Sunday, 27 January 2008

Plum Wine

Today we had book group where we discussed the book Plum Wine by Angela Davis-Gardner. This book was about an American, Barbara, who went to Japan, Tokyo specifically, to teach English in 1966. Here she befriends a Japanese teacher, who one her death leaves her collection of plum wine to Barbara. Wrapped around each bottle of wine is an annual record of important life events for the previous year, written in Japanese of course. In the process of getting this translates, she falls for her translator Seiji, a potter, who also features in some of the annual records.
I would describe the book as a light read, a romance. It touches on deeper issues such as the bombing of Hiroshima and the effect on survivors and the Japanese response to the Vietnam War, but most our bookgroup members felt these issues could have been developed in more depth. Then again maybe that was not the aim of the author in the book.
With one member who has previously lived in Japan for 6 years, the book had a far greater meaning. It brought back many memories of her live there, and she is sure her daughters will also enjoy reading the book. However, other members felt they could not recommend the book to others. This really does show how books can be interpreted differently by different people. As for me I would only recommend this book as a light read.

Australia Day

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Yesterday was Australia Day, not that you would know it living here on the other side of the world. Australia Day commemorates the establishment of the first European settlement in Australia. It was the day Captain Arthur Phillip founded the first British penal colony at Sydney Cove (now Sydney). Today many Australians dig through their family history looking for traces of a convict past. Once an embarrassment, it is now a reason for notoriety. But no convicts in my past, not that I know of anyway.

Australia Day is also the day that the Australian of the Year is announced. This year it is the country music singer Lee Kernaghan, who also has spent much time helping rural Australians. If it is not droughts killing off the grass, sheep and cattle, it is floods drowning them. Being at the beck and call of nature , as farmers are, is not easy. I know firsthand as I grew up through droughts on the farm.

It is only because of reading Australian papers on the Internet that I remembered it was Australia day, but Monday is the Australia Day public holiday, since the 26th fell on the weekend.
Here is a couple of photographic reminders of Australia:

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Crazy Street

Rue Atlas is the street I live on. It is one of the main streets in the Rabat suburb of Agdal and recently it became a one-way street as they work on the new tramway. Instead of Atlas it should be called "Crazy Street", especially at 8 or 9 pm when it is absolutely crazy. Being driven down it at this time is like an obstacle course - cars double parked, often on both sides; cars reversing down the street; pedestrians strolling across the street without looking even if the traffic light says not too; car horns tooting; cars turning from the centre lane; cars parked on the footpath; people walking on the street because of the cars parked on the footpath; blaring music as the local hoons do laps past McDonalds; and so it goes on; speeding up to run the red light. . . . . . . . This is when I am thankful that I don't drive in Morocco (in addition to them driving on the wrong side of the road! Unfortunately it is not only on this one street that this happens, but rather on roads and streets and highways throughout the country. I am surprised the high road toll is not even higher. Thank goodness for the courtesy of many of the drivers.

Mind you when I walk down the street at 7 am on the way to work, or on a Sunday morning I sometimes have to remind myself that this is the same street. It is so quiet, with the resident cats being the most active sight. But then I should be thankful for the peace and quiet.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Mali - Part 5

Here are a few more photos that didn't make the previous entries.

Mali - Part 4 (Timbuktu)

Timbuktu, like the back of Bourke in Australia, the place in the middle of nowhere. I finally made it to Timbuktu after a few dramas because the Australian government put out a "Do Not Travel to Timbuktu" warning. The highest travel alert possible!

With dirt streets, clouds of dust, mud houses and being bordered by desert, Timbuktu is a real frontier town. Full of men with heads and faces covered by scarves with just their noses showing. Once I had got enveloped in a couple of clouds of red dust, I could understand why. Women in colourful dresses and skirts carrying laundry and shopping on their heads. And, like everywhere, kids playing in the dirt.
Timbuktu does not take a long time to explore. It has three mosques, some houses of intrepid European explorers, an interesting museum, a colourful market and as for the restaurants, they all have the same 8 things on the menu.
To experience the desert, well sort of, we rode camels out into the desert for one hour then spent the night camped in a nomads encampment.
It certainly was a New Year's Eve with a difference. Especially with the disappearing tourists who came to join us around the campfire as it neared midnight, but could not be found in the morning, having not made it the 20 metres back to their camp. The sunrise was spectacular though as it got me out of bed at 6 am on New Year's Day!

Mali - Part 3 (Niger River)

Hard as it is to believe, the easiest way to get to fabled Timbuktu is by river. Three days cruising down the Niger River to be precise. Nothing to do but sit and watch the world go by: watch villagers washing at the river's edge, fishermen putting in their nets, goats getting transported across the river by boat, cattle taking a circular swim in the river to get clean, black smoke belching transport boats moving slowly, birds flitting back and forth between trees and cattle grazing on the river banks.
A couple of highlights were:
  • hippos lolling on the riverbank (not a great photo though)
  • the spectacular mud mosques visible in many of the villages
  • the colour of the local women as they went about their daily tasks
  • camping on the riverbank with a warming campfire
  • watching the sun rise and set over the vast Niger River.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Mali - Part 2 (Dogon country)

South of the Niger River is a land of rugged, red escarpments, mostly rock covered plateaus, and where water is available patches of dark green where small onions are grown for sale. This is Dogon country, home of the Dogon people who live both above and below the escarpment.

Here we spent 3 days walking along the base of the escarpment, through villages where cars are rarely seen and donkey carts are the vehicle of burden. Occasional motorbikes provide an alternative form of transport, but walking along sandy tracks is still the most common.

Climbing down the escarpment to the floor below was a challenge for those like me who don't like heights. It was a very rocky, steep path but was fortunately shaded most of the way.
As we walked we explored the villages, their mud houses, conical-topped granaries and the cliff-top remnants of the earlier inhabitants - the Tellem, a pygmy race who the Dogon replaced. The Tellem built their cemeteries high up on the cliff faces, where they can still be seen today.Dogon culture is best known for their masks and mask dances. These relate to their beliefs that the earth, moon and sun were created by a divine being. Even stranger is the fact that they believed that the star Sirius was actually 3, long before it was proven to be the case by scientists. Fetishes and sacrifices are still believed in today. Here is a traditional meeting house.
I enjoyed the opportunity to see life as it is today, a very hard life I must say. Water is obtained from central wells and carried, cooking is mostly done over charcoal braziers and women and children always seem to be carrying something on their heads.

In one village, I got the opportunity to briefly see a Christmas day church service in a Christian church.In another village I got to see their Christmas celebration, a village get together with singing and dancing. Round and round they went in an anticlockwise direction. some men took a break to drink millet beer (brewed by the women of course) from a communal gourd bowl.
Improvements are slowly occuring, but mostly at the initiative of the Dogon people themselves. Their wells now have hand operated water pumps courtesy of the Japanese, while below is a school built with money provided by the Dutch.

Mali - Part 1

With limited internet access in Mali, my blog has had to wait until I returned. In fact, only once did I go on the internet during my 2 weeks in Mali, but I didn't have time to have withdrawal symptoms. Mali is a country of variety, harsh landscapes, friendly people and boring but healthy food. Even restaurant has the same eight items on their menu!

On first sight it is hard to believe Bamako is a capital city. With mostly dirt streets, sheds that double as shops and a tiny airport where waiting is the norm. It took half an hour for our boarding passes to be printed out on departure!

However, amongst the dust and mayhem is a place of calm, the National Museum. It features traditional masks, ancient pottery and brilliantly coloured textiles in relatively modern buildings surrounded by trees and grass. Even a waterfall is at the entrance.

Leaving Bamako, it is straight into village life. Piles of striped watermelons beside the road, girls and women rushing up to the car windows to sell fruit, drinks or food whenever we stopped and petrol for sale in all sorts of glass bottles up to 1.5 litres in size. Then there are the markets where the parking lot is full of cattle and donkeys and the carts they pull. A man sews on a treadle sewing machine while women sit on the ground behind piles of oranges, bananas and tomatoes. A sweet smell emanates from huge cans of honey, fresh from the artificial beehives we see high up in the trees. Just in case sleep is taking over, the ever-present speed humps are a reminder that it is yet another village.
One of Mali's most well known attractions in the world's largest mud mosque in Djenne. Of course, as a non-Moslem I cannot enter it but it does form a stunning backdrop for the weekly Djenne market.

Listed as a World Heritage site, Djenne is a maze of mud houses bordering winding alleys, some with putrid grey drains down the middle. Even basic plumbing is still catching up here. This lack of colour in the town buildings contrasts with the vivid hues and striking geometric designs of the women's clothes, including scarfs. Market day is an ideal time to see this.
This is just a taste of what is to come.