Monthly Archives: August 2008

on Caroline weg

Squashed up, the space that held the face seemed too small. Everything shrunk. A tight pink mouth and narrow yellow nose, dark dots for nostrils held behind a veil of eczema. I gazed into the eyes from behind a window, repelled and enchanted, convinced he was of another planet. He looked not quite at me but through me, as if not seeing my body or noticing my stare. And then the boy next to him turned around and stepped forward to his brother’s side. The same, but smaller. Each with clipped yellow hair but somehow not the hair of a child. I stared longer, harder, and noticed the baldness of their skulls, the pink skin beneath.

Miniatures on the pavement. Alone and strange. Of this land but not entirely human. I can’t erase the image.

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foundations

A combination of words and pictures and it feels like I am back to the drawing board. It began with discovering that Bernard-Henri Lévy is still being taken seriously by some elite somewhere on this planet (that was over at the Tomb) and was compounded by the endless newsletters I receive on Angola every morning. This morning I read a piece by the respected Angolan novelist, Pepetela (I’m currently reading his o quasi fim do mundo), in which he seems to be saying that in order for the country to have free, fair and safe elections everyone must accept very very tight control. I wonder what he means, precisely. And why? Does democracy really matter anyway? Fundamentally? And then I had a conversation with a very bright and interesting woman who works in what you might call the consultancy sector, advising big business about people and telling big business why, for example, local people living next to their oil explorations matter. Cynicism is my only response. Since when has big business wanted to do anything for people, really, seriously? Is this not simply about anthropologists adapting to capital?

I’m no closer to understanding the tension between ideology and fact: this is the essence of the problem. I know what I believe in, and I know the ideas and theories in which I believe, but they collapse almost entirely beneath what I have seen and what I’ve experienced. This is where the confusion between fact and fiction emerges in all of my work. And because my learning has emerged from engaging in one way or another with politics in London and bits of southern Africa, the essence of my time is taken up with trying to understand liberation, freedom, justice, socialism, and I suppose nationalism, alongside what I see and experience. And always this desire to be part of a club, a group. The yearning to be able to be part of a movement, but forever remaining on the periphery. Always the fact jarring and defeating the theory. Experience always overriding ideas. Like that rubbish up there, the foundations upon which many houses are built. That rubbish up there.

And still clever people tell me ‘what the fucking people say is irrelevant…’ And still clever people tell me that ‘the fucking people don’t know about geopolitics…’ This being an argument in favour of the theory. But the thing is, whenever I speak to ‘the fucking people’ I am struck by the fact that they do know what they are talking about, and what they complain about tends to come true and tends to become the essence of the problem. Which is why I gaze at the rubbish up there everyday, because I fear that if I don’t, I might become lazy and allow the theory to overwhelm the fact. Though it would make my life so much easier if I let it.

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money

‘Wealthism can deepen the sense of isolation that many heirs feel. Raised in sheltered enclaves, they can be woefully ignorant of life in “the real world”. As a result, they may find it hard to make friends beyond their own small circle. This difficulty is one of the dilemmas of having inherited wealth: failed attempts to befriend those without wealth only intensify an heir’s sense of isolation. Joanie Bronfman interviewed one woman who clearly articulated this situation when she said, “There’s a world of other people that I can’t quite relate to. I can’t say, ‘Why don’t you just get a new car if your car breaks down?’ And that’s always my first reaction. There’s a definite separateness about my reactions to the people who don’t have money and the difficulties that they have.”‘ More on this here.

I don’t think there’s much to add to this. I just feel sorry for all those trustafarians. But do they really say things like this? Or is the book made up? (Thanks to ‘i on the ball patriot’ who drew my attention to this here.)

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awfentik

How much does spelling really matter? If it is so very important, why then is Angola written Angola? Shouldn’t it be Ngola? Should Brazil be Brasil or Brazil? And should the Queen of Matamba be Njinga or Nzinga or Nzingha? Or Ginga? Should the Van Dunems be searching for their ‘roots’, along with the Vieira Dias and Do Nascimentos and Vieira Lopes and the Dos Santos? Should they be hunting through the Catholic church archives to find out their ‘real’ names? What’s a real name? If mine comes from Parson, as I’ve been told it does, should I not call myself Lara Parson instead of Lara Pawson? How authentic should language be, or leaders? How loyal to history? Why wear a Ralph Lauren suit when you could throw on a boubou? Why is it, in Luanda, that so many members of the elite are ashamed to speak autochtonous languages, that is, if they speak them at all? Should they perhaps be going for classes to learn them? I have never forgotten a breakfast meeting I had with the Unita General, Paulo Lukamba Gato, months after the Angolan war ended in 2002. He told me he had been warned to only speak European languages now that he was in Luanda, otherwise he would not be taken seriously. He was told this by fellow Angolans as advice for dealing with fellow Angolans – not Americans, or French, or Portuguese, or Brazilians. Who is the neocolonial here? Who is the oppressor here? I will never forget being told by an Angolan vice minister, ‘They are not like us, my dear; they must be treated like animals.’ By ‘us’ she meant me and her, two Europeans in her most humble opinion. ‘But you are a minister of an African country,’ I responded, ‘You are an African.’ She boiled with fury: ‘I’m like you. We are different.’ And so the gunshots rang out across the musseque where we stood, and the people ran for cover. She stood, stock still, in her Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and shiny black court shoes.

I pondered all of this and more at the weekend when I went to see Xala, a film by the late Senegalese writer and film-maker, Ousmane Sembene. The film explodes the neo-colonialist process as the resplendent elite receive briefcases stuffed with banknotes from white businessmen in the chamber of commerce, and are ushered along a red carpet into Mercs after a speech about “the African path to socialism”. “You’re not a white man,” Kader’s future mother-in-law says when he refuses to participate in the ceremony to ensure the successful deflowering of the bride. “You are neither fish nor fowl.”

A few years, an Angolan friend explained his feelings after visiting Senegal: ‘I realised that Angola isn’t Africa at all: Luanda is totally Western. I’d like to go and live in Senegal to be truly African.’

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mr manley is gone

I first met him in Paris. I was there, in love, with a man, quite older than myself, who said he had someone he wanted to introduce me to. And this tall willowy figure appeared in the restaurant, speaking perfect French, fun, adoring, tactile, candid, childishly cheeky and incredibly intelligent. His mind intimidated me but such was his generous and humorous nature, it was impossible to be intimidated by him. I was on vacation from stringing in Angola. We talked about the trials of being a stringer, the difficulties of being a good journalist in a world which seemed only interested in big business information and paying a pittance. That evening I learned that he began his life as a reporter in the slums of Bamako, Mali. He lived in a shack and it was from there that he wrote his reports. He knew West Africa so very well, especially the so-called francophone countries. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Mali, Guinea and Senegal, among many others. But what struck me most was his huge heart. He was interested first and foremost in people, and poetry and politics.

I may be wrong. I only met him twice, in person, but we spoke often on the telephone and shared long long emails. He always offered advice, insisted I didn’t lose faith, first in the BBC World Service, then in a series of journals and magazines for which I’d done some reporting. He told me it didn’t always matter if I didn’t receive money for what I wrote because, he said, what is important is that ‘we write, Lara’. When everyone else was slowly falling to the market, accepting the new rules of play in the world of the media, he would carry on chasing a vision of truth that really mattered.

He once rang me and asked me whether I could help him with a proposal to the BBC World Service: to do a series of programmes on the relationship between Africa and France. But it was too late: I’d already left the corporation, slamming more doors behind me, and the Africa Service was being squeezed and squeezed with ever tighter budgets. While Jonathan Ross bought gold taps and marble baths…

He wrote, last year, saying he was off to demonstrate against some pop-star who was marching ‘for Africa’. Feigning that he didn’t really care… though of course he always did: “If I can be arsed, I’m getting them up here to generally make noise and cause trouble. As a post-adolescent Motorhead roadie in a previous existence but two/three, it’s the least I can do. After that I’m off to Bouake to watch it all fall apart spectacularly from about November onwards, at a guess. Hey ho…”

I’m sad that I never got up north to see him. I’m sad I never shared that final drink, nor read his words that were not to be published. He wrote masses and masses. The last thing he ever wrote to me were these words, “I bow in the presence of a true member of the awkward squad: I am a mere apprentice.” But in truth, Andrew was always much more than a mere member of the awkward squad – for me, he was one of the leaders.

(small tasters are here and here and here)

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elections, the MPLA way

I’ve always said that you don’t need to exaggerate when it comes to reporting Angola. Less than three weeks before the country holds its second legislative elections ever, that old MPLA stalwart, Paulo Jorge, has gone and said what I’ve been raving and ranting about for months: that party political campaigning for the ruling party started at least 18 months ago. In fact, according to Jorge – the darling of what’s left of the myopic European Left (and that doesn’t mean all of us, so calm down; just those fools who still believe in the MPLA as a party that seeks liberation, justice and equality for the povo) – it began way, way before!

He told the Angola Peace Monitor (produced by ACTSA, once better known for its anti-apartheid work) that: the MPLA has been preparing for these elections since 2005, and its leadership has developed “a massive mobilisation effort of its militants, sympathisers and friends”.

He also describes the MPLA as “a national party, independent, progressive and modern, ideologically based on democratic socialism which congregates in its ranks Angolan citizens without distinction of social group, sex, skin colour, ethnic origin, religious beliefs, or place of birth”.

He forgot to tell us about the mobilisation of its enemies and victims and all those people who fear the party. And what about those who’ve been killed in, er, mysterious circumstances? Well I’ve done something on that here, for those who are interested in the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

You will note, in that story, the poster on the right. I took that photo in April 2007. It’s a photograph of President José Eduardo dos Santos (who next year will celebrate 30 years in power, hurrah) and, I was pretty sure, Rainha Nzinga (sometimes spelt Nzingha or Ginga). The words read, Honour and glory to our heroes. In fact, I am told by an Angolan on Mars (see below) that it is not the Rainha at all (Queen of Mbundu in Angola in the 17th century) but the late first president of Angola, Agostinho Neto, who died in 1979. Which makes the picture even more loaded, in my humble opinion: that the only glorious heroes of Angola are the two men who have led the country since 1975. Make of that, querido leitor, what you will.

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something new

is here.

Meanwhile – I love this – these are some of the searches that have brought you to me:

how to find the clitoris without looking

this may sound strange and unbelievable

helicopter society and the institute of

yellow and black flags

what does angola need

fortune of eduardo dos santos

And I’ve been thinking about these. The idea that anyone thinks they can find what Angola needs on the internet should never be allowed near the country. Ever. A quick Google, stick some money in an envelope, and send it to some NGO. Oh dear oh dear. What will become of all these paternalist beings desperate to feel sorry for Africa. Go away, I tell you, Go away! And as for the clitoris: I have this image of a woman desperately trying to bend her creaking back far enough to see her clitoris, but unable to get there. She finds a mirror perhaps, and struggles with the hair. Strange and unbelievable.

And for those of you who read Portuguese, read this today, by my friend Wilson Dadá in Angola, a man I very much admire.

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