Tuesday, 29 December 2009

End of Year Thoughts

Christmas came and went. I thought it was going to be an excruciatingly painful time for me but it was not so bad. I think I had dreaded it enough already and lingered over enough memories. Moreover, as I have been socialising more than ever in my entire life, I had enough stuff lined up to keep me busy. The festive season passed by quickly attending various functions, cooking and eating. I attended a very mellow and relaxed dinner on Christmas Eve with a lot of UN folk. It was amusing to mingle with them, tell them I have gone to the 'other' side and shoot some breeze. It was also really nice to be at that party with many nationalities from the continent.

Christmas Day was a braai hosted by the South Africans and there was also a Secret Santa thing going on too. I had a good time, eating, drinking amarula and being merry - all of it tinged with moments of nostalgia and sweet memories. I ended up camping out at this beautiful house in Congo Town for that whole weekend, lazing by the pool, eating, watching TV, napping, reading books, and enjoying my time with my friends. It was like a little holiday and I'm so grateful to them for just letting me be, comforting me when I needed to be comforted and being really cool.

Speaking of Secret Santa, I got my staff to do it. I told them a week in advance what we were going to do. They were pretty excited. We got the names on slips of paper and went around trying to pick each other's Secret Santa. We kept running into the problem of people picking up their own names. I thought it was a mathematical problem and Linga says, let's number them! But of course, one person still ended up picking up his own number. A visitor who happened to walk in at that moment suggested to us geniuses that the slips of paper should not be picked up at the same time. (I hope no one reads this as we are an IT company and should be good at problem solving.) Anyway, we sorted it out and decided to put a $ 5 cap on the gift.

The visitor who happened to walk in was someone I actually met on Google Liberia expats group. She was volunteering for an NGO and I suggested to her to meet up. So this chick actually comes in to meet our company and we ended up spending the next three evenings together. We hung out, went to Mama Susu's, went to check up on my other Indian friend who had a fire in his building (so much drama, man, that can happen here), went walking, and so on. I love these chance enounters - they're sweet. Or, maybe I am just getting better at meeting and hanging out with people. I suspect it's both.

The office Secret Santa went really well and I was pleased to see how much of an effort everyone made. I had a picture of Kennedy and Patience printed out and framed for Kennedy and I myself got a very sweet 'To my Boss' card framed and signed from Onesimus who is trainee. We opened up our gifts and then, had a staff lunch of joloff rice followed by more food sent by Rebecca, my Liberian mother. I felt good doing it as Wesley used to have this office culture of eating together once a week.

So all in all, Christmas passed by without being that painful. I was distracted enough by all the socialising I did. I also cooked quite a lot - my signature dish that I contributed for the functions was my chicken pilao. It was quite a hit. Although it still stings to know Wesley is not around and I can't cook for him any more but it is still a nice feeling to cook for people and know they are enjoying the food.

What else happened? Oh I pulled a back muscle and couldn't move for a few hours. I felt like an old woman. My Indian friend had to come over and give me acupressure which was shoot-me-painful but did the trick. Not to mention some muscle relaxants too. I spent the evening, propped up on cushions, drinking tea on my lovely balcony, chatting to visitors - all that was missing was a bunch of my own grand children.

We are now up to New Year's. I won't lie - 2010 was the shittiest year of my life. I took off for London to pursue a master's degree but my boyfriend gets murdered back in Liberia and I have to rush back, abandon my masters, deal with all the shit and have his body cremated. I entered into a universe of pain and misery and grief. My whole life gets altered. I lost the love of my life, felt penniless and homeless. I felt hounded by the same dogs of despair and darkness that I was familiar with when I lost my best friend at university.

Friends and well wishers thought I was pretty strong and brave about the whole thing though. I don't know what it was but I felt compelled and driven to take over IT company's. It felt right and somehow the path seemed very clear. I am glad I took it. I feel liberated in a strange way, I feel I am really making my own decisions and will be ready to face the consequences of those decisions. At least they will be my own. I feel I can lead the life without social or other made-up fears. I feel I can hold my chin up and do what I want to do. And, I am grateful for the support along the way - you know what, I never even understood the meaning of support until now. I used to wonder what people went on and on about it but now I finally understand what support is and what it means when people say, I am on your side and will support you in whatever you do.

I still feel grief stricken as hell but the truth is that I am usually too busy now to dwell on it too long. It is literally when I am alone that it really hits me. And, I deal with the waves of grief as they hit me. The next morning, the grief of the night before seems like a distant event. It's sometimes really weird to think about it, that I feel positive and light in the morning after long hours of crying and a terrible sense of loss and loneliness.

Wesley is now like a historical, nostalgic sense of my consciousness. I still remember him physically but he is definitely in my head. His thoughts, his ideas, his jokes and sometimes it flows out of me. Everything reminds me of him. But I have learned to just make his memory and grieving for him part of my daily routine. It's hard to explain it.

People around me remark that I have lost weight. I joke and say, 'grief does that to you.' It's a full-proof method of weight loss. People get a bit flustered but I enjoy the humour of it, it would be right up there with Wesley's sense of humour. Sometimes I talk to him and joke that I have taken over your company and will now run it in my dictatorial style. I wonder what he'd say. But he'd just smile and say well done my darling.

Everyone goes on and on about his smile. He was known as such a nice guy. And I am so glad I had him.

What else? Apparently my written c's look like l's and I need to do something about it. Yeah, I was told this very seriously yesterday evening.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Good bye to my goggles

I just recently got my contact lenses and can put away wearing my ancient, scratched, weary Harry-Potter-looking glasses which I only wear at night. It's nice to not have something on my face all the time and I can wear my shades in the sun. Actually, I am wearing Wesley's sun glasses now. I wore them yesterday on the way to a meeting and felt like him. It was a pretty cool feeling.

The contact lenses had a sweet ride all the way from my trusty optician, Tanveer Optics, F-10/4 to London from my mother to my brother. They changed hands twice in London and made their way down to some chale's in Accra (as Karina would say). A friend of a friend picked up the contacts from Karina's friend's mom. They were then dropped off at a friend's mom in Accra who was coming to Monrovia to meet her daughter. My contacts have truly had a global tour. I hope they picked up some good stories along the way. Now they are snuggled on top of my eye balls helping me to see a bit more clearly!

Moving on from goggles, life goes on and I am busy running the company and building a pipeline of clients and projects for the next year. There are daily challenges, disappointments and moments of success however small they may be. I would never have imagined I would end up running Wesley's company and I would take to the role so quickly. I feel organised, determined and, quite lucid about the whole thing. I know it is a matter of time before all this hard work will bear fruit. And what kind of fruit? We are talking but about a sense of completion, continuity and excellence. I derive the greatest joy from seeing his staff demonstrate their skills, knowledge and enthusiasm.

Speaking of lucidity, a friend of mine was asking me how I deal with the blinding pain. I mulled over the nature of this pain and realised that I was never really blinded or weakened by whatever happened. All those movie cliches never happened to me: fainting, vommiting, madness, scene-making, etc. Yes, the grief hits me every night and I weep and talk to the walls but it's all very private. It's my moments alone with Wesley's memories and our beautiful romance and how much we loved each other. Perhaps I went into a robotic state of mine at one point when I had to accomplish so many tasks related to the morgue, police, paperwork, permissions, finance and funeral arrangements. Even then, if I think about from the moment I heard about what happened to now, I was quite lucid and knew what I had to do. I remember taking a shower before all my friends arrived to be with me. I even cooked for all of them the second or third night. I told this to my SOAS counsellor and she said that it was all from Wesley, knowing what to do and, how to do it. I glowed inside when I heard this analysis.

I guess in all of this ordeal, I know what I have to do, how its going to be and what I want to do. That's my lucidity.

'Lucidity' - its definitely a word I picked up from A Hundred Years Of Solitude:

"Ursula … could not conceal a vague feeling of doubt. Throughout the long history of the family the insistent repetition of names had made her draw some conclusions that seemed to be certain. While the Aurelianos were withdrawn, but with lucid minds, the Jose Arcadios were impulsive and enterprising, but they were marked with a tragic sign."

I was reading an interview of the manager of Taj Hotels on the BBC website today. His words touched me deeply and I completely understood them:

"You talk about running away from the place where the tragedy happened, about running away from grief. What do you run away from? You have to conquer your mind. I had to come back to the hotel to do it.And no, self pity was something that never crossed my mind though.There is destiny and there is free will. And we have to deal with it."

Now how often does that actually happen? Really comprehending the meaning and significance of words uttered by someone.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Wesley-is-gone music

1) White Flag - Dido
2) Fields of Gold - Sting
3) Almost Lover - A Fine Frenzy
4) Longing - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
5) Ab Raat Guzarne Wali Hai - Lata Mangeshkar
6) Saagar Roye - Noor Jehan
7) Claire de Lune
8) Main Jahan Rahoon - Rahat Ali Khan
9) Khwab - Junoon
10) Journey from A to B - Badly Drawn Boy
11) Save Tonight - Eagle Eye Cherry
12) Sex on Fire - Kings of Leon
13) Mad World - Donnie Darko
14) Ain't No Sunshine - Bill Withers
15) Ain't No Sunshine - Michael Jackson
16) Tere Bin Nahin Lagda Dil - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
17) Love Is A Losing Game - Amy Winehouse
18) How Can You Mend A Broken Heart - Al Green
19) These Foolish Things - Bob Manning
20) Beyond the Sea (La Mer) - Django Reinhardt & Stephane Grappelli
21) Sideways - Santana
22) Samba Pati - Santana
23) Crazy - Gnarls Barkley
24) Paimona - Zeb and Haniya
25) Come Away With Me - Norah Jones
26) Stuck on You - Lionel Richie
27) The Scientist - Coldplay
28) Immortal - Evanescence
29) Tapestry - Carole King
30) O Danny Boy
31) Dream a Little Dream - Mama Cass Elliott

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Today I lived and died

Today I lived and died
Moment to moment
From when I awoke
To when I slept.
Passed through the wreckage
Of the past hour
To hopeless melancholy
Of the next.
Resigned myself
To utter lonesome stirrings
Did not find the humour
Of what they share:
The beauty of tragedy
The delight of comedy.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The power of Zeus and the determination of Hera

Open Source Matters

What's to happen to Wesley's business was the last thing on my mind when I got the news of his death or even as I was making my way out here.

When I did meet his staff, the one thing they expressed with a great amount of zeal was the desire to let the company continue. I was quite happy to hear that at first and kept it at the back of my mind. My initial take on it was to ensure that I set the office up somewhere else as the current premises were too expensive and to hand it over to the main technical guy, Wez's right hand. After I got done with the last rites and sent Wez's ashes back to South Africa, I realised that the only person who could really manage the business was - guess what - me. His technical guy is very good but a bit young and needs supervision and guidance.

After the cremation and handing over of the ashes to a friend to take back to South Africa, I gave myself a weekend to do absolutely nothing. I was being hosted by a family who were very good friends of Wez and I. Their house is in a luxurious compound next to the ocean. I have my own bedroom and bathroom and was able to hide myself from the world. I had a miserable weekend, felt really sorry for myself and excruciatingly missed Wez. I realised that the typical mourning would not do. I would probably fall into a 'depths of despair' kind of depression if I sat doing nothing, crying and looking at pictures, smelling his clothes, going over all the if's and but's, and reading the dorky poems I used to write for him, about him.

Well anyway, so I have sort of quasi decided - more or less decided - fervently decided that running Wez's business is my raison d'etre. It'll give me some structure and purpose.

Now, I've seen Wesley build this business from scratch and was by his side at every step of the way. I have watched him develop business contacts - he believed in doing business after developing cordial and trustworthy relationships. I watched him design his company logo. I watched him set up his office, the office procedures, the tech room. I watched him train young high school graduates with the kind of patience, kindness and dedication that I have never seen before. I was always proud of him and that he was probably doing more for young Liberians than even the international blah blah's were doing. He picked up people from the street and trained them in something as sophisticated as setting up a V-SAT dish. Even his 'small' staff like the security know how to set up a computer. I listened with adoration as he explained his vision and dream for his company, his love of technology, writing code, how to do business and how to deal with problems. His overarching principle was trust and respect. I always appreciated and admired his honesty and dignity. As time went along, the business did flounder and I hoped it would pick up and he would bear the fruits of his hard work and sacrifice. I wanted nothing more than for him to succeed and enjoy his success.

Therefore, it was extremely hard to be separated from Wesley this last year in London. It was difficult to leave his side and go do my thing even though he utterly supported my endeavour. The only reason I was going to do the masters was so I could chase a UN career. I have pangs of guilt and pain that he was alone here and left this world alone. He was the closest person to me in the world. He was utterly part of my consciousness, my being and my dreams. I utterly believed in us, I believed he was the reason, and I found It with him. Freaking hell, we met at an airport! We were so meant to be together. To grow old together until our teeth fell out as he joked. You know that crowning romantic Bollywood Lata and Mukesh song 'Khabhi Khabhi' - it it says that I believe that you were made for me, that you were called to earth just for me. When you believe you were made for each other and your other half dies, it really fucks you up.

And I am sorry he died like this, that I was not here and he is gone from me. It hurts in so many ways and degrees I cannot explain it even to myself.

So grief aside, the running of the business has seemingly fallen into my lap and I feel happy and thrilled with the idea that I can keep his business and legacy alive. In fact, right from the beginning I assured clients that it was going to be 'business as usual' and we would continue to provide the low-cost, high quality services as before. I shifted offices in my usual organised, methodological manner. After my weekend of feeling sorry for myself, I put my mind to the business. I started chasing new business, seeking contacts, bugging people, getting behind the staff and so on.

I still do not have electricity in the office but found a very creative solution to get us powered until we are connected with LEC (Liberia Electricity Corporation). We ran a cable from our neighbour's kitchen and set up NLTC temporarily in the middle of the 'yard' with the sun beating on our heads. I am getting wireless internet from one of our neighbours. They're a big company here so they were happy to help me out. Now, I have run a cable from another neighbour's and have set up my office - good thing we have so many extensions. And, I am impressed with my guys, they really know their stuff. Wesley taught them well. I swear, when I was set up in my office, with the fan blowing in my face, my laptop connect to the WWW, my guys able to access the server and pumping out proposals and invoices, I felt as powerful as Zeus! I felt on top of the world!

It's been two or three weeks since I have really started running the business. I have about half a dozen new clients - maybe even more - and much more in the pipeline. The staff is incredibly loyal, very well trained and top of their stuff. They are freaking IT professionals, man. I am so proud of them and whatever Wesley achieved until now. And, it seems I have a knack for this. I totally love doing this.

I love overcoming the challenges, the sticky situations, difficult people, finding solutions every day. Some days are tougher than others but it's all part of the game. I feel alive, resourceful, motivated, driven and extremely passionate. I love feeling extremely exhausted at the end of the day and going to la la land as soon as my head hits the pillow. I do not have to think about my pain and grief and just focus on the future.

I feel like I am in his shoes and ever so close to him. It is so therapeutic. I love being close to his staff which are now my staff, my team, my people. Some of them have even picked up his habits and mannerisms, it's so cute. His main guy Linga has nearly picked up all the mannerisms. The way he uses his hands to explain something, his way of joking and teasing other colleagues and making people comfortable around him.

There are some people here who have been with us since 2003/2004! Can you imagine. The security still remember the time I used to tell them about my boyfriend whom I met in Jordan/Iraq. These security guards are now are company security.

I love the idea of this company and where it could go. If I can keep it alive and help it to survive and even thrive, it'll be something, eh?

This is my path to solace and peace and finding myself again. *

* Note on 'myself' - I am not sure whether I'll find the old myself again or another one is going to replace the old one. I changed a lot after the death of my best friend and surely, I will change after Wesley. Jodie Foster's character in "The Brave One" becomes a stranger after her fiance is murdered brutally. She finds a stranger within herself. I don't find a stranger within myself but I know I have changed. And I'll continue to see the changes within myself.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Lonely thoughts of despair and sorrow

There is a world of difference between how I imagine the world 'should' behave and how they actually behave. Despite the fact that I try to hold myself up to high standards of conduct or at least how I think should behave and present myself, I find that the 'world' does not see it so.

I find it very amusing that in such a traumatic time, people are so determined to dish out extremely detailed advice to me. Some do not even bother to ask me what I would like to do.

At the end of it, I know I have to find a path which will eventually lead me to some kind of peace and solace. I do not even know what this path will be but I have to find this path. I have friends to support me but as I used to say to myself before, friends are companions on paths we walk alone. I always had a very morose view of things but guess what, life has certainly showed me the awful, ugly and horrible more than once now. I have been shown how fragile and dangerous life actually is. I feel like I have been thrown into a dark pit of despair once again.

There is nothing nothing beautiful about this. I missed him for a year, I had just about fallen part, unravelled at being alone and away from Wesley. I missed him every day, every night. I was so happy with him. We struggled to be together. We moved three continents to be together. Despite all the hardships we faced, we were happy together and knew each other and were natural together. And now he's gone. From me forever. I shall never hold him or be in those arms which I longed for this whole year away from him. He was taken so cruelly from me. I came back to an empty Liberia, a dark Monrovia without him. That night I arrived in Monrovia, I arrived in a dark RIA, heart broken that Wesley would not be outside the gate waiting for me as usual.

I was sitting by the beach the other day and thought to myself that, yes, the ocean is immense enough to hold my grief and all the tears that I still have not cried yet. The next evening, it was a darker and stormer sea which felt like the darkness, the jungle that swallowed up Wesley. It menacingly thrashed on the shore and I felt scared and lost.

My heart still does not know what has really happened. I do not know what life is trying to tell me.

Wez would always encourage me, give it to me straight and want me to do the right thing. He really taught me how to live. I also know that one's life is one's own. I am going to continue to try to do the right thing but also live for myself.

I hope to find this path and I am sure it will reveal itself to me soon.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Wesley is dead

In a few days it'll be a month since Wesley died. He was brutally killed in Monrovia on 6 September.

I am writing these words from Monrovia. In one day, my life completely changed.

I do not even have words to describe or relate what actually happened and, what it signifies for me. I go around saying, my worst fears came true. I should have never gone to London, the killer city where the last time I was at university my best friend died. I feel like I have lost everything. I have lost the love of my life, the joy of my life. I feel like half of me is gone. I feel like saying life really does stink, it's random and totally unfair. It reaffirms everything I went through emotionally, philosophically, religiously the last time I lost someone so tragically. I feel like shouting obscenities at this non-existent Being. And boy, the religious platitudes and patronising get on my nerves. I know people mean well and this is the only way people deal with grief and loss. This is the contextual framework to find Meaning. Just give me a religion which says, 'life stinks, life is full of suffering, and we all suffer and die.' But please don't tell me it is for the best or it was his time or it's part of God's plan. I mean, that just makes me wish I could have died too or my plane crashed. And 'life goes on.' Of course it goes on. I haven't killed myself yet so yes, it does go on. I'll be fine, probably even start to thrive at some point but I'll never understand or accept it. So what's the quality of that life? What's the point of fucking me over like that? What's the point of driving me over the edge? Or anyone else who would take it so personally as I would. I don't have and will never have cosmic greatness to accept and make sense of it. I never did with my friend and never will with this. I will never yield to an entity which expects me to accept this, not question it and continue to worship His Holy Ass and His Ways. Just please dish me out a nihilistic faith. Please keep ga ga to yourself.

I am still in shock, in a kind of numbness and emptiness that has sucked out any soul or spirit I may have.

There is something so final about death. On top of it, I have to deal with the idea that my Wesley Jaan, whom I loved so madly and utterly, from the top of his head to his toes, from his delicious dark complexity to his most overwhelming sweetness and gentleness, was taken so violently from me. I go mad thinking about his last moments. I kill myself thinking about it. That they killed him so mercilessly and that he left this life like that. That he was fighting for his life.

I know he's gone. He's nowhere to be seen. I even went to see his body. I've seen his body been preserved and dressed up for a chapel service. I have seen people weep at his cremation. I have been with the pandit to collect the ashes. But I feel so numb. I want to cry and I can't cry. I want him to come through the door. I want him in the lonely hours at night and especially when I wake up. I wake up and know instantly - it's the first thought that comes into my head - it's a morning, a day, a life without Wesley.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

I'm fed up! Stop treating me like an adult! I mean, I just friggin turned 30!

I am fed up without even having done any real work on the dissertation. The dissertation is still at the embryonic stage but I am fed up. I am fed up of being here, of being a so-called student and having my life on hold. I have not done any work but I am fed up of thinking about it or avoiding it. It's a great idea for a dissertation - I suffer from thinking my lousy ideas are great - but all I want to do is for this to end and for me to able to get out of here.

Why in the why did they give us THIS long to do the dissertation? I mean, what is it with the British education system? Why do they treat us like adults? Why do they think I will be able to do this on my own, without any structure or hand-holding, discipline myself, do equal amounts of research/drafting/finalising?

This really takes me back to my undergrad years. I was totally lost in my undergrad years having come from American high schooling. I was actually all set to go to do the liberal-arts-fooling-around at a college in the US but my family forced me to go to the UK because my frigging brother got into LSE and the idea was for us to be together. Yes, I got short changed as usual. I had had done the UCAS luckily and Tariq actually wrote out a letter for me asking one of my colleges to accept me. It was better than the idea of going to some college in Greece as my parents wanted me to. Don't ask about all these genius ideas of my family. Anyway, so I get to the UK but seriously, I had no clue about what it really entailed.

There was also the live-where-you-want in these depressing halls of residence. The entire experience was so let's-treat-these-people-like-adults. You were supposed to be an adult who had it completely figured out what you wanted to do with your life, how to live it and what it's all about.

The main thing about college in the UK is that it is pretty specialised right from the start (in fact, they start specialising all the way at the A-levels). So you have to endure three years of whatever it is you have made the mistake of choosing (or whatever you get accepted for) as a subject. I mentioned this earlier - I had no clue about anything. I was a kid at the end of it. Economics was crap as it is - politics which was much more interesting and exciting was still pretty sophisticated for me. I mean, I did not really have a political consciousness or idea of anything except for whatever I had been exposed to - watching the news, being in an international school, my father's lectures, etc. Otherwise, I was pretty much a dodo and didn't know what I was really doing.

Economics pretty went over my head but politics did start to make sense after my degree. It sort of came together.

I think there are many pluses of the whole liberal arts thing the Americans have going. You can fool around for two years and then choose your major. I think it's pretty cool. You can truly be a student and explore subjects and see what you're interested in. The Brits are just too friggin desperate to get there already. There's no enjoying-the-process of how you get there. In the good old days, you would have to learn everything - music, art, history, letters, poetry, mathematics, language, etc. This is all the goddamn fault of capitalism. What a beast. What a b****.

I mean, look at this year! This was a masters on drugs. It was too friggin fast. I barely had time to absorb and think about any of it. All I did was blah blah and react and talk like a moron but I had nothing really intelligent to say about it. We had these oh-my-G0d-which-moron-invented-a-one-hour-tutorial-at-masters-level? We had one-hour tutorials in undergrad!! I was so shocked when I got here and I go to myself, geez, I'm paying £ 12,000 pounds for 2-hour lectures and a 1-hour-half-baked-joke-of-a-class? Are you guys kidding me with this? They made us do these lousy, lousy, shoot-me presentations - regurgitation of the material which everyone is supposed to have read but one schmuck gets to present it - which took half hour and then you're left to deal with big master categories in a half hour. Seriously. And oh my God the essays. Each one was a Mount Everest for me, I swear. Nothing is as painful as writing those essays. It was like going to the doctors, it was worse then a 12-hour grueling journey on a non-air-conditioned bus in the middle of the desert in Balochistan sitting among gold smugglers. It was worse than the UN car breaking down in the middle of the Liberia bush in the middle of the night and being rescued by a local NGO car. It was worse than getting car sick going through the hills of mud in the rainy season in Liberia. It was worse than getting I'm-having-hallucinations malaria. It was worse than sitting through crappy chick flicks with your dodo friends. It was worse than listening to people say dumb things.

I can't wait to get out of here and back to my life. The adult life I have chosen for myself. This studying thing is not my deal - I suck at it. I peaked in 10th grade!

No. 1 What Is Peace Building? No. 2 What is Liberal Peace Building?

1. What is Peace Building?
"Inspired by a reductive and teoleogical informed reading of the significance of 1989, the burgeoning optimism of the post-Cold War period was the defining force in the birth of the concept of peace building." (Heathershaw; 2008; 600)
The pursuit of peace has only recently been adopted by International Development although, it has been around as a philosophical dream for time immemorial and as a stand-alone concept within peace studies since at least the 19th century*. As Uvin states, "The development enterprise spent the first three decades of its charmed life in total agnosticism towards matters of conflict and insecurity." (2002) The outbreak of conflict entailed the flight of development workers and the influx of humanitarians. Furthermore the “conflict dynamics” were not analysed nor addressed since they were not considered part of the development mandate (Ibid).
The passing of the Cold War is a significant marker for the paradigm shift it ushered in. As the "cold war order" gave way to the "new-world order" (Duffield; 1994) it spelled new directions for notions of sovereignty and interventionism. As Bradbury puts it, the international community was "liberated from the diplomatic straightjacket of sovereignty." (Bradbury; 2003) The Westphalian practice of non-intervention that was even "strengthened during the Cold War period" (Goodhand; 2006; p. 50) gave way to "an explosion of international concern to respond to and resolve conflicts" (Goodhand; 2006; p.1) outside of the state-sovereignty paradigm. Fittingly, the UN secretary general Boutros-Ghali proclaimed the end of "absolute and exclusive sovereignty." (1992)
Another way to approach the build up towards peace building era is to consider the mood at the end of the Cold War. The seemingly unforseen timing of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of Communism was famously hailed as 'the end of history': "The Cold War ended for all intents and purposes with the dismemberment of the Soviet Union in 1990. The conflict between the superpowers had so shaped international events...that the fall of Communism felt like 'the end of history' itself.'" (Montgomery & Rondinelli; 2004; p. 68) The failure of the Soviet Union on a state level with its "profound implications for the idea of statehood itself" (Clapham; 2002) was one of many state break downs to follow in the Third World too but, for the time being it symbolised the "triumph of liberal capitalism" (Goodhand; 2006; p. 79). This victory brought about a sense of "optimism and enthusiasm" (Yannis; 2002; p.71) or, the "optimism of a peaceful new world order" (Bradbury; 2003). However, this "expected 'peace dividend' failed to materialise" (Richards; 2005). Somalia, for instance, became one of first test cases of international intervention and peace building for "humanitarian reasons" (Yannis; 2002).
The reading of the end of the Cold War is interesting as a mood as suggested above: euphoria as well as disappointment ensued followed by rolling-up of sleeves to intervene in conflicts. What is interesting is the unravelling and evolution of the concepts of the concepts of war and peace. As Richards describes it, "War - we thought we knew - was Super-Power rivalry. Peace would supervene with victory of one system over the other (or ideological accommodation). " (Richards; 2005) The fact that conflict - seemingly non-ideological at that - continued to plague the world prompted new waves of analysis. State collapse in war-torn countries was a "disturbing new phenomenon." (Helman & Ratner; 1992 in Yannis; 2002; p.65). Kaplan called it the Coming Anarchy which would threaten peace and stability of the West itself. (Kaplan; 1994 in Yannis; 2000) Richards groups these "explanations of 'new war'" as "'Malthus with guns', the 'new barbarism' and the 'greed not grievance' debates." (Richards; 2005) Kaplan's doomsday views fall under 'new barbarism' grouping of Richards. Essentially, a lot of non-political exploration and explanation of conflict in developing countries occurred on the policy and academic levels.
Peace and security were reduced to an individual level. With the end of the Cold War being hailed as the 'end of history', Boutros-Ghali's Agenda for Peace "set out to take full advantage of the de-politicisation of warfare and development." (Stockton; 2004; p. 13) Furthermore, "consistent with this vision of the triumph of liberal capitalism over totalitarian socialism, the secretary-general blamed any ongoing conflict upon under-development and historical misunderstanding about identities." Yannis describes the post-Cold War shift as follows: "the centre of gravity in international relations has shifted away from exclusively state-centred considerations and increasingly towards the individual." (2002; p. 70) The shift has brought about what Yannis further describes as "an international society with a human face." What we had was the convenient and opportune moment for the expansion of the United Nations' role as well as the advance of liberal capitalism and democracy by the West: "In the aftermath of the Cold War, proponents of both 'End of History' and 'New World Order' theories advocated the principles of market economy and multiparty democracy as global recipes for development, peace and stability." (Yannis; 2002; p. 71) This moment represents the convergence of peace-making/security, development and humanitarianism. (Goodhand; 2006; p.78) The convergence can be illustrated by Bourtos-Ghali's "totalising" speech in 1993: "Without peace there can be no development and there can be no democracy. Without development, the basis for democracy will be lacking and societies will tend to fall into conflict. And without democracy, no sustainable development will occur; without such development, peace cannot long be maintained." (Heathershaw; 2008) Democracy, development and peace are linked together but, in a chicken-or-egg sequence; we do not quite know which comes first. As Uvin remarks, "there is scarce secure evidence of a casual relationship between economic development and peace." (Uvin; 2002) Moreover, "Scholarly opinions are divided on these matters, and even if there was consensus, the capacity of the aid enterprise to affect these factors with any degree of speed or certainty is exceedingly small." (Ibid)
What does this human-security centred peace building entail in practice? In the aftermath of the end of the Cold War, the UN envisaged for itself a broad role in the area of peace, security and development. Boutros-Ghali "listed five specific measures: confidence-building, fact-finding missions, early-warning networks, preventive deployment, and demilitarised zones." (Ackermann; 2003; p. 340) This has further been consolidated by Boutros-Ghali's successor Kofi Annan's "proposals to create a peace building commission, support office and fund." (Barnett et al; 2007; p. 36) The ambitious range of this peace agenda "entails deep intervention in aspects of governance, humanitarian aid and development." (Richmond, 2003 in Goodhand; 2006; p. 80) It essentially requires omnipresence. The vision for 'conflict prevention' failed early on in the case of Rwanda. Uvin states that "the tragedy of Rwanda more than any other, demonstrated to both development and humanitarian actors that 'normal professionalism,' even if implemented successfully, could lead to disaster if conflict dynamics were not understood." (2002; 6) However, it is difficult to imagine that conflict prevention - as in the case of the methodological genocide that occurred over a couple of months - is simply a matter of deepening our knowledge of conflict dynamics or re-thinking our post-Cold-War paradigms.
Peace building enjoyed a spectacular rise as "UN peacemaking activities have increased nearly fourfold from four in 1992 to 15 in 2002." (Goodhand; 2006; p. 80) Moreover despite the suffering of quite a few setbacks "the original peace-building paradigm remained generally intact for most war-torn nations until September 2001." (Stockton in Donini, Niland and Wermester; 2004; p. 27) As Stockton further explains (Ibid) this consisted of "a sequence beginning with a negotiated settlement, followed by the deployment of impartial UN Chapter VI peace-keepers, internationally supervised elections, and international aid-driven demobilisation, resettlement, reconstruction, and development."
Peace building has its detractors. We have discussed above peace building's a-political approach as far its analysis of conflict in the new post-Cold-War 'end of history' context is concerned. This applies to the development enterprise in general with which peace and security have merged and is summed up by Uvin as follows: "...is the extent to which the development enterprise engages explicitly in the political realm, running counter to the norm of sovereignty and the practice of 'a-politicalness' that historically underlie its work." (Uvin; 2002; p.6) In the conclusion to the same article Uvin states: "The key problems of the operational work in the field are the weakness of the knowledge and the ethical base on which this work rests." (Uvin; 2002; p. 21) On a similar note, Featherstone states "Peace keeping is not a highly theorised topic." (Featherstone; 2002; p. 191) For Featherstone, the "unproblematised discourse of modernity which is at the heart of both International Relations and Conflict Resolution theory and practice" and, "problematic discourses of violence" make peace keeping and peace building of the Agenda for Peace kind limited in terms of long term change. (Featherstone; 2002; p. 190, 197, 201) Furthermore, "there are critical differences among actors regarding its conceptualisation and operationalisation" (Barnett, Km, O'Donnell, and Sitea; 2007; p. 36) despite the 'quest for coherence.' (Donini, Niland, and Wermester; 2004; p.2-3) It also seems that although "we see a lot of interest in peacebuilding, much of it is at the level of rhetoric and not at the level of resources." (Barnett, Km, O'Donnell, and Sitea; 2007; p. 36)
Amongst the most critical critiques of peace building is both a critique as well as the nature of the beast itself - that peace building in the post-Cold War context is ultimately a liberal project. Duffield, for example, famously states that the North is actually trying to impose a 'liberal peace' on the South to preserve itself. (2001)
2 What is Liberal Peace Building?
The intellectual foundations of liberal peace lie in Kant's work; in fact, according to Howard peace was invented by Kant. (2001) Howard's The Invention of Peace (2001) argues from a European perspective that while war has been a norm throughout history, peace has been less so. Tracing a broad history of Europe, Howard states that under the reign of priests and princes from 800 to 1789 AD, war was part and parcel of the social and political order sanctioned by king and church. Even as the power and rule of priests and princes gave way to the new order of states, "the institution of war persisted as part of the international order...partly because there were still serious issues of power to be determined, partly because it came naturally both to the ruling classes and to the sovereigns themselves." (Howard; 2001; p.22) War, then, came to be rationalised beyond holy language and more in terms of balance of power, preservation of peace and rights of states.
Until the arrival of the "greatest of intellectual revolutions in the history of mankind" - the Enlightenment - peace was more or less an intermission between wars. (Howard; 2001; p.25) The thinkers of the Enlightenment sought to think of society and state, the general order of things, without war. This "intellectual revolution"'s "most remarkable child" (Howard; 2001; p. 29) was the star philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant's legacy for Liberalism and specifically Liberal Internationalism is, to borrow Howard's word, "remarkable." Kant was not a fan of human nature but believed peace should be pursued not only for practical reasons but for moral and enlightened ones as well. Today, we speak of the 'Kantian duty to peace.' Kant believed the pursuit of peace "can be imagined to follow logically from human beings' pursuing their rational self interest in the circumstances of the world as we know it." (Doyle; 1997; p. 254)
Howard places the highest accolade on Kant by declaring: "So if anyone could be said to have invented peace as more than a mere pious aspiration, it was Kant.” (Howard; 2001; p.31) His “Perpetual Peace” written in 1795 “predicts the ever-widening pacification of a Liberal pacific union”(Doyle; 1997; p.253) or a “cosmopolitan community” as described by Howard where, mutual needs for security and hospitality would hold this union. (Howard; 2001; p. 31) Kant states that the perpetual peace would be guaranteed by acceptance of three 'definitive articles of peace'; namely, i) states should be republican ii) pacific federation or foedus pacificum iii) a cosmopolitan law to operate in conjunction with the pacific union. (Doyle; 1997; p. 257-258) Peace would first be established among Liberal states where individuals would enjoy republican rights. The pacific union would gradually come to encompass all states gradually. In fact, “if by good fortune one powerful and enlightened nation can form a republic (which is by nature inclined to seek peace), this will provide a focal point for federal association among other states.” (Doyle; 1997; p. 257) One could say along this line that the United States' emergence and hegemony over of the last two hundred years has helped to create the kind of pacific federation around itself as imagined by Kant. As Howard states: “The ruling philosophy of the generation that established the independence of the United States was the very quintessence of the Enlightenment, with its belief in the rights and perfectibility of man and his capacity for peaceful self-government...” (Howard; 2001; p. 28)
Howard's enthusiastic sweeping statement in the European political nation-state and political philosophical context – that was peace was truly only invented not only as a political order but also as an aspiration as a social order by the Enlightenment and Kant – is significant in helping us to understand modern history in terms of attempts to impose global political orders and the Liberal foundation of global discourse on peace – whether it be philosophical or in terms of peacemaking, peace building or peacekeeping. Howard himself excuses his Eurocentric approach to his essay on peace by explaining that “it was in Europe, and its overflow in North America, that there developed the thinking about war and peace that now constitutes the bulk of global discourse about the topic.” (Howard; 2001; p. 7)
Perhaps indeed peace maybe have been more clearly imagined and argued for by Kant than his predecessors. Kant proposed how the populations in Europe's states could exist more peacefully through transitioning to republican states, forging a more cosmopolitan Europe, and so on. - liberal under pinnings of peace building - liberal understanding of war
*"War in human society is as pervasive as the wish for peace is universal." (Thakur; 2002; 405)

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The theatre (Leave the Afghan, take the Nerd)

I have just come back from a fantastic evening at the theatre. I went to see Chekov's "The Cherry Orchard" at the Old Vic. It was directed by Sam Mendes and starred among others Ethan Hawke and the chick from Vicky Christina Barcelona. I was supposed to see the play with Tariq as a kick start to my birthday but sadly he couldn't make it and I had the extra ticket. I asked my girl friends and they were not able to make it either at such short notice. As I scrolled down my contacts, I decided to give my friend Haseeb a call. I said to myself, why not? He's a serious guy, I am sure he would appreciate it. So I give my Afghani friend a ring and he was up for it. He did say a few things which annoyed me like 'what time do plays end?' and 'I'm more of a movies person.' I even told the guy, look, if you are going to get bored or tired, it's okay, I'll ask someone else.

I enjoyed the play tremendously. The companion was - for a lack of a better word - a bit lousy.

I have never really been to the theatre as such so it is a new experience for me. And, it is as exciting and thrilling as I had imagined it to be. I wish I had taken the time to experience the theatre when I was an undergrad. Remember my friend Vasso? THAT's what SHE was busy doing in her spare time. This kid who is a year younger or more would be at the opera, at musicals, you name it. And I must thank her for being my theatre mate this year. Together we've seen Partenope, Twelfth Night and Hamlet.

Well taking the Afghan to the theatre backfired. My friend was making these dumb jokes all the time and that really annoyed me. It was killing my I'm-at-the-theatre-this-is-so-cool-I'm-so-arty-farty buzz. I think he enjoyed most of the play but the remarks got to me. On top of it, he is so friggin confrontational! Dude, no one is asking you to act like a gora here - reserved and fake and all - but at least be a little pleasant!

I mostly enjoyed my evening. The guy is 45 minutes late - we were supposed to meet at a coffeeshop. Makes one lousy remark after another. 'This is a shit building - why are you taking a photograph?' I ask him to pipe down - this is hello to me, by the way - but he says he doesn't care. In fact, when I tell him to try to be a bit more pleasant, he says, 'I've told my boss if he does not like him, he does not care.' I'm standing there, thinking someone please shoot me. Starts comparing plays to movies. 'Ok, so what kind of films do you like?' I'm thinking maybe he'll start waxing lyrical about some great films but what does he talk about? 'Shawkshank Redemption' and 'Gladiator' and 'Benjamin Button.' Don't even ask me. He does not even throw me the name of one obscure movie. How can one claim to be a film fanatic dropping those names? Please shoot me.

I am a much bigger nerd and much more tightly-wound than I actually think I am, I guess. Well who cares? Is it too much to ask?? If you want to go to the theatre, leave the Afghan, take the Vasso or Tariq. * At least you can go ga ga with a Vasso over Ethan Hawke. Or jump into hours-long discussions of English class in school with a Tariq. The Afghan wants to watch Gladiator! ** And, you can't have any freaking discussion with him. I know, I know, I am committing heinous crimes of stereotyping but I can't help it.

The play. It depicted the fading away of a wealthy landed family which was in utter denial. Ultimately, the play is a tragedy but it had some comic moments. The posters were promoting it as a tragi-comedy. I would say it - again - that it is a tragedy more than anything else. When you read this stuff as a kid in school, you're taught this play is a comedy or a tragedy. The distinction is made. When you see this stuff being played - in London theatres no less - you realise how many comic moments a play actually has, the thunderous feedback the comic moments receive (you never 'hear' the tragic scenes, except the absolute silence I guess), and the deep relationship that comedy actually has with tragedy and vice versa.

I appreciated the fact that the production stayed true to the period in terms of costume. The plays and opera I mentioned above were depicted in more or less modern costume which throws one off. Hamlet, for instance - the Queen looked like a frumpy old lady. Come on, she's the friggin queen - how am I supposed to believe it? If a costume can enhance the character, why not? I want to believe I am watching a certain era, a certain time and place.

It was really cool that the Yermolai character frequently - and erroneously - quoted 'Hamlet' in this play! Speaking of Hamlet, I really did enjoy my experience of Jude Law as Hamlet. It was a fantastic production and Ophelia was particularly haunting and tragic as she begins to unravel and go loony. Jude Law was pretty good and he played it more or less safe. The soliloquies - the most famous there are except for what? Marc Antony? - were delivered in an average manner. I was expecting something more from these iconic bits of dialogue.

I did have a heavenly brush with what would be an electric rendition of the soliloquy when I was watching "In the Actor's Studio" *** with Ralph Fiennes. He delivered a few lines of the 'To Be or Not to Be' in a jittery, speed-of-lightening energy and I was blown away. That was fantastic! I had always imagined drama to be delivered in painfully-slow-and-measured tones but never imagined that it would be delivered like that! It made so much more sense. Fiennes explained that they had thought the speech should be delivered as thinking out loud in a frantic manner.

I am so glad I had such a fine experience on the eve of my 30th birthday. The play itself was poignant and, made me think about bidding farewell to my 20s and ushering in a new era. The play reminded me of all the houses our family had had to leave at the end of each posting, moving country to country like nomads. It was always such a painful experience. Incidentally, I've been reminiscing with my grade school friends on Facebook over some sweet pictures that a friend dug up. It made me realise that I was happiest in school in Romania where I was part of a fantastic class and, had some great friends. I look so happy and part of it in those pictures. School got harder and harder in the subsequent schools I went to and never quite had the same bond with my classmates. And I peaked in 10th grade!

I am also ever ever grateful to my father and my English teachers for the love of literature they have grown and nurtured in me. My mother also taught us poetry, especially Urdu poetry. You often hear of people being thankful for the role of books and poetry in their lives and, it's all true.

*In case you don't get it, it's the Godfather 'Leave the gun, take the canoli.'
** Hey, I went crazy over Gladiator too. Bawled each time I watched the ending in the cinema three times. But the cinema is the cinema. The theatre is the theatre. Where and why is the comparison?
*** I've watched dozens of this programme on You Tube. It's a revelation! James Lipton is something out of a novel. He's fantastic, he's a character all on his own. It is delicious to hear these actors talk about their craft. What was really endearing was that most of these actors or directors are incredibly humble. The media can really make one believe otherwise.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Brothers Karamazov (but mainly about brothers and more specifically about my brother)

My brother is a strange kid. The other day he tells me to give away a box of these fabulous-looking cigarettes - Sobranie. They are Black Russians.

The reason why he wanted me to give away the smokes was that he was smoking too much and did not want to finish the pack. I said, well, why don't you smoke one once in a while. He goes, 'Nah, I'll probably smoke it in one go.' So I agreed to relieve him of his worry of over smoking these Black Russians.

He had more of a Friday night than I did. It must have been 2 or 3 am when he got in and woke me up with a start as he was rummaging in my room looking for something. I thought it was a bad dream or something.

As I was making tea for myself the next morning in the kitchen, sure enough I saw the Black Russians on the kitchen table. He'd smoked one. "Oh brother!" I said to myself. Tariq himself was sleeping. I had my tea and then proceeded for my walk via Putney Bridge and via the-oh-so-green-Hammersmith Bridge. I got back, showered and got ready to meet a couple of friends to see a movie.

I wanted to ask him whether he still wanted to do something later in the evening as we had planned. But it was virtually impossible to do so. I'd enter the kitchen and he was smoking furiously and chattering away on the phone. He looked at me, nervously smiled, and then dashed out to another room. It went on and on, him pacing up and down the hallway and dashing in and out of the rooms of the flat. I heard bits of conversation - 'should I call her back,' 'what do you think,' 'she,' 'but..' I understood it was some kind of de-briefing going on. Who said boys don't talk on phone or display strange behaviour?

I guess I should have hid the Black Russians a bit better than that!

Note of interest: The first black people were brought to Russia as a result of slave trade by the Ottoman Empire. I couldn't believe that Pushkin was a descendent of a slave! During the 30s, African American families moved to Russia. Many African students also study in Russia. However, these Russians seem to be hyper racists. A lot of poor African students were killed brutally in hate/xenophobic crimes. Is it a fall out of the Soviet Union and related economic woes?

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Speaking of the weather

You'd think it would be oh so cliche to talk about the weather now that I am in England but the weather is an important variable for me. I mean, it is one of the most discernible differences between Liberia and England. 

I have gone from five years in tropical climate where it rains for half the year and does not for the rest to a place which actually has four seasons. Having basically only two season in Liberia - well maybe two and half as there is a subtle coolness that descends thanks to wind sweeping down from the Sahel around December and January something which we fondly call the harmattan - gives one a different perspective on time.  Time moves differently in such a place. Having four seasons again here - we also get four glorious seasons in Pakistan and relish each one - was kind of nice. Time seems to be in a bit of rush with the four seasons. I guess time seems to march quickly here. 

When I first got here, I severely missed the sun in Liberia, the lush greenery, the warmth and of course, the sense of community. It was already October when I got here and, it was pretty grey and drab. Or to put it in other words, quite depressing. Nevertheless, it was still nice to experience having to wear warm clothes again, to have a real excuse to drink hot chocolate and to see London paralysed with the freak snow storm in February. The setting of the sun at 4 pm threw me off though - you'd have the night start at that time and your mind and body want to go to sleep. 

Spring was sweet though. I live close to Putney Bridge and it was just nice to take a walk around there. It was like seeing the earth awaken. The same walk during the cold weather was like walking through a frozen wasteland - nothing seem to be alive.  I forgot what bugs looked like. The trees were poverty-stricken bare. No greenery in sight, not even a leprechaun, not even a single cloverleaf, no nothing. Well actually that's not true. My walk takes me over the Hammersmith Bridge which is an eye-sore kind-of moss green. The first time I saw it, I was 'whaat the green monstrosity is this.' I mean, it is a friggin green bridge with some gold decorations to top it off. It is a giant green bridge! GIANT GREEN BRIDGE. GGB. 

Oh I came to Great Britain to do a Great Masters and Great Britain is full of Great Green Bridges.  

I personally believe that trolls live underneath it. So that was green. But not enough to beat the winter blues. 

The skies were miserably grey. But the whole place seemed to be a little more biologically alive in spring time. It was quite sweet and there was some beautiful flora and fauna to observe and enjoy. 

Summertime has been even more delightful. There is no evidence whatsoever of the miserable-Charles-Dickens-kind-of-depths-of-despair-won't-you-kill-me-please-depressing London any longer. It was amazing how the locals just threw off their clothes in joy. The parks became beaches - literally! You'd see everyone in their friggin bathing suits enjoying the sun. I mean, anything that even resembled a park became a beach. It was quite amusing to see this spectacle. The tube people - haha, the tube people - started making suggestions that now that it was hot, it would be advisable to carry a bottle of water around. Well, after all my road trips through some of the worst 'roads' in the rainy season and some tough bush in Liberia which used to make me car sick among other things and of course, that 12-hour ride through the desert in Balochistan where I was boiling which I will never forget, I can take anything. These tube rides are a walk in the park, baby. 

Well jokes aside, it did get quite stuffy in the tube - you'd think being such an advanced country they'd have air conditioning. I am used to slightly hotter and more humid weather but it did get quite balmy a few times. And one more thing, the longer days! They threw me off too. The sun was up at 4 am or even earlier and did not set until after 10 pm. That messes with your head, too. It is the whole northern hemisphere thing. It was the same when the family lived in Kazakhstan - we had really long summer days. But otherwise, it is nice to see a pleasant, green and happy London. It is a completely different city. Puts you in a good mood and I may be wrong, but it seems everyone around is also pretty happy.  

The weather is but one of the differences between the part of Africa I lived in and England but so critical. It seems the two places are entirely different planets. Like I said earlier, it seemed like nothing was alive here in the winter. And, it seemed like such a harmless and safe - hence boring - environment to me. The environment in Liberia itself is something which people have to struggle against. The bush out there is no weakling bush. Trees out there are real trees - majestic and huge. The greenery out there needs no excuse to grow where ever it chooses to grow. When it rains, it pours for months at a stretch and makes the tracks and roads virtually impassable. The millions of dollars spent by the World bank on road rehabilitation in the country will probably only last another year because the bush is going to grow back and another rainy season will make those roads slush and uneven again. During last year's rainy season, I think entire communities in one of the areas of Monrovia got washed out. And let's not forget the sun - even at the height of the London summer, the sun out here does not compare to the sun out there. You might as well call it a moon. Everything is so pale compared to the climate and scenery of the Africa I have seen. The soil is red - here is it a dark brown. And the sunsets! 

I guess I have really thought about the differences in climate, the trees, the bugs, the weather from my time in Liberia and here in London. I have enjoyed having the four seasons again and seeing time move the way it did. It was amusing to see the parks of London become urban beaches. It has been nice to see happier Londoners. Musing about the weather and my surroundings also made me think how the ordinary Liberian really has to struggle against the weather and the harsh environment that is made harsher because of poor infrastructure. I do also look forward to going back to warmer places, fantastic sunsets, real fruit and a real sense of belonging to my fellow man and woman.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Dinner parties

I have hosted a few get together's with my brother this year in London. It has been a very pleasant experience. It has made me fondly remember and realise where Tariq and I get our oh so special diplomatic and hospitality skills from. It also helped me to realise that this is yet another one of those things that my brother and I do so well together.

Speaking of what we do so well together. Firstly, I would have to relate a little bit about ourselves. Tariq and I are exactly a year and a week apart. He was born on 20 August 1980 and I was born on 13 August 1979. In our first 'abroad' experience in Ankara, our mother used to take us around in one of those 'twin' prams!

Almost all of my childhood experiences involve Tariq. We were always up to something. One of my earliest memories is of Tariq getting hurt really badly. You see, he was always running into walls and this one time, he nearly split his head open. We had been playing together as usual and I tried to hide it from our mother by wrapping his head in one of her dupattas which I used to play with. He got a lot of stitches. Poor kid. Come to think of it, a lot of our childhood escapades involved a lot of bleeding and stitches. He once stabbed me with a pencil in Bonn. I also fell into a poison ivy patch in Bonn, I wonder if it was him who pushed me over the fence. The worst episode was in Bucharest when Tariq and I were horsing around and, this glass door fell on me and I ended up with a gushing wound on my wrist. I had to have nearly 15 stitches. In Dakar, Tariq was crushing ice and stabbed himself, his pinky. I also threw an encyclopedia at him and narrowly missed his eye. You might think we were trying to kill each other but I assure you it was not the case. All these incidents usually happened by accident and often when our parents were not in close vicinity or not at home at all.

Of course, we have always been a quarrelsome brother-sister duo but we did not try to kill each other. In fact, when we were in our teens, we used to fight so much we used to go into these 'not-on-speaking-terms' phases. I think we even went into a debate tournament together in Athens during one of these phases.

So then, what have we done so well? Well, we were each others' childhood friends, chums, co-adventurers, co-explorers, etc. We used to do everything together - playing with lego, running around, watching cartoons, coming up with secret clubs and handshakes, planning run away's (we ran away twice in Islamabad), him skipping a grade and being with me all the time, trying to publish our own school newspaper at Dakar Academy (which was sadly rejected because Mr. Agnor started his own), becoming debate partners at ACS in Athens, coming to London together for our undergrad, and so on.

More recently, we teamed up to get a flat together in London. Tariq was kind enough to ask me whether I wanted to go in with him at the time he was thinking of getting property in his city. And, because I had managed to save some money since I have started working, I was in a position 'to go in' with him. It was a nice feeling to be able to do this with my brother. He also came to visit me in Liberia and spent two weeks with my boyfriend and I. My brother was the perfect guest, got along with Wesley and the rest of my friends. I sent him up to Lofa County to my Pakistani peacekeeper friends and he charmed them too. Thereafter, whenever I met a Pakistani peacekeeper in Liberia, I came to be known as Tariq's sister! We also criss crossed across Iran last year for about two weeks and then crossed into Balochistan at the border. That was a great trip. I will never forget discovering Iran with him but I will never forget that excruciating 12-hour bus ride through the desert from the border to Quetta during which we chatted to a gold smuggler and Tariq loudly singing to Junoon's 'Neend Aati Nahin'.

So when it comes to dinner parties, it seems that we really know how to put together a party and to be hosts. You see, we've been seeing our parents entertain all our life. Being in the diplomatic service, hosting events, meeting people from different countries and cultures, representing one's country was part of every day life. When my father became an ambassador, the responsibility to do all that was even more heightened. It was either a reception at our place or a dinner for the diplomatic corps or a visiting delegation from Pakistan. Or, it was them who had to attend some function. Their weekly schedule of events was posted on a clipboard and, Tariq and I used to regularly scan it. If our parents had a reception or a dinner to go to, it meant having our own private in the house. We would watch movies, TV and eat snack food and drink coca cola to our hearts' content. When Saira came along, our job was to baby sit her. In the beginning we did not know what to do with her when she was still a baby. Once she started to cry non stop and, we called them back from a dinner after half an hour. There's also the Michael Jackson story - you see Michael Jackson had come to Bucharest for a concert and guess what? Our entire friggin school was there, all our classmates, everyone, and what do our parents do? We baby sit Saira and they went to the concert themselves! Yes, you read that correctly. We missed the one and only opportunity to really see Michael Jackson in concert. And apparently, it was a spectacular once. This was part of his 'Dangerous' tour.

If it came to an event at our house, we were also a part of the process. When we were still very small (that's in Romania), our job was to dress up little Saira in her new frock and send her down so she could meet the guests. When we got a bit older and that in Dakar, we had to start helping out. We would get the instructions from our mother - when to turn off the 'dum' from the pilao or the sequence of the food to go in. No we did not do any cooking, we were there to help the staff in the kitchen. Or, we would help to put together a collection of 'millay naghme' for national day receptions. It was always a lot of fun, being part of it. If we were having an event at our house, bouquets of flowers would be sent over starting the day before. Or, on the day of the dinner, they would get the coolest presents, some special chocolates or sweets or a vase or something typical from a country. Likewise, our parents had a stock of 'typical' things to gift - onyx, walnut or rose-wood boxes with mother-of-pearl in lay, embroidered cushion covers, shawls and so on. That reminds me, our mother would sometimes be part of these charity fairs put together by the diplomatic ladies and, we would help her to 'sell' stuff at the Pakistani stall. Or there would be a Pakistani pavillion at one of the international trade fairs which we would visit. All good fun.

So I guess, hosting and entertainment comes easily to us and we have a lot of fun doing it. I have certainly gained some mastery over cooking and entertaining in Liberia. Wesley and I have hosted dozens and dozens of dinner parties, Eid parties, a huge Christmas lunch, a fund raising party for the earthquake, movie nights, and so on. Hosting with Wesley is great because for our big do's he does an entire sheep. Nah, we're not cheap, we go all the way.

It was nice to do this one thing with Tariq here in London as well. We seem to like to clean the whole place before the party and after the party (including some nasty wine stains on the beautiful cream-coloured carpet). I was happy to be able to try my cooking and test it on London folk - my finest hour was probably the pilao with almonds and two leg of lambs. We try to be as inclusive as possible. I consciously make the effort to mingle and talk with everyone and Tariq does too. I think he's a bit more easy going than I am, I actually got a little irritated with some of the peoples' behaviour. He had planned to ask people to take off their shoes for the last dinner party but chickened out at the last minute - he was too embarassed to ask a girl. Nice guy. I on the other hand, found it very cheeky of some people to be gate crashing and/or inviting some of their own friends who would gate crash our parties. I find it interesting that while some people clearly appreciate the effort it goes to putting together a party, especially a dinner one, others take it for granted. I have to tell myself to take it easy and that it's all part of the fun. For instance it is important to take note of those who do come to your events, especially if they had to make a great deal of effort to travel to your place. I mean, I realised this was true even in Liberia and even here in London.

The thing I will remember fondly is that I was able to host parties with my brother. It was also a pleasure to see little Saira being the little grownup and being able to easily mingle with our grown up friends. She even helped to make sure the 'dum' was turned off (I am becoming like my mother, telling her to mind the 'dum' while I shower and dress, that was exactly what our mother used to tell me!!) and she also helped to serve the food. And, she was keeping a tab on who Tariq was chatting up and reporting back. Not that I told her to do so, she is just very possessive of Tariq. It was fun to host with Tariq and see that we are so similar in this respect.

I think being able to be hospitable is a good trait. It was part of our culture and of our grooming. It helps one to be part of society. It helps to appreciate other cultures and other ways. It is certainly full of surprises, good and bad. It even deepens relationships with friends in some cases! And sometimes you get the most thoughtful thank you notes and gifts. So all in all, I'm glad I hosted with Tariq!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

A Talk by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The MDGs - A Moral Challenge
13 July 
St Paul's Cathedral


What an honour, what a privilege to see and hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu! I cannot even explain how moving an experience it was for me to hear him speak. 

We all hold Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu in such high esteem. I have known these figures as part of the struggle against apartheid. Even before I actually knew what apartheid was in any kind of real detail, I always knew it was something terrible, literally it was as vague as that. I mean I only really got to know a little idea of what it might have been like through my boyfriend but before that it was something 'just bloody awful.' And, I knew that Mandela was in prison for almost 30 years by this regime. My father had told us about this Mandela fellow who was put in prison for that long. Now that I think about it, half of our father's teaching was always struggle-based. I remember him making a socialist, Marxist link to Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt. He had these very clearly defined greats of history and contemporary politics. If I remember correctly, he was telling us that even before the end of apartheid. The entire forgiving part of it came much later into my consciousness and, when it did, it really blew my mind. I used to ask my boyfriend, but how could you guys just swallow that? How could you forgive? I could never wrap my head around it. Not that my boyfriend is a saintly figure or that he did not have any generational and existential anger in him, but he tried to explain to me what they heck South Africa was trying to do. First, he explained the concept of ubuntu to me - 'I am a human because you are a human' - and that they had preserved their own humanity by forgiveness. And then, what other option was there for mixed race families? Finally, perhaps they had found something within this paradigm of forgiveness and it would inform future conflicts. 

My boyfriend and I also made frequent comments on the TRC process in Liberia. We were not sure whether about the impact the process was making in terms of national reconciliation. His comment was that the TRC did make an impact in uncovering the truth and healing because it did not have the moral leadership of someone like Desmond Tutu; it seemed to be a technical affair in Liberia.  

Well now I can at least say I have some idea of Desmond Tutu's persona and moral persuasion. And perhaps understand how it could be possible a nation could go through truth and reconciliation. You sure would need the leadership. At the same time, we outsiders also have to acknowledge that yes the  leadership did guide South Africa from apartheid to democracy but it would not be possible without the ordinary man and woman's participation, that the nation itself, the black majority, has to be given credit and a place in history. Of course, the TRC process cannot really be complete without alleviating the poverty, suffering and enduring legacy of the apartheid but nevertheless, we have to still acknowledge the the route that South Africa followed in terms of a peaceful end of conflict and post conflict justice. Of course, people argue that the peace came at a high cost to the victims of apartheid as they still suffering from the legacy of apartheid. That is all true but we have to acknowledge that the South Africans managed to peacefully bring about the end of apartheid; moreover, they forgave their white oppressors. Africa is great for having, then, produced, a Nelson Mandela, a Desmond Tutu but also for people that forgave their very oppressors. 

My friend Cecilia had told me about this lecture, otherwise I would not have known about it. I told some of my brother's friend to come along too - something 'un-corporate for the corporate types - and it turns out that one of my brother's good friends, Gautham, had been planning to attend it for a few months as he was a member for Advocates for International Development, the organisation that put this event together. Another mutual friend Karina said she'd be there but she didn't make it. Tariq was working late on a transaction and couldn't be there.  

The event took place at St Paul's Cathedral. I went there a bit earlier to check out the place and take my photographs. I think I might have seen the Cathedral many years ago but I do not remember. It was truly majestic and there was great light that day so I was able to get some great shots. I queued up a half earlier which I am glad for because I managed to get a seat closer to the podium. Entering the cathedral really took my breath away - maybe because I have not been inside for many many years now. The last time I was in a church or cathedral in Europe must have been Rome during the Christmas holidays when Tariq and I came from our first year in university in London back to Greece (where our parents and little sis were) and the family travelled to Italy by boat. We were 19 and 18 years old and had done two years of Humanities in high school which included studying the art of the Renaissance. We could really appreciate the time in Rome unlike our younger days when the Gothic (or whatever it was) churches and cathedrals used to scare us. Well anyway, the cathedral was absolutely beautiful inside. 

The talk

I caught a glimpse of the Archbishop walk in and everyone knew he had entered the space. His figure was short and one could see he was an old man. He had such a humble air about him. He went to sit at his seat which was just a few paces away from mine, at the end of his aisle so I could see his back. 

He was introduced by Patricia Janet Scotland, Baroness Scotland of Asthal, the current Attorney General for England Wales and Northern Ireland. Gee, what long titles. It's so friggin pretentious. How about just lawyer-in-chief? It's fitting and cool. I must say that her introduction was really fake and politician-y - so many greats have been trained as lawyers (Gandhi, Lincoln, Mary Robinson, etc), Desmond Tutu is a personal hero of hers, he was 'spiritual icon' of our times, Advocates for Development are doing such a great job, MDGs are so important, etc. So she finally came to a stop after probably at least 15 minutes and let the guest of honour speak. 

Mr. Tutu went up to the podium, started speaking and just blew everyone away with his talk. He was humorous, he was poignant, he was passionate, he was sincere, he was politically charged, and he was so damn great. And I will say from the outset, I cried during this talk. I do not know why but I cried. I do not know whether it is I am missing my boyfriend a lot. I do not know whether it is just knowing I was in the presence of someone who led a nation into forgiving and reconciling. Someone who is so great. I guess it was just humbling in every respect. 

Mr. Tutu made quite a few jokes about how old he was getting and how - what's his word - decrepit he was now. It was really cute. There was one about how a school was being named after him in the Netherlands that had been founded four hundred years ago or something. A little girl comes up to him and asks him whether he was around on the first day the school was opened! Apparently, they changed the name of the school afterwards. And then, there was a joke about a professor and his driver who switch places so the professor would not have to give the same lecture over and over again. The driver would keep the lecture long enough to not have any chance of questions. But this one time, a question did come up and it was quite convoluted. The driver says, 'is that it? even my driver in the back can answer that one!'

So what was the 'bee in his bonnet?' Being a man of the cloth, he interspersed a lot of his talk with biblical references - the story of Adam and Eve, Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, etc. He spoke of interdependence and the idea that human beings are made together, need each other and cannot be solitary, not even conceptually. This is the essence of ubuntu - something which I first heard of from my boyfriend. That 'I am human because you are human.' It is quite a profound concept, thought, idea, sentiment, philosophy. That our humanity is in others, is because of others. How did Mr. Tutu say it? 'My humanity is caught up in your humanity.' When you de-humanise others, you de-humanise yourself. 

He spoke about the TRC and I was pretty amazed he did. He said that they had to hear people talk about how they chopped up human beings, burned their flesh for hours, while having a barbecue nearby. He said 'we had wondered' at how depraved a soul must be to cook human flesh while cooking animal flesh too. I remembered reading that during this year for the course and something like that really shocks you. That a regime like that existed and police or military officers went around doing that. How did that work? Now that I think about it, hearing about apartheid makes me feel so overwhelmed because I think of how my own boyfriend grew up under it and, could very well have been a kid who may have been picked up and disappeared. Just like that. 

There was a part where the Archbishop was telling a story about Jesus Christ and how his 'all' meant everyone. To explain how God means all when He means all is the black and white and yellow, the gay and lesbian and so-called straight (that got a few laughs), Israel and Palestine and Hamas and Fatah and bin Laden (this got more of a profound silence that one can hear) and then George Bush (now this got the whole place laughing). There aren't any outsiders, everyone is an insider. 

He said that humanity was like a family and the family works like so, 'each according to his abilities, each according to his needs.' I didn't pick this up during the talk but Gautham pointed out later that it was Marx! So much for Cecilia and myself - SOAS students - not picking it up. In Cecilia's defense, she knows Marx in Spanish and I just don't obviously! Man, how embarrassing. I am a fake SOAS student alas. 

I think it was a very political talk! Mr. Tutu said that the world spends 'obscene' amounts of money - in the trillions - on 'budgets of death and destruction'. Moreover, the war on terror is not going to be won. Not as long as people are desperate. He said that trillions is spent on nuclear armaments but only a $1 was needed on a child to vaccinate against measles. He said that developing countries are told to invest in agriculture however the trade barriers that are put up make it a 'joke.' He said that the EU pays $ 2.5 dollars per cow per day to farmers however 3 billion people subsist on less than a $ 1 a day. And then he says, 'as you know I try not to be controversial.' I am amazed that he mentioned all that he had mentioned because these are the explosive issues of the day as far as freaking development is concerned. He also spoke about Iraq and how he had tried to convey to the White House that the inspectors in Iraq should be given more time. George Bush did not speak to him directly but Condolezza Rice did and said, it would not be possible. He said since then it was found that it was all fabrication and lies. That the people of Iraq should be apologised to by George Bush and Tony Blair. I think it was something very powerful he said saying it where he did say it. 

Mr. Tutu mentioned a cartoon where God has lost a copy of the Divine Plan. And it certainly seems like that is the case. That 'evil has the last word.' But no, there is still hope and compassion. He was pleased to see the work of Advocates for Int'l Development, the fact so many lawyers were present for free, to see so many young people. He said that the good work vindicates everything else. 

It was not just what he said was so powerful but also the way he said it and how he balanced it all with humour and emotion and gravity. There were bits of it that made one feel injustice and pain but other parts to make one feel hopeful and human. The MDGs and all the blah blah talk usually makes me roll my eyes - I mean come on, the MDGs?! Some vague targets are going to develop a country? Some vague targets to make us feel even more miserable about how we are so far away from those targets? Some targets which the UN cannot and probably will not reach even with all the billions they have in their budgets? But I could stand to hear about the moral cause behind the MDGs from someone like Archbishop Desmond Tutu. When I have heard about the MDGs from one of our big bosses in the UNDP, it just sounded like bullshit to me, some guy earning probably $ 20,000/month not even including all the freaking benefits talking about it, usually made me want to puke. Why? Because it was all so a-political. It was so neo-liberal. It was so fake. Mr. Tutu was very political though and he was not naive about it either. This is someone who has spent their life in a struggle and seen through it. Led others. They know what they're saying. Somehow I can suspend my cynicism. Amazing but true. 

It was truly an honour to be there. It was an amazing mix of spirituality, God, people, humanity and politics that I could be open to. And that the speakers' voices were booming in that cathedral's space made it even more powerful in a way. 

I had a nice drink with Gautham and Cecilia afterwards. We exchanged our thoughts, about development, our near futures, etc. I wonder when next I will be able to do this but it is a privilege for sure. I would not have seen the inside of the Cathedral otherwise and I wonder when next I would ever get to hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu in London. 


A priest had actually been the first speaker who made a brief note of the occasion, that all were welcome to the Cathedral (Christian, other faiths and non believers). It is pretty impressive that in this day and age, everyone is welcomed to that space, even non believers. Imagine how much the world has changed where this all is really all inclusive. This would not have been the case a few centuries ago,  a couple decades ago.

I think the South Africans, Africans and the world is so lucky to have a figure like Desmond Tutu. 

I think I can more fully appreciate the idea that the Church has been part of struggles. It is a bit less abstract for me now I guess. I mean I did have an idea that the Church, moreover the Catholic Church, was instrumental in the struggle against the dictatorships in Latin America. But it's better to have a more concrete idea of it! 

I told my boyfriend I went to this talk. He said that he was the 'typical neighbourhood minister or pastor.' I was like, typical?! He said he'd heard a few of his sermons and met him too a couple of times. The reason he did have the moral leadership during the TRC process for example was because the majority of people are Christian and they would be led. He was part of the struggle as well and he pretty much got the position by 'default.' Though he speaks of God and all that, he does not do it from a judgmental position - he gives it as it is. I think that is really what it was. That he did not do it from a 'holier than though' high horse. And he wasn't divisive either. That's pretty great, eh? 

I'll be honest, I have lost God. And it's pretty bad considering all things. I lost God in my twenties and never ever imagined I would. It was just not conceivable on any level. Not even philosophical level - our parents, especially our father, brought us up believing in God without any contradiction to science or any other discipline of thought, God made even more sense because of science. Moreover being Ahamdis we knew it better than anyone. But I did lose God and have been in sort of a no-man's land. I am not quite sure whether I am a complete aetheist but I am in a not-a-fan-of-organised-religion phase right now. I couldn't care less about it. I do still love having my Muslim cultural identity but that is how far it goes. So any way, I am still fascinated by those who believe in God. I think it is amazing, for instance, how those who live in poverty or have seen a lot of shit still believe in God. In fact, they seem to believe in God even more so. There are some pretty intelligent people out there who believe in God. It is fascinating. So what makes mere mortals like me so friggin arrogant about it? Whatever makes one tick I guess or makes sense at the moment. Who knows? Maybe I will find God again. But I sure can tell you, it was nice listening to the Archbishop. 

PS. This suddenly reminds me of Dakar Academy and the Twilight Zone kind of atmosphere we had there. It was all about damning and judgement along with the singing in the chapel. It was a very happy go lucky bunch, 'we are all going to heaven,' Jesus loves us all, blah blah - but if you ask them, what about those who had not accepted Jesus Christ has their saviour? Nope, they're going to hell. 

PSS. The idea of transformative justice versus punitive justice after the end of conflicts was a main theme this year in VCD. Punitive justice as a standard was set with the Nuremburg Trials of the Nazi regime after the end of WW2. The freaking WW2 seems to have set the standard for a lot of thinking on wars, frankly. Evil versus good, one ideology pitted against another, clear sides of in a war, clear victims and oppressors, clear victors and the defeated, clear beginning and end, clear justice and reconstruction - well at least how it is romanticised and documented. The United Nations was set up - 'never again would we have war.' However, the war did not end there, did it? Sure, the Nazis were defeated but the 'real shit' - the ideological warfare of the Cold War - had just begun. The Soviet Union and American were merely convenient partners against Nazi Germany but they had always been suspicious of each other. The end of WW2 was merely a pause - the real goddam World War was the Cold War where the Soviet Union and America fought on the world stage, every theatre they could find. History did not end with WW2 but with the Cold War (Fukuyama). The Cold War was really equally critical if not more than WW2. So, point oneWar did not begin or end with WW2. The Cold War immediately followed. Point two: I don't know what point two is. Oh yes, WW2 has set the standards for the kind of justice that should follow after the end of conflict. Even a friggin bank was set up for reconstruction after war. Whole-hearted reconstruction happened in Europe and Japan. However, ironically, this reconstruction - the Marshall Plan - assistance has never really been extended to any other state recovering from war. So it is blue print but it is not. They want everyone else to follow punitive justice - where possible - but not give the necessary assistance to stabilise and consolidate peace.