobe” (English puts food on the table). That is the evidence of how English has elevated its status to the language of economic power, which, sadly, was not to be the case.

In conclusion Africans cannot have English as a language of unity, because the continent is too diverse in culture, ethnicity and language. There is an untold history that needs a just refurbishment coupled with the pride of origin.

•PAGE 2•

JAHMIL XT QUBEKA: CAUGHT IN THE DIRECTOR’S SCOPE

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He has gained a steady reputation as a director of highly stylized film. And having won awards at the Tri-Continental film fest and various others accolades Jahmil XT Qubeka is fast making a name for himself as one of South African cinema’s most interesting talents. We sat him down and spoke to him about film, his latest project and the obsession with the unusual.

What initially made you get into the film industry?

– I was five when I consciously watched my very first feature film, a spaghetti Western called The Unholy Four. It was love at first sight. After that for the next 13 years I consumed cinema. I was a walking catalogue of film. From old classics like Citizen Kane to the latest Hollywod junk. I even watched films no kid should have seen, like the banned version of Lady Chatterly’s Lover.

How was the transition from docie to fiction and how was the transition for you as a director?

– I never felt it to be quite honest. yes, doccies and features are different disciplines requiring a different skills set but for me it was all Cinema. As long as it was about telling a story using moving pictures I saw it all as movies. A lot of my documentary work has classic cinematic qualities that lean towards dramatic feature rather than cinema verite.

What was the defining breakthrough of your career?

– There are so many, as I grow as a filmmaker and more importantly as a person I keep experiencing what you term breakthroughs that surpass the significance of previous ones. As in life, you never stop learning in this business. If the education will continue until the day that I die, then so will the breakthroughs.

Working as a director what would you say have been the stand out moments in your carrer?

-Completing my first commissioned Documentary and screening it for an audience at the 3rd Encounters Film Festival all those years ago was cool.
-Having a documentary I made win the US Peabody Award was special.
-Co-Directing my first commercial with my mentor and friend Daron Chatz.
-Directing my first EDCON commercial for the Jupiter Drawing Room.
-Attending the Marche Du Film in Cannes with my film Shogun Khumalo is Dying.
-Getting distribution for a feature that I shot and produced, uMalusi to Ster Kinekor.
-Writing, Directing and Shooting my first feature film, A Small Town Called Descent

Lets talk a little bit about A small town called descent what was the inspiration behind that?

-For me it was a call to arms for the Xenophobic attacks that occured in 2008. Most South Africans didn’t have a voice or the means to express their condemnation of what happened. I chose to pick up my laptop and write.

As a filmmaker when making that type of film, how important is creative control?

-Its a double edged sword in my view. You want creative control because you want to fulfill the vision that you have. Also no one else is blamed for the shortcomings of a film aside from the Director, and rightly so. The pressure of maintaining your vision whilst dealing with the elements means that often ones  own judgement can get clouded. Its also important that the filmmaker be humble enough to take feedback and input from others as they may see 

•PAGE 3•

THE FAVELAS

Favelas are township or slum like communities in Brazil. Favela residences are mostly poor black people, with no land ownership or have moved from rural areas to find work in the city.

Although they originated with freed slaves in the late 18th century, Favelas became more popular in the 1970’s when rural exodus took place. Rural exodus is the movement of people from the rural areas to big cities in order to find jobs.

Back in the 18th century the first Favela settlements where called bairros africanos (African neighbourhoods). The name Favela comes about in 1897 with veteran soldiers from conflict against the settlers of Canudos, an eastern province of Bahia in Rio de Jeneiro. Since these soldiers had no place to live, they were located in the Providencia Hill in Rio de Janeiro. This new hill they moved to the reminded them of the Canudos Favela Hill a place that many soldiers in the army had been. The Favela is actually a skin irritation tree

Favelas are inhabited by friendly people known as Moradores da Favela or just as Favelados. Since Favela’s are located in the outskirts of the major Brazilian Cities like Sao Paulo and Rio de Jeneiro, they are like an extension of the city. Like any houses in the slums or in the townships, Favelas also have a huge number of houses built in a small or limited space.

There is this welcoming affect associated with these fringe ghettos despite the stereotypes of crime and drug peddling associated with the areas. This friendly and open hearted attitude attracts many people from different social classes to these shanty communities. Dance parties known as baile are very popular events that both rich and Brazilians attend in the Favelas.

The people in the Favelas have a relationship that at best can be described as similar to Ubuntu. The key value of helping each other, treating every person or child like your own relative and mostly caring for one another regardless of who or how different we are.

But like any other slum there are problems that are associated with the living conditions. The high rate of poverty is to be blamed for the huge amount of people who suffer from dieses caused by living in these areas. Many children who are born and grew up in the Favelas suffer from malnutrition or are abandoned by their parents. Parents often abandon their children because they fail to feed, clothe and educate them. These children end up living in the city streets, sleeping in parks and begging for every meal.

The rapid growth of the Favelas has been a problem for the government from as early as the 1940’s. This gave rise to government programmes and initiatives like the Parque Proletario, which was an effort to move people from the slums and relocate them into government houses. This programme failed since development was slow and the government built only a small number of houses and relocated other people back to the rural areas. This then lead to them coming back and starting new Favelas in the places where the government houses were located.

In 2007 the Programa de Aceleracao do Crescimento was launched by then President Luiz Lula. This programme was a four year investment plan that was aimed at promoting urban development in the Favelas. There has also been local government programmes like the Rio cidade which are attempting to solve the problem of these ever increasing slums. The main problem for the government is space. Brazil does not have enough liveable land that to which can relocate the mass of people. Infrastructure and other fundamental services like waste removal, water and electricity will also be in huge demand, this will also add to the problem since the government is still having a hard time providing these services.

What has often been cited as an area of concern is that Brazilian police have little or no control in the Favelas. The streets although relatively peaceful are often run by gangs and drug lords.  Brazil is famous for its high production of drugs and the Favelas are the most common and easiest place to push these drugs. Traffickers employ children and the youth as messengers, drug and arms carriers. They use violent measures in order to get these children to cooperate with them. The graffiti marks on the walls and streets of Favelas are not artistic expression, but they often serve the purpose of marking territory.

Regardless of all these negatives attributes the Favelas is still home for a large number of people. People who chant and baile all night long in these slums.

•PAGE 4•

THE WITCHES OF GAMBANGA

Amina-Wumbala-in-front-of-her-hut

A lone figure inside the dark walls of a mud hut. The traditional scarifications on her face catching the tears that pour from her deep set eyes. She has been abandoned here by her own family, the newest member of a village of outcasts, banned from her home and accused of being a witch. She is one of The Witches of Gambaga. After few days she emerges, to join the other women in their daily chores, paying for her stay in the village of Gambaga in Northern Ghana.

Salmata is one of the women we meet in this stirring documentary by British-Ghanaian writer and filmmaker Yaba Badoe.

This powerful film exposes gender discrimination in its rawest form.  It showcases a kind on inconvenient reality, a reality which makes futile the national motto Freedom and Justice.

Although this is largely an exploration of archaic and oppressive traditional practices, Badoe offers an objective portrayal making sure not to ridicule the people for their beliefs.

Her objectivity even extends to the authoritarian chief who reaps the rewards of the toil of the residents of Gambaga. Although it is obvious that he exercises absolute patriarchal rule, the filmmaker makes it a point not to vilify him.

Badoe’s interest for the subject is evident in her return to Gambaga time and time again. Her stylistic sensitivity is clear. She does not let her voice overshadow that of the women.  Their heartache, anger, pain and sometimes happiness and relief at finding refuge, is narrated by them, producing an authentic account that captures the viewer

She successfully infiltrates the village, gaining the trust of the inhabitants becoming privy to not only their lives but their secret cultural practices.

Like many stories coming out of Africa, The Witches of Gambaga leave one with internal turmoil. On the one hand we do not want to be condescending to the beliefs of others but in the same token, this practice is clearly outdated, unfair and unjust. Although this is not an overly sympathetic documentary, one cannot help but feel fortunate to be living in a time and place where one enjoys freedom and justice regulated by laws based on equality and fairness. The witches of Gambaga is a film that is a worthy watch for anyone concerned with contemporary women’s issues on the continent.

The Witches of Gambaga is part of Fox International’s Only in Africa series

•PAGE 5•

MBHORO – FAKE OR MISUNDERSTOOD?

Prophet Paseka Motsoeneng aka Mbhoro’s name came up and man, oh, man, did the commuters have a mouthful to say about him.

Some referred to him as a saint who is devoted to helping others; but most cursed calling him a thief and chancer who is just after money from naïve people. Mbhoro is the founder of Incredible Ministry. The hour long slot on Soweto TV which airs every sunday. where his shown performing miracles & “banishing demons” from possessed bodies.On the programme he also encourages those in attendance to purchase holy water, vaseline & candles – all of which have his face on the label – which he says works in conjunction with prayer. How convenient! He is well known for his dancing during the programme as he makes his way around the church searching for “evil spirits”. His often spoken about nails which appear longer every time he appears on the screen are an eye sore.

What shot him into the blinding spotlight a few Sunday’s ago, was a report written by two Sunday World journalists after they attended the Easter convention held by Mbhoro at a stadium in Johannesburg. These journo’s claim to have seen the Prophet sticking his fingers into a young woman’s vagina saying he was taking out the ‘evil spirits’ that she had been sleeping with  unconsciously every night when she went to bed.

While he was moving his fingers in a rhythmic way to “remove” the spirits he allegedly told the woman to say his name repeatedly. He then allegedly went on to place his foot on another woman’s vagina to help her and her husband regain their bedroom bliss. The woman said when she and her husband engaged in sexual intercourse she felt a sharp pain in her genitals forcing her to rule out the act completely.

Mbhoro has denied these allegations citing that there is a conspiracy against him. This according to the journalists was done for all to see, the women’s privacy was not taken into consideration. Mbhoro has denied these allegations citing that there is a conspiracy against him.

In a more recent report the prophet and his entourage of bodyguards were arrested on charges of being in possession of illegal firearms. Mbhoro was later released on bail & two of his bodyguards kept in custody as they are suspected of being foreign nationals. In the Sunday World article questions were raised on Mbhoro’s sudden fortune when a few years ago he had been blacklisted by ITC for owing money to Nedbank.

Now many have cried foul going as far as saying that Mbhoro violated the women’s rights but this is unless as the women in question were offended by the Prophet’s actions. We have no right to poke our fingers (excuse the pun) and demand he be investigated? If he was exercising his methods on the women while they kicked & screamed it would be a whole different story.

To allow such actions to take place to themselves must mean the women were painstakingly desperate and in need of immediate relief from whatever burden they had on their shoulders.

If the ladies thought the procedure used by Mbhoro could bring them healing then who are we to judge?
But then again a congregation looks up to their leader. Is it still considered part of protocol when he/she takes advantage of that?

On a more personal note, I’d run very fast in the opposite direction if my Pastor even winked at me let alone try to pull up my skirt. We are all just very different and choose to believe in different things, let’s just leave it at that.

•PAGE 7•

Black People Don’t…

The Top Five Travel Activities Black People Stereotypically Avoid, But Actually EnjoyLet me start this off with a disclaimer: Everyone doesn’t fit within the same box and just because you are black doesn’t mean you don’t swim, camp or ski. Just know that there are some black people out there that enjoy a sense of adventure and want to take part in all the world has to offer, even if it challenges their comfort zones. The great outdoors always offers up a bevy of daring activities to enjoy and, well, as black folks…we’re infamous for avoiding those things. However, not all of us turn up our noses to getting our hair wet or sleeping in a tent. Here are five activities that I’ve [surprisingly] found out that not only do black people take delight in participating in, but have created organizations around them!1. Scuba Diving: Deep, dark ocean waters that are as mysterious as what’s in it–yeah right. Well, there are groups of black people that will strap on their scuba gear right now and prove that the ocean’s more of a place of discovery than it is intimidating. Check out the National Association of Black Scuba Divers.2. Skiing: It’s true, black people are not fond of being cold. Did you watch Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? and say, “Tyler knows black people don’t vacation in distant frozen cabins propped on snowy slopes!” I know I did! Well, check out the National Brotherhood of Skiers to dispel your disbelief.

3. RVing: Camping, yeah, count us out. Sleeping on the ground, building fires and pretty much being outside, it’s not going to happen. But, when you can breathe in nature’s fresh air, but also have the opportunity to lounge in the comfort of a mobile home, camping out’s not so bad. Check out theNational African American RV’ers Association, Inc. to see that black people actually do love the great outdoors.

4. Sailing: Even though the word itself sounds as relaxing as the activity, sailing is still an activity that requires a massive body of water. Although the Water Babies Sailing Club is not an official organization complete with a constitution, by-laws or membership fees, their club allows all the adventurous types of color to share a love of sailing the open sea.

5. Hiking: Ah, the great outdoors. What’s so great about questionable bugs, unpredictable weather and no luxury? Typically vacations have a context of decadent luxuriating and well, hiking isn’t quite that. Although, the folks from Outdoor Afro seem to have found the beauty in hiking–fresh air and taking in the vast wonders of our beautiful world. Maybe they’re on to something.

If you’ve ever considered any of these activities a snoozefest or way too strenuous or scary to be relaxing, you’d be surprised to find out just how much fun there is in the simplicity of doing something you’ve never done before.

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