Saturday, 29 October 2016

Ode to Monrovia

Hey guess what I, my Ode to Monrovia was published in The Friday Times today! A friend told me today that he came across my piece in the paper yesterday. This is a friend who used to be in Liberia and is now posted to Islamabad with an aid agency.

See the first sentence:

Monrovia is a great city. It stands despite all the derision, complaints and comparisons to more ‘modern’ cities.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Evening walk and oranges

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Kola Nuts and The Shadow of the Crescent Moon

Saturday, 22 October 2016


I went shopping this Saturday afternoon to look for a bathtub for friends who have just come back to Monrovia after the delivery of their baby. They need a bathtub so I decided to go look for a new one in Waterside. 

I found a good one that had a seat and even plays music. I also bought Gripe Water and some baby shoes. 

I really enjoyed my foray along with our office driver, Morris Duo. I love the way he interacts with everyone in his very deep voice and, always cracks jokes or gets very serious. 

In fact, I think I should come to Waterside more often to look for household items. 

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Trump is Trump

But are Americans abroad embarrassed enough about Donald Trump? 

From dinner parties to after-Hash get togethers, everyone is talking about Trump’s antics and, what a horrifying and embarrassing reality-tv show the US Presidential elections have become. We, the world, are watching the US Presidential race minute by minute and are discussing it it as if it's our own election.  

We are so engrossed in the US elections as if our precious vote is also at stake. 

But are Americans abroad embarrassed enough about Donald Trump and what his candidacy means for American democracy, one of the greatest export of the leader of the free world? 

Some of the Americans I meet are shocked at Trump's unbelievable racist, xenophobic, sexist statements and behaviour, as if he is a orange Martian who has descended on their political scene. When an American expresses their shock at the vile racist comments spewed by Trump, one pounces on the chance: "But your country is racist." 

When the eyebrows are raised, one further elaborates with a self-righteous, unprompted speech: "I mean, look at how innocent African Americans are being shot like animals on the streets, one after another." 

The hapless American then becomes further shocked by this and, claims that the news exaggerates and things aren't that bad. Police killings of innocent, unarmed African American men is not as widespread. 

Then you come back with a lightening quick retort and blurt: "Yes, so not every single Pakistani is a terrorist." That of course, wasn't the best response. You try to come back to the point and say, "I have African American friends and from my own reading and sense of things, it seems that there are 2 Americas and there is indeed systemic racism and discrimination." 

One of your South Asian friends interrupts and, then says, "American is the best country for immigrants and, I have been to south side Chicago and was in fact, very scared. I think the African Americans are to be blamed for their situation. If I had to immigrate anywhere, I would immigrate to the US." You are left flabbergasted by this random statement, especially because your South Asian friend just said they are from the elite of their country. 

American politics has become a great stage to thrash out racism, xenophobia, sexism, misogyny, immigration, war, free trade, democracy, and so on. 

When we get together for friends in Monrovia, we inadvertently turn to the US elections and, everyone gives their take on the latest antic or Presidential debate. It's the hottest topic there is, after which expat residential compound has the best deal for apartment, swimming pool and other amenities.  

It's been an interesting experience for me to follow the elections. My initial knee jerk reaction is to say: "We don't care who you elect, it's the same same. Y'all will still bomb us." 

This line is only good for a couple of dinner parties, of course. 

The US elections have been so grimly entertaining that one almost secretly enjoys the toxic self destruction, the greed for power, and the unashamed racist and sexist rhetoric. There is definitely some satisfyingly dark entertainment there. We can confirm after having recently witnessed the antics of British politicians in the midst of the Brexit sage and American US presidential show, that Western democracy is not a noble idea as presented to us lowly 3rd World with our corrupt parties and dictators. 

But still, one has to delve deeper beyond one's gloating. American politics has become a great stage to thrash out racism, xenophobia, sexism, misogyny, immigration, war, free trade, democracy, and so on. 

On one hand, I am not crazy about Hillary Clinton. She appears to me as a hawk who will follow the usual American foreign policy of covert wars, regime change, favouring Israel, etc. And, what's with the family dynasties in power? Haven't we had enough of the same names: Kennedy, Bush and Clinton. 

But compared to Trump, she is a seasoned and experienced politician and civil servant. She has been in politics all her life and, upheld some worthy causes (that's what the mainstream media is singing). 

Her performance in the first Presidential debate prompted me to heights of excitement and, I hailed her victory over the orange buffoon as a historic moment for American women.

I was quite surprised to meet a few Americans who did not like Hillary Clinton. This was a bit of a  revelation to me. Their reasons were that Hillary Clinton was backed by big corporations, that the  Benghazi and the e-mail scandals are too big to ignore and, she isn't such a great person after all. However, they would have to vote for her because they can't give the Presidency to a character like Trump.

Another American lady explained that in the mid West, what is the "real America," there is an intense dislike for Hillary Clinton so much so that it is not a question of how bad Trump is but to not even entertain the idea of another Clinton in the White House. Apparently, the so-called baby boomer generation is having too hard a time dealing with all the changes in the US.

Nearly everyone says that in case Trump is elected, Africa will not get any more aid. Is really bad news for Africans if indeed Big Bad Trump wants to slash aid to poor, starving Africans?

But mostly, I've met Americans who will vote for Hillary Clinton. Nearly everyone says that in case Trump is elected, Africa will not get any more aid. Is really bad news for Africans if indeed Big Bad Trump wants to slash aid to poor, starving Africans? I mean, on the cosmic scale of things, how much aid is the United States dishing out anyway? Doesn't criminal, apartheid state Israel remain the biggest beneficiary of American aid??

That made me think of the American Presidential and British Prime Ministerial legacies of Jimmy Carter and the Carter Center; Bush and his post-Presidency visits to Africa; Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation, Tony Blair and Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative; Tony Blair and his work as Peace Envoy to the Middle East. American and British leaders can take on second careers as philanthropists and peace envoys after disastrous political careers and whether or not they should be tried as war criminals. But because the powerful countries make the rules about who can or cannot be a respected world leader, we can't do much about it. American presidents can claim to be saving the world and saving lives and, fill up their vote banks.  This is the way the world works.

The most interesting debates of course are between non Americans, who will not even have the chance to vote. They are equally passionate about Trump and Clinton, watching the debates, discussing the merits of the candidates, and expressing their shock at Trump's antics. Everyone is engrossed and, it feels like wants to be in the delivery room when the United States of America is finally going to deliver it's next President.

What I personally learned from my involvement and deep interest in this Presidential election is how little I know how the democratic process and institutions work beyond just the electoral moment of electing a President. My good friend Chipo Nyambuya from Chicago says she is 'effin' done with the Presidential race and, it's more important to focus on local elections. Why are Americans still holding on to their gun laws? Why couldn't Obama succeed in reforming gun laws? Why didn't Obama succeed in closing down Guantanamo as promised? Why is Israel still being propped up by the United States with generous billions of dollars? Why are African Americans more prone to unfair police brutality and systemic incarceration than white counterparts? Why and how are Americans still so racially divided?

Despite our anger and frustration with Barack Obama as the US president and, failed promises to bring about a new American foreign policy, we can't help but feel proud of him as the first African American president for his grace, style, calm and dignity. And, yes, of course, we will feel for the injustice of what African Americans still suffer even though slavery ended 150 years ago.

I have never had the chance to be as educated or involved in Pakistani politics but realise I need to make more of an effort in understanding how the system works, how and why certain dynasties are still in power (Sharifs and Bhutto's), wha is the difference between provincial and federal politics, what blocks exist to make progressive change, how are laws passed, how do parties come to power, how are votes won, how are campaigns run, what are the new dynamics and loyalties in electoral politics, how is the government actually run, and so on. 

The election has gone off track

But getting back to the American Presidential race, since the last couple of weeks, I have cleared my head to realise that my initial feelings about Hillary Clinton remain the same. I am not crazy about her. Way back earlier in the year 2016, we were chatting about the Presidential race and a friend (non US citizen, of course, because we all have so much opinion) said she can't quite put a finger on why doesn't like Hillary Clinton and that she seems to want the office too much. I laughed. Later in the year, another female friend (also a non US citizen) said Hillary Clinton suffers from the image media projects of female politicians: aggressive, greedy, robotic, weird and so on. I wondered whether I also had an unexplainable dislike of Clinton because of the way the media shows her to be merely a power hungry freak as if men are not power hungry. Maybe I am indeed influenced by this image but she herself does herself no service by her rather arrogant and snobby style. And, should the office go to her because she deserves it and it's time to elect a female President? And, although I can't remember what happened in the 2008 race, but I do remember having an intense dislike for her for cheap tactics against Barack Obama. 

Is Hillary Clinton suffering from the typical way society perceives ambitious women? Are even other ambitious and progressive women buying into the unfair representation of Hillary Clinton? 

For myself personally, I see Hillary Clinton as a war hawk. That's reason enough not to be crazy about her and her ideological bent. 

The relentless sensational CNN coverage of the elections, too, doesn't help nor does my Facebook Newsfeed help. This is not a fair or even contest for the most powerful office. If you watch the Presidential debates or read and see the headlines, Hillary Clinton comes off easily as the superior candidate. Compared to Trump's wild antics, Hillary delivers the image of a calm, poised, prepared, polished, knowledgable and dignified candidate. For every sexist or racist comment Trump makes, usually a retort, Hillary appears as the epitome of a progressive and modern leader. And worse, when Trump makes derogatory statements about her personally, one's Newsfeed fills up with 10 or 20 articles, memes and videos just about one wild statement he has made. If he called her nasty or claimed she couldn't satisfy her husband, the feminist warriors will wax non stop about how this is precisely why Hillary Clinton needs to be elected and, how this represents the sexist malaise in American society. 

Every single antic of Trump has inspired endless commentary about the deterioration of the Republican party, racism, sexual violence, rape, and so on and, it seems many of my American friends on Facebook are so happy they have the right candidate to vote for: Hillary Clinton. 

The main question of how and why an unqualified candidate like Trump was allowed to even enter the fray remains unanswered. Is this what the risk of a democracy is, then? And, what is the quality of a democracy where only 2 parties have dominated the scene? And, how far apart are these parties, practically? 

It is easy to dismiss Trump and, then sing of Hillary Clinton's accomplishments and qualifications. During one of the debates, Trump tried to make some good points about Hillary Clinton's record: e-mail scandal, her support of American wars, and the tax loopholes he is able to exploit thanks to political machinations in DC. Coming as an outsider, Tump could present a more dignified, prepared and solid campaign that promises to clean up politics and usher in a more just system for ordinary Americans. But neither his background nor his personality allow him to do that. Who is the real Trump anyway? Is he for real or is an alien experiment?

So, where does it leave us? The world desperately wants to be in the delivery room as American delivers its next Presidential election. 

I appreciate the idea finally that many Americans are frustrated at the choices they have which shows their political system needs to be over hauled. And, apparently, these 2 are the most disliked candidates in history! 

What should an American voter do especially if she/he can't stand either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? Should she/he vote for Hillary Clinton to prevent the apocalypse that Trump would usher in? Should she/he protest and abstain? Is going for a 3rd party candidate a crime? I guess it's really up to the voter and she/he has the right to make the choice without judgement or blame. Isn't that what democracy is about? 

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Good evening

For this evening's walk, we decided to walk the whole way rather than just drive up to Masonic Lodge and run laps. It was a very pleasant walk and you'll appreciate the photographs, especially the one with the keke on Benson Street, it's silhouette framed by the glow of the vehicle's front lights in the back in the night-time street. 

And you'll also see photographs of the Masonic Lodge, a building I have photographed so many times.