How much for humanity on the Congo ferry?

Scan-140829-0086jpeg

Scan-140829-0087jpeg

ferry16 Congo

Scan-130703-0006 (2)

Scan-140829-0072jpeg

Scan-140829-0071jpeg

I have written elsewhere that the Team Leader’s long ago trip on the Congo Ferry is a source of great envy to me. I’ve said, too, that the Congo River is Central Africa’s super-highway. In a land with few roads and vast forests, the river is not only an essential means of transport, but a place to do business for communities along the river. This ferry plies some thousand miles of treacherous waterway between Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Kisangani in the east. The ferry takes not only passengers, but also has several great barges hitched alongside, and to them are tied fleets of traders’ pirogues. Since progress can be slow with days of delay – running aground on one of the shifting sandbars being a common hazard – the ferry becomes a floating shanty town – all of life and death takes place here.

Henry Morton Stanley was probably the first European to explore the river’s length. It was down to his urging of the riches to be had there that King Leopold II of Belgium established one of the cruellest, most murderous regimes ever perpetrated on hapless humanity. Under the guise of humanitarian aid, Leopold secured this vast Central African territory as his personal fiefdom and named it Congo Free State. From 1885-1908 (until the Belgian Government forced him to relinquish control) Leopold was thought to be responsible for up to 10 million deaths*of African villagers who were terrorized, raped, mutilated and killed in order to provide their quotas of wild rubber and ivory to European Station managers. And believe me, you see only the merest glimpse of these European officers’ activities in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a tale that was rooted in his own brief experience as a steamboat captain on the Congo. Campaigners who helped to expose Leopold’s activities include British journalist E. D. Morel, Irish-born British diplomat, Roger Casement in the Casement Report, and Sherlock Holmes creator, Arthur Conan Doyle.

Nor has the resource grabbing by foreign powers ever stopped. One way and another, the world’s greatest nations have long defended their vast interests in the Congo.  Western multi-nationals control millions of dollars of mining concessions. This was the reason why America installed, kept in power and armed the plundering Mobutu regime for 30 years. In 1998, after the repercussions of the Rwandan Genocide escalated into a civil war across the Congo,  the US armed 3 of the African nations (Chad, Namibia and Zimbabwe) involved in supporting Laurent Kabila’s bid to take control**. In 2012 The Guardian newspaper reported that British MPs were investigating the ‘opaque dealings’ of London-listed mining companies in DRC***:

 

“News of the potential inquiry, which could involve top FTSE 100 mining executives being called to give evidence, comes as campaigners argue that natural resources deals are benefiting multinationals rather than the DRC’s population. Commodity trader Glencore will also face calls to explain its involvement in the resource-rich central African country.”

And so the question that nags is when, in the name of humanity, is the plunder and rapine ever to stop? Do not be fobbed off with the notion that the bloody conflicts that have been raging along DRC’s eastern border with Rwanda for over a decade are ONLY to do with local warlords, or Rwanda’s predation. They are to do with coltan that is an essential resource for making cell phones. They are to do with diamonds that adorn the elite and pampered, and are essential to industrial processes and make foreign dealers very rich. They are to do with gold, and copper, and cobalt, and hardwoods, and oil prospecting. They are to do with super-power arms dealing. For this piece of Africa is the most resource-rich territory on the planet, far beyond H M Stanley’s wildest dreams, or even Leopold’s rapacious imaginings. 

Yet its people remain the poorest on earth.  Corporate wealth based on unfair trading  comes at human cost, and that cost is the same kind of barbarity that Leopold’s men doled out. As the angry Karim in Monica Ali’s novel Brick Lane is wont to say, the question to ask is: “Who benefits?” In these conflict-ridden days, it is a question always worth asking. Sometimes it offers a glimpse of clarity between all the establishment smoke and mirrors.

Scan-140829-0046jpeg

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

References:

* Andrew Osborn Belgium Confronts its Colonial Demons

 

**World Policy Institute report: US Arms to Africa and the Congo War

 

*** Mining firms face scrutiny over Congo deals

Corporate Watch Death on the lake: British oil company’s role in Congo killings exposed

 

Related: Up the Congo for more of the history

DP photo challenge: humanity

wild shopping in Kenya

Scan-130602-0001

In Africa shopping is often an adventure. Well, who needs the thrill of the mall when you can strike a deal in a hippo-infested papyrus swamp? And for carnations too. I was most impressed by this young man’s opportunism, though puzzled too. Flower-buying customers seemed in short supply in this particular location. I was in the wilderness grounds attached to the Safariland Hotel on the shores of Lake Naivasha when he popped out of the papyrus. I had been wandering alone there (as I did over several days), not on the look out for retail therapy, but for Cape Buffalo (as indeed the sign warned me), and also for hippo whose very loud grunting was resounding off the lake. Both creatures can be deadly if you catch them, or they you, in circumstances not to their liking. 

In short then, I was engaged in my own form of adventure bird-watching, while the Team Leader, aka Graham, was back at the hotel, involved in workshop brain-storming with fellow scientists from across Africa. The other surprising factor is that I had some money on me so was able to buy a bunch. The flower seller kept his stock hidden from view in a swamp puddle. It seemed he was recycling the discarded side-shoots from one of the local flower factories. There are several of these huge horticulture enterprises along Lake Naivasha’s shore, all abstracting and polluting the only freshwater lake within Kenya’s Rift in order to export perfect metre-long stems of roses and carnations to Europe. The seller was thus making an opportunity out of stock control squeamishness over European “standards”. But as you can see, his little posy is very pretty. The flowers lasted ages, even surviving a hot drive back to Nairobi. A good buy all round.

You can read more of this story at CARNATIONS, CROOKS AND COLOBUS AT LAKE NAIVASHA  For now, here are more views of this unique wildlife outlet store:

Scan-130602-0003

Scan-130716-0012

Scan-130602-0006Scan-130716-0010Scan-130716-0013

 

 

 

DP weekly photo challenge: adventure

Ailsa’s Travel Challenge: merchandise

Jennifer Jones comes to Wenlock

51CM9EJQ5QL[1]

It’s hard to imagine, but in 1949 Hollywood descended on my little home town of Much Wenlock. Both its locations and inhabitants featured in David O. Selznick’s screen version of Mary Webb’s 1917 novel, Gone to Earth. The film’s star, Oscar-winner Jennifer Jones, certainly looks the part, and in this respect she well conjures the book’s central character, the untamed but doomed spirit that is Shropshire lass, Hazel Woodus.

As an American, Jones of course had to receive specialist drilling in the Shropshire dialect, a form of speech which these days is scarcely heard, but would have been the norm during Webb’s childhood. She writes it very clearly in the book’s dialogue, and Jones makes a good stab at it, but it perhaps sounds overdone to modern ears. People in England do not speak like this any more.

gonetoearth17[1]

Mary Webb herself spent her adolescence in Much Wenlock, and for the rest of her too-short life lived in various parts of rural Shropshire. She knew country ways intimately. Her writing is rooted always in the landscapes of her own growing up – the upland wilds and rugged long-gone lead-mining and peasant farming communities, the small market towns. But although she observes the hardship and poverty with a keen eye, she has tended to be dismissed as a writer of the romantic and rustic, her work parodied in Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm.

In her day, though, she had some very well known literary admirers  including Rebecca West  and John Buchan (Thirty-Nine Steps). I think her novels deserve a rediscovery. Her themes are still relevant today: male attitudes to women being one of them; human cruelty and wilful destructiveness for another.

In Gone to Earth, the central character, Hazel Woodus, is eighteen, motherless, and living in an isolated cottage with her coffin-making, bee-keeping father, Abel. Her only companion is a tame fox, Foxy, and her only guidance in life is dubiously received from her dead mother’s book of gypsy spells.

Two men want her: the Baptist Minister who marries her and tries to protect what he sees as her innocent spirit, and the fox-hunting landowner who wants only bodily possession. Hazel herself is torn between respectable conformity and her growing sexual awareness. And if I tell you that the term ‘gone to earth’ is the huntsman’s cry when a fox goes underground to escape the hounds, you will know that the story does not end well.

In other senses the book’s plot may be purely allegorical. Above all, it is about the pointless destruction of natural beauty and freedom. Webb was writing it at a time when three of her younger brothers were fighting in the World War 1 trenches.

MuchWenlock05[1]

MuchWenlock10[1]

Much Wenlock 1949 in outside and inside the medieval Guildhall: scenes from Gone to Earth, director Michael Powell

*

100_6020

The making of the film did not run altogether smoothly, and there are perhaps some parallels between Hazel as an object of male possession and control , and the position of the film’s star, Jennifer Jones. She had had an affair with the executive producer, David O. Selznik, and by 1949 they were married. He wanted Gone to Earth to be solely a showcase for her, and he did not think the film’s makers, the fabulous storytelling team of director Michael Powell, and screenwriter, Emeric Pressburger, (The Red Shoes, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp) had done her justice. He even took them to court for not producing what was in the script. He lost the case, but he still had the right to make an alternative version.

feat1[1]100_4926

The upshot was that for the 1952 American release, renamed The Wild Heart , he chopped all the scenes that did not make the most of Jones, had new scenes shot, and to make sense of the makeover added a commentary by Joseph Cotton. The film was not well received, and so did not serve his purpose.  Only recently has the original Powell and Pressburger version been fully restored.

feat4[1]

In the film clip below you will see, not Much Wenlock, but a location some miles across Wenlock Edge. Here are the beautiful hills of South Shropshire, in particular the Stiperstones with its bleak outcrop known as the Devil’s Chair. This is where Hazel goes at night in expectation of guidance from one of her mother’s superstitious rites. This silly, girlish act, and mistaken reading of events will have tragic consequences.

 

Hazel goes to the Devil’s Chair

 

For more on Mary Webb:

images-3[1]

“This year’s discovery has been Mary Webb, author of Gone to Earth. She is a genius, and I shouldn’t mind wagering that she is going to be the most distinguished writer of our generation.”

— Rebecca West, review of Gone to Earth in the Times Literary Supplement, August 30, 1917

 

Mary Webb: neglected genius for the synopsis of Gone to Earth and also for details of her other works.

 

Flickr Comments for more J-words stories

on a knife edge at victoria falls

Zambia's Victoria Falls looking along knife-edge to Zimbabwe's falls

Hang-gliding over the hundred metre precipice at Victoria Falls is not to be recommended. Nor had I intended to take the plunge, my ‘sail’ being nothing more than a wet kanga-wrap, held up to fend off a tropical deluge. Somehow, though, circumstances (and a lack of sensible forward planning) had led us to the Falls’ knife-edge just as Zambia’s 18-month drought was ending, and the rains beginning. Even without  the hang-gliding it was a heart-stopping moment.

The prolonged drought across Southern Africa was of course the reason for Team Farrell’s presence in Zambia in late 1992. The Team Leader, Graham, had been seconded to the European Union Delegation to manage maize flour and cooking oil distribution to foodless villages across the nation. We had only been in the country a couple of weeks when G was directed to go down to Livingstone on the southern border to inspect a newly arrived consignment of maize. His boss suggested he should drive down on a Saturday and take me too. Naturally Nosy Writer (that’s me) was only too pleased to head off on a several hundred mile safari.

Looking back, the diplomat’s suggestion that I should go was possibly a kindness in disguise. Nothing was spelled out, since we were newly arrived, and Bernard (aka the boss) did not wish to scare us before we had found our bearings. But security in the capital Lusaka was not good. President Chiluba, the newly democratically elected leader, had been in office for barely a year, this after ousting the incumbent of decades, Kenneth Kaunda.

Later it transpired that Kaunda’s army officer son, Rezi, had been intent on destabilizing the country, and was apparently behind the city’s upsurge in violent crime. On top of that, in neighbouring Zaire (now DR Congo) President Mobutu had not been paying the army, and so gangs of gun-toting soldiers would drive down to Lusaka for a spot of night-time car-jacking and house-breaking. In a nation of impoverished people, the diplomatic quarter was the obvious target. Better, then,  that I should not be left alone. Not that I knew this then. Nor had G’s company thought to mention any of this before offering his services to the EU. As they say, ignorance is bliss.

Zambia's Victoria Falls in the dry season

And so one Saturday morning under a wide blue, and seemingly ever rainless sky we set off south. The road, once clear of the city, ran on mile after mile after mile with hardly another vehicle in sight. We passed through landscapes of rolling woodland, the tall-tree miombo which, at first glance seemed more like Europe than Africa. After nine months in Kenya the vistas, too, seemed curiously lacking in drama –until, that is, we reached Livingstone.

Our hotel stood beside the Zambezi, and after tea on the lawn in the English manner it was off to the nearby Falls. The photo above was my first view of them. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh, cry or simply stare open-mouthed. Where was the water?

The drought had much to do with it of course. But the other reason was that Zambia abstracts large volumes of water to run its hydroelectric plant.

004 (2)

The Falls as seen (and ‘discovered’) by  David Livingstone.

Engraving from Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa 1857

*

G told me the best view of the falls was across the border in Zimbabwe, and that if we had remembered to bring my passport we could have walked across. Most frustrating.

Instead, we walked along the path beside Zambia’s waterless gorge.  But trailing through dead vegetation while staring at the stark basalt cliff face felt more and more oppressive. It made me think of Tolkein’s Mordor. We gave it up and went back to the hotel.

Our room theoretically had a river view. In reality all we could see was its empty bed, with huge boulders and clumps of palms here and there. But on Sunday afternoon I noticed that people walking across it. “Let’s go,” I said.

The sun was shining when we set off, and soon we were joined by a boy who appeared from nowhere and offered to guide us to the best Falls’ viewpoint. We duly followed, picking our way round oily looking rock-pools, mammoth sized boulders, and piles of fresh elephant dung.

We must have scrambled on for nearly a kilometre when the sky started to turn grey. I began to feel nervous, glancing upstream and expecting a wall of water to come rolling down. Or to walk round a boulder and into an elephant.

And then the rain came down. Fat freezing drops. We made a dash for cover, which happened to be some trees on Livingstone Island, the very spot from where the explorer had first viewed the Falls in 1855. We crouched for ages under dripping trees until at last, thoroughly soaked, G asked the boy if the ‘good view’ was much further. On discovering that it wasn’t we made a final dash. And here it is. The view:

Victoria Falls, looking over the knife edge in a rainstorm

Not much to be seen for the spray coming up, and rain coming down. I took this quick snap, and then held up the sodden cotton wrap that I had been wearing earlier to fend off the sun. As I stood on the knife-edge the sudden gust of wind that filled the wrap was enough to lift me towards the abyss. I stepped back in shock. I’d had more than enough of Mosi-oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders). So had the boy.  Soon he was sprinting away without even waiting for a tip, and that really had me worried. What did he know that we didn’t? We slipped and slid, back the way we had come. More phantom elephants. More imaginary flash floods. More getting lost in outcrops of giant boulders. It seemed a long, long way back to the hotel.

It was not until several months later that we finally got to see the Falls, this time from the Zimbabwe side. On this occasion we only got drenched from the spray, while I took yet another wet and misty photograph, but thankfully avoided all inclination to hang-glide.

Victoria Falls and Zambezi

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

 

Related:

The Smoke that Thunders

Letters from Lusaka I

Letters from Lusaka II

Once in Zambia – in memoriam

 

Daily Post Photo Challenge: adventure for more bloggers’ photo-adventures

Have i Got Moos for you

IMG_1359

IMG_0940

IMG_0936

To my eye these Highland Cattle definitely have a frayed look. Their shaggy coats are of course designed to fend off the bitter rain-filled gales of their West of Scotland homeland. They are also one of Britain’s oldest breeds, and all-round tough guys. They are long-lived; they thrive on the poorest grazing, and cows produce  up to 15 calves in their lifetime. This sturdy durability also explains why the breed has been exported world-wide – even to the barren uplands of the Andes. This bunch, however, is having a very cushy life in Much Wenlock, both weather- and food-wise. It’s nice to come upon them on our walks around the town’s surrounding fields. You never know where they will be next, which is a cause of much a-moos-ement on the part of the Team Leader aka Graham, who has formed a deep affection for the great, hairy beasties. (We simple souls are easily pleased out here in the shires.)

100_5314

 

For more info: The Highland Cattle Society

 

DP Photo Challenge: fray

Where’s my backpack challenge: orange

Fun & games at the writer’s block party

100_3474

You can’t have a good party, even one with a negative cast, without some games. And here are a few that might unblock the block. And if they seem a tad childish, who cares? So much writer’s block is down to that domineering, sneery, superior, judgemental inner critic. Time to banish the rotten killjoy and play.

 

It’s in the cards…

This first game takes quite a bit of preparation, but this in itself will help with the loosening up process. Since you need lots of paper cut into small pieces, it is a good thing to do with several similarly afflicted friends. You are aiming for something credit card size. Three different colours might make it more interesting. How many ‘cards’ you have is up to you, but the more you have, the more possibilities you create.

Divide the cards into three equal piles.  These will be your 3 main story ingredients: protagonist, place, artefact. Work through each pile, writing down one possible protagonist on each of the protagonist cards, then the same for the ‘place’ and ‘artefact’ piles. DO NOT think about these. Write down first thoughts.

My first thought protagonists are: Captain Cook, Death, a leopard, Miss Marple, a hoover salesman. Places could be: ice cream parlour, the morgue, planet Europa, the subway, the Gobi desert. And  artefacts: a Bronze Age sword, a hat stand, thimble, memory stick, goldfish bowl…

Shuffle the cards in their individual piles and place face down. Every player deals themselves a card from each pile, and weaves the three prompts into a story. The dafter the better. This is all about letting go.

 

Story-time ~ old lamps for new…

Everyone has a favourite fairy story, but how about turning it on its head. And inside out. Or back to front. Why not re-tell Cinderella from the point of view of one of the mice who gets turned into a fine white horse so he/she may help pull the heroine’s coach to the ball. How does the mouse feel about this transformation. Is it a grave disappointment to return to mousedom at midnight?  Or what about Aladdin’s genie? How does he feel about all the conjuring, and being ordered about by a mere youth? Perhaps he’s a female genie who colludes with the wicked magician to retrieve the lamp…Think laterally.

 

Out of the hat…

Making funny hats is an excellent party activity. You’ll need lots of disparate makings: card, sellotape, coloured pens, scrap fabric, glitter…Create from anything to hand – viking helm, coronet, turban, veil or fascinator. When finished, put it on, or swap it for someone else’s, and then conjure the hat’s owner. Who are you? Where you off to in that hat?

 

Have Fun!

 

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

 

Writer’s Block Party

Transported on Lamu

 

Scan-140801-0001

 

There came a time when Sendibada signed on with a strange sea captain. The next day, as dawn was breaking, the ship cast off, a strong breeze filling the lateen sails, and bearing them swiftly out to sea. But towards noon the wind died, and the boat drifted, becalmed, on still waters.

At this the captain strode out on the bridge, and began to utter words that Sendibada could not fathom. He stared and stared for, to his astonishment, the ship began to rise, graceful as an egret taking flight. Sendibada grinned. He liked a good adventure, and now it seemed this strange captain of his was none other than the most powerful magician.

Up into the clouds they soared, flying, flying until at last they saw a faraway red spot. But little by little the spot grew, until at last Sendibada saw it was a city in the sky, and that every house there was made of copper. Soon they set down in the harbour and, as the crew made to go ashore, from every quarter, lovely girls came out to greet them, bearing on their heads copper trays laden with the most delicious fruits and sweetmeats and tender roasted morsels.

And so it was that much time passed, the ship’s crew enjoying month after month of this most gracious hospitality. Sendibada, though, was growing homesick, and said as much. Now the magician gave him a round mat and told him how to use it.

Sendibada followed the instructions, placing the mat on the ground and seating himself upon it so that he faced the direction of his home town. Then he spoke the foreign words that meant: Behold! We shall all return to it . And at once the mat rose into the clouds, and faster than a diving hawk, set Sendibada back on the beach just outside his home town.

 copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

The Copper City  retold from a translated text in Jan Knappert’s Myths and Legends of the Swahili

 

P.S. In case you hadn’t guessed, Sendibada is the Swahili version of Sinbad.

 

A Word A Week challenge: transport