Monthly Archives: August 2010

The land of one hundred thousand karibuni

I have arrived in Moshi, Tanzania where I will be interning with ChildReach International for the next few weeks with the purpose of recruiting new leaders.

The journey was a long one, from Gatwick to Dubai to Nairobi to Moshi. All in all, the trip took 48 hours. My Irish passport was charged $100 for a visa which was infuriating, but the fact that the roads from Nairobi to Moshi are much improved was some blessing.

Since I arrived yesterday evening, I’ve just been settling in Moshi, getting to know all the Mzungu (white man) hang outs and familiarising myself with the area. Moshi is a relatively small town of about 150,000 which lies on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro. When the sky is clear, one can see Kili from the streets of Moshi town. The ChildReach offices are located centrally and thus I have easy access to the town on foot and should only need taxis etc at night.

My friend Vicki, well-connected as she is in this part of Tz, has hooked me up with Oscar, who works for the Really Wild Travel company based here in Moshi. He has been incredibly useful, showing me the best places to buy certain essentials, explaining local culture, politics etc. and introducing me to people who may prove to be useful to me later on.

Today I took a walk around the town and took some photos of my home for the next 5 weeks:

And here’s a look at my living quarters:

Some people are scared of monsters under their beds. I'm more worried about scorpions.

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Filed under Photography, Tanzania 2010, Travel

A lesson in why Scotland is the best place for any young man to live

I recently went to the 21st birthday party of a friend of mine from university which was held in Aberdeenshire. The birthday boy and girl (joint celebration as it was) decreed that, as well as it being black tie dress, all guests would be required to wear a ‘hint of Scottish.

In fact, the entire event was Scottish themed, and altogether the fun I had made me realise something which I had been studiously ignoring for a while: Scotland is amazing.

We arrived at the house early in the afternoon and were almost immediately summoned to one of the fields in order to partake in the Not the Lonach Highland Games 2010. For those of you unaware of Scottish culture, this is essentially a piss-take of the Lonach Highland games which are held at Strathdon, Aberdeenshire every year. At the real Lonach games, men compete in manly sports such as the caber toss:

Luckily for me, the Not the Lonach Games were mildly easier, with games such as Wellie Toss and sack races to keep us super busy until dinner time. The whole thing was done with much pomp and ceremony with one cousin piping the entire event, and anyone with any claim to a clan tartan wearing it with pride.

After dinner, the reeling started. Now, the whole point of reeling is that it is social. Generally in a reel, all the men involved will at some point (albeit briefly) dance with all the women. The whole point is to encourage participants to socialise, and when mixed with alcohol, it is extremely effective. This style of dance became popular in Scotland in the 18th century and has been one of its great traditions ever since. It is, in my opinion, the best Caledonian activity of them all.

All Scots are taught to reel from a young age and it is up to any non-Scots guest at a reeling dance to familiarise themselves with the choreography before going. Of course, sometimes we forget the moves, or indeed we only learned them last time after a few pints and need ‘gentle reminding’. My partner for three of the dances was a girl who had been a member of the Caledonian Society at school and she did something incredibly useful if sometimes mildly frightening. Any time it looked like I was about to mess up the steps, she would roar an instruction with great urgency: “NOT LEFT, RIGHT!” and I would immediately jump to do as she commanded. Thus, I made it through Hamilton House, The Duke of Perth and the Eightsome Reel.

The final reel of the evening was, as is usual, Strip the Willow which essentially involves all the girls standing in a long line on one side and all the boys on the other. Meanwhile, a pair dance down between the two lines, swinging each other and a member of the opposite sex as they go until they get to the end. This may sound fairly easy, but I assure you that I nearly collapsed at the end, having swung about 40 girls round the room.

Nonetheless, I still managed to get a lovely photo with the birthday girl.

Happy birthday, V!

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Music from home and pictures of people dancing

I was feeling slightly nostalgic about home recently and so, in order to combat the feeling, I did the sensible and masochistic thing of searching YouTube for videos from All of the ads naturally have background music by Irish musicians and one piece of music in particular caught my ear.

Heather is a singing duo from Dublin made up of two twin sisters called Ellie and Louise McNamara. The girls began writing music together in 2007 during their Leaving Cert year and recorded their debut album Here, Not There in February 2008. Remember When is the song they first achieved significant airplay with:

On a similarly cultural/artistic note: I have discovered a photographer called Jordan Matter. Matter lives in New York City and has taken advantage of the many young people who come to the Big Apple to dance and got them to cavort in front of the camera. What makes his photos different is that Matter shoots these dancers in everyday situations with some beautiful results:

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Filed under Music, Photography

Manly Poems – ‘Tommy’ by Rudyard Kipling

Tommy Atkins is a term used to describe a common British soldier which was already in regular use in the 19th century, but which is particularly associated with the First World War.

This poem was one in a series by Kipling called “Barrack-Room Ballads” which was dedicated “To T.A.”. The poem is a protest piece written from the perspective of the common soldier, Tommy Atkins. In it, Kipling compares the behaviour of civilians towards soldiers during peacetime to how they treat the ‘redcoats’ when war begins. The soldier notes that when there is no immediate need for him and his comrades in the minds of the people, they treat him as a pariah. However, when the political situation heats up, the soldiers are suddenly hailed as heroes and treated as such. The work ends with the solemn reminder to the reader that while he may be common and uneducated, that does not make him ignorant of their behaviour. As is common with Kipling, the last line resounds in the reader’s mind.


I went into a public-’ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-’alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,
There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.

You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;

An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!


Filed under Manly Poems, Poetry

The bear is no longer Russia. The bear is Palin.

Media tycoon and liberal activist Arianna Huffington described the situation perfectly when she said: “the most important political ad of 2010 so far did not play on television, and came from someone not currently running for any office.”

She was, of course, referring to the now famous “Mama Grizzlies” viral advert for Sarah Palin. The video depicts women of various ages at a range of different Tea Party events and Palin rallies. All the while, the images are accompanied with the sound of applause interspersed with choice sound bytes from a speech made by Palin. The speech waxes lyrical about the power of women to change the country for the better in the name of their children, “because Moms kinda just know when something’s wrong”.  The general gist of the advert is summed up at the very end with the following lines:

“I always think of the mama grizzly bears that rise up on their hind legs when somebody is coming to attack their cubs… You thought pit bulls were tough? Well, you don’t wanna mess with the mama grizzlies!”

As many of her detractors were quick to point out, the video itself is completely free of policy. This is very typical of Palin’s political rhetoric, but such exclamations from her critics rather miss the point.

American politics is at a critical juncture. Obama’s government has had a great victory in its healthcare reform bill of March 2010. However, the backlash has been heavy, with the Tea Party movement snow-balling at an unprecedented rate – and the exemplary victory of the Conservative Scott Brown in the fight to become Senator of the previously ‘true blue’ liberal state of Massachusetts. All the while, the war in Afghanistan continues to deliver heavy casualties, drain money and worst of all, show no end in sight.

While many on this side of the Atlantic may still be simply relieved that the Conservative era of Dubya Bush has passed, in the States, the liberal government faces a very tough fight in the upcoming mid-terms. And the above video is merely a snapshot of the kind of muscle the opposition is flexing.

If the Democratic party is to have any chance of beating the Conservative onslaught, it needs to understanding the key to Palin’s popularity. Why does this woman, so light on policy and so apparently uneducated as to think refudiate‘ is a word, manage nonetheless to garner such impressive political force?

This is, in fact, not so much a political question as one of pop psychology and snazzy advertising. It is not her political message that people respond to (because, so far, there hasn’t really been much on that front), but her use of clear symbols. Palin’s evocation of the momma grizzly selflessly guarding her cubs from danger is one that will resonate with any mother. It is also a subtle, but flattering, comparison to the conservative women America listening to her. Any mother would like to think that she would do anything to ensure the safety of her children.

Palin is not the first Conservative politician to have used the symbol of the bear to such great effect. In an article published on the 1st of this month, Huffington points to an ad used to great success by Ronald Reagan in the 1984 presdiential race which later became known as “there’s a bear in the woods”.

This ad, aiming to make Reagan’s adversary’s stances on national security look weak, depicts a bear (the Russian Bear being a personification of Russia) stalking through woods. The voiceover suggests that, though nobody can be sure if there is a bear lurking in the forest, or that it is dangerous, it would still be wise to be strong and prepared.

Reagan won by a landslide. In fact, it was the worst defeat suffered by a Democratic candidate in American history.

The lesson here is clear. In a time of national crisis such as this one, emotional messages of solidarity, which encourage the uncertain audience to think of the good of their fellow man, are very persuasive. Dangerously so, in fact. As America has shown already this century, when its people feel threatened, there is no telling how extreme their reactions will be. Or how irrational. This is, after all, what people do when they are scared.

The liberal left of America would do well to learn the ways of its opponents now rather than at a later, more uncertain date. For all that the punditocracy may enjoy ridiculing her lack of policy or indeed, her talent for inventing words, Sarah Palin is not going anywhere. Nor are the millions of disgruntled Americans behind her.

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Filed under America, Current Affairs, Film

I find it hard to feel much sympathy for these people…

This video of French police forcefully removing African immigrants from a protest on the streets of Paris has caused uproar across France. Many of the protesters were women, some with children. The demonstrators had set up camp on the streets of the banlieue of Saint-Denis (an area with a high immigrant population) to protest against their being evicted from a block of flats.

The video, which was filmed on the 21st of July, depicts a woman with a baby on her back being dragged by police across the ground as well as another woman, visibly pregnant, lying on the pavement apparently in a daze. The rights group Droit au Logement has said it plans to file a complaint against the Gendarmerie Nationale for police brutality. The group has apparently been criticised by other activists who work with the homeless for encouraging conflict between civilians and police.

What seems incredible to me is that the French media, in an apparent rush to condemn the gendarmes involved, ignores the fact that these women put their children, if not in harm’s way, then certainly in a place where trouble was bound to start.

I have spent a significant amount of time in France, am fluent in the language and would say that I have a fair grasp of the nation and it’s culture. One particular Gallic idiosyncrasy is that the Gendarmerie Nationale is not an individual institution separate from all others, but rather one part of the four sections of the French military forces (along with the navy, the army and the air force). French police are not trained as police, but as soldiers. In the case of war, the gendarmerie are considered just as much part of the war effort as the rest of the military.

It is, therefore, well-known in France that the police, unlike in some European nations, are not your friend. If I were to perform an act of civil disobedience, I would rather do it in Ireland than in France. But if I were to do so in France, there is not a chance in Hell I would allow my children to be present.

One thing I notice from this footage is that not one of the gendarmes makes any effort to stop the filming, even though they are clearly aware that they are being captured on camera. This suggests that the police do not feel that what they are doing is wrong, not to mention ‘brutal’ as some have described their behaviour. Indeed, the Gendarmerie Nationale later issued a statement saying that the officers involved had used ‘normal force’.

In conclusion, I do not find this video particularly shocking. In fact, if anything surprises me at all, it is the restraint which the policemen show – considering some of the protesters are depicted being undeniably violent in retaliation. These women should, and probably do know better. A protest of any kind is a dangerous place to bring children. Regardless of how peaceful it may seem, there is always potential for things to go very wrong, very quickly. The police are the police, not social workers.

And in France, they’re not just police. They’re soldiers.

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This time-lapse video of Cotopaxi reminded me of Kilimanjaro summit night

Last summer, I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. It is 5,895m high and the trek was probably one of the tougher challenges I’ve ever undertaken.

We took the Machame route up to the summit, but all routes eventually converge at Barafu – the final camp. Climbers summit at night, in order to arrive at the summit for sunrise. I suspect that this is also done so that the climbers don’t see what’s ahead of them, thus ensuring a higher summit rate. I’m fairly sure that I would have found the hellish experience even more unpleasant had I been able to see what horrendous gradients lay ahead of me.

The result of this business is that one sets out from Barafu camp on summit night with a head torch and no real idea where one is going. Ahead of you is this steep ascent – not that anyone can actually see it. All I could see was this snake-like figure made up of hundreds of little headtorches meandering its way up and up – until suddenly it connected with the stars. Whenever we stopped, which was very frequently, and I managed to get my breath back (sort of), I would take some time to marvel at the sky above. You just don’t get views like that in Europe.

This is a time-lapse video of Cotapaxi in Ecuador. I think it illustrates what I’m trying to describe beautifully. It also made me wish I could be back on the slopes of Kili, trekking to Uhuru.

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