Wednesday, October 26, 2005

third world, and first rate

after spending the whole weekend chit chatting, monday morning started off very interestingly. en route to work, i was chatting with someone about the sociopolitical scene in south africa. when we were getting out of the car i remarked to him how i thought it was garbage to rate south africa as a third world nation. for the next hour we sat in the parking lot as he gave me a very articulate and absolutely riveting commentary on the scene here. now since i got here, ive been having these chats with people on and off, and heard some interesting stuff. i thought id share a mish-mash of it with you folks.

first, here goes what little ive learnt of the ground factors here. the south african scene is similar to ours. you could call what is happening here, an alternative to the mess in india. starting with their recent history, this is a country that has two big blocs of people - the whites and the blacks. the whites are the richer population : you will see very few of them standing on the roads hawking stuff. most of them seem to have cars, and the cars they drive are all more up-market. they live in nice houses with all the facilities. the blacks are not all miserably poor, but the majority are definitely poorer than the whites, have lower grade jobs, and have a bigger population of unemployed folks. BUT, things are in motion for a change.

many of the blacks used to be illiterate but have now been supported to get an education. it is compulsory to hire a number of them in managerial capacity. that used to create problems because they were seldom qualified for the posts. now, however, there is a new generation of young blacks who are completing their education and are competent, qualified, and in demand.

the whites are an absolute hodge podge of backgrounds: you have spanish, french, germans, portugese, naturally dutch, british... you name it. in the last few years, trade has really picked up here, leading to many changes. south africa is now about the only african nation to really prosper. nearly everyone who works speaks english (or needs to!) and afrikaans is becoming less prevalent, there's a more "global" context to everything, people have seen more of other countries and their systems. in doing so, they have brought the best of all the systems they have seen to their own country.

these people were really late to step into cellular communications, but now they have top of the line technology. theyre currently upgrading their pipe line networks. they have terrific road systems. theyre also heading for a traffic congestion problem, so theyre working on introducing car pooling and other options that the countries which are already in a mess are trying out. theres a drive on to clean up corruption and keep tabs on government expenditure.

there are programs on tv that do really decent spade work, that have now been running for 10 years and have therefore been doing some long term tracking on government promises on schemes. and the best part: people actually watch em. I saw one of the programs last night – it was called carte blanche. they covered a staggering range of subjects. I hear the same folks had cleared up the charities mess for the country earlier – soon after apartheid was overthrown, there were simply hundreds of charities for children, orphans, black orphans and so on. people were giving money, but didn't know what was happening. this program did some footwork, tracked down the charities, got the funds theyd received, checked what they were doing, and finally presented the few reliable ones they found. after that particular episode, quite a few of the boguses disappeared quietly.

its not that the odds are all in this countrys favour: the population density is very less for the huge land area, making providing services like telecom very expensive. the telecom scene is nowhere as good as ours in terms of penetration or cost of service. public transport is abysmal and virtually non existent. (we may well pat ourselves on the back for the sheer coverage and volumes that our public transport systems handle!) the blacks and whites may not have problems living together as earlier, but society is still very fragmented: there are clearly demarcated black population strongholds in housing areas and vice versa. I havent seen that much social mingling of the races either. (if you look at our many layered society, as much as theres constant friction there is also a higher degree of interaction)

south africa has the human rights problems that any country with a large population of poor people would have, but laws have been framed to address their unique situation. if women were traditionally oppressed and deprived of rights, there is a very deliberate and well thought out initiative to set right the situation now. the country, notorious for earlier apartheid atrocities, seems to be genuinely trying to improve conditions for black people now.

the current trend is that of people migrating from self sufficient farms in rural areas to urban poverty - the government seems to have been quick to notice it and start planning for it. as much of the tourism revenue depends on the unique flora and fauna of the region, a law has been passed to guard the indigenous species of the land. introduced plants and animals are discouraged, and there are really well-maintained bioreserves and parks.

so any direction you look in, it hits you pretty hard: these people are really trying.

what was really impressive, was this sense of collective spirit i encountered when speaking to people. its easier to get together for dramatic issues. where its tough, but can make a big difference, is in unglamorous day to day things like garbage disposal and recycling or traffic discipline and car pooling.

this place leaves me feeling totally bewildered. why not us? why cant we do these small things to improve the lives of our people? it may sound trite and too simplistic a question, but right now, i really am totally puzzled. i don't care too much for the nation - boundary thing, but as countries go, i honestly think we've an awesome one. it has to be possible people – come on! lets get our act together!!


Tuesday, October 11, 2005


this time, he's the guilty un.

the 5th line in my 23rd post : "then slow down and look at what that has done". it was from my effort to describe technocracy and its influence on the media

i'm not doing the 55 word tag cos i already broke my head over it once, thank you! and since im a nice girl, and have to get back to work, i shant tag anyone. yet.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

africa ahoy!

Dear folks

Hullo from SA! After 15 hours of climbing walls and beginning to wonder if id ever seen the great wide world outside a plane's cabin, im finally here. The only interesting thing about the flight was learning how to spell "altitude" in Arabic. And since im very kicked about it, I shall tell you how: its squiggle, wiggle, and two dots! :D

this is a truly beautiful country. The colours and smells are almost overwhelming. (I do miss the humidity and heat of madras though: this place almost sucks you dry) everything seems to be celebrating life – the flowers, animals, trees, people – its one huge riot of colour and sensations!

Such gorgeous skull shapes, and cleanly chiseled features… and of course, all set in the most delicious ebony or chocolate brown colours! I am having such a difficult time not staring. Awesome.

Methinks this is also going to be an excellent ground to study body comfort: the way people comport themselves is a real eye opener. Its really fabulous seeing such a lack of inhibition and insecurity. Another really nice thing is the friendliness of the place. I walked into a supermarket, and the cashier positively beamed at me, greeted me like an old friend, chatted, and wished me a nice evening! It wasn't exceptional : all the blacks seem to be that way, bless em! Its so delightful to meet with such warmth : )

Other than the ancient cultural background, there is also a lot of other stuff in common with India. We had an interesting chat this morning over breakfast, and the reservation, conditioning and HIV stigma scene are rather like ours.

Oh, also had a really nice time yesterday: a lady who speaks only german, one who speaks german and English and I had a nice discussion on being women, and on feminism. It was so neat that despite not speaking the same languages, and being from totally different backgrounds and countries, we still had a common ground and were able to share so many things!

Right. Got to go now, starting work on Monday, hope it goes ok : )

you folks take care




Sunday, October 02, 2005

beam me up toto

dear folks,

im off to south africa for two months on work. now that’s very nice, though i must say, as soon i was told i was going it felt more like the end of the world because i hate travelling - im harder to budge than a cat once im comfily settled anywhere!

at first I was worried witless about the work as such, you know – would I go through the training ok, and not end up botching things up and blah. i find however, that there's nothing like a fresh bunch of worries to put the old ones in perspective!
so now that ive anyway calmly resigned myself to the worst possible scenarios, I am starting to get excited about going :)

im going to sorely miss my beloved sea and the beach and the general madness at home. but tis all for a good cause : i shall get to see K and M again. (dear me, my life is positively peppered with Ms!) isnt that gull-O-rious?! youll have to take my word for it. it is! theyre verrry interesting people. ive thoroughly enjoyed our previous pow wows, so im eagerly looking forward to heaps more! – and of course youll be hearing tidbits and scraps here :)

so from Thursday on - assuming with airy optimism that ill get the time and opportunity to post - youll be 'earin' it 'ot from africa!

take care you junta. dyou know, its been tremendous fun knowing you all :)


m. (a version thats as shaky on the inside as a jellyfish with parkinsons! lol...)


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